The Evangelical Universalist Forum

JRP's Bite-Sized Metaphysics (Series 117)

[The previous series, 116, can be found [url=]here. This series, 117, picks up with the topic arrived at the end of the previous series. An index with links to all parts of the work as they are posted can be found here.]

[Entry 1 for “in question of multiple IFs”]

So far in this Section of chapters, I have been proceeding by analyzing concepts which, if accepted, would shut down attempts at discovering anything particularly true about ultimate reality. These concepts have turned out, on analysis, to be either ultimately self-refuting (so that even trying to accept them ends up requiring that these concepts be rejected by their own acceptance); or else to be (or at least to require) some other concept instead that was supposed to be opposed by the concept.

Thus, the concept of an infinite ontological regression, ends up either leading to self-refutation (where there can be no legitimate grounds for discovering and so believing an infinite regression to be true) or else it actually ends up requiring at least one Independently existing Fact to be true after all: the regression itself, which was proposed as an alternative to the existence of a final Independent Fact, turns out to have the final characteristics of the IF. Or at least, it turns out to have the final characteristics of one IF.

But, instead of an infinite number of systems or levels of reality, each of them substantially different from one another and each dependent on something more fundamentally real and foundational with (supposedly) no final foundational reality that just exists without dependence on something else more fundamental again–could there not be a multiple number of Independent Facts?

This question has to be asked, because in the process of trying to avoid absurdity, I have discovered I have to introduce the concept of what I am calling an Independent (or alternately an Interdependent) Fact–an IF. As I have done this, I find I am essentially recognizing and calling attention to something which everyone at bottom agrees exists; because in the process of checking the systemic integrity of fundamental proposals, I have discovered that even the opponents of an IF, if they are saying anything other than meaningless nonsense, are talking (without realizing it) about an IF.

[Entry 2]

As I have said, in a way my conclusion (so far) can be considered a variation of the Ontological Argument–but only in a limited sense. The IF might be sentient (a SIF), and be a supernaturalistic or naturalistic God; or it might be non-sentient (a n-SIF) and be the ultimate level of reality posited by atheists (be they naturalists or supernaturalists). Either way, I have concluded that we can discover (in principle) particularly real things about this IF–we can, in principle, identify true and false propositions about it.

But, as I suggested at the end of my previous chapter, since I have now decided that I must believe an IF exists, should I be speaking of the IF–only one IF? Or could there be multiple IFs?–even an infinite number of IFs, though not an infinite ontological regression?

The difference between these two ideas concerning an infinite number of realities, would be that the regression is supposed to have no IF at all, but rather an infinite number of dependent levels of reality, where each level is dependent on something more fundamentally real (e.g. turtles all the way down); whereas, an infinite number of IFs would involve each system of reality being independently existent of each other–infinitely horizontal instead of infinitely vertical, metaphorically speaking. (e.g., an infinite number of turtles with universes on their backs, but the turtles aren’t standing on anything.) Similarly, if a finite number of IFs exist, whether two or two billion or two sextaquadrillion, they would each exist independently of each other, without dependence on anything else (but themselves, perhaps) for their continuing eternal existence.

[Entry 3]

As it happens, the principles of multiple IFs may be discussed by considering the idea that only two of them exist; and interestingly, when philosophers and priests throughout history have proposed the existence of equal but separate ultimate entities, they almost invariably propose two rather than more. I will be concentrating, then, on ‘ontological dualisms’ in this chapter–as I hope you will see, whether we are talking about two or two hundred million multiple IFs, the underlying principles come out to be the same either way.

I call these philosophies ‘ontological dualisms’ to distinguish them from other topics in philosophy which may be called ‘dualisms’. For instance, the theory that the human mind is to some degree independent of the human body is known as ‘mind-body dualism’. But M-B dualism is a rather specialized topic; and right now I am trying to decide what types of overarching philosophies do (or, deductively, do not) make sense as viable contenders for The Way Reality Really Is.

I think it doesn’t matter in the end what type of ontological dualism is being proposed; but for purposes of example, let me present two of the most historically popular types. One I will call God/Nature dualism. The other, I will call God/Anti-God dualism.

[Entry 4]

God/Nature dualism proposes that God and Nature both exist and both are independent of each other. Nature cannot affect God; God cannot affect Nature. Nature is self-existent; God is self-existent. Neither one produced the other; both are eternal. Strictly speaking, God is extranatural, not supernatural, to Nature.

Put another way, one ultimate system is sentient (God), one ultimate system is non-sentient (Nature), and neither is ‘above’ or ‘below’ the other.

Or, to be more precise, Nature could be considered to be sentient or non-sentient in this type of dualism. A nominal deist who takes his worldview (God exists but has minimal effect on Nature) further into ontological dualism would, for instance, very probably consider Nature to be non-sentient (as cosmological dualists typically did do during the Enlightenment; which, being the most recent form of God/Nature dualism in Western culture, is why the sentient/non-sentient distinction between the two IFs is more familiar to philosophers today). On the other hand, some religions in world history seem to have proposed, or came close to proposing, that Nature and Supernature are both sentient, yet are also both equal and Independent of each other. (Such beliefs commonly involve masculine/feminine notions, too; but a very curious implication follows when they do–which I will discuss later in Section Two. Historically, I wouldn’t say there is much evidence of a robust belief in both the Sky-Father and the Earth-Mother being both ontologically independent; but our sources are rather fragmentary. Modern neo-pagans sometimes go this route, however.)

God/Anti-God dualism, on the other hand, states that Nature (which is usually agreed to exist–and is usually agreed to be non-sentient) is dependently produced by two ultimate entities. Both these entities are sentient, but they are both perfectly equal in power. Neither one can affect the other (Note: being sentient, one might allow itself to be affected by the other–though as will be shown below, this is highly dubious); neither one depends on the other; neither one produced the other; each entity is self-existent and was not created.

Although these two variants of ‘cosmic dualism’ have their own distinctive features, both of them propose or require two IFs to exist. Let me look more closely, however, at what this common idea entails.

[Entry 5]

By the terms of the proposal, the two IFs can have no power to affect each other. The problems associated with this can escape our notice because we, as humans, affect each other and Nature (and are affected in turn) all the time. But you and I as humans are not independents–certainly not within the worldview of any cosmic dualism I am aware of. We are at the very least commonly dependent on the overarching natural system that encompasses us.

For instance, I can poke you, and you may or may not be able to prevent me. If you can prevent me, then something other than my own choices may be constraining me; if so, then I am either partially dependent on this ‘something’, or this ‘something’ and I are interdependent and can affect each other equally.

But two interdependent entities, considered as themselves, must be part of an overarching system that allows them to interact with one another. For example, the system of Nature encompasses both you and me.

This principle may not seem important when we are discussing ‘dualisms’ merely in theory; but it becomes devastating when a dualism is practically proposed.

(Note: The principle also has some striking consequences in regard to a single theistic IF. I’ll be developing the topic much later in Section Four.)

[Entry 6]

Let us say a God/Nature dualism exists. Why should we say that? You and I are evidently part of Nature in some fashion; Nature affects our ability to think and to move, for example. But what does the proposal of a supernatural IF provide us, if Nature is also Independent? Explanations of events? What events? Not any event exhibited in Nature!–for if Nature is an Independent it must be invulnerable to extra-Natural effects. God might choose (as an intentively active entity) to allow something, such as an extra-natural (or even a derivative) Nature, to affect Him; but a non-sentient Nature does not have that option. (The implications of this notion in regard to a pair of sentient IFs, instead, will be discussed presently.)

God, in this proposal, can only exhibit events Nature does not exhibit; so how are we to perceive God? If we cannot perceive or otherwise detect God, or at least the effects of God, we are left with no positive grounds to accept a proposal of His existence; if we can perceive God’s effects, then under God/Nature dualism they cannot be effects within Nature. But that doesn’t matter, because we are derivative of Nature (at least) under this theory: here we are within Nature, being clearly able to be affected by Nature (whether we choose to be so affected by Nature or not); thus we must be derivative of Nature, and not derivative of God, Who (as an extra-Natural entity, even though also an IF) cannot cause effects within another IF system.

True, under God/Nature dualism, we can somehow ‘perceive’ God, at least insofar as having some mental conception of God–otherwise we would not even be capable of making the proposal of God/Nature dualism, per se. This perception must either be sheer illusion, or at best only an imaginary conception of ours (and there goes our last ground for accepting the proposal of a God/Nature dualism, leaving us with Nature as the sole IF); or else we somehow share or exhibit or form a common ground where the two effects (Divine and Natural) meet in some way.

But there can be no common ground in an ontological dualism! Otherwise it isn’t an ontological dualism, because the common ground shows the existence of an overarching system that (even if metaphorically) ‘encloses’ the two effect-producers.

The actual implications of a God/Nature dualism, then, require me to reject it. Any conditions that might give me some initial grounds for concluding or even merely suspecting the truth of a God/Nature dualism, also require that I must be mistaken to even be merely hypothetically proposing it. I grant (as I have done before) that someone could sheerly assert the truth of such an ontological dualism; but I have explained why I do not think a mere assertion counts as a belief in the proposition. The characteristics of a God/Nature dualism, repel my ability to even cogently propose, much less accept, its existence. This being the case, I will believe that something else is true.

[Entry 7]

Let us say, as another example, that a God/Anti-God dualism exists. Why should we say that? You and I are obviously part of Nature in some fashion; and Nature for this scheme must be derived equally from these entities–otherwise it immediately runs into the problems of the God/Nature dualism.

Each SIF, though, God and Anti-God, would have an intrinsic interest in opposing whatever the Other is doing, including within commonly operative systems such as our Nature. Any action taken by one entity within the proposed system should be capable of being instantly countered as a zero-sum opposing effect by the other entity; and this zero-sum effect would be a guaranteed result of two necessarily equal/opposite entities, with perfectly ultimate access to our natural system. This perfect zero-sum effect, however, would extend to Nature being supposedly derivative from both IFs: there would be no resultant effects at all, including no generation of a derivative natural system.

Which of course brings us right back to the notion that our system of evident Nature is one of the IFs, only this time equal-and-opposite to the other IF. And I think dualists are correct when they propose that a dual set of IFs would necessarily be opposed to one another in this fashion, down to their final foundational characteristics. Any characteristics they shared would imply a commonality of their own (purportedly Independent) ‘natures’. Religions which feature (or could feature) an ontological God/Nature dualism where both are sentient Independent Facts–Sky-Father and Earth-Mother–are just as vulnerable to this problem, too, even though they wouldn’t necessarily be vulnerable to the problem of mutual invulnerability (since each SIF could voluntarily allow the other to affect Him or Her.) And clearly there is an attempt at proposing the God and the Goddess to be equal-and-opposite: one is masculine, one is feminine; one is material, one is immaterial; one is cerebral, the other is emotional (maybe). Sometimes there is a reluctance at considering one to be good and the other evil, though; maybe both are just different kinds of neutral, or something like that. But even when people go the distance with this concept (and going the ethical distance on a masculine/feminine opposition certainly doesn’t lead, in itself, to increased cooperation between men and women), the problem is that they just can’t go far enough on the equal-but-opposite theme without one of the IFs being essentially denied as having existence at all.

This leads back to the most fundamental problem with any type of dualism, including God/Anti-God: the concept of two (or more) IFs sharing any commonality, not only a common field of activity but even sheer existence, is contradictory to the concept of both of them being truly Independent. It indicates, instead, that they share some overarching reality, and this reality (not them) would be the true IF.

If it comes to it, the mere fact that we (as derivative beings) even try to think of two completely Independent entities, slurs over the fact that (for the moment at least) our own minds become the common medium. Or, perhaps not–for it would be a contradiction in terms for us to even cogently imagine the existence of at least one of them: the one with the property equal-and-opposite to that of ‘having existence’. Such an ‘entity’ does not even exist; and then, so much for actually proposing an equal-but-opposite ontological dualism.

[Entry 8; next to last for this series]

So, at best I am disinclined to consider an ontological dualism as a viable option. Thinking through the implications of such notions, leads me directly to something other than a ontological dualism: it leads me to some single IF.

[Extended Footnote: I will be returning on occasion to the concept of multiple IFs, in future sections of my book, in order to draw further contrasts between proposals.

I will also mention here that I distinguish between an ontological dualism (or other multiple-IFism) and a doctrine such as trinitarian theism. I realize this will look rather suspicious of me; but I cannot go into the details of the differences yet. At the moment, I will merely observe that multiple-IF systems, such as ontological dualisms, propose that the multiple IFs exist in complete and thorough independence of each other; whereas, for example, the Father and the Son of the trinitarian Unity, do not exist independently of each other in any sense.

The intellectual difficulties of a trinitarian theology are admittedly intense, and efforts at reconciling the implications have led to the creation of many other religious groups, from modern times back throughout the history of Christianity. I think such solutions are incorrect, as I hope to demonstrate later; but I am certainly willing to believe the solutions were attempted in good faith–and accepted by God, in good faith. (Not that He would accept any error per se, but rather any good-faith intentions by which the people acted. Granted, this presumes a bunch of things, such as God’s graciousness and charity and even existence, which I haven’t established yet.)]

[Entry 9; finale for this series of entries]

I will now add that theisms are not dualisms, and are not usually presented as such. [See extended footnote below.] Jews, Christians and Muslims may believe in a Most Powerful Evil Entity–a Satan, or Shai’tan–but it turns out there are legitimate metaphysical reasons why we should, and do, say this entity is a derivative rebel against God, not an equal-and-opposite opponent.

Often theists will allow that Satan may have an equal-powered (and equally derivative) opponent against whom he fights. The Big Three Theisms have historically tended to identify this good opponent as the archangel Michael. But ‘evil’ (per se) is not explained this way–by theists, at least. (I will be returning to this in a much later chapter.)

Having brought up peripherally the concept of other Very Powerful Entities, I will now backtrack a little and explain in a bit more detail the notion of God which, even as a sceptic, I would consider the primary argument to be about.

[Footnote: When such dualistic theisms formally arise in history, they are inevitably proposed to be distinct from mainstream theisms–by the mainstreamers and the innovators alike. On the other hand, it can be easy for a mainstream theist who isn’t paying attention to his implications, to accidentally propose what amounts to an ontological dualism, even though when pressed he would disagree with the notion.

Also, I further distinguish between accidental slippage on one hand; intentional but serious alteration on the other; and intentional but [u]fictional innovations: dualisms proposed in literature, film or other stories for merely narrative convenience. Such innovations are not usually intended to be definite metaphysical propositions; although given the right common desire to understand our world through stories, the line between mere narrative convenience and serious metaphysical proposal can quickly become blurred. I am entirely in favor of such attempts, when made in good faith; I only want to remind my reader that Satan may be presented as equal and opposite of God in a movie (for example), but this doesn’t mean it makes sense, nor that theists accept such a belief as theists.]

Next series: “God and gods”]

this is good stuff Jason

keep up the interesting posts :slight_smile:

Thanks, Kav! :smiley:

A loooonnnnnnnnnng way to go yet. :wink: :ugeek: :sunglasses: