Friday, October 09, 2020

Change My Mind: Relation Is, and Is Is Relation

Continuing with the theme of the previous post, I have a question, and I won't accept a self-refuting answer, least of all from God, who should be above such sophistry:  if God knows what I am about to write, do I have a choice in writing it?  It feels to me like I do, but if the author of Reality is correct, then that can't be the case.  

Much as I like to think that God is the author of my omniscient posts, I have my doubts.  Of course, I want to be in alignment with the great What Is, and indeed, this goes to the ineradicable tension between finite and infinite.  I believe my philosophical approach respects this tension, while the traditional view -- perhaps unwittingly -- abolishes it by its overemphasis on the pole of infinitude and immutability.  But it takes two Tongans to tango.

I have other questions: Jesus, of course, is two natures in one person. How is the sacrifice offered by the human person worthy of merit if it is bound to occur anyway?  Another question:  does the principle of Trinity have any bearing on our conception of monotheism?   Which comes first, so to speak? Do we situate Trinity within a strict monotheism, or must we fundamentally reconceptualize the very meaning of monotheism?

For example, the author of Reality (the book, not the universe) claims that God "knows all future conditionals with absolute certainty by knowing himself."  And "from all eternity" God decrees "the actions of free creatures."  

I find this neither intelligible nor comforting, and more than a little narcissistic.  On the next page the author assures us that "Foreknown does not mean necessitated."  Oh. Okay.  We "are still making the choice. God just knows what [we] will choose."

Just?  No worries. It's just your real freedom.  

Is there a better way -- a way to reconcile God's wisdom with our stupidity?  And with it, a more sensible way to get God off the hook for human evil?  I just don't buy the traditional explanations.  

Hartshorne suggests that "there is a monopolar and a dipolar way of conceiving" of the problem before us.  I would go further and suggest there is a tripolar solution, but we'll leave that for later.  In fact, I have some other helpful suggestions of my own, but let's first lay a metacosmic foundation. 

As we know from our Thomism, God is the being whose essence is to exist: he doesn't merely have existence, rather, he is existence.  He is the only being who exists necessarily.  Moreover, his existence is necessary to the existence of human persons and all this entails.  

This is somewhat tangential to the point I'm trying to make, but if the human intellect isn't anchored in necessity, then knowledge of truth is impossible; you might say that in the absence of the Necessary Being, we are necessarily condemned to a closed world of appearances and our opinions about them.   Fake News would be the law of the universe and not just of the university.  

In short, the human person must have a sufficient principle, and this principle is God.  No principle short of this is adequate -- certainly nothing as meager as materialism, scientism, or evolutionism.  We'll come back around to this subject later.

There is and can be only one being whose essence it is to exist.  God is not a species of a larger genus; he is not a class. By definition there is only one, so we are fully on board with monotheism.  

But what sort of one? And what sort of existence?   For example, we know of two divergent and even opposite forms of oneness: there is the oneness of a brick and there is the oneness of an organism.  Is one of these "higher" or do we just flip a coin?  More to the point, is God a frozen and unfeeling block of eternity?  

If God is a FUBE, then, ironically, we humans have something he doesn't have.  But if we are in the image of God, shouldn't things that are truly essential to us be a distant reflection of something in God?  The question is, what is essential and what is accidental?  If, for example, I am a liar and a thief, it doesn't mean God must be.  

Hartshorne acknowledges that God is perfect.  Yes, but what is perfection?  Perfection means that God "has no possible rival (no equal or superior) among individuals. He could not be equalled or excelled by another. But could he be excelled by himself in another state?"

Maybe, but "how can one go beyond what is already the uttermost possible?"  We don't want to suggest that God somehow "improves." That would make no sense.  

Hmm. Let's consult the Trinity for some guidance.  First of all, there is the Father and the Son. Does it make sense to think of this as another FUBE situation, in which the Father "determines" everything in and about the Son?  If the Son is just a necessary extension of the Father, then what's the point?  

Yes, there is a "oneness" between them, but in my view it must be analogous (not identical!) to the distinction alluded to above between the rock and the organism.  Of course, a big difference is that the organism comes about in time, whereas the relation of Father and Son has nothing prior to it: the relation Is.  Or better, Is is Relation.

Now, if Relation Is, then this changes approximately everything, but we'll have to wait until the next post to find out exactly how. We'll conclude with a conundrum:

"When we are told that it is the world that has relation to God, rather than God to the world, we are in effect informed that, while X is known by God, God does not know X, which seems senseless" (ibid.).

And an aphorism:

If God were not a person, He would have died some time ago.

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Will the Real Reality Please Stand Out

 (Blogspot has forced a new writing format on us. I'll have to figure out how to fix the links later.)

I had no issues with <a href=">Reality</a> until the second half, which makes the traditional arguments for God's absolute immutability.  I appreciate the sentiment, but immutable means immutable, and -- well, maybe you're different from me, but I find it impossible to relate to something immutable, in particular, because something immutable literally cannot relate to me.

It seems to me that the traditional arguments for divine immutability should be understand in a negative rather than positive sense, in that they're more about preventing misunderstanding than conveying an unambiguous understanding.  

In short, everything in the world is subject to deterioration, entropy, decay, etc.  Obviously God is not like that.  But why go to the opposite extreme and say that he's incapable of change?  What if -- and we're just spitballin' it here -- the existence of bad change doesn't imply that all change is bad?  What if there's a type of change that doesn't at all imply privation or incompletion, but rather, is a perfection?   

Love, for example.  Or maybe the best surprise ever. Forever and ever.  

Another issue I have with the scholastic arguments about the nature of God is that they could equally apply to Allah -- not just vis a vis immutability, but omniscience and omnipotence, i.e., total knowledge and absolute will.  Of course, I'm familiar with arguments that try to reconcile human freedom and divine foreknowledge, but these always strike me as special pleading.  

You'll hear it argued, for example, that God's omniscience is analogous to how a parent can know what the child is about to do, even though the child is free not to do it.  But that's a massive category error.  It's not even a good analogy, because a reliable hunch isn't the same as absolute certitude.  Nor does the parent create the child with absolute and unbending foreknowledge of everything he will ever say, do, or think. 

Another issue I have revolves around the question of Trinity.  If God goes to all the trouble of telling us about his interior life, it seems to me that we should take it into consideration before making dogmatic and a priori argument from our end.   

From down here we can easily, with our natural reason, conclude that God is immutable.  Nor, prior to God revealing it, did anyone ever argue that what we call "God" is actually three persons in an eternal <a href="">perichoresis</a>.  

The question is, does the Trinity change any of the traditional arguments, or is it irrelevant?  To me, it goes to the very essence of why the Christian God doesn't at all resemble Allah, nor the impersonal Brahman of Vedanta, which is likewise totally detached from human concerns..

I have a lot of disagreements with <a href="">Charles Hartshorne</a>, but his solution to this problem bangs my gong.  It's not just that it makes intellectual and emotional sense, but it makes a whole array of absurdities and  pseudo-problems disappear. 

Of course, this doesn't mean he's correct.  But it sure makes God more approachable and relatable, and in my opinion, does nothing to diminish the divine glory and all-around awesomeness.  Frankly, I consider immutability to be a character flaw.  It's why a lot of people end up needing psychotherapy later in life: unresponsive <a href="">wire monkey</a> parents.

Yes, we've discussed this in the past, but not for about seven years, so let's review the argument. In Hartshorne's view, a fundamental error occurs when we take two contradictory terms -- say, change and immutability -- and apply only one of them to God: 

one decides in each case which member of the pair is good or admirable and then attributes it (in some supremely excellent or transcendent form) to deity, while wholly denying the contrasting term.

Let's take the polarity "being-becoming."  In the traditional view, being is privileged.  But what if this isn't a polarity or dualism but an eternal complementarity?  Isn't this what the Trinity is trying to tell us?  "Father <---> Son <---> Holy Spirit."  Isn't that a hint? Aren't they, you know, related? And aren't we invited to participate in that relationship, i.e.,  to relate to the eternal relating via the outpouring of grace?  

The clock is starting to run out, but we'll have much more to say about this in the next post. We'll end with a passage from Hartshorne:

There is good or superior unity and bad or inferior unity....

God is a being whose versatility of becoming is unlimited, whose potentialities of content embrace all possibilities, whose sensitive responsiveness surpasses that of all other individuals, actual or possible.

That may not be orthodox, but at least I can relate to it. 

Monday, October 05, 2020

Weaving the Cosmic Tapestry

Over the weekend I read an enjoyable book called Reality. Which is interesting when you think about it: why on earth do we need to read a book about reality? Isn't it kind of... automatic? What's the alternative? That's right: unreality, AKA fiction and fantasy.

Some people claim there's no such thing as reality; or, that if there is, we could never know it. They think this is a sophisticated attitude, which it is, in the original sense of the word, i.e., sophistry. It's reminiscent of the differences between ideas and ideology, intellect and intellectual, human and humanism, science and scientism, etc.

Sophisticate (the verb) means "to alter deceptively," to falsify, to make artificial and deprive of simplicity, or to debase, spoil, and corrupt. Thus, it is a cause and consequence of what we know of as tenure. If your child attends college and somehow avoids becoming a sophisticate, then the educational system has failed on its own terms. Your child has escaped the progressive Matrix. He is a fugitive slave.

Speaking of which, although our son is homeschooled, some of his classes are taught by other parents. For some reason he's supposed to read the turgid and sentimental Uncle Tom's Cabin, which isn't going to happen. He already deplores racism of any kind, and can't even comprehend how someone could embrace it.

So, I advised him to do what I'd do if I were in his shoes: read the Cliff Notes. We previewed them on amazon, but you still can't get away from the sophistry!

There are probably very few white Americans, if the truth were known, who do not harbor some prejudiced (or, to put it less kindly, racist) ideas about black people, and especially about African Americans....

We all tend to be so conscious today of this prejudiced condition (if not always of the nature of the prejudices) that most white writers would think it foolhardy to attempt a novel whose central characters are African Americans...

Understood. Does this mean black Americans who write and opine about white Americans are fools? Jes' axin'.

The Cliff Notes highlight another problem with Stowe: her Christianity. Of course, "she lived in a less enlightened time," when our unsophisticated citizenry "assumed that the United States was a 'Christian country.'"

Granted, it was founded by Christians upon Christian principles, traditions, and assumptions, but it was really... the notes don't specify. At any rate, Stowe "doesn't apologize for her Protestant chauvinism." The nerve of this woman, to pretend that God abhors slavery! Such a bully.

Here's a non-sequitur: "In our secular time, we tend to avoid the discussion of religion in ordinary 'non-religious' circumstances." But "the separation of Church and State meant something quite different to Stowe." Wait, what? The Constitution forbids a principled Christian opposition to slavery?

End of tangent. What was original point? Right: reality and its alternatives. Note that the latter is necessarily plural, since reality is by definition one. The principle of oneness is why we can both have a reality and know it (more on this point as we proceed). It reminds me of a tweet I read this morning:

I’m a conservative in chess for the same reason I am in politics: because however many good moves there are, there are infinitely more bad moves.

I'm a conservative traditionalist because however many realities there are, there are infinitely more unrealities.

In this context it is permissible to posit more than one reality, so long as we acknowledge verticality, i.e., hierarchy, continuity, and integration, for there are physical, biological, and spiritual (and more) realities. It's just that it's impossible in principle to conceive of these from the "bottom up." If man is intelligent -- which he is -- intelligence can only descend from the top down. If intelligence ascends from below, it's no longer intelligent.

Which is a central point of this other book I'm reading, God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy by Fulton J. Sheen. Don't let his popularity fool you. This guy was a major brainiac before he became a TV star in the 1950s.

I've already lost the handle on this post. Might as well go with the flow. "The intelligence is the key to the communion of the human and the angelic and the divine. From God, who is the source of intellectual light, knowledge descends progressively" through the vertical hierarchy.

But "modern philosophy" -- as articulated by the sophisticates described above -- "in rejecting the intelligence, has rejected the cornerstone of the whole edifice of continuity and progress in the universe."

Progress. That's another key idea we've discussed in the past, in that the metaphysical underpinning of "progressivism" renders progress impossible in principle. For if truth, morality, and culture are relative, there is no standard but power, i.e., opinion and the will to enforce it. Don't believe me. Just look at what's happening in our Democrat run cities and universities: obey! Or else.

Evolution? Not only are we all for it, but our metaphysic is the only one that renders it both possible and necessary. In other words, God is the sufficient reason of evolution (natural selection is only a means, not the principle). We Coonfolk

did not have to wait for modern biology to reveal continuity and progress in the universe. For it [scholasticism], biological discoveries were confirmations, not revelations. They merely proved in a lower order what reason has already verified in the higher orders.

In short, the universe isn't a static block but a living hierarchy full of intelligence and intelligibility everywhere we turn.

We're out of time, so I'm going to have to pull all of these lucent threads together in the subsequent post. Don't worry: I got this. Everything's under control. Just not mine