Creation and the Second Person -- The Aseity

[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, the last for chapter 21, and the last for Section Two, can be found here.]

[This entry constitutes Chapter 22, "The Aseity", and starts Section Three, "Creation and the Second Person".]

I have discovered (if my argument holds water) that the fundamental ground of all reality is active and sentient, and thus is a Personality. He must, at the barest minimum, be sentient to the degree that I require my own active and sentient properties to be distinctively real. What more He may be, remains to be discovered, if possible.

Let me look at a potential problem that many readers will now have. Where did God come from?

In one sense, the answer can be deferred; for no matter what philosophy we espouse--atheism or pantheism or theism or anything else--we will fetch up eventually with a reality that just is. (Even if an infinite regression could be possible, it still would finally be an infinite regression. Such a finality, of course, is contradictory to the whole notion of an infinite regression...) The naturalistic atheist who rejects God is still left with an entity--Nature--that just is; if she seriously asked where Nature 'came from', other than from Itself, she would be tacitly denying naturalism. She might thus become a supernaturalistic atheist; but then she would fetch up at a new irreducible stopping point.

Yet, although the question ('Where did God come from?') could be deferred, I would rather not. I think the question leads directly to a highly useful understanding about the characteristics of God; and simultaneously ratifies, in a minor way, my developing argument that a non-sentient Independent Fact is not the end, and source, of reality.

Whatever the IF is, It cannot have 'come into existence from nowhere', for that is a contradiction which owes its shreds of fictive plausibility to our inability to properly imagine a true 'nowhere'.

We think of a black space, and then of Nature (for instance) 'banging' into existence; but the space of Nature evidently already existed for physical material to expand into, and thus physical Nature does not have its true origin in that fashion. The blank slate may be self-existent, or it may have been created, but it is a slate and therefore exists; it is not nothing. [See first comment below for extended footnote here.]

Now, if I had no other (and prior) grounds for being logically confident that God exists (that the IF is rational and intentionally active, and so indeed even personal in some ultimate way) I would still strongly edge in favor of accepting theism, against an atheistic reality, by considering the question of whether fundamental reality, the Independent Fact, merely statically exists, uncaused, or whether the IF eternally causes its own existence.

In technical terms, this is called the question of “aseity”; “privative aseity” means the IF merely exists uncaused, “positive aseity” means the IF self-existently causes Its own existence. In no case does the IF receive existence from anything else; otherwise we wouldn’t in fact be talking about the Independent Fact! [See second comment below for an extended footnote here.]

You may have already noticed that one option, privative aseity, means that fundamentally the IF does not act (or even behave), whereas if positive aseity is true then the most fundamental reality of the IF is action (or at least behavior). That’s an important distinction, and I’ll be discussing it soon. But before then, I want to point out a major technical and formal problem with one of those options--a problem the other proposal doesn’t have!

This strong formal problem occurs due to a special property the IF must have in order for any argument we make to be relationally valid; and this time I don’t mean action ability (although I’ll also be discussing that issue in regard to aseity soon.)

For any argument of ours to even exist as an argument, much moreso for it to be worth anything, it must be caused and grounded. The argument must exist as the effect of a cause; and it must also have the property of being a logical consequent to a ground. Without being an effect of a cause, the argument wouldn’t exist at all; but without being properly consequent to a ground, the argument is invalid and so is worthless for understanding the truth of the topic being thought about.

The Cause/Effect relationship and the Ground/Consequent relationship are not necessarily the same thing--in fact at our level of reality they are categorically different things! Philosophers call this the fact/value distinction; you may have heard of a special version of it called the is/ought problem. The factness of an event, even though real, doesn’t have the same kind of quality as the value of an event, so merely appealing to a fact doesn’t necessarily establish the value of a fact.

I’ll be discussing this particularly in regard to ethics much later (in Section Four). Right now I’m talking about logic more broadly. As I discussed back in Section Two (and even back in Section One, at Chapter 4), the rationality of our behavior is something different from its logical validity; but for an argument to be worthwhile as a tool for understanding truth, it also has to have logical validity! If I make a mistake, I may still be acting rationally, but the mistake will mean my argument is invalid. Indeed here we may see there are (at least!) three categorically different qualities to what is happening: the event of the argument, as an effect of a cause; the validity or invalidity of the argument, in regard to the ground/consequent relationship; and the rationality (or not) of the entity doing the argument.

In short: if any argument of ours is ultimately uncaused, then it cannot (and never did) happen at all; and if any argument of ours is invalid (even allowing for different kinds of invalidity, whether inductive, abductive or deductive), then it is worthless for arriving at a true understanding of the facts of the topic. And our rationality is not a guarantee in itself that these other two qualities will also be true about our argument.

And here comes the first ontological problem with privative aseity: if privative aseity is true, then all our arguments are ultimately uncaused, because all reality (including our arguments) is ultimately uncaused!

I am willing to grant that due to the paradoxical and unique properties of the IF as such, it might be that the IF can (in various ways, directly and/or indirectly) provide causation for our arguments, despite the IF having no cause.

But existence is a different category than the ground/consequent relation of an argument. You may be able to see that the IF must somehow combine the qualities of cause/effect and ground/consequent, if any of our arguments are going to be worth anything: we have to be able to trace logical relations back to a grounded foundation. But if privative aseity is true, then the IF is ungrounded as well as uncaused--the IF does not even exist as Its own logical ground: there is ultimately no reason for the IF’s existence either way!

This isn’t quite the same problem as the first metaphysical corollary to the law of noncontradiction--from nothing comes nothing. If privative aseity is true, then by the terms of the proposal there is no question of the IF coming from anything (even from the IF). The IF simply statically exists, and from this Something comes Everything Else (if there is anything else other than the IF--which I haven’t really established yet, remember.)

But if privative aseity is true, then we have every reason from its proposed characteristic of ultimate non-behavior, much less an ultimate lack of action, to believe that nothing else exists other than Itself, and that unlike us the IF does nothing. Moreover, there can be no logical relation between propositions, no consequents to grounds. Put another way, if privative aseity is true, we have every reason to believe that we cannot possibly have any good reason to believe anything, including that privative aseity is true!

If that sounds like my critique of fundamental atheism from the previous Section, there’s a good reason why! If the Independent Fact only statically exists, then behavior of any kind, even merely automatic and systemically reactive/counterreactive behavior, is ultimately foreign to It. And I say “It” because, consequentially, if privative aseity is true, the IF could not be personal either. It would be the very deadest type of atheism: a mere singularity of existence with no detail other than mere ‘existence’ as such; for if it had any other properties besides mere existence, those properties would be relational at least to one another, implying logical grounds--and a privative aseity reality does not have logical grounding even in regard to Itself.

As I argued in the previous Section, though, we don’t only need for our behaviors to come from an ultimately ‘behaving’ reality; we need for at least some of our behaviors to have the property of active rationality, in order for any arguments of ours to be even possibly “rational”--and we are going to necessarily presume that our arguments can be at least possibly “rational”, involving special property claims for ourselves (even in denying the existence of those claims!) Proposing that fundamental reality is non-rational, in other words that atheism is true, immediately introduces a necessarily solvent sceptical threat to the reality of our own rationality--a threat that we cannot even try to resolve (regardless of whether we think we succeed in resolving it!) without first proposing that the threat is not necessarily solvent. Put shortly, we have to necessarily assume that the sceptical threat of atheism isn’t necessary, in order to combat its necessary fundamental threat to the reality of our rationality.

While theism has some potential problems of its own, in regard to our rationality, the threat isn’t necessarily immediate; there are at least a few ways around it from the start (as I discussed back in chapter 20, and will be discussing throughout this Section), and there may be more. Theism at least proposes the same kind of our own necessarily presupposed rationality for sake of any argument.

Privative aseity turns out to have similar formal problems to atheism, with regard to being an immediate and necessary sceptical threat to our rationality; and also turns out to have ontological characteristics much more in common with atheism, indeed with the most ‘atheistic’ atheism conceivable (aside from sheer total non-existence of anything perhaps!)

And yet again, privative aseity runs directly foul of the Golden Presumption, that you and I can act. For if privative aseity is true, then the core foundation of all reality, including all our own behaviors, is non-action. Our rationality cannot be defended by rational argument against that kind of fundamental conceptual threat; we will only end up tacitly presuming something contradictory to the reality of that proposal, in order to acknowledge at least the possibility of the responsible rationality of our own arguments.

Positive aseity just doesn’t have any of those problems. We don’t have to deny key tenets of positive aseity, nor of theism, in order to operate as responsibly rational persons. True, we would have to do so if an atheistic version of positive aseity was proposed--if the IF is proposed to be an eternally self-generating system of reactions and counterreactions. But leaving aside the question of what kind of behavior, positive aseity doesn’t have the fundamental anti-rational problems of privative aseity: putting it a little over-simply, we cannot have any good reason to believe that our reality fundamentally exists for no good reason.

All this being the case, and assuming for purposes of further argument that my prior arguments are sufficiently valid and accurate, I will consider the topic in terms of an entity that I already believe (on those other grounds) to certainly be active: what does it mean, for God to be self-existent?

[Next up: aseity and the Unity of God]


Jason Pratt said…
[First extended footnote]

I am not saying Big Bang theories must therefore be false. I am saying that such theories either propose an eternal physical universe after all, into which new physical material became existent (during the 'Bang'); or else those theories propose a real beginning to this physical universe based on the behavior of a causally predecessory reality. It seems also possible and plausible that we are calculating things wrongly in trying to describe the behaviors and properties of primeval reality: if time behaves differently under different physical dimensions, then our calculations of timing for the expansions could be very wrong; or else the universal-speed-limit of light was grossly violated during initial moments of the bang (or somehow established afterward).

Otherwise the theories are contradictive rubbish, and should be discarded. I have seen a lauded astrophysicist attempt to argue--explicitly for the purpose of denying that Nature was created by God, a notion he described as being intellectually infantile--that our physical Nature 'banged' into existence literally 'from nothing'. His argument, however, relied on treating 'nothing' as exhibiting the properties of a vacuum--despite having soberly reminded us in another part of his argument, that true pre-physical 'nothingness' cannot even be a vacuum!

Perhaps sensing in some dim fashion that he could not have it both ways, he then proceeded to claim that he was not violating the traditional first expression of the law of noncontradiction ('from nothing comes nothing'), by arguing that the matter/energy balance of such a closed naturalistic, non-active (thus non-sentient) reality, comes out to a literal zero-sum--thus 'nothing' is still all that exists!

Strangely, the magazine in which I read this amusing exposition of modern physics, did not entitle their article, "Physics Professor Claims He is Nothing (derides theists as credulous simpletons)"...
Jason Pratt said…
[Second extended footnote]

To give a well-known religious example, Jews, Christians and Muslims may recognize and even venerate “angels”, such as Gabriel or Michael, but are not supposed to worship them: only God Most High, creator of all things, including angels, should be religiously worshiped. For an angel to claim to be his own creator, would be rebellion against God.

This becomes an interesting technical problem for Jews and Christians (Muslims would say the texts have been tampered with to produce the problem!), because in the Jewish Scriptures an angel often shows up, in obscure and very famous stories alike, who not only claims to speak for YHWH Most High but to actually be YHWH Most High (while yet sometimes recognizing the personal distinction of YHWH Most High), including for purposes of religious worship. This figure isn’t always recognized as YHWH at first, although when characters (famous and obscure) figure this out, they often panic: they have seen YHWH Most High, Whom no man can see and live! The prophets typically go on to agree that these people were not mistaken, they did indeed somehow see YHWH Most High. Jewish theologians, ancient and modern, have various ways of accounting for these texts; and Christians took up this problem in a special way when a man showed up making similar claims.

The point is that both (closely related) religious groups agree that they aren’t supposed to religiously worship creatures, only the Creator; so what are they supposed to do with these examples? Reject them? Accept them--and if so, how? This leads to a number of variant solutions, especially in Christianity.

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