God and Creation, Part 2: Immanence

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May 18, 2011 Tags: Divine Action & Purpose

Today's entry was written by David Opderbeck. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

God and Creation, Part 2: Immanence

This series is drawn from David’s podcasts, which are available on his website.

My first essay in this series discussed God’s transcendence. Today we will cover a complementary topic: God’s immanence.

God’s “immanence” refers to God’s presence in creation. If we were to speak only of the ways in which God is “transcendent” – how He is other than, above, and hidden in creation – we would be left with a god that seems more like an abstract force than a person. Such a being might resemble the pre-Christian metaphysics of Platonism or the Enlightenment Deist’s post-Christian God. The God of the Bible, the God revealed in Jesus Christ, however, is a personal and relational God. This sort of God does not merely wind up creation like a watch and then sit back to watch it run. This sort of God is always intimately involved with His creation. God’s immanence in creation is bound to God’s character as a relational being characterized by love. In scripture, various properties or states are attributed to God, but perhaps the most amazing summary is in 1 John 4:8: “God is love.”

Creation is a product of love. God did not need to create. God in Himself knows no shortage of anything. The fact that God did create, then, reflects an outpouring of God’s generosity and love. Indeed, this is echoed in the poetic refrain of Genesis 1: God declares the creation “good.” It is profitable to let this truth sink deep into our souls: the world God made is good because all of it participates in God’s love. It is sadly true, of course, that the creation is affected by our sin. But it is still God’s creation, and therefore it is still in its essence good.

In fact, creation is continually sustained by God’s love. An important corollary to God’s immanence in creation is the contingency of the creation. If God were an absent watchmaker, the creation could run on its own, without anything from God beyond the initial wind-up. But if the creation is such that God is immanent in and throughout it, then the creation does not exist apart from God. The entire creation depends utterly on God’s sustaining will and power for its ongoing existence. From the perspective of Christian theology, there is simply no such thing as “nature” without God. And despite our sin, God has not abandoned the creation. This too is a thought worth meditating upon: God has never withdrawn His presence from the creation (if He did this, creation would cease to exist!); He has not given up on what He has made; it all remains entirely His and it all continues because of His love.

This is not to say that God’s immanence in creation deprives creation of its own integrity. Creation is characterized by a beauty and order that reflects God’s own character. In His love, God has graced creation itself with causal freedom, within the probabilities of quantum physics and emergent physical laws.

Consider, for example, the Bird of Paradise, which engages in elaborate mating displays involving the construction of bowers out of colorful flowers and other materials. A female might be courted by several males, and ultimately will choose one as a mate based in some way on the quality of its display. We should not imagine that God somehow directly instructs the female about which mate to choose. The causal relationship between the male’s display and the female’s choice of mate possess an inherent integrity, as does the evolutionary history of the birds’ plumage and social rituals. We can understand these causal relationships without invoking immediate Divine intervention. Classical theologians such as Augustine and Aquinas called this “secondary” causation.

But creation cannot run on its own, because there is a deeper, “primary” level of causation, which is God’s creative and sustaining will and power. In classical theological terms, all “secondary” causes, because they are entirely dependent on God’s “primary” causation, are subsumed within God’s “primary” causation. In this way, we can think of creation as possessing inherent created freedom while at the same time existing entirely under God’s sovereignty and as a product of God’s creative will.

Yet, if creation possesses causal integrity at least at the level of secondary causation, why should we invoke God at all? Does God become an unnecessary appendage, to be elided by Ockham’s Razor? Should we repeat the famous adage of the astronomer Laplace – who, when the Emperor Napoleon asked where God fit into the cosmos, replied, “I have no need of that hypothesis?”

No, for several reasons. First,the brute fact of the universe’s existence alone does not adequately explain all – or even most – of what we as human beings believe is important. We might suggest that the universe as brute fact alone cannot explain the fact of itself. Why does this universe exist? Why does this universe seem so finely tuned to produce the sort of carbon-based life that results in human beings who are able to reflect on the meaning of it all? The best responses of materialist scientists to date are variations on the multiverse theory – a fascinating set of ideas that, even if it is “scientific” and in some way correct, merely push the “why” question, and indeed the “how” question of the origin of physical laws, further back into the mists.

Perhaps more importantly, the universe as brute fact alone cannot explain what is “good” or “just” or “beautiful” or “true,” unless we strip those terms of any real meaning. The universe as brute fact alone cannot account at all for “love” – again, unless we reduce and redefine the meaning of “love” to a mere interaction of brain chemicals, in which case we are no really speaking of “love” at all.

Finally, from a Christian perspective, most importantly of all, the universe as brute fact alone cannot explain the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Indeed, a truly Christian perspective is one that views the universe through the lens of the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and not the other way around. We start where the Gospel starts: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). We understand the immanence of God in creation most directly through Christ, the Word, the Logos, by whom all things were created, in whom all things hold together, and who himself took on flesh and became both creator and creature.

And this brings us back to the notion of God’s immanence. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…”, we read in John 3:16. Everywhere in creation, we should see the cross of Christ. We should see God present to such a degree that God Himself was willing to suffer and die in the person of the Son, in union with the groaning of all creation. All of creation – all of its beauty, all of its majesty, all of its power, all of its complexity, all of its simplicity, all of its suffering – points to the Logos, the Christ, who shaped it, who suffered with it and for it, who continually sustains it, and who will redeem it. This means that Christ himself is never far from any of us. He is not absent or far off; he has not abandoned what he has made. With the eyes of faith, wherever we look, we can see him; with the expectation of hope, in every season we can turn and find him right there; with the delight of love, we can enjoy and care for all the good things he has made as though he were enjoying them and caring for them along with us – for he is indeed Emmanuel, God With Us.


David Opderbeck is Professor of Law and Director of the Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology at Seton Hall University Law School. He is also working on a Ph.D. in Philosophical Theology at the University of Nottingham and is Pastoral Science Scholar with the Center for Pastoral Science.

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Roger A. Sawtelle - #61378

May 18th 2011

Excellent.

Again it all comes down to the Logos, Jesus Christ.


Brian G - #61399

May 18th 2011

David,

Thank you for your clarity of thinking and conversational style. 
Excellent explanation of both transcendance and immanence.
I believe that Christian theology has created its own imbalances through history by which side of that equation it has stressed at the expense of the other.
I have seen the results in my own life. 
Here’s to keeping that balance.


Jon Garvey - #61419

May 19th 2011

Another vote of approbation from me, David!


Roger A. Sawtelle - #61424

May 19th 2011

David,

I am going to take back a small portion of the approval I stated above, not because what you say is wrong, but the approach is lacking.

Trnacendence/immanence is good, but it leads to the Western dualist trap.  While Western dualism does have its strong points and has brought us a long way, it has reached the end of its road and need to be replaced.  

The only viable alternative (monism is what scientism and physicalism proposes) is the complex/one, triune world view called the trinity.  Maybe you have heard of it.  With the triune model one has the physical covered by science (See Father/Creator), the ideational covered by philosophy (See Son/Logos), and the spiritual/meaningful covered by theology and ethics (See Holy Spirit/Love).   

The problem with transcendence/immanence is clarified by Robert Franks when he used Barth’s theology to say that it had no real place for the Holy Spirit, because all of the Immanance of God was taken into Jesus.  Thus one had a dualist system, Father and Son, but no role for the Spirit, which has been serious problem in the Western theology. 

The complex/one triune model which I describe in my books puts science, philosophy, and theology into their proper perspectives and provides once again a viable intellectual foundation for life in today’s world.     


dopderbeck - #61430

May 19th 2011

Thanks for the comment, Roger (and all).  My next post will be on the Trinity, and the post following that is on “method” in thinking about theology and natural science.  I agree whole-heartedly that Trinitarian thought is vital to this enterprise—indeed to the enterprise of thinking at all about God and creation and anything.  I’m not sure, Roger, if I’d go exactly in the direction you’re suggesting, to the extent I understand it from your brief summary, in part because the Trinitarian persons coinhere in each other, and I wonder if your summary sounds a little modalistic?  In terms of method, I favor some version of “critical realism,” which recognizes that reality is stratified and that somewhat different toolkits are required to investigate different aspects or layers of reality.  Perhaps at the end of the day we’ll see some overlap in our respective methods, in that the three-persons-in-one-being-ness of the Triune God must inform our approach to what reality and knowledge of reality are like.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #61439

May 19th 2011

David,

I am looking forward to your posts.

One note however.  I agree with Augustine that the Persons of the Trinity do not coinhere when he says that there is no “confusion” between the members of the Trinity.  They work together in all things, even the Creation, the Incarnation, and Salvation, while one may take the lead, all three are present, active, and necessary.
 
There is a double model actually, combining the Intrapersonal Model and the Interpersonal Model, both which are Biblical and need to be kept in mind to avoid the problem of the 1 and 3 you cite.


dopderbeck - #61446

May 19th 2011

Roger, I’m not following your reference to Augustine here.  He promoted the rule, following the Cappadocians, that the external acts of the Trinity are indivisible.  BTW, perhaps I should have used the term perichoresis or inter-penetration rather than coinherence.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #61456

May 19th 2011

David,

Certainly he did say that the acts of the Trinity are indivisible. 

While Augustine did not criticize perichoresis by name, it is my interpretation that his strong statement against confusion of the Persons of the Trinity was against perichoresis/inter-penetration and this was part of his view of the Trinity which is the foundation of Western Christianity and thought contra the Eastern Christian understanding.

My understanding of Augustine’s Trinity is that the Holy Spirit is Love, the Relational aspect of the Trinity.  If so God does not need perichoresis to guarantee unity.  It is the Holy Spirit/Love that gives unity to the Father and the Son, to the Son and His people, and to His people with “all of God’s children.”  Each of the Persons of the Trinity is loving, but the Holy Spirit is best characterized as Love.         


dopderbeck - #61463

May 19th 2011

Roger, I don’t think perichoresis is really the point of difference between East and West with respect to the Trinity.  The West tends to call it circumincession.  The Council of Florence, which helped precipitate the break between East and West over the filioque, stated it this way: 

These three persons are one God not three gods, because
  there is one substance of the three, one essence, one nature, one Godhead, one immensity,
  one eternity, and everything is one where the difference of a relation does not prevent
  this. Because of this unity the Father is whole in the Son, whole in the holy Spirit; the
  Son is whole in the Father, whole in the holy Spirit; the holy Spirit is whole in the
  Father, whole in the Son
. No one of them precedes another in eternity or excels in
  greatness or surpasses in power. The existence of the Son from the Father is certainly
  eternal and without beginning, and the procession of the holy Spirit from the Father and
  the Son is eternal and without beginning. Whatever the Father is or has, he has not from
  another but from himself and is principle without principle. Whatever the Son is or has,
  he has from the Father and is principle from principle. Whatever the holy Spirit is or
  has, he has from the Father together with the Son. But the Father and the Son are not two
  principles of the holy Spirit, but one principle, just as the Father and the Son and the
  holy Spirit are not three principles of creation but one principle. Therefore it condemns,
  reproves, anathematizes and declares to be outside the body of Christ, which is the
  church, whoever holds opposing or contrary views. Hence it condemns Sabellius, who
  confused the persons and altogether removed their real distinction. It condemns the
  Arians, the Eunomians and the Macedonians who say that only the Father is true God and
  place the Son and the holy Spirit in the order of creatures. It also condemns any others
  who make degrees or inequalities in the Trinity.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #61465

May 19th 2011

David,

Of course it is this creed that separates the East from the West, but it is the different Model of the Trinity that it uses based on Augustine that is the problem.  The way I understand it is that Augustine has the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father AND the Son.  In this way they are all equal, on the same plane, Father—-  Holy Spirit——Son. (The dashes represent arrows.) 

On the other hand the East has a heirarchical model with the Father begeting the Son and Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and not the Son.  This has been called the Monarchical view of the Trinity with the Father as Monarch being the Source of the Unity of the Trinity.  Again I prefer the relational view of Augustine.

Augustine’s Trinity gave Western theology flexibility and dynamism not found in the East.  His Confessions are considered the first autobiography of a modern human being.  He is accused of being the father of Western individualism, which is a mixed but real blessing IMHO.


Steve Ruble - #61467

May 19th 2011

We might suggest that the universe as brute fact alone cannot explain the fact of itself.

That’s a reasonable suggestion, because that’s exactly what “brute fact” means. What you actually seem to be claiming is that you don’t accept that the universe is a brute fact; that’s your call, of course, but to me it seems more reasonable to accept as a brute fact something that definitely exists, rather than trying to imagine other brute facts which may exist “further back in the mists”. 

Perhaps more importantly, the universe as brute fact alone cannot explain what is “good” or “just” or “beautiful” or “true,” unless we strip those terms of any real meaning.

Sure enough! Neither can the universe as a brute fact alone explain rocks, plants, the sun,  fish, or algebra. At least, when someone asks me for an explanation of those things, or the things you mentioned, I don’t respond, “Because of the unverse”.  I don’t suppose you would respond to such questions by saying, “Because of God”, either. There are different levels of explanatttions which are appropriate for different things.

Finally, from a Christian perspective, most importantly of all, the universe as brute fact alone cannot explain the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Correct again! It also fails to explain the ascension of Muhammed and Joseph Smith’s magic hat, not to mention the Law of Attraction. Wait, what was your point?


dopderbeck - #61470

May 19th 2011

Steve R, if the universe is all there is, then the universe has to explain itself.  Now, if you would respond “because of physical laws,” or something along those lines, without more, that is just the same as saying “because of the universe.”  And then your are indeed left with brute fact and a problem of causation.  This shouldn’t be a shocking conclusion even for a positivist—after all, this problem is precisely what motivated the shift from the steady state universe to big bang cosmology, and precisely the reason why people now search for multiverse theories and the like.

As to the comment about the universe explaining Christ, yes, you are missing the point.  Christian theology takes Christ as a central fact.  Obviously there are some unbridgeable differences in starting assumptions between this and a positivism that instead takes as a starting point the invalidity of any non-empirical statement (a self-defeating position that relies on a non-empirically verifiable assumption).  The notion of the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ does have important points of empirical contact that, I would argue, must be explained.  Nevertheless, I agree that the differences between scientism, Christianity, Islam, Mormonism, and so on, can’t be adjudicated on positivist grounds.  But positivism never was a viable idea anyway, so that doesn’t really concern me.


Steve Ruble - #61473

May 19th 2011

David, the universe doesn’t need to explain anything; rather, you feel the need to demand explanations for everything. But if the universe, as you claim, can only really be “explained” in terms of something else, then you’re asking for an explanation of the things we have experienced and can experience in terms of things we cannot experience, which is just nonsensical.


dopderbeck - #61474

May 20th 2011

If the universe doesn’t need explaining, Steve, there is no point in science or any other effort to know anything.


Steve Ruble - #61478

May 20th 2011

Again, David, the universe doesn’t need anything. There’s no reason to think it’s the sort of thing that has needs. So, if we take away the projection onto the universe, what you’re really saying is, “If you don’t feel the need to explain the universe, you can’t see the point in science or any other effort to know anything.” But that is plainly false.

I could say in resonse, “If you believe that god is an explanation, there is no point in science or any other effort to know anything,” but I won’t because there’s a flaw in that claim. Can you detect it? If you can, you ought to be able to detect the flaw in your own argument.


dopderbeck - #61481

May 20th 2011

Steve, it should be obvious that I wasn’t ascribing intentionality to the universe.  Yes, human beings—or rather, reason, a basic human property—needs to explain the universe.  This isn’t just about my feelings, or my religion—it’s a universal human phenomena, has motivated all our art, literature, music, philosophy, religion and science—everything that really marks us as “human”—throughout all of history. 

If you want to say this is all epiphenomenal, that our felt human need to explain the universe is just a strategy our genes use to get us to reproduce them, well, then there is no point in having this conversation.  In fact, there would be no point and no meaning in saying our felt human needs are just strategies of our genes, because that in itself is an effort to explain the universe.  For my part, I’m happy to throw in my lot with the rest of humanity that has always believed reason and knowledge mean something.


Steve Ruble - #61482

May 20th 2011

You’re still bent on ascribing needs to things that aren’t people. “Reason” doesn’t need to explain the universe either… only human beings - or rather, some human beings - feel the need to explain the universe. Some of those human beings seek explanations in science, while other seek explanations in their own imaginations, but for all such seekers, the search is motivated by a need or desire that they feel. Many other people do not feel the need to seek an explanation for the universe, and the lack of that need in no way implies that these people do not feel the need for explanations of things which happen at a more human scope.

As for your second paragraph… you also seem to be bent on ascribing arguments to me that I am not, in fact, making. I too believe that reason and knowledge mean something; actually, they are the very constituents of meaning. Please stop pretending that I’m claiming otherwise.


dopderbeck - #61483

May 20th 2011

Steve, I don’t think there is any person who doesn’t feel some need to explain the universe (excepting perhaps people who are seriously cognitively impaired).  Why are we here, why does anything exist, what is the purpose and meaning of it all—these questions reflect universal human needs, attested to by all of human culture throughout history.  They provide the basis for the natural and social sciences and the liberal arts as well as for folk culture.  Even the cry of nihilism is a response to the felt need to address these questions.

If, as you say, “reason and knowledge” are “the very constituents of meaning,” then it’s entirely proper to ascribe to them some properties (as you suggest I have).  To state that “reason and knowledge” are “constituents of meaning” is to give them ontological status, which means they have properties.  We actually agree to some extent on this point, I think.  In my view, “reason” is a “constituent of meaning” because reason flows from the Logos, who is Christ, the maker and sustainer of all creation—and this was one of the key points in my post.


Steve Ruble - #61498

May 20th 2011

David, now you’re equivocating.  Previously you were talking about this “need” to explain the universe as if it were a fatal flaw in any worldview which didn’t provide such an explanation. Now, you’re talking about the fact that lots of people want explanations for what exists. Those are radically different things. Of course many people have any number of unanswered questions; if unanswered questions were fatal to a worldview, there wouldn’t be many worldviews left.  However, it’s not necessarily the case that person needs to have answers to all unanswered or unanswerable questions in order to have a coherent, defensible worldview. Obviously.  You refuse to be satisfied with any worldview which doesn’t make you feel like you have an explanation for everything; you claim that you need your worldview to provide an explanation for everything. But that’s not a universal feeling.

———————-
I don’t really want to get into the ontology of names and referents, but I must say that there’s quite a gap between something having an ontological status which allows it to have “properties” and a status which allows it to have “needs”.
———————-
In my view, “reason” is a “constituent of meaning” because “meaning” requires a binding between symbols and things symbolized, and reasoning is (very roughly) a process of manipulating symbols in our minds. I say “knowledge” is a “constituent of meaning” because it is the name I use for accurate and consistent bindings between symbols and things symbolized. 

None of that has anything to do with the idea that “reason flows from the Logos”, which frankly makes no sense to me. How can reason flow, anyway?

dopderbeck - #61500

May 20th 2011

No, I’m not equivocating; you’re not representing me accurately. 

The desire for meaning, for explaining the universe, is a universal human need. 

It is a different question whether anyone can ever be completely free of unanswered questions.  I never said it is possible to be completely free of unanswered questions; I never said a “complete explanation” of the universe is possible; and I don’t think either is possible.  What we can seek is the “best” explanation.  No explanation is ever complete because we are situated human beings.

I think we now agree, however, that the desire for explanations is universal?

I’m not sure I follow your position on the relation of signifier and signified.  Are you suggesting that reality is entirely a social / linguistic construction? 

The concept of reason flowing—God / Christ is the source of the rationality of the universe.  Human reason is derived from that source.  Sort of like how water flows downstream.



Steve Ruble - #61512

May 21st 2011

The desire for meaning, for explaining the universe, is a universal human need.  

The desire for meaning is not the same as a desire to explain the universe.

No explanation is ever complete because we are situated human beings.
Exactly correct. And if some people are satisfied with end their chain of explanations at the universe, then that’s where their chain ends. There’s no use saying, as you seem to be, that some explanations are satisfying because they end with a god, while others are intrinsically unsatisfying because they do not. All explanations end, and whether they’re satisfying or not is a property of each individual person, not of the explanation itself.
Are you suggesting that reality is entirely a social / linguistic construction?  
No, I’m saying that language is a social/linguistic construction. Words are defined by people, but for them to be useful, the definitions must convey the same or similar information to other people.
God / Christ is the source of the rationality of the universe.  Human reason is derived from that source.
What do you mean, “is derived from”? Or, for that matter, “source”? “Reason” isn’t something with an existence of its own, which can go hither and yon - it’s something we do in our minds, by following certain methods of thought under certain constraints and rules which we believe to be important for ensuring that our thoughts are likely to correspond to reality in predictable ways. 


Roger A. Sawtelle - #61543

May 22nd 2011

Steve Ruble wrote:

“Reason” isn’t something with an existence of its own, which can go hither and yon - it’s something we do in our minds, by following certain methods of thought under certain constraints and rules which we believe to be important for ensuring that our thoughts are likely to correspond to reality in predictable ways.

Steve, you are right.  Reason is not a thing, it is a process or pattern of thinking.  The problem with that is that Reason is outside the purview of science, because it is not material or a natural force.  Yet reason is an essential aspect of science because it enables humans to discern orderly patterns in nature, which can be tested experimentally.  

These patterns in nature are part of nature which makes it understandible, but they are not material or energy.  In fact matter and energy are governed by these patterns.  When Steven Hawking said that Science governs the universe, that is what he meant, even though we know that Science decribes and explains some of these patterns, it did not create or control them.   

Reason and science says that events have one or more causes.  The beginning of the universe is an event, and therefore has a cause.  God is defined as That Which has no beginning or end.  Even Jesus Christ is said by the Bible to have neither a beginning nor an end, even though as a human being He was born and died (and rose from the dead.)  Therefore God is the only true Brute Fact.

If God is the only true Brute Fact God does not need an explanation, however God sees fit to reveal Who God is to humanity as Love through Jesus Christ.  Again that cannot be empirically be confirmed, but I think that it can be confirmed by personal experience.  If Science says that God does not exist because God is a Brute Fact. that is wrong.  If Science says that Love does not exist because because it cannot be empirically measured that is also a mistake.

Dawkins wrote The Selfish Gene to try to prove that cooperation is explainable within the framework of Darwinian conflict evolution.  He really failed to do so.  The Christian faith sees harmony as normal to life and conflict as abnormal.  Ecology agrees.  Even so science has bought into Darwinism and its negative view of life which has distorted its whole notion of reality to be without purpose and meaning.      


dopderbeck - #61546

May 22nd 2011

Roger said:  Steve, you are right.  Reason is not a thing, it is a process or pattern of thinking.

I respond:  I don’t think that’s quite all it is, Roger, though you are probably right that it is not quite a “thing” like computers or chairs are “things.”  Properly understood, “reason” is not just an internal mental state of humans.  Reason is derived from the reality we inhabit. It is the pattern of the Logos, and is built into the fabric of creation.  (This is consistent both with the Hebraic tradition of personifying “Wisdom” and the Platonic tradition of the “forms,” both of which informed Christian theology).

Steve said:  No, I’m saying that language is a social/linguistic construction.

I respond:  Yes, of course.  But the question is whether the signifier of language signifies anything outside of itself.  I’m curious how you relate signifier and the signified.  Does language signify a reality outside of the constructs of language?  How is that relationship made?  This of course is one the major questions any philosophy has to answer.

Steve said: 


by following certain methods of thought under certain constraints and
rules which we believe to be important for ensuring that our thoughts
are likely to correspond to reality in predictable ways

I respond:  And this, again, relates to the relationship between signifier and signified.  If you are a realist and not a thoroughgoing social constructivist, reason “works” only to the extent that the structures of reason actually relate to a world that is external to language.  Importantly, this suggests that the structures of reason are not themselves merely pragmatic human constructions.  Rather, the structures of reason are in some sense given by the reality of the universe we inhabit.  Thus, reason comes from somewhere—we can’t just invent any “reason” we want and still be “reasonable.”  So, reason in fact does “go hither and yon”—or at least, wherever you might go in the universe, the principles of reason will not change.  And this, in turn, correlates with one of the bedrock principles of modern science, the principle of “symmetry.”



Steve said: 


All explanations end, and whether they’re satisfying or not is a
property of each individual person, not of the explanation itself.

I respond:  No, whether an explanation is “emotionally satisfying” is a “state” of particular persons.  But whether an explanation is “satisfying” in terms of meeting the principles of reason is not relative to each individual person.  This depends on various objective criteria such as correspondence to observed reality, coherence, completeness, symmetry, and so on.  At least, this is the case if any sort of realist theory of knowledge is correct.  If knowledge is merely a social construction, then perhaps it’s a different story.  [NB—as a “critical” realist I’ll agree that some facts are socially constructed, that all human knowledge claims are fallible, that all human knowledge is limited by language and our noetic capabilities, and so on.  But nevertheless, we can still obtain real knowledge.  See, e.g., the discussion in C. Smith, “What is a Person:  Rethinking Humanity, Social Life, and the Moral Good from the Person Up”).



Steve Ruble - #61557

May 23rd 2011

If you are a realist and not a thoroughgoing social constructivist, reason “works” only to the extent that the structures of reason actually relate to a world that is external to language.  Importantly, this suggests that the structures of reason are not themselves merely pragmatic human constructions.

That’s funny, to me it suggests the opposite. Constraining your reasoning to those methods which seem to accurately model reality is a pragmatic action; we pragmatically construct models for reasoning about the world which reliably correspond to actual observations about the world. The world itself is not a pragmatic human construction, but our models of it are. 

Rather, the structures of reason are in some sense given by the reality of the universe we inhabit. 
I think we’re almost on the same page. I would only change “given” to “constrained by”. The navigation of a boat is constrained by the geography of the lakes and rivers it floats on, but the lakes and rives do not give the boat its navigation.
No, whether an explanation is “emotionally satisfying” is a “state” of particular persons.  But whether an explanation is “satisfying” in terms of meeting the principles of reason is not relative to each individual person.
Well, yes. You keep switching around the entities which have “needs” and are “satisfied” so much that I’m really not sure what I’m arguing about here. But when you say “meeting the principles of reason”, surely you must be including the aspect of reason that you described earlier: that reason must be bound to the actual reality that we exist in, and we can’t just invent any “reason” we like. If so, it seems to me that once we’ve left the reality that we exist in - that is, once we’re trying to discuss events previous to the origin of our universe - we’ve left behind any ability to detect whether our reason is functioning correctly or not. That is, any explanation that is formulated in terms of things outside or previous to the universe of experience is - almost by definition - an explanation which cannot be considered reasonable. Hence my position that there’s no need for a reasonable person to quest about for explanations for the origin of the universe.


dopderbeck - #61560

May 23rd 2011

Steve said: 

If
so, it seems to me that once we’ve left the reality that we exist in -
that is, once we’re trying to discuss events previous to the origin of
our universe - we’ve left behind any ability to detect whether our
reason is functioning correctly or not.

I respond:  I think this is significantly true.  Except that we can reasonably infer some sort of causal relationship between that which came “prior” to our universe and the existence of our universe.  And if there is some such causal relationship, then we can reasonably infer that there is some sort of continuity in the laws and so on that bound reason.  At the very least, that which came “before” our universe and causally led to its existence had the properties necessary to give rise to the physical laws of our universe, which shape and constrain our human ability to reason. 

The quest to understand this causal relationship, I would argue, is indeed vital to to an intellectually satisfying account of the universe. Certainly it drives a large and important set of research projects in physics and cosmology—it’s fair to say that this is one of the central questions of cosmology.  And it supports one approach to a theistic argument for the origin of the universe—it is part of Aquinas’ “five ways.”  

Some secularists argue that this means we cannot “reason” about God, because God by definition is “outside” our universe.  But, as I noted in the comments to my post on transcendence, in classical Christian theology, certainly for Aquinas, human reasoning about God is always analogical.  It’s true:  we can’t reason directly to God.  But we can speak analogically, and we can speak of conditions that point towards something “before” our universe and that gave rise to our ability to reason.  And, utterly crucially for Christian theology, we never truly know God without His revelation and incarnation.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #61562

May 23rd 2011

David wrote:

Reason is derived from the reality we inhabit. It is the pattern of the Logos, and is built into the fabric of creation. (This is consistent both with the Hebraic tradition of personifying “Wisdom” and the Platonic tradition of the “forms,” both of which informed Christian theology).

David, I think I understand what you are saying, but I think that I would have to make a distinction between the order of the mind, Reason, and the order of nature, which is rational.  We can understand nature because it is rationally ordered by the Logos, while humans can be rational because they are created in God’s Image, the Trinity, Which includes the Logos.  

Personification in both traditions makes sense analogically because persons are relational and Reason is relational.  However Western philosophy is not really relational, which is flexible and dynamic but based on Being, which is static and not dynamic.  We have confusion when we try to integrate two very different kinds of systems with different assumptions and foundations.

When we have a dualist worldview, natural and supernatural, it is very tempting and sometimes even rational to try shed the supernatural, which methodological naturalism does.  On the other hand it seems to me that nature does have a rational dimension, as found in “natural law,” which does not fit into dualism or physical monism.  

On the other hand if the Logos is a part of nature, which provides it with order, then nature has a rational relational dimension separate from and interdependent with its physical character.  This explains how humans can be both natural and rational. 

Also if the Logos is a part of nature, which provides it with purpose, then nature has a meaningful dimension, which is separate from and yet interdependent with its physical and rational character.   

Nature or the physical reality is not divine, but it carries the stamp or mark of the divine.  It is interdependent with God, not in the same way that humans are, but interdependent just the same so humans can be interdependent with it. 


dopderbeck - #61563

May 23rd 2011

Roger, I think I might lean towards something of a more participatory perspective ontology, akin to the Eastern Orthodox understanding of the Divine essence and energies.


dopderbeck - #61564

May 23rd 2011

oops I mean “participatory ontology”


Roger A. Sawtelle - #61570

May 23rd 2011

David wrote (as corrected):

Roger, I think I might lean towards something of a more participatory ontology, akin to the Eastern Orthodox understanding of the Divine essence and energies.

David, “participatory” sounded invited even if ontology did not.  I googled particicpatory ontology and found a thesis written on Divine Love based on the “Radical Orthodoxy” thinking of one John Milbank who I have never heard of.  Thank you for an informative experience.

I doubt if this is what you had in mind, but it did remind me as to why I think that philosophy, that is, ontology is dead.  The primary problem today is the issue of absolutes.  Modernism, fundamentalism, maintains that absolutes are real and rejects relativism.  Postmodernism claims with good cause in my view that absolutes are not viable and relativism is the only viable basis of thought.  I think that relational theory, rather than relativism is the only viable basis for thought.

Absolute is a philosophical term, not a Christian one.  Indeed it is the negation of the view that God is love.  The main issue today is not a scientific question or a theological one, but a philosophical problem of the absolute.  Science cannot answer it, because it is beyond the ken of science ( which of course does not prevent some from saying that the end of metaphysics means the end of God) nor can philosophy, because the concept of Being is rooted in the Absolute.

If there is an answer to the problem of the absolute, it must be found in theology, the Biblical understanding of God as relational and trinitarian.  This was not found in Milbank’s understanding of Divine Love, although of course we are all talking about the same thing.  His approach not convincing, because it is philosophical, rather than theological.     

As I have said before the Eastern concept of the Trinity is not relational in the way I see the Augustinian view to be.  Its mystical aspect seems to confirm this.    

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dopderbeck - #61571

May 23rd 2011

Roger—Milbank is one of my favorites.  He teaches at Nottingham and works with Conor Cunningham, who is my doctoral advisor at Nottingham.  I am therefore indirectly a student of Milbank.  Milbank is very provocative in many ways, but one thing he can’t be accused of is prioritizing philosophy over theology! 

I don’t think ontology is dead at all, and in the debate you’re referring to—nominalism vs. universals—I think the nominalists are wrong.  But as Milbank and the entire Radical Orthodoxy sensibility emphasize, the ontology of Christian theology—that is, the participatory ontology of Trinitarian thought—sets the ground for philosophy, and not vice versa.  Milbank’s “Theology and Social Theory” is the shot across the bow that ignited this approach in contemporary theology, which is controversial exactly because it asserts the priority of theology over all other disciplines. It also has roots in the nouvelle theologie of Balthasaar, etc.

Lots of people disagree with this reinvigoration of metaphysics and ontology, of course, but it seems to me an important “ressourcement” of the Tradition after the ravages of modernity.



dopderbeck - #61573

May 23rd 2011

I think others have also criticized Milbank for not having a robust enough pneumatology, so you might be onto something there.

Modern v. postmodern—modernity is a totalizing system.  After Kant, there is no room in modernity for any objective reality to values, theology, etc.  This is a very bad thing.  (The opening line of Milbank’s “Theology and Social Theory”:  “Once there was no secular.”).  Postmodern structuralism reacts to the other extreme and denies the existence of reality beyond the social / linguistic.  This also is a bad thing, but at least it avoids the hegemony of modernity and opens the door towards re-enchanting reason with its proper ground in God.  Sometimes I think “critical realism” is the best way forward, sometimes I lean more towards Radical Orthodoxy’s more thoroughgoing critique.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #61576

May 23rd 2011

Dave,

Thank you for your candid response to my question.  I do not think that it is a debate of nominalists vs realists, but a question about the basic structure of reality, monism vs daulism if you please with both sides partially right and both wrong, so neither side is correct.  

Let me give you my basic take on Modernism ve Postmodernism.  I am looking at it from a lay scientific point of view, not a philosophical p.o.v.  That makes Newton the paradigm of modern science who saw the universe framed by absolutes, time and space, and natural law.  Christians have no problems with this, although the emphasis in law makes many modernist, legalists as we see today. 

On the other hand evolution points to the process which created humanity and other life forms.  Einstein pointed to the fact that Newton’s absolutes were not absolute, but related, making time and space relational in nature.  This has been interpreted as meaning that reality is relative, what is real and true for me is not real and true for you, and thus there are no real standards for truth and morality.  Now I know and I hope you know also that this is not what Einstein’s Theory means, but the great majority of people including many who should know better have swallowed this postmodern point of view hook, line, and sinker.

Actually for Einstein’s theory there are two constants or standards, those being the speed of light and the equation itself.  They are not absolutes, because they are themselves relational and absolutes are not related, but they are constants and thus are standards.  Thus Love God and love you others is a non-legalistic relational divine command consonant with relational view of Reality based on Einstein’s Theory.  It stands in opposition to Modernist absolute legalism and Postmodernist relativism.

In your thinking I hope that you will keep an open mind toward this kind of relational theological and philosophical thinking.  The beauty of relational thought is that it provides a standard for those who have a real concern with the view that life has no meaning or standards, while providing freedom for those who are opposed to legalism and all that entails.  It reconciles both views into a third view, just as Christianity was able to bridge the gap between Jewish faith and Greek culture to create a new way of life with the advantages of both as well as some of the problems that linger.        


Steve Ruble - #61584

May 23rd 2011

...we can reasonably infer some sort of causal relationship between that which came “prior” to our universe and the existence of our universe. And if there is some such causal relationship, then we can reasonably infer that there is some sort of continuity in the laws and so on that bound reason.

This is rather circular. Yes, if we were justified in inferring “some kind of causal relationship”, we could follow your argument, but since we can’t even justifiably infer that the very concept of “prior” has any meaning in this domain, I don’t see how we can ever get where you want to go.

As for the bit about reasoning from analogy: arguments from analogy are fraught with peril, as anyone who has made many of them should know. The situation gets significantly worse when the object you are analogizing is, in fact, totally innaccessable to any means by which we might confirm or disconfirm an analogy. To call such maunderings “reasoning” is stretching the concept well beyond even your own definition of it.


dopderbeck - #61585

May 23rd 2011

Steve—there’s nothing “circular” at all in reasoning from causation.  The arguments from first causes are well trodden, dating at least back to Plato and Aristotle, and certainly haven’t been shot down by modern cosmology—quite the contrary, in fact, which is one reason multiverses and string theory are so popular among some folks.

Reasoning from analogy is a common tool in every domain, including the natural sciences.  No extraordinary problems there either.

At this point I think that you’re grasping and that we’ve pretty well played out this string.  I think a comment Roger made earlier is correct—this is all about whether we are willing to admit metaphysics.  Everyone has a metaphysic, whether admitted or not.


Steve Ruble - #61589

May 24th 2011

David, it’s circular to reason, “X is an effect, therefore it had a cause Y, therefore X was caused by Y,” when there’s no reason to think that X is an effect at all. What makes you think the universe is an effect? What makes you think that your commonsense ideas about causality apply to the universe as a whole? Those ideas don’t apply to the smallest things we know of; why should they apply to the largest?


Reasoning from analogy is a common tool in every domain…
Yes, reasoning from analogy. We reason from analogy to develop new ideas about things - ideas which we can then formalize and test to determine whether our analogy was true.  Theology, however, is a practice (you say) of reasoning with analogy: reasoning from analogy to analogy to analogy to analogy, with no prospect of eventual contact with reality. You can claim that your god has property Q’ because that god is analogous to us with regards to Q-ness, but how could anyone ever tell whether they ought to believe your claim? Why not suppose that Q-ness is one way in which that god differs significantly from us? It’s not as if you could go and look!

Sure, I’ll admit metaphysics, but metaphysics is subservient to epistemology. If there’s no way to determine whether a metaphysic is accurate or not, there’s no point in making it part of any model of the world - it won’t make any difference anyway. 


dopderbeck - #61606

May 24th 2011

Steve, what you’re describing isn’t “circular” reasoning.  What you’re saying is that we shouldn’t think the existence of the universe has any cause. 

Well, ok—one possibility is that the universe is eternal.  Lots of smart people have thought so in the history of philosophy and science.  This isn’t, of course, the current view of mainstream science—it is more in line with the now-discredited steady-state universe theory.  And the curious thing is, if the “universe” or “physical laws” are eternal, then they start to look quite a bit like “God,” and all the objections you’re raising against arguments from causation evaporate.  Something is eternal and generative, no matter how you slice it.

You then said:  What makes you think that your commonsense ideas about causality apply to the universe as a whole?

I respond:  First, these aren’t just “commonsense” ideas, they’re a substantial part of the entire Western philosophical tradition.  Second, the reason laws of causality don’t vary is the principle of symmetry and uniformitarianism, which are fundamental to modern physics.  Without symmetrical, uniform laws, you simply can’t do physics at all.

You said:  Those ideas don’t apply to the smallest things we know of; why should they apply to the largest?

I respond:  but the principle of symmetry does indeed apply in quantum mechanics.  (See, e.g., http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/symmetry-breaking/), which is part of what motivates physicists to search for a law that will unite classical and quantum physics.

You said:  Theology, however, is a practice (you say) of reasoning with analogy: reasoning from analogy to analogy to analogy to analogy, with no prospect of eventual contact with reality.

I respond:  First, I didn’t say that.  Second, the distinction you’re trying to make between reasoning “from” and “with” analogy is nonsensical.  “Analogical” reasoning is saying “X is like Y,” when we have some good idea what Y is like, but we know X and Y are not the same thing.  Thus, if say, “God is good,” we are saying something meaningful because we have some idea from our experience of what “good” is; but we are not claiming a direct, equivalent description of God.  Nothing extraordinary about that.

You said:  metaphysics is subservient to epistemology

I respond:  Wrong.  You can’t even begin to speak of epistemology without some notion of metaphysics.  You can’t speak of what comprises “knowledge” without having some notion of what there is, what exists, to be “known”—at least that something knowable does indeed exist.  Ontology always precedes epistemology, whether acknowledged or not.


Gregory - #61608

May 24th 2011

Thanks for this thread and series, David! You make me pause, as usual.

“Ontology always precedes epistemology, whether acknowledged or not.”

I’m reminded of a glaring error in one of the most talked about ‘philosophers’ in the USAmerican tradition of the 20th c., which may (or may not) be informing Steve’s approach (i hear echoes of her in his approach).

Ayn Rand’s philosophy ‘objectivism’ focussed on 1. metaphysics, 2. epistemology, 3. ethics, 4. politics. She confused metaphysics and ontology, thus reducing a deeper meaning of humanity from our given connection with God’s transcendence and immanence to a mere self-serving egoism - “I will not die; it’s the world that will end.”



She wanted to celebrate humanity, “In the name of the best within us,” yet would not go so far as to admit a created (read: unevolved, according to Orthodox theology) human soul; to her ‘human nature’ was the extent of our ‘greatness.’ Thus, she sided with Protagoras, suggesting “Man is an end in himself.”

Iow, she sought to disqualify “God’s presence in creation” by limiting the knowable to nature-only and insisting that human beings are not spiritual creatures. When she says ‘spiritual’ she means “pertaining to consciousness,” which is of course something quite different.

This post and probably the others too (will) celebrate the human spirit in a way that evolutionary anthro-philosophy fails. BioLogos is lucky to have you!

p.s. thanks for raising John Milbank & Connor Cunningham. As a result, I looked again at Cunningham; to my surprise he is studying Alain Badiou, just as my philosophy teacher was doing intensively before he died, e.g. mathematics as ontology.


Steve Ruble - #61624

May 25th 2011

The principle of symmetry does indeed apply to quantum scale events; nevertheless, causality does not work the same way at the quantum scale as it does at larger scales. As I understand it, some quantum events are considered by physicists to be fundamentally uncaused, even if they are constrained by symmetry and conservation laws (e.g., virtual particles can appear spontaneously, but always do so in pairs). The behavior of things at the quantum scale was discovered because we have copious amounts of matter around us to examine and experiment with; given the fact that the regime “before” our universe is not available for us to examine or experiment with, I don’t see how you can be comfortable making claims about how things were under that regime. Surely one lesson from quantum physics is that the behaviors of things we cannot yet examine may be much stranger than we could have anticipated.


Steve Ruble - #61627

May 25th 2011

Thus, if say, “God is good,” we are saying something meaningful because we have some idea from our experience of what “good” is; but we are not claiming a direct, equivalent description of God.

But when you say, “God is good,” the analogy doesn’t convey any information. Are you saying that your god is good the way that a good meal is good? In the sense that a good lover is good? A good master? A good slave? A good death? A good life? Even worse, it doesn’t give us any reliable predictions (at least for your god): knowing that your god has a property analogus to being “good” doesn’t predict that it will abstain from behaviors we would, say, expect a “good” person to abstain from. Your god is “good” in the sense that a “good” person can demand the death of innocents, allow suffering when they could easily alleviate it, and create conditions where billions of infants die - in other words, in no sense of the word “good” that we ever use, except for when we’re describing a god. Finally, there isn’t any way to tell whether the analogy holds even in those cases where it is not obviously a disanalogy: you can say, for example, that your god is “good” in the sense that he has mercy on some people… but there’s no way for us to tell whether that even happens. Your “argument from analogy” is just a bunch of words which allow for no way to connect them to reality.


Steve Ruble - #61628

May 25th 2011

You can’t even begin to speak of epistemology without some notion of metaphysics. You can’t speak of what comprises “knowledge” without having some notion of what there is, what exists, to be “known”—at least that something knowable does indeed exist.

A “notion” of what there is? Not “knowledge” about what there is, obviously, since defining"knowledge” and the processes for deciding what is and isn’t “knowledge” is the remit of epistemology. Things aren’t intrinsically knowable or unknowable, such that we must detect or infer their “knowability” before we can go about knowing them; we decide which thoughts and beliefs we will call knowledge, and we choose the methodologies we will rely on sort knowledge from false and unjustified beliefs. Of course everyone starts with a naive metaphysic - since it’s impossible to exist as an experiencing being without thinking that the things you experience exist - but if you want to formalize your metaphysics (which is what we’re talking about here) you must first determine how you’ll tell whether your formalization is correct… and that’s epistemology.


dopderbeck - #61631

May 25th 2011

Steve said:   Your “argument from analogy” is just a bunch of words which allow for no way to connect them to reality.

I respond:  but oddly enough, you provided six examples of how it might connect to known human experience, just off the top of your head!  (A good meal, lover, master, slave, death, and life).  And interestingly enough, each one of those examples shows up in various parts of the Bible!  (Yes, of course, Western culture has rightly come to understand that slavery is an evil institution.  In our culture, perhaps translate that to a good “employer” and “employee.”  The point is that we have lots of points of contact with good relationships of various sorts, and across cultures there is always some notion that there is a “good,” moral, rightly ordered way for people in different life-roles to relate to each other).

You also raise the problem of evil and things like God “demand[ing] the death of innocents.”  The problem of evil, of course, is a real difficulty.  In another comment, Roger starts to get at some of the responses to it from the perspective of Christian theology, which at the end of the day have to do with the Resurrection and the final eschatological consummation.

 Things like herem warfare in the Bible are, you are right, another difficult matter.  The beginning of a response here is that Christian theology has always sought to understand and condition those passages with the fundamental understanding that God is “good,” defined not in some arbitrary sense that God could do just anything and still be called “good,” but in a sense that God’s goodness must provide some kind of hermeneutical lens for understanding those passages.  I won’t enter into that hermeneutical thicket here; there are numerous approaches, none of which are entirely satisfactory.  But it is a gross misrepresentation of Christian theology to suggest that the interpretation of the Bible’s herem warfare passages has ever led to a notion of a God who can act merely arbitrarily.  If you want to enter into a debate with the actual tradition and not just a straw man caricature, then you need to make an effort to understand that interpretive tradition, even if you ultimately think it’s bunk.


dopderbeck - #61632

May 25th 2011

Steve, the overall point is that quantum indeterminacy and general relativity do not destroy the notion of an arrow of time, and symmetry is the key to this.  If we have an arrow of time, we have a philosophical problem of causation.  An ad hoc appeal to the possibility of quantum particles just popping into existence without any cause isn’t an answer to this problem.  Perhaps the matter at the beginning of time’s arrow just popped into existence without any cause, but as that would defy philosophy’s notions of causation, would seemingly violate the principles of symmetry that confirm time’s arrow, and would be inherently empirically untestable, it’s hardly a “reasonable” position to take.


dopderbeck - #61633

May 25th 2011

Steve said:  we decide which thoughts and beliefs we will call knowledge, and we choose the methodologies we will rely on sort knowledge from false and unjustified beliefs.

I respond:  I’m confused.  Somewhere in this thread I asked whether you are a thoroughgoing social constructivist, and I thought you said you were not—that you agreed that a reality outside of human thought and language conditions what we can call “reasonable.”  If that is so—if you are a realist and not a constructivist—then your sentence above is false.  If there is a real universe external to human thought and language, then that universe constrains what we can properly call “knowledge,” as well as the methods we can use to claim “knowledge.” 

(What we humans call “knowledge” is of course also constrained by our human noetic capabilities and our language, which is why any responsible realism must at least be a “critical” realism.  Nevertheless, we don’t get to make up the rules for what is real and true and what isn’t.)

Steve said:   if you want to formalize your metaphysics (which is what we’re talking about here) you must first determine how you’ll tell whether your formalization is correct… and that’s epistemology.

I respond:  Nope.  You cannot even begin to construct an epistemology without just making some assumptions about what reality is like.  You build on those assumptions to construct a formal epistemology, which will of course loop back into your metaphysics.  But you simply can’t even begin without assuming something about what is real (or whether anything in fact is “real.”)


Steve Ruble - #61643

May 25th 2011

If there is a real universe external to human thought and language, then that universe constrains what we can properly call “knowledge,” as well as the methods we can use to claim “knowledge.”  

No. The universe constrains whether or not we are

correct

when we claim that our justified beliefs are true, but it does not prevent us from making claims about what constitutes a justification for a belief. I could, for example, say that because many people thousands of years ago claimed to witness miraculous healings caused by Asclepius, my belief in Asclepius’s healing power is justified. However, when I continue to apply that same standard - which I say justifies my belief in Asclepius - in other areas of life, I quickly discover that using that standard leads me into contradictions - either between mutually incompatible beliefs, or with reality as I experience it.  At this point, I’m compelled to revise or abandon that standard, in favor of something less likely to lead me into contradiction. In my experience, there are certain epistemic standards and methods which minimize the frequency with which these kinds of contradictions arise, and those are the epistemic standards to which I try to adhere.

Nevertheless, we don’t get to make up the rules for what is real and true and what isn’t.
Of course not. But since we don’t have direct access to “what is real and true and what isn’t”, we are forced to make up the standards by which we will make judgments about what is and is not the case.

Steve Ruble - #61644

May 25th 2011

...across cultures there is always some notion that there is a “good,” moral, rightly ordered way for people in different life-roles to relate to each other.

Exactly correct. Of course, many of those notions would be repugnant to you and I, we would be disinclined to call the behaviors arising from those notions “good”. And we’re just talking about other humans who live in places and times different from our own! Imagine how different, in practice, the notions of a god might be! Hey, look, I’m arguing by analogy too! Do you understand it? If two persons who are both human can have radically different ideas about what “good, moral, rightly ordered” relations are, two persons who are

not

both human can also have radically different ideas. In fact, the more different two persons are in their personal experience and power, the more different their ideas about “good” relations are likely to be; therefore, a god - who is far more different from any human than any two humans are from each other - is likely to be even more radically different in its conception of what is “good”!  So, really, it’s rather pointless to expect that when you say “good” you mean anything like what a god thinks is good.


Wow, I can see why you like to argue by analogy. It sure lets you take a little speculation a long way!

dopderbeck - #61680

May 26th 2011

Steve said:   No.  The universe constrains whether or not we are correct.

I respond:  Which is the same as saying the universe constrains what we can properly call knowledge.  Certainly under any sort of correspondence theory of truth, “knowledge” is justified true belief—not just any belief for which there seems to be some justification.  Even if you want to speak of justification or warrant without adopting a classical correspondence theory of truth (I might have some sympathy with that as I believe many critiques of foundationalism are  well taken), justification or warrant relates to what is already given to us to be known.  The criteria you mention above, for example—non-contradiction and coherence—simply assume a reality in which contradiction and incoherence are marks of a lack of justification or warrant.

You can’t get away from this one.  Even the supreme epistemic reductionist, Descartes, had to start with the reality of his own conscious being.


dopderbeck - #61683

May 26th 2011

Yes—all analogies have limits and you can make absurd arguments from analogy.  So what?  Nobody disputes this and it is part of the humility required when trying to do theology.  Can you look across human culture and history and find some strong sense of what people almost everywhere, almost always have thought of as “good?”  Of course you can.  Are there debates and disagreements about it?  You bet.  Are the historical disagreements about a category like “good” so vast that the category lacks any meaning at all?  Taking such an extreme position would be utter nonsense, ignorant of or blind to common human experience, I think. 

If you want to discard all of human culture, art, music, literature, philosophy and so on, if you want to say that there is no common thread of values to derive from all this, that it is all nothing but empty signs and power plays—well, you can have that radically postmodern dissolution of humanity if you want it.  I don’t buy it.


Steve Ruble - #61691

May 26th 2011

Certainly under any sort of correspondence theory of truth, “knowledge” is justified true belief—not just any belief for which there seems to be some justification. 

Yep, those are the words people use. But by what mechanism do you suppose we can determine whether a belief is true if offering a justification for the belief is not sufficient?

The criteria you mention above, for example—non-contradiction and coherence—simply assume a reality in which contradiction and incoherence are marks of a lack of justification or warrant.
My criteria don’t “assume a reality”, they define a standard. An attempt at justification which contains contradictions or is incoherent simply fails to be a plausible justification by my standards for what a justification must be.  The simplest explanation for why the standards to which I hold justifications tend to reduce the number of times reality goes against my expectations is that reality - in many ways - conforms to the model implied by the kind of justifications I accept, and so I tend to believe that it does so conform; but it’s not vital to the soundness my epistemology that such metaphysical speculations in truth be correct.  Any judgment that I make about whether such metaphysical speculations are in truth correct is bound to be dependent on what kinds of things I accept as justifications, so there’s no point in chasing my tail and trying to pin down what is “metaphysically” true - as if I could somehow get outside my own epistemology - when I can instead settle for refining my epistemic standards into tools which efficiently predict and explain what I actually experience.


Steve Ruble - #61692

May 26th 2011

Yes—all analogies have limits and you can make absurd arguments from analogy. 

What makes you think my analogy is absurd? Persons who are different from one another in various ways also tend to have differing moral standards, and persons who are more different tend to have moral standards which are more different. God is a person who is as different from us as it is possible to get in many respects, so, by analogy, it is likely that he is very different from us in terms of what he thinks is moral or “good”. The point is not that the “category lacks any meaning at all”, it’s that for differing persons the expectations one can form about their behavior - given only the fact that they think of themselves as “good” - can or should be wildly different. Likewise, given that gods are claimed to be extraordinarily different from we humans, we ought to be extraordinarily careful when we form expectations about their behavior when given the information that they consider themselves to be “good” by their own standards. 


So, where’s the flaw in the analogy? What actual, factual aspect of your god can you point at to definitively prove that in fact his standards for what is “good” for him to do are always (or often) analogous to what we - you and I - would call “good” behavior? Do you see the problem? If you do have some concrete evidence which certainly constrains your god’s character, then he turns out not to be transcendent in the way that you’ve claimed he is; but if you don’t have such evidence, than all we have are competing, incompatible analogies with no mechanism by which we can determine which more closely corresponds to reality. Which way do you want to go?

dopderbeck - #61714

May 27th 2011

Steve, I’m going to bow out of this thread at this point, because I’m afraid this is going on and on for no particular reason.  I think the positions you’ve been trying to take here are pretty extreme; readers can judge for themselves.


dopderbeck - #61715

May 27th 2011

Steve, you seem to think that without “definitive prove” there is no valid evidence whatsoever.  That is an extreme view, and nobody can or does function like this.  So again, at this point, I’m going to bow out of the thread because it’s going nowhere.  (I’m also having touble following the discussion because of the way this commenting system works!).  Maybe we’ll pick it up in another thread somewhere.


Steve Ruble - #61737

May 27th 2011

Steve, you seem to think that without “definitive prove” there is no valid evidence whatsoever. 

Well, perhaps “definitively prove” was a poor phrasing. I should have asked you to “justify with evidence”, or something like that, since I absolutely deny the position you attribute to me above. In any case, I must note that you’ve declined to actually explain what the flaws in that analogy are, nor have you provided any evidence (definitive or not) that your god is bound to conform to your expectations about what it will or won’t do - or even that we can have any justified expectations 

whatsoever about what a god will do. 

I think the positions you’ve been trying to take here are pretty extreme; readers can judge for themselves.
Well, since you’ve been misunderstanding the position I’ve consistently taken throughout this conversation I guess I shouldn’t be surprised if other people also came away with the wrong impression. To put it plainly, I hold that one

 should preferentially believe those claims which can be consistently integrated into reliable predictive models of the world, and one should reject those claims which cannot. It’s not remotely an extreme view; in fact, I suspect it’s what everyone tries to do in day to day life. I just take it seriously.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #61501

May 20th 2011

I think that both of you are arguing apples and oranges.  Traditionally in the West reality has been divided between the physical and the metaphysical.  Science deals with the physical, while philosophy and theology deal with the metaphysical.  Now it seems that some want to deny the need for the metaphysical, which seems to be the position that Steve is taking.  If we go the way of denying the metaphysical, it seems to me that the intellectual basis for asserting and seeking meaning in the universe is also denied, but some seem willing to accept this to protect and rationalize their belief that Reality is only physical.

Is the universe a brute fact that requires no explanation?  In the West this has not been true.  People have always sought to understand and to explain how the universe works.  Of course we could say it is unnecessary, but this seems to be a part of what being human at least in the West is about and of course the study of nature is in large part to understand who we are as humans as Darwin’s Theory aptly illustrates.

However thinking about it one could say that the universe as a whole could be considered a brute fact, except for one reason.  The universe as best we can determine has a beginning, thus it is contingent and not a brute fact.

This leads to another question.  Metaphysics got its start through mathematics which led to the idea that the structure of the universe is mathematical.  If that is true and there is much evidence to prove it, then the universe is not a collection of molecules, but a rationally designed structure, thus physics is based in metaphysics.

As I have said before if Darwin’s Theory is right, the purpose of life is to survive and reproduce.  However unlike other creatures humans are rational, which means that they seek rational explantions for their actions.  If there is no rational meaning for life, then there is no reason to survive and reproduce.  For that reason if for no other the universe and our role in it requires an  rational scientific, metaphysical, theological explanation.     


Roger A. Sawtelle - #61592

May 24th 2011

Steve and David,

There is a scientific principle that seems to apply to question of order in the universe and that is Noether’s Theorem of Symmetry.  It affirms the rule of cause and effect.  

As for the quantum world, it falls under the power of the strong force and we cannot observe it well enough to understand exactly how it works, but some important scientific thinkers understand it to be governed by relational laws, just as the gravity centered world is.  See the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 


dopderbeck - #61609

May 24th 2011

Roger—thanks—yes I agree with this reference to symmetry and linked the SEP above.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #61629

May 25th 2011

Steve,

You say that you do not see any reason to consider God to be good.

In my view God is the One Who created the universe and perhaps more importantly the order of the universe, which governs nature and humanity.

Now the question is whether this order is good or not.  Of course if it is evil, then life would not be worth living. 

Now some people would say that since life ends in death, it is empty of meaning.  Christians and some other believers, but not all, believe that there is life after death.

The Bible seems to indicate that all the primary evils of this world are based on the human failure to follow God’s moral law.  Certainly if everyone loved their neighbors as they love themselves, we would not have crime and war, so we could devote all of the energies of humanity to fight disease and suffering. 

If you do not like the tornados killing people in the midwest, and do not think that they are caused indirectly by global warming, blame God.  On the other hand if you think that life is basically good and worth all the problems that we must face to enjoy it, then thank God for being good.   

If life is good, if it is worthwhile, then it must have a worthwhile purpose.  Worthwhile purpose does not come from random chance or disorder.  It comes from the Source which gives order and direction and which is Good.  Maybe you do not know the purpose of life and that is the problem.



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