A. General reflections. 3 min., 26 sec. Real Audio.
B. Deeper reflections on creation. 9 min., 4 sec. Real Audio.
See also this fine piece on the beginning of the universe, by Jim Arraj. We discussed his work in some depth on this thread on the Theology discussion forum on this web site.
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General discussion: What questions, comments, reflections would you like to add? Please do so below. Recommended web sites, books, and other resources are welcomed.
Personal reflection: What difference does it make to believe that there is a Creator who is good? How does/would this influence your understanding of yourself and the world?
I bless this ongoing labor of love.
I will contribute some of my thoughts on the God of metaphysics, though I cannot hope to do so with the authoritativeness or clarity of Phil and Jim Arraj.
Congratulations, Phil and Jim & Tyra. May you prosper in your efforts to complete this magnificent opus. I am waiting with eager anticipation for Jim's work on Christology.
Very truly yours in Christ,
Here is my take on the God of Metaphysics:
In Catholic Christianity, there is an affirmation of 1) the God of the Greeks 2) the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and 3) God, the Father of Jesus (and the "persons" of the Trinity). The God of the Greeks would be known from philosophy and metaphysics, prior to revelation, which is to say prior to the Old and New Testaments.
It is in the concepts of "Goodness" per Plato and the "Unmoved Mover" per Aristotle, that we find a correspondence to what the Catholic faith considers to be the God of Metaphysics or the God of the Philosophers. Thomas Aquinas adapted Aristotle's natural philosophy to Catholicism. There are three schools of Thomism: 1) the Aristotelian 2) the Existentialist and 3) the Transcendental. See FIDES ET RATIO AND THE TWENTIETH CENTURY THOMISTIC REVIVAL by John F. X. Knasas if you are further interested. I mention these distinctions because I anticipate coming back to them later, perhaps.
Recall, too, that my discussion below is about the God known from philosophy, from natural revelation, prior to Divine Revelation and not, so to speak, encountered in that personal relationship with Jesus or the Abba that He revealed to us.
The aristotelian approach of neothomism can be critiqued by a neoplatonist approach that dates back to Meister Eckhart (fourteenth century) and Pseudo-Dionysius (fifth century) and even earlier. Concerning both natural and divine revelation, neothomism makes assertions about what God is like or what God is not like. It maintains that we can learn what God is like or not like through analogies to nature and from the metaphorical literature of scripture.
The neoplatonic critique would amplify what neothomism already implicitly suggests, which is that analogies invoke similarities between concepts that always have far more dissimilarities than similarities. The kataphatic mode or positive theology of neothomism asserts what God is like and its apophatic mode or negative theology asserts what God is not like. As far as I'm concerned, and this may be a strong position to defend, the neoplatonic critique claims that any attributes of God suggested either by the analogies of natural theology or by the metaphors of revealed theology are de facto category errors. To me, an authentic thomism would agree with the neoplatonic critique and then would assert that, despite these category errors, the knowledge we have gained through our analogical imaginations and metaphorical language is still useful, indispensable even, however meager.
Classical metaphysics, then, with its proofs of God's existence, whether of the Greeks or as more fully developed into cosmological, ontological, teleological and moral arguments, can never claim to logically coerce a theistic worldview. Whether one's take on the cosmological argument comes through the craftily constructed syllogisms of an aristotelian thomism or through the philosophical contemplation or intuition of being of an existential thomism, it still must not lose sight of the thomistic self-critique that, when it comes to God, our logical analyses, rational processes and empirical proofs are, in one sense, "so much straw".
To this extent, it seems clear that early Christianity anticipated a postmetaphysical Christianity, wherein an aristotelian neothomism is self-critiqued by its own implicit neoplatonism.
More to follow.
I wrote previously that it seems clear that early Christianity anticipated a postmetaphysical Christianity, wherein an aristotelian neothomism is self-critiqued by its own implicit neoplatonism. I wrote of how fundamentalism is avoided in Catholicism through some self-critique.
The gist of this position is that metaphysical and philosophical arguments cannot be claimed to demonstrate God through empirical proof or rational analysis. They are, rather, merely an indicator that an hypothesis of God is not unreasonable and thus constitute, not faith but, the preambula fidei (preamble to faith). This position also has its converse, that being that to proceed without a God hypothesis is not a priori unreasonable either. To draw an imperfect analogy to Godel's theorem, such axioms about the origins of the universe cannot be proven within the system we inhabit.
What I believe is going on, then, when we formulate and reformulate our worldviews, is that we gather evidence, none of it conclusive or decisive or empirically demonstrable as a proof, one way or the other, for our implicit and/or explicit ontologies, but, all of it, taken as a whole to inform our 1) ontological hunches 2) intuitions of being 3) provisional closures 4) sneaking suspicions or what have you. Taken as a whole, the evidence we gather can make for some very compelling inferences in favor of various ontological conclusions. Those compelling inferences can certainly include the metaphysical "proofs" and other preambula fidei, alongside other evidence to be taken into consideration as a whole.
We can mindfully and fruitfully explore all of these inferences both nontheistically and theistically. However, we must not confuse these ontological inferences with the demonstrably verifiable and falsifiable proofs of science, whatever our hermeneutic, or we will fall into the gaps of the gods with our category errors.
There is much more than such preliminary reasoning going on when we respond existentially with our ultimate concerns in faith, having consulted its preambles or not, but those faiths that 1) take all scripture literally 2) proceed solely from authority and/or 3) don't self-critique their metaphysics with a transcategorical or meta- metaphysical perspective are likely entrenched in an intractable fundamentalism.
Note: I apologize for the jargon but I cannot lose the jargon without losing the high nuancing that it conveys and it is important to me that my precise meaning stay intact in the event I get quoted out of context elsewhere.
For some who do metaphysics, finite being and Being (with a capital "B") have a generic relationship, such that Being is a genus to particular kinds of beings. This places metaphysics epistemologically prior to the various sciences for the platonistic and idealistic epistemologies.
Contrastingly, Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas place metaphysics epistemologically last, considering Being and God-talk to be only analogical to finite being, in a metaphysics that presupposes the sciences.
I have generally accepted that, in philosophy, critiques will always critique critiques. Always, though, in the final analysis, it has seemed pretty clear to me that, if we are going to do metaphysics, then they will be more coherent, consistent and congruent if grounded in the natural sciences and not vice versa (ergo, my critical realism?).
I say this even when in sympathy with the "Transcendental" Thomists because, for me, Aristotle and Aquinas are primary and any Kantian nod is simply a response to a valid neoplatonist critique. Other attempts toward a rational unification of knowledge through a formal logical language (logical positivists) don't past the muster of Kurt Godel, whom I've invoked before. Thomism thus anticipated Heidigger's charge that metaphysics was really onto-theology and his critique remains good theological hygiene for those theists whose metaphysics is not rigorously related to the natural sciences.
In modern times, many have looked to the philosophy of mind and theories of consciousness as a way of establishing another "proof" of God.
There was this fellow, C. D. Broad, who came up with a taxonomy of 17 fundamental positions that could be taken on the mind-body problem. I learned of him by reading David Chalmers, who has his own interesting way of classifying the different positions on the problem of consciousness.
First, there is a position taken by most eliminative materialists, which is that the everyday, common sensical understanding of and talk about various mental states is WAY off base, which is to say that they, such easily described mental states, don't really exist. Per this view, the taxonomic exercises of Broad, Chalmers et al become a moot point, as would any need for a reductionistic theory.
As you know, many other positions exist, some of which consider consciousness as primitive and as possibly a fundamental property of matter, alongside space-time-matter-energy/charge or even as a dimensional structure, which I suppose implies a mentalism or idealism. Ayn Rand and Leonard Peikoff had a following in objectivism, hard to classify. Roger Penrose is looking for a new physical law. David Chalmers has some type of dualistic naturalism. Also, there are both emergent and reductive materialists as well as nonreductive materialists with positions. Some of these positions imply an ontological dualism but none of them claim to imply supernaturalism. This is why I sometimes note that the naturalism/supernaturalism divide is not a very tidy space, ontologically speaking.
To think that we have all of this to consider even before one begins to discuss the positions on consciousness taken by many supernaturalists, some of whom seem to believe that it is the hard problem of consciousness with its implications for immaterialism that makes for one of the more compelling cases for the existence of God. Even some physicalists appear to fear that conceding any ontological discontinuity as an explication of the problem of consciousness would be a letting of the supernaturalist's camel's head into the naturalist's tent.
Now, even if one could prove a noncomputational, nonalgorithmic and dualistic explanation for consciousness, and even if this would be one of the compelling inferences for the possibility of supernaturalism, it is obvious that this would not logically coerce a belief in the supernatural, if, for no other reason, then, because of the many naturalistic dualist positions that I briefly sketched above. If ontological dualism is established, then we get into all the language problems that would result from conflating the physical and metaphysical. Further, at best, the supernaturalists could only invoke an analogy to such a putative God as had better be transcategorical to our understanding of being anyway, as I hinted at when posting earlier regarding meta-metaphysical or post- metaphysical Christianity. These same critiques apply to irreducible complexity, if it even exists, to ID inferences, to the paranormal, etc
At most, one might gather these types of inferences and then take the lot of them, as a whole, to back up one's sneaking ontological suspicions, supernaturalistic or naturalistic, but one is not likely to logically coerce, rationally deliver or empirically prove their ontology. It's a godelian house of cards.
This is not to say that one cannot proceed reasonably with his ontological hunches and her batch of inferences, as drawn from such studies and speculation; rather, it is only to suggest that, even cumulatively, one cannot take such evidence and expect to overturn another's worldview. Such worldviews should be robust and their adherents resilient in their logical consistency, internal coherence, external congruence, hypothetical consonance, interdisciplinary consilience and in overcoming cognitive dissonance. Such is our faith as Pseudo-Dionysius and Aquinas and others, both neo-platonists and aristotelians, helped to articulate centuries ago, still shielded from the critiques of the modern skeptics!
More appropriately, such are the preambles to our faith. If this stuff is dry and almost sterile, then you likely are more interested, not in Paul's discourse about the Unknown God and the God of the Greeks, but in His encounter with Jesus. Paul was quite the talent though. He knew the God of metaphysics and natural revelation, the God of Divine Revelation in the OT (of the Patriarchs and Prophets) and our Jesus, who revealed Our Abba.
I look forward to Jim's Christology, too. Still, there is more metaphysics ahead as we consider Original Sin
In Him we move and live and have our being,
I appreciate the Transcendental Thomism of folks like Karl Rahner and Bernard Lonergan, and it is in their modified panentheism, which may be closer to John Polkinghorne (and his dual aspect monism) than any other of the process theologians and philosophers, that I find some touchpoints for dialogue with other ideologies, even nontheists.
In a nutshell, it is because of Rahner's anthropological methods and Thomas Merton's interreligious dialogue that I firmly believe in the Vatican II assertion that all human's are capable of living the good and upright and moral life without the benefit of Divine Revelation. With the late Catholic, Mortimer Adler, I believe we can all get from is to ought. I also believe that, if there is a theological imperative, then we can find its counterpart in humankind's existential orientations.
Hence, if there are transcendent Divine Attributes, then I will discover them in their immanent fulless in the truth and beauty and goodness that has flowered in the noetics, aesthetics and ethics of the various ideologies and I will witness the articulation of the truthful, the celebration of the beautiful and the preservation of the good in the creeds, cults and codes of the various religions.
I've been waiting for this forum to open
As far as I'm concerned, and this may be a strong position to defend, the neoplatonic critique claims that any attributes of God suggested either by the analogies of natural theology or by the metaphors of revealed theology are de facto category errors. To me, an authentic thomism would agree with the neoplatonic critique and then would assert that, despite these category errors, the knowledge we have gained through our analogical imaginations and metaphorical language is still useful, indispensable even, however meager.
Polkinghorne, speaking of epistemology models ontology: �For me the phrase is a succinct statement of a realistic view of the scientific enterprise, or indeed, of the wider human inquiry into reality: that what we know is a reliable guide to what is the case. We are not misled by the world. I don't accept the Kantian disjunction between phenomena (things as we know them) and noumena (things as they are in themselves). The whole effect of scientific experience is to engender belief that we attain a tightening grasp of an actual reality. Of course, we make maps of the world, rather than totally describe it; there is always more to learn. My slogan is just a way of saying that we are not misled by our encounter with reality.�
And further, he speaks of theological science: �If you think about it, Rahner's Rule, which says that �the economic trinity is the immanent trinity,� is a statement of theological realism, that what we know about God is not misleading. In other words, the economic trinity is the essential trinity; what we know about God is a reliable guide to the divine nature.�
Good to see your name in lights again, JB. Lots of meat and potatoes in your posts, which helps to nuance some of the points made in the audio conferences, which are much more general in substance.
Classical metaphysics, then, with its proofs of God's existence, whether of the Greeks or as more fully developed into cosmological, ontological, teleological and moral arguments, can never claim to logically coerce a theistic worldview.
I'll pick this quote out to reply to because one of the points made in the second audio teaching is that neither creation nor reason can tell us of the inner nature of God. That's where revelation comes in. Concerning the issue of personality, however, even Hindu writers like Yogananda have wondered out loud (in print) if an impersonal God can be affirmed when human beings have personality? It would seem that something of the Artist would be manifest in the art, n'est pas?
I'll be adding some questions for personal reflection and journaling to the opening post on each thread for those who want to examine their own beliefs and attitudes. Personal responses are welcomed on this forum.
Concerning the issue of personality, however, even Hindu writers like Yogananda have wondered out loud (in print) if an impersonal God can be affirmed when human beings have personality?
That is related to the nature of consciousness issue and that metaphysics, as usual, comes out ambiguous here. I personally find it a rather compelling inference, especially intriguing coming from a natural theolgy.
In interreligious dialogue, I have found it useful to suggest the idea of the relational as sort of a bridging priciple between the impersonal and personal. That is something that can speak to both immanent and transcendent perspectives regarding the nature of existence.
It would seem that something of the Artist would be manifest in the art, n'est pas?
Spoken like a true Transcendental Thomist! vis a vis Rahner's supernatural existential or Lonergan's intellectual dynamism .
Spoken like a true Existential Thomist! vis a vis Maritain's connaturality .
Spoken like a true Aristotelian Thomist! vis a vis our analogical knowledge of God.
I understand your point about, in effect, not bypassing or side-stepping science in the search for truth. Science may write-off religion but the reverse certainly is of no benefit.
That said, I find it fascinating to think about what science is really telling us about reality. I remember reading a book on Einstein and relativity. Gravity was described as the curvature of space. Elsewhere it is described as being equivalent to accelerated mass. I believe there were some other models as well � all different. I remember when the atom was considered a small "thing" � the smallest of them all. Then we found smaller particles, the electrons and protons and neutrons. We visualized the atom as a nucleus around which electrons orbited. Later this model was amended. The electrons weren't orbiting. They had to be thought of as indefinite in location � sort of a blur of potential electrons outside the nucleus � somewhere � maybe. Then we found quarks�
If one thinks deeply about reality and God then one must, of course, bring science into the equation. But I now visual science, not as "the truth" (maybe "a" truth), but as set of fairly consistent and repeatable mental models that, for whatever reason, work. But science is only a rough tracing of reality. It's fractal in practice. You never ever get a clear, complete picture of anything. You just get better models. It's like zooming into a fractal. There's always more detail to be revealed but you're always at arm's length from the truth, although it's very very tempting to believe that our models are reality instead of � at best � something that just works even though we don't quite know why. No one knows how electrons get their marching orders. No one knows why electrons behave like electrons. How do they know how to act? How do they even know that they are electrons?
What science has going for it is predictability and congruence with mathematics. It allows us to make use of matter and energy even if we don't know exactly what those things they are. None of us has to know how a stoplight works in order to take advantage of it. Green means go. Red means stop. When we think about how the stoplight works and who built it then we might ask these same questions about matter and energy. Describing them in ever greater detail is interesting and useful but I would imagine a million years worth of detailing will simply be like sticking our heads deeper down in an Ostrich hole. The closer we look the less we see. One needs to put matter and energy into a greater context and I don't think matter, energy, science and mathematics *are* the context itself.
Without the congruence of mathematics and our fairly predictable models, science wouldn't have a leg to stand on. What if the laws of physics were different in another part of the galaxy? What if the laws themselves changed over time or were capricious? Because the laws of physics are apparently constant and predictable it has seemingly given science the upper hand in the "battle" with religion. But is this predictability entirely at the discretion of Another? Is predictability everything? Heck, at the deepest levels (quantum physics) it looks like the universe is totally random! Are our own thoughts predictable? No, but they're real (and unexplained by science). This gives me thought that those things that aren't predictable and repeatable aren't necessarily illegitimate. They may be, in fact, (particularly considering the apparent randomness at the deepest levels) higher truths because, ironically, they are NOT so predictable.
... questions about matter and energy. Describing them in ever greater detail is interesting and useful but I would imagine a million years worth of detailing will simply be like sticking our heads deeper down in an Ostrich hole.
A remarkable piece, Brad.
The above excerpt was my favorite!
From "The Beginning of the Universe"
We have another gold star winner.
I've cut and pasted so many quotes from that article (perhaps for later comments) that I've practically recreated it in a Word document. It's quite extraordinary. Reading it I feel as if I'm on the real cutting edge of discovery � more so than by reading only Scientific American. I've heard it said that simply acquiring raw data isn't of much use unless you have some theory in mind on how to use it. All of science itself could be considered raw data that is just begging to be put into some larger theory or context in order to have real meaning. It seems clear that science has so compartmentalized itself that it often loses this greater context, and when it does try to create one, isn't quite equipped with the skills to do so effectively.
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