The Evangelical Universalist Forum

JRP's Bite-Sized Metaphysics (Series 217)

I’m running rather behind (i.e. more behind than usual :mrgreen:) on my posting schedule, so I’ll be putting up all this chapter in one series over the next couple of days.

[This is the conclusion of Section Two, Reason and the First Person. An index with links to all parts of the work as they are posted can be found [url=]here.]

[This series constitutes Chapter 21, “Some Detours On The Problem of Theism”. It’s a bit longer than usual, because I haven’t broken it into multiple parts.]

[Entry 1]

Setting aside (but only for the moment) my concerns about the question of the relations of Independent Action to derivative actions (such as my own), and whether this is an intrinsically contradictory proposition, I continue safely (though a bit shakily) along the path; with the security that there are at least a few situations where what may be called my ‘actions’ are yet reconcilable with an ultimate Act-er. Thus the proposal of an ultimate Act-er is not yet deducted from the option list; leaving the branch of not-atheisms intact–perhaps with a point in favor of pantheism–as opposed to the branch of atheisms.

Very well: if I take seriously the value of my judgments (that value which transcends the question of whether I am correct or incorrect on any given judgment) then I must be able to initiate action–or, at least (keeping in mind the problem from my most recent chapter) initiated actions exist and are exhibited through me. I have discovered it is contradictory for me to claim this value or property of my judgments is produced by a reality that at bottom does not itself initiate actions.

Furthermore: the actions this reality at bottom initiates, must themselves exhibit (at least) the property I assign to my own judgments. It is useless to say that these ultimate actions are somehow ‘initiated’ and nothing more; that would be merely to use ‘initiate’ in a reductively metaphorical fashion. An atheist might perhaps claim that Nature ‘initiates’ events at the quantum level, for instance; but she would deny this means that Nature can ‘think’–or (really) even ‘act’.

[Entry 2]

Yet as I have discovered, while this could perhaps be the case, such a situation would still result in a reality where only non-rational events ultimately take place; leaving me with no rationality of my own to properly judge the cogency of proposals, including the proposal of atheism (of this or any other sort). Any attempt to propose something different along the branch of atheism, eventually requires that I justify my ability to justify: an intrinsically impossible requirement.

This leaves me with the branch of not-atheisms to consider: God exists. But what does this mean? What are the properties of God? Once again, I begin to deduct propositions which I find to be contradictory: which either cancel themselves out, or else deny positions I have previously deduced to be necessary.

At this stage, I would begin to import a series of arguments parallel to the ones I already covered in Section One.

Let me point out, before I am misunderstood, that I began my attempts at positive deduction in this Section without formally requiring the positions I will shortly re-present. Here is where they would fall if I had started with this argument instead. In the protracted argument of Section One, they obviously fell in a different place, for that was a somewhat different line of reasoning.

[Entry 3]

This ‘God’ I have discovered: how shall I speak of it? Is it a personality, or not? The answer to that question depends on the answer to this question: does it make sense to claim that an initiating thinker exists and yet that it has no personality?

The only answer I can effectively give is this: to claim an initiating thinker has no personality, is a non sequitur. What would it mean “to have no personality”? As far as I can tell, it would mean the entity in question does not contribute actively (and thus willfully uniquely) to its reality.

But that is exactly what this sentient Independent Fact does. Indeed, it contributes more actively and intentively to reality (even as the foundation of all reality, including itself–thus being the Independent Fact) than anything else in reality (if anything else does at all). To that extent, at the very least, I should consider it to have a real personality; and I may yet discover further parallels, as I ponder the topic.

Then should I speak of this personal entity (i.e., a ‘personal-ity’ or ‘personality’) as an ‘it’? Or should I use personal pronouns?

[Entry 4]

The answer seems obvious the moment I ask the question: I should use a ‘personal’ pronoun set when speaking of a ‘person’. Not only is this proper in English when speaking of a person, but (rather more importantly than the mere politeness) to insist on speaking of the entity as an ‘it’ (even with a capital ‘I’!) can only tacitly reinforce in my mind a characteristic of the entity which I have already decided is false: that ‘It’, despite its active rationality, has no personality.

I am a person writing in English, and I do virtually all my speaking in English. The English language does not, at this time, have a personal pronoun set for a neuter entity; for the very practical reason that we do not commonly find ourselves in recognized contact with entities which are truly personal yet are neither male nor female. We therefore must default to a masculine or feminine pronoun set if we wish to discuss personal entities whose status in this regard is either unknown or not applicable; and for various sociological reasons, in English we use the masculine pronouns as the default or ‘neuter’ set.

In lieu of further data regarding this entity, I therefore would find it fitting to speak of God in English with nominally ‘masculine’ terms: He is a person. To say instead ‘She is a person’ would entail a level of specificity which at this stage I have no grounds to introduce; for in traditional English usage, a ‘she’ is never an unknown or unknowable quality when speaking of a real specific person.

[Entry 5]

English-speaking sailors, for instance, often use feminine pronouns to speak about their ships; but nominally the ships are not real persons so it doesn’t matter which set is used, except in an aesthetic sense. I will not utterly deny the concept that a nominally non-sentient object may in some fashion be granted a real though derivative sentience–after all, that is what I will end up proposing about the relationship between God and us humans–nor that God may have granted, to us derivative entities, the ability to bestow a rudimentary but real sub-consciousness on such objects through what amounts to our wished love and affection. I might, in other words, accept that ships whose crews truly act to love them could indeed develop a rudimentary sentience and can therefore be truly spoken of with personal pronouns. If that sounds supernatural, I remind you that the relations between God and ourselves might also be established as supernatural (depending on whether or not pantheism is true); thus the implausibility of the concept could vanish from that quarter. Whether other conceptual barriers or inconsistencies might prevent such an occurrence is a further question, and at any rate lies outside the scope of this book–although I find the topic very interesting!

My point, is that even if this was true, the personality would be conferred by us persons, and thus to that extent the personal gender would also likely be conferred by us if there are no biological considerations to force the issue. Put another way: I have been told that Russians typically speak of their ships using masculine pronouns; and tend therefore to ascribe masculine attributes to their ships. If this process did develop a rudimentary and double-derivative sentience–if the ship did somehow receive a real ‘spirit’ through this process–then I would expect the ‘spirit’ of a well-loved Russian ship to be masculine in its thought-and-behavior matrix, and an American ship to be feminine. But we would be the ones creating this characteristic in the artifact.

God, by contrast, is a person Whose existence and basic character precede my (or our) relationship with Him. It is my task to discover those characteristics if I can, not create new ones for Him (as if that was possible).

Thus, lacking a masculine/feminine relationship criterion, I must default in English, so far, to the neutral pronoun set; and for us, that is the masculine.

[Entry 6]

But am I restricted to using the masculine set only because I lack a proper set? That is, if I learned to speak another language which actually has a distinctive neuter pronoun set (or if we developed such a set for English), should I stop speaking of God as ‘He’?

I think there is at least one more reason why God should be spoken of using masculine pronouns. However, I shall have to defer this reasoning briefly until a few other points are established.

extended footnote]
You may have noticed I switch genders when speaking of hypothetical people in this book. I do this so you (and I!) can more easily distinguish between certain ‘characters’. I would also be satisfied if my readers understood this to mean that men and women both may have varying opinions about philosophy; but again I am speaking of derivative entities who really must be male or female–or else discussed as neuter and thus, in English, as masculine.

I know there are well-intentioned people who would also relegate the female pronoun set to neutral equivalence, in order to overcome the naturally bigoted associations we humans can easily fall prey to: if we use the masculine as the default pronoun set, it is sadly true that some people will tend to hear ‘men’ as ‘men’ rather than as a convenient placeholder for ‘humans’, leading to (or more probably reinforcing) a view that only males can or should be thought of as relating to such matters.

I do understand and have sympathy for this problem; yet I question whether the reduction of the feminine pronoun set to neuter equivalency is the answer. In a culture where people rightly wish to help protect the status of women as recognized people, it seems to me dangerous to take words specially distinctive to women and drain them of that distinction. I do not want to treat women as ciphers in any sense, even linguistically. (I always imagine my fictional examples in this book to be persons, just like literary characters.)
footnote ends]

[Entry 7]

The form of my argument so far indicates that this entity is the ground of all existences: it (or He, rather) is the Final Fact, or the Independent Fact (the IF). It is no use postulating an intermediate entity for purposes of providing basic action or for grounding my potential reliability at making judgments. An intermediate entity would be a derivative entity, and would (to that degree) be as subject as I am to the properties of the Final Fact. If an ultimately non-sentient, reactive reality either does not provide me with active cognizance, or leaves me with a requirement that I justify my own ability to reliably justify claims; then a proposed intermediate sentience would be in the same boat I am. What I am discovering is that the IF is God, with no backdoor hatches into a qualified atheism.

But I think it is worthwhile to consider briefly certain counterclaims–or, rather, to re-consider them (since I have already made these arguments in my first section.)

For example, there is no point attempting to evade the conclusion “God exists” with the postulation of a cosmic infinite regress. Such a postulation says that absolutely everything can be reductively explained in terms of something else with no end; yet if that was true, then the distinctive claim ‘reality is an infinite regression’ could itself be effectively reductively explained as being something which is not really an infinite regress. The proposition slits its own throat, although it appears to offer a comfortably ambiguous approach to philosophy. (More details of this argument may be found in Chapter 7.)

[Entry 8]

Also, although cosmic dualisms have a long-standing and significant place in the history of religions and philosophies, I find that dualisms fail the self-consistency check at their foundational level–or alternatively, they collapse as a practical matter into a single IF philosophy. (My other discussion of dualisms may be found in Chapter 8.)

Do these proposed Independent Facts share an effective reality, or do they not?

If they do not, then why would a duality (or otherwise multiple IF) be proposed at all? Proposing that an entity has absolutely no bearing to our own reality, is the same as proposing the entity does not exist: for even ‘existence’ would itself have some bearing to our own existent reality.

Yet if they do share an effective reality, then because they are proposed to be Independent of each other, one does not exist within, or dependent upon, the other; and thus both must exist within the boundaries of a third, for they share an effective reality. That third, overarching reality is revealed to be the true Independent Fact. It is this Fact which my argument primarily concerns–and it is about this Fact that I have concluded sentience must be an intrinsic characteristic.

[Entry 9]

Perhaps there is a sentient sub-entity whose reality is on a par with Nature yet the two are separate from each other; what is that to me? It provides an interesting hypothesis, perhaps, to be investigated and ratified or refuted later–but my business now is with God, not with speculative relations between the archangel Michael and Nature. Or perhaps our Nature is transcended by two personal beings of equivalent power but opposing characteristics; again, what is that to me? My business now is with God, not with the relationship and struggles between Michael and Satan. Maybe I shall eventually discover that a Most Powerful Rebel exists; but that is not a cosmic dualism. It is a more detailed theism.

I am speaking now of the Independent Fact; and by recognizing that my sentience can only depend on Its sentience (and by recognizing that without my presumed sentience ‘my’ ‘ideas’ about anything, including the IF, must be counted as effectively or literally nonexistent), I am recognizing and proclaiming the existence of God.

Furthermore because God is “the Independent Fact”, I find that this apparently impersonal term ironically gives me strong grounds for speaking of God not merely as a person, but with a gender description that is something other than an arbitrary feature of my English language.

[Entry 10]

In philosophy, there is a relationship that may be described as agent-to-patient. The ‘agent’ acts; the ‘patient’ receives the action. When philosophers of old described this relationship, they quite naturally put masculine pronouns on the side of the agent, and feminine on the sides of the patient. This reflected the most basic of male/female relationships: biologically speaking, when a child is conceived, the male gives and the female receives.

‘Action’, in this human situation, does not necessarily have its full philosophical rigor: it might only indicate one very particular cause/effect relationship.

(It is, of course, entirely possible for a woman to initiate her own ‘actions’ during conception, and a man could in his own turn be whelmed into merely reacting. The interinanimations and combinations of these roles are generally recognized to produce the most satisfying lovemaking–as is also recognizably true about the art of dancing, and not coincidentally!)

Yet true actions do still exhibit this relationship. If I act, and you react, then for that interchange, I am the agent, and you are the patient.

[Entry 11]

Notice, however, that if God is the Independent Fact of reality (and I think the IF must be God, for reasons I have already given), then God’s fundamental relationship to all other things (if any not-God entities exist at all!) must be that of agent to patient. If any other relationship exists, it is because God chooses (or has chosen) to allow it–thus the original agent/patient relationship would still exist. And the easiest way of describing that relationship in terms of personal pronouns, is to use the masculine for God.

Perhaps I can illustrate this if I look at the proposed alternative: what if I called God “She”?

If I only lacked a genderless pronoun set, and if the female pronoun set was somehow established as appropriate for such neuter use in my language, then I suppose I would be just as willing to call God “She”. But when it comes time to talk practically about God, then I run into a problem.

I am aware there are well-meaning people who speak of God as “Goddess” with appropriate modifications to pronouns. Very well, let me try that for a while. Goddess is my creator. This naturally brings up the following association: Goddess (as my creator, or at least as the One Who generates me) is my heavenly Mother.

But a mother is a person who has had something happen to her (in the net sum, at least) to bring me to birth. What happened to Goddess to cause me to be? Put bluntly (though metaphorically) how did She become impregnated? That seems to beg the question of another entity. But Goddess must be the IF; if anything could do that, it would have to be something She created. Yet that puts the question one stage further back; what is the relationship between Her and that entity, then? It might be feasible to say that She begot of Herself an entity which, by Her grace, then proceeded to beget other entities through Her–then perhaps into a third entity which She had also created (Nature), as a receptacle for further derivative entities like us.

[Entry 12]

The notion becomes rather convoluted from there (though not yet strictly self-contradictory: if we ask where the first begotten of Goddess came from, there might in fact be a self-consistent answer–which I will address not many chapters from now.) Whatever else may be true, the traditional role of God the Father allows a simpler notion. God creates Nature, and through Nature He begets derivative entities such as ourselves; Nature can be spoken of (either metaphorically or literally, depending on whether Nature is itself a derivative sentience) as our mother.

This view is so fitting to the concept of a creating sentience that it has a rich history into the deeps of pagan antiquity: Mother Earth and the Sky-Father. I find it also cleanly fits the character I am (on other grounds) discovering of God.

I will gladly admit, on the other hand, that if pantheism turns out to be true, then it might well be better to speak of Goddess the Mother: the IF would not be using a derivative entity to produce us, because the natural level of reality around us would itself be the ultimate level and itself Divine. This remains to be seen; so perhaps Goddess the Mother will be a metaphysically accurate description after all.

But there is another role whereby God has been symbolically described, related to gender. Actual religions which promote the idea of Goddess as our Mother may go the next step (mirroring their masculine alternative) and describe Goddess as our Bride.

And this is a concept I reject.

[Entry 13]

I do not reject it out of distaste: I find the idea very attractive! But this immediately alerts my suspicions: why do I find such an idea so attractive?

I think the idea implies, that at a fundamental level I can reverse the agent/patient relationship.

If I do have derivative action capability, then in a sense the IF could indeed choose (and in fact will have already chosen, by giving my current existence with action ability) to allow me such a privilege. God in humility could choose to submit to letting me make real contributions to the ongoing process of creation, such that God might then consequently make other choices based on the results of my input.

Yet the underlying fact would still be that the IF is choosing to do this, and my own ability and privilege would be the result. (Although I haven’t forgotten the potential problem with this concept that I raised in the previous chapter!) I still remain the patient, and God still remains the agent.

But to speak of the IF as being the Bride (as I might speak of Her as the Mother) carries with it the implication that She is the patient to me at the fundamental level of Her reality; and this idea must be contradictive, if She is the IF and I am derivative.

[Entry 14]

A human bride wouldn’t be subordinate to me in this fashion, either; I would be furious at the thought of it! But neither is a human bride being proposed as the level of reality to which I have the most fundamental possible relation. The Divinity is acting to generate me, and therefore is causing effects upon me. Analogical ‘bride’ language would imply that the fundamental relationship between Goddess and me, is my action to Her dependent response. I think this agent/patient relationship is extremely untrue–it essentially implies that I am the creator or inventor of ‘Goddess’–so I will not use such language about the ultimate creating Divinity.

I can understand (for instance) the Christian Church, or the Jewish Nation, as a corporate body being metaphorically described as the Bride of God. That keeps the agent/patient relationship established properly. But Goddess as Bride does not seem to me to do this.

For these reasons, then–and there are others I may bring out later–I think it makes most sense to speak of God, through a useful and practical analogy, as ‘He Himself’; as the Father, the King, the Husband. I do not claim this is a deductive necessity, but it fits better with what I am discovering elsewhere.

(Although, again, if pantheism turns out to be true, I would be inclined to use the opposite analogy, at least insofar as Mother and Queen. I think I would still be obligated to reject Bride. Goddess Herself would be the Holy Virgin giving birth, I suppose.)

[Entry 15]

I recently mentioned that we Westerners have grown very comfortable using the word ‘God’ as a proper name for the Personality Who grounds all facts. I am content to continue this usage; it may be that God has revealed to us names which He Himself would prefer we use of Him, but this would beg the question of scriptural inspiration and attendant doctrines–a topic I am certainly not yet in a position to discuss! To the sceptic, then–that is, to the person who, it may be, only now is coming to accept the bare existence of God or who does not agree yet with certain historical and metaphysical claims about Him which I profess as a Christian–to that person, I willingly accede to a middle ground, and so shall use God (and only ‘God’) as a proper name.

And to the believer (of any type, including my own) who rightfully (but with a touch of naivete) wishes to guard the attribute of God as a Person and thus insists on a proper name, I say this: I challenge you to produce a proper name of God that means more than God. You may give me words of any description; yet I ask you to notice that these words (exotic as they may sound to us moderns who very probably speak another mother-tongue than the people who originally coined, or received permission to use, those titles) are themselves mundane descriptions which borrow divine importance by being applied to God.

[Entry 16]

You may insist, for instance, that Yahweh is His proper name. I would agree (although you should charitably remember that many of my other readers would not) that He has taught us to call Him this–or, rather, that He taught us to call Him something, but thanks to historical factors ‘Yahweh’ is perhaps the closest we can now come to the pronunciation of that lost name. But what does Yahweh mean? It doesn’t seem to mean anything, unless perhaps an abbreviation for the phrase “I AM THAT I AM”; and in Jewish scriptures it is often replaced with (the plural form of) “Lord”. I agree, He is the Lord. But lords exist who are not God, don’t they? He is the King of Kings, yet there are kings who are not He. If I called God “King” throughout my discourses of Him, would you say I have denied or underplayed His Personhood, by using ‘merely’ a title and not a ‘proper name’? Yet ‘Lord’ as such is also ‘merely’ a title, and not a ‘proper name’. Indeed all of our names, to the best of my knowledge, are ‘merely’ titles if we insist on reducing them–and the person who insists on marginalizing God will insist on reductions of this sort no matter what you or I call Him. My own name could be transliterated to mean ‘healer in the grassy meadow’, or ‘babbling thin bookish man’! This is what happens if we place too much weight on the name of God.

If I think it worthwhile to preserve and ratify the concept of the personhood of God, and if I am told that I must do so through the acceptance of a name which itself means less than God (as if that name was not itself a titular recognition of some aspect of His personality), then I would shut myself in a tower of contemplation and leave the field unchecked to the sceptics.

[Entry 17; next to last entry for this series–and for this Section!]

No; you may depend upon it: God’s ‘personhood’ will not be ratified nor guarded by a name less than God (however applicable and lovely and pertinent and divinely sanctioned such a name may be); and a name equivalent to God might as well be God. I am told that Jehovah is not a real word, being a transliterated mush of Latin, Hebrew, Greek or whatnot. I say: by God Himself, Jehovah is a real word and means God, if I honestly and seriously and reverently use it for that purpose, no matter its origins! Am I supposed to think that God, Who in Hebrew Scripture alone gives us dozens of purportedly legitimate ways to name Him (most of them adjectives and gerunds which can be legitimately applied in lesser standing to many other subjects), cares overmuch whether I apply another batch of syllables to name Him, as long as by doing so I keep in mind Who He is and follow Him to the best of my ability to do so? I follow God, not (merely) His Name; I am not spending years writing this testimony in order to give sceptics better grounds (or believers clearer grounds) for joyfully receiving and following merely His Name!

Even the name/title ‘God’ is derived originally from a pagan word for deity–along with our English word ‘good’. But the word itself originally meant something fairly mundane (as mundane as an ancient word for ‘good’ can be); as do all of our names for God, even the ones I think He has used of Himself. As I argued in chapter 11, if we despise metaphorical language when speaking about God, we will only end up using metaphors of a type perhaps significantly different from our best ideas of Him.

Besides, while I am certainly not adverse to using names which mean ‘King’ or ‘Lord’–as I frequently do in my own devotions to Him, and contemplations with Him–I have my own reasons, to be given later, for preferring to use a name that means ‘Good’.

(And for preferring to use a name that means ‘The Lord God saves’…)

[Entry 18; finale for this series, and for this Section of series]

All this being the case, I will continue to speak of God as “God” throughout this book; and I will continue to use the traditional masculine pronouns.

And having cleared away a few minor (but possible) stumbling blocks to the best of my ability (and having spliced into their proper place some earlier arguments of mine in my first section, in order to smooth out some rather more serious wrinkles), I now find myself free to proceed along my path–and perhaps to begin unraveling the problem of action-to-action which I detected in my most recent chapter.

Next up: the beginning of Series 300, i.e. Section Three, “Creation and the Second Person”]