Guest Post: A Scourge of Bad Theology: Overcoming the Atonement Doctrine

By Byron Belitsos

The domains once known as Christendom have long been steeped in civil violence and warfare, and even occasional acts of genocide. The scourge of war also pervades our earliest scripture. One is shocked, for example, to learn that Jahweh calls for ruthless warfare against Israel’s neighbors, epitomized by Joshua’s campaign of virtual genocide against the previous occupants of the Promised Land. Many other stories of armed conflict are found in the Deuteronomistic History. The Hebrews were frequent aggressors, but they just as often were overrun by neighboring empires. The hapless Jews fought internecine battles as well. In Exodus, Moses orders the execution of 3,000 followers because of their idol worship (Ex 32:28). And, during the harsh period described at 1 Kings 15, for example, Judah and Israel engage in an ongoing vicious civil war, with competing religious ideologies at stake.

Pre-modern Christian institutions followed a similar pattern in the name of the Christian God, sometimes called the Prince of Peace. Christian leadership fomented the crusades, the Inquisition, and the witch-burnings. During the Reformation, Catholic fought Protestant in decades of devastating warfare. In modern times, two great world wars were waged by nominal Christian nations against one another. In the U.S., almost all Christian denominations supported the War in Vietnam until Martin Luther King denounced it, and only a few church groups aggressively opposed several dozen other military interventions and the more recent wars in the Middle East.

In many of these cases, points out scholar Robert J. Daly, the combatants exceeded the boundaries of “just war” theory, while still feeling themselves to be acting consistent with Christian belief.[1] Daly suggests, and I agree, that bad theology and mistaken beliefs about God lie behind such violence—at least in part.

If indeed there is such a correlation, one source of this mistaken theology seems fairly obvious. The theological error that offers the most ideological support for structures of violence down through the millennia is Paul’s atonement doctrine, which was in turn a logical extension of the sacrificial and purification rites of the ancient Hebrews.

Here, for example, is a characteristic statement of this teaching [bold emphasis mine]: “[We] are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.” (Rom 3:23–25) Throughout his epistles, Paul points to blood atonement as a core meaning of the cross, offering along the way a wide array of creative metaphors and rhetorical devices to support the idea.



[1] Robert J. Daly, “Images of God and the Imitation of God: Problems with Atonement,” Theological Studies, Vol. 68, Iss. 1, (Mar 2007): 36-51. This compelling article by Daly inspired much of my argument in this essay.

 

The Pauline idea of blood redemption pervades the Gospels as well, where we read for example that Jesus “gave his life . . . as a ransom for many.” This stark idea can be found at Mark 10:45, who we now know in part based his Gospel after the writings of Paul. Matthew quotes this very same line at Mt 20:28, most likely copying Mark. We find blood atonement ideas in John as well, though much less so in the Gospel of Luke

The general atonement concept, especially as abstracted from Paul’s writings and elaborated by his successors, amounts to the idea that God deliberately intended Jesus’s violent death. In its most extreme form, Jesus’s sacrificial death (and his victory over death by resurrection) was seen as being planned by God from the beginning of time, or at least from the time of Adam’s default. Later theologians extended this idea into a crystallized dogma, especially in the West.

In his masterful book on the atonement idea in Judaism and early Christianity, Stephen Finlan calls the doctrine “crazy-making theology.”[1] For, if your God demands violence—if at God’s level certain acts of brutality are sometimes necessary—we humans can feel justified in engaging in violence at our level.

“No wonder there seems to be a widespread tendency to take violence for granted in human affairs,” laments Daly.[2] After all, we are to imitate the ways of our God, but must we mimic a God who demands the bloody sacrifice of his only son?

Defining the Doctrine of Atonement Classic atonement theory can be understood as God’s “honor code.” God is in charge of all power transactions with his creatures, governing their behavior as a matter of divine honor. Each time collective human sin or some other offense damages or offends God’s sense of honor, a payment to restore God’s favor must be made through a sacrifice or some form of purification. Otherwise, sinful humanity will be subjected to a divine verdict against it, and must undergo a serious punishment. For example, in Genesis, God had to make humanity as a whole pay for its corruption through a great flood (Gen 6–9).

Later in the Hebrew history, sacrifices and purification rites became essential features of cultic practice, and they often entailed extreme violence. In Deuteronomy 3:13-16, God commands that if a town worships idols, “you shall put the inhabitants of that town to the sword, utterly destroying it and everything in it—even putting its livestock to the sword. All of its spoil you shall gather into its public square; then burn the town and all its spoil with fire, as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God.” [Emphasis mine.] In other words, the destruction of the town is a sacrifice, a burnt offering that honors God and induces him to restore his favor. The payment of the sacrifice also functions like a propitiatory gift to God.



[1] Stephen Finlan, Sacrifice and Atonement: Psychological Motives and Biblical Patterns (Fortress Press, 2016), p. 120.

[2] Daly, page 45.

Other examples of this kind are common in the Old Testament. At Samuel 21, God sends a famine on the land, then tells David that it has occurred because “there is bloodguilt on Saul.” God ends the famine after seven of Saul’s sons are “impaled . . . before the Lord.” Only then does God lift the blight.

According to Finlan, “Costliness was necessary to the sacrificial gift being effective.”[1] Paul grew up amidst the sacrificial cult of Jerusalem as a Pharisee, and he instinctively understood this equation. Paul must have reasoned that, if humankind as a whole was to be saved, a very expensive transaction was needed as a payoff to expiate its sins once and for all. Otherwise, why was an uneducated Galilean—a powerless man who had been crucified like a common criminal—appear to him as a risen savior? Why else would this marginal person have to die such a cruel death, only to be resurrected?

The most effective payment Paul could imagine would be for God to offer up, as a sacrifice, his only Son. Jesus, as God incarnate, was a large enough offering that he alone could propitiate God’s violated honor. In other words, Jesus’s death was deemed a sacrifice that was sufficient to permit God to reconcile sinful humanity to himself, and thereby create a new covenant with all humanity. Jesus’s suffering was needed to save us, for God’s love alone cannot save us.

Doing Away with Bad Theology

Today many of us believe that the doctrine of the atonement through the shedding of Jesus’s blood is entirely erroneous, truly an embarrassment. How can it be consistent with Jesus’s idea of God as a true and loving Father? In effect, this doctrine teaches that God’s infinite love is secondary to a requirement for a sacrifice to appease him for man’s offenses.

No wonder these crude ideas get downplayed once a mature Trinitarian theology evolved in the fourth century. “Such inner-trinitarian tension fails to appropriate the insight that, in sending the Son, the Father is actually sending himself,” says Daly.[2] In other words, the idea of atonement is not only barbaric, but is also a monstrous logical contradiction.
It is most unfortunate that this primitive notion—that Jesus’s death is a divinely ordained ransom—gets mixed up with Paul’s other insights, many of which were brilliant. Among these is what might be called Paul’s “cosmic iconoclasm,” in the words of biblical scholar Brigette Kahl. The revelation of the risen Christ on the Damascus road, she says, exploded Paul’s universe. He will never again see the old world he once inhabited, and is blind for three days. Paul eventually realizes that God had “changed sides,” shattering the prevailing images of a divine order that, in Paul’s immediate experience, included


[1] Finlan, p. 26

[2] Daly, p 50. He goes on to say: “It might be seen as a battle between the idea of Incarnation and the idea of atonement/sacrifice. . . . What would happen if we were to remove the idea of atonement? The vibrant  Christianity of the East that, although founded on the same biblical and patristic origins as that of the West, based its theology of salvation . . . much more on theologies of theosis/divinization rather than on Western-type atonement theories.”

Hebrew accommodation to Roman rule and its pagan state religion. All around Paul were images (statues, coins, and temples) that depicted Caesar in the role of the universal Father, or pater patrie. Conquered peoples like the Jews must pay tribute to this deity, submit to unjust Roman law, and even permit Roman surveillance of their most sacred rites. As Paul sees it, the God of the risen Christ carries out a great reversal. Those who were once the enemies of this false idol of empire, the oppressed subjects of imperial rule—both Jew and Gentile—now have a much greater God who favors them instead of the rulers. The great revelation to Paul portrays to him a God of justice and mercy for all, the true universal Father. This is the original God of Abraham. This was that God who before the Law was promulgated by Moses, only requiring a simple faith. This revolutionary insight leads Paul to declare that Jew and Gentile alike are now liberated from both the Hebrew Law and the Roman oppressor through the love of God through Christ. Jesus died to rehabilitate those at the bottom of the social hierarchy, who have immediate access to the Kingdom and are justified in God’s eyes by simple faith.[1]
I would only add that this picture of Christ’s work on Earth is the kind of inspiration we need today, once we leave behind the bad theology of Paul’s mistaken atonement concept.


[1] Brigette Kahl, “Reading Galatians and Empire at the Great Altar of Pergamon,” Union Seminary Quarterly Review, 2005.

Fantasy Physics and the Genesis of Mind

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Physics rests on the “causal closure principle” (CCP). The CCP has three legs:

CCP(1): Physics comes only from physics.
CCP(2): Physics produces only physics.

Together these say the physical effects we observe come only from prior physics, and physical causes (using cause in its common language sense) produce only physical effects.

CCP(3): There is no teleology in physical mechanism, no goal-directedness. CCP(3) is something of a corrollary of the first two legs. Physical relations and interactions are either determinate or indeterminate, but either way they are not “before the fact” directed at particular outcomes.

If God does not exist, the only philosophy of mind (PoM) consistent with all three legs of the CCP is eliminative materialism. Every other nontheistic PoM that rejects eliminative materialism and accepts that mind cannot be logically reduced to physics, violates the CCP in one or more ways.

PoM theories that claim mind exists in some sense of that word, that mind is real and emerges from ordinary physics without anything “in principle undetectable” (QM aside) added to physics to make it happen violate CCP(2) but not CCP(3).  They assert, plainly enough, that physics results in something that is in some sense non-physical, but mind’s emergence is just as accidental (contingent) as all other [physical] emergent phenomena (from stars to liquid water to life).

PoMs claiming that physics is incomplete, that something else must be added to ordinary (measurable) physics to make mind emerge (dual-aspect monism and panpsychism of various sorts) violate both CCP(2) and CCP(3).

Only theism can both accept all the CCP while accommodating mind’s reality (and for that matter libertarian free will). Theism also grounds our conviction of agency which nontheistic theories universally deride. I write about theism extensively but my purpose in this essay is to show that the [supposed] problems with theism for physics and PoM are no worse than those of nontheistic PoMs. This is to say both suffer from equally serious metaphysical and epistemological problems.

Being inaccessible to empirical (or for that matter logical) demonstration (or falsification), a “God hypothesis” is a speculative solution, a curve drawn arbitrarily to fit points (mechanistic nature of the universe joined with free will for example). Other speculative solutions, so it is claimed, are equally possible and equally impossible to confirm or deny. In fact however it is more difficult than it seems to come up with these alternative solutions. Speculative solutions that fit all the points (the mind-independent world and everything in experience) and remain logically coherent are difficult to invent. Many have tried. Like theism, atheistic attempts at solving the mind problem are also data-free speculative solutions because the data, mind emerging from brains, cannot be observed!

Physicists are often eliminative materialists (nothing emerges strictly speaking) or reductive-materialists (only an epiphenomenon emerges).  Only eliminative materialism is fully compliant with the CCP and logically coherent, but it is also the solution that is most prima fascia absurd from the subjective viewpoint it denies exists! Reductive-materialism either violates CCP(2) if epiphenomenal-mind is taken to be something real or it is logically incoherent! Physics causes the external conditions of a mirage, but the illusion that is the mirage happens only in a mind. An illusion presumes a subjective experience in which the illusion occurs.

The view that a non-material mind emerges from ordinary physics violates CCP(2)! The idea is coherent because mind is not taken to be an illusion. The problem is that no physicist has ever seen a physical phenomenon emerging into (or as) a nonphysical one. We see physics emerging from physics all over the universe from galaxies and stars to liquid water to life, but all of what comes of these events (causes and effects) is physical! The retort from physics is that we do not see any other non-physical emergence because the one such thing that has happened in the universe is the very mind we are trying to explain. Mind is the evidence that physics can produce mind. Surely this argument is circular? It plainly begs the question to say that the evidence physics alone can explain the appearance of mind is mind!

There are a few philosophers who follow the physicists here (John Searle, Bob Dole among others), but many philosophers see problems in this approach. First there is the circularity already mentioned, but in addition, this solution (whether it includes a role for quantum mechanics commonly sited by both physicists and philosophers) entails that mind’s appearance is contingent. Not only might it not have appeared in the universe, something every materialist accepts, but its appearance is mysterious. The mystery applies to mind in general, and individual minds in particular. Why is consciousness ubiquitous in animals with complex nervous systems?

Troubled by these problems, materialist philosophers seek solutions that remain [purportedly] physical while, at the same time, channeling universe evolution towards consciousness and by doing so taking its mystery away. But every one of these solutions violates CCP(2) and CCP(3)! The idea that universe evolution is directed is plainly teleological! This is what prompts philosophers (and some physicists) to grasp the straw of quantum mechanics,  but this (I will argue) doesn’t help them.

To explain genuine mind in a Godless universe there are dual-aspect monisms (Henry Stapp, Donald Davidson, Thomas Nagel) and panpsychisms (David Chalmers, Philip Goff, John Leslie). Under normal circumstances both of these theories would count as metaphysical, that is not physical theories at all! They are physical not logically, but merely by ancestry. Purportedly they remain physical (or physics grounded) because their novel (never specified) qualities can only have originated in the big bang!

Dual-aspect monisms make the claim that physics is incomplete in the sense that there are additional fundamental properties in micro-physics not yet (and perhaps never to be) discovered. The physical in this view includes the mental in a proto-property form. This undiscovered addition is not conscious; atoms are not aware. Nevertheless the qualities of this extra-physics direct event unfolding towards that which yields consciousness. Working backwards from consciousness, this channeling must also encompass the preconscious stages of life’s evolution and the origin life throughout the universe. To our empirical experience, only life, some life, becomes conscious, and that only as it gains the right sort of complexity following millions of years of evolution.

If dual-aspect monism of any sort was true however, we would expect its effect to show up in the equations describing the regularity of physical evolution. There is no such term in the equations of macro physics so to say that this extra aspect of the physical is a part of physics surely begs the question.

This is why I think so many philosophers grasp at quantum dynamics to locate proto-mental qualities. We cannot directly measure quantum phenomena until they interact with the macro physical world, and quantum phenomena, technically, are not random but indetermined. Perhaps (so they speculate) we can locate the proto-mental in the difference between ‘random’ and ‘indeterminate’, in effect shielding teleology from possible detection? But surely a proto-mental is not the only possibility accounting for the restriction from random to indeterminate (see note on this distinction at end of essay).

Furthermore no one (physicist or philosopher) has been able to say what properties the proto-mental has, how they restrict random to indeterminate, or how the indeterminateness of the quantum phenomena we know push the macro universe towards consciousness. Even Henry Stapp’s “Quantum Zeno Effect” addresses only the narrow interface between brain and the human type of consciousness. Even if this speculative connection turns out to be a measurable phenomenon, no one has suggested how the physical world accommodates it. They all seem to agree that the proto-mental cannot be conscious in the sense that we experience it, but that tells us nothing of what properties it does, or even might, have and how they work!

What all of these theories entail however is that the mental (the proto-mental at least) must be antecedent to the physical! If it has a downward influence on the physical, which these views entail, it has to be ontologically real! Where does it come from? If the foundation of the universe is physical, what is it in or of the physical that grounds the proto-mental? The idea of a proto-mental here is not incoherent by any means. But it’s coherence largely depends on there being something about the fundamental ontology of the universe that isn’t physical! Moreover something that directs with intention!  Teleology is here introduced something the more honest of the philosophers admit they cannot seem to avoid.

For these reasons, dual-aspect monisms violate CCP(2) but they also violate CCP(3) because whatever else the extra might be it is clearly teleological. Instead of the universe ending in one state or another driven only by contingent process, the extra-physics channels evolution toward a specific outcome! It is therefore purposeful in the sense of being goal-directed.

Panpsychism is the converse of dual-aspect monism. It isn’t that mind builds up particle by particle thanks to some undiscovered property of particle physics, but rather it is the universe taken as a whole that comes to embody the extra physical qualities. Philip Goff (in a paper) neatly distinguishes two forms of panpsychism, micro and cosmo versions. Micropanpsychism is much like dual-aspect monism. The mental is attached to physics at the particle level but it isn’t effective except as contributor to a totalizing affect of the cosmos. Micropanpsychism has dual-aspect monism as a foundation but asserts that its impact is felt only in relation to the whole universe. You might think of this like neurons and brains. Every neuron in your brain is a foundation of brain functionality. But mind doesn’t show itself other than at the level of the whole brain, or at least large parts of it. In Micropanpsychism, the properties of the whole emerge from properties of the parts.

Cosmopanpychism abandons the dual-aspect foundation and asserts it is only the universe as a whole that reveals proto-mental properties. This view needs no micro-alteration to physics. Mind emerges from brains the way stars emerge from gas clouds because special properties of the totality, properties described by laws parallel to those of physics, are able to invoke it. Somehow, the entire universe acquires properties (usually not taken to be conscious as such) that come to direct physical evolution, and then biological evolution, towards consciousness.

This idea clearly violates CCP(3) (it is teleological) but is precisely an attempt to avoid violating CCP(2).  It is unsuccessful because the panpsychist claim is essentially that from the total state of the universe there emerges a parallel collection of qualities (properties and laws) that evoke mind from brains!  At one level or another, physics results in non-physics and so violates CCP(2). Besides Goff, David Chalmers is a proponent of this view.

For the cosmopanpsychists the “mental qualities” do not (typically) amount to the emergence of a literal Cosmic Mind, a “thinking universe”. Such a view would amount to substance dualism at the level of biological mind! But the philosophers who assert this do not, with one exception that I know of, specify what any of these properties are. As is the case with all the other theories, none of the qualities that supposedly effect the transformation nor any part of the mechanics of their interaction with the other-than-mental are anywhere given.

The exception here is John Leslie who asserts the property or quality characterizing this emergence is goodness. We normally think of goodness as a quality of the character of persons and so, by extension, of their minds. Emerging with the big bang is not only purposeless physical mechanism, but a parallel quality of goodness. A universe pushed in that direction is so pushed because goodness is a quality of it from the beginning, and mind is good!

To get the job done, any of these extras must, necessarily, be effective. It does no good to say that something besides the physics we know, something that is nevertheless physical (or quasi-physical), might or might not push cosmological evolution towards life and life towards consciousness. If the operation of these extras is itself contingent then what would be their point? To do the job they must not only have the necessary power, but that power must result in their goal-directed effect. The extra-in-physics, its goal-directedness, must be logically antecedent to the physics we measure that does not, in any aspect, appear goal-directed.

Where does antecedence come from? Since all of these philosophers are materialists, it must originate, with everything else, in the big bang. But there is nothing in the physics of the big bang that contains anything of the mental, anything of this extra there, and certainly nothing to which we can point that bears value; goodness. The big bang is a quintessentially physical event. What is  the proto-mental property in physics? How does it arise from within an other-than-mental physics and yet be logically antecedent to physics?

The extra-in-physics, under any of these approaches, hangs, metaphysically, on literally nothing! In John Leslie’s view, not only is universal mechanism goal directed, it is also moral! For him, morality happens to pop into the universe with the big bang and it is this quality that underlies drift towards the mental. How, presumably in the absence of any mind, has this direction become good? Even if it is, how does goodness effect the direction of physical contingency?

Does physics itself have an analogous problem with this last point? Where does the physical universe come from? Why is there any physics at all? Physicists have an out. They have the quantum vacuum which, while purportedly physical, cannot in principle be directly probed. This boundary layer between physics and nothing insulates physics. As concerns physics itself, and anything it gleans of quantum phenomena, the CCP is not violated. It is for this reason, I think, that so many philosophers reach for the quantum straw. We have already seen that this move is ad hoc. Moreover it goes against that which we have discovered about quantum behavior. No “mental term” is needed in the equations of quantum mechanics any more than in macrophysical equations, and goal-directedness is not implied by any of our multiple quantum interpretations.

To be fair, many of the philosophers who propose the solutions outlined above recognize that these suggestions violate the CCP. All claim (often citing Occam’s Razor) that violating the CCP is less onerous than supposing there is, for example, a God who knows the trick of making all of this work out the way it has. Working out a way, that is, for purposeless physical mechanism, mind, and even libertarian free will, to coexist in the universe. What troubles me about these philosophers is their refusal to admit that these problems (what brings about cosmological mental properties. How precisely do they interact with physics) are in some respects more mysterious than God! At least God can be supposed to “know the trick”.

Perhaps in the greatest twist of irony,  many of these minds have thrown up their hands and returned to idealism, abandoning the CCP entirely! Not only is the mental logically antecedent to physics, it is ontologically prior! The above mysteries are resolved because mind causes physics and not the other way around! The irony is that, in essence, this is what theism has claimed all along! I should not need to point out that in God’s absence, the metaphysical ground, prior to physics, of the mental is unfathomably mysterious!

How does a “God hypothesis” avoid violating CCP(1) with particular regard to free will? Doesn’t a genuinely (libertarian) free will entail (as Sean Carroll has put it in “The Big Picture”) that “mind causes physics”? In a narrow sense yes, theism violates CCP(1) but theism has an out. Mind is presupposed after all and constitutes the one exception to CCP(1) in the universe! The Theist is free to change CCP(1) to read: “physics comes only from physics and mind”. This move doesn’t help the physicalist because for her, the issue is the emergence of mind from physics without presupposing mind. They can, of course, say that mind is the only exception to CCP(1), but that surely begs the question, there not being any other evidence that physics can do this.

The change to CCP(1) is not circular in Theism. Yes mind is an exception. It is in truth a cause of physics. But here mind is presupposed. CCP(1) is not violated because mind doesn’t emerge only from physics. The exception, that part that evokes subjective experience from brain activity, comes not from physics but by some indirect route from God. It must be indirect (I do not believe God personally manages emerging individual minds) because God is changeless while mind, individual mind, changes with time. Mind’s direct source (besides brains) must be inside time.

Theism does not violate CCP(2) because physical mechanism still produces only physics. The result of mind-producing-physics, say the movement of my arm, remains physical. Theism does not violate CCP(3) because physical mechanism remains perfectly purposeless. Purpose as such remains entirely in mind. Notice that CCP(3) does not say that the physical universe has no purpose, only that the local operation of its mechanism (macro and micro)  is purposeless.

The goal of this essay has been to argue that nontheistic notions of mind’s emergence (or lack of existence) have problems equal to or exceeding the problematic aspects of theism. Let’s review.

God is a fantastical being. Positing his existence demands at the least an addition to what physicists take to be the only ontology of the universe; the physical. A God hypothesis demands that this entity has the power and knows the trick to producing the physical as well as causing minds to arise from the physical work of brains and interact downward with the material world. This mystery cries out for a physical explanation; at least a suggestion of what it is about the physical that makes that connection. Theism does not supply this physical answer, but nor does physicalism or any of the extra-physical theories covered above.

On first blush, the extra-physical ideas demand less addition to our fundamental ontology. The physicalist theories demand, if not technically an addition to ontology, at least that the physical can do that which no observation, no experiment, has seen it do; bring about something nonphysical. The extra-physical theories do demand a new, non-material addition to ontology. It isn’t God, but yet it must have the power to bring life and then mind about. Not only must it have this power, it must surely succeed. If the emergence of consciousness remained contingent and might not have happened the extra-physical qualities of the universe would be redundant. Further, any direction, anything other than absolute contingency, implies a teleology that has to be antecedent to the physics it influences!

The atheist philosophers who hold such theories recognize that they do move partway towards God (at least a Deistic version of him). In effect they are a “functional God”. But if there is no real God, then in what, metaphysically speaking, do any of these properties cohere? If you add to this stand-in the property of “having purpose”, and to backstop an infinite chain of prior cause, being first (and so uncaused) cause, you pretty much have gone all the way to God. In the end, the purely physicalist theories are nonsensical because mind is both prima facia obvious and non-physical. The extra-physical theories, if they do not need all the qualities of an “Abrahamic God”, require enough of these properties (non-materiality, purpose, antecedent cause) to be equally fantastical! When, in addition, you accommodate the problem of these mysterious properties emerging, literally from nothing, you end at a full-blown God concept that is at least deistic if not fully theistic.

Updated Dec. 2018


Note on the distinction between ‘random’ and ‘indeterminate’

The distinction is important in quantum mechanics (I believe) because quantum phenomena come out in a well known and repeatable probability distribution even though there is no reason, no cause that we know of, why they should not be actually random. An electron could, theoretically be anywhere in the universe but there is a 99.9% probability that it will be found in bounded range of locations.

Here is a mundane macrophysical example I hope captures the idea. Imagine a fair six-sided die. Any face from 1 to 6 can come up with equal probability. The die is random within the confines of possibility (even an electron cannot be outside the universe). Now suppose you have a heavily-loaded die in which two sides, 1 or 6 are likely (and repeatedly) to come up on 90% of the throws, but within that 90% a 1 or a 6 are equally likely. That die is no longer random, but it is indeterminate.

 

Prolegomena to a Future Theology

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“Prolegomena: a preliminary discussion; introductory essay, as prefatory matter in a book; a prologue” — http://www.dictionary.com

Updated in April 2019 to smooth rough edges, remove less relevant material, and shorten up.

Most of these blog essays rest on an ontology and theology but briefly explicated. I have written in more detail of it in the two books “Why This Universe” (2014) and “God, Causal Closure, and Free Will” (2016). This essay is an attempt to state it more succinctly and then clearly relate it to the rest of my interests in philosophy. In my books and essays I’ve argued that theology, and in particular, this set of theological axioms and theorems, provide the best explanations for certain aspects of our (that is human) experience both phenomenologically and historically. In this essay I’m not going to argue about any particular experience (except perhaps as example) but rather the relation between this theology and the overall viewpoint of my philosophical ruminations.

I did not invent this ontology or theology. It comes from “The Urantia Book” first published in 1955 by the Urantia Foundation and now in the public domain. There are now superb e-book versions for less than $4, one of them linked above. My own contribution is to organize but a fraction of the content of The Urantia Book’s theological system into a form that I can subsequently use (in my books and the many other essays of this blog) to relate the ontology and the theology to problems in contemporary philosophy.

Joints in Reality

As this paper is primarily an explication of the theology, I will only briefly address the ontology it implies. What follows here is not a presupposition of the theology, but an inference from it. This is to say if God is something like or has something like the positive qualities ascribed to him below, then something like this ontology must obtain.

The entirety of all that is real can, in the final analysis, be divided into three distinct but interacting domains; Spirit, Mind, and Matter-energy. It is said that “God is Spirit”, but whatever else it is that constitutes Spirit we have little ability to know. Little however is not none, and one quality Spirit must have is the power to have been the source of the two other domains.

Mind here is not taken to be individual human minds, but broadly the phenomena of mind in the universe. Mind is expressed as animal mind including the human and perhaps in other ways throughout the universe. As a domain, however, Mind can be taken to be a kind of reality as real as, but also different from, Spirit and Matter-energy.

Matter-energy is the domain with which we are most familiar because even mind of the human sort rests on top of it. It is because Mind in some sense intervenes between Spirit and Matter-energy that localized mind, the sort of mind we have, is capable of comprehending and manipulating Matter-energy relations.

Crucially 1) Spirit is the source of both Matter-energy and mind, and 2) everything that is, everything that exists is either Spirit, Mind, Matter-energy, or some combination of the three. Minded animals are a common example of the combination of Matter-energy and Mind. Human mindedness in particular is also sensitive to the reality of values, truth, beauty, and goodness. This is the only direct epistemological access we have to “what we can know of Spirit”.  It is because human mind is sensitive to values, that it can choose to be “led by Spirit”.

Theology is Realism

Modern philosophy seems shot through with antirealism which not only refuses to recognize a basis for correspondence between subjective experience and the “in-itself out there” external to it, but denies even that it is rational to think there might be a correspondence. This includes even such logical frames as the Principle of Sufficient Reason, self-identity, and the Principle of Non-contradiction. Some antirealists argue that while these three pillars of rational thought are essential to us, to making sense of subjective experience, we are not justified assuming they apply to the “in-itself external” or even that there is an in-itself external independent of our temporal subjectivity. As concerns God it simply isn’t possible for antirealists to assume they can say anything positive. If we cannot say anything meaningful about our immediate externality, how much less could we possibly be able to say about God who would have to be at a further step removed?

Any serious theology then must begin from a realist perspective. God’s existence supports a direct realism (see John Searle “Seeing Things as they Are”). If God is real, human mind can be substantive in someway or other, and can be presupposed to be designed to perceive and manipulate the structure of the world.

We are here philosophers. The point of “God talk” is to get something out of it for philosophy. Does assuming God exists and ascribing logically maximal qualities to him improve insights into other questions. What questions? Broadly, questions about the nature and origins of our experiential world and experience itself  and how the two of them go together, that is what relation or relations, do they have? Many philosophers today will say that such questions are not meaningful; they do not correspondence to anything real and therefore cannot have a truth value. There cannot be any relation between what exists and what doesn’t exist, God, with unicorns falling into that latter category.

These philosophers will say there is an infinite number of such possible metaphysical claims and no way to discriminate between them. I do not believe this is correct. Not just anything will do. To accommodate all of our real experience, sensory, intentional, directed, only some possible imaginings will work, and in particular, when you add also moral convictions like the social reality of duty, only one works. But before I can defend that assertion I must set forth the one. That is the purpose of this paper.

In what follows I use the personal male pronoun ‘he’, ‘his’, to mean God. I do this only when the reference is obvious and to avoid having to repeat ‘God’ or ‘God’s’ over and again. My use here is by convention only and not meant to imply that God is a man (or woman). The personal pronoun does, however, imply person-hood or I might have used ‘it’. This particular implication is to be fleshed-out later in the essay.

Dispensing with Arguments Against

Why do [most] philosophers and scientists say “God doesn’t exist”? There are two justifications: (1) physics finds nothing to suggest that anything besides physics exists, and (2) every “proof of God” advanced in the history of philosophy is flawed. The first objection is easy to discount. Essays in this blog address it, but the bottom line is that physics cannot hope to “find evidence” for anything purportedly non-physical. In the view of most theoretical speculation about God, his would be an existence (implying a reality) outside physics on the simplest grounds that he created physics (if he did not create physics, then he is not God). But physics can only be about the physical. All instruments, and ultimately our sensory apparatuses, are physical and can only detect and measure physical phenomena. The notion the “physical absence of evidence” for the nonphysical has any relevance to the matter of God’s existence is nonsensical. I note this does not mean that God exists either. It means physics (science generally) is in no position to say.

The second objection is more telling. Even besides physics, no proof of God’s existence (a proof being something that takes place in logic and has meaning only in the mental arena of persons) is to be had. Why? If God exists “the mental arena of persons” is (like physics), a phase of some total creation. The logical universe is consistent. Given Godel’s incompleteness theorem, it is not possible to prove every possible truthful proposition of the system. “God exists” is a possibly truthful proposition of the system that cannot be demonstrated from within the system. We cannot prove, from within our perspective, that which by stipulation if nothing else must lay outside our perspective. Tellingly, as there is no proof, there is no disproof either. God is not logically impossible.

To derive philosophical value from God, that is to justify or even suggest that assuming God exists makes sense in relation to broad philosophical questions, I proceed in a reductive style and end in an “inference to best explanation.” I assume God exists and has certain necessary qualities or he isn’t God. From those we draw consequences and then evaluate those outcomes against our experience subjective and objective. This amounts to phenomenology (and by extension all the powers and limits of language we use to discuss it) and what physics has discovered about the universe. If we get that far and none of the consequences appears to contradict our experience, the last step is to evaluate those consequences against the sum total of our subjective and collective experience. To do any of this we presuppose that we can say something meaningful about God; that we are able (again supposing God exists) to express propositions whose content could be true (not inconsistent with experience). Such propositions would have a truth maker (see “Truth and Truthmaking”) which would be God.

So we begin by supposing there is a God who is the source of being, the material universe, ourselves, and anything else there might be in whatever sense being is something real including God. God must be his own cause (or strictly causeless) and further he must be the only self-caused (uncaused) entity in the universe; ‘universe’ here cannot be merely the physical world in which we find ourselves. The physical world is underlain by space (possibly quantized) and drenched in time. God must be the source of both space and time, and thus must in some sense be “outside it”. If God is God, then he must be able to act (or by choice refrain from acting) to effect anything not logically impossible, anywhere in his creation whether at a time and place or across all time and space. A traditional miracle, might serve as an example of the former, while the constancy and universality of “natural law” could be an example of the latter. If God is real, then “to exist” entails some relation to God however indirect that relation might be.

None of this is to say that, from the human perspective, we have anything resembling a satisfactory grasp of what existence or being is like from God’s perspective. If some realm “outside time”, with God as the source of it (and himself), exists, we cannot, from a perspective within time, say anything about it. It is, so to speak, above our pay grade. All we can do is postulate its existence analogous to the way in which physicists postulate a “quantum realm”, though that remains physical. Why should we then postulate this realm? If God exists outside time, then we must include (allow for) a something “outside time” in our ontology. At the least we must propose a “placeholder”.

Whatever being is, God must exhaust it. God’s perspective cannot be perspectival. His must be the “totalizing perspective” that totalizes. If God is God, then he is also the origin (perhaps indirectly) of mind and so there is some relation between perspectival consciousness, and the creator. Whatever we take consciousness to be its existence is a part of the overall creation. The creation includes everything including our subjectivity. Not only that but it is reasonable to suppose there is a relation between consciousness and the material world it seems to sense. The outstanding problem of realism, the mystery of its representation of the material world, should not be a mystery at all, even if the mechanism remains unexplained, because God is the source of both.

If the foregoing were not the case, there would be something “more than God”, something outside God, and that is impossible if God is really God. What that means for us is that we are in fact able to say something meaningful about God even if what we say, our ideas, propositions, and so on, have only the slightest correspondence to what God is for himself. We must be able to assert true positive propositions about God even though they represent but a small slice of his being. This is not to say that everything we might imagine about God corresponds to anything real. Like unicorns, some of what we imagine about God might have no correspondence to reality what-so-ever. But all the same, correspondence must be possible.

If God is God, then being is univocal except as concerns God himself. Matter, mind, values, time, space, and anything else that can be said “to exist” and isn’t God must ultimately originate from God and be able to interact with God and itself. From the human viewpoint there can be many legitimate joints in reality: past present and future, matter and thought, natural and artifactual kinds, or universals and particulars. By contrast God knows every possible joint, and the whole simultaneously. Substances, processes and all their relations must all exist and be fully present across all time to God.

If this is all the case then it is reasonable (rational and warranted) to believe that Principle of Sufficient Reason, self-identity, and non-contradiction apply all the way up the chain of reality to God. They are structurally integral to our thought because they are structurally integral to the universe itself. Some suggest that God himself could deceive us about this, but such deception would entail a schism in reality, the nature and operation of mind would be effectively incompatible with the rest of creation violating the univocality of being. Such a God, would not be God.

To put it in a positive form everything created by God must be consistent with him. The self-consistency of natural law in the physical is one reflection of this, but it would beg our question to infer from the physical to the rest. It would be possible for the physical to be consistent and mind be inconsistent, delivering false perceptions (for example). But in fact the deliverances of mind seem not to be false. To be sure they are incomplete thanks to the limitations of our sensory apparatus, the “aspect (perspectival) nature” of our perception, and [human/animal] mind’s constraint by time. It is from these that seeming inconsistencies arise. They are inconsistencies from our viewpoint. Consciousness, in someway made to exist by God, might not grasp all universe structure (physical or otherwise). But what it does grasp is real and structured in the external (the for-itself) much as it is perceived in the internal (the for-us).

Axioms and Theorems

I will now sum all the foregoing in a few brief statements of what, positive, we can say about Deity even while we have every reason to believe that what we can say encompasses but little grasp of its full nature. If our grasp of material reality does not exhaust its being (Harman and many others), how much less of God’s reality can we grasp with the human mind? Yet we can say the following: God must be unqualifiedly infinite, outside time and space (he is their creator). He must be self-caused (or uncaused) cause and capable of doing anything that isn’t logically impossible. He must be logical and this means not inconsistent or internally contradictory in any measure.

God is not only able to act, he is free willed absolutely. Absolute here means there are no constraints on his action, and free must be in a robust volitional sense. God can choose deliberately and purposefully. Other than logical consistency there can’t be any limits to both the choice or choices God makes. Nothing limits his ability, within (at a particular time and place) or across all time, to act and bring into being (“make real”) that which he desires. He must therefore be omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, and all of this notwithstanding that he can elect to self-limit provided self-limitation is not inconsistent with his infinity. He might choose (for example) not to act in the material creation throughout all of eternity, but he cannot choose to be unable to act.

God is, in short, God. He can do anything, see anything (whatever “see” means to God), anywhere in time and across time. This implies that if there is some point (purpose) to all of what we experience and everything else there is, God knows what that point is. Moreover, in some far distant future from a perspective within time, that envisaged end point, God’s purpose, must come to pass! I can say more. Even that end point is but the completing of a phase for example “perfecting the material universe” (see my essay “Why Free Will”). God must have further purposes, infinitely many. All the foregoing, as best I can express at this point, follows from the necessity of God’s being infinite, willed, and internally self-consistent. These, in turn, imply constancy throughout eternity — which at least includes “all of time”, past, present, and future. Constancy, in turn, is chosen, freely, by God who knows what it means (omniscience) to “choose for eternity”. I want to stress that all of these qualities are theological axioms, a self-consistent system from which we can derive further (theorems) claims.

I allude to will and purpose above. God must be purposeful, have purpose (even many purposes). Humans experience includes both willfulness and purpose. Human beings cannot have what God lacks. If we are willful and elect purposes so can God and because of the infinity and consistency axioms God’s will must be unqualified (other than by logical contradiction) and his purposes consistent throughout all time. His purposes must be changeless.

There can be purposelessness in phases of the whole creation; purposelessness for a purpose. Physical mechanism, the slavish behavior of the physical world described by physical law, is properly purposeless. But the existence of this mechanism, as such, cannot be purposeless.

Purpose and will are two sides of the same coin. Even in the limited context of human will, we cannot will anything purposelessly, even if the only purpose we have is merely to exercise will. For God to have created anything purposelessly would contradict the consistency axiom. A unified God must not only have purpose, but his purposes cannot be contradictory; all of God’s purposes must, together, point at some internally consistent outcome. Further, his purpose(s) cannot have changed since the beginning of the material world (at least) nor will they change into the indefinite future. This does not mean the content of his purposes are all available to our cognitive grasp. If today humans can grasp more of God’s purpose (not that they usually do) than the human beings of thousands of years past, it is because our intellectual scope has expanded, not because God’s purposes have ever changed.

Purposefulness is a quality of mind. It is precisely one of the strategic discoveries of the sciences that the inanimate ingredients of the material universe, from its basic laws down to the behavior of stars and rocks described by them, are not purposeful in their interactions. The mechanisms of the physical world are not purposeful. This does not mean the whole (a whole which includes mind), is not “for a purpose”, a distinction largely ignored today. Life as such is only metaphorically purposeful. The behavior of non-minded life is rule governed (albeit more complex rules) like the inanimate parts of the world. Literal purpose appears only with mind. God, being purposeful, must be minded in some sense or other. This does not mean that we can have anything of a grasp of his mind compared to ours.

Similarly God must be personal. Nothing exists that isn’t related in someway to God, and that must include human beings and their minds. But there are many kinds of relations. Living entities with minds have some relation to God that inanimate objects lack. But while all minds (even animals) experience subjective relations to other minds (the indirectness of this experience is another matter), human beings experience relationships not merely indirectly but directly “person to person”. As human beings we find ourselves not only minded, but personal. As mind in general has characteristic qualities, so does personality (see “Why Personality”).  The possibility of direct relationship (distinct from relations) is grounded in personality, something humans are as well as being minded. Although we cannot find personality when we look for it [this problem has a long philosophical tradition (see also “Realism and Antirealism“)], personality has positive properties that condition human mind (see again“Why Personality”)  and we cannot have positive properties that God lacks. Personality grounds the possibility of a new relation not available to non-personal mind, a direct relationship with other persons, including the person of God.

This, by the way, is why all the pundits of the present age are wrong when they say that if we met a race from another planet we would have no point of connection with which to grasp their nature. Presumably any race intelligent and sophisticated enough to travel between stars (or even cast a comprehensible signal) would be personal. Apart from the problems of language and the mechanics of communication, we would have no problem relating to them different as their character expression might be.

God must be perfect with perfection understood in a technical sense. Because God is the final source of everything, all distinction in the universe, what is real is dependent on some relation to God. What has no relation to God (unicorns for example) is not real. From this it follows that a degree of reality, that is how real something is, is proportional to its alignment with or semblence to God. The more something is like God, the more real it is. Perfection is then by definition being exactly like God, something only possible for personalities. Why? Because even a minded entity (say a lion’s mind) lacks a connection, lacks a direct relationship, to God, the person-to-person relation that only human beings have. Again this does not mean that persons can become God. It means they can become like God in the sense of sharing the character expression of his personality.

Perfection is much broader than the previous paragraph implies. In general phenomena are “more real”, more perfect, the more like God they are. Stars and rocks are as real, as much “like God” as stars and rocks can possibly get. They don’t get any more real than they already are. Minded life is a little more like God by virtue of being in the “minded set” of things in the universe, things that share mind with God. Personally minded life is one step closer still. Personal mind has a power (several, see “Why Personality”) that non-personal mind lacks, it can elect to be “as much like God as possible”. Personal mind can choose that course as a purpose, something animals cannot do.

A rock cannot become more than a rock, and even a minded lion cannot choose to be a “better lion”, or for that matter be vegetarian. But personality adds a new dimension to the notion of developing perfection, hence enhanced reality, not only living with the personality as given, but by purposefully choosing to enhance it. A person can choose to become “more like God” than she was when she first awakened to her personal status. Only a human being, a personalized mind, can do this.

Values and Goodness

Those are the theorems. God is purposeful, minded, personal, and perfect. I have said nothing about being good. It is tempting to derive God’s necessary goodness from the axioms and theorems. Whatever else evil is, it is disruptive. Evil is characterized by destruction (of many sorts) and something positive must exist to be destroyed. So existence, being as such if nothing else, must be antecedent to evil. “God’s first thought” cannot therefore be evil and by the infinity and consistency axioms there is no evil in anything God does. We can call that good but it is a goodness that is, like perfection, true by definition, and unlike perfection, can conceivably be in conflict with our own judgement.

Perfection is abstract. It exists relative to some standard. Goodness has an emotional component that speaks for itself independent of a standard. God’s goodness is but indirectly related to our perspective, on what has goodness from our point of view. It is rather related to the notion that there is such a phenomenon as goodness in the first place.

The conviction that God is good, by our own standards, emerges first from human experience itself. The further claim that God must be good comes from that experience coupled with the axioms and theorems. The human (and not animal) experience to which I refer concerns what philosophy (since the Greeks in the Western tradition) calls VALUES. Over thousands of years of patient philosophical investigation, the values separate into three distinctive but related types; Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. They relate in that each expresses the others in some discriminable way. They are distinct because each express differently to mind.

It is an important phenomenological assumption of this theology that we detect, and not merely invent, values. But there is a distinction (rarely recognized in modern philosophy) between values and what has them. The values as such each have one another. Truth has both Beauty and Goodness for example. Besides having one another, each of the values also reflect into subjective experience in complex but distinct ways. No two persons experience (detect) them in exactly the same way analogous to how qualia vary (slightly in normal brains) from person to person.

What is important to keep in mind is that values appear to us, that is to subjective consciousness, as the conviction that these three qualities exist. There is beauty, truth, and goodness. Values as such are NOT about what is true, beautiful, or good. What appears to be true, beautiful, or good in our experience is what has (or might have) value.

Beauty expresses itself chiefly through the physical world. The perception, recognition, of Beauty in the physical world is something like a quale, like red, except not associated with individual sensory apparatuses, but with the presentation of the physical world reflected in subjective experience. It is because no two humans experience the value identically that we disagree about what is beautiful, that is, what has Beauty. We agree only that beauty exists, some things (characteristically objects or arrangements of objects) have it.

Truth is value expressed in mind as such. Propositions are true if they have Truth, but because we all sense Truth a little differently there will always be room for argument about what propositions, exactly, are true except in narrow cases, logical or mathematical propositions.

Goodness is value reflected in the acts and the motivations of persons. As non-minded life is only metaphorically purposeful, animals can be only metaphorically good. They can act in ways that, like purpose in non-minded life, are good from our anthropocentric viewpoint. Only persons can be good, can elect to be motivated by and act in accordance (applied act by act or to a life over-all) with what that person detects of Goodness; what she takes Goodness to be in a particular case. Like Truth and Beauty, those motives and acts vary thanks to our differential appreciation for what constitutes Goodness (and our skill in acting it out). Only persons can act for the sake of Values.

The values are all positive; they are a part of our universe and therefore have a relation to God. Like everything else, they must, directly or indirectly, come from God. Their detection, recognizing their reality, in human mind is therefore a detection (recognition) of some tiny facet of God’s character. Values reflect God’s character (however weakly perceived that reflection) into mind. Since God must be unified and consistent, the character of God reflected into mind must be God’s actual character. Not all of it by any means, but even that small part must be consistent with the rest. The quality of the values we recognize as such cannot be inconsistent with the rest. It is for this reason that God must be good.

Love, that is the Christian idea of agape, the desire to do good to others, is an attitude of persons that is the mereological sum of all three values. This love is not an emotion, but an expression of the flavor of all the values taken together; the flavor of Spirit!

If Truth, Beauty, and Goodness are God’s character reflected into mind individually and totalized as love why should only human minds detect them? I have noted before that a lion cannot choose to be more than a lion, but it also cannot choose to become less or other than a lion. Animal mind is impacted by truth, beauty, and goodness. But these are simply among the unified qualities, the gestalt, of animal consciousness. What it is like to be a lion includes its truth, beauty, and goodness, but they are transparent to the animal.

A lioness can choose between alternate zebras to hunt, but it cannot choose to do anything because it is good or beautiful or true. Lion mind has truth, beauty, and goodness, but only a human being can recognize their existence as such. Perhaps values recognition is something, a power, that personality adds to mind. In any case, clearly only human mind, only persons, can choose (and so act) based on recognition of the existence of the values.

Derivatives

The Problem of Evil

Does evil have a relation to God? How is there evil in a universe created by an infinite good God?  Evil is a negative, a disruption of logically prior being. The issue is complicated by the conflation (not least in modern philosophy) of accidents and error with evil. If two stars spiral together and obliterate each other, neither experiences anything let alone evil. If there was some planet, harboring living beings, close to the event, those living beings would be destroyed as soon as the gamma ray burst reached them (possibly many thousands of years after the event). Those living beings would experience the pain of being blotted out and thus evil by today’s common understanding but this is not exactly what evil is from a theological viewpoint.

Evil as such (as contrasted with the experience of its effects), like error and unlike accidents, begins in human mind alone. Unlike the Values, evil is not a phenomenon in physical space and time.  Among other things, unlike error (a bad choice made by a human mind) evil is a deliberate negation of values. Mind introduces evil into the world by freely choosing to negate the Values whether Truth, Beauty, or Goodness. Once such a choice is made and acted upon the typically negative consequences of the act on others we also call evil.

Animals experience, pain, but not that it is evil any more than they recognize that pleasure has goodness. Evil is a negative of goodness or truth, or beauty, just as cold is not something positive but rather the absence of heat. Only humans can distinguish evil as such because only humans discern values. But the unity, consistency, and infinity of God require us to recognize that evil is not something positive, but a relative lack, an absence or diminution of value.

There is an important difference in my analogy between cold and evil. In theory it is possible to have an “absolute absence of heat”, a temperature at which all molecular motion ceases; zero kelvin. But there is no analogous “absolute evil”. If evil is a relative absence of goodness, then an absolute evil would be some state of affairs that has no relation what-so-ever to God, and that is impossible. An existing (real) object, process, state of affairs must have some relation to God. A reality having no relation to God cannot exist. The further exploration of “the nature and explanation of evil” in theology is called theodicy. There is discussion of it in my books. Here I will note only that the solution to the “problem of evil”, rests on the distinction between accident, error, and genuine evil.

Holy Books and Teachers

No part of the above sketch relies on the contents of “The Bible” (Old or New Testament) or any other holy book. In this view there are no literally “holy books”, only books (some books) whose content is mostly about God. But these contents are the work of human beings. Some of this content is representative of God, that is consistent with the content of this introduction. Much is not.

If I can start from a premise of God’s infinity, self-causation, unity, consistency, and reason that a god who lacked any of these qualities would not be God, then so can others even down through history to times when people thought much more about God than they do now. But what we now can say in terms borrowed from mathematics, physics, philosophy, and logic could, in the deep but recorded past, be expressed only in poetic metaphor. He who “sends his rain upon the just and the unjust” is consistent and the phenomena of the physical world do not play favorites. He who “knows of each sparrow who falls from the sky” is omniscient, and so on.

There is also much content in the holy books that is not representative. God cannot ever have been angry or jealous (human traits). In particular, as concerns the New Testament, the Atonement doctrine, presently a pillar of every Christian variation, cannot be true. God’s relation to his creatures cannot have changed, from his viewpoint, from before the death of Jesus on the cross to a time after that event. Our view of our relationship to God can and should change, but there has been no variation from God’s side.

One can look at the Old and New Testaments together as a historical tracing of the evolving God concept from polytheism to a monotheistic “king of the tribe” to “the Father of the individual”. In between there is fictionalized history (more fictionalized the farhter back it goes), and outright mythology (the creation). All of what these ancient texts say about the mechanisms of the physical world is nothing but speculative mythology.

I note that technically this is also true concerning distant origins (big bang, emergence of life, mind) today though we can be much more sure of the foundations that underwrite present-day speculation. Some parts of holy books were written (in their time) for purely political purposes, to solidify the power of a nascent church by securing the loyalty of the flock. In the New Testament, the Book of Revelations is just such a piece.

Professional theologians also are not referenced here. Why not? Modern theology has lost its way, and become blind to these principles. For example, it has become more or less settled by philosophy that we, that is human beings, cannot make sense (do not have the necessary cognitive apparatus) of the idea that a God outside time could interact with the universe at a particular time and place if he so chooses. As a result, modern theologians, instead of accepting that the mechanism of such interaction is beyond our ken but God knows the trick, take the absurd view that if we cannot grasp such a thing it must be impossible and therefore God is not outside time and space; God is not omnipotent, or if he is, he is not omniscient, and so on. Today, such nonsense (such a god could not possibly be God) is taken seriously by most theologians and philosophers of religion. All false teachers!

These first principles enable distinctions to which modern theology is blind. For example, they allow us to distinguish between what is and what is not representative of God in the holy books that have come down to us through history; those that serve as the textual foundations of large religious institutions. First principles also let us distinguish between religion as such (the individual relationship to a personal God) and religious institutions like the Catholic Church (and all the other major religious institutions on Earth).

As holy books are just books, religious institutions are merely human institutions like corporations, governments, and other social organizations. They differ in claiming to be institutions dedicated to religion, but otherwise they are purely human and subject to all the errors (including interpretations of their founding texts) and potential evil (corruption in various forms) of all other institutions. To the extent that these institutions foster the personal relationship between individuals and God reflected in the social activity of the institution they are doing their job. To the degree that they claim a “special authority” to intercede between man and God, they are both unrepresentative of God and false.

Personality Survival

What about an “after life”? Supposedly the craving for immortality (even if impossible) has been among the drivers of all religion from the most ancient on down to the present-day. By some lights, all religion is nothing more than wishful thinking for no other purpose (ultimately) than grounding a mistaken belief in “life after death”. Theology must surely address this question. I do so in “What is ‘The Soul'”.

God and History

There is also the matter of the relation of God to human history and exactly what we are to do with our vague perception of values. Has God directly intervened in human history? How would we know? From the moment animal mind had the potential to recognize the values it became personal-mind and gained the power of choice based on values perception. That power has to be some part of the mechanism by which God’s purposes are brought about in time. See my “Why Free Will” for further discussion of this. All of this leads to a theological grounding of ethics and aesthetics, but if God is not to short-circuit free will his interventions must be subtle and few. What evidence might there be?

These are all subjects an advanced first principles theology can address. It has not been my purpose to demonstrate or prove anything here, but rather to state the first principles. I have briefly sketched the application of those principles to a few theological issues, and I have shown, I hope, that they can be useful in piecing together a new and better human appreciation of the otherwise constant relationship between human persons and God who is our Father.

Why Personality?

selfie

This entire essay is substantially re-written in April 2019 to bring it in line with the evolution of my thinking expressed in more recent work.

I am not merely a dualist, but a tri-ist. Mind is not the only substantive entity in the universe of our experience that isn’t physical. To understand why my ontology makes room for a personality who is in the human (not the animal) case the agent of free will exercise, the owner of it, I have to explain what it is about human experience that demands our postulation of it. To do this, I must begin with mind in general and not “personal mind” or “personalized mind”. The higher animals give us what we need here.

Physics cannot give us mind though to be sure it is one of mind’s roots (see “Fantasy Physics and the Genesis of Mind”). Over-all the metaphysical ground of my views on this are grounded in a theism, specifically a theism sketched here in “Prolegomena to a Future Theology”.  I am not going to go deeply into the theology here, but I must delve a little bit into mind because the point of the essay is to argue that even postulating a substantive (in a quasi-Cartesian sense) mind is not enough to account for human experience. There is something else in addition to mind. That is to say, there are certain experiences that suggest such a thing exists, and this something I call personality.

Mind broadly speaking is purposeful. Animals have purposes for which they engage in their various behaviors. They do not articulate these purposes as such but it is clear that there is a reasonable sense in which higher animals can be said to be both minded (having some content of consciousness) and “act with purpose”. Indeed it can be said that life in general, even non-minded life (say bacteria) act purposefully and indeed they do. But lacking consciousness, it is less reasonable to say that such animals “act volitionally” and more reasonable to say that human beings impute purpose to life in general. Bacteria act, but the purposes of those actions are not the purposes of an individual, as these become in the higher animals. It is consciousness generally that adds both individuality and purposefullness.

But we notice limitations in animal mind that are absent in humans. Animal purposes are always local, limited to the present time. To find food if hungry, reproduce, shelter, even to socialize, all of it for its own sake. Humans by contrast exhibit all of these same sorts of local purposes, but they also exhibit purposes extended in time, purposes for next year, or a lifetime.

Animal do not recursively evaluate their purposes. They do not abstract. A lioness, being hungry, engages in the hunt for food. She decides on the specific course that hunt might take as new data emerges to her senses concerning the presence of food. But she certainly does not deliberate on the purpose of hunting in the abstract. Humans do exactly this. We are said to be “self conscious” and are able therefore to deliberate not only on the process of executing a purpose, but on the purpose itself.

It is these qualities that signal something special about human consciousness that needs explaining in terms of how it is that human consciousness in particular has such powers. At the same time, I have to explain how it is that we cannot locate this entity in a recursive examination of consciousness. Our self-consciousness does not permit discrimination of the personal from consciousness as a whole, even in the first person!

I follow here briefly with a sketch of my theologically-grounded theory of mind.  My first book covers this in more detail, but in brief it is this. God is the source of the physical universe of spacetime. Into this universe, besides a physics of purposeless mechanism, something I have called “Cosmic Mind” is also added. Cosmic Mind is not a person, but rather a sort of field pervading space and time analogous to an electromagnetic field. Important here is that the field is in space and conditioned by time. It is non-material however. It does not convey any sort of proto-consciousness or panpsychism on the universe, but interacts only with certain complex organizations of matter-energy that we call brains. When nervous systems (of animals) become complex enough they are able to be perturbed or in some manner affected by Cosmic Mind and it is this interaction that manifests subjectively as consciousness.

This is the quasi-Cartesian aspect of my view. It is quasi-Cartesian because mind is not added to brains in Cartesian fashion, but rather emerges from brains in response to, or because of, the universal presence of Cosmic Mind. Yes, there is an “interaction problem”. As it turns out attempts a purely physical explanations of mind all have variations of the same problem. See the aforementioned “Fantasy Physics” article for elaboration on this.

The point of Cosmic Mind in the theory (it may have other roles in the universe) is to effect subjective experience in sufficiently evolved nervous systems. Brains are, in effect, detectors of Cosmic Mind and consciousness constitutes that detection. Evolving mind at first detects very little of this signal producing minimal consciousness — perhaps a “what it is like to be” a fish or a lizard. More evolved brains are affected in richer ways and the nature of those individual minds deepens.

When we reach the human level, indeed the definition of humanity from a God’s-eye-view, the brain begins to feel the impact of parts of the Cosmic Mind signal not detected by any other animals. Specifically human brains begin to detect what the Cosmic Mind signal conveys of spirit, the hypothetical stuff of which God is made and the antecedent source of both physics and mind. From the subjective viewpoint, spirit is conveyed in the form of the values, truth, beauty, and goodness.

The detection of the values by human (and not animal) mind is not an automatic “good judgement” concerning what has values; what is true, good or beautiful. It is the discrimination of their three-part existence. The “spirit component” of the Cosmic Mind signal is always there. It impacts animal mind. But animals do not discriminate it as distinct elements in consciousness. Humans do.

Continuing the theological picture, something else happens when brains and therefore mind reach this level of physical complexity and signal-detecting richness. Such minds are personalized by God directly. In the fashion of Thomistic dualism, God configures each such individual mind with extra information (a form) that becomes fused with that consciousness in such a way that from any perspective (even in the first person) it is not possible to tell what part of subjective consciousness comes from Cosmic Mind alone, and what part from the fused-in personality. No other mind in the universe, personal or otherwise, can make this discrimination, but it cannot be lost to God. He alone knows what was done to each value-discriminating mind to personalize it.

The relation between a value-discriminating mind and a personalized mind is contingent (nothing forces God to immediately personalize every value-discriminating mind) but constant. Value-discriminating minds are all and always personal, they are the minds of persons.

The idea of a substantive personality within the mind is derided in philosophy as a homunculus, a little controller commanding the rest of the conscious arena like the captain of a ship. This model proves to have many philosophical problems, but it is an incorrect model. When a captain steps onto a ship, you have a ship and its captain. The captain is added to the ship and remains distinct. But personality is not added to mind in this sense. Rather mind itself is personalized in the manner of a lump of clay turned into a statue. One does not “add statue to lump”, but rather transforms or forms lump. Once transformed, there is still nothing but a lump of clay albeit in a more structured configuration.

From any viewpoint other than God’s, “personalized mind” is still only mind. Even the individual (the person) whose mind it is cannot segregate itself from the mental arena as a whole that includes it. Even we, subjectively, cannot find personality through self-examination, because as Hume noted all we find is properties of mind. The character of our subjective mind includes it but we cannot isolate that inclusion. We do however experience its presence as a part of our mind-personality amalgam. Our minds are what they are after all, but human mind has certain capacities that mind alone (animal mind) does not appear to have.

Information

It can be useful to express all of this from an information perspective. In physics, information is another way to express the structure and function of physical things. The more structured they are, the more information they contain. Stars are information-rich compared to clouds of hydrogen gas, but in the case of stars, the information added comes from nothing more than macroscopic and deterministic behavior described by natural law. Life is far more information-rich than stars and it is not clear that all of life’s information assembled itself from nothing beyond the operation of natural law. There are those who quite reasonably suggest (having math to support it) that life’s information is unlikely to have assembled itself accidentally.

As we move up the evolutionary chain of our biology we encounter artifacts of mind. A beaver dam for example is a configuration of sticks, logs, and other natural products suitable for habitation and young-raising by beavers. We can examine such a dam and quantify the information it contains in its configuration, but it is clear in this case that the specification for that information came from outside. The dam didn’t build itself. One way or another, the specifying information was imposed on the physical ingredients by the labor of beavers. If there is something it is to be like a beaver, then that information, the information to cut and configure the trees, originated (from our third-party perspective) in “beaver mind”.

Beaver mind emerges from beaver brains plus its contact with Cosmic Mind. There is no doubt that the structure of brains can be described in information terms. Brains have all the information contained in life and then some. There are those who claim there is nothing more to mind than information coded into brains, but this is controversial. Nevertheless, from stars to life to brains we grasp that information is expressed in physical structure of one kind or another.

On my “Cosmic-Mind-Perturbation” model, can consciousness itself be understood in information terms? The structured perturbations of electrons by an electromagnetic wave in an antenna are information. Whatever goes on in the interaction between Cosmic Mind and brains it is reasonable to suppose that information is being added. If the interaction affects any part of the physical (electro-chemical) resonances of the brain we would expect to be able to measure it, though there is no guarantee we would recognize the significance of what is being measured. In any case, it does seem like the content of consciousness is information rich. Qualia in particular are often cast in terms of information.

It isn’t as clear that information constitutes consciousness per se, but as concerns animal consciousness it is plausible to say that there is nothing more there than the present content of consciousness (memories are present contents of consciousness), and so, information. Consciousness is a configured (information rich) non-material phenomenon. Lastly we come to human mind, mind plus personality. The information specified by personality doesn’t configure anything physical, but further configures something already non-physical, the emergent consciousness itself.

Individual mind, even apart from personality is likely unique. Given that no two brains (human or animal) are absolutely identical, no two minds are identical. But personality adds an extra quality of uniqueness, a unique pattern or form amalgamated with and as that mind.

We can say that personality is an additional configuration on top of mind analogous to the way brains are a configuration on top of life. But even if life origin involved some purposeful addition of information to the universe, life remains self-sustaining from that point forward in time. Consciousness, by contrast (with or without personality) is dynamic and depends on the constant interaction between Cosmic Mind and brains. Mind’s presence (at least in animals on Earth) cannot be maintained in the absence of a properly functioning brain. If the brain fails or becomes functionally distorted in some way, consciousness is impacted and in severe enough cases disappears altogether. If the mind disappears, so does its personal configuration.

The specifics of the addition being a non-material extra-configuration of a non-material entity cannot be measured by any instruments. Any third party distinction is likewise forever out of the question. Even to our view, personality isn’t segregated from mind. God can distinguish it, but we experience nothing other than the mental arena that results from the fusion. From a phenomenological viewpoint it is all “merely mind”, in the same way that a lion’s mind is all merely mind.

Personality is epistemologically transparent in the first person because we cannot distinguish its information as such. We cannot distinguish where mind leaves off and personality begins. Everything that we do and experience as persons takes place in and through mind. We are forced (discussed further below) to infer that personality must be real and distinct, ontologically, from mind as such, but even the evidence that this inference is valid is experienced only in and through mind. It is a metaphysical inference made with some phenomenal, but not epistemological support. It is to that phenomenal support that I now turn.

The Metaphysical Requirement for Personality

The evidence for our inference comes down to recognizing that human consciousness has qualities that cannot take origin in mind alone. This is the phenomenal evidence that something is going on besides mind. There are three such qualities: self-consciousness, persistence without change in time, and a partially a-temporal free will. The first and last are consequences of the personality’s separation (though we cannot discriminate it) from mind. The second quality is characteristic of personality itself.

— Recursive self-consciousness

Animals experience contents of consciousness and can evaluate those contents. They have limited free will. A lioness can choose between two zebras, one a bit nearer but appearing younger and faster than another somewhat farther away. She is quite able to evaluate both and make a decision (perhaps in error) concerning which is easier to catch. But the lioness is not able to evaluate consciousness as such, she merely accepts its nature and content as given. Only humans are capable of making this second-order evaluation and we are able to make it because our consciousness contains the extra personal information. Although we cannot find that extra information, its presence enables recursive evaluation analogous to the way having two eyes gives us a direct perception of depth in three dimensions.

Self-consciousness is the most uncontroversial of the three qualities personality contributes to consciousness. That is, it is uncontroversial that we, humans at least, are self-conscious. There is some dispute over this matter as concerns some animals, but I believe that these cases constitute a reading-in, an anthropomorphic imputation similar to metaphorical imputation of purpose to simple life. Most of this controversy comes from observation that animals exhibit complex emotions including feelings of compassion, affection, and even awareness of the possibility of other selves when they are not immediately present to the senses. At the same time, there is no direct evidence of self-evaluation.

In humans self-evaluation seems to compel attempts at expression. It is one of the drivers of language development. We see no evidence of a “compulsion for expression” in any animals. Animals who have shown remarkable ability to acquire human languages do not seem to use what they acquire to construct abstract propositions concerning consciousness itself. If an ape, taught to spell English words, in blocks wrote out “is my green the same as your green?” I would have to modify my view here.

If from our viewpoint we cannot discriminate personality from mind what then is contrasting about it to us? Self consciousness is an automatic consequence of there being this amalgamated pattern. The signature quality of personality itself is its changelessness. Even Cosmic Mind lies inside time and is subject to it. Mind, our mind’s, change over our lifetimes. Personality, the specific pattern or form amalgamated with a temporal mind never changes.

— Changeless identity

The person of God is changeless absolutely and for all eternity. He (perhaps with his two coordinates in the Trinity) is the only literally changeless entity in the universe.  This needs some elaboration. Persistence in the material universe is not ever absolute. We say that material objects persist even though we recognize that they slowly undergo change over time. Not only material objects, but consciousness too changes with time. The contents change of course, and the overall quality of the arena undergoes change as well. Yet the part of the “personalized mind” recognized by God as the person never changes and this self is but vaguely sensed by the subject as that entity takes and has taken ownership of that conscious life in and through all of the changes it otherwise undergoes.

There is no direct third-party access to subjective consciousness. To phenomenal experience, the person, my “I” is even more private than consciousness. I can to some extent examine my own mind, but even I cannot examine my personality distinct from that mind. Yet the amalgam  does provide a distinct experience that is independent of what does change, our character, that which we express. Character can be measured. It is the expression, the output, of the internal personalized mind acting to control a body, evolving and changing along with everything else in the universe.

Anything about a human being’s behavior or inner state that can be observed or queried (e.g. “personality tests”) comes under character. None of it, internal (a sunny disposition) or external (observable behavior) is personality as I am using that term. Because consciousness (and more obviously the body) changes, character changes.

The persistence of a changeless self throughout the history of that character is even more invisible than the presence of a consciousness behind its expression in character! But the owner of those changes remains the same and is aware of being the same throughout. Despite having traversed many changes in character (and physical characteristics) over the course of our lives we are perfectly aware, under normal circumstances, that the same person owns all of those changes.

In theory, if we had an instrument that could measure, perhaps make graphic, a subjective viewpoint without personality, and then the same individual mind personalized, it would be possible to subtract the first measurement from the second and identify what it is about consciousness that constitutes its personalization. That is, it would be possible to recover the information difference between the two. But there is no such instrument nor can there ever be because the only detector that exists in the universe for this phenomenon is the personalized mind.

There is yet another reason why such a subtraction would not be possible. Human mind, mind capable of detecting value, is always personalized. Value detection (or its potential) appears to be the necessary and sufficient condition for the immediate awarding of personal status. This is another one of the reasons for the phenomenon’s epistemological transparency. We cannot have even a memory of a time when our consciousness was not personalized.

The quality of changelessness has everything to do with our (that is human) relation to time. Humans alone among the animals can project purpose into the future as such or act for the sake of the past. We can do this thanks to a fixed reference available as a temporal background in our experience. There are examples of what appears to be such capacity among the animals; squirrels storing nuts in the fall to eat in the winter come to mind. But I question whether the squirrel is projecting a purposeful self into a future time or merely following biological imperatives at any given time-of-year.

Humans uncontroversially project themselves, their “I” into the future and choose courses (in the present) to affect that future as such. If I am a competent architect with many successful projects, I do confidently project myself, that is the same self that today begins a new project into a future time when that project will stand completed. Of course I understand that contingencies beyond my control might block the future I envision. My present choices do not determine that future, but much experience supports our confidence that we can, under most circumstances, bring about that which we project and that the same “I” will own the completed project in the future as now takes ownership of its beginning.

Many people tell me that their person is not changeless. They look back and remember themselves as much younger people and declare that, of course they have changed since then! But when I point out that they also remember being the person who was once “that way”, the person who owned those differences at an earlier time they admit that this is so, but attribute this seeming merely to memory. This is not correct. They are confusing character with personality. Yes, their character has changed, and yes, they remember their old character. But they are also aware that a single entity has been present throughout those changes, an entity that owns and is responsible for them all. That thin sense of “awareness of sameness” is our only direct phenomenological handle on personality.

Memories are, as it were, complicit in our sense of changeless ownership because even that sense is had in and through consciousness. Personality is the core of our sense of changeless ownership, but it is that plus memories and synchronic (moment by moment) awareness that constitute the sense of identity as a gestalt. That memories are not the sole source of our identity is demonstrated by wide gaps (years perhaps) in memories of early childhood while we yet we retain the sense of ownership over those coming both before and after the gaps.

Even when my memories of some particular event completely disappear, for example as concerns my very young childhood of which few memories remain, there is nothing in my experience to suggest that I was literally a different person at that time. We have a very strong intuition that in that past we were still the same self as we are today even if everything about that self, memories, character, etc, have changed. But memories are important to our integrated mind/person sense of self. Without them, the personality has no purchase on what, exactly, it is a changeless core of…

— Free will

Free will is a power of mind. It is mind’s capacity to initiate causal chains in the universe that are both volitional and purposeful; causal chains that are not fully determined by prior physics. Higher animals have it. Human mind, has the capacity to discriminate values (truth, beauty, and goodness) and thus can exercise free will with respect to them. Animal mind is in someway affected by the values but they cannot choose with regard to that which they cannot as such discriminate.

Animal mind however is temporally constrained in two ways, human mind only in one. Humans and animals can exercise will only in the present. In addition, animals can only exercise will for the sake of the present. By contrast, humans can exercise will for the sake of the past and especially for the future. Like self-consciousness, this difference in human consciousness is a function of personality’s being there, in this case, of its changeless persistence. We have a binocular appreciation for the depth of time because we have a reference, a thin awareness of changeless ownership of our experience beginning sometime in the past.

This awareness of ours has both a qualitative and quantitative character. As we “grow up” we are qualitatively aware of a significance to larger intervals of time. We are quantitatively aware of the magnitude of the interval through we ourselves have passed. We can be aware of these things because we have a changeless reference providing the temporal contrast to present experience.

The future has been open since the big bang but not until consciousness comes along is there something in the universe that can take advantage of its openness. Not until personalized consciousness comes along is there something in the universe that can freely elect purposes with which to direct action having only a contingent relation to the present in which the choice is made. We must begin somewhere to constrain the future and shape novel outcomes that are the end-products of those purposes plus our skills in acting over time to fulfill them.

This sort of freedom, not only the freedom to choose but the freedom to choose for the future cannot come from physics in which no mechanism, individually or in their totality, exhibits any present let alone future oriented purpose.  Because our (human) partial-temporal-liberation is a function of personality’s changelessness, it can have only one source, a “changeless God” who can ground (is the only possible ground) that changelessness. God is the direct cause of personality.

The metaphysical inference

Neither of the three contributions of personality to consciousness appear to exist in animal consciousness. If consciousness is an emergent combination of brain resonances and Cosmic Mind, personality is a further information imposition on that consciousness. From our viewpoint, it all just looks like consciousness. Only God knows what part of our phenomenally unified consciousness is “the person”. That explains personality’s “epistemological transparency”.

Constancy is nowhere to be found in the physical universe except in personality. That constancy is personality’s distinguishing passive characteristic. Changelessness in time, in turn, sets up our capacity to understand the relation between past, present, and future. Our fixed point of temporal reference in the past that permits projection into the future. Animals have only the present and memories. It isn’t clear that their memories engender any intellectual sense of an abstract past in animal experience, but clearly we have one.

Self-consciousness is a property of the relation between personality and consciousness. Personality provides the contrast, the transcendence, needed to reflexively examine our own consciousness. What we find in that examination is of course partly the person indistinguishably (from the subjective) fused with the consciousness being examined. But that we have this recursive ability at all can only be because something about the fused entity transcends consciousness simpliciter. Changes in the content of consciousness of all kinds can be viewed abstractly thanks (in part at least) to the contrast generated by personality’s constancy. Finally, a temporally liberated free will is personality’s distinguishing active power. Persons are free to become purposeful original-causal agents and elect to effect (attempt to effect) temporally distant purposes.

Personality therefore belongs in our ontology. It must be real even though we cannot identify it directly and it must come from God because he is the only possible source of changelessness. It is transparent, in the final analysis, because nothing distinguishes from the mind gestalt in subjective experience. Personality permits mind to recursively examine itself, but there is nothing further to provide contrast to personality — and this puts paid to the homunculus problem. We experience it only within the fused whole of our consciousness.

In a wider theological context there is more to be said about personality, but that “more” has nothing to do with our present [phenomenal] experience of it, but other inferences that can be made from its existence and origin. I discuss one of these in another essay. see “Why Free Will?” 

Why Free Will?

selfie

Let’s begin with physics. I love physics! The mechanisms underlying the physical universe in which we live are fascinating to me. What most strikes me about these mechanisms is that they are purposeless. Underneath the deterministic behavior of macro-physics (expressed today in classical Newtonian Mechanics, electro-magnetic field theory, and both special and general relativity) there is the quantum realm in which a true randomness replaces determinism. This is important. Randomness becomes determinism as quantum phenomena emerge into the classical. Neither exhibits any evidence of purpose in its mechanism.

Authors note: Since writing this essay I have come to learn and understand that quantum phenomena are not random, but indeterminate. The difference is technical and has to do with there being a definite and determined statistical distribution of quantum outcomes. The outcome is NOT determined, but the distribution of outcomes is. That’s indeterminate! The argument in the rest of this essay does not, however, depend on this difference.

If there is any evidence for the existence of God it does not come from physics. Oh we can observe the universe, note its fantastic propensity for delicate structure from strings of galaxies to the operations of the living cell, recognize beauty in it all, and suppose that all of this was brought to be in a purposeful way by a God having some purposeful end in view. As it turns out, this association might be true and not interfere with the progressive discovery, by physics, of purposeless mechanism. We attribute to God the power to paint his purposes on the canvas of purposeless mechanism. But when we get down to the physics of it, we discover not that God couldn’t do this, but that God’s hypothetical purposes are not needed to explain the effect. Gravity, heat, and the values of the physical constants together can get the job done. Of course that these things got this particular job done (including life and what has followed from it), and not some other less amazing result, was simply an accident as far as physics is concerned. But that’s ok. Physics’ job is to uncover the mechanisms, not to pronounce upon their justification in a wider context.

The evidence for God’s existence, if it comes from anywhere, has to come from consciousness, the fact of a libertarian free will (at least in persons), and the detection of values – truth, beauty, and goodness. All of this is discussed in far more detail in two of my books (published in Amazon Kindle format), “Why This Universe: God, Cosmology, Consciousness, and Free Will” (2014) and “God, Causal Closure, and Free Will” (2016). I’m not going to reprise those arguments here. Let’s assume that what I take to be “evidence of God’s existence” really is the evidence we need, at least provisionally, to accept God’s reality. The question I want to address is what the combination of a purposeless physical and libertarian free will accomplishes and how it helps to answer the question, why this universe? Why are free will and purposeless mechanism juxtaposed?

The Nature of Free Will

Free will comes down to our capacity to initiate novel chains of causation in the physical. Chains whose beginning cannot be attributed to an infinite regress of physical causes. The higher animals also have something of this power, but human-initiated causal chains, are novel in a much stronger way than chains initiated by animals. If a lioness hunts and kills a zebra for food, feeding parts of the carcass to her cubs, there are causal chains precipitated from those events, chains that would be absent if the lioness misses the zebra(or chooses to leave it be), while other causal chains would ensue – perhaps her cubs would starve. Animals can manipulate purposeless physical mechanism to initiate different futures by manipulating pre-existing agents and processes. In doing this, they introduce purpose into universe process. For animals, such purpose is limited to manipulating what already exists. The zebra already exists when the lioness sees it. She can leave it alone or hunt it. If she hunts it, she can succeed or fail. The result is a still-living zebra, a dead zebra, or a tired (but still living) zebra. None of these things would be new in the world.

Humans can also manipulate existing objects and processes in this way, but we can do something animals cannot. We can create genuinely unique objects and processes. These begin with ordinary pre-existing things, but we are capable of assembling such things into new things that did not exist before. Human initiated causal chains not only rearrange what existed prior, but from that re-arrangement build up new things whose effect on the world is entirely novel, an effect that never existed prior to the object (or process’s) creation. Human purpose imposes an entirely new level of order on deterministic physics, an order that did not exist prior to its imposition. Human choice, the capacity of human free will to create new realities, novel orders on top of deterministic mechanism, is novel in itself, something that is not exhibited in the rest of the animal kingdom.

Let’s imagine an analogy. God is a master artist, and we are his beginner student. The master can work in any medium, any paint, on any surface, sculpt in stone, clay, or bronze, compose and play magnificent music in any style, write masterpieces of literature, write, produce, and act in dramatic work. One might notice right away, that art is in fact one of the channels through which humans use free will to create what is new, but here the art analogy stands for novel creation in general. As beginning students of our master, we are given only one medium on which to create, a canvas which happens, in our case, to be a purposeless physics. Further we are given only one physical instrument with which to create, that being our bodies. It’s pretty obvious how the analogy goes. We impose purposeful order, the purposes being chosen by ourselves (freely) on the canvas we are given, the physical universe, with the only instrument we have, our bodies – and other instruments that we create using them.

But what purpose are we to impose? What are we to create on the canvas that surrounds us? We began by creating simple tools, stone axes, and clothing. A million years later and we have reached atomic bombs, aircraft, computers, vast scientific instruments, medicines, and more. Much of what we have created has, over all, benefited human life on Earth, or at least some portion of it. Much of course has brought also misery on a scale not imagined by our stone-axe-weilding ancestors. Here is where the values come back into this picture. In the theistic view, values, truth, beauty, and goodness, are not invented in human minds, but detected by them. They are the compass, the suggestion from the master (keeping to the art analogy) as it were, for what sorts of novelty we are supposed to create. But for free will to be genuinely free, the master is allowed (in God’s case restricts himself) only to suggest what we create and never dictate it!

Why not? Surely many masters dictate to beginning students. Here I have to leave my teacher-student analogy. In our real case, in the real world, the decision as concerns what to create lies only and exclusively in our will. Why should that be? Given that this can, and has, resulted in much misery throughout human history. Couldn’t God have arranged everything so that we were free in just about anything except as concerns the kinds of choices; choices that initiate causal chains having direct and deleterious impact on other human beings? I have to suppose he could have so arranged things, but the restriction must have an impact on the intended outcome (and God would know exactly what the difference would be) such that it wouldn’t work out to be what God intends.

How can we begin to say what God intends? In fact though, supposing God to be both infinite and [infinitely] good, allows us to say something at least of what must be true of what God wants. It must be the most repleat possible manifestation, in the physical, of his values which for now we know only as our dim detection of truth, beauty, and goodness. In theological circles this is expressed by the phrase “best possible universe”. Whatever else he might want, God must want the “best possible universe” that can be made. Clearly this is not the case now, at least not on Earth. This place is literally hell, tormented existence, for billions of people alive to day, and countless more who have come and gone since human history began.

Of course we do not know the status of life on other worlds, but a generally inhabited universe is easily supported by theism. More importantly, even as concerns this world, time must be factored into the eventual emergence of “best possible universe”. Apparently, at least God apparently thinks so, the best possible universe emerges over time when human beings, of their own free will, choose purposes and create based on what they perceive to be alignment with the values! What God wants is that world that results from that choice when the choice is utterly free. Apparently, those people will live in the best possible universe and it will be better, even than a universe that evolves through the same amount of time but in which humans were not free as concerns value entangled choices.

So there we’ve got the whole thing sort of summed up. To make the “best possible universe” human beings, all of them and for all future time, must (and will eventually) choose to align themselves with the values, with truth, beauty, and goodness, and all of that happens to come out to God’s will (metaphysically) and love in human experience. God could, by himself, have created a fantastic universe. But what seems to be the case is that an even better universe can (and will) come from a partnership between God and creatures who detect values and freely choose to incorporate what they detect in the causal chains they initiate. This cannot come about unless human beings are actually free to make those kinds of decisions. That means they are free not to make them, and that, in turn, leads away from the best possible universe, at least temporarily. I will return to this last point below.

The Relation between Free Will and Values

I want to say something more here about values, in particular how and why they figure in this process of human instantiation of God’s will. Three things are traditionally taken to be values as such; truth, beauty, and goodness. Separately, they are the root concepts of three major branches in philosophy, epistemology, aesthetics, and ethics respectively. Within these separate domains there are outcomes or instantiations within the world of values, and these outcomes are taken to be “of value” because they do in some sense embody one or more of the core values. A true proposition is “of value” because it instantiates truth, fairness is “of value” because it embodies goodness. Beautiful things are “of value” because they are beautiful, etc. Truth is value in the intellectual domain, beauty is value represented in physical, while goodness is the value of personal choice, the value of interpersonal relationships.

Taken together, all the values raise the same metaphysical question: from whence do they come? In rejecting any theological metaphysics, most philosophers assert one or another version of human invention of values. Phenomenologically, they are entirely subjective although it might turn out, as we share much of our phenomenology, that they come out roughly the same in most persons. Their subjectivity is under normal circumstances constrained to a range. Your notion beauty might be different than mine, but it is rare that I would find beautiful what you find repulsively ugly. Truth we normally take to be somewhat more objective, less tolerant of subjective interpretation, while our sense of goodness falls somewhere in between beauty and truth. This view seems to explain how it is that while most persons seem to have some shared sense of values, many do not. Not only are there persons who perceive values in almost exclusive terms, there are those who do not appear to respond to them at all.

Importantly however, as much as philosophers have tried to ground “objectivity of value” on our shared biological experience, such grounding offers no reason why any one individual should pay attention to values. If on the whole the universe is purposeless, its only purpose being our purposes, who is to say that your purpose, to love others, is any more right than my purpose, to make all people my slaves? You might argue that more people will come our happier given your purpose. I might even concede your point but note that if values are invented by us, in the end, the happiness of the many is not any more intrinsically valuable than the satisfaction I derive from being slave-master of all. As concerns the purposeless universe, from my viewpoint, neither outcome is intrinsically to be preferred. If values are metaphysically subjective, the happiness of others can be justifiably irrelevant to me.

As already noted, in the theistic view values are not invented they are detected. They are extrinsic to us, a signal as it were from God, detected by human (and not animal) minds. Now as it might happen, minds are not equally sensitive to this signal, sometimes altogether, and sometimes separately. This explains some of the variation we have as concerns them, but more importantly, however well we perceive them, we are free to ignore them and this explains the rest. Of course our detection capability is imperfect as is our capacity to effect what we detect on the universal canvas. Importantly, value’s metaphysical objectivity provides the reason why any given individual should pay attention. Your purpose to love is in alignment with God’s will, while my purpose, to make slaves of all, is antithetical to it! “Knowing the end from the beginning” God’s will must eventually come to pass. Your free will choices are dedicated to assisting in the bringing about of that end, precisely the use God (apparently) forsees will result in the best possible universe! My will, by contrast cannot possibly contribute to that inevitable outcome. It must be, that while I might appear to gain something for a time, that which is gained has no intrinsic value. It incorporates nothing of truth, beauty, or goodness. This has consequences not only for others made miserable, but for me. I will deal with some of these issues in a future essay.

There is another important property of our relation with values. Our value-entangled free will choices are the only choices about which we are absolutely free. As such, they are the crucial link in the chain of process that (apparently) brings God’s will into the world; evolving purposeless mechanism into the best possible universe. All our other non-value related choices, while yet free, are hemmed in, constrained by what we can do physically with our tools. Only as concerns value-laden choices are we free in an unconstrained sense. It is with respect to this freedom that we become agents of the connection between God’s will and the physical universe. True our capacity to instantiate value in the physical is limited by all the constraints that limit our other choices. We can act only with our bodies and the tools created with them. But the choice to attempt that instantiation (or to refuse to do so), however imperfectly, is radically open. The best possible universe not only requires freedom, it requires radical freedom. Given that we are otherwise constrained to the physical, it is only with respect to value-entanglement that we are radically free. It isn’t merely through choice that we incorporate God’s will into the world, it is through choosing to instantiate the values! They are the link that connects God’s will and purposeless mechanism with human freedom. It is by following their compass that human choices remake the world over into God’s image of what must be the best possible world.

None of the foregoing is meant to suggest that the process of human partnering with God in the making of the best possible universe is straight forward. Although we are radically free with respect to the choice to attempt some mapping of value as we perceive it into the physical world, the process of carrying out that decision depends on our skills utilizing the same tools, starting with our bodies, that we employ in carrying out any other action-demanding decision we make. As concerns the individual’s relationship to God it is said that only the motive of the agent is important. An omniscient God knows us each most intimately, and would be an unfailing discerner of motive. The consequences to the individual of such choosing can be the subject of another essay, but I note that as with many kinds of physical action, practice contributes to skill.

As concerns the world however, that is as concerns the effect of some individual act on the world, much depends on both the skill of the actor in effecting the action, and also on the state of the world (including other actors) in which the action is set. Although this last is outside the control of the actor the two arenas do interact. A part of what constitutes skill with respect to a particular act at a particular time takes the state of the world into account up to some limit of which the actor is capable. I’ve already noted that we do not detect value perfectly. As some people have better eyesight than others, some are better value detectors. Detection capacity contributes to an individual’s skill as concerns value instantiation, but it is the state of the world that underlies the apparent relativity of values as they manifest in the world.

Any attempt at value instantiation that impacts more than one or a few near-by persons comes to interact with a wider milieu of states and personal actions that affect its outcome. On a crowded world, vastly different economic, social, political, and geographic circumstances, along with their specific outworking as concerns any particular individual, guarantees that no attempt to do good, avere truth, or enhance beauty will have straight forward and universally beneficial effects. This can be true even as concerns two individuals! If I give some money to two hungry people on the street one might buy alcohol while the other buys needed food. True I might have been more skillful in my choice of action, perhaps bringing food instead of giving money, but even in this case I have no way of knowing (unless I subsequently follow these individuals) how my megar attempt at bringing some goodness into the world plays out.

On larger scales the problem becomes more severe. Ethiopia wants to dam the headwaters of the Blue Nile, electrifying parts of the country for the first time, bringing economic opportunity to millions. But if the dam is built, the flow of the Nile will be much reduced and those nearer the mouth, in Egypt, will loose economic opportunity and their food supply as the river level falls. These kinds of problems are playing out all over our world, and anything the world community agrees to do as concerns these things invariably helps some and harms others. This would remain true even if the community’s motives were purely moral. As it happens, many more motives are typically involved.

The values are not a formula for success in building the best possible universe. They are a compass pointing in a direction but otherwise incapable of yeilding specific measures having desired outcomes. Those measures, their implementation and adjustment as one comes to know their outcomes, is our collective task. The compass is important however, and for reasons noted above recognizing its objectivity is also important. But all of that only gets us to justifying the demand for action and that the action be motivated by a desire to benefit those affected. The rest, the creativity, will (personal, economic, and political), and specific action to take are all entirely up to us. Not only is it our mission (at least as concerns God’s intent) to bring values into the world we must learn progressively how to do it! Part of that learning experience involves comparing outcomes of acts back to the compass! But this would make no sense, it would not be guaranteed, or even likely to work, if the compass were not objective.

Theodicy: Free Will and Evil

I have covered this subject in great detail in my first and third book. Here I can only summarize it all. Philosophers divide this problem into two parts, natural and human-caused evil. Natural evil is an oxymoron. The universe God needed includes physical events (for example stars exploding, earthquakes, and naturally-evolved diseases, that harm (or can harm) human beings. Death by gamma ray burst, earthquake, or disease are all bad for us, but they are no more technically evil than are the natural events that give rise to them. No one would assert that an exploding star is morally culpable.

Philosophers also accuse God of being evil for just this reason. Why would he create a universe in which such processes harmed human beings, or for that matter any sentient beings? Consider that the meteorite that ended the dinosaurs was very bad for them, but without those animals disappearing from the face of the earth we likely would not have evolved. The universe God needed, where an animal capable of perceiving value and freely choosing to instantiate it, who evolved through purposeless physical mechanism, could not function if the same mechanism that gave rise to that animal could not, sometimes, also destroy it. The “accidents of time” are not as such evil. An earthquake that kills people is no more evil than an earthquake that doesn’t, either because people have learned to mitigate its effects (earthquake-proof buildings) or because no people happened to live where it occurs. Either way, it is just an earthquake. Remember also that there are other aspects to this theology, personal-survival of death (see “What is the Soul”), but lets move on.

Besides natural evil, human beings also cause harm to other sentient beings, humans included. Philosophers call all of this evil, but they fail of a crucial distinction here. Humans cause harm in two ways. One is by making mistakes. We make decisions and perform actions, both moral and amoral,  that cause harm to others because we do not have a full understanding of the future consequences of our actions. It is not our intent that these actions subsequently cause harm, but they do. Mistakes are not evil, they are just errors.

But there is another category. Human beings can deliberately and freely choose to do that which we know is a mistake, or what we know is “morally wrong” in the sense that it is an action in opposition to the value pointer. These actions are true evil. It is through error, deliberately and knowingly chosen, that evil enters the world. It is for this reason that free will is so intimately related to both the building-in-partnership-with-God the best possible universe, and to the degradation of any progress made in that direction, by the willful choice to contravene it. That choice is evil.

My view has been criticized on the grounds that “death is death” whether from earthquake, some error, or evil. This of course is true, but not to the point. Theology coheres together as a piece or not at all. Death from any source is temporary (see above link on the soul). What is important about the difference is that with evil human will is being freely (willfully) deployed in opposition to the direction of value compass. Because free will is so deployed there are consequences in addition to whatever might have stemmed from the action had it been purely a mistake.

Besides those impinging, psychologically and spiritually, on the person who commits evil, the consequences of evil are sociological. They impinge on human life in ways that error alone does not. They are, for example recursively reinforcing (one evil act leads to others by the same agent and others) where error is recursively-correcting. Agents, including the agent committing the error, tend to work toward mitigating the bad effects once they are known. Errors serve to teach. Evil can also serve to teach, but typically those who commit it resist such teaching and it is left to others, using their free will, to mitigate its effects.

To make the [future] “best possible universe” God juxtaposed free will and purposeless mechanism in a physical universe capable of evolving value-discriminating mind. He could not do this without allowing that sometimes the physical mechanisms destroy the very minds (and bodies) that evolve from them. In the same way, he had to allow that free will might, if it was really free, be deployed in direct opposition to the universe plan.

The plan must eventually come to pass and be completed. That means the consequences of evil can only be temporary albeit from our viewpoint can extend in time over multiple human generations; all a blink-in-the-eye from God’s viewpoint. As concerns our agency, God must permit much more than he himself wills if free will is to be genuinely free.