Creation and the Second Person -- Supernaturalism

[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, chapter 24, can be found here.]

[This entry constitutes chapter 25, "Supernaturalism".]

By comparing my behaviors and characteristics with what I have discovered about God so far (and despite the wide-reaching implications, the actual number of details I have developed is still quite limited), I find that one way or another I must not be an entity with fully divine status. I am not God. I may perhaps be partially divine (whatever that means--and it's a topic I will get back to), but even the concept of being 'partially' divine necessarily indicates that a distinctive level of reality must exist which is not itself God.

This means a distinctively real supersystem/subsystem relationship exists; and I seem to be representative of the subsystem. As I explained last chapter, this strikes a serious blow, in a technical sense, against pantheism.

Either everything is equally God (including the distinctive Persons of divine unity in multiplicity, which must be the case with the begettor/begotten status of God Himself as the self-generative Independent Fact of reality); or something exists which is not fully God.

If the first situation is true, then there can be only one level of reality (however multifaceted the aspects of that reality may be). Although philosophers often use 'naturalism' to conveniently mean 'atheism', strictly speaking the terms are not equal. A person could maintain that multiple real but substantially different distinctive levels of reality exist, with one most fundamental level upon which all other substantially different levels of reality depend for their own existence (not upon themselves)--and that person could still be an atheist! She would be a supernaturalistic atheist. Or, a person could maintain that God exists (the IF is sentient), and that only one level of reality exists; he would be a naturalistic theist--that is, he would be a pantheist: only one level of reality exists, and that is God; therefore God is everything and everything is fully God.

However, my recognition of myself as being either compelled to be under an illusion (whether or not I am expected to try to 'escape' from it is irrelevant), or else of being (at least occasionally) in an actual willful rebellion against reality, indicates that I do not share fully divine status. The Begotten aspect of God is still God Himself as part of the Unity of the self-existent Independent Fact, and so shares fully divine status.

I thus conclude that whatever else may be true, there are at least two distinctive levels of reality: the fully divine (such as the 1st and 2nd Persons of the self-generative God) and the not-fully divine (such as myself). And if there are at least two substantial levels of reality, then technically speaking no pantheism can be true.

However, some of the propositions of pantheism might still be valid (and thus some sort of 'pantheism', using the term metaphorically for purposes of historical distinction, might be accepted) if the field of reality we commonly recognize as 'physical Nature' turns out to be itself fully divine. This would be an unusual approach to theology: a fusion of technical supernaturalism with practical pantheism.

Its distinction would be this: historically speaking, philosophers have generally argued or assumed that physical Nature either is the only level of reality, or else is the subsystem of an ontologically fundamental supernaturalistic reality. The option I am now considering inverts this: physical Nature would turn out to be the "Supernature", and my derivative reality (whatever that means in both principle and practice) would be the "Nature".

Or, put another way, instead of Nature/Supernature (such as the field of physical Nature and the supernatural God, respectively) we would have Subnature/Nature (entities such as myself and the physically natural God, respectively).

Let me suggest, therefore, that one philosophical option in front of me at this point, is to propose that I reflect one level or system of reality, and physical Nature reflects a supervening, or higher, system. By discussing my properties and the properties of physical Nature, as system/supersystem (respectively), we can perhaps avoid misunderstandings attached to terms such as natural/supernatural.

The question before me in this chapter is: can such a state of reality be true? Is God--the Sentient Independent Fact--physical Nature? Or, put a little more accurately, is physical Nature itself God? If this is true, many corollaries of historical pantheisms will suddenly be validated, even if we can no longer consider 'pantheism' in the technical sense to be the reality (thanks to the existence of system/supersystem relationships).

Whatever properties physical Nature may have, virtually everyone of any philosophical stripe agrees that my body is composed of (at least) physical materials. We may disagree drastically about what precisely this means about me, if we disagree about the properties of physical Nature; but we will at least agree upon that fact. (To give an extreme example: a person who says that the units of physical Nature possess the characteristic of 'being an illusion', will have a dramatically different opinion about what this means about me, than the person who says the units of physical Nature are not an illusion. But their disagreement will be about what it means for my body to be composed of physical materials.)

Furthermore, we have discovered that whatever else may be true, it is also true that the physical status of my brain affects my ability to effectively think. These correlations have been experimentally established; and thus we can infer, to a certain degree, the mechanics of my thinking process. Under the theory I am currently considering, these physical events and characteristics are facets of the ultimate level of reality (which is Nature). Also, thanks to the arguments I derived in Section Two, I should conclude that the ultimate level of reality is itself sentient--that is, capable of thinking in at least the manner I understand 'thinking' to be--and this means that the theory I am currently considering should factor in this characteristic as well. Finally, as usual I must presume that ultimate reality is self-consistent.

What all this boils down to, is the conclusion that physical reality (under the theory I am currently considering) always (self-consistently) thinks (being sentient) true thoughts.

Put another way, although perhaps non-physical behaviors may exist and be fallible (such a non-physical subreality might account in some fashion for my 'not-fully-divine' status), physical behaviors must consistently produce correct thinking, under this theory. This would be one of the necessary corollaries to the proposition that what we generally recognize as physical Nature is itself the Sentient Independent Fact.

Now, my first observation is that as a practical matter, the vast majority of us (including, as far as I can tell, virtually all pantheists) reject out of hand the notion that physical behaviors automatically produce (when left to themselves) fully accurate thinking. Indeed, we reject this so strongly that if a particular bit of human thinking is ascribed to fully physical behavior, we typically count that fact against the possibility that the thinking could be correct!

However, I might be told that this by itself only indicates how deep our declension from the Absolute runs. (Remember that such a declension is itself indicative of a system/supersystem reality, despite what pantheists have often otherwise said.) I might accept this answer as a rebuttal; except, we also have experimentation to consider now.

We have experimentally discovered, that whatever else human mentality may be, it is intimately related (at least currently) not only with the physical structures known as 'nerves' in my brain, but also to certain physical states of those biophysical structures.

Don't misunderstand: my forthcoming argument is not that this means only those types of nerve structures can function as a vehicle for active sentience. My point is rather different.

Let us say my task is to add up two numbers: 28 and 42. Let us also say someone has killed the nerve in which was stored the bit of information meaning 'I should carry the one when adding 8 and 2'. Instead, a new nerve has been wired, so that the memory of the taste of butterscotch is accessed instead. In principle, this type of result is possible. The physical interwiring may or may not account for my raw active intentions, but it did restrict what I was capable of accomplishing with those intentions. (See first comment below for an extended footnote here.)

I thus add up 28 and 42 and get 60, while gagging a little (I hate the taste of butterscotch). What has happened?

"You forgot to carry the 1," I might be told.

What does that mean? It means (under the terms of this example) that the nerve fired at a completely natural time, but not so that the correct number was produced. Does that mean I made a mistake?

"Yes, there's the wrong answer."

But that rather begs the question: Yes I made a mistake, because there's the mistake. Granted, but what was the mistake?

"Not carrying the 1."

And so we're back in a circle with nothing accomplished.

Here is the crux of the question: does 28 and 42 really add up to 60?

"No, it adds up to 70."

But I just added them up and reached 60. In what sense does 28 and 42 really not add up to 60?

"In the realistic sense."

Does that mean my behavior did not correspond to reality?

"Yes it did not correspond with reality, otherwise you would have reached 70, which is the number of oranges you will have in a box if you put in a bag of 28 oranges and a bag of 42 oranges."

But isn't this odd? A bit of matter interacted physically in my head with other bits of matter, the result being that I was prevented from coming up with a total other than 60. Did this not correspond with reality?

"No, it did correspond with reality; the reality of what would happen when those bits did that sort of thing."

Then 28 and 42 can really add up to 60.

"Yes, they can really be added up like that."

So that answer is just as valid and just as real as any other answer?

"Taken as bits of interacting matter, yes."

Would you give me $28 and $42? I will give you back six ten dollar bills.


Why not?

"Because you'd be shorting me ten dollars!"

So? Taken as bits of interacting matter, that result is just as good as any other result, isn't it?

"No, it isn't a true result."

So the mere fact that a physical event takes place (even when comprised of multiple physical events), turns out to be no guarantee that any ideas consequent with the event correspond correctly to reality: physical results can and do in fact hamper my successful thoughts about reality.

And yet, if physical Nature is the SIF (the Sentient Independent Fact), those events should utterly correspond with no disparity: if physical Nature is ultimately sentient, then I think I would have at least first-glance grounds for expecting physical interactions to remove obstacles to thinking most of the time--yet instead most of the time the opposite seems true.

The conceptual weight of the evidence thus seems to me to point away from physical Nature being itself the SIF.

However, I will say this: as I leave this chapter and continue onward, I do not think I have (so far) deductively removed the option from the possibility list. That being the case, I will be careful to watch myself throughout the next chapters, to ensure that any conclusion I draw about God and His relationship to creation does not require (without first properly inferring it) that He must not be equivalent to what we call "physical Nature".

Fortunately, my line of argumentation can leave this question to one side for a while; it will remain to be seen whether 'practical pantheism', so to speak, can be deductively removed. I have registered here only a strong conceptual strike against it.

[Next up: God and Creation]


Jason Pratt said…
[Extended footnote]

I should clarify here that my primary discussion and conclusion in Section Two was not that physical matter, per se, could not produce intentional events; but that fundamentally non-intentional events could not, of and only of themselves, produce intentive events. Most atheists are also philosophical naturalists, and it seems to me as well as to them that physical nature is fundamentally reactive, which is how I treated it in Sec Two for illustration purposes. I concluded that I must presume that I am active in my reasoning, and that therefore I should conclude that the IF must be active; which has led to a further consideration of whether Nature is the IF after all, except ultimately sentient instead of non-sentient. If Nature is God, then my physical interwiring would account for my raw, active intentions after all.

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