CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

[Introductory note from Jason Pratt: the previous entry in this series of posts can be found here. The first entry can be found here.]

In my discussion building up to (in hindsight) a positive argument for God's existence and character, I have been trying to pare off variations of philosophy which as far as I can tell are contradictory at their primary level--and of course I have tried to explain why I do not accept philosophies which require an active advocacy of contradiction.

In the process of trying to avoid absurdity, I have introduced the concept of what I am calling an Independent (or alternately an Interdependent) Fact--an IF. As I have done this, I find I am essentially recognizing and calling attention to something which everyone at bottom agrees exists; because in the process of checking the systemic integrity of fundamental proposals, I have discovered that even the opponents of an IF, if they are saying anything other than meaningless nonsense, are talking (without realizing it) about an IF.

As I have said, in a way my conclusion can be considered a variation of the Ontological Argument--but only in a limited sense. The IF might be sentient (a SIF), and be a supernaturalistic or naturalistic God; or it might be non-sentient (a n-SIF) and be the ultimate level of reality posited by atheists (be they naturalists or supernaturalists). Either way, I have concluded that we can discover (in principle) particularly real things about this IF--we can, in principle, affirm and falsify propositions about it.

I suggested at the end of my previous chapter [and entry] that some of my readers may here raise a very pertinent question: since I have now decided that I must discuss an IF, should I be speaking of only one IF? Or could there be a limited (not infinite) set of IFs?

As it happens, the principles of multiple IFs may be discussed by considering the idea that only two of them exist; and interestingly, when philosophers and priests throughout history have proposed the existence of equal but separate ultimate entities, they almost invariably propose two rather than more. I will be concentrating, then, on 'ontological dualisms' in this chapter--as I hope you will see, whether we are talking about two or two hundred multiple IFs, the underlying principles come out to be the same either way.

I call these philosophies 'ontological dualisms' to distinguish them from other topics in philosophy which may be called 'dualisms'. (Though I've been in the habit until recently of calling them 'cosmological dualisms'; but 'ontological dualism' is more accurate.) For instance, the theory that the human mind is to some degree independent of the human body is known as 'mind-body dualism'. But M-B dualism is a rather specialized topic within an already established overarching philosophy; and right now I am trying to decide what types of overarching philosophies do (or, deductively, do not) make sense as viable contenders for The Way Reality Really Is.

I think it doesn't matter in the end what type of ontological dualism is being proposed; but for purposes of example, let me present two of the most popular types. One I will call God/Nature dualism. The other, I will call God/Anti-God dualism.

God/Nature dualism proposes that God and Nature both exist and both are independent of each other. Nature cannot affect God; God cannot affect Nature. Nature is self-existent; God is self-existent. Neither one produced the other; both are eternal. Strictly speaking, God is extranatural, not supernatural, to Nature.

Put another way, one ultimate system is sentient (God), one ultimate system is non-sentient (Nature), and neither is 'above' or 'below' the other. Nature could be considered to be sentient or non-sentient in this type of dualism. A nominal deist who takes his worldview (God exists but has minimal effect on Nature) further into ontological dualism would, for instance, very probably consider Nature to be non-sentient. On the other hand, I think some religions in world history have proposed that Nature and Supernature are both sentient, yet are also both equal and Independent of each other. (When such beliefs involve masculine/feminine notions, however, a very curious implication follows--which I will discuss later in Section Two.)

God/Anti-God dualism states that Nature (which is usually agreed to exist--and is usually agreed to be non-sentient) is dependently produced by two ultimate entities. Both these entities are sentient, but they are both perfectly equal in power. Neither one can affect the other; neither one depends on the other; neither one produced the other; each entity is self-existent and was not created. [Footnote: being sentient, one IF might perhaps choose to allow Itself to be affected by the other, although this is dubious--see below...]

Although these two variants of 'cosmic dualism' have their own distinctive features, both of them propose or require two IFs to exist. Let me look more closely, however, at what this common idea entails.

By the terms of the proposal, the two IFs can have no power to affect each other. The problems associated with this can escape our notice because we, as humans, affect each other and Nature (and are affected in turn) all the time. But you and I as humans are not independents--certainly not within the worldview of any cosmic dualism I am aware of. We are at the very least commonly dependent on the overarching natural system that encompasses us.

For instance, I can poke you, and you may or may not be able to prevent me. If you can prevent me, then something other than my own choices may be constraining me; if so, then I am either partially dependent on this 'something', or this 'something' and I are interdependent and can affect each other equally.

But two interdependent entities, considered as themselves, must be part of an overarching system that allows them to interact with one another. For example, the system of Nature encompasses both you and me.

This principle may not seem important when we are discussing 'dualisms' merely in theory; but it becomes devastating when a dualism is practically proposed. [Footnote: the principles also has some striking consequences in regard to a theistic IF. I'll be developing this topic much later in Section Four.]

Let us say a God/Nature dualism exists. Why should we say that? You and I are evidently part of Nature in some fashion; Nature affects our ability to think and to move. What does the proposal of a supernatural IF provide us, if Nature is also Independent? Explanations of events? What events? Not any event exhibited in Nature: for Nature as an Independent is invulnerable to extra-Natural effects. God might choose (as a sentient entity) to allow something, such as an extra-natural (or even a derivative) Nature, to affect Him; but a non-sentient Nature does not have that option. [Footnote: the implications of this notion in regard to a pair of sentient IFs will be discussed presently.]

God, in this proposal, can only exhibit events Nature does not exhibit; so how are we to perceive God? If we cannot perceive God's effects we are left with no grounds to accept a proposal of Him; if we can perceive God's effects, then under God/Nature dualism they cannot be effects within Nature. But that doesn't matter, because we are derivative of Nature (at least) under this theory; here we are in Nature, thus we must be derivative of Nature, and not derivative of God, Who (as an extra-Natural entity, even though also an IF) cannot cause effects within another IF system. Yet, under God/Nature dualism, we can somehow perceive God. This perception must either be sheer illusion (and there goes our last ground for accepting the proposal of a God/Nature dualism, leaving us with Nature as the IF); or else we somehow share or exhibit or form a common ground where the two effects (Divine and Natural) meet in some way.

But there can be no common ground in a cosmic dualism! Otherwise it isn't a cosmic dualism, because the common ground shows the existence of an overarching system that (even if metaphorically) 'encloses' the two effect-producers.

The actual implications of a God/Nature dualism, then, require me to reject it. Any conditions that might give me some initial grounds for concluding a God/Nature dualism, also require that I must be mistaken to conclude this. I grant (as I have done before) that someone could sheerly assert this; but I have explained why I do not think a mere assertion counts as a belief in the proposition. The characteristics of a God/Nature dualism, repel my ability to cogently propose, or accept, its existence. This being the case, I will believe that something else is true.

Let us say, as another example, that a God/Anti-God dualism exists. Why should we say that? You and I are obviously part of Nature in some fashion; and Nature for this scheme must be derived equally from these entities--otherwise it immediately runs into the problems of the God/Nature dualism.

But a God/Anti-God dualism cannot avoid the same problem in the end: both entities are supposed to be introducing effects into Nature (even if they are only limited to being the common Creators of Nature)

SIF dualisms often propose that the two SIFs must be equal and opposite to each other. If so, each SIF would have an intrinsic interest in opposing whatever the Other is doing, including within commonly shared systems such as our Nature. Any action taken by one entity within the proposed common system should be capable of being instantly countered as a zero-sum opposing effect by the other entity; and this zero-sum effect would be a guaranteed result of two necessarily equal/opposite entities, with perfectly ultimate access to our natural system. Certainly this would be true of a God/Anti-God dualism!

And I think dualists are correct to propose that a dual set of IFs would necessarily be opposed to one another in this fashion, down to their final foundational characteristics. Any characteristics they shared would imply a commonality of their own (purportedly Independent) 'natures'.

This leads back to the most fundamental problem with any type of dualism, including God/Anti-God: the concept of two (or more) IFs sharing any commonality, even a common field of activity or sheer existence, is contradictory to the concept of both of them being truly Independent. It indicates, instead, that they share some overarching reality, and this reality (not them) would be the true IF.

If it comes to it, the mere fact that we (as derivative beings) can even think of two completely Independent entities, slurs over the fact that (for the moment at least) our own minds become the common medium. If more than one IF does exist, I think it would be a contradiction in terms for us to even imagine their existence.

I do not know whether I have entirely removed ontological dualisms from possible consideration; but I am disinclined to consider a cosmological dualism as a viable option. Thinking through the implications of such notions, leads me directly to something other than a cosmological dualism: it leads me to some single IF. [See first comment below for a deferred footnote here.]

I will now add that theisms are not dualisms, and are not usually presented as such. [See second comment below for a deferred footnote here.] Jews, Christians and Muslims may believe in a Most Powerful Evil Entity--a Satan, or Shai'tan--but it turns out there are legitimate metaphysical reasons why we should, and do, say this entity is a derivative rebel against God, not an equal-and-opposite opponent.

Often theists will allow that Satan may have an equal-powered (and equally derivative) opponent against whom he fights. The Big Three Theisms have historically tended to identify this good opponent as the archangel Michael. But 'evil' (per se) is not explained this way--by theists, at least. (I will be returning to this in a much later chapter.)

Having brought up peripherally the concept of other Very Powerful Entities, I will now backtrack a little and explain in a bit more detail the notion of God which, even as a sceptic, I would consider the primary argument to be about.

[Next time: God and gods]


.......[first deferred footnote here]

I will be returning on occasion to the concept of multiple IFs, in future sections of my book, in order to draw further contrasts between proposals.

I will also mention here that I distinguish between an ontological dualism (or other multiple-IFism) and a doctrine such as trinitarian theism. I realize this will look rather suspicious of me; but I cannot go into the details of the differences yet. At the moment, I will merely observe that multiple-IF systems, such as ontological dualisms, propose that the multiple IFs exist in complete and thorough independence of each other; whereas, for example, the Father and Son of the trinitarian Unity, do not exist independently of each other in any sense.

The intellectual difficulties of a trinitarian theology are admittedly intense, and efforts at reconciling the implications have led to the creation of many other religious groups, from modern times back throughout the history of Christianity. I think such solutions are incorrect, as I hope to demonstrate later; but I am certainly willing to believe the solutions were attempted in good faith--and accepted by God, in good faith. (Not that He would accept any error per se, but rather any good-faith intentions by which the people acted. Granted, this presumes a bunch of things, such as God's graciousness and charity and even existence, which I haven't established yet.)

.......[second deferred footnote]

When such dualistic theisms formally arise in history, they are inevitably proposed to be distinct from mainstream theisms--by the mainstreamers and the innovators alike. On the other hand, it can be easy for a mainstream theist who isn't paying attention to his implications, to accidentally propose what amounts to an ontological dualism, even though when pressed he would disagree with the notion.

Also, I further distinguish between accidental slippage on one hand; intentional but serious alteration on the other; and intentional but fictional innovations: dualisms proposed in literature, film or other stories for merely narrative convenience. Such innovations are not usually intended to be definite metaphysical propositions; although given the right common desire to understand our world through stories, the line between mere narrative convenience and serious metaphysical proposal can quickly become blurred. I am entirely in favor of such attempts, when made in good faith; I only want to remind my reader that Satan may be presented as equal and opposite of God in a movie (for example), but this doesn't mean it makes sense, nor that theists accept such a belief as theists.

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