7.20.2010

Metaphysical Considerations Necessitate God

A very popular contemporary debate between theists and atheists concerns morality. The theist argues that human morality must rely upon some transcendent and therefore divine source in order to carry any weight; anything less results in a purely subjective ethics that is too relative to ascribe objective goodness and badness to man's actions. Atheists argue that morality relies upon evolutionary biology and sociology which require no such transcendent or religious authority.

Part of the reason why this debate is so popular is because we have forgotten our philosophical ancestry, which had its culmination in the medieval ages but began with the ancient Greeks. The existence of God is not some hypothesis employed in order to explain certain phenomena, it is a conclusion that is reached after the long, arduous, and sometimes tedious exploration of reality as a whole. Aristotle arrives at God in the twelfth book of the Metaphysics, and it is no simple task to follow him through from beginning to end.

But if you do follow the ancient way to God, you will discover that God is an absolute necessity to the existence of the world. Once you understand the distinction between act and potency, form and matter, essence and existence, etc., you understand that all things that are not God need God in order to exist. It is a question of science, not faith. God is the explanation for reality when considered at its most general level. He is a type of scientific explanation. It is not as if we can ponder what things would be like without Him, His existence is at every moment doing explanatory work.

So the interesting question is not whether we can be moral without God, the essential question is and always will be "How can we be without God?" Act an potency are real, essence and existence are real, and form and matter are real. All of the metaphysical distinctions are real. It does no good to deny God's existence as if His being is inconsequential. If He does not exist, you have left an infinitely wide explanatory gap that simply cannot be filled by any empirical science.

7 comments:

  1. To be incapable of explaining reality should be no more embarrassing to us than a worm's incompetence for calculus. Tell me, does god abide a sort of metaphysical "natural order"? It is to ask, is god's creativity limited in some way? When atheists ask whether or not god is capable of creating a squared circle is the answer "yes", or "god cannot go against his own nature"? When confronted with questions that contradict god's character, it seems to me that there is a retreat to "god cannot go against his own character." how suggestive this phrase is. For god to "have a character" is to select attributes for an immaterial infinity by which a character would be a limiting finite. Surely a generator of infinite form could indeed create a "squared circle". Would it not be the designer's algorithm itself that orchestrates which forms do and do not make sense as it concerns our finite chunk of materialization? Further, if god cannot proceed beyond a "natural order" beyond "himself", by who's design is the structure that organizes and restricts the designer? To suggest as such, directs curiosity towards the designer's designer. And such illustrates that the immaterial infinite is as problematic as the material one. Either we must accept that god is limited to a structure higher than "himself" or that "he" Must accept responsibility for all the obsurd conclusions we can infer from observing the design.

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  2. To say that we should not be bothered with an explanatory gap in our knowledge puts you at odds with the mainstream modern mind. The point of the post is that God provides the ultimate explanation for reality at the metaphysical level, so it does no good to deny His existence when all of the metaphysical distinctions which necessitate His existence still remain. If I am holding a stick and pushing a rock with it, for example, the rock will be moving. While the rock is moving, if you deny the existence of my hand then you have robbed yourself of the explanation for why the rock is still moving, which is unreasonable since you now cannot explain why the rock is moving. In the same way, once you understand the metaphysical divisions of reality you will see that all of reality depends upon God for its existence. The first question that must be asked to those who deny His existence, then, must not be how we are moral, which was what inspired the post, but how all of the things which radically depend on God for existence are still here.

    Also, God cannot create a squared circle because the idea is of itself incoherent. Infinity has nothing to do with it, since the intrinsic incoherence of a squared circle places it positively outside the sphere of even potential existence.

    Please explain how is it limiting to be unable to create literal nonsense?

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  3. With pleasure. If god is the absolute and only cause of everything than without god is less than a blank state, would you agree? It is by gods decree that not only things fall into a catergory of "making sense" and "not making sense", but it goes even further. It is DIRECTLY the result of god's programming that to make "sence" of something is a product of existence. You need to zoom out a little more I think. If there is such a thing as "making sense", it was of god's design, otherwise we face a scenario where "making sense" was implemented into reality by the programming of an order that demands cooperation from god, rather than originated from god. If god is restricted to abiding the condition of "making sense" than where did the condition come from? Did we not start off with a blank slate? And by the way, in no way did I suggest that I wasn't inspired to seek an ultimate knowledge, I very plainly said that it's not a flaw to not yet understand existence, despite our search.

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  4. No, that is absolutely not the Catholic or classical picture of reality. What you are espousing is something more akin to Islam, where God's will is so arbitrarily authoritative that it somehow "transcends" reason itself.

    The truth, though, is that it is only through a misunderstanding of God that one can pose this dilemma in the first place. Your problem runs as thus:

    Either God created things like reason or goodness or He did not. If He did, then reason and goodness are arbitrary. If He did not, God is somehow subordinate to this higher order which dictates what is, in fact, reasonable or good.

    The way out of this dilemma is to recognize it as false. Several things can be briefly said. First, remember that God is both Pure Act and absolutely simple. As Pure Act and as simple, there is no real distinction between God's being and his operation or activity, it is only human beings that distinguish these things logically and analogously. It is not static perfection (design, law, etc.) or dynamic perfection (the will of a free agent) that belong to God but perfection as such. Stated in your terms, there is no real distinction between God and God's design. The perfection from which God creates is itself God's nature.

    So, ultimately God does not create what makes sense or what is good. Rather, goodness itself and being itself are God.

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  5. (1 of 2)
    I'd like to address a few issues with your response.

    Regarding...

    No, that is absolutely not the Catholic or classical picture of reality.

    I get this type of statement often. I think if it's at all permissible to speculate on the operational mechanics of a designer in a deistic manner, than we should take that as far as it goes. My question isn't directed towards Catholicism but rather the idea of a designer. This is beyond fair in my opinion since your contention for god is supported in a philosophical structure that operates whether or not its endorsed by a cardinal. The philosophical approach is intended to be logical (as you would know better than I). If it happens to fall within the ideological parameters of Catholicism than fine, but my question remains valid despite who it may be slightly better appropriated towards.

    Your views seem very much under the intoxication of Aristotle's genius. Aristotle was obviously beyond brilliant and you'll be happy to know that I intend to take you up on reading 'Metaphysics'. I will say that your response to my very difficult question was clever. However, I think it's nothing beyond smoke and mirrors when we break it down, and I will, of course, explain why. I also like how you attribute the misconception of "what god is" to the human being's anthropomorphic way of reasoning. It's funny because traditionally, that's the atheist's exact complaint towards the theist.
    Regarding...

    As Pure Act and as simple, there is no real distinction between God's being and his operation or activity, it is only human beings that distinguish these things logically and analogously.

    Well, this view certainly relinquishes you of the responsibility of having to explain away "God's designer". Or does it? Being that God is not static perfection (design, law, etc.) or dynamic perfection (the will of a free agent), but rather god is perfect as such, one must wonder about the conditions of god's perfection.
    The first problem I have, you most likely have a rehearsed answer for, and that's this...

    1a.
    By what logical means can we take to arrive at the conclusion that god is most certainly pure act and not anything otherwise?

    1b.
    Is this contention supported by the bible and if so, by what system of filtration can we refer to in understanding how contradicting qualities attached to the biblical god, as littered throughout the scripture, can coalesce and contort into the single view that you've described here as true? (This question is inspired by the disclaimer you gave about catholic ideology. I'm curious as to how far your catholic paradigm will go to navigate your way out of tough questions.

    Stated in your terms, there is no real distinction between God and God's design. The perfection from which God creates is itself God's nature,

    So god did not create the world, god is the world and the act of creation. So, it seems like what your doing is attempting to define god so that the definition...

    a) releases responsibility for flaws of the design by describing god as not an agent, but as action. This action has a special condition. The condition is that the action does not require an agent to initiate the action. Another condition is that this is the ONLY action for which the movement doesn't require a mover.

    b) attempts to make a case that the notion of "flaws" (as it concerns reality) are a human misunderstanding of god.

    c) Indirectly insinuates that no human agent can recognize god's being and therefore can not understand god.

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  6. (2 of 2)

    * - Now to the core of it. Suggesting that God is neither static nor dynamic is the philosophical equivalent of a magic trick. This is no different than saying something along the lines of, "god is a 27 dimensional object and we therefore cannot imagine his likeness with human limitations of comprehension." I understand that you surely believe what your saying, however what function does description like this have for a rational path to certainty of god's existence? This type of language is acceptable for someone who accepts the metaphysical to begin with but holds no value on those naive enough to believe the theologian claims that declare it possible to achieve the conclusion that god exists by logical means.

    * - Are you not suspicious of the description of god you gave? This is a very advanced description of God. God no longer sounds like an agent who "saw that it was good", "rested", and is also"jealous". God sounds rather like "he's" evolved into a concept much more evasive to logical attacks. Obviously this doesn't automatically disqualify the attributes you propose, but I do think it's healthy to exercise some level of skepticism for a claim such as this.

    * - Describing god as pure act does not relieve (the act) of the implications of it's action. Do you believe in hell? If all action is of god's temporal sequencing, free will cannot exist. If all action is god's action then surely I don't need to explain the absurdity of accountability. You said that God IS "his" creation. By extension, we are god. Actually, everything is god. With that being said...

    2. Is this the catholic view of God?

    * - Let's ask a playful question... Who created "nothing"? The further we push our pursuit of an answer to existence, the further the problem gets pushed back. God seems like a human attempt to stop pushing the problem. But if we attempted to track the footsteps of god, we've not been led into a sacred oasis of answers. When I analyze this description it simply seems like the best attempt we've had at the answer. Surely, you'll conclude that I "don't accept the obvious evidence of god." Simultaneously however, I'll conclude that your biased mind filters out the obviousness that god (as we know it) is of human manufacture. Of course I'll view god anthropomorphically, because god was an anthropomorphic idea to begin with. But the God congruent of man's image is a statue of theology that has been weathered and damaged. We started off with "god resting" and "punishing" in real time, to god being pure act and timeless. I don't suggest that this view wasn't available since Aristotle, but it takes an evolved understanding of theology WITH a high threshold of logic at the individual level to reach those kinds of conclusions about god.

    I'll end with an simple observation...

    You are obviously thoughtful and have a strong sense of logic. And this is precisely why you must attribute god with descriptions that you have. Individuals without this understanding seem to think that god caused the latest hurricane due to gay marriage. This causes massive error in logical deduction. But doesn't is seem like they know more about god than you do? They seem to know what god wants on a particular day. But you, being much more thoughtful than them, know very little about god. Because if you know too much, than god starts developing tiny imperfections and dents. It's as if the wiser you are, the less you know. I think it's actually, the more you know, the more you understand that you know very little. Or as Plato put it "As for me, all I know is that I know nothing."

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  7. You have said much, so I will respond to some of, what I think, are the more important claims first.

    God as pure act is demonstrated by Aristotle's argument from motion and, more succinctly, in Aquinas' First Way. Fundamentally, it is through consideration of act, potency, and change as such which culminate in the existence of an unmoved mover or, to put it in a way understood by the contemporary mind, an unchanged changer. This is simply another way of saying that He is Actus Purus, or pure act. Obviously, I have not posted a detailed analysis of the argument, but I have put up several posts on this weblog that might help the modern reader understand what is commonly misunderstood by many even in academia.

    Concerning the anthropomorphic language describing God in the Scriptures; the metaphorical interpretation of such analogies has been a part of the Christian tradition since antiquity. God is neither literally nor univocally angry, jealous, or any other such emotional state. God does not literally have a right hand; He is not a material being.

    Concerning whether or not God is the world and creation. My understanding of your initial critique was that the standard by which God creates must be higher than God or else "what makes sense" is arbitrarily defined. When I said that there is no difference between God and God's design, I meant design as in design template or standard, not the actual products that result from creation.

    Finally, concerning you final thought: There are obviously many protestant Christianities in America and around the world. What their adherents believe or say about God is of little concern to me. When one speaks of God he must be extremely careful and proceed very cautiously. Many modern apologists have very little actual knowledge concerning the classical philosophical tradition that began with the pre-Socratics, Plato, Aristotle and the Greeks, existed through Rome and after its fall into late antiquity, and culminated in the high middle ages with the scholastic tradition and all of its followers, most notably St. Thomas Aquinas. Most of them would rather quote Scripture to atheists or debate intelligent design with evolutionary biologists. The tradition of which I am but a small servant is far older and richer than the muddle headed contemporary thought that is peddled now, and it still deserves to be taken seriously because, ultimately, it is true.

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