Evil is Autophagous

“The instability of evil,” said Whitehead, “is the morality of the universe.” 

Evil is autophagous, is self-vitiating. It subjects itself to an ontological expression of the argument from retortion. This is easy to see if we look at the very most evil acts, as murder, aggressive violence, and so forth; who lives by the sword dies by the sword, for his fellows cannot ultimately tolerate the risk he poses to them. 

Again, with respect to abortion, the logic of the gedanken policy test is difficult to assail: a society that abjures abortion will outbreed one that does not, all other things being held equal. The logic of being is such that tolerance of abortion is disastrous for the toleration of abortion. Because pro-lifers outbreed pro-choicers, the latter are going to vanish, sooner or later. That’s all. For pro-choicers who take advantage of their choice are preventing the reproduction of their view of the world. 

These results demonstrate that the order of the universe, the very math of reality, contravenes evil. We are free to conduct our lives in disagreement with that order of things, but there is no escape from it; so that such disagreements must eventually end in disaster. Against such disasters, when they arrive, any arguments we might propose will be bootless.       

Liberalism may indeed take the whole of society. Such things are possible, at least in principle. But it cannot then but destroy itself, by destroying society. The liberal society, that does not believe it is right to defend itself, will be crushed by some other society, that does.

About these ads

9 thoughts on “Evil is Autophagous

  1. Religiosity and temperament are largely heritable. Some people are just naturally resistant to liberal ideas. Chances are your children will be just like you.

    And even if they get more effective at propaganda, unless they succeed in totally exterminating traditionally minded folks, this will only mean that the resistance will be stronger in those that remain, and they will pass that on to their children.

    (And your children will be better off than you in many ways. There will be places like this to point them to.)

  2. @Kristor.

    Excellent. Very important to recognize this underlying reality.

    *

    But while differentials remain in society (e.g. fertility differentials) between those who deny and those who recognize reality; the incremental triumph of evil means that the average around which these differentials are measured is unstable, and may decline.

    So – in the West – fertility is below replacement for almost all groups, and although fertility is higher for the more-religious, it is (usually) still below replacement levels (except for Mormons and the self-isolated groups such as ultra-Orthodox Jews and Amish).

    *

    Your point is an eternal truth and applies everywhere – but the specific local conditions may make it less likely for any specific individual to perceive this truth, because evil generates evil.

    That is, destruction (obviously!) destroys, and the accumulation of destruction and tends to lead to more destruction. That is why evil does it!

    *

    Fertility is a useful variable, I find, to think about these matters.

    Over generations, the evil of *willed* (chosen) low fertility is destroying itself as you suggest. But what will replace it?

    There will be the chosen high fertility of the religious (of various religions). And the accidental high fertility of the less-intelligent and feckless.

    These demographic trends are happening very fast indeed, at a global scale.

    *

    Assuming your perspective that accordance with reality good, and vice versa; the metaphysical lessons are maybe something like the following:

    1. Any religion which leads to high chosen fertility is more-true than any ideology that leads to chosen sterility. Above replacement fertility is necessary (but not sufficient) for any religion with validity.

    2. It is better for humans to be unintelligent and chaotic than for them to use technology to suppress their fertility.

    In a teleological sense, IF groups of humans misuse their intelligence and conscientiousness and choose sub-replacement fertility THEN they will be replaced by differential fertility.

    Thus, it is better to be dumb and disorganized and fertile; than to be smart and organized and sterile – all else being equal.

    *

    But in fact all else is not equal – yet this may only amplify the argument. Chosen sterility is a marker, not the ultimate problem.

    The ultimate problem is what smart and organized people have done and are doing with their abilities, what kind of civilization they have made and are making – a society turned-away from God, distracted, nihilistic (reality-denying), hedonistic…

    The positive achievements of the West (science, technology, art, literature, music etc) apparently count for *less* than the fact that we are increasingly turned away from God. These Goods our outweighed by the evil of chosen sterility.

    *

    Evil is self destroying; our society is evil and it is will-fully (applying intelligence and working hard at the job) destroying itself.

    The West is not being destroyed by God, and could be saved if it asked God; but the West will not ask God and God would (probably) not intervene (without being asked) to save such a society from the consequences of its own deliberate unrealism.

    *

    Kristor’s argument (or his recognition) seems to lead to a humbling perspective for intellectuals.

    That – as a class – our unrealism is so abhorrent to God (so detached from reality) that the universe would prefer that we were replaced by the adherent of *any* fertile religion (which is insulting enough to our sensibilities and revealing of the depth our our depravity); and would even prefer that we were replaced by other humans who are simply too unintelligent and too chaotic in their lives to be able to control their own fertility.

    We are *that* bad!

    • Yes; so that it is possible to understand that death – of men, of cultures – can be a Godsend. Death – natural selection – is an instrument for the preservation of order and goodness. It is, i.e., a *conservative* factor, a *traditionalist* factor, in the causal order. If there were no death to limit error, there would be nothing but error; error would be exhaustively pervasive of what is, instead of (as now) only partially pervasive. This is just one way that Divine mercy is coterminous with Divine justice.

  3. 12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—

    13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

    15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

    18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

    20 The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    I ask you: do you find the slightest hint in this passage that death has any sort of purpose in “limiting error”? What is the purpose of death according to Paul? He just doesn’t say. Paul says only that as a result of Adam’s trespass, death entered into the world. And through Christ, life. I doubt there is much biblical support for the notion that some sort of redemptive or transformative purpose can be assigned to death. That the order of the world including death is somehow “providential” is an interesting concept. Perhaps a study of Calvin or even Aquinas might uncover a doctrine somewhat like this–I’m going to sit down and study the Institutes and the Summa with this question in mind.

    Can Whitehead’s philosophy have any relevance to Christianity? Whitehead’s theism takes no account whatsoever of Christian revelation. Whitehead draws directly from Plato’s Timaeus and bases his thoroughly nonconfessional theology upon that. The demiurge looks up at the forms and strives to shape the world, in its “receptacle,” into a corresponding form–insofar as it is possible. But the “receptacle” is not capable of fully receiving the forms. Whitehead offers a modern reinterpretation of precisely this doctrine–with no role whatsover for Christian revelation. the moral and political implications of this theology are basically a liberal meliorism. Whitehead’s theology is a natural theology through and through. I mean that not as a criticism but as a simple description in terms he himself would certainly accept. Another aspect of Whitehead’s natural theology is its thoroughgoing and clear rejection of the whole idea that the world is a perfect whole in which all parts fit together into a clear pattern and in which every part is a necessary component determining all other parts. Whitehead’s cosmology is one that unambiguously affirms contingency as an essential and irreducible component of reality–or more specifically, of the world as the consequent nature of God. God himself is contingent not in his original nature but in the sense that he cannot foresee the future since the shape the created universe takes is owing to the way the creatures respond to the ideals he offers them at each moment (a description which applies not only to God’s relation to humans, but his relation to any concrete entity whatsoever, including, say, quarks.). I can hardly imagine a thinker more opposed to the 18th century optimism of a Pope or an Addison.

    Now there is a possibility that Whitehead’s thought could be re-appropriated by Christian theology in some way. But what would happen to that thought if it were so reappropriated–i.e. what would happen to a Chrisian theology which affirms historical revelation but nevertheless wants to make some use of Whitehead? I don’t know. Perhaps it has been attempted. But there is a big problem here: If I recall correctly, Whitehead explicitly states that he is taking the Christian notion of the relations among the persons of the trinity and applying it to God’s relation to each and every creature. This is certainly not orthodox Christianity.

    • Jeremy, because you ask so many good questions in your comment, I am going to reply by interspersing my answers and comments.

      I ask you: do you find the slightest hint in this passage that death has any sort of purpose in “limiting error”?

      No. Does that mean death is purposeless, or that it does not in fact limit the damage that error can do? There are lots of truths Paul doesn’t cover in this passage. He says nothing about quantum mechanics in this passage, or the Law of the Excluded Middle. Does that vitiate their truth?

      What is the purpose of death according to Paul? He just doesn’t say. … I doubt there is much biblical support for the notion that some sort of redemptive or transformative purpose can be assigned to death.

      I never said it was redemptive or transformative. I said only that it was conservative of order, and just. It can be just only if it is the outcome of the operation of the Torah. Is it? “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

      That the order of the world including death is somehow “providential” is an interesting concept.

      “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore The Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.” (Genesis 3:22-23) “… for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” (Genesis 3:19)

      Can Whitehead’s philosophy have any relevance to Christianity?

      Sure it can. The philosophies of Avicenna, Aristotle and Plato all do. Why not that of Whitehead?

      Whitehead’s theism takes no account whatsoever of Christian revelation.

      Neither do those of Avicenna, Aristotle or Plato.

      Whitehead draws directly from Plato’s Timaeus and bases his thoroughly nonconfessional theology upon that.

      Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. Whitehead draws upon Aristotle, Augustine, pseudo-Dionysius, James, Leibniz, Bergson, Aquinas, and quantum physics – and the Apostle. The man read a lot more than just the Timaeus. He loved to read the sermons of the 16th century British divines.

      … Whitehead offers a modern reinterpretation of precisely this doctrine–with no role whatsoever for Christian revelation.

      The Christian revelation may be accommodated by the metaphysics of the Timaeus, and by that of Whitehead – and those of Aristotle, Philo and Plotinus – without discomfort. But in any case, Whitehead was doing metaphysics, not theology. Process and Reality is nevertheless suffused with the most delicate, tender and heartfelt Christian sensibility. Whitehead loved and admired his father, an eminent Anglican divine, and felt great affection for the Church and her Faith. He simply wasn’t *interested* in rejecting Christianity. On the contrary, Whitehead’s metaphysics accommodates theism beautifully – indeed, entails it. And not just theism, but orthodox, classical theism (however little this may be appreciated by most of his theological heirs).

      Whitehead’s theology is a natural theology through and through.

      Right; this does not mean it contradicts revealed theology. As I read Whitehead, he would have been disconcerted to find that it did, and would have understood a conflict between his metaphysics and the Christian revelation as a defect of the former.

      … Another aspect of Whitehead’s natural theology is its thoroughgoing and clear rejection of the whole idea that the world is a perfect whole in which all parts fit together into a clear pattern and in which every part is a necessary component determining all other parts.

      It is certainly correct that Whitehead is not a determinist. In this he is perfectly orthodox. Nor did he consider the cosmos perfect, in which also he was wholly orthodox. But it is not true that he thought the world to be incoherent or disordered: at each actual occasion, the Many are concresced into One, and increased by one (not a direct quote, but close; it’s from early in Process and Reality).

      Whitehead’s cosmology is one that unambiguously affirms contingency as an essential and irreducible component of reality …

      So does orthodox Christianity: the Creation is God’s free act, and the created order – i.e., everything that is not God – is entirely contingent upon it.

      … or more specifically, of the world as the consequent nature of God.

      No; Whitehead is quite clear that the world is not the Consequent Nature. The world contributes to the Consequent Nature as datum thereof, but they are distinct.

      God himself is contingent not in his original nature [properly, his Primordial Nature] but in the sense that he cannot foresee the future since the shape the created universe takes is owing to the way the creatures respond to the ideals he offers them at each moment (a description which applies not only to God’s relation to humans, but his relation to any concrete entity whatsoever, including, say, quarks.)

      This to say nothing more than that God knows the free acts of contingent creatures – that freedom and contingency being basic to Christian doctrine – as they are actual, and therefore knowable. “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) Now, while it is true that most process theologians argue that this means that there is no such thing as Divine foreknowledge, Whitehead himself did not believe this. He thought that God in both his Primordial and Consequent Natures is a single actual occasion that is prior to time; that is, in the true classical sense, eternal, simple, necessary, and so forth (so that the Primordial and Consequent Natures are like the two magnetic poles of a single indivisible particle, each implicit in the other). He therefore understood the Consequent Nature as the completed aspect of that pure extra-temporal Act of Being. It all sounds quite Thomistic to me, and Dionysian (the Whiteheadian Primordial Nature of God being the Dionysian Supra-Personal Godhead, and the Whiteheadian Consequent Nature being the Dionysian Manifest Trinity). How can God know the free contingent acts of free creatures from all eternity? Eternity does not happen before time; it happens “at the same time” as time. I address this here and here.

      I can hardly imagine a thinker more opposed to the 18th century optimism of a Pope or an Addison.

      Have you dug into Schopenhauer lately? Or Sartre, or Nietzsche? Whitehead is one of the sunniest, cheerfullest, most affectionate and irenic philosophers I have ever read. In that respect he is much like William James and CS Lewis.

      Now there is a possibility that Whitehead’s thought could be reappropriated by Christian theology in some way. But what would happen to that thought if it were so reappropriated–i.e. what would happen to a Christian theology which affirms historical revelation but nevertheless wants to make some use of Whitehead? I don’t know. Perhaps it has been attempted.

      It certainly has been. Process Theology is the biggest thing in 20th Century theology. It’s huge. Much of it is somewhat heterodox (albeit not actually heretical, I think), especially the more popular, accessible stuff; but not all. Jorge Luis Nobo has done a lot of work on showing how Whitehead is a classical theist. I agree with him.

      But there is a big problem here: If I recall correctly, Whitehead explicitly states that he is taking the Christian notion of the relations among the persons of the trinity and applying it to God’s relation to each and every creature.

      Actually, his project in Process and Reality was to try to understand God as the chief exemplification of concrete actuality. He thought that all instances of being had to share the same basic form, or it would be rather nonsensical to call them all by the same name. He argued that to be actual is to have performed an act of apprehension, and that implicit in every completed act of apprehension is an urge (which he called superjection) toward some end – that implicit in each actual entity is energy that finds dynamic expression in work, in causal efficacy, in motion. In that he agreed with St. Thomas. Whitehead’s most important contribution to the Thomistic understanding of becoming was to argue that the energy implicit in actualities consists in their beauty, so that the way they exert their effects upon other beings is by virtue of their aesthetic allure, which makes them attractive to others as models for their own acts of apprehension. In this, he anticipated the latter day notion from complexity theory of the strange attractor.

      Now, lots of process theologians have tried to map the Trinity to Whitehead’s Primordial and Consequent Natures, but I don’t think it really works. Much tidier, I think, to map Whitehead’s Natures to the Dionysian Godhead and Trinity, so that the Consequent Nature is itself Trinitarian.

      This is certainly not orthodox Christianity.

      But it is. Life in Heaven is supposed to admit us, at least in principle, to the same sort of communion as the Persons enjoy. We could enjoy it right now, if we weren’t ruined by sin.

      Notwithstanding all my responses and comments, and regardless of the fact that I do admire Whitehead a great deal, I would close by pointing out that merely quoting one of his many trenchant aphorisms did not constitute a valorization of his whole philosophy. That said, it has been a pleasure to immerse myself again in his metaphysic, and I thank you for the opportunity.

      • You have referred to Whitehead quite a bit and I am interested in just how you do relate him to Christianity.
        I need to brush up on some of his definitions. But the conflict I see between Whitehead’s natural theology and classical theism is that he denies the doctrine of creation from nothing. As I recall, for Whitehead, the ultimate constituents of the universe are God, something called creativity, and something like Plato’s receptacle. God did not create the receptacle. Or is his teaching in Adventures of Ideas significantly different from Process and Reality? This is worth checking up on again. One way of understanding natural evils like death is that the matter God has to work with limits him. This is basically different from the doctrine of the fall. Also by denying Whitehead is an optimist, I was using the eighteenth century meaning of the term, as in “best of all possible worlds.” Whitehead denies what James calls the “block universe” theory. He understands each actual entity as having a physical and a mental pole. The mental pole reaches out to the beautiful (in the sense you’ve just recalled) ideals that God holds out to that entity. The order of the universe lies in the way God limits the ideals he presents to entities. This is the explanation of natural law. If I am recalling correctly, he understands the action of every entity essentially on the model of human action, which strives consciously toward goals it envisages. What seems to be deterministic causation is really a case of limited alternatives. There is much in this vision that can indeed, in my view as well, be incorporated into Christian theology. But, again if I am recalling correctly, the response to the problem of evil that Whitehead embraces differs essentially from that any orthodox Christian theology. And, again if I am correctly recalling Whitehead’s position of what are the ultimate constitutuents of the universe that too is incompatible with orthodox theology. If Whitehead does hold to the quasi Platonic view I am recalling from Adventures of Ideas, the only way to square that with classical theism is to hold that God is not the demiurge, but rather something beyond the demiurge who himself created what (as I recall) Whitehead regarded as ultimate constituents.

      • It is important to distinguish between categorical ultimacy and ontological ultimacy. Whitehead’s Category of the Ultimate is comprised of Creativity, the Many, and the One. He suggests that all instances of being are instances of this category, in that they are each a creative synthesis of a Many into a new One. This includes God. But while God is like creatures insofar as he shares with them the character of mere existence, he is ontologically ultimate – the First Move.

        It might be argued that the Many – which for God’s Primordial Nature are the Platonic Eternal Objects of his contemplation – being the data of God’s Primordial creative synthesis, must be prior to him. In a sense this is trivially true: it must be possible for God to exist in order for God actually to exist, so the possibility of his actuality must be prior to that actuality. God himself is, qua possibility, an Eternal Object. But this does not give the possibility of God some sort of greater dignity or nobility than the actuality thereof. On the contrary, actuality is inherently nobler than mere possibility. And it is not as though there was ever a state of affairs in which God was inactual, so that it could ever have made sense to say that the possibility of God had given rise to his actuality. There was not.

        One way of understanding natural evils like death is that the matter God has to work with limits him. This is basically different from the doctrine of the fall.

        Orthodox Christian metaphysics holds that God is limited by logic. This includes the logic of ontology. God cannot make a material creature that contravenes the very logic of material existence, any more than he could create a square circle. This limitation is not however a vitiation of his power, but on the contrary is the very forecondition of power as such; it is, furthermore, an expression of God’s own Nature, as that being who is himself power as such, the Principal of power.

        But the conflict I see between Whitehead’s natural theology and classical theism is that he denies the doctrine of creation from nothing.

        This he does only in the sense that he denies that there can be a state of affairs in which there is no state of affairs. But this agrees with the orthodox doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, which says not that something came out of nothing, but that all things come of God. Think of it this way: Adam was composed of dust, but before God made the composition of dust into Adam, the amount of Adam present in the dust was zero. The dust was already there, but the Adam was a totally novel introduction into the created order, an instance of something that had not yet ever existed, so that its creation was ex nihilo. Before the Adam was created, there was dust, and God, and the possibility of Adam. So Adam didn’t come out of absolutely nothing. But God did not need to mix into the dust some pre-existent Adam-stuff in order to constitute the composition of dust as Adam. In thus sense Adam’s first arrival in the actual world was indeed ex nihilo.

  4. Pingback: Father Knows Best: Post-Election Edition « Patriactionary

  5. Pingback: What Now? « The Orthosphere

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s