Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Combining the Arguments from Being and from Love

We now look at the consequences of combining the Arguments from Being and from Love within theism. The first argument from Being concluded that all our being is because of God’s being:
  1. God is Being itself (Postulate 3)
  2. We (as individuals) have being (as, we exist).
  3. Therefore, our being either is, or depends on (derives from), God (Being itself).
The second argument from Love concluded that we are distinct from God:
  1. God loves us unselfishly (from Postulate 3), 
  2. Unselfish loves cannot love only themselves, 
  3. Therefore, we must be separate from God in some ways: God is not us.
There is a prima facie problem here. How can we share God’s being if we are necessarily distinct from Him?  If we are other than God, it would appear that we are separate beings. How can that be true, if the essence of our being (namely being itself) is identical to God?

The resolution of this paradox is the key to understanding theism from the philosophical point of view. We can verbally affirm both Arguments, but if they contradict each other, then we would have a logical set of statements containing a contradiction. Since from such a set any statement could be derived, and we understand nothing, our task should be to offer a resolution to this paradox. This paradox is particularly poignant because it is one that God himself had to resolve before he could create anything. How could he create beings whom he could love?  It is a real problem, not just ours, so we look at how God solved the problem.

Part of the solution will be to find a way that we can be close enough to God, without become identical with him. This talk of being ‘close enough’ is in fact a spatial metaphor, and such metaphors may not strictly apply in reality. However, as an aid to understanding, we can give several more visual metaphors which begin to suggest how a solution may be possible, indeed implemented, in our world.

We may imagine that we are ‘adjacent’ to God and maybe even ‘touching’ him. This equates to our not being continuous with God, but rather contiguous. There must be very close connections between God and us, connections sufficient to transplant being from God to ourselves but with still enough differences remaining that we are not part of God.

Another metaphor is that ‘God is within us,’ but this is a metaphor often open to multiple interpretations because of multiple meanings of the word ‘in’. My own favorite here is to think of us creatures (all of the finite world, in fact) as ‘hollow inside’, and as God filling up that hollow in a way that keeps him distinct from us. This is again a touching metaphor, but is now restricted to an interior space which is only vaguely conceived. The concept of interior spaces is one which will recur later.

Whatever spatial metaphor we use to picture our relation to God, it must include that, despite our existence being distinct from God, we are still in some way connected with the divine. This is possible if God sustains our being, even though we have some separation. What is the meaning of ‘sustain’?  Is this something that God does once at the start of the universe or something that happens all the time?  And is it something that God does automatically just by existing, or does it require some continual active contributions from God?  Does it require contributions from us? There is much to discuss further.

Adapted from chapter 9 of Starting Science From God.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Argument from Unselfish Love

We are now in the position to draw a very important conclusion about the way God and the world are related. I frame this as 'the Argument from (Unselfish) Love': 

  1. God loves us unselfishly (from Postulate 3), 
  2. Unselfish loves cannot love only themselves, 
  3. Therefore, we must be separate from God in some ways: God is not us

This Argument from Love has a number of important consequences. From an essential aspect of core theism, we see that there must be an irreducible distinctness between us and God. This must be an absolute distinctness, not just an apparent one, because it must be a difference which appears so to God, who presumably sees things as they really are and not just as they appear.

This need for an ‘otherness’ between God and all those loved by God has long been recognized as essential to theism, but it is rarely given a logical justification. It is usually assumed by religious writers that creating independent and freely-choosing humans is a ‘great good’ which justifies many other things. Now we have gone back one step in the logic and can see that there is a reason for some kind of independence. That reason stems directly from the kind of love that God has for us.

Another consequence is that, though God could conceivably create those creatures who are continuous extensions of his divine being, there would be no point in his doing so. God could not love those creatures unselfishly, since they would be entirely part of himself. It may not be that God is lacking in omnipotence, but that there are consequences of the nature of God that directly limit what is good to do. Think how cruel it would be to make a creature who could not be loved by God!

This otherness is dramatically expressed in the writings of many theists, especially those who have had spiritual or mystical experiences. God is like a mighty brilliant sun—it is as if God is brighter by millions than the noon-day sun—and we are minor creatures walking on the face of the earth. Others have described how the numinous sight of God induces fear and trembling, and a feeling of great humility arises from the enormous differences immediately apparent.

To deny this otherness is a serious mistake from the theistic point of view. However often mystics may experience temporary oneness with God, they are still distinct and lovable-by-God creatures, and, as such, they return to their individual consciousness afterwards. Others may want to deny this absolute distinction and want to become ‘as God’. The Judaic bible in Genesis chapter 3 has a story of creatures wanting to become as God. They suffer badly because they want what is impossible.

We see that the Argument from Love has direct consequences concerning the systems of pantheism, nonduality and idealism. The necessity, if love is to function, of a deep division between divinity and us beloved beings is not allowed in pantheism. According to pantheism, we are all and entirely part of God, and that cannot be true if God is to love us unselfishly.

The problem with strict nonduality is even simpler. If God is to love us, we have to exist. This requires that our finite existence have some reality, and that it not be an illusion like maya. It can not be that our soul (Atman) is actually identical with the divine being itself (Brahman), no matter what the sages may have written. There must be some relation between them, but not one of identity.

Adapted from chapter 9 of Starting Science From God.

Friday, June 8, 2012

God loves us Unselfishly

We need to determine whether what exists is one or whether it is many. Having postulated that God exists, and that he exists as the being itself that we individuals have, we next need to know whether we form many beings or just one large being. We may conceivably be creatures who are continuous extensions of the divine being. Such creatures would be wondrous beings and feel wonderful, but it does not appear that we are that kind of creature. Why?  Is there any reason why we should be distinct from God?

Unselfish love

To answer that question, we need to understand another component of core theism. This component is not something obvious from the philosophical point of view, but is, rather, very personal:

Postulate 4  God loves us unselfishly. 

To understand this, we need to know what ‘love’ means, and what ‘unselfish’ means. These will be discussed in more detail later, but for now let us just remember some of the basic facts about these two matters.

Some may think that love is merely a warm sticky emotion in the presence or touch of loved ones such as babies or kittens with big eyes. Others may think it is the persistent feeling of longing for the beloved. Others (more scientifically oriented) may think it is a byproduct of the neuro-chemical and/or information-handling processes in the brain. Here, we are going to distinguish four things, all connected to love:

  1. Love, as the underlying motivation or disposition that generates all relevant intentions and actions, 
  2. Desire, as the presence of love in our intentions, 
  3. Delights, as the sensations and joy which are the final manifestation of loving actions, and 
  4. Affections, as the feeling of persistent loves and desires that arise after experiencing delights. 

For a given person and given motivation, these four things are all related. For now, we are going to focus on the love (1.), namely the underlying motivation for our actions. I am using the word ‘love’ in a very general sense here, to refer not just to what we think of as good loves but also to the underlying motivations in all our activities. In this general sense I include each of the varied motivations for survival, such as sex, competition, and selfishness, as being different kinds of loves.

To love unselfishly means to love another person equally to or more than oneself. Its opposite is selfish love, which means to love oneself more than others. This may seem a too-quantitative definition, referring to ‘more than’ with respect to love, when love is well known for being difficult to quantify!  I am trying here to explain ‘unselfishness’ without using the word again in the explanation. We certainly have in our loving a kind of ordering of priorities. What we love more takes priority, precedence and time over what we love less (especially when we are free of constraints). We prioritize from the delight we feel about that activity. Later I will discuss how we might come to know about our loves. In that coming to know there is also a coming to know of ordering, priority, and relative delightfulness.

That God loves us unselfishly, and that we should love each other unselfishly, is the import of the most basic religious injunctions, including those of theistic religions:

  • Judaism: “the LORD your God is God, he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love” (Deuteronomy 7:9); “The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made." (Psalm 145:9) 
  • Christianity: “God so loved the world" (John 3:16); “Love your neighbour as yourself" (Matthew 22:37-39) 
  • Islam: “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself." (Sunnah) 

The love of others makes you want to give them what you have, to make them happy and enjoy their life. An unselfish love, such as we attribute to God, promotes our being happy as much and as long as possible, and delights if we delight in our life.

Such unselfish loves are to be contrasted with selfish loves. There are many other names for them, but here note only that our selfish loves want others to delight in what pleases us. We can imagine a good king who is happy because of the fact that his subjects are enjoying their life. He can be contrasted with a tyrant, who has his own ideas about what is delightful (probably involving much slave labor by others), and who wants others to become happy by making him happy. Unselfish love has the essential characteristic of wanting to give to others what they find delightful. Most of us agree that is good to be unselfish, even if we do not always ourselves live up to this standard.

I believe that God is completely unselfish: that he cannot love himself at all. Such a 'strong unselfishness' is however difficult for us humans to comprehend.  It is, however, not necessary to go this far to draw the conclusions to be made in future posts.

Selflessness and personal unselfishness

One way of understanding the postulated unselfishness of God would be to imagine that God is a universal being who does not have a proper sense of self to start with. In this scenario God would have more ‘self-less-ness’ than unselfishness, since the boundary between God and the world could not then be rigorously defined. This comes from pantheistic inclinations and in it God is not a full person. This is an impersonal view of God.

We will see however, that the God we are talking about does have the existence and properties needed to be a person. I am not referring to a person like us and existing among us, such that we might possibly exist without him because such a God would not be metaphysically necessary. Instead, I am referring to God as Being itself, and also as Love and Wisdom themselves. These together are sufficient to make God a person, with a sense of self and a sense of consciousness as a particular person. Then we can say that God loves us unselfishly and not just self-less-ly in an impersonal manner.

Some theologians dislike this view because they formulate their postulates differently. That "God is Being Itself", for example, is taken by Paul Tillich in 1951 to imply that God is therefore not himself a ‘being’, since he is more the prerequisite or condition of possibility for any entity to exist. If God is not in fact a being, this has the consequence that God is incommensurate with human experience and cannot act in creation and hence not even love us in a way we would recognize as love.

Such a view is rejected in the theism postulated here. I argue that the Postulate that God is being itself, has a strict positive sense, and that it implies that God is the ground of all being, while still keeping God a necessary being and a person.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Arguing from 'God is Being Itself'

We want to know the basic principles that operate now, which govern all connections between God and the individual finite beings that are us. That is what useful knowledge -- science -- needs.

We will use one of the standard arguments of philosophical theism: the Argument from Being. We are arguing from 'God is Being Itself'. The argument uses Postulate 3 above, and proceeds as follows:

  1. God is Being itself (Postulate 3)
  2. We (as individuals) have being (as, we exist).
  3. Therefore, our being either is, or depends on (derives from), God (Being itself). 

This argument uses the metaphysical principle that being can only come from being and not from non-being (which is nothing). It uses the empirical fact that individuals in the world do exist. At least I exist, Descartes would claim. That is, there are some objects that are being in existence, so that we say that they ‘have being’. Then, since God has just been defined as ‘being itself’, we say that God must have some role in our existence. Simply put, we say that “We are, because God is."

This argument establishes an ontological dependence of us individuals on God. We appear to be beings; God is Being itself; therefore we appear to depend on God. Some essence of our being (namely Being itself) is identical to God. A corollary of this argument is: we cannot have our existence separately from God or derived originally from anything other than God. If we had some other kind of being, then we would still have being itself, which is God. Postulate 3 establishes that just by existing, we are dependent on God.

Of course, this does not explain the manner in which we depend on God. I state an alternative formulation (‘derives from’) in the conclusion above but do not explain that. More details will come later.


The Argument from Being does not establish that we are distinct from God at all. If we were somehow identical to God, then our being would be being itself, and our continued existing would be obvious. This argument, by itself, can lead to several non-theistic accounts of the manner in which we depend on God. For now, I only explain what these other accounts are. Only later will we have the logical means to discriminate between the other accounts and core theism.

The first non-theistic account says that all things of creation—all of us finite individuals—are in fact equal to God. This appears to solve the problem if all of us really are God (or Gods) though we simply never knew it. This is pantheism: that everything is God. An equivalent formulation is to say that “God is All That Is." Every smallest atom, every last bacterium, every planet, every galaxy, would then in fact be God. Religious life would then consist of learning (or remembering) this fact, which on the face of it is not obvious. It might be justified by Jesus saying that “the Kingdom of God is in you" (Luke 17:21) or Sankara saying that “everyone is in fact Divine." (The “I am Brahman" of Sankara (Sankaracharya).)  Certain mystical experiences, such as those arising in nature mysticism, certainly appear to show that the Divine is present in all of nature, and these can be used to support pantheism. Later I will dispute pantheistic belief. Here I only note that its simplicity seems attractive intellectually. However, most of us, on practical reflection concerning our state in the world, cannot bring ourselves to believe that we are identical with God. Our everyday world certainly seems to be far from God.

A second non-theistic account states that the everyday world is an illusion: a false appearance produced by imperfect perceptions. Reality—if only we realized it—is actually the Infinite glorious God and only that God. This account is called non-dualism, and asserts that our everyday world is maya, a veil or an illusion. There appears to be a duality between the Eternal Brahman and the world of finite creatures, but reality is actually non-dual. Only Brahman exists, and the religious task is to acknowledge that in our souls.

There are further accounts which develop some kind of monism about what exists. In Idealism, God is taken as some kind of thought (or thinker) that includes all our individual ideas that appear to make us separate. There is even a way to bring in materialism, if we take energy as eternally existing and therefore divine. In that case, God (as being itself) is identified with energy, and then, according to our Argument from Being, is the being itself of everything that exists. We see that it is sometimes strangely difficult to distinguish pantheism from materialism.

Finally, a claimant such as myself has still, with assertions like these, the responsibility of showing that God identified in such a way is identical with the traditional God of the theistic religions. From the religious point of view, it would be a failure if God turned out to be identical to eternal and immutable atoms!  Strictly speaking, logically if not theologically, that would be consistent with what has been asserted so far. In that case we could still define God in the manner of this chapter, even though God would not be a single being, and God would be distributed around all the individual atoms that somehow ‘participate’ in being itself. Individual atoms would have, say, instances of ‘being itself’ within themselves and hence be part of God. Further assertions may discount this possibility, but that will have to be the subject of discussion. Any ‘proof of God’, therefore, is not complete until we are satisfied that it is ‘our’ God who we are talking about and not other things such as microscopic atom(s). This is usually the non-trivial part of the argument. It will have to contain a demonstration of how God can be a One and yet multiple objects exist in the world.
Adapted from chapter 8 of Starting Science From God.