[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, concluding chapter 30, can be found here.]
[This entry starts the 3rd Edition of Section Four, "Ethics And The Third Person", and constitutes Chapter 31, "An Introduction to the Question of Ethics"]
In the previous Section of chapters, I inferred characteristics of God's relationship to Nature, and of Nature to myself in terms of its necessary properties, to account for some of the situations I find myself in. And I took as the chief example of this, the Golden Presumption itself: I can act, and thus can think; and you my reader can do these things also, and thus we can reason together. But now that I have examined the concept of causal relations, I have progressed by necessity toward the concept of personal relations.
There is a personal relation involved in this very book: I am presenting to you an 'argument' for you to judge--not merely for you to react to (either arbitrarily or determinately), but for you to actively analyze and discern, and even for you to refute if you judge with your active searching that my abstract link of principles does not in fact 'link'. I am asking--I am expecting, I am requiring--for you to be a person when you judge my argument, for otherwise I would not bother presenting an 'argument' (as such) to you.
My own active estimation of possibilities and impossibilities might still take place--indeed, I must be active in that fashion or else I would be implicitly denying any claim to even possibly being correct; although that denial would itself be an implicit assertion that I can act! But if you could not act, then I could not be arguing to you, per se.
I am willing to believe that you can act. It is a raw charity on my part. It is, perhaps, the most basic of personal relationships: I am willing to allow that you are a person, too.
Personal relationships involve active choices on our parts. Therefore, although they can be analyzed (to a certain extent) along the lines of automatically necessary cause/effect relationships, the raw choices introduce a special sort of indeterminacy in our descriptions of the relationships involved. We express this (in English) with an equally special group of words: 'should' and 'ought', which (for my present purpose) are more or less interchangeable. 'Should', however, is a word connected to the English word 'shall' which often has more to do with causes and effects than with the special indeterminacy of personal relationship logic.
If there are twelve apples in a box, and if I take two apples from the box, and if no other changes happen to the apples in the box (or 'all other things being equal', which is an important and usually unstated necessity for statements of this type), then there shall be ten apples remaining in the box. This is a description of a causal necessity.
On the other hand, if you personally have put the apples in the box, and if I have not received your permission to take the apples, then I ought (or should) not take two of the apples. There is no guarantee I will not.
Whether I take them or not, the physical relationship can be described according to mathematic necessity. But a different type of relationship is described in my understanding that I ought not to take the apples from you; even though the relationship is still judged using logical analysis.
The logic of coherent interpersonal relationships, is called 'ethics'.
There have been a very large number of attempts to explain what ethics are, what they are not, and how and why we think in terms of 'ought' and 'should'. Perhaps the most basic topic of the existence of ethics involves the question of what 'actually' happens when we behave 'ethically'.
Are ethics a set of rational behaviors we invented? Or is an ethical behavior something that happens to us irrationally which we explain and account for later if possible? Or are we discovering and putting into practice objectively self-consistent principles that retain their quality of 'ethicalness' above and beyond our own existence as a species?
Let me point out that all three of these general explanations of ethics entail that we perceive ethics subjectively. But the first two types of explanation involve an ethical grounding which is itself subjective, although in two different ways. The third class proposes that what we are subjectively perceiving is nevertheless itself an objectively real ethical relationship.
Put another way: the first two types of explanation propose that the pool we perceive in front of us is a facade, whether it is one we painted, or whether it is heat shimmering on asphalt or sand so that it looks like water. The third explanation proposes that the pool we perceive in front of us is a pool, although how much of the pool we are seeing is another question. (Are we seeing it through trees? Are we seeing deep into the water, or only the surface? Are we seeing the streams or the rain or any other source for the pool?)
There are difficulties for each of the three general explanation proposals. I will mention here, however, reporting ahead a bit, that the three proposals, while describing mutually distinctive event types, need not be mutually exclusive as a total accounting for our ethical behaviors. All three types of event might, in theory, be happening--depending on what the characteristics of actual reality are.
Whether all or any of the three can serve as proper ethical grounding or not, is a different question; which must be considered as well in regard to each of them.
And that is what I will start in the next chapter.
[Next up: an introduction to invented rational ethics]
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[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, concluding chapter 30, can be found here.]
[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, continuing chapter 30, can be found here.]
[This entry concludes chapter 30, "The Doctrine of Derivative Spirit"; and also concludes Section Two.]
Here is the third story: which might in principle have happened 'instead' of the second, and which I think happened after all, even if the 'process details' related here could stand expansion and clarification. (Maybe lots of it!)
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the world. And the world was a blasted heap of formless rubble, and darkness was over the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was hovering (or moving) over the face of the waters.
Then God said, "Be light!"; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night.
And there was evening and there was morning, day one. [See first comment below for a footnote here.] Then God said, "Be an expanse (or a firmament) in the midst of the waters; and separate the waters from the waters." And God made the expanse and separated the waters below the expanse from the waters above the expanse; and it was so. And God called the expanse sky.
And there was evening and morning, day two. Then God said, "Waters below the heavens, be gathered into one place, and dry land appear"; and it was so. And God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters He called sea; and God saw that it was good.
Then God said, "Earth, sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit after their kind, in which is their seed, on the earth"; and it was so... and God saw that it was good.
And there was evening and there was morning, day three. Then God said, "Be light-bearers in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years; and be for bearing light in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth"; and it was so. And God had made the two great light-bearers ("had made", as in 'already made', is implied in the grammar of the story I'm thinking about), the greater light-bearer to govern the day, and the lesser light-bearer to have dominion over the night; the stars also. And God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, for the dominion over the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good.
And there was evening and there was morning, day four. Then God said, "Waters, swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth on the face of the expanse of the heavens." And God created the great sea monsters, and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth."
And there was evening and there was morning, day five. Then God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind; cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind"; and it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good.
Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
And God blessed them... And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.
And there was evening and there was morning, day six. [See second comment below for a footnote here.]
All in all, the two stories mesh pretty well: the primary incongruity being that the events of the third and second days (fourth and third, in popular understanding) are inverted in the two stories. [See third comment below for a footnote here.] Another incongruity might come from a verse I left out, regarding the 'herbivorousity' of the original created beasts. [See fourth comment below for a footnote here.]
The details of the 'scientific' story were developed (rightly or wrongly) by examination and inference of natural evidence. The details of this 'scriptural' story were (rightly or wrongly) purportedly 'revealed' through a somewhat different fashion; the precise mode of revelation is still being debated.
One fact is certain about that scriptural story: someone didn't just wake up and find it on paper (or papyrus or parchment) one day. It was written down by at least one man, as is claimed by absolutely everyone who debates the issue. Perhaps the story is a result of God's filtering processes through our history, even of our literary history; or perhaps God dictated it to the man directly, instead. There are also different degrees and combinations of process possible, between these two extremes.
The people who most stridently would insist that the story was directly dictated to one man, who then copied it word for word into the exact form we have it today, would also be most likely to insist that the second chapter of the scripture collection was also written by the same man under the same type of inspiration. I notice that the author of the second chapter, if he was the same man (or even if he was a different man--or woman?--who had heard the first story), felt quite at home altering some significant details from the first chapter, primarily concerning the order of appearance of animals, the first man, the wife, and plants. [See fifth comment below for a footnote here.]
In any case, I am not concerned here with deciding which story I have presented is more or less accurate to what 'really' happened; although this scriptural story is, at least, rather more closely connectable with the 'scientific story' than any other story-of-origins from antiquity I myself have heard.
Either way, the important point I would like my reader to notice, is that both of these popular stories, ancient and modern, get very similar points across--once God is recognized as part of the 'scientific' story. (The controversial timing issues aren't relevant here; I'm speaking of principles now, not specific details.) God made Nature; Nature is not God; God used a process, and indeed a sequence of interlinked processes, in making Nature; the living things of the world are linked intimately to the processes God used to create Nature; and this includes Man and Man's rational capability. Both stories culminate (but do not 'end') with God, in essence, breathing derivative spirit from His Spirit into our forebears in a manner that somehow passes to you and me. One story presents God as letting Nature help make Man, so to speak; neither story presents Nature and only Nature producing humans and human rationality.
If I was asked my opinion about these stories, I would say the scriptural story (and even its odd though important sequel/remake) is easier to understand and thus is more useful in terms of intelligibility--an Australian aborigine can understand and accept it on his own terms without needing wire-thin lessons on metaphysics, astrophysics, biophysics, etc.--and thus bears the mark of the truly divine. Then I would say the scientific story reaffirms and validates the basic information and many of the incidental details of the scriptural story, expanding our knowledge about what happened, and polishing the details somewhat (perhaps the order of two of the 'days', for instance).
If it is insisted to me that the details should not nor could not be polished by observation, I would reply that as far as I can tell, including from the details of the scriptural materials themselves, those scriptures are not the 2nd Person of God, nor the 4th Person, nor the 70th Person, nor the 4th through the 70th Persons; and that therefore they are not co-equal with God; and that I therefore do not require them to incorrectable. Whereupon the discussion would quickly move to other matters of little use or interest to any sceptical readers, taking me very far afield from my present work.
Let me highlight again that the growing of derivative sentiences by God in a natural not-God system (which I have previously deduced to be true, even if I don't know all the details yet), involves yet another process of self-abdication by God, in order to bring to existence and to active life something that is not Himself. I do not mean to say that because God has made me (and you) ‘out of Himself' (and out of nothing but Himself) I am therefore God. No, I am not God, and neither are you: He has abdicated Himself to create rather than (only) to beget. Perhaps I should say that God did beget creatures after His own kind, but begot them (unlike the 2nd Person) through His created Nature, and thus the creatures are derivative and not-God, merely being 'like' God; always with room to grow as a species and as individuals.
Nor am I saying that God's self-abdication always results in something or someone not-God: the Son self-abdicates from all eternity in order to retain the Unity of the self-existent, self-begetting God.
Also, I once again caution that although I think my argument allows the easy reinstatement of such theories as biological evolution and modern biopsychiatry, I should only recognize credit for any theories of this sort if they do not contradict the principles of the philosophy.
Really, this is not an abnormal practice, although it admittedly sounds arrogant. For centuries now, many people have been ignoring (and insisting that other people ignore) any implications in these fields which might just as easily fit into a theistic worldview, purely because those implications would contradict the philosophy upon which these people have been 'working' their sciences: a philosophy which goes beyond methodological naturalism, where the behaviors of Nature in itself are studied, into a denial that anything could even possibly affect Nature in its automatic reactions and counterreactions.
All I am saying, is that if you decide my argument is deductively valid (taking into fair qualification the merely suggested plausibility of these two most recent chapters, of course), then you should not backslide when it comes time to import the sciences into the philosophy. As far as I can see, there should be very little adjustment necessary in the mass of conclusions reached by these sciences already--although there could be massive adjustments necessary in what those conclusions mean, and how they should be applied.
This is the normal result of any shift in underlying philosophy. When paleontology was first promoted, most scientists were theists of one stripe or another; shortly thereafter (and not really much due to paleontology), many scientists had become atheists or cosmological dualists (which for practical purposes amounts to the same thing). The interpretations given to the paleontology results not-surprisingly changed during this same period, much more sharply than the mere advance in the efficiency of the science could account for. When Isaac Newton wrote the Principia, many philosophers and scientists were still theists of some stripe or other, including Newton himself who was a devoted (though not entirely orthodox) Christian. They judged the meaning of the results of Newton (and his predecessors and immediate followers) according to the philosophy they held. Not long after Newton, many more notable thinkers were atheists or dualists or deists who denied that God acted in Nature: but Newton's scientific discoveries still fit in quite well. The mistake these subsequent thinkers made was in further concluding that the good fit exclusively validated their philosophy. Other men (especially Newton himself) thought the Principia fit into Christianity quite well. The mistake they made was their further conclusion that the good fit exclusively validated their prior philosophy.
I am not asking you to accept my previous arguments based on how well you think the details of what you think to be the most accurate creation story (be those the ones I've used here or your own variations) fit my deductions. I am asking you to look at the logic and see whether I have made the correct deductions; and then I am also pointing out that either of the two most popular creation stories (in Western civilization anyway) fit in pretty cleanly. You can, and should, choose the one (or any other) that you think fits best with the observed facts in the world around us. If you do that, you will not be blaspheming against the Spirit of Truth, whether or not you go on to blaspheme against the Son of Man.
Meanwhile, let me emphasize once more that I do not consider this chapter to be part of my deductive argument, per se. That I am an act-er, I find I must presume; that I am a derivative act-er, I can deduce; that I am derived from the Independent Act-er, I can also deduce. I have deduced quite a bit, but I did not deduce the exact method of God's creation of my derivative sentience. Perhaps I will accomplish this one day (though that seems very unlikely); perhaps someone else will; perhaps no one will. What I needed here was a proposal that was merely self-consistently plausible, not certain; something to show that derivative action from independent action is not a nonsensical proposition. At the very least, I didn't use a presumption that derivative action from action is possible to ground an argument that it is possible!
Now it is time to return to the argument itself; because even in my speculative reconstruction of detailed processes, I have begun to touch extremely sensitive, important and pertinent issues regarding God's relation to us, not merely as our Creator, but as Person to persons. Similarly, the time has nearly come for me to begin discussing the logic of personal relationships between derivative persons, such as you and I.
The next Section will thus be dedicated to the question of ethics.
[Next up: the start of Section Four, "Ethics and the Third Person". Which will be an update to 2nd edition chapter material already posted here on the Cadre.]
[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, starting chapter 30, can be found here.]
[This entry continues chapter 30, "The Doctrine of Derivative Spirit".]
(Repeating from the end of the previous part.) I will begin dealing with ethics soon in Section Four, after this chapter. But for now, let me go back and retell my story again; from a different historical perspective but with (I think) the same principles.
God creates Nature, and allows it to go through a quasi-independent historical process; "quasi-independent", for Nature does not exist on its own resources, but upon God, and is meanwhile guided subtly by God. One purpose of God in making this Nature, has been to create derivative sentiences like (but merely 'like') Himself.
Billions of what we call years pass, as God slowly edges things into place, letting Nature be Nature. God is patient, because all time and space are in His hand. He is concerned with the final effect, but also with the methods He uses; for (please allow me to anticipate a position I will develop later) these new creatures are to be sharers in His creation: not only daughters and sons, but heirs and stewards and vice-regents of this Nature. Therefore, they should be intimately connected with this Nature from their beginning, and yet also they should have properties somewhat above and outside the natural flow.
On at least one planet (it might not only be this one, but it also may not ever have been another, even in what we think of as 'the vastness of space') conditions are edged to just the right proportions. The atmosphere and ocean are separated from their constituent phases over millions of years: are sifted bit by bit through the sieve of the natural machine, which was created by God for at least this purpose (among whatever others).
(Some sceptics, and even many believers, have a tendency to protest against the idea that God would design and use tools, even though we do this ourselves. But I have no problem believing rather that the tools He chooses to create and actively use, would be entirely more mind-boggling in scope than ours. The sons, after all, are sons of the Father...)
Eventually the clouds begin to thin, allowing first sunlight, then moon and starlight, to strike the surface: visibly obvious day/night cycles begin on the planet, and in fact would do so long before the details of the skies were ever visible from the surface, although that day would also come.
The sunlight radiation creates particular reactions in the various chemicals. One of the chemical elements, carbon, works well at holding a complex matrix of chemicals. Another element, silicon, also does a good job holding these complex matrices--better than carbon, in fact, at least at the beginning, although perhaps not as efficient as carbon if carbon-based chemicals ever got going. One thing silicone-based clay does very well is accrue carbon-based molecules as they flow over the clay. Perhaps the carbon-molecules take on the shape of the clay; and through a neat stepping process, the carbon-molecules are 'taught' (analogically speaking, for by themselves they haven't the synthetic shadow-shape of action/reaction to be derivative thinkers) to not only hold but also replicate certain shapes. And some of those shapes are better at replicating than others. Also, copy variances in the replication process occasionally produce more efficient replicators, allowing for the establishment of stable carbon-molecule replicator environments, within which new minor variances of the proper sort can be supported.
(This is obviously the Cairns-Smith theory of clay-stepping for producing genetic proteins. I know there is not really any evidence that this could happen naturally--or at least none I myself have heard of--and among other problems it leaves out a huge amount of process that would have to occur before carbon-based organic molecules could begin behaving even distantly like an RNA or DNA chain. My point is merely that something like this could easily be part of the process I am describing.)
And so on. And so on. None of this, I repeat, takes God by surprise. The general type of shape of history is intended from the first; very probably, many particular events and results within the history are also intended from the first. More accurately, from God's perspective there is no such thing as 'intending from the first' in a merely sequential sense: God's intentions are not "from the foundation of the world" in the sense of the-time-since-or-before-He-founded-Nature, but rather in the sense of God being the ultimate foundation of the world--and His intentions come only from Himself.
God is present and active (in a self-abdicating way) at every point of space and time and has total interlocking Unity of self outside the space/time Nature. He doesn't "foresee" something happening in this Nature; He sees it happening, here--and here--and there. If He Himself takes an action or observes a state (which, together with His 'knowing' of the state, entails an action in itself) at point x of our time and space, He is equally aware of that action and knowledge at every other point of His particular and actual infinitude--and this awareness includes all 'parts' of Nature. This can be hard to imagine, but it is not self-contradictory; it is only a paradoxical property of an actively sentient Independent Fact.
Indeed within Nature itself I can find a very interesting analogy: electrical currents running through a wire at given energy vector A will produce a magnetic field flowing from that current, at a right angle. If the magnetic field (now moving at vector-energy state B) intersects the proper materials, a new electrical (not magnetic) current will be set up within that material at vector-energy state C. Analogically speaking (and inaccurately, although perhaps adequately) when God acts He acts at right angles to the history of Nature.
(I could extend the analogy: '...and also parallel with our own derivative actions.' However, here the analogy quickly begins to break down. The new induction current would be more like a manifestation or incarnation of God within the natural system, than like a derivative sentience such as I; it is still too closely related to the (analogical) direct effect of the original current.)
But one of the 'intentions from the first', is that the Natural laws will be set up so that with only some direct manipulation by God (maintenance is another issue), natural processes would eventually bring about a type of entity who (rather than 'which') is intimately fused with the developmental history of this Nature.
'Fused': these entities (rational entities like you and I) are in a type of unity with Nature, but are not totally 'natural'. These entities--we ourselves--are new creations, not God and not Nature, but a little of each.
Because we are intended from the first to be in unity with the natural world, we must be provided with an ecosystem in which to live; and (for this story anyway) God allows the process of building this stable ecosystem, and the process of building us rational entities, to coincide with each other. Complex nervous systems thus evolve throughout the history of the planet along natural lines--and also along more-than-natural lines, although it would always be possible for us to look at the process in hindsight and see only the far-more obvious natural side of the process.
Eventually one (or at least one) species would be at the threshold of the metaphysical/physical shape God has been crafting on the spiral of the ages. With the last bit of mutation the synthetic threshold is crossed, and an individual person--our most remote ancestor--is born.
As he matures (and it might be a male first, for God's own good reasons, perhaps related to what we would call 'social issues' within the previously merely animal species community), he grows into the synthetic inheritance. And because God intends for this man to be the father of a new (and qualitatively different) species, still united in synthesis to the laws of this nature, the man's mate comes from the man himself--she is like he, for she carries the delicately grown synthesis. (One alternative would be for God to grow two derivative persons, male and female, separate from each other, and then to arrange their meeting. There are stories of Lilith, as well as of Eve, after all...)
Perhaps God did not originally intend for this new species to interbreed with its progenitors (with the possible exception of the birth of the first child of the first real 'man'), but I do not think this is a necessary supposition. It would be in keeping with the story so far--and in keeping with what some of us think other important elements of the story continue to represent and enact--if the children of these two new individuals were meant to lift up the descendants of their former species, as a species, to their new level. (Technically speaking, they could not be a new 'species' and still be capable of functionally interbreeding with the species out of which they arose. I am using 'new species' very loosely here--the newness isn't [u]that[/u] kind of new.)
At any rate, whether God originally intended it or not, this interbreeding is what happened; and if these new persons had somehow, in the meantime, begun to reject their link with God, then such an interbreeding (whether originally necessary or not, whether necessary after the rejection or not) would bring special sorts of tragedy. (I will have more to say on this topic, and on ethics, in Section Four-- here I am wondering more about the stories of the nephilim, than of the Fall of Man in general.)
Again, I do not claim that I must be getting every detail of this story correct; but I think the principles of the story must be correct, in whatever fashion the modality of history exactly played out. It could have happened somewhat differently in mode.
It could have happened, for instance, in the fashion of a third story; although I will ask you to notice that if it had happened the way I just narrated, and these facts were presented to people who did not have our advantages of extra knowledge about the processes of our natural world--knowledge we might never have discovered if we had not begun with the higher assumptions which the descendants of these people passed on to us--then the facts could very well have been presented in the form of this next story. For this next story has still gotten across all the salient points, and even quite a few of the incidental details, to millions and billions of people throughout the history of humanity.
[Next up: a genesis story; and the conclusion of Section Three.]
A friend of mine who posts on Youtube.com under the Internet nom de plume of JoanDArc77, directed my attention to an interview of the New Atheist mouthpiece, Richard Dawkins, for a friendly interview with Newsnight's Book Club. The roughly ten minute interview goes on with Richard Dawkins largely freely making his already well-publicized musings about the nature of reality and his spurious claims that Christianity is a fiction. For those interested, I have linked the video, below.
If you want, you can view the entire video. But I promise you that it isn't worth the time. It is simply more of the standard talking points that Dawkins regularly shares as part of his atheism evangelism tool. However, I post it because after eight and one half minutes of arid conversation, Dawkins makes a rather revealing statement given his deeply held (alleged) conviction that there is no God.
The interviewer asks Dawkins what gets him through the night. Dawkins replies that what gets him through the night is the same thing that gets most people through the night -- the love of friends, family, children, science, etc. But then the friendly interviewer asks a rather innocuous question.
Interviewer: And you're comfortable with that?
Dawkins -- the man who has dedicated his life to the proposition that there is no God and that we are simply accidents of time, chance and nature -- says something so totally at odds with this position that it would be...well, silly, if it weren't so revealing.
Dawkins: I am comfortable with that, but even if I wasn't it wouldn't change what I believe because I don't believe we were put here to be comfortable.
Really? We haven't been put here here to be comfortable? Under Dawkins' stated position we haven't been put here for anything. But Dawkins -- a man who has done as much as any person in history to buy into the idea that there is no God -- cannot remove the God consciousness from his thought and speech. Despite preaching regularly his gospel of the good news that there is no god to whom to answer, Dawkins cannot escape speaking in the language that acknowledges what the heavens declare: God exists and He put us here.
[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, concluding chapter 29, can be found here.]
[This entry starts chapter 30, "The Doctrine of Derivative Spirit".]
In this chapter I will mostly take a break from progressing in a developing argument, to spend some time picking at the proposition I have just developed, concerning the relationship of derivative spirits to Nature and to God. In the process I will be considering some questions I have asked myself, and which perhaps I can anticipate from you, my reader. I will also try some illustrative analogies (although with an eye to the limitations of the analogies).
(Keep in mind, however, that I am neither claiming nor requiring this particular theory of mine concerning the process of instigation of the soul, to be certainly correct. It does, I think, fit the bill, and is not self-contradictive; but that doesn't exclude other methods of getting to the same result. On the other hand, I have argued in previous chapters that some other categories of proposed methods exclude themselves.)
I have three stories in mind, each of them variations on the same theme. Two of them may perhaps be mutually exclusive of each other in regard to particulars, but this indicates the range of possibilities left open by my proposal as to precise means. These are, for various reasons, the three ‘most popular’ ‘creation stories’ in Western Civilization for the past thousand years or so, concerning how people came and come to exist. So it behooves me to see how my developed results compare, and to what extent it fits with them: I will try mixing my results with each ‘story’ and see what happens.
My mother and father marry; and in the fullness of time a microscopic bit of physical matter with such-n-such chemical properties passes from his body into hers, where another almost-microscopic bit of physical matter with similar (yet distinctive) physical properties absorbs it. As the egg and the sperm begin reacting and counterreacting to each other within the form of the egg itself, very many chemicals (along with atomic and sub-atomic particles) are moved around into configurations different from what came before.
One result of these developing configurations, is that the egg--now a zygote--begins to absorb other nearby chemical groups which before it could not absorb. These new chemical groups provide the necessary ingredients for further and quantitatively different reactions to take place; and the zygote becomes increasingly more complicated in both function and structure.
All of this follows general 'rules' set up by God. God, being the eternal mainstay of this (and any/every other) Nature, sees and knows what is happening. He may even 'nudge' the material directly here and there--but He has a prior commitment to letting Nature be a real creation, not merely ('merely' is correct although it seems strange to say it) to be God Himself. Therefore, He lets Nature 'take its course' in many respects. Nevertheless, behind even this choice, lie actions of God--His self-abdication, and His maintenance effects for the upkeep of Nature, for instance. And also, the scope for God's direct manipulation within Nature-as-Nature remains very wide.
As the chemicals begin to be ordered into progressively different structures, there is a sense in which the 'shape' of God's self-abdicating actions (underlying the existence and 'nature' of Nature) also collect together into 'shapes' which did not exist 'before'.
This results in a composite behavior for the new entity, dependent on both Nature and God, which is nevertheless not God and also not entirely natural.
It is a synthetic entity.
God could, of course, re-assert direct control over this new entity at any time and place; but that would destroy its uniquely derivative character. Instead, He continually self-abdicates, letting this new entity get along, not indeed 'without' Him, yet indirectly.
The processes involved are similar in many respects to the ones that take place inside the bodies of, for instance, sharks. The difference is that in those cases God maintains a tighter leash, or ensures that the supernatural/physical shapes don't get (or haven't yet gotten) into quite the right configuration, particularly within the organ known as the brain. The result is (as far as we can tell, anyway) a purely reactive creature: alive, insofar as it behaves in a way that distinguishes it from other physical entities (although even the shark isn't purely physical, technically speaking), for it will behave in a fashion that allows it to repair pieces of itself into the membership of its body and also to generate more of its kind. It swims; and eats; and makes little sharks. And that's all it does.
I fully grant, that in its own reactive way, the shark's behaviors and existence could serve a very wide number of purposes within God's general (or even specific) plans for our Nature's history; but it is also quite likely that an individual shark's chief purpose is to take its place in the upkeep of a stable biological environment, ever developing along lines instituted by God and still monitored and upkept (and influenced) by Him. (And perhaps also influenced by other supernatural entities, although I have argued nothing concerning them yet.)
But the entity inside my mother could have quite a different future ahead of it. Not that this is entirely certain; again it depends on how much leeway God allows, such as leeway for the vagaries of Nature and for any derivative actors whom He has already put into the system such as my parents and the people they come into contact with. (I happen to know, for example, that once upon a time there was another little baby in my mother’s womb with me, but he or she died early due to a malformation in the inner lining of the womb--a malformation that killed off most of her unborn children except for myself and eventually my brother.)
Anyway, for this story I will ask you to take my word that this entity does have a qualitatively different future awaiting it than the shark does! The little entity, developing into an embryo, is not an act-er quite yet, but the synthetic structure is coming together into the proper shape for allowing this.
The little entity (which is steadily becoming not-so-little) has been reacting the whole time, of course--otherwise nothing at all would be taking place, not even decay! These reactions become more and more complex, in thousands and perhaps even millions of ways, many of which, in turn, allow for greater development to occur. They also soon begin to resemble reactions the entity will exhibit later in life, after it leaves the womb. Sometimes these behaviors are similar to behaviors the entity will actively initiate, but the entity need not be truly acting yet.
When is a soul invested into this entity?--this baby? The soonest, of course, would be whenever the synthetic (natural and supernatural) structure of the baby has reached the stage where consciousness is a practical capability. I do not know precisely when that stage is reached, but I think some useful clues can be gained by looking at the parts we can scientifically examine: the physical parts.
However, I don't think it is quite right to say that this soul--my soul--was 'invested into' this growing baby. My soul was grown: out of things it was not, out of things which (both naturally and supernaturally) are more complex than it is, according both to general and specific plans of God.
The development of the body and the soul of this composite entity--me--happened in intimate connection to one another. On the other hand, the idea of what God wants for this baby, for me, is something that transcends time and space.
Meanwhile the capability of consciousness does not necessarily mean I was actually conscious yet within the womb; my soul could have been sleeping instead. [See first comment below for footnote here.] But being intimately fused (at this stage, at least) with my body, my soul grew capable of being conscious.
And eventually, I was born.
Also eventually, before or after birth--and physical development certainly continues after birth--my soul began to specially respond to the stimuli bombarding it, part and parcel with being fused to physical structures which transmit that type of energy so efficiently. In a way, my soul had never ceased to respond to that input; but before this point, every response had been merely an automatic reaction. As a synthetic entity, I gained not only the eventual ability to act; but I--even my soul--also automatically reacted to my environment.
As my soul grows (even today, even into the depths of the future), I may or may not become less reactive, partly based on the actions I take. But as a baby, my soul continued to take its shape from my surroundings.
Can God alleviate this process of environmental shaping (assuming this shaping could be a bad thing)? To some extent I conclude (quite gladly!) that He can. But given that He has set up this situation, I can only say that such alleviation will be "to some extent"; otherwise He would be disassociating the person in question from this Nature entirely. He may in fact decide to do this to me eventually; He may in fact do this for everyone eventually. But these are issues to be discussed later: having grown from a baby, here in this Nature, I can say confidently that God has not yet in fact disassociated me from this Nature. And by the inferences I draw from experience, this looks to me like His standard operating procedure for sentient entities of my species.
(I am saying nothing about how God works with other sentient species, either on this world or out of it, within this Nature or another. I think the general underlying principles will be the same in any case of derivative sentience, but the outworking could be significantly different.)
So, as a baby, my soul responds in reaction to my environment--possibly before I am even born, but not certainly, for the synthetic 'shape' must reach a particular level and kind of complexity (just as the philosophical naturalists have always told us, as far as they could account for it), and I for one do not know where that point is, or even if it is the same for every baby.
But as a supernaturally active entity--a shadow of God, not-God but made "in His image"--I will eventually begin (assuming a favorable supernatural and natural environment) to 'stretch' my will. I (quite literally) 'will begin', to initiate my own actions.
I doubt I have suitable imagery to help either you or I picture this event; much as physicists have no truly accurate 'images' of what photons (which transmit visual images to us) 'do' to sub-atomic particles. At best, I can merely ask you to think about how it feels for you to take an action, compared to a situation where you know you are only reacting.
How does it feel when a cat hair or grain of pepper makes you sneeze, compared to when you sneeze in a stage-play because you chose to do that for the sake of advancing the story? Admittedly, there is a wide field for error and misinterpretation in asking you to imagine this, but I can think of no other way. Acting, even derivative acting, is something that just isn't like anything else--or, rather, other events are at best merely like truly acting. (A statement that happens, by the way, to fit in quite well with the relationship of any created thing to the Ultimate Act-er!)
When I say that I, as a baby, began to act, I don't mean that I began to pump my legs and arms around by choice--that would come later. Nor do I mean that I began to draw what we would call 'formal inferences'. These types of actions (especially the formal inferences) are rather advanced ones. Once more, the best I can do to describe this action, is to ask you to imagine the difference between tasting a soft drink when you are thirsty (incidentally tasting it as you swallow) and tasting a barbecue for purposes of judging it at a state fair. Or perhaps it would be better to ask you to imagine trying to ignore a horrible taste.
Similarly, I began in very simple ways to 'taste' my environment on purpose. This is the simplest possible way an entity can begin 'understanding' the environment; this is the process of beginning to learn what the environment is (instead of only being reactively trained)--or rather, to learn what character the environment has.
I expect it would be extremely difficult--maybe impossible--for someone standing outside this process, observing it, to distinguish it from a mere reaction to the environment. (Not surprisingly, many scientists of a particular philosophical stripe interpret any such events precisely so that there can be no such distinction possibly taking place!) But you, my reader, have an advantage in your own case; for you don't only observe what you do: you actually do it! While you can be in doubt about some particular instances, there should be situations where you are dead-level certain that you have acted or reacted, that you have initiated an event or have merely been part of the flow.
Then again, even when you do perceive 'I am merely part of this flow', you have to that extent rendered a conscious judgment, and thus have acted.
I suspect therefore (although I am not certain) that the state of being conscious does not appear until the baby (or otherwise sentient entity) begins to actively reflect upon (not merely reflect through reaction to) his or her environment. There is a sort of willful seizing, grasping, tasting. It's a qualitative difference. Parents in particular are always wondering and guessing when their baby is starting to do this. I suspect that in some cases it happens much sooner, or much later, than the parents themselves suspect.
(Almost two years after originally writing this chapter, I came to have private reasons for believing that the soul of one person I know, did become active in the womb more than a month before birth. I do not know how often this happens, and I won't discuss my reasons for believing this--they are not specifically religious or even merely philosophical. I won't base any arguments or positions on this belief of mine, either. But I thought you, my reader, might like to know, for sake of disclosure at least.)
I also suspect a very similar uncertain curtain of guesstimation hangs between our attempts to figure out when, or whether, animals other than humans exhibit those unique sorts of behaviors.
Almost the whole host of psychophysical sciences can now be imported into the worldview for which I am arguing--everything with the exception of any notions that, in essence, our thoughts (specifically your and my thoughts) are only non-rational reactions: the Golden Presumption must not be broken, at peril of nonsense.
One reluctance some people feel at accepting a theistic philosophy, is that they believe we would have to start all over again from scratch in our sciences. This is simply not true--despite what some insensitive and naive preachers (or atheistic propagandists) might lead you to believe.
It does not involve replacing the engine in the car. It involves defusing a bomb lurking under the hood, waiting for us to reach a certain mileage on the odometer--and then replacing that bomb with a supercharger! What I catch many philosophers doing, is ensuring that the odometer doesn't reach a particular milemarker in their studies, by surreptitiously resetting it when they think we aren't looking. And historically they have been quite successful at this. But it doesn't really deal with the bomb.
The story I have been telling has so far left out issues such as the effects of death on my synthetic soul; or the question of rebellion by me or of betrayal by God; or much of anything concerning direct interpersonal relationships at all--in other words, the question of ethics. I will begin dealing with ethics soon in Section Four, after this chapter. But for now, let me go back and retell my story again; from a different historical perspective but with (I think) the same principles.
[Next up: an evolutionary story]
In a blog entry of January 16, 2010, Austin Cline, author of the Atheism and Agnosticism Blog on About.com, poses the rather interesting question, “Can Reliable Knowledge Be Produced Outside Science?” As a person who operates in the real world, I am obviously inclined to believe that a great deal of reliable knowledge can be had outside of science because there is a lot of things that I know to be true which are not known to me as the result of scientific testing. However, having read Mr. Cline’s column on occasion – admittedly, rare occasion – I strongly suspected that he would follow Betteridge’s Law of Headlines and answer the question with an adamant “no.”
Interestingly, Cline does not even answer the question he asks at the outset which is the subtitle of his post. Instead, the question he answers at the end of his three page post is whether any discipline other than science gives useful answers. I am fairly certain that the vast majority of readers would acknowledge that the terms “reliable” and “useful” are not synonymous. (In fact, they are not listed as synonyms on Thesaurus.com.) Reliable generally means “trustworthy”, while useful merely means that it can serve a purpose. These are two very different ideas. Yet, Mr. Cline meanders from one to the other as if they are the same thing.
Still, what caught my attention, however, is the argument he adopted to arrive at the conclusion that only science gives useful answers. Reducing his three pages of text to something more organized (while doing my best to fairly represent his argument), Cline’s argument goes something like this:
Background 1: For any knowledge claim or truth claim outside of science, there are multiple, competing and often contradictory claims as to what is true. (“It might be suggested that alternative answers are to be found in the Bible or another sacred book; or in the writings of ancient Eastern mystics; or in the insights of the world’s great poets, playwrights, or novelists; or in the wisdom of some philosopher, famous or obscure; or in a horoscope; or in the reflections of one or more theologians; or in something else; or in all the above or some subset thereof. To be sure, all those sources will provide answers. To be just as sure, though, they cannot all be true answers. We are inescapably obliged to discern, among the countless sources of nonscientific answers, which ones we should believe and which ones we should ignore.”)
Background 2: Due a combination of presuppositions and the lack of time to fully investigate each and every possible truth claim, individuals are incapable of evaluating all of the competing claims. (“There is no perfect epistemology or foolproof philosophy. No matter how we acquire or analyze our beliefs, some are going to be wrong. We are going to believe some falsehoods and we are going to disbelieve some truths, and the less we do of one, the more we will unavoidably do of the other.”)
Background 3: There needs to be a way to evaluate these claims that gives some semblance of which claims are good.
Premise 1: It is largely the case that truth claims outside of science cannot be falsified. (“So it is in general with answers offered outside of science. They tend to be incorrigible: Their advocates will acknowledge no way they could be proved wrong. They might not claim infallibility. They might say, ‘Of course we could be wrong.’ But ask them how they would know they were wrong — what evidence, if anyone produced it, would falsify their answers — and they usually retreat into evasion or obfuscation.“)
Premise 2: If claims cannot be falsified, it makes no difference if the claims are true or false, i.e., knowing if the claim is true or not is not useful. (“Outside the confines of scientific thinking, the difference between true and false seems to evaporate. * * * If we don’t know how something could be wrong, then it just does not mean anything for it to be true.”)
Premise 3: Science is the only discipline where its claims are subject to falsification. (“Science is less about producing answers than about evaluating them. In no other system does the evaluation process insistently ask: If this answer were wrong, how would anyone know?”)
Conclusion: Therefore, only scientific claims are useful.
Let's take a look at this argument more closely.
Where’s the Science Supporting Cline's Argument?
With all due respect to Mr. Cline who has written a fine piece of rhetoric that some might find convincing, this argument is troubled by problems deeper than the mere fact that he doesn’t answer the same question he asked at the outset of the post. To begin with, Mr. Cline apparently fails to note that nowhere in the course of his argument does he refer to any knowledge that has been generated through science. He neither quotes nor alludes to any scientific studies that demonstrate any of the three premises set out above (or any of the background information, for that matter). Rather, Mr. Cline’s argument is buttressed only with observations and unsupported musings of a philosophic nature. For example, Mr. Cline opines:
There is no perfect epistemology or foolproof philosophy. No matter how we acquire or analyze our beliefs, some are going to be wrong. We are going to believe some falsehoods and we are going to disbelieve some truths, and the less we do of one, the more we will unavoidably do of the other.
A strong aversion to believing falsehoods makes some people cultivate the kind of thinking characteristic of skeptics. Most of what they do believe is likely to be true, but many things they don’t believe are true as well. Other people have a strong aversion to not believing true things, and their thinking tends to be credulous. They rarely disbelieve what is true, but they also believe many falsehoods.
I strongly doubt that anyone would believe this bit of philosophical waxing is supported by science. I mean, what scientific test has ever established that there exists “no perfect epistemology or foolproof philosophy”? None, of course. Yet, Mr. Cline apparently expects us to believe that he is saying something meaningful. But if we take his conclusion seriously, we cannot accept anything he says as true because it is not scientific knowledge. His argument is a philosophic/logical argument that has no support from science in any sense. Hence, it is not falsifiable and therefore either not reliable or not useful. The argument commits suicide because its conclusion invalidates the argument.
Not All Scientific Truths are Undoubtedly True
Ignoring this debilitating flaw for the sake of looking deeper at Cline’s argument, there are several other problems that make the premises dubious, at best. First, while there are some claims of science that are well-settled in the sense that they are universally recognized as being true (the Law of Conservation of Energy or the Law of Entropy are two examples that come to mind), there are literally thousands upon thousands of scientific “truths” that are far from settled. For example, when a person goes to the doctor with an illness, they are encouraged to get a second opinion. Why? Because doctors, exercising his/her best judgment in evaluating what medical science reveals, can come to differing opinions about the nature of the ailment. In other words, using science (the best available) scientists come to differing conclusions.
This is true about a lot of issues in science. What makes up a healthy diet? The answer changes because science changes its mind. Consider this from Is Beef Really Bad For You?
In the last few decades, you have heard a boatload of bad press about red meat,in particular, beef, and how it is bad for your health. But watch out, haven't the experts said the same about eggs and then they changed their minds? Likewise, they said that partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and a high carbohydrate diet were good, and then subsequently found that they were actuallyOnly Four Out of Five Scientists Agree, After All
Sure, one could argue that scientific knowledge has advanced and thus the answer has changed in response. However, that shows that much scientific knowledge is not reliable because it is always in flux and subject to change with additional testing. But one can also find competing truths because scientists can disagree. In his post, Mr. Cline points to examples of people praying for sick people as evidence for his claim that non-scientific answers do not provide reliable and/or useful knowledge. He writes,
Suppose it be asserted that prayer can promote a sick person’s recovery. Suppose then that many sick people are prayed for and they do not recover. Will that have any bearing on the truth of the assertion, according to its advocates? No, it will not. Advocates of faith will affirm the efficacy of prayer no matter what happens subsequent to any prayer or any number of prayers, under any circumstances, at any time, over any period of time.
In effect, what this means is that there is actually no difference between truth and falsehood in matters of faith. The faith advocate says: Prayer changes things. Very well, but what if it did not? No believer can answer that question. In the epistemology of faith, it is not even relevant.
I certainly acknowledge that some people who are prayed for do not recover from their illness or injury. But this is to be expected if God exists as a personal being. After all, if I know a rich man who gives money to people as charity, but who declines to give me money when I ask, does that mean that the rich man doesn’t exist? Of course it doesn’t. Rather, it merely means that the rich man is a free moral agent who does not feel obligated to respond to each and every request for money. Likewise, if the Christian concept of God is true, then that God is a free agent who can choose to grant prayer requests at His own discretion and we should not expect that He would feel obligated to respond to every prayer.
Still, Mr. Cline’s problem with the failure of every prayer to be answered is that that it means that the claim that God answers prayer cannot be falsified. In that case, what do we do about the fact that inconsistent scientific studies of prayer exist – some showing that people prayed for are more likely to recover than those not prayed for (see, e.g., The Latest Prayer Study Shows the Effectiveness of Prayer) while other studies show no difference between the two groups (Long-Awaited Medical Study Questions the Power of Prayer). Is the fact that we get two different answers to the question depending on which scientist we consult (or which scientific study we consult) mean that we cannot get reliable answers out of science?
How Does Science Falsify the Non-Falsifiable?
Perhaps some are thinking that this may be true about smaller issues, but the ability to falsify will ultimately show whether prayer helps or doesn’t help. Still, there all big scientific theories have been proven through falsification, right?
I think it clear that there are big scientific theories that cannot be falsified. For example, consider the theory of global climate change, i.e., global warming. Unless you have been living in a coffee house in Greenwich Village, it should be obvious that there is a great debate about the idea that the global climate is getting warmer through greenhouse gases, etc. After all, even if it can be established that most scientists agree that the earth’s temperature is getting warmer, the scientific community is less certain that the warming can be attributed to man. Moreover, the claims about global warming are all-encompassing. If it gets warmer, it is due to Global Warming. If it gets colder, it is due to Global Warming. If it rains more, it is due to Global Warming. If it drought conditions develop, it is due to Global Warming. Back in 2005, a Time Magazine article reported the devastating hurricane Katrina was the result of global warming and that more and more massive hurricanes were to be expected (Is Global Warming Fueling Katrina?). When hurricane activity actually decreased over the following years (hitting a 30 year low according to Global Tropical Cyclone Activity) scientists also predicted the decrease due to Global Warming (Global Warming May Mean Fewer Hurricanes).
As a physicist friend of mine commented, Global Warming is quite a theory. No matter what happens it is explained by Global Warming.
So, exactly how is Global Warming, a supposedly scientific theory, falsifiable? And since it is not falsifiable, it is not reliable or useful, correct?
More than One Way to Falsify
Additionally, Mr. Cline seems disinclined to acknowledge that truth claims can be falsified by other than the scientific method. Isn’t it possible that truth claims can be falsified by other means? Suppose that we have the truth claim that there is no truth similar to the claims of Postmodernism. Obviously, I don’t have to have a scientific test to know that the claim that it is true that there is no truth is logically contradictory. Likewise, I don’t need a scientific test to see that Mr. Cline’s argument has too many flaws to be reliable (or even useful).
I have been mostly absent from CADRE recently, as I have been devoting a lot of time to teaching and adjusting to life in a new community. I have some new posts in the works, including a review of Michael Licona's book on the resurrection. But as it is Martin Luther King day, I want to repost an excerpt from one of his essays that I find powerfully moving (it is from "My Pilgrimage to Nonviolence"). It is especially so in light of an astonishing fact I learned yesterday: according to the book by Arthur Raper, The Tragedy of Lynching, from 1889 to 1929 a black person was either hanged or burned alive every four days. MLK was undoubtedly aware of these facts. How could anyone in his position in their right mind want peaceful reconciliation with the white man? King gives the reason in this passage:
In recent months I have also become more and more convinced of the reality of a personal God. True, I have always believed in the personality of God. But in past years the idea of a personal God was little more than a metaphysical category which I found theologically and philosophically satisfying. Now it is a living reality that has been validated in the experiences of everyday life. Perhaps the suffering, frustration and agonizing moments which I have had to undergo occasionally as a result of my involvement in a difficult struggle have drawn me closer to God. Whatever the cause, God has been profoundly real to me in recent months. In the midst of outer dangers I have felt an inner calm and known resources of strength that only God could give. In many instances I have felt the power of God transforming the fatigue of despair into the buoyancy of hope. I am convinced that the universe is under the control of a loving purpose and that in the struggle for righteousness man has cosmic companionship. Behind the harsh appearances of the world there is a benign power. To say God is personal is not to make him an object among objects or attribute to him the finiteness and limitations of human personality; it is to take what is finest and noblest in our consciousness and affirm its perfect existence in him. It is certainly true that human personality is limited, but personality as such knows no necessary limitations. It simply means self-consciousness and self-direction. So in the truest sense of the word, God is a living God. In him there is feeling and will, responsive to the deepest yearnings of the human heart: thus God both evokes and answers prayers.
After engaging in debate about the truth claims of Christianity on the Internet for many years I have learned something interesting: Internet atheists tend to be angry and want to gather together to share that anger. To me, that's the only way to explain why so many of them banter around the trite and simple phrases of such luminaries as the New Atheists. Internet Atheists hate Christianity and they enjoy gathering at bulletin boards and blogs sharing that hatred and anger through their (allegedly) stunning insights about the stupid, ignorant Christians and their beliefs.
Oh, they deny it. I remember distinctly a conversation I had almost 10 years ago with a guy who went by the name of Cygnus. He had been kicked off the old debate boards at CARM, one of my old stomping grounds, for using foul language. I forget exactly how I came to speak to him outside of CARM, but he told me that he was actually very happy and could certainly go without using foul language if let back on the site. I believed him, and talked Matt Slick, the site's owner, to let him back onto the bulletin boards. It was less than a day later that he was kicked off a second time because he immediately reverted to his old unhappy, angry, swearing ways.
I used to go to atheist bulletin boards regularly and read their messages back and forth to each other. Even their posts among each other consistently contained swear-words and were unusually snide -- directed at ignorant Christians, of course.
Then there was the close-mindedness. Christians are, in their view, the ones who are incredibly close-minded. We Christians cannot see the simple fact that we are worshipping the non-existent Santa Claus-type in the sky. But I certainly see a very obvious amount of close-mindedness among these atheists in terms of their complete unwillingness to consider the Christian accounts as they are understood by Christians. Rather than consider what the Bible is actually saying in context they would rather continue to mischaracterize and flay at straw man arguments.
In fact, it is this attitude (coupled with a significant lack of time) that led me to give up posting on bulletin boards. It wasn't worth the time or effort to attempt to overcome the obvious two-faced nature of the posters who claimed to be open-minded but were instead the most close-minded individuals I have ever run across.
Of course, there are also idiot, close-minded Christians out there, but my experience has been that the nastiness and incivility has been heavily one-sided. Ninety-five percent of the vitriol on bulletin boards comes from Atheists who claim to be broad-minded.
So, I ask any readers to this blog who would care to comment whether their experience is the similar. Do you see Internet Atheists as good, decent people willing to constructively debate, or is your experience such that you find the vast majority of Internet Atheists to be angry, close-minded bores?
[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, continuing chapter 29, can be found here.]
[This entry concludes chapter 29, "Resolving The Grand Paradox".]
You may have noticed I have often insisted throughout my book that opponents are not entirely wrong, but rather they're not entirely right; that they do have some good points, but they're taking them a bit too far or not taking them far enough or putting them together the wrong way. I have recently granted this in the case of pantheists and vitalists, for instance.
In the case of atheistic naturalists, I think they are actually on the right trail when they discuss aggregations of natural events as the source of our rationality. Their pivotal error, as I have deduced, is that they put these observations and conclusions into service of a nonsensical proposition: that non-initiation produces initiation ability, that reactions produce actions, that the non-rational can be rational.
The atheists don't only mean this as principle relating to us personally; they mean this as a principle of all reality. An atheist is, by being an atheist, proposing sentience to be the derivative from the Independent reality that is itself non-sentient--a proposition that sounds less nonsensical the fuzzier and more vaguely we consider ‘sentience’. (That’s “the ability to perceive” right?!) Proposing that the mental actions (not only automatic reactions) we all insist, tacitly or explicitly, that we ourselves are exhibiting were-and-are produced by an ultimately atheistic reality, is somewhat like proposing that the temperature of the universe at the instant of the Big Bang was absolute zero: if that was true, then there wasn’t in fact a Bang and nothing would exist with heat energy now either!
Thus I deduced (with rather more detailed arguments, of course) that basic reality must itself be sentient, personal, active; and that our Nature must furthermore be derivative from God and is not God Himself.
But the arguments of the atheistic naturalists have never been entirely wrong; indeed, one of the great strengths of atheistic philosophy is that it very often works quite well, especially at the scientific level. Atheism really is quite plausible (inductively speaking), if one doesn't look too closely at some of the consequential conclusions or preliminary presumptions.
What I propose is this: to a limited degree the atheistic naturalists are quite correct. There is something, even a lot, to be said for human rationality being a (but not the) result of the aggregation of physical phenomena.
What atheism leaves out of the account (which it must or it wouldn’t be this-or-that kind of atheism!) are the actions grounding such reactive behavior (as physical Nature) in the first place. I said earlier that I would not solve my action-to-derivative-action paradox by proposing that God created Nature, and then the natural reactions of themselves produced human sentience. Why? Because such an explanation divorces the intent of God from the behaviors of natural material, which aside from providing no better explanation for your and my sentience than atheism, simply cannot be true anyway: there cannot be a Cosmic Watch that a Designer winds up and leaves utterly to its own existence. That type of proposition is a result of the same fallacy borne by the imagery of God creating Nature 'over there' somewhere in a metacosmic vacuum.
Instead, God's "percolation", so to speak, permeates and underlies all natural events. Each reaction, as part of its reality, carries (from our perspective, although in reality it is carried by) an action event; but there are different types of action events.
If God creates a neutron and sends it careening into a critical mass of uranium, for instance, the result will be a factor of God's actions at many levels. The natural system itself is produced and maintained by God's actions. (Yet even such a production and maintenance involves a limited number of actions out of God's infinitude; for Nature is not itself God Himself fully Himself, but a real creation.) The reactions of the uranium atoms and their constituent bits of energy/mass are following reactive principles which God instituted for Nature to 'run' on. The neutron (in this particular illustration) is created directly by God; and the uranium mass (by contrast) is the result of a staggering number of reactions which have taken place within the natural system once God instituted it (including the reactions of a bunch of other neutrons). Both situations are results of God's actions, but there are subtle and real differences. The recently created neutron was given a vector impetus by God to move within the system; or, God could have driven it directly around every single molecule in the critical mass. Even these are subtly different sorts of actions, but both are still actions on His part: they are not (of themselves) reactions by Nature.
What I propose is that the various and variable actions of God which underlie the behavior of reactive material, can themselves fall into such-and-such a pattern or shape, within that reactive Nature. This shape would not have existed without the reactive Nature: but this composite shape is itself God's intentional creation and has such a property also intended by God from the first (for of course nothing takes God by surprise).
As it is, the shape is not God. It will have its 'own' behaviors, informed to one degree or another by the field of created Nature within which it manifests. It will have its own 'character', also informed to one degree or another by its environment within the history of that Nature. Its character and behaviors will also be informed and shaped by the will and action of God; but not directly. Indirectness--the indirectness which only a Nature created by a direct and foundational Intent can provide--allows this burgeoning entity to grow within the Nature, and to grow proportionately more and more individual from God without being separated from God by any sort of 'big ugly ditch'.
I think this is what a rational soul is. I think this is what you are, and what I am. We are (almost literally) born from the union of Nature and Supernature; of the created Earth-mother and the creating Sky-Father.
We are the children of God.
Although I think I am on exactly the right trail here, let me pause a moment to clarify: I am not claiming this particular part of my argument is entirely deductive. It requires many previous deductions in order to be set up, but I am not convinced that I have done anything here other than hypothesize a solution to a problem. The solution does not 'crash', as far as I can tell, and so by its self-consistency it allows for the increase of argumentative clarity later.
That my soul has certain properties, I am deductively certain; and I will attempt to deduce even more applications of principle from those earlier deductions. But to keep my argument going at this juncture, I only need to give a plausibly self-consistent guess as to how such a proposition could be satisfied. It is not (or at least should not be) deductively important to my further arguments in this book, that I have been created in exactly this manner; and I will watch myself carefully to ensure that further claims of deductive certainty hinge on previous deductions and not on this particular theory of method. (I may later argue inductively or abductively from this position, of course; although I will need to be careful not to hinge deductions on those subsequent positions, either.)
Still, I will understand if oppositional critics decide this is the weakest point of my whole argument. I may even agree with their reasons for rejecting it. Hopefully when this part of my argument comes under fire, I will be able to refine it properly to reflect the truth better.
Meanwhile, I am rather pleased with the 'shape' of this proposal! It allows as much real credit as possible to certain observations championed by my opposition; and this is important, for if truth truly exists (so to speak), then even errors must be grounded on real truths, and even partially successful (much more largely successful) theories in science and philosophy must in proportion reflect some aspect of real truth. (Ironically, many opponents would just as soon never allow any real credit to people on my 'side of the aisle'.) My proposal keeps rational grounding at many different levels, yet allows for real distinction in the derivative entity. It even gells very well with certain statements about man and his relation to God in my own tradition, although I did not apply to those traditions as necessary presumptions for building the argument.
In my next chapter, I will examine this proposal more closely in terms of practical questions and answers; to 'flesh out' (so to speak) this doctrine of derivative spirit.
[Next up: a personal story]
[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]
According to an article entitled Atheists' diversity woes have no clear answers, atheism has a rather clear white base.
Last year, Jules helped launch a local initiative to address what atheists regard as an international problem for their movement: a lack of racial and gender diversity.
From the smallest local meetings to the largest conferences, the vast majority of speakers and attendees are almost always white men. Leading figures of the atheist movement -- Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett -- are all white men.
But making atheism more diverse is proving to be no easy task.
Surveys suggest most atheists are white men. A recent survey of 4,000 members of the Freedom from Religion Foundation found that 95 percent were white, and men comprised a majority.
Among U.S. nonbelievers, 72 percent are white and 60 percent are men, according to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey; the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that Hispanics make up 11 percent, and African-Americans just 8 percent, of "unaffiliated" Americans.
"Anytime you go to an atheist meeting, it tends to be predominantly male and white. We know that," said Blair Scott, national affiliate director for American Atheists, which has 131 affiliate groups. "We go out of our way to encourage participation by females and minorities. The problem is getting those people out (of the closet as atheists) in the first place."
So, atheists are having trouble appealing to minorities? Atheist gatherings are gatherings dominated by white males? They have to try to reach out to minority communities which appear to largely be rejecting their message?
Okay, if the Republican Party is often assumed to be racist because of its racial make-up (it is majority white}, when are we going to see the news stories with the underlying assumption that atheism is racist?
[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, chapter 28, can be found here.]
[This entry starts chapter 29, "Resolving The Grand Paradox".]
During the previous few chapters, I think I have established many useful and true notions. One result of this process, however, has been to deepen the paradox I had already detected (as a potentially cataclysmic contradiction to my argument) back toward the end of Section Two.
Now it is time to resolve that paradox--if possible.
Let me begin, conceptually speaking, at the beginning.
One and only one Independent Fact exists; no other IF could exist along with or instead of It. Being self-generative and rationally active, the basic self-sustaining action of the IF is to beget Itself. This most primary of Its actions--and as a rationally active entity, the most fundamentally chief cause of any effects, we should describe the IF with a personal and philosophical 'He'--allows the IF (God) to take any other type of action. Only one of God's actions results in the generational upkeep of Himself: there is only one Son begotten of the Father (borrowing analogical language for describing something uniquely real that has no truly equivalent parallel), and so He is God Himself as a multi-personal Unity. Any other action taken by God than self-generation must be a declension of some type; for the logical math easily indicates that to 'do' something other than 'to generate the infinite self' is to 'generate something other than the infinite self'. (As noted previously I could in fact infer the existence of a Third Person of God here, but I am waiting until the next Section to cover that topic. The existence of this 3rd Person of full substantial deity does not contravene the principles I have discovered and related in this Section, nor previously so.) Nothing exists, or can exist, 'outside' God (the Independent Fact) into which God can 'create'. If He chooses to create, therefore, He must do so using Himself as material (so to speak).
He cannot do this throughout the totality of His infinite being, for this would leave no fully active God; and only that type of God can ground Himself. He must therefore do something to a part of Himself. More precisely (for the IF is not constituted of ‘parts’ per se), He chooses not to do something within Himself; in effect, and to a degree, He subjects Himself to a death, not entirely unlike the way the Son chooses self-abdication in order to maintain the Unity of the self-generative God--and indeed it would be this Person of God, the Son, Who abdicates for sake of creation (even though both Persons, as the single God, are acting to create. The Son does not create apart from the intention, authority and empowerment of the Father). God acts in such a way that He ceases (to one limited degree or other) to act--thus creating (not begetting) something distinctly not-He.
I can be sure He has done this, because I do not perceive I am God; a perception that either must be true, or a mistake, or a willfully intransigent self-delusion. God, however, would not be willfully intransigent with respect to Himself--that would be the end of Himself and all reality. And He would not intentionally delude Himself, for much the same reason. The Son, in other words, would not rebel against the Father; and the Father would never at bottom (or as 'the bottom' or 'ground' or ‘foundation’ of all reality, including the Deity’s own reality) disown the Son.
Thus, one way or another, if reality must be presumed (literally 'for purposes of argument') to be consistent, and if God is the ultimate reality, then I cannot be God. I would either know that I am God, or at worst God would never let me consider the question and reach a wrong answer.
Taken altogether, I find I myself am my own strongest evidence that God exists and has created, not only begotten.
The first thing God creates (not self-begetting) must be something which, as 'itself', is reactive and not active--for action (specifically self-generation) is the most primary and basic attribute of God upon which He Himself and all else is 'based'; and His first creation must be fundamentally distinctive in characteristic from Himself, else He would not be creating. A reactive Nature of some sort is therefore a necessary component of a reality that includes not-God (i.e. created) entities. If God creates, at least one 'Nature' must exist, and it must be (considered as itself) reactive.
Thus God limits Himself within His infinite particularity. [See first comment below for an extended footnote here.]
Yet (as I have already explained) He retains by default the ability to reestablish direct control to any degree at any and all points of this Nature. Even so, the Nature considered as itself is not-God. It will have its own particular not-God behaviors; ones which fit the intentions of God Himself, and which He can still supersede and add to at any 'time and place', but which taken as themselves are still "Nature's" behaviors, not God-behaviors.
God, in other words, is committed (in at least some degree), to "let Nature be Nature"; otherwise nothing is or can be actually accomplished by His 'creating' it. To that extent, God must allow Nature some leeway to "do its own thing". This does not mean that anything Nature 'does' will take God by surprise; for He has access to all points of this subsystem (points we would describe and perceive as 'space and time'). But neither must it mean that God determines every little movement of every particle of matter and energy at all times and places within the Nature. He could do this, but that would moot 'creation' per se. He could and can precisely determine the character of very many events that happen within Nature--He can work miracles; but in a way He lets His self-imposed rule of how 'a Nature should distinctively behave' be its own controlling factor within, and for, that Nature.
Computers once more provide a useful analogy, though not a specially close one: what happens within a game reflects (or at least should reflect) the intentions of the designer, both specifically and generally; yet the designer has no wish to be constantly doing every little single thing himself within the game--not first and foremost due to a lack of energy, time and attention (problems which are real for human programmers but which would not be limiting factors for God), but because otherwise there would be no point to making a game. (By 'game', I don't mean the events are necessarily petty. I doubt anything is truly 'petty' to God, anyway. Call it a living and growing story. (...and don't those make the best 'games'?))
To that extent, then, I think a process that may be called 'luck', must be a real contributor to what happens within Nature. I know this seems a bit heretical, but unless we supernaturalistic theists wish to deny the creation altogether and propose that Everything is fully God (that is, unless we wish to propose pantheism after all), then I think we need to take seriously the idea of 'creation' as 'creation'. (And I don't think pantheism holds water anyway, as I have already indicated; although I think I can grant that such a state is potentially true, in a way. God could act pantheistically, and/or could reestablish such a condition; but either way would be to moot creation.)
When I say 'luck' is a contributor to Nature's history, however, I am not yet talking about any active sub-contribution. What I mean instead, is that in terms of Nature-as-Nature, God has chosen to 'percolate'.
That doesn't sound very dignified; but then again God has, in some ways, evidently abandoned what we might call 'His dignity', by creating at all! (Certainly this divine abdication of dignity for creation has long been a common position among Christian theologians and devotionalists!)
I know from my own experience that I, as a presumably rational entity, can intentionally disassociate my consciousness from my behaviors, while at the same time modifying and 'shaping' the flow of those behaviors. Although I was never a drummer in school (bass clarinetist and tenor saxist, actually), I do have some percussive talent; and to amuse myself I occasionally will 'turn myself loose' while driving or walking or thinking on other subjects, and so produce a complex percussive rhythm. Any rhythms or series of rhythms I thus produce are certainly not randomly chaotic noise (at least I don't intend them to be) but fit such-n-such patterns. I am listening and approving, but I am also modifying 'on the fly', and I am also the originator of the intent to do this in the first place. (I would, in this fashion, be analogically manifesting the aspects of the Trinity, according to the British dramatist and theologian Dorothy Sayers in her book The Mind of the Maker.)
But I think it would be incorrect to say I am pedantically acting directly from scratch at every moment within that rhythm. A jazz artist--including during a vocal 'scat'--works much the same way, and produces what many people consider to be very fine art. It is true, in one way, to say the jazz scat-er is consciously producing her music; it is also true, in another way, to say she is merely guiding something she has willfully unleashed from within herself, which now has its own 'character'.
If I, a mere man with limited resources, can accomplish this type of creation, then I do not find it very difficult to grasp the notion of God doing the same to-and-for Nature as a whole. It would be a working-out of the same general principle, on an unimaginably vast scale. Aside from the plausibility I see in it, I run into outright contradiction if I try to go down other paths; so up to this point I am satisfied with the outworking of the principles.
[Next up: relational creation]