The Evangelical Universalist Forum

JRP's Bite-Sized Metaphysics (Series 303)

[This is the start of Section Three, Creation and the Second Person. An index with links to all parts of the work as they are posted can be found [url=]here.]

[This series concludes Chapter 23, “The Unity”.]

[Entry 1]

Is it necessary that God must be Self-Begetting and Self-Begotten?

Well, it is necessary that God (as the intentionally active, Self-existent Independent Fact) must be self-generative; and it is necessary that what He self-generates must be fully and completely Himself. This might only mean, that as part of an increasing knowledge of God’s aspects, we could treat this aspect of God (a Unity of Persons) as being something of a “useful legal fiction”; as we might consider a self-consistent equation to be two ‘different’ formulas, because the formulas (although they are ultimately the same) ‘look’ different. For certain purposes we might use the formula on the left side of the equal sign; while for other purposes, we might be better served by using the formula on the right. The statement of principle would in either case be ultimately the same, but we might find different valid uses for different expressions of the statement.

To this extent, enriching my perception of God by recognizing a ‘unity in multiplicity’ might be quite useful; but by itself that doesn’t make it necessarily more than a convenient description. Theologians may recognize this to be a doctrine of modalism–so far!

Yet there is a philosophical problem (more than one, actually) that requires a fully robust characteristic, beyond this mere ‘modalism’, in order to be solved.

[Entry 2]

Philosophers (theistic and non-theistic, Christian and non-Christian) have occasionally debated the question of whether it makes sense to say that God is ‘conscious’. The argument runs something like this: we theists say (for various reasons) that God is rational, sentient, active, and so forth. This indicates consciousness. Yet we have discovered that it is inconsistent to claim that someone is ‘conscious’ if that person has no perception of an ‘other’ for purposes of distinctive comparison.

Put another way, how could I possibly claim to be ‘I myself’ or even cogently perceive myself as ‘myself’, if I do not recognize something which is distinctively not ‘myself’?

You may think this would be easy to overcome; I know it certainly feels easy to me! But I think our ease at overcoming this conceptual problem stems from our inability to even adequately (much less accurately) imagine a state of absolutely nothing that is not nevertheless distinctive from our individual ‘selfs’. Our picture-thinking here defeats us; I can easily picture myself floating in a disembodied state in the middle of a void. But the void is not myself, and is very easily distinguished from my conception of ‘self’. In simplest terms, it is ‘there’ and I am ‘here’.

You should notice that a similar problem quickly arises when we try to ‘picture’ God and only God existing. We tend to think of God hanging in a void somewhere, and then (perhaps) ‘banging’ the physical universe into existence with an explosion in this void.

But whatever creation ‘ex nihilo’ (or ‘from nothing’) means–and I will be returning to this topic soon–it cannot quite mean that.

[Entry 3]

The void itself must either be a creation of God (putting the problem of picturing God as existing only by Himself one stage further back for no gain); or it must itself be an Independent, and that reintroduces all the intrinsic problems of cosmic dualisms. If I decide that cosmic dualisms are functionally impossible, then I am required to expunge even this image when I try to think of God existing only by Himself–even literally by (as the self-Begetting) Himself. I think this state of existence must be unpictureable, rather like many mathematic or sub-physic truths are unpictureable.

Either way, we return to the problem some philosophers, especially some atheistic or agnostic philosophers, have raised concerning the cogency of claiming that God is ‘conscious’. Yet, as I have already demonstrated, if I take my own rationality seriously (and if my specific argument along this line remains valid), then I will fetch up sooner or later at the necessary existence of a sentient Independent Fact: God. It would be inconsistent (I agree with the atheists here) to say that God has these properties and yet is not conscious at that fundamental state of His existence. And I further agree (again with the atheists) that without a distinctive difference of states, it is nonsensical to say that God could be ‘conscious’.

[Entry 4]

A pantheist, of course, could say that I am begging the question against pantheism here; but if pantheism (naturalistic theism) is true, then there is no ‘creation’ per se; the evident system of Nature around us is itself God. (Or the evident system of Nature around us is completely illusory. Either way, God is God alone under pantheistic systems.) But God is God alone under pantheistic systems; and my problem here is that sentience implies consciousness, my previous argument concludes the IF is sentient, and consciousness requires a distinction of ‘other’.

(Not surprisingly, a number of pantheistic systems imply that God is and is not sentient; or that God isn’t really sentient at all–perhaps has even no existence at all (even as the IF). I have previously (in Section One) rejected those types of pantheism, due to argumentation on other grounds.)

If naturalistic theism (pantheism) is true, then God has no distinction of ‘other’ (which is required for consciousness); yet even if supernaturalism is true, then God’s own ‘nature’ is not fully accounted for by a created non-eternal ‘subordinate’ ‘Nature’. We might perhaps say that something God has created is ‘eternal’ although subordinate, and that this would supply the necessary distinction of ‘other’. Perhaps; but the most fundamental thing God creates (or perhaps I should say ‘generates’) is Himself, self-existent as God: that which (as the self-existent Independent Fact) is truly eternal. This action on God’s part must be more fundamental than the creation of anything not-God.

[Entry 5]

Therefore, I think I can necessarily conclude that if God necessarily exists, then God has never been in a state where there was only ‘sheerly’ God with no distinctive differentiation. And the begettor/begotten distinction satisfies this requirement in the most basic manner possible; for differentiation requires some type of action by the IF, and there can be no more basic action than self-generation.

Thus I conclude that God’s most basic action, the action of Self-generation, eternally introduces into His own most basic level of reality a true distinction of some sort; one which is intimately connected to the relationship between God as the cause of Self-generation and God as the result of Self-generation which is He Himself God.

The simplest possible way of stating this would be: God the Begettor is in some true sense one distinctive Person, and God the Begotten is in some true sense another distinctive Person.

Modalism is refuted–the theology where differentiation of Persons in the Divine Unity is only apparent not actual. Or rather, modalism is only false insofar as modalism is only modalism!–God does operate in conceptual modes, but at the level of self-generation the mode of operation involves real multiple persons. The Father/Son imagery turns out to be increasingly more accurate.

(Note: Why am I not using Father/Daughter as the analogical way of describing this relationship of God to God? Because what God is ‘begetting’, in self-generation (remember my term ‘begetting’ here is analogical), is fully God’s self, the chief possible agent; and the Daughter-imagery-language would tend to implicitly deny this aspect for the 2nd Person. See my last chapter in Section Two for a short discussion on the generally accepted masculine/feminine agent/patient descriptor relationship in philosophy. Still, in some ways it would be a little more philosophically and poetically proper to use feminine language for the 2nd Person than for the 1st. And if pantheism turns out to be true after all, it might be better to speak of both Persons in feminine language!–though see again, from that chapter’s discussion, the problems with doing so while keeping the concept of primary agency.)

[Entry 6]

Does this mean these 1st and 2nd Persons of God are completely distinct? No; what God begets, in self-generation, must fully be Himself. The unity is preserved; and indeed without some distinctive-yet-interlocked relationship there can be no unity, per se. A sheer One is not itself (or Himself) a ‘Unity’–in union.

(Ironically, the so-called “unitarian” Christians, while they may in a way profess some kind of unity between God and man, cannot consistently profess a “unitarian God” per se at God’s own level of existence–not without shifting meanings of “unitarian” to mean, absolutely not a unity of persons, but a mere singularity of person.)

This union of the Divine Unity is another necessity, which for us must necessarily be unpictureable. Lewis (among others) suggests that our difficulties in drawing a balance between these concepts can be illustrated in the following fashion.

Let us suppose that a 3-Dimension man attempted to explain (or even to describe!) a cube to a completely 2-D man. The 2-D man (per this example) has no 3-D perception: he can only perceive (and thus mentally picture) height and width, not depth. He can therefore perceive squares and rectangles (for instance)–but not cubes.

On the other hand, you and I, as 3-D people, can easily understand (but still not at all perceive, in its fullness!) six squares united to comprise one solid cube. The faces of the cube are distinct and, in a way, have their own distinctive properties; but they comprise a unity of the cube.

[Entry 7]

However, if we try to explain this to a 2-D man, and give him pictures to understand, we can (in principle) only do one of two things. We can either draw a “cube” for him, where the six sides are completely distinct and not intimately united; or we can draw a “cube” where the six sides are intimately united, but overlap too much and lose their proper distinctions.

Perhaps our best hope would be to draw both sorts of “cube” as correctives for each other, and try to teach the 2-D man that a “cube” is something other than these two representations: something that shares some of their positive properties while transcending them.

I do not think we could blame the 2-D man for not understanding, nor for rejecting, the concept of a 3-D cube; or at best going with one or the other of the representations. (Not coincidentally, most Christian ‘heresies’ propose one or the other of the “2-D cube” pictures (so to speak), either in their Christology, or at the level of God’s own existence.) Nevertheless, the cube does still exist.

Similarly, as I speak about the Unity, you and I will be more-or-less in the position of the 2-D man. We cannot easily (if at all) picture such a concept mentally. That doesn’t mean such a Unity cannot exist, for physicists will tell you that our concepts of chemical arrangements and atoms and sub-atomic particles and their interrelations are also unpictureable–the physicists can at best provide us with two or three different sorts of picture, to try to get across some aspects of the reality. Yet the combined (and unpictureable as combined) properties of those entities still (as far as we can tell) are true–and can be understood to be true.

[Entry 8; next to last for this series]

Therefore, if I have discovered that God, at His most fundamental level of reality, is first and foremost a Unity of Persons–one distinctively Begetting and one distinctively Begotten, both of them constituting a common ‘substance’ (so to speak) of existence–and yet I cannot quite picture this adequately in my mind, I am not overly concerned. Having reached this position by deductive logic, I am not worried about a lack of totally accurate mental imagery, as long as the underlying precepts remain self-consistent. The Father/Son imagery, as far as I can tell, is adequate; if God is not quite this, then He is more not less–but He will be ‘more’ along those same lines.

And this brings me back to my potential problem from Chapter 20. A very large part (perhaps even the most important part) of my rationale for deducting atheism (and its subordinate branches) out of the philosophical option list, involved my recognition that the general atheistic claim ‘actions are produced ultimately by reactions’ (or ‘initiations are ultimately produced by noninitiations’) is nonsensical; whereupon I found myself obligated to wonder whether the general theistic claim ‘actions are ultimately produced by actions’ is also nonsensical.

Specifically, I found I should ask whether it makes cogent sense, to say that derivative actions (such as what my behaviors seem to be) ultimately are produced by independent actions (such as what God’s behaviors as the IF must be).

While puzzling this over, I decided that one solution would be to conclude that there are not in fact such things as derivative actions–in other words, what might seem like my derivative actions are in reality God’s direct actions. The problem would then be mooted; because the only behaviors left over would be the actions of the IF, and perhaps blindly automatic reactions (such as Nature’s)–leaving aside the question of how Nature fits into the scheme (a topic I will be returning to soon.)

[Entry 9; finale for this series]

That type of solution might provide us a pantheistic universe or a supernaturally theistic one, depending on whether the field of Nature turns out to be, itself, fully God. But the disadvantage to this sort of solution is that ‘I’ would not exist, per se. This lack of distinctive existence on ‘my’ part might not necessarily invalidate the logic-train by contradicting the Golden Presumption, because the action involved in this solution remains the IF’s. Yet, such a tactic succeeds by removing one of the ‘actions’ from the proposition ‘actions produce actions’.

It now turns out, that whatever else we say about God, He Himself (speaking of the Unity of Divinity as a single and personal entity) must necessarily be taking a certain action that results in His ability to take actions; which is how self-sustenance works for an ultimately Independent active entity. Thus at the most basic level of activity (and existence) in reality, I find that action can in fact be produced by action.

So my dilemma from Chapter 20 begins to unsnarl a bit: action-into-action is a viable proposition–even if by itself this does not yet cover the proposition of action into non-Independent action.

Having established the transpersonal unity of God, and having worked out a few corollaries, I now will consider the topic of actions other than begetting–if indeed such activity by God should be said to exist.

Next up: creation or Creator?]