[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, starting chapter 29, can be found here.]
[This entry continues chapter 29, "Resolving The Grand Paradox".]
God, if He creates, must first create Nature. Let us say Nature is now up-and-running. It does not have to be exactly our Nature; it could for instance be a Nature inhabited by angels or elves or whatever--but, since I am searching for an explanation that deals with you and me and our behavior and qualities, let me stick with what I know best: this Nature, the one you and I obviously inhabit in some fashion.
The first not-God thing God creates (per se) must be reactive, as distinct from His active character, so that He has created and not begotten (nor generated a Person of God Who has nothing to do with God’s own self-generation--but that’s a topic for later). If God wishes to introduce further effects into this system, above and beyond the effects that this system of itself produces (along its groundrules which He instituted and maintains), how will He accomplish those effects?
By choosing to cease choosing to cease acting.
Analogically we could see this as the injection of action into the system, the way computer designers inject their input into the systems they create (or, if you distrust that metaphor, the way accountants inject money into the accounting system they have established for a company). But I don't think this is the best way to see it, for in the case of the computer programmer or accountant, they have not quite created their subsystems via the method God must have created Nature. They did not sacrifice themselves in order for something 'other than their self' to come into being, nor do they maintain their systems as utterly as God must maintain Nature. In many ways, what the accountant and the computer programmer have done is discover how the world on which they are already dependent operates (to one degree or other) and are recognizing and manipulating those facts. But that is not what God does.
The better answer, I think, is this: to create further effects within Nature, God brings a bit of Himself back to life.
Within His general choice to cease certain action, thus creating limitations within a particularity of His infinitude (subtracting and thus creating a real '1' from a real 'infinity', to speak in mathematical parlance), He could choose to reinstate certain actions. And He could do this in a number of different ways.
At the most basic natural level, I conclude this would entail a partial 'vitalism'. It would not be quite the same 'vitalism' as that philosophy has historically been presented, but it would be similar in several fashions; rather like pantheists weren't quite incorrect after all, either.
Classical vitalists say the basic units of physical matter are alive and have purposes but are non-rational. (Also, they typically either deny the existence of a supernature, or are philosophically unconcerned with the concept.) In a way, they turn out to be correct; but correct in an unexpected, less contradictory fashion--turning the contradiction into a legitimate paradox with an equally legitimate solution. It is also a solution that avoids falsifying our perception of Nature's mechanistic character (taken as itself) being a true fact; rather like our understanding of quantum mechanics, although transcending Newtonian physics, leaves Newtonian physics still very adequate.
The basic units of matter are, in essence, dead; yet they once were alive (not in the sense of chronological sequence, but in the sense that God self-abdicated a portioning of His infinitude to create something not-God), and could be, in a word, resurrected. It could be a full resurrection across all time and space, the re-absorption of Nature into the totality of Deity; but that would nullify the creation, and as I have concluded that I am not-God myself, then God is obviously not doing that.
It must therefore be a partial resurrection, within a partial declension. God could, in this fashion, bring into existence any particle of matter or energy, or any mass of them at any state of coherence and degree of 'excitement', as a sort of miniature creation within the creation. He could at that point, having created these new pieces and set them into motion within His Nature, immediately tamp down or withdraw that basic Life back to (what we would call) its 'natural' level, so that the new situation begins to react and counterreact with Nature-as-already-established.
For what it is worth, I suspect we see this type of event happening in our sub-physics observations. (I use the term ‘see’ loosely, of course, for our detection of such events has nothing to do with ‘sight’ in the common use of that word.)
If God maintained His direct influence (or re-established, rather, a stronger influence) on these particles, rather than withdrawing it again after sub-creating them, then He would be manipulating a clump of natural material directly; driving the material directly, so to speak. But this would still be a limited re-ascendance, for it would be in one place and not another, and might be subject to any number of limitations which God deemed fitting for His purpose in manipulating the material directly in the first place.
So, God could create a bush that burned yet was not consumed, and speak from it; or create a whirling column of fire that moved in many ways according to His direct will and did not naturally dissipate (although its subvenient swirling might at the same time be movements according to the laws He had previously willed into Nature).
These examples would be manifestations of God. Such willful 'driving' of physical material on God's part would not be the creation of derivative sentiences by God; but as possibilities (hypothetical or actual) they do provide some illustrations of important principles to keep in mind. A physical manifestation would be limited in comparison to the totality of God's infinitude--it would be at least in one place and time and not another; yet it wouldn't be limited in quite the same ways (although still in some of the same ways) as the field of Nature.
I have argued that, for God's creation to be a true creation (even if a merely reactive one) and not simply a pantheistic illusion of creation, God must have 'woven' the fabric of the reality so that when basic supernatural energy is fed into it in a specially self-abdicating way, then at those levels it behaves in a random fashion. God never needs to worry about Nature 'behaving' in a surprising manner, for His perception of His creation is not limited by that creation's own limitations (time and space)--the randomness is unpredictable to us, but God transcends the entire natural system. He doesn't "predict" something happening: if He chooses for it to happen, then it happens; and if He chooses for Nature to react in a random fashion, then He perceives at all points of space/time the events and results of Nature’s reaction.
Yet this randomness allows Nature to behave with its own self-consistent character, under the aegis of God's upkeep. Thus a real creation, not a mere seeming, is accomplished. This is, in effect, a type of 'freedom' for Nature. It is not a freedom that is (necessarily) action, nor a freedom that 'produces' (in the total sense) action. But it is a freedom as a result of particular actions of God. It is one, but not necessarily the only, type of derivative freedom.
It is also the sort of freedom that I think must exist, prior to qualitatively higher types of derivative freedom. If that matrix of randomness is not provided within a Nature created by God, then only hard determinism can result in that Nature--indeed only a type of pantheism could be true after all!--and there could never be free derivative actions at all within that Nature.
What I am tempted to do here, is suggest that God 'added up' or 'glued together' in aggregation certain physical structures which exhibit this special matrix behavior, thus creating a free-willed creature (in one day by cataclysmic creation, or through billions of years of evolution, it would make no difference in principle).
That, however, doesn't seem to me to be quite the right path. Certainly, I am an aggregate (physically) of particular matter/energy states; but I have already decided that an aggregate of non-rational behaviors merely produces a more complicated set of non-rational behaviors--and for my argument to work (in many senses of that phrase) I must be doing rational (active) behaviors.
Then again, the behaviors of Nature turn out to be not quite completely non-rational! They are effectively non-rational by God's choice, by His self-abdication; but (so to speak) bits of His rational choices still adhere in many ways to the material.
This is verging too close to an argument by analogy, though. I will try to propose this idea in a slightly different way, so that the eventual analogy will be informed by the principle, not vice versa.
Every bit of reactive Nature has, behind it, an action of God. At the most primary of levels, the action of God is God Himself (in other words the self-begetting of God); but once Nature is in existence (I must speak metaphorically about the 'timeframes' involved here, quite literally 'with respect to the Eternal'), I am no longer considering the most primary level of reality anymore. Within the created subsystem, the actions of God are no longer coterminous with God Himself; this is another way of saying that there are some consequences which are not-God to actions of God, or that God has created a distinctive 'something' along with begetting Himself. Yet, those actions of distinctive creation also remain connected to the natural events, primarily by means of God’s continual direct active upkeep of this self-abdicated system of creation.
Thus, within the perspective of a subsystem 'nature', there will be reactive events with actions of God as grounding, yet without those actions of God being fully coterminous with God Himself. And by tautology, something not coterminous with God is not-God.
This is not quite the same as a situation where God acts directly within Nature; in that case, the results of His actions will be limited by the fact that He would be manipulating a system that is itself 'limited'.
For instance, it would be inconsistent, as far as I can tell, for Him to create a boulder that is, at the same time and place within that Nature, also completely and fully the entity we know as a 'cat'. It could look like what we call 'a cat'; God could even make it behave similarly to what we call 'a cat'. It might even be an interesting and viable creation, going about 'its own business' without God constantly pulling its strings for every behavior (the way Nature must be able to go about its own derivative business, to one extent or other, or else no 'creation' has actually taken place). But the boulder would still not be utterly coterminous with the biological entities we know as 'cats'. This remains true even if God did not let it run on the leash of Nature but constantly moved it directly Himself. The results of His actions can be limited; must be limited, or else there is no creation. [See first comment below for a footnote here.]
But those are direct manipulation events. Although Nature, at bottom, is directly maintained by God, and even is made 'out of' God by God Himself, as a viable creation [see second comment below for a footnote here], it is not utterly directed (even though it is upkept) by God's full intentions at every moment; just like a jazz scat is certainly created by the jazz artist at every moment, and guided by her in a complex pattern of its own created 'flavor' or 'character', but is nevertheless not sung with the directness that the same woman might sing a Bach hymn. I think we can reasonably expect God to be capable of a creativity similar to the jazz scat-er, except to the nth degree.
God thus initiates created events which each have a sort of shadow of action: real action, God's actions, but a self-limited type of action. Indeed, such events would quite literally be 'types' of God's direct actions, technically speaking.
And now I have reached the point where I can safely return to all those interesting observations naturalistic atheists refer to when attempting to explain how we humans came to be rational thinkers in an atheistic reality.
[Next up: the creation of me]
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[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, starting chapter 29, can be found here.]