Creation and the Second Person -- Principles of a Commonly Shared Nature

[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, concluding chapter 27, can be found here.]

[This entry constitutes chapter 28, "Principles of a Commonly Shared Nature".]

In the most recent few chapters, I have deduced that I must exist within a reactive system which is itself a declension from (not equivalent to) God.

I think this type--and source--of Nature accounts for many interesting features, not only of Christian doctrine (I'll get back to that later), but of science. Consider how Nature seems to be at once infinite and yet finite; no boundaries to a three-dimensional space are conceivable, yet we can measure the 'size' of the universe and wonder into what it is 'expanding'. When we try to figure out the 'age' of the universe, we are left with a series of paradoxes, which seem to indicate the universe had a beginning, and yet also that physical time cannot be calculated in such a manner at that point of space/time. When we study the properties of the very minutest parts of the physical world, we find paradoxes galore; as only one example, we find photons and electrons and other subatomic structures which not only combine particulate and wave-energy characteristics, but which seem to exhibit these properties (and behave accordingly) based on the intent of conscious observation! Mathematic formulae and increasingly fine observation seem to buttress each other in telling us that subatomic particles seem to pop into existence without apparent cause, then pop back out again. (Though of course these microevents cannot actually be uncaused; that would be contradictory, not merely paradoxical.) The forced change of behavior of one electron (itself an entity with paradoxical properties) can be experimentally verified to affect the behavior of another electron at distance with no intervening physical link detectable.

In many ways, at the largest and smallest regions of this field of reality which we call Nature, we meet a series of paradoxical 'as if' behaviors: as if infinite, yet as if finite. Small wonder we have been very confused about the 'nature' of Nature!

I do not think I can honestly say, that if I had deduced my position before learning these things about Nature, I would have been able to predict these specific properties. But I think I can say that I would have been expecting something of this paradoxical sort. The form of the physical paradoxes might have taken me by surprise, but the existence of the paradoxes would not have.

Such 'hindsight predictability' for a theory may not, in the end, count for very much: many of these paradoxes might fit just as well into an atheistic reality. But for whatever it is worth, there the 'hindsight prediction' is.

If I was the only indigenous inhabitant of this mediatorial 'Nature', then God could, I suppose, have produced a field of reality that bowed to my every whim. Yet although this would be a possibility, I doubt God would have actually done it; for such manifestation of obvious power on my part would run the serious danger of providing me a means to close my eyes to the truth of my position (assuming God granted me this knowledge from the beginning, which isn't something I have argued yet) and so to willfully pretend it was by my own inherent power that I so effectively manipulated Nature. (Perhaps it is no coincidence that the Big Three Theisms claim the chief rebel against God was once the most powerful of His rational creations! I do not know a tradition that he was the lone inhabitant of his Nature, though: his rebellion affected, and hurt, more creatures than himself.) Or, if God had decided to wait until later to reveal my relationship to Him, then I would have been in even greater danger of self-conceited fatuity--for from the beginning I would have perceived myself to be what God in reality is: the ultimate master of reality.

No, I suspect if I was the lone inhabitant of Nature, it would still be a reality largely autonomous to my wishes--especially if God had chosen not to grant me a thorough perception of He Himself from my very beginning. God would thereby use Nature as a type of screen upon which I could begin to learn of He Himself--something not-me, greater than me, upon which I depend.

These are but speculations, although I think they are profitable ones and I may yet call some of these applications of principle into (a somewhat different) service. For the moment, however, I can set such speculations aside: I am not alone in this Nature. You (my reader) are here also; you and others, who are like me--for I must presume you are like me in some critical respects, if I am to mean anything by writing an 'argument'. If God lets two of His creations interact with one another, what necessities must entail?

First, you and I must share a common overarching system that allows for points of contact.

It does not need to be exactly the same system--your system of Nature could be extranatural to some degree to my own, and even supernatural to my own (to the extent that some set of properties of your system could affect mine without being affected in turn). In that case, both systems must still rest within an overarching system that allows for common contact. This archsystem could itself be a reactive Nature (with God at least one step beyond it again), or the archsystem might be God Himself (literally 'allowing' the points of contact between subordinate systems He has created). I expect there are numerous possibilities here; but you and I could just as easily exist within the same common subsystem.

And I will here append, as a simple inference from sensory experience: it seems to me that I and (at least!) other human beings all do inhabit a common system of Nature--what we call the space-time physical world. For simplicity's sake (although not forgetting other possibilities), I will here assume that this is true--I suspect very few of my readers will insist that they and I are metaphysically related to one another as angels or devils have traditionally been said to be related to men!

Assuming then (or better, inferring at least inductively from sense experience) that you and I share a single common system of Nature, which allows (by God's providence) our points of contact, I move to the second necessity. You and I must be distinctly separated enough within the system so that we can distinguish each other. Whatever 'space' happens to be, it fits this requirement very well; and whatever 'time' happens to be, it allows us to distinguish between persons who are no longer in, or have not yet arrived within, this system proximately to us. Our Nature, which physically separates us, also allows us to contact one another.

In these modern days, we can use internet computer access as an illustration of the same principle: you and I can meet and interact distinctively within a common 'on-line' environment, whereas without it we might never have been in a position to meet. I can think of several good friends whom I would never have had the chance to know (at least before my death) without the common on-line subsystem of the internet.

The third necessary principle for your and my common interaction within a system, recalls an earlier point of mine: if you and I are to inhabit a common system, what type of necessary relation should we have to that system in terms of effective ability? If every bit of matter and energy in the system obeyed my whim and not yours, then there would be no way for 'you' to interact with me as 'yourself'. Your body might interact with me; but it would merely be as my puppet, not as a reflection or symbol of you yourself.

Again, our modern computer internet access allows us a very useful illustration. Some on-line games allow visitors to tour the gaming environments without participating in the game. This can be very handy for learning the game environment, or for learning how other people play the game; it can even be merely entertaining. But if I am only a spectator within an on-line game where you are playing, then I cannot possibly make myself known to you as myself. If I have absolutely no ability to manipulate the gaming environment, then you and I cannot meet. If I only 'ride along' behind 'your' eyes as you run and shoot (or whatever) from place to place, and 'listen' to what you say to your teammates, then you and I still are not meeting and interacting together.

On the other hand, if the 'visitor' mode allows me to type my own comments so you can see them, now we can interact, and even personally interact--because I can manipulate some of the environment myself. But it would still be a rather lopsided interaction.

The maximum ability I can have of interacting with you within a given system, is if we each share similar abilities to manipulate the environment--I must be able to 'play the game' with you, in order to 'be'... 'with'... 'you'.

But playing the game means being bound by its rules, or very seriously accepting its rules in stringent (and charitable!) self-discipline, not only having access to its resources--and for a very good reason (in terms of our effective interaction): if we both have total control over the environment, only the greatest charity and humblest self-abdication will prevent our interactions from degenerating into a chaotic muddle. If any of my readers have ever participated in an on-line universe where almost everyone has 'god-level' abilities to affect the universe by writing code to alter its reality, you will understand the practical application of this principle very well. And, in passing, I would expect a true religious revelation of a future life where we are granted massive supernatural power, to also include requirements that we must learn to be as humble and charitable as possible.

Meanwhile, I am reaching the conclusion that if God expects you and I to 'live together' (to whatever degree!), then you and I need to be provided with a neutral playing field, so to speak; and our level of (God-given and sustained) authority within this system to affect it, would be more-or-less directly proportionate to what might be called our 'goodwill'.

God could, as far as I can tell, go about this any number of ways. He could bring us along from simple beginnings to grow into whatever power we are fit for; or He might perhaps start us off rather farther along the scale, with the necessary provision that (if He wants to keep a stable 'game' going) the moment we begin to abuse our authority then our authority shall be drastically reduced. These, a combination of these, or perhaps even other scenarios are possible.

But our experience will tell us, that you and I currently inhabit a reality where our ability to manipulate the physical environment in a supernaturally efficient manner ends at our own brains, which form a sort of stopgate through which any other actions we take in our environment must (currently) be mediated.

And if we look at the abuses we and our forebears have wrought with what little power we possess, I don't think it will take much imagination to speculate why we currently have such limitations.

Why we have such limitations, however, is for the moment merely speculation of possibilities. Mainly what I want to establish here is that Nature as we find it, is the sort of self-consistent, neutrally reactive, largely autonomous entity that could be predicted from a deductive metaphysical argument.

But, I don't want to go further than my purview here. The specific Nature we find is, after all, only one possible result of the sort of Nature I have been deducing is necessary for you and I to interact most efficiently. I am not claiming I can deduce that this particular Nature is the Nature we should have expected. But I think this is one of a certain kind of Nature that fits the bill.

The fourth necessity of a Nature in which you and I can commonly interact is, once more, a restatement of a position I have already established: the natural system should be reliable and, to its own degree, self-consistent. This could be (as before) an inference from the proposal that Nature is a derivative creation of a self-consistent God; it would therefore exhibit distinctive 'natural' properties. But those properties would neither exhaust nor fill the total properties of the infinite Independent Fact that (or Who) grounds and creates and maintains it. Miracles could happen within the natural system.

But if so, the miracles will be like actions taken by rational programmers, or users, within a computing system; a well-designed system not only shall not crash, but shall easily accept and react effectively to such input--indeed, it might not be a very well-designed system if it lacked this characteristic of manipulability! And in the case of God--the ultimate and rationally active expression of 'self-consistency' possible--the miracles would never be merely random (however they might seem to us), but would fit whatever plenitude of purpose God intended for that Nature and for its history.

If God for some reason wanted to be a revelatory God--to reveal Himself, for instance, to us in some effective fashion (although I have hardly established this yet)--then it is entirely likely that those miracles will have that end (at least) in view.

But, then again, this is not entirely necessary. As far as my argument has gone, God has no obligation to intelligibly reveal Himself through the use of miracles: He might perform miracles for other reasons (entirely good enough for Him, though inscrutable to us), or He might choose to perform no detectable miracles at all. His creation of a boulder, and His maintenance of it in continuing existence (for however long that might be), would both count as 'miracles' in a technical sense--the creation of 'Nature', or of any effect within Nature from an outside cause, cannot in itself be considered 'natural'--but He might choose not to lift the boulder, letting His established Nature 'take its course' in its own systemic behaviors.

Be that either here or there, the system will exhibit properties which we can, analogically (but usefully), speak of as 'its own'. If you and I are intended (by God) to interact in it, it shouldn't 'crash' (to speak in computer parlance again), preventing the users from effectively interacting within that environmental system. If God intends for you and I to effectively interact, He will provide us as stable a Nature as necessary for our interaction to happen; and considering that He is God, I think we can expect the system to work very well, to say the least!

(This is hardly a new principle; the Jews, for instance, have from antiquity proclaimed that God's natural creations are 'true' in the sense of 'stable' or 'reliable'. 'Emeth' is their own word to describe the characteristic; to that extent the creations share a divine characteristic. Similarly, one of the verses of the Koran represents God as saying, "The heavens and earth and all in between--do you think that I made them in jest!?")

As I have already indicated, I suppose it is not utterly nonsensical to say that God could have set up this subsystem of Nature differently. We might even, perhaps, discover that He did set it up differently, but then changed the rules at some point for some reason. And I suppose we have no assurance that God won't change the rules of Nature tomorrow.

But since God must be self-consistent to His own plans and desires and choices, I think we can safely presume that if He does change the rules, He will have good reasons for it. We might keep on the lookout for good evidence that He plans to alter the rules we know (which evidence He may or may not provide); but otherwise the most reasonable thing to do is to assume that tomorrow's rules will be the same as today's, because if they will be signficantly different (and presuming for the moment we have no way of knowing they will be) then there is nothing we can do about it, really, except deal with it if it happens.

We ought, meanwhile, to be a little prudently nervous to consider that God could, at any time, "roll back the skies like a scroll"! Such nervousness at least acknowledges God's place in, or rather as, the great scheme of things. That nervousness would be better than ignorance about God's existence, and miles better than a willful shutting of our eyes to the reality of things if once they begin to be revealed. The fear of the Lord may in fact be the beginning of wisdom: the beginning of the most proper and effective application of our intelligence.

With such principles on the table, I am now fast approaching the question of personal relationships between us and God, and between you and I as derivative humans. I am, in short, approaching the topic of ethics. For if a neutral and stable reality of some sort is a necessity for you and I to interact, you could choose to use a piece of lumber to build a house or to whack my brains out. What God could or would do about such a situation also begins to be touched on. And the shadow of objective ethical grounding begins to loom ahead.

Yet if we don't have free will, then the question of ethics is meaningless (as I will show later, to anticipate myself somewhat). Therefore, before I can turn to the question of the 'logic of personal relationships', I must finally, at long last, deal with the issue I have been putting off since the end of Section Two: the feasibility of proposing that derivative actions can be 'produced' by an ultimate Act-er.

[Next up: a foundational summary]


Jason Pratt said…
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