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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Introductory note from Jason Pratt: I am here appending in several parts some excerpts from an unpublished book of mine (not CoJ incidentally), originally composed late 99/early 2000, wherein I work out a progressive synthetic metaphysic. The current topic is ethical grounding; and up until recently I have been analyzing crippling problems along the three general lines of ethical explanation, including general theism. Recently though, I returned to the argument I had been developing for several hundred (currently unpublished) pages, and used those developed positions to begin solving the philosophical dilemmas I had covered in previous entries. In my most recent entry, however, I discerned that an earlier argument (from a currently unpublished section) might be returning now to cause me some problems!

This entry begins chapter 33, "a necessary truth of God's relationship to Man", in my original text. I ended my previous entry by writing, "Does not God, as a Person, also require a common overarching system for interacting with us? [...] The answer to this question shall provide another important bit of information to work with, including in connection to the whole question of evil (and particularly to the question of my own guilt). "

.......[excerpt begins here]

If we cannot perceive something of the principles of God's interPersonal love (the love between Father and Son that grounds all reality), then we will be working at dangerous inefficiency against reality. I think it would be inconsistent with God's love and justice for Him to prevent us from perceiving this (although we might ourselves choose to turn away from it--a topic I will be discussing later). It is not a mere fact about God that we need here, but the possibility of a real relationship to Him, as person (you and I, individually and corporately) to Person (God--Who Himself is a substantial interPersonal unity).

Unfortunately, an argument I made some time ago may be returning here to nix me. I insisted, back when I was discussing your and my relationship to God and Nature, that you and I needed a common overarching system--specifically, you and I need such a system in order to relate to each other. This requirement happens to be rather nicely fulfilled by an impersonal reactive Nature. [Footnote: This was not my argument for the created and instrinsically reactive characteristics of Nature, though. I had argued for those conclusions already, before arguing that you and I need a common overarching system in order to related personally with each other.]

But if the necessity of an overarching system of commonality for interpersonal relation, really is a necessary principle of reality, then it would also apply to any proposed relationship you or I have with God, as people to Person.

So: does God, as a Person, also require a common overarching system for interacting with us?

If so, this might be a serious contradiction: I have denounced many times as nonsense the proposal that God, the Independent Fact, would at His most basic level be 'inside' an overarching system. If He doesn't require an overarching system to interact with us, then I may be endangering my earlier argument concerning the necessity of God's non-equivalence to Nature. If I avoid the question by stating that God would not have a Personal relationship with us, then I not only void my attempt at establishing a practical doctrine concerning true objective ethics (they might still exist between the Persons of God in unity of substance, but would not concern us); I also risk introducing an inconsistency in God's love and justice, neither of which can be set aside.

Altogether, it's a serious problem, although an obscure one! But examining it does lead to a very interesting conclusion, I think.

If the Son ever happened to be Incarnated [see first entry in the comments below for a footenote here] then certainly Nature would serve the purpose of being a common overarching system; but also the limitations of Nature would intervene: the Incarnate God, by being manifested in that way, would be in one place (in that way), and not another, or perhaps could be in numerous discreet places. Yet the Incarnated Son (as such) could not be everywhere within a Nature, all at once, as God Himself; or else Nature would be reverted to the status of God and we would be annihilated via absorption into the Absolute, which would negate any loving purpose to our creation in the first place. So, Nature would fit the bill as a proper overarching system in terms of God's Incarnation. But due to the special limitations involved, I am not talking about Incarnation theories right now.

I mean instead, the personal contact of a somewhat different sort: the type of contact almost any theist insists that God either always has with every created person, or at least could have with a person without God being Incarnated. I mean our contact with God as 'pure spirit'.

In that case, Nature cannot be the overarching system, for then it would be including God. This would be fine for an Incarnation, but I am not talking about that type of contact. An Incarnation would be a special case, a special self-abdication on God's part.

But I am speaking instead of God's usual mode of operation with respect to us; and Nature will not quite do for that. The question should be, rather: if persons do need an overarching system within which to communicate to each other as persons, what sort of overarching system normally encompasses God?

There are two answers. The first is that no system encompasses God; the consequent conclusion would be that therefore no personal communication between us as Person-to-person can follow. This would be another way of saying that on these terms such contact would be self-inconsistent, and God cannot be self-inconsistent. However, if I have argued correctly that some kind of personal contact with God must be taking place within us (otherwise there would be a violation of God's love and justice), then I think we should look at the second answer, for the first will not fit. It wouldn't fit even if we allowed for the existence of supernatural mediators, for they would only put the question one stage further back for no gain: how did they manage to communicate personally with God? If there is some principle that allows them to do this, I think we would be prudent to at least check to see whether we fit under the same principle.

As it happens, I don't think I need to posit mediators to answer this question--although mediators could make contact with us for other purposes, perhaps. [Footnote: I am not arguing against the existence of derivative mediators per se, here; only that their existence would not solve this problem.]

The second answer begins by remembering that God is, Himself, a self-existent system: He is, at least, a self-begetting entity Who is a Person and thus (by being 'self-begetting') is at least Two Persons in Unity. Or, put another way, the answer to the question "What system encompasses God" is: God (as the Independent Fact) encompasses Himself.

So; can God, the basic self-existent foundation of reality, serve as the overarching system for interacting with us? I think this must be true, if He chooses to relate to us as Person to person; and I think it would be self-inconsistent of God not to relate to us in some fashion as Person to person.

Therefore, this introduces a second discovered distinction in God's eternal--that is, time-transcending--self-existence. God, in the mode of interacting with all of us everywhere as a Person, is in distinction from God the (overarching) Foundation, just as God the Begotten is in real distinction from God the Begettor; yet at the same time this Interactor will still be God, fully God, in the same way that the Son is in Unity of substance with the Father.

I am, in short, deducing the existence of the Third Person of God, also known as the Holy Spirit--and now the Unity has reached a Trinity!

[Next up: an introduction to the 3rd Person of God.]

[A very abbreviated and incomplete summary of the several hundred pages of argument preceding these chapters, can be found in my July 4th essay The Heart of Freedom. It does not, however, cover the particular problem referenced here--I did say abbreviated and incomplete... {g}]

5 comments:

One of my footnote comments was too long for me to feel like I could include it in the text, so I am appending it here.

....... [footnote begins afterward]

He would be the Son, not the Father; because the Son--the self-expression, the self-begotten aspect of God--is the basic action of God, and the Incarnation of God would be an action of similar type. This would also include the general category of divine manifestations of Himself, I think. Keep in mind that I am not necessarily talking about sexual gender (if any) in such manifestations; the choice of this would be God's, and would depend on His purposes for the manifestation. I will have more to say about this later.

"If we cannot perceive something of the principles of God's interPersonal love (the love between Father and Son that grounds all reality), then we will be working at dangerous inefficiency against reality. I think it would be inconsistent with God's love and justice for Him to prevent us from perceiving this...(God--Who Himself is a substantial interPersonal unity)."

A couple thoughts.

First, I admit that in even entering this conversation, I am at least beyond the perceptible realm of my own interests. Therefore it should come as no wonder if I appear ignorant about a great many things in terms of theological ethics.

Second, you seem to be operating upon the presupposition of an “interpersonal” deity (that is, a deity whom is himself more than one person). I find this extremely odd—although Orthodox—and suggest that unless you have done so already, if you want what you are writing to be received by those who do not already believe what you do, it would benefit you greatly to spend several chapters setting up the arguments and evidences that suggest an interpersonal deity...especially if the fact of this deity’s interpersonal existence is so vital to your ethical discussion. And I hope I am not suggesting something new if I say you should also interact with the arguments of detractors in doing so.

Third, as someone who is mostly interested in ancient near eastern and old testament literature, languages, and history...I must say that I have never come across anything in the ancient world or even in ancient Judaism that would suggest YHWH or the ultimate god as being interpersonal. If it would be inconsistent for God to not let us perceive his interpersonal nature—and if you belief that God is not inconsistent—then I suggest you also spend a great deal of time going through the historical and literary evidences which verify this interpersonal nature throughout the many millennia before the Trinity was codified. Although I do not believe there is much of anything to suggest this, I would welcome the attempt.

Some things that don't make sense...

“I mean our contact with God as 'pure spirit'” doesn't make sense in terms of a purity of spirit that has nothing to do with nature. If there were such a “pure spirit” it would be beyond our ability for contact with it. What we human beings refer to when we use the word “contact” is interaction with something that is part of the forms and structures of our creation. Contact according to a definition which sidesteps this would be an inconsistent Romanticism—using the word to mean something it cannot mean in the same way that Naturalists will speak of personality even thought the consistent end of their own idea makes personality a nonsense word.

This also doesn't make sense: “But I am speaking instead of God's usual mode of operation with respect to us; and Nature will not quite do for that.” I don't know what God you're referring to... But the god called YHWH has a very usual modus operandi (at least when it comes to his creation) and that always involves nature.

“He is, at least, a self-begetting entity Who is a Person and thus (by being 'self-begetting') is at least Two Persons”

Why should or would YHWH have to be two persons if he is self-dependent on himself for his existence? I don't see any logical or rational reason to deduce this.

Hi Slav! Nice to hear from you again; been a while! Hope things are going as well as can be expected with you!

{{First, I admit that in even entering this conversation, I am at least beyond the perceptible realm of my own interests.}}

I am a little surprised that you bothered to comment at all, then. {lol!} But I appreciate the comment anyway. {s} (Um, comments.)

{{Second, you seem to be operating upon the presupposition of an “interpersonal” deity (that is, a deity whom is himself more than one person).}}

This was covered near the end of those “several hundred (currently unpublished) pages” I mentioned in my intro, which being currently unpublished I cannot point to yet. {g} Several of my recent entries have referred back to the argument, but only very generally since (in theory) someone would have plowed through the previous material first to even get to this section of chapters. A highly abbreviated and somewhat incomplete version of those several hundred pages of prior argumentation can be found in the “Heart of Freedom” essay, though, as I mentioned at the bottom of the page.

Topically of course the position can be considered ‘presupposed’ at this point, but only because I’ve worked on it already. That being said, you are of course entirely correct that the position being developed here hinges on that doctrine having already been established as something I should believe to be true. (All this was written more as a personal exercise originally, and remains that in form and intention, though one I can and do invite a reader to share along with me, so far as the reader can go.)

{{And I hope I am not suggesting something new if I say you should also interact with the arguments of detractors in doing so.}}

Certainly; in fact I wouldn’t have reached an inference about the 3rd Person if I wasn’t taking seriously a particular complaint from detractors (typically applied against monotheism, but still of interest and importance in considering binitarian theism, too.)

For that matter, I proffered the (previously developed) doctrine of God’s interPersonality as the solution to an extremely common and (I argued) weighty complaint lodged by sceptics against theistic ethics. This was also mentioned in recent entries, though the actual explication of the complaint was done some time ago in “the fatal problem with theistic ethics”.

I frequently bend over backward to allow sceptics credit on topics, and I think my record on this is at least better than average.

{{Third, as someone who is mostly interested in ancient near eastern and old testament literature, languages, and history...I must say that I have never come across anything in the ancient world or even in ancient Judaism that would suggest YHWH or the ultimate god as being interpersonal.}}

Obviously there is going to be a debate, then, between you and someone like Robert Morey. {g} I would also argue in favor of this being a feature of the canonical Jewish scriptures (though admittedly that isn’t my own forte); but my argument doesn’t require this to be true, and I don’t proceed in this argument from scriptural authority anyway. (That would beg far too many questions. You may notice Dawn Treader and I are having a disagreement about this in another recent thread.)

{{If it would be inconsistent for God to not let us perceive his interpersonal nature...}}

First, I carefully qualified this, in the previous post (and did so more generally above: “something of the principles of” does not mean “a lot of details about the nature of”, though taken in abstraction from my previous entries I can see why someone might think I meant that.) In my previous post, I wrote “To go against the principles of this ‘behavior of reality’, would be to minimize our efficiency at dealing with reality... Therefore, I think it would be necessarily contrary to God’s love (and thus also to His justice, which is the positive enactment toward fair-togetherness) for Him to prevent us from perceiving something of the principles of His love and justice.” Going back yet another post (which I was summarizing there), it should be obvious that I’m talking about ethics, not about specific doctrinal facts concerning God’s nature.

It may be perceived that I have built in a wide minimum here, so to speak. I haven’t discussed the minimum level yet, but for what it’s worth I don’t consider the minimum level to be a knowledge about God’s own multipersonal character.

Second, I also wrote (in the previous entry), “If any given person never came to know God as a Person, that would be a fundamental breach of love on God’s part.” This was in context of the considered possibility that “God might [even] completely mask His personhood from us as a species.” My insistence though was about an eventuality to be fulfilled, which God would be intending and acting toward. This leaves over a very broad swath for results to fall within at any given time and place.

{{If there were such a “pure spirit” it would be beyond our ability for contact with it.}}

It would be beyond our ability to force a contact, that’s true; if a supernatural entity upon which we are totally dependent does not institute contact with us, then no contact will be achieved by us. (Keeping in mind that my discussion at the point you referenced was on a somewhat different topic anyway; but I still accept the question.) On the other hand, by tautology if such an entity enacts contact with us who are within this system, then the effects (whatever they are) will be within this system. (This was discussed in those several hundred currently unpublished pages, incidentally.)

This being said, there is an important qualifier in your complaint which involves something different from what my argument is about: our contact with God “doesn't make sense in terms of a purity of spirit that has nothing to do with nature.” [my emphasis added]

But according to my argument, God _does_ have something to do with Nature: God is the creator and sustainer of Nature. Admittedly, if there was an entity that had nothing at all to do with our natural system, then by tautology not only could there be no contact from us to it, there would be no contact from it to us. (This was addressed in at least two different Sections of chapters in that still unpublished material, incidentally.) But if God is continually sustaining our natural system, which is what supernaturalism involves, then contact is being constantly and most intimately maintained. (Incidentally, this would also be true if supernaturalistic atheism was true instead, the difference being that the Independent Fact wouldn’t be actively intentional.)

Granted, if God/Nature cosmological dualism was true, then God would have nothing at all to do with Nature, and would be unable to affect Nature even if He intended to. But I decided long ago against cosmological dualism (God/Nature or otherwise) on various grounds, so that isn’t the kind of God I’m talking about now.

{{What we human beings refer to when we use the word “contact” is interaction with something that is part of the forms and structures of our creation.}}

Or at least is affecting the forms and structures of our natural system. Or moreover is the sustaining Creator of our ‘creation’. {g}

It should be noticed that I am not sidestepping your complaint, but acknowledging the proper strength of it (where applicable) and even working within it (in this case.)

{{But the god called YHWH has a very usual modus operandi (at least when it comes to his creation) and that always involves nature.}}

Certainly no disagreement from me. {g} (I am a little surprised you didn’t bother to apply this against your own previous complaint...)

What I am talking about, when I said “Nature will not quite do for that”, is in reference to a special problem of common overarching grounding being necessary for communication--a special problem usually leveled by sceptics against theism, by the way. You may have noticed that I was referring back to an argument along this line already made back in those unpublished chapters; here I was conscientiously applying the same potential problem to God’s communication with us.

{{Why should or would YHWH have to be two persons if he is self-dependent on himself for his existence? I don't see any logical or rational reason to deduce this.}}

Covered in a previous section, but that’s an important question of course. I occasionally mention it in recent chapters (each entry on the journal is usually part of a chapter), but not fully. I started this series of entries from another topical context, so those chapters weren’t referred to.

You may recall me saying over on Victor’s board occasionally, that in order to solve a problem on a particular metaphysical point, I would have to argue first for numerous other points, and there simply wasn’t any way I could do that in a comment. Similarly, in order to properly answer your question, I would have to go back and do several entries on the topic--at which point even if the argument was technically accepted, many things could (and should) still be pointed out that are having to be accepted first--and so I’d have to go back further and further, etc.

The shortest answer, then, is that I can’t answer this question without simply starting from the very outset of the argument and proceeding forward, and we’d still have to cover several hundred pages of other things before getting to _that_ topic. I plan to do it eventually, but... {shrug} To be fair, it’s entirely possible you could dissent irreconcilably with the argument a long time before getting to the answer of your question.

I certainly don’t ask you to accept that (or any) position, though, without seeing the reason of it first; not in an argument of this sort. (Sometimes it’s necessary to accept a position on personal trust, but this isn’t that kind of case, and I see no reason why you would personally trust me on it anyway. {shrug}{s})

So, I don’t mind at all if you hold off thereby on this ground. That’s the reasonable and prudent thing to do.

JRP

Incidentally, looking over my notes for the next entry, I see I am summarizing positions reasoned out in the previous section of chapters before the section represented by these entries, in regard to the multipersonal unity of God's active self-existence. It still isn't the full argument, but it may be clearer than the other references I've recently made in the entries.

JRP

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