Friday, April 08, 2022

On the Genesis of Evolution & Evolution of Genesis

Creation is the nexus between eternity and history. --Dávila 

Now that we're flipping through the The One and the Many, might as well flip through to the end. Thus far we have touched on the questions of God's existence and immutability. Toward the end of the book is a chapter on The Metaphysics of Evolution, which ties these first two together nicely. 

Evolution itself is an undeniable and empirical fact: for example, at one point in cosmic history there existed no rational beings, but here we are. By virtue of what principle is our existence even possible? 

Put another way, in what kind of cosmos is it possible for free, self-aware, and truth-bearing primates to evolve into being? For just like anything else in this cosmos of ours, our existence isn't self-explanatory; rather, it obviously has a cause, but a purely material cause cannot have a spiritual effect:

Since such an immaterial nature has no material parts, but is a simple, inextended center of spiritual energy, it cannot be made out of different material parts provided by different material causes, e.g., the father cannot provide half a spiritual soul and the mother the other half... (Clarke).

Any metaphysician who actually is one recognizes that only God can create; or, if you prefer, if there is such a thing as real creation -- which is to say, of something from nothing -- then what we call "God" is its sufficient reason.

Now, creation and creativity are everywhere, at least their echoes. For which reason, in my view, the first words of Genesis are In the beginning God creates. No, not in the temporal beginning, rather, the ontological or principial beginning, which is always here and now (and cannot not be here & now). 

The point is, the metaphysical categories of creator, creation, and beginning are thoroughly entangled. Frankly, I don't see how it is possible to have one without the others: as Father and Son necessarily coarise, so too do creator and creation.  

And the most startling creation of all is of the unique individual person. We can generally understand the existence of ants, bees, and progressive atheists, but how to explain the unique individual subject?

[T]he appearance in our world of a new human being is something very special, as the Genesis story expresses imaginatively: the collaboration of heaven and earth, the earth rising up as far as it can [↑], and heaven reaching down to light a new spiritual fire in it from above [↓] -- the production of an embodied spirit that we call a human person, with a corresponding destiny extending through but beyond this whole material world.  

Again, how is this even possible?

Nothing less than the creative initiative of a transcendent cause can render adequate sufficient reason for the emergence at the end of the cosmic story of this amazing microcosm, the human person that integrates within itself all the levels of creation from the lowest material to union with the highest spiritual, the Author of the whole story himself.

The evolution of our immaterial being is obviously a vertical and relational collaboration, otherwise it is stripped of its sufficient reason.

Some people think there can be a sufficient material explanation for such an intrinsically immaterial process, but these folks tend to be the same superstitious and conspiratorial types who troll this blog. In reality, reductive materialism

gives no adequate explanation, or even recognition, of the basic fact presented by evolutionary history, namely, that out of simpler unities new more complex ones emerge, with properties that are neither merely the sum of already existing properties of the simpler unities, nor deducible directly from them, but are distinctly on a new level.

Putting on my visionary cap, I see a vast metacosmic circle encompassing creativity-infinitude-kenosis-projection-involution on one end, and creation-exile-evolution-metanoia-return on the other. But I'm not the only one: first (ontologically, not temporally) there is 

The Journey from the Many (all finite beings), projected outward from the One, their Infinite Source, by creation....  

This is "followed" (again, ontologically) by

The Journey of the Many back towards reunion with the One, their Source, drawn by this same Source [the Great Attractor, O] through the pull of the Good built in to the very nature of every being through the mediation of final causality, which draws each being toward the fulfillment of its own nature... (ibid).

Speaking for myself, in comparison to participation in this absolutely riveting Great Circle, pretty much everything else is frankly boring, or a kind of tedious and distracting chore. We'll close with this:

the intelligibility of being -- all being -- is inseparable from the context of persons: it is rooted in personal being, flows out from it, to other persons, who complete the circle by returning it back again to its personal source. In a word, the ultimate meaning of being is: Person-to-Person Gift.  

So, if creation is a gift, the mystic journey is just a regift.

Thursday, April 07, 2022

On Having Your Crock and Bleating it Too

Most of the quotes in the previous post are from W. Norris Clarke's The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysic. Not much time this morning, but I'd like to touch on a somewhat unrelated passage from the same book: 

Thus either God exists, or I am absurd. 

That's the choice on offer, so don't pretend otherwise. If it's the latter, all we ask is that you be intellectually honest and consistent: have the courage of your absence of convictions. For in the real world, God or absurdity

is the basic option that confronts me, if I am willing to go to the depth of the human condition.

(In case you were wondering why atheists are so painfully intellectually shallow, generally even prior to their self-confessed spiritual shallowness.) 

But underneath both forms of shallowness is pride and signaling. Ironically, the conspicuous confession of atheism is always a signal of intellectual superiority -- for example, yesterday's commenter, who went out of his way to tell us that "deity" is a term we use when we "just don't understand reality." The implicit point, of course, is that he does understand reality. Signal received!

But how? By virtue of what principle? And other rhetorical questions.

Many people today are afraid of facing up to this radical option [God or absurdity], and so are content to live on the surface of life...

There's nothing wrong with being shallow, on the assumption that we exist in a universe devoid of depth, i.e., with no vertical dimension. 

Now, even when I was an atheist I was always attracted to the depth -- even repulsed by shallowness -- but not yet deep enough to be cognizant of the inconsistency. Nevertheless, "It can be shown"

that there is a lived contradiction between affirming theoretically that the universe or myself is unintelligible and continuing to live and use my mind as though it were intelligible...

Petey calls the latter "having your crock and eating it too." But in reality -- the reality for which our commenter claims to be the champion --  

it is finally up to each one of us either to accept his or her infinite-oriented nature as meaningful and revelatory of the real or as an opaque, illusory surd.

So, we are free to use our intelligence to choose the ultimate unintelligibility of mind, life, and existence, but that's not only an expensive signal, it's a fatal one: we had to destroy the mind in order to save the mind

Wednesday, April 06, 2022

God, the Ultimate Jazz Trio

Let's begin with a couple of aphoristical barbs from the nonlocal pen of Petey: 

Every metaphysician knows that God is the supreme cause of all effects. But what's the harm in taking the next step and affirming that he must thereby be the supreme effect of all causes? 

God is person, meaning that Person is the ultimate category and principle. But "Person" and "immutable" are antithetical.

As promised in a comment yesterday, I want to highlight some passages from one of my favorite theologians, W. Norris Clarke, drawn from various sources, including Person and Being, The One and the Many, The Philosophical Approach to God, and Explorations in Metaphysics

Some of these are exact quotes, others plagiaphrased or combined. At the conclusion we'll try to bring them all together and figure out what they mean, all the while staying within the traditional guardrails of orthodoxy and orthodox guardrails of tradition.

Where to begin... How about here:

To say that God is "all powerful" does not mean that He alone holds and exercises all power, but only that He is the ultimate source of all power...

And

To say that God is the creator of all things does not mean that He directly creates all the acts of creatures. God creates agents, beings with active natures -- or, if you wish, beings acting, not acts.  

It's one thing to create an inanimate rock or an insentient progressive NPC and be done with it, another thing entirely to create a free and creative being. Then there's no end to the trouble. In any event,

The fact that all creatures are totally dependent on God both in their being and in their actions does not therefore mean that God determines their actions from without.  

We are not Mohammedan occasionalists or scientistic determinists or Calvinist double-determinists. More to the point, we would like to preserve God's innocence of man's stupidity and depravity, which is impossible to do if God is ultimately directly responsible for every stupid and depraved human action. For God on the one hand 

communicates to creatures their own being and their own native power and supports them in its use, so that without Him they could neither exist nor act.  

BUT

since He really has given them a share in His own power, they determine the use to which this power is put, even to use it against the express conditional will of God (= sin). This is a free self-limitation of God's exercise of His own unlimited power.

This resolves so many otherwise insoluble metaphysical problems, that I personally have no hesitation in taking it on board. 

Moreover, this doesn't mean that the Divine Will isn't realized, only that it is necessarily mediated by human nature. As they say, God writes straight with lyin' crooks. 

"The actual carrying out of divine providence," writes Clarke, takes place -- in a manner of speaking -- "by persuasion, by luring to the good -- not by coercion." For God is not an authoritarian leftist. He is, for example, the very basis of free speech, even while knowing full well that our snowflake crybullies will inevitably be triggered by it. 

And the best part is, this is all fits into Orthodoxy, so long as we maintain a little perspective and keep things in their proper place:

All that an orthodox Christian must hold today with respect to predestination is that God determines the general set of goals He wishes to achieve, the goals at which He aims the universe, and knows that in general He will be able to achieve by his suasive power, but does not determine ahead of time in detail just whether or how each particular creature will achieve its share or not in this overall goal.  

The following may be a bit ill-sounding, but let's suppose that

Divine providence unfolds by constant instantaneous "improvisation" of the divine mind and will -- from His always contemporaneous eternal now -- precisely to fit the actual ongoing activities, especially the free ones, of the creaturely players in the world drama.

Now that is really speaking my (musical) language, because while there's no harm in seeing the cosmos as a grand symphony composed by the divine mind, I'm much more of a jazz guy, so the following is for me right in the pocket: God

might be said -- in an at first perhaps shocking, but to me illuminating metaphor -- to be the Great Jazz Player, improvising creatively as history unfolds.

Not only do I believe this, I can't not believe it, so it's good to know it can easily be harmonized with orthodoxy. Bottom line for today:

The complete script of our lives is not written anywhere ahead of time, before it happens, but only as it actually happens, by God and ourselves working it out together in our ongoing now's.

And the ultimate jazz trio must be -- you guessed it -- the Trinity. 

But that last passage also reminds me of Duke Ellington in particular, who not only combined structure and improvisation in his compositions, but specifically wrote to the strengths and weaknesses of his particular musicians, allowing them a degree of freedom to carry out what he had in mind for them. They might even have thought they were totally improvising, unaware that they were actually freely carrying out the composer's intent.

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Taking God Personally: Omniscience is Omnipathos

In my hiatal state, I've been dwelling on this conundrum of God's supposed immutability. We've discussed it in the past, but for some reason the subject has lately been coming back to haunt me. So I reread a number of dissenting voices, including Charles Hartshorne's The Divine Relativity

Harthsorne has a lot of ideas with which I profoundly disagree, but on those which we do agree, we really agree. Here are some plagiaphrased passages from the book, presented mostly without comment. 

--Divine relativity is not only compatible with, but equivalent to, an aspect of divine absoluteness. The Absolute is God with something left out of account. The Absolute is, rather, an abstract feature of the inclusive and supreme reality which is precisely the personal God.

--The higher one goes in the scale of being, the more obviously do the social aspects assume a primary role. Does this point to the conclusion that the supreme being is not social at all?

--God, if social, is eminently or supremely so. For all other beings limit their compassion at some point. I assert that the closest to zero dependence would occur at the bottom, not the top of the scale of beings. The closer we get to a "merely material" individual, the closer we come to something for which nearly all the changes in the universe make no appreciable difference at all.

--God is socially aware, period. 

--Sympathetic dependence is a sign of excellence and increases with every ascent in the scale of being. What does it mean to know what sorrow is, but never to have sorrowed, never to have felt the quality of suffering?

--The eminent form of sympathetic dependence can only apply to deity, for this form cannot be less than OMNISCIENT SYMPATHY.

--Conversely, it is the tyrant who depends as little as possible, ideally not at all, upon the wills and fortunes of others. Likewise, the father who as little as possible depends upon the will and welfare of his child is an inhuman monster.

--Yet God, we are told, is impassive and immutable and without accidents, and is therefore just as he would be had we never existed, or had all our experiences been otherwise.

--Suppose I can be equally happy and serene and joyous regardless of how men and women suffer around me. Shall we admire this alleged independence? I think not. Why should we admire it when it is alleged of God?

--The relative or changeable exceeds the nonrelative, immutable or absolute, as the concrete includes and exceeds the abstract.

--A personal God is one who has social relations and thus is constituted by relationships and hence is relative. 

--What is a person if not a being qualified and conditioned by social relations, relations to other persons? And what is God if not the supreme case of personality? Either God really does love all beings, that is, is related to them by a sympathetic union surpassing all human sympathy, or religion seems a vast fraud.

--To say, on the one hand, that God is love, and on the other, to speak of an absolute, infinite, immutable, impassive deity, seems a gigantic hoax.

--God has qualities that are accidental, that do not follow from any necessity of his essence.

--It simply cannot be that everything in God is necessary, including his knowledge that this world exists, unless the world is in the same sense necessary and there is no contingency whatsoever. 

--If God is wholly absolute, it follows that God does not know or love or will us, his creatures. 

Either he has relative being, and then we might know it, or he has only absolute being, in which case only He could know it.

--The perfect being either does, or does not, include the totality of imperfect things. If the perfect does not include the totality of imperfect things, then this total reality is a greater reality than the perfect alone.

Bottom line(s):

For God to do what I do when I decide my own act is mere nonsense, words without meaning. It is not my act if anyone else decides or performs it...

[I]t is impossible that our act should be both free and yet a logical consequence of divine action which "infallibly" produces its effect. Power to cause someone to perform by his own choice an act precisely defined by the cause is meaningless.

The notion of a cosmic power that determines all decisions fails to make sense. For its decisions could refer to nothing except themselves. they could result in no world; for a world must consist of local agents making their own decisions

Therefore,

Maximizing relativity as well as absoluteness in God enables us to conceive him as the supreme person.

Conversely, if God be in all aspects absolute, then literally it is "all the same" to him, a matter of utter indifference. This is precisely not to be personal in any way relevant to religion or ethics. A wholly absolute God is power divorced from responsiveness or sensitivity.

Me? I think the whole mess can be cleaned up by looking at things through the lenses of Trinity and Incarnation.