What Is It Like To Be Uncaused?

The problem of free will is that to the extent that our acts are uncaused, they are irrational, but that if they are wholly caused (ergo wholly rational), then they are not free, but rather are straightforward functions of their causal inputs – in which case, they do not actually exist as entities disparate from those inputs.

It would seem that if we are somewhat free, we are to that extent irrational. There’s the rub.

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True Gnosticism

As with any other resilient heretical or erroneous doctrine, there is a kernel of truth at the heart of Gnosticism: namely, that if you are *merely* worldly, then the world is indeed truly evil, and with it the whole of our existence in it. By itself the world cannot but redound to its own corruption and eventual certain dissolution, rendering all creaturely suffering endured along the way completely pointless, base, and stupid. Mere worldliness is no more than ugly death.

The world and our life in it can be good only insofar as we approach it sub specie aeternitatis. In the world, but not of it; that’s the ticket.

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The Mind / Body Solution

The problem of how the mind relates to the body arises only if we presume – as perhaps is only natural for moderns – that bodies are prior to minds. If you think that minds somehow derive or emerge or supervene upon bodies consisting of mindless stuff, then you’ve got a problem: you’ve got to figure out how lifeless mindless stuff generates living minds. It’s an impossible project! Almost always, the effort to square this circle involves a lot of vague grandiloquence and handwaving.

The problem vanishes – is not there to begin with – if you presume the contrary: that bodies derive from mental processes. In that case, the body we now apprehend is as it were the record or fossil of the mental procedures of a moment ago. Just take mentation as fundamental, and bodies as derived from it, and hey presto, no problem.

I admit of course that the notion that the mental is procedurally prior to the corporeal is a stretch at first. I mean, it is one thing to think that my body as I now apprehend it reflects my mental acts of a moment ago – this is after all *exactly what our lives are like* – but what about all those other bodies out there in our sensoria? What about that rock? Is *it* a relic of some mental procedure?

Why not?

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The Argument from Finity

I have from time to time argued that this or that indispensable aspect of our lives presupposes in its partiality and incompleteness the prior exhaustive comprehension and completeness of the eternal divine act, so that absent that act we could not do what we do in fact constantly do. The Pragmatic Argument from Verisimilitude and The Argument from Truth both come to mind. The basic motion of such arguments is this: you can’t get a posteriori partiality or finitude of any sort unless wholeness and infinity have been accomplished a priori. More simply, the a posteriori as such presupposes the a priori, and cannot come to pass without it. No infinity, then no finite thing whatever.

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The Argument from Imperfection

In general, an imperfection of x cannot be obtained in the absence of a perfection of x. This is most easily seen with noise. There can be no defect of signal if there is no signal in the first place. Likewise you can’t disorder what is not ordered. Nor can you sin if there is no righteousness, or kill what is not alive.

Partiality is another sort of imperfection: you can’t be a part of a whole that is not there to begin with. So likewise, participating a form is impossible if there is no such form.

Then there is incompleteness. What cannot be completed cannot be incomplete, strictly speaking. We can’t count to infinity; if we count to 100, then, we have completed, not part of the count to infinity, but only the count to 100. Likewise, partial knowledge is not knowledge at all in the absence of omniscience.

Our lives are pervasively imperfect. They point always toward perfection. They indicate it; and they aim at it. If there were no such perfection in the first place, there could be no imperfection in our experience, nor therefore any nisus to correct it. If there were no perfection, it could not be a problem for us that we feel we have not achieved it, and we would not feel its lack as painful. Yet we do.

Imperfection presupposes perfection. The latter is therefore prior to the former, and is its forecondition.

The Pragmatic Argument from Verisimilitude

What would life be like if God did not exist? If we found that such a life would be quite unlike our own lives as actually lived, that would be a pretty strong indication that atheism is false; that it disagrees with reality as we actually encounter it. Since God, if he exists, is by far – infinitely far – the biggest most important thing there is, our decision about whether he exists is the most important and far-reaching decision we can make in life. Thus if God exists, and we approached the question of his existence in the wrong spirit, it would be the worst mistake of our lives; as if we had spat on the Good King, but far, far worse; for the King in question would be the King of Everything.

It behooves us to approach the question in the right frame of mind, so that we are less likely to err in our thinking.

Part of approaching the question in the right spirit is being honest with ourselves about how things would be if God did not exist. To begin with a closed mind, or to beg the question and insist that nothing could be different if God did not exist, would be to cheat the whole project. But it is crucial to recognize that, in cheating the project, we would be hurting only ourselves.

What are the aspects of life that we are going to find most indicative? What, that is, are the things that might be quite different for us if there were no God? Well, what are the basic features of our lives?

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The Irreducible Remainder of Improper Reduction

If you reduce all x to nothing but y, then what you have left at the end of the process is no x at all: nothing to explain. To say that x is nothing but y is to say that there is really no such thing as x in the first place.

Eliminative reductionists generally prefer to overlook this difficulty. They try to explain explananda exhaustively as nothing but collisions of dead items, yet retain their reference to the explananda. They won’t take the last entailed step of asserting that there is in the first place simply no such thing as the explananda.

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Worship ergo Being

As theology includes and subvenes metaphysics, so mysticism – which is to say, simply, effectually realized worship – includes and subvenes theology. Metaphysics then can usher us in to theology, and theology to worship. But to enter worship through the double vestibules of philosophy and theology is to take the long road; a direct and immediate entry is available to all creatures, as near to them as their own hearts. As subvening metaphysics, worship subvenes all that metaphysics subvenes, and covers; which is to say, that worship is the basis and sine qua non of being. At our animal bottom, and at its most primitive, worship is expressed in our love of life, of our own mere existence.

Indeed, even the simplest entities exist and perdure only in virtue of their love of the forms they inherit from God and express in their concrete actuality. That love is the urge to become. To be, then, is at least to begin to worship: to attest in act to the worth of the Lord of all being. Everything partakes it. And this is why mystics in their raptures notice that the very mud of the street is afire with surpassing beauty, effulgent with joy. 

Contingency per se Entails creatio ex nihilo

Every contingency is brought into being from a state of affairs in which it does not actually exist; from a condition of things in which it is nowhere to be found. And as this is true of each contingency, so therefore is it true of all contingencies, and of the whole lot of them taken together. Contingent being as such comes into being from a prior state of its own non-being.

In a state of affairs in which there are no contingent beings, there is nothing but necessary being. If contingent beings are to be brought into existence from this state of affairs, there are only two possibilities: either they are made from God, and he furnishes from his own actuality the matter of their becoming; or he creates them from nothing. If the former, then, as departments of God, contingencies are in fact necessities. They aren’t contingent in the first place. This is monism. It radically contradicts experience as such, which it has no alternative but to declare our lives illusory and radically unintelligible. So it can’t be true: we can’t really even think it might be true.

Creatio ex nihilo must therefore be true. Having come into existence from nothing turns out to be an inherent aspect of contingent being.

Nature Never Sucks

When my kids were taking high school biology, their (brilliant) teacher’s jocular mantra was, “Nature never sucks.” It meant, first, that Nature is wonderful, beautiful, and so forth – worthy of admiration, study, awe. Second, it was a nod and a prod in the direction of Ockham’s Razor, urging his pupils to adduce no more factors of natural phenomena than are absolutely necessary. But third, and more salient to his honest reductive Ockhamist pedagogical purposes, and most of all, it meant that Nature is not teleological: it neither seeks nor is pulled toward goal states, but rather pushes itself toward certain equilibria, not intentionally, but on the contrary chaotically. The idea is that these equilibria are not themselves somehow attractive, but rather are simply the most stable way that things can be arranged, so that when things happen to blunder into those stable configurations completely by accident, they then tend to stay there until something disturbs them. Things are never falling into place, but are rather only, always, merely falling.

The notion is not new. It goes back to the first Greek atomists, Lucretius and Democritus.

It is Dawkins’ notion that what perdures is only what has not yet failed to perdure: “there are lots more ways to fall apart than to hang together.” It’s true, but as tautological is uninformative.

There are other problems with it.

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