Brief account of “God is beyond being”

Start with this claim about causality:

Whenever there is something really common to many things, neither the multitude nor any member of that multitude suffice to explain it. 

So if being human is common to Socrates and Joe, you can’t appeal to either Socrates or Joe to explain why there are humans. This is true even if one of them were the first human you happened to have, or if one was the father of the other. One needs an account like special creation or evolution or an alien plot, etc. If one decides on the alien plot, you might get an account of the human species, but not of embodied intelligences. The axiom in play is that the explanans has to differ in some way from the explanandum; this even will work as a replacement of the claim given above.

But then if all the objects we can experience have existence really in common, we’re committed to saying that any explanation of them has to be beyond existence. Interestingly, this gives us two things beyond existence: on the one hand the God of the philosophers who explains the totality of all that could be experienced or known by us, on the other hand the human mind that, in its own way, explains the totality as an object known to us.

Objection: Every explanandum requires some real thing that is different from it; but existence cannot admit of something real that is different from it.

Response: Being a whole or a totality is not repugnant to having a relation to another – in the cognitive order, for example, to understand the whole still requires some relation to a subject understanding, to desire to possess the whole requires some relation to the will, and to signify the whole still requires relation to its sign. If we deny that a whole can have relation to another, we can neither understand this whole or speak of it, which makes our very claim impossible to make. In the same way, being as a whole can still relate to another; and God himself can completely exhaust all the possibilities of being and existence in his pure actuality without ruling out the possibility of creation. Within the divinity itself, persons can be entirely whole and exhaustive of divinity while still existing in relation to other persons distinct from them.


Assumptions in Arguments from Evil

1.) There is certainly a difference between an evil justified now, and that will be justified. This “will be” ranges widely: perhaps in the next life, perhaps at the end of history, etc. AFE’s assume either that history will not come to an end or be fulfilled or that, even if it does, that this could not reverse all evil.

2.) Rowe’s fawn assumes that animal pain is sufficiently like our own suffering to trigger an argument from evil. (Presumably, Rowe does not see the same trigger in the trees that get burned). He is either right or not. If not, the argument clearly fails, but if so, then why does the fawn not also have something sufficiently like our virtues of courage, forbearance, hope, etc. that allow it to give meaning to its own suffering? If, as far as the fawn is concerned, his pain is neither meaningful nor meaningless, how can the actual suffering of the fawn be “gratuitous”? We can raise the question of how it has meaning in some larger context than this, but this larger context raises the question of what role suffering as such plays in this larger context.

3.) The AFE is always in danger of conflating our natural aversion to explaining to someone else’s suffering with a natural aversion to explain suffering.  If you’ve lost your own child, it’s in bad taste to tell you it all will work out in the end, or that it is some affect of sin. But it is just as much in bad taste to tell the parents that they themselves are wrong when they see this sort of evil as part of a divine plan that God will make right in the end.

The suffering is essentially personal. It poses a question addressed to the one suffering that he must answer for himself. This does not mean that every answer is correct, only that we sense that the answer must be given by the one suffering. I might fall silent in the face of the Holocaust, but I am not forced to be just as silent if I am living in the camp.  If St. Therese vacillates between temptations to suicide and love of Jesus while she is choking to death from tuberculosis, who am I to question either response?

The AFE challenges us to find meanings to sufferings. This cannot be satisfactorily done, but this is because we cannot declare the meaning of someone else’s suffering but only our own.

4.) Assuming that there is one morality for all intelligent or personal beings is like assuming that there is one appropriate way of acting for all sentient beings or animals: as though lions, lemmings, and black widow spiders all shared some common and meaningful stock of appropriate actions. Nonsense. Male black widows would be offended and utterly humiliated to the point of a lawsuit if their mates refused to eat them; lionesses would question the virility of a lion who didn’t eat a cub or two; lemmings would feel nothing but contempt for the one that didn’t rush off the cliff.


The interaction problem for Naturalism (3)

There are two sorts of necessity: in itself and from another. Necessity is simply what cannot not be, but a thing can have this either as a fact or by logical necessity. The “cannot” in the definition can either be physical or logical.

We know of substances so hard that they cannot be scratched by anything other, it is not much of a jump to substances so solid they cannot be dissolved or corrupted by any other. Such substances would be necessary, but, for all that, we might make them in a lab. Matter seems to have this sort of necessity, though not from its rigidity but from its ability to remain throughout changes.

Now physical necessity suffices for an explanation of the contingent by the necessary, and if we are right that all necessity is physical or logical, and that only logical necessity is a necessity from itself, then physical necessity is from another.


Interaction problem for Naturalism (2)

So the interaction problem is either a problem for Naturalism or, more likely, the argument is just a disposable stage toward the actual truth, sc. the disagreement over whether the fundamental agencies are intelligent or “brute” and “blind”. But even this might not say enough: recall among those who held that the first mover was intelligent there was also a belief that there were brute or blind universal causes. For Aristotle, it was not just the prime mover who was a universal cause but also the celestial bodies, the first being an intelligence and the second not. This means that we need to push the argument to another stage: classical physics did not change the non-interactive causes from intelligent to blind ones, but rather assumed that the blind ones were sufficient.

Sufficient for what? It’s hard to see what we would mean in a way that Aristotle wouldn’t agree with. Nature was a totality for him too, a large sphere containing all that there was of  space and time or metrical and sensible matter. There was nothing of the same kind beyond it, and so explanations of natural things came to an end in the blind activity of the universal causes. But he believed in a prime mover for all that.

For both the Medievals and the Moderns, the idea of nature remains what is determined to a single course, and so lacking the sort of indetermination that intelligence has. But why posit indeterminate causes (free ones) for determinate activities? Why bother having angels move stars if all they will do is move them predictably on one track forever? One supposes that this is exactly the sort of thing that someone would automate. More to the point, does one even need intelligence for the sort of universal causes we now have? One supposes we would need something to move the stars and the celestial spheres, but one doesn’t need anything to move energy or gravity. But this can’t be quite right either since, for Aristotle, the planets revolved just as naturally as stones fall down. Why did he posit a mover for what moved by nature?

In one sense, he doesn’t need to, which is exactly the point made above. If we want to explain is natural motion, we can reduce it to whatever can move another thing by its very nature: the celestial bodies, gravity, or energy. Movers are not necessary beyond his because to explain some sort of indeterminacy in the power of the thing to move. Putting intelligence as a motive power behind the stars, gravity, or energy does not mean that these things are inert – it’s their very nature to cause others to move, and to be unable ever not to move others. All these things preserved a conservation law, and could not be engendered or corrupted into their elements. In explaining nature, it suffices to link the contingent to the necessary.

But necessity is a hierarchical thing: there are things necessary from another (NA) and necessary in themselves (NT). The truths we know are a good example of NA’s: they must be, so long as there are minds to think them. But if we can divide the two, it makes seems that the contingent: NA :: NA : NT. But this would mean that the scientific attempt to range the contingent under the necessary is just the first move in a larger analogical proportion: what the various mobile and changeable things of the universe are to energy, so energy is to that reality necessary in itself. This is exactly the claim of the Third Way (so often misunderstood as an argument from mere contingency).




The interaction problem for Naturalism

The interaction problem for immaterialism is something like this:

1.) Natural bodies act only by interacting with what moves them.

2.) Natural things cannot interact with the non-physical. therefore etc.

While widely viewed as an intractable problem, its premises seem to cut both ways. If natural bodies move only by interacting by other bodies, then  A only acts because it interacts with B, B can only acts because it interacts with C, and so on ad infinitum. But such an account contradicts itself: on the one hand it continually posits causes in order to sufficiently account for the action while at the same time insisting that it is impossible for such continual positing to sufficiently explain anything.

But it’s not necessary to insist on this point since its uncontroversial to insist that lines of natural causality are finite. Classical physics drifted into thinking that motion reduced to a first mover like gravity, which came to be seen as a tugging power that enveloped and instantly collapsed all bodies toward each other,* and we later thought of energy as a single motive reality that leaps from one natural body to another, exhausting the motion of one thing before leaping out of the body, totally preserved, and causing motion in a new way.

But we can’t make classical gravity or energy a source of action in physical things and insist on premise (1)above. The moon, for example, doesn’t interact with classical gravity, nor does energy interact with the bodies it moves. There is no surface contact, no mechanism, nor does the mass of the body somehow need to “come in contact with” the ghostly tugging power of classical gravity. But why insist on this? There doesn’t seem to be any theory of physics, ever, that insisted that all action was the result of interaction. Physics always posits some non-interactive force at the foundation of physical action: Aristotle had his 57 mover gods of the celestial bodies, the classical era had gravity (supplemented by whatever divine action was needed to keep gravity from collapsing everything into a heap) we have mass-energy and every other sort of agency that falls under a conservation law.

So not only is premise (1) of the interaction argument false, but no major physical theory has ever thought it was true. It has never done any actual scientific work, and to accept it is an impediment to having a physical system at all. The interaction argument is rather an attempt to articulate a subtle shift that classical physics made in the account given of fundamental, non interactive forces. Physics has always seen these fundamental movers as eternal and executing predicable motions (which is why Ptolemy could write a mathematical astronomy even while thinking that the planets were moved by the gods) but the shift in our time is to see these eternal, ageless, non-interactive agencies as impersonal or necessarily unintelligent. The non-interactive agencies must be – to use the mysterious adjectives we spontaneously applied to them – blind or brute Needless to say, this is a judgment that is no more and no less scientific (or mythological) than calling them gods or angels.

*This happened in spite of Newton’s insistence that gravity was not a tugging force, and to assume that it was made it an occult quality. But in this sense the tradition was more logical than Newton: what moves first must be non-interactive and given what gravity explained, it made sense to assume that it was just such a force.

Triangle of Law

We visualize laws of nature as bivalent: there are laws and then matter – the first control actions and the second are controlled. We can flesh this out in different ways (the laws might be separate from matter or immanent in it, matter might be really or notionally separate). Whatever this might explain, the laws also are  essentially three-cornered – the law (1) explains (or just is) the relation between initial conditions (2) and final outcomes (3).

Seeing laws in their essential triangularity makes them essentially relative and mediating which negotiate the initial realities with the results we get or expect. Absent this three-cornered account, we cannot explain nature as we actually find it. Law needs to enter into the concretion of what was the case and what comes to be in order to explain the concrete world. This is why cosmology can, given an outcome, account for it by changing the laws or changing the initial conditions.

On the bivalent account of law, all that is intelligible about nature is from law, and so we can imagine all the intelligible content of the world might be located in law. On the three-cornered account, law presupposes some sort of intelligible structure already given. Law cannot get behind the intelligible but can only work from it.

Immaterialism and knowledge (2)

Aristotelianism sees the immaterialism of knowledge as any relation to another as symbol or even as signaling. He saw it clearly in animals, but it’s become clear that plants are capable of this too. The advances of the sciences make it clear that even molecules can signal each other, or code information and execute algorithms for themselves. And so Aristotelianism leads to a bona fide immaterialism all the way down, even on the elemental level (or, minimally, on hte level of any living thing). Being nothing more than an act in an environment requires the sort of presence of the intelligible form of another that Aristotle counts as knowledge.

But though something deserving the name of knowledge arises in any actual thing, truth only arises for those knowers with retorsive cognition – where knowledge in one and the same order is capable of being its own object. This does not happen in sensation: we cannot taste that we taste, or even have a vision of our own vision.

Knowledge is thus present somehow in any actuality but truth cannot be explained as a feature or a physical cognitive organ: i.e. a sense organ, or whatever it is that trees or DNA uses to detect signals. We can explain any number of things about our knowledge by pointing to an essentially physical cognitive component (say, a nervous system) but we can’t explain why the knowledge is true or false.*

*or “unknowable” in the relevant sense, which indicates something that, though falling within the ambit of the true and false, is such that we cannot determine which side it falls on. The past is unknowable in this sense, the future is not.

Immaterialism and knowledge

Accounts of the immateriality of intellect need to do more than appeal to the fact that we have no idea what it would mean for matter to think, since to leave it at this would leave one powerless against the obvious fact that we have no better idea of what it would be for a non-material thing to think. We can’t see thought coming out of Leibniz’s mill, but this is just as true of the Platonic form of the mill. Disembodied existence is not obviously cognitive any more than physical existence.

The Greeks saw knowledge as the cognitive grasp of form. This was more a definition than a finding, since “form” meant whatever was intelligible about a thing. Plato, so the story goes, put what was intelligible about things separate from the things themselves, whereas Aristotle put the intelligible structures of material things into matter. Now Plato’s account makes intelligence pretty strightforwardly non-material: if what is intelligible about things is outside the material cosmos, then in knowing we occupy a state outside the cosmos. Aristotle’s account leads to immateriality by a more subtle but just as direct inference: if knowledge means having the intelligible structure of something, it must have it in a way other than the material thing with that structure. But it is precisely by having that structure that it is material, and so cognitive powers possess forms in a way that does not make them material things. This gives cognition a sort of immateriality, though we’d need additional premises to establish that some intellect was immaterial simply speaking, and not just with respect to the material things it knows.

So if we wanted a theory of knowledge that made no use of the immaterial, we’d need to say either that knowledge does not consist in possessing some intelligible structure in things, or that this structure was neither within or without the things themselves.

“Humanities” is what we can teach

Hypothesis: the difference between the humanities and sciences is that we have (or at least had) a pretty good idea how to teach the former and we have no idea how to teach the latter. In philosophy and theology and literature there is a longstanding canon of books to read and start with, in languages there is a clear order in which one learns grammar and vocabulary. We have a vague but simple enough sense of why these things are worth reading (because they are influential, or worthy in themselves) and we no more or less what they are good for.

All this gets lost by, say, math. Are we teaching math, or proto-engineering? What is even the vague order between geometry and algebra? What do we want the student to learn about? Is this a useful language, or are the relationships themselves of the quantities (if that’s even what they are) what’s important? One gets the sense that math, above all else, should be systematic, but the chapters of a math text largely arise at random: factoring, motion problems, rationalizing denominators, the FOIL method, complex numbers, the Pythagorean theorem…

St. Bonaventure:

Since, therefore, all things are beautiful and in some way delightful, and beauty and delight do not exit apart from proportion, and proportion is primarily in number, it needs must be that all things are subject to number. And for this reason number is the outstanding exemplar in the mind of the Maker, and in things it is the outstanding trace leading to wisdom.

If we could teach mathematics in light of that – which would require teaching it just as rigorously as we now teach it – math would be considered one of the humanities. As it stands, our mathematics is a witch’s brew of an old desire to beat the Soviets at science, a tool that SAT boards like because it is a good predictor of success at college, the demands of the Texas textbook industry, fifty years of inertia of having done it “like this” for reasons no one understands… etc.

An existentialist theology

Expectation presupposes finite possibilities. We expect a number between one and six when throwing a die and not, say, a chicken. These finite possibilities are like grids into which chance realities might fall, or into which planned or natural events might develop. If we take the totality of this grid, we get “possibility”, if we take it as the terminus of what comes to be or was meant to come to be, it is “essence”. Essence is thus the intelligible structure that pre-exists whatever comes to be. This “pre-existence” makes it a potency for which the proper act is existence.

So what if there were some existence that was just existence, and not the proper act of some essence. By the definition given above, we get four characteristics:

1.) Such a being cannot be expected. But this is not strong enough: to see it would be essentially and absolutely surprising. I say “absolute” surprise to indicate that there is no component, element, or logical structure of such a being that could be given in advance and into which the being might fall. To be surprised by something seen is at least to be able to predict that it is visible, and in this sense the no surprise given to the senses or falling within the ambit of intelligible objects can be absolutely surprising.

If, per modern theory, information is the novel or unexpected, then only this being is absolute information: that than which nothing could be more informative.

2.) Such a being has no being before it or simultaneous with it in time. What is in time arises from its possibility and intelligible structure.

3.) Such a being is unintelligible, in the sense of not being any act given latent within our intelligence. We can know it only under the condition over it being absolute information.

4.) It does not come to be, and is prior to whatever comes to be.

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