Monday, November 16, 2015

Ultimate Reality: I Think it Moved

It happens. Flat out of inspiration at the moment. It always comes back eventually, but one doesn't want to have a sense of entitlement. If you have any ideas for subjects, feel free to share.

If only for my own benefit, I would like to take time to review why I think God not only changes, but must be the very essence of change.

As we've discussed before, changelessness tends to get a free ride -- and change an unfair reputation -- because of the ancient Greeks. In turn, the early fathers, because they wanted to show that Christianity could be reconciled with the most prestigious philosophy of the time, identified the Judeo-Christian God with the Greek/Neoplatonic One.

But if we simply take the Bible as it is, and develop a metaphysic from that, then I don't see how anyone could affirm that God in no way changes.

And yet, this is still the Official View. Through the application of pure reason, contemporary Thomists affirm that because things obviously change, this necessitates the existence of an unchanged; or, because things move, there must be an unmoved mover, otherwise we end in an absurd infinite regress in which we have effects with no cause.

But I think God goes to all the trouble of revealing himself as Trinity for a reason. If the Trinity is the foundation of existence, then surely this must imply some kind of ceaselessly creative change, no? In other words, the first cause is not a substance or a thing, but a process -- not a noun but a verb.

Verb, of course, is cognate to word. Just sayin'.

Hartshorne covers this topic in his Creative Synthesis & Philosophic Method (which I do not recommend -- too turgid and diffuse). He points out that "Prior to the twentieth century, scarcely any philosopher... saw in the idea of creativity a fundamental principle, a category applicable to all reality."

It wasn't really until Whitehead, and I suppose Bergson before, that process, creativity, and evolution began to be appreciated in their own right.

Now, the moment I encountered Whitehead, I concluded that what he was saying Must Be True. Not all of it -- I am not a Whiteheadian -- but at least the broad outlines. I'm trying to think back on when I first bumped into him... must have been in the early 1980s, and he has been an implicit touchstone ever since (as has Polanyi).

I don't know, maybe I'm a little effed up in the head, but someone needs to explain to me how God can "create" without undergoing change. It seems to me that there is no way to squeeze creativity out of a changeless entity, unless you just play word games.

Let's look at it in a purely logical manner: the world isn't necessary, but rather, contingent. We can all agree on that. It didn't have to come into being. Rather, God had a choice.

Or, maybe you are suggesting that God had the choice of whether or not to be creative, and that if he had chosen not to create, then there would be no such thing as creativity? Nevertheless, this implies the possibility of creating, i.e., potential (which, in the traditional view, God is not supposed to have; rather, he is all act and no potency).

I just remembered my key takeaway from reading Whitehead: it is that ultimate reality is subject rather than object. This goes to the discussion in the last post, and to my rejection of Matt Ridley's vision of cosmic evolution: for him, it is as if it is objects all the way down, whereas for Whitehead, it is subjects all the way down.

To be precise, subject-object is one of our primordial cosmic complementarities. However, as with all cosmic complementarities, one must be prior, and in this case it is the subject, because you cannot get a subject out of an object, but you can get objects from the subject.

Now, to say that ultimate reality is subjective is but a step away from saying it is Person. Looking at the Trinity, we can say that it is one process with three "objects" (in a manner of speaking). Or better, there is this subject-object vector at the very heart of reality. When a person relates to another person, it is in the form of both subject and object.

Back to the divine creativity: "a free agent must create something in himself, even if he decides not to create anything else; for the decision, if free, is itself a creation."

For Hartshorne, the implication is that "freedom is self-creation," or in other words, freedom means not being determined by outside agents. To the extent one is determined, one is not free. So God is either changeless or he is free.

It seems to me that to be made in the image of God is to be invited to participate in God's trinitarian nature.

Or, let's turn it around and suppose that the God of whom we are the image and likeness is the unmoved mover. In this view, "God influences all things, nothing influences God. For him there are no 'stimuli'..." Is this how God wants us to be? An unchangeable absolute? How can something that is admirable in God be sociopathic for humans?

I read somewhere over the weekend that the Father is God beyond us, the Son God with us, and the Spirit God in us. How in particular can God be with us without being truly open to us?

Hartshorne completely inverts the traditional view in a way that I find quite appealing. That is, instead of being the distant and absolute unmoved mover, God is the most relative thing conceivable, as in relationship. He is related to everything and everyone, most intensely to human persons.

And although Hartshorne nowhere mentions the Trinity, God's relatedness must be because he is intensely related even -- or quintessentially -- to himself: ultimate reality is pure relationship and therefore "relativity." It moves.


julie said...

He is related to everything and everyone, most intensely to human persons.

Indeed, closer than our own skin. Which really just makes free will all that much more miraculous. He is not somewhere else on the outside giving the occasional nudge to anyone willing to listen; not up in the clouds, aloof and untouched by what happens in most places at most times; rather, He is right in here with us, in a living dialogue of which we are mostly ignorant, because to know too much would be to lose that precious freedom. And so, blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed.

Van Harvey said...

"I don't know, maybe I'm a little effed up in the head, but someone needs to explain to me how God can "create" without undergoing change. It seems to me that there is no way to squeeze creativity out of a changeless entity, unless you just play word games."

I've thought that the notion that God Mustn't change, is a mistakenly flattened view of all that is, and the relation to O.

The part that's changeless, is the, flirting with the Greek lingo, the Form of the Trinity, which enables all the changes that it partakes in, without changing.

Or, to put it in a musical perspective, the Guitar is able to play an unlimited number of songs, without itself being changed (assuming the deity has super durable strings).

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, persons change all the time, but it's the same person. The person who is personing doesn't change into a different person.

Rick said...

Yes, I don't see a conflict with both aspects existing in the same Person perfected. For example, love thy neighbor is an unchanging principle which can only be exercised constantly. Similarly, God will always love you; my words will always be with you, etc.

Perhaps "change" is too broad a term and can have negative connotations. Actually it has to. Creation/create/creature might be better in that with respect to God, He can only create good; create is a verb, and so forth. The principle is absolute and unchanging while the expression is creative and always able to be used. I think you cannot have one without the other.

Gagdad Bob said...

"The principle is absolute and unchanging while the expression is creative and always able to be used."

That's what Schuon was saying the other day: "There is the order of principles, which is immutable, and the order of information... of which one can say that it is inexhaustible."

It's almost like the divine play of absolute (immutable) and infinite (inexhaustible).

Rick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mushroom said...

How do you love statically? Love is always bringing something new out of us. God is love, and His mercies are new every morning.