Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Memo to God: Surprise Me!

Yesterday we were discussing the things that can be, those that can't be, and those that must be (or cannot not be) -- AKA, the possible, the impossible, and the necessary.

Every conceivable thing or event falls into one of these three categories, and each is the negation of the other. For example, what is possible isn't necessary, and what is necessary cannot be impossible.

In some ways this is wrapped up with the nature of time -- i.e., of time's arrow. For example, the past is the completely necessary -- for it cannot not be -- whereas the present is the node of possibility, or the "place" where the possible becomes actual.

Hartshorne introduces an interesting twist here, suggesting that the "unconditionally necessary" and the "always" are essentially synonymous. This is because to say that something must be is the same as saying that it cannot possibly not-be.

Therefore, "a thing is eternal if its 'being' is necessary: and if it is eternal its 'being' is necessary." A corollary of this is that "no eternal thing exists potentially" (remember what was said above about the categories excluding one another).

The bottom line is that Unconditional necessity and eternity are equivalent.

Now, God, who is "necessary being," is obviously eternal. Conversely, the cosmos is perpetually becoming. It is never in a final state; or, each moment is the final state of everything that has come previously, except there's no stopping the process. "Each moment a (partly) new total 'reality' comes to be, containing items not in a previous reality."

It very much reminds me of the structure of consciousness, and probably for very good reasons. In another book Hartshorne makes an observation that really clangs my bong, to the effect that most errors in thinking about God are rooted in errors in thinking about human nature.

Again, if we are "in the image of God," then it very much matters that we understand the nature of this image, not just for its own sake ("know thyself"), but in order to gain insight into the ultimate, the eternal, the necessary. There's really no other way, since we cannot comprehend God directly, only indirectly, via analogy. After all, God's most complete revelation is said to be a person. Sounds like a hint to me.

As we've been saying, Hartshorne insists that any form of radical determinism is an impossibility. For one thing, it conflates the three categories, with the result that everything becomes eternal (because necessary). A cosmos without possibility -- i.e., without freedom -- is nonsense; very pure (i.e., completely abstract) nonsense, but nonsense nevertheless.

We now come to a ticklish fork in the theological road, a sorting mechanism that will send you down one path or the other. That is to say, if God is omniscient in the traditional sense, then this eliminates the possible, or at the very least renders it an illusion of time.

For even if you try to escape the consequences by suggesting that we are really and truly free -- even though God knows ahead of time what we will do -- then you've still elevated the can-be to the must-be. Therefore, not only have you covertly made man eternal (because necessary), you've drained the cosmos of any possible human meaning, because meaning is always a relation. And frankly, in making man eternal, you've granted him the prerogative of a god!

Now, to say that the present is the node of possibility is not to say that it contains no necessity at all. Rather, the present is obviously a kind of crossroads of possibility and necessity, of contingency and determinism, of plans and luck. Necessity, while "outside" time, is also "in" time. Not so contingency, which is only in time.

Thus, we could also say that the present moment is the meeting point of time and eternity, bearing in mind that even eternity does not have the "power" to make time run in the opposite direction, which would be the equivalent of transforming the necessary into the contingent. And that would be absurd. There can be no such thing as "contingent possibilities not in time," nor "conceivable accidents in eternity."

Again, eternal things aren't just "possible"; rather, they must be. Which is one reason why we can know of their existence, since contingent things cannot be known before they happen, a priori, whereas eternal things may only be known that way (since they cannot fail to be in any possible cosmos).

Tradition insists that God is not only necessary, but utterly free of contingency, since the former is said to be intrinsically superior to the latter.

Well, says who? Taking your own life as an analogy, if it were completely plotted out in advance, utterly necessary, would this really be a superior form of existence? Well, you can have it. I'll take adventure, creativity, possibility, and surprise, which are only available now, in time.

"God may be wholly immutable, independent, and absolute in whatever senses it is good to be so, and uniquely mutable, dependent, and relative in whatever sense capacity to change, dependence, or relativity (as in sensitive sympathy) is an excellence" (Hartshorne, emphasis mine).

10 Comments:

Blogger Magister said...

if God is omniscient in the traditional sense, then this eliminates the possible ... for even if you try to escape the consequences by suggesting that we are really and truly free -- even though God knows ahead of time what we will do -- then you've still elevated the can-be to the must-be.

Well, then it sounds like you're saying it's possible for God not to know something.

I puzzle over this, so forgive me for thinking out loud. If God is infinite existence, the power supporting all created being, how is it possible for God not to be present to all being, past, present, and future? Put another way, is there being in the future that God's Being does not touch? Or does all future being simply not exist at all? That makes a sort of sense, but the future's possibilities are always coming-into-being. There is no "future" per se. There is only the-future-becoming-present and the film reel of the past lying on the floor.

Maybe you're saying something about God's consciousness -- that there is duration in God's awareness of the universe, that there are areas of his Being that He is not yet aware of.

I have no argument, really. These questions are genuine.

10/16/2013 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

And frankly, in making man eternal, you've granted him the prerogative of a god!

I am reminded that the serpent's temptation was "you shall be as gods" while God's remedy was to drive man from the Garden lest he should access the Tree of [eternal] Life.

10/16/2013 10:55:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

God must know what must be. I don't. What must be isn't necessarily limited to the past. God knew the Cross must be as Jesus is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

I love this quote from today's Bleat, and it seems to fit in: You like to think you're the author of your story, but there are days you realize you're just the narrator. At best.

10/16/2013 11:04:00 AM  
Blogger John Lien said...

How about God can know all possible futures? Then we can still have free will. So, at any given instance God will say, "Well, given what just happened then this will happen" (subject to change).

Maybe God just knows the big picture, the end game, but the details still need to be discovered.

Thanks Bob. Great posts.

10/16/2013 11:41:00 AM  
Blogger John Lien said...

instance=instant

10/16/2013 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

John -- the whole preceding passage by Lileks illustrates the problem with knowledge of the future. If God knows all these things as if they've already happened -- instead of knowing them as future possibilities -- then it drains human life of meaning and elevates the cosmos to God, since everything about it is necessary and therefore eternal.

I guess I just don't have an issue with God not knowing the future in the same way as he past. But I have a big issue with any metaphysic that denies real freedom and creativity.

10/16/2013 01:39:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

As Lileks' little drama illustrated, what has happened will to some degree define what will happen. He didn't let the kid stand there. That was his decision. Mine -- having had experience with faulty bells -- would have been to bang on the door or even go around back. That would have meant a different interaction at the intersection.

10/16/2013 02:41:00 PM  
Blogger Kurt said...

For me I know I am reaching the limits of my understanding of such matters when the subject becomes colorless, bloodless, lifeless.Too many hairs to split, to many jots and tittles, and opacity replacing clarity. God is God. I trust Him to love me and to work for my good and blessing - The Cross is the eternal proof of those truths. As for the rest, I make my choices, He makes His and He (being God) makes it all flow together in this amazing dance of existence that we are all a part of. In the end, all debts are paid, all balances restored and mercy triumphs over judgment. And that is enough and more to keep me walking on this path. (But I am a bit of an idiot, so I could be wrong...)

Kurt

10/16/2013 06:51:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Beautifully expressed.

10/16/2013 07:13:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Gagdad said "I guess I just don't have an issue with God not knowing the future in the same way as he past. But I have a big issue with any metaphysic that denies real freedom and creativity."

Denying real freedom and creativity IS denying metaphysics. There is no having the one without the other. If that poses a difficultyf for you... tough, free will doesn't require our understanding it and all of its implications, but the ability to understand anything, does require free will.

Just the way IS is.

10/17/2013 08:39:00 AM  

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