Sunday 16 June 2013

Pluralism is true, God is within reality: a metaphysical proof


If God made every particle of stuff and all the rules and laws and forces by which they interact; then God would be responsible for absolutely everything - both in terms of having made the nature of things and underwriting from moment to moment everything that happens.

This is monism.

Essentially there is God only - and everything else is a kind of swirling within God.

Clearly, there is no place for free will in such a monistic concept - everything is God.

(There is no such distinct thing as Good that could be compared with God - because Good is just a part of God. Good is God.)


If God is conceptualized as eternal within reality, and having shaped pre-existing stuff using pre-existing rules and laws and forces; then God is not responsible for everything.

This is - one type of - pluralism.

Essentially there is God and at least one other thing. Some things are within God, but others are not.

With pluralism, God is not everything; and is therefore contained by everything (as the most powerful thing, vastly the most powerful thing - but not infinitely the most powerful thing: not every-thing).

Free will is a possible consequence of the fact that some things are not (or to be exact, not wholly) within God.


Thus free will is not a gift of God but either:

1. An illusion - if monism is true;

or else  

2. a possible but not necessary fact of reality if pluralism is true.


However, for Christians, the reality of free will is a truth given by revelation.

Therefore, since free will entails pluralism; then pluralism is true.

Thus, reality is plural - God is within reality, and not vice versa.


Note: clearly, Christianity is not strictly monist, but Trinitarian - and the Godhead is Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Q: What difference does this make? A: The above argument is not affected. Either the Godhead is everything, contains everything; or else the Godhead is not everything, and is contained by everything.  


Christian in Hollyweird said...

What of "in Him we live and move and have our being"? Perhaps we're swirling within God physically and spiritually, but separated (if not a Christian) relationally. "Will" might be like a lease given to us on earth but returned to God upon our death (if an unbeliever) or joined for eternity (if a believer)

Bruce Charlton said...

@CiH - This might be the case - but then there is no real free will.

Since what feels like free will is constituted by wholly God-made ingredients operating under wholly God-made rules on a moment-to-moment basis - then there is no space for real free will.

At most, free will can be seen to be something like the 'as if' fictional free will of characters in a novel; or of characters in our dreams.

The Crow said...

Free will is as simple as:
You may choose to be healthy or not healthy.
You may be one with reality, or aligned in opposition to it. There really is no other choice.
Being one with reality entails - among other things - declining the temptation to explain what everything is and how it works.
Reality is mysterious and unknowable.
While being simple to be aware of.

FHL said...

I am hesitant to attempt theology.

But I don't understand the dichotomy that you've created. Either (you say) we were created by God, in which case we are not truly free, since we were created through His energies and thus we are somehow "controlled" by His rules and nature, or (you say) our souls have eternally existed and we were "formed" or given "person-hood" by God, in which case we are, apparently, free.

How are we not constrained by this supreme reality, the one that God used? How does the question "How are we free from God's creative energies?" not just shift one step backward and ask "Well then how are we free from this Ultimate Soul-Stuff?"

It seems like you are saying: I want what I want, not because I created by God to want that, but because I want that, therefore I am free.

But are you really? Can you want something else? Can you, say, decide to want to burned with everlasting fire in hell? Can anyone?

And what about this peculiar fact that everyone seems to want to similar things, and that God seems to want these things as well? If you say, "Well that's because God is also made up of Ultimate Reality, so there are similarities" then why is it a problem if God is the sole Pantocrator or not? How does it affect my freedom in either way? Either way, my "freedom," as you (I think) have defined it, is contained.

I am created by God, but I am also created by my parents, and I reflect both, neither at the cost of the other, because my parents, and their parents, and so on up to the beginning were created by God.

I am sorry if I am completely off the field here; I am trying to comprehend why you believe that God as Pantocrator conflicts with free-will.

As for my own beliefs, a turning point in my thoughts was when I realized that God was indeed the Pantocrator, creator of all the is both seen and unseen, and that by His breath reality exists and is sustained, and that by not conforming to His nature, I, myself, **I** was actually ceasing to exist. My soul was [i]literally disappearing[/i]; I was decaying into nothingness. It is metaphorically like biological decay: the stuff that makes a man's body doesn't actually get destroyed, even after it is fully decayed, it is still there, but it becomes something else, something less of a person than it used be, instead of something with a definite purpose and life, it branches out into a billion little mechanical, rule-based functions, ceasing to be whole, ceasing to have any creative energy, ceasing to be a person.

Freedom to me is not "to be this or that..." but rather, it is "to be or not to be." -full stop.

I become more and more of a distinct person when I reflect God's nature because God's nature is that of a distinct person, who reflects, who feels, who interacts with purpose and plan, and when I deviate from that, when I choose to use my free-will to sin and follow base passions, I reflect the non-personal "stuff" that is constrained by rules and hard-set mechanics, created by God through his creative energies, and sustained by Him, but not in His image. The created things are NOT God, not even man, but only man is created “in His image.” Created things are good, but just good, while He saw that man was "very good."

All of this was later affirmed to me when I read St. Augustine's Confessions.

FHL said...

2 more quick points:

1. God cannot not be God. Some view this as a constraint. They think that there must therefore be a higher reality which restricts God to His own nature. If they had a deeper view of Christianity or reality, they would see that it was not at all a weakness or disability. But if all you are saying is that there must be stability in reality, and that this stability restricts God from being random/chaotic (ex: God couldn't have created a world where we think cowardice is a virtue), then I would agree, although I wouldn't word it like that, since I do not think it a matter of God's being "restricted."

2. I find myself on one of those rare occasions where I completely agree with The Crow. Although if pushed to elaborate, I think we'd come to find that we would sharply part company a little down the road. I think what he calls "reality" I would call the "created world," which can, in certain unique and rare circumstances, be opposed while still aligning oneself with reality (which I would call "God," who is "Love") (example: miracles, such as Peter's walking on water).

But who knows, maybe not. For what it's worth, I really like his comment.

FHL said...

Another thing:

I should probably leave this alone, taking The Crow's advice to heart, but it's too late, I'm too far in. I've opened up the floodgates to a backed-up waterway of thoughts in my mind, and I can't close them until the pressure stabilizes!

Earlier I said that if you meant God had to be moral, then I would agree with you (God cannot not be God).

If, however, you were to separate morality and God, and say that stability of the Good does not imply stability of God, and that God therefore could have indeed created a world in which we think cowardice is a virtue, but in which we would not have been free, since to be free is to know and be part of this higher reality, then I would have to disagree. (the hypothetical collapses on itself anyway- if we aren't free, how can we have any virtues at all?)

In my mind, God and the reality of Good are one and the same. It seems that you may think that God could have made an evil world, but chose not to, whereas I think He cannot have created an evil world. Under this worldview, if this is indeed your worldview, God's freedom has been overemphasized to the point that we lose His love. But God has never been defined as freedom, He has never said “I am freedom incarnate,” but rather He said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Likewise, it has been stated that “God is love.” (notice: not “God loves,” not “God lives and will help you live,” not “God is real and it is truthful to acknowledge Him,”: but God IS Love, God IS Truth, God IS Life; if there's any sort of “God-stuff” that He's made out of, then it must be Love, Life, and Truth).

It is the Truth which will “set you free.”

A thought: although one can never be precise or satisfy everyone, it is relatively easier to imagine possible definitions for Life, Truth, and Love than it is for Freedom or Free-will, for which almost every proposed definition is incoherent, and seems to boil down to “uncontrolled but somehow, paradoxically, not random.” Perhaps it is because Free-will is not by itself a thing, not a reality, but that it is rather contingent upon, and only finds its meaning within, some other higher reality?

When asked who He was, He replied “I AM THAT I AM” instructing Moses to tell pharaoh that he had been sent by “I AM.”

The logical conclusion therefore is that Love, Life, and Truth are one and the same, and that they form the basis of existence, completely sovereign and not reliant on any other sort of reality or nature or thing, and that there cannot be life nor even truth without love.

I know this opens up a whole can of worms like “If God is love, then how did He freely choose to sacrifice Himself on the Cross?” And “how can truth be related to love? Why would love be a necessary requirement for truth, which one would think would have to be independent of intentions?”

I know, I've thought about these things often. But I'm mentally exhausted right now, and you're probably sick of me by now, so I'll leave that for another day.

Kristor said...

The two alternatives you propose are not exhaustive. This is fortunate, because they both have serious problems. Under the monist alternative, we lack not only freedom but actual existence (this is a clue to the fact that freedom and actuality are a package deal). Under the radically pluralist alternative, in which God orders an eternal chaotic matter, there is the problem of which is ultimate, God or matter; so that the problem of monism versus pluralism is kicked up a level. If one of the two is ultimate, then we are back at monism; whereas if neither is ultimate, then there is no ultimate at all, and thus there is no God, properly speaking.

Fortunately, the middle, orthodox way is still open to us: God creates things other than himself out of nothing (I should note in passing that sheer chaotic matter, sheer potentiality to become something or other, has no actuality; only something or other, that is just itself and wholly definite, can have actuality). Once they have existence, ipso facto they have freedom. Thus we get a pluralistic universe, but without postulating more than one ultimate.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Kristor. "I found that God creates things other than himself out of nothing ... Once they have existence, ipso facto they have freedom."

I don't think this works as a basis for free will. If God wrote the plans, made the ingredients, assembled the creature - and it runs by His rules, and is indeed sustained in existence by him on a moment-to-moment basis... then where does the freedom come in?

On this model, *everything* is made by God, and works according to His procedures.

For free will to be real, it entails that *something* is not a part of this comprehensive scheme.

Bruce Charlton said...

@FHL - This posting is, of course, just a reworking of arguments I have already made (and stolen!) over the past few months.

There is no *intrinsic* problem of God and free for Christianity - the problem arises when it is taken as axiomatic that God does everything in the universe, that the Universe is within God. i.e. A hardline version of omnipotence.

If this hardline omnipotence is insisted upon as axiomatic, and everything in Christianity is forced to fit within it, then it leads to insoluble paradoxes of many types.

The solution is quite simple, although its specifics are imprecise. Give up hardline omnipotence. To do this means - intrinsically - to become a pluralist of some stripe.

All Christians are already pretty advanced pluralists - due to the Trinity, and to the distinction between God and nature - but most Christian intellectuals have felt that this pluralism must be denied or obfuscated.

The Bible, read in a straightforward way, is even more pluralist than the intellectuals would have it - with a variety of Gods, and God always a personage with passions (hence limited rather than infinite in extent).

My belief is that all this is a second order issue, and Christians should not feel that they have to force revelation into the strait jacket of philosophical axioms.

This was the tendency of Orthodoxy as well, at least relatively and compared with Western Catholicism - philosophical debate was terminated by 'mystery' or by authority (of the Fathers, or advanced mystics) or by analogy and pictures...

John said...

Whatever happened to submitting to tradition?

Anonymous said...

If monism is true, then all things are One Thing, God.

If God's Will is free, then there is One Free Will in all the universe, and any lesser, illusionary, egotistic notion of will which seeks to oppose the One True Will must be meaningless and doomed to failure.

Thus free will in humans is not absolute. A human's will is free to the extent that the human resembles God. If a human wants to have freer will, that human must become more godlike.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Anon (please use a pseudonym!) - to me the conclusion of your argument is not a 'non-absolute free will' - which seems like a self-contradiction - but no free will at all. In other words, you would agree that monism means no real free will.

Bruce Charlton said...

@John - There are various traditions, this is one of them.

Kristor said...

Bruce, you write:

“If God wrote the plans, made the ingredients, assembled the creature - and it runs by His rules, and is indeed sustained in existence by him on a moment-to-moment basis... then where does the freedom come in?”

Well, as you here describe the process of becoming, freedom can’t come in anywhere. If a creature is nothing but a sort of tinker toy that God puts together, and which then just sits there motionless except insofar as he moves it, then obviously the tinker toy has not done anything, has not participated at all in its assembly or activity. But notice that in that case, the assemblage has no intrinsic reality. It is just a bunch of tinker toys, and nothing more. All reductionism has this same effect, of deleting the reality of the thing it tries to explain by reduction.

Becoming isn’t like that. What has no power to act cannot complete the action from potentiality to actuality. If therefore we find that creatures are actual, they must inherently possess the power to act.

One must leave behind the model wherein God does just everything, and instead move to an image of God planting seeds of living creatures that then sprout and take up life – a life of their own, that can go one way or another – that they can take one way or another. God himself speaks of his creative act in these terms. In verses 3-8 of Matthew 13, Jesus tells how he sows the seeds. In verses 19-23, he tells how the lives he has planted go one way or another.

Bruce Charlton said...


Against that I am more convinced by what McTaggart is quoted as saying in the passage excerpted here

"If God created our souls, He 'could have prevented all sin by creating us with better natures and in more favourable surroundings... Hence we should not be responsible for our sins to God....

"This is the same logic by which we assign blame in all other instances where there is a creator and a thing created. If a bridge collapses, we hold responsible the person that designed the bridge or executed its construction..."

In sum, I think the argument you outline is a type of special pleading - allowing God exemption from generally applied moral rules and causal attributions.

Also, I think that your argument breaks down when it is considered how God (when considered in a hardline omniscient fashion) does not only 'plant the seed'. but also made the soil and sustains the conditions of growth - this type of conception of God does not have him plant a seed then stand back and allow events to unfold, as a farmer might.

Rather, the Christian God must be Himself a personage lovingly-concerned by the life of each human person/ agent, active in a moment-to-moment relationship which shapes each to some extent (if that relationship is freely-accepted by the agent).

So, in sum, the planting seed metaphor does not do enough to address the problem of free will being excluded (being illusory) when the universe is understood as created from nothing and in all its attributes by a hardline-conceived, monist, omniscient God.

Kristor said...

McTaggart writes:

"If God created our souls, He could have prevented all sin by creating us with better natures and in more favourable surroundings... Hence we should not be responsible for our sins to God...."

But if God did not create our souls, then how are we responsible to him for anything at all? If he were not inherently our author, and King, then why should we owe him anything? If, when all is said and done, he were just one worldly cause among the many others that contribute their inputs to us, why then should we owe him anything more than we owe, say, the cup of coffee we just drank, or the roast beef we had last night for dinner? If he were but one worldly cause among many, whence his moral suasion, or our moral obligation? From his mere power, and he nothing but a great tyrant? In that case, we should owe him no more allegiance than the terrified subject of Stalin owed to his implacable dictator. Certainly we should in that case owe him no worship; for such a ruler would not be worthy thereof.

If God were but one worldly cause among many, then there would be no such thing, ultimately, as sin, or as righteousness; for his standards of virtue and vice would be then just his opinion, dignified above other opinions, such as our own, only by his overweening power, and nothing more. In that case, the rebellions of Lucifer and Adam, and Nietzsche, would have been merely Promethean, and like that of Prometheus, rather admirable.

Finally, if God were but one worldly cause among others, in what sense could we properly call him God, or address him as such? He would then be nothing more than Zeus: a big, dangerous bully, whom we must propitiate, but whom we need not, and indeed cannot love. Zeus is a god, but he is not God. If Zeus is the closest thing there is to ultimacy, then there is no God, properly speaking; and this is tantamount to atheism.

All you have to do in order to get out of this conundrum is exercise a little philosophical discretion in your rejection of the “hardline … monist, omniscient God,” so that you don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Monist acosmism and atheism do not exhaust the alternatives.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Kristor - Yes, but God is our Heavenly Loving *Father*. That is the key. Zeus was not the father of Men.

Gnecht said...

"Before the cock crows, you will deny me thrice."

Did Peter still have free will after that?

Bob Wright said...

A straightforward reading of Genesis does not seem to imply creatio ex nihilo at all.

It says that "the earth was without form and void". So there was God, and there was the swirling chaos of matter from the very beginning. This seems to jibe with other early accounts of creation, where there was Order and Chaos from the very beginning.

I also get the impression in the OT that the Hebrew God is not the only "god", but is the God who chose the Israelites and is perhaps the most powerful. "You shall have no other gods before me" implies that there are others you could have.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Gnecht. If St Peter did not have free will, why did he feel guilty? He chose, and chose wrongly.

@BW - Agreed.

Kristor said...

"@Kristor - Yes, but God is our Heavenly Loving *Father*. That is the key. Zeus was not the father of Men."

Doesn't matter. If God, like Zeus, were one worldly cause among others, then he would be only a god, not God. He might then still be *our* god, but in no sense would he be God, properly speaking. We would then be forced to posit a High God over him and prior to him, and that High God would be God. But this move was already accomplished for us circa 1700 BC, and has been orthodox dogma for more than 3000 years. It provides us both the "immortal invisible God only wise, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes," and a concrete divine man who loves us as one of his own, and lives and acts in history.

What is the problem? What is lacking in this?