Wednesday 17 October 2018

The most important metaphysical assumption

The most important metaphysical assumption is the loving creator.

This is really The Key to understanding reality - and it is, indeed, the key to the possibility of understanding anything.

This key was given in the person and teachings of Jesus; but it is also directly-available to anybody and everybody by personal revelation of the Holy Ghost.

It is because God is creator that God knows; and it is because God loves us that he has made this a world in which we too can know.

And - assuming the truth of the loving creator - without knowledge of the loving creator, we will necessarily misinterpret, will fail to understand, everything in this world; because we will be attempting to understand reality in a false context: a context lacking a loving creator makes the world not-necessarily coherent, thus unknowable; and our own 'knowledge' (of any-thing, even of context) arbitrary or self-contradictory. 

This is ultimately why Christianity was conducive to theology, philosophy and science... because the assumptions of Christianity make rational the hope that Man can Know.

Ultimately, the only reason to believe in the loving creator is that it is true; and that it is true can only be known by personal revelation, and by the further recognition that personal revelation is the ultimate form of knowledge. So this must also be assumed.

Once the loving creator has been believed, once known - had-faith-in; then (in principle) everything potentially makes-sense to us.

Conversely, lacking belief in the loving creator, there is no reason why we would be able to know anything - and indeed this is the implicit (sometimes explicit) position of other religions and of atheism: i.e. that Man does not understand anything.

In sum: more than just the reality of a creator deity is necessary for human knowledge - because real human knowledge also requires the loving 'attitude' of God (the creator) towards Men.

Thus a personal creator God, God-as-a-person (capable of love), is a necessary requirement for there to be any possibility of human knowledge. 


Chiu ChunLing said...

I will finesse the difference between "knowledge" and "truth" here.

We could have knowledge (by several definitions of the term) without assuming that there was a benevolent God, but we could never have any reason to believe that there was anything good (for us) about knowing it rather than not knowing it. Without that confidence, even the desire for knowledge (let alone the knowledge itself) is more of a curse than anything else.

Truth is knowledge that we can apply for some desired purpose, even if all we want is to test a proposition to find out if it matches our experience of reality rather than failing to do so. That is merely a way of saying that it is knowledge that it is good to know, the kind of knowledge that makes you free by allowing you to discern which options you have are associated with outcomes that are desirable.

Knowledge that cannot inform your actions towards an objective is not true in any meaningful sense. Even if it could inform our actions, but does not actually do so, it could be said that it is not true for us (though the more common and appropriate way to say this is that we are not true to it, since the usual reason this occurs is because of our will to not have our actions informed by our knowledge).

So it is not knowledge as such (of any of several definitions) that is impossible without the basic assumption of a loving Creator, but only the knowledge of truth (that is the most significant definition of knowledge). Without assuming a particular benevolence of the Creator, we are assuming that all knowledge must be suspect and unreliable as a guide to helping us realize desires.

For the vast majority of what we "know", this is true anyway. Only what is validly confirmed to us personally by divine revelation should be considered reliable. Without truth, our only option is despair. But to know the truth requires action on our part, and that is a powerful incentive to not know...or at least pretend we do not.

I have never particularly cared to deny that God existed and was good. When I didn't want to live according to that knowledge, I simply accepted that I was bad (or, at least, not good). That is because I never aspired to be considered "good" in the first place, least of all by my own reckoning. Which probably isn't a good thing (it's clearly a bad thing to prefer to think oneself good to actually being good, but it's probably a good thing to wish to be good, I don't know it's possible to do this without wanting to think oneself good).

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL "We could have knowledge (by several definitions of the term) without assuming that there was a benevolent God, "

No, I think that's wrong. Religions with a non-loving creator God seem - when pushed to the crux - to deny the possibility of genuine human knowledge; except (somehow) knowledge of the reality and commands of that God.

Indeed, quite a lot of self-identified Christians have expressed this view - again, I think, because they do not really believe in the Goodness and Love of God.

Unknown said...

You are of course correct Bruce.

Religions which don't believe in a creator God believe all knowledge is provisional, relative - ultimately illusions.

They believe Reality as such cannot be known - and to get to it, we have to get past knowledge. In fact abandon knowledge for immediate experience.

However, I have a logical quibble.

In your system, God himself isn't responsible for existence as such, but a "creature" like us. He also found himself existing without knowing how or why. In a sense he was "grown" by the Universe - like we all were.

Such a God, when creating this world, would merely recreate what he understood by knowledge - but since he is not the Absolute, he has no way of knowing if his knowledge is correct. He cannot ratify his own knowledge.

It seems to me that your system doesn't really solve problems but pushes them into the background and forgets about them.

A creator God that is not the Absolute but cannot account for his own existence may solve some of the conundrums of Christian doctrine but just push the basic metaphysical questions into the background.

But perhaps I have erred in questioning primary assumptions rather than making interesting points within the framework of this blog.

As you note, primary assumptions cannot be questioned.

Chiu ChunLing said...

The point I am making is of the distinction between "knowledge" and "truth". Truth would correspond to "genuine knowledge". The honesty of what is genuine is part of the dictionary definition of the term. But knowledge can be of things that are merely factual (in the original meaning), or even of things that are mere convention.

That is, truth is a specific type of knowledge, knowledge includes mere symbolic transcription (book learning) as well as concepts that have no correspondence with actual experience.

The distinction is important because knowledge that is not true does not make us free, and thus does not alleviate despair, it merely transforms it into existential despair. The common definition of "knowledge" is simply what is known, and "know" does not imply that only true things can be known, it only ever implies that the knower believes those things (and does not imply even this in all uses).

In contrast, the origin and history of "truth" specifies that it is a type of knowledge that we can trust in practice to distinguish a choice leading to a desired outcome from the alternatives. It is thus the kind of knowledge that requires benevolent Creation, as well as the only kind that is crucial to escaping despair.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

I think the possibility of knowledge has to be a basic assumption in its own right. It can't be derived from anything else, such as the existence of a loving Creator.

We can't just assume that a loving Creator must have given his creatures the ability to know. After all, as a matter of observed fact, most "creatures" (non-human organisms) have little or no capacity for real knowledge, yet they, too, it is assumed, were created by a loving Creator.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - Yes, and that was what I used to believe; but the basic assumptions need to cohere if life is to 'work'.

If you are a scientist who believes in the possibility of knowledge - yet that assumption does not cohere with your assumptions concerning the nature of the universe; then in modern conditions with these in conflict, the belief in knowledge is the one that gets dropped and one either ceases to believe in knowledge/ truth, or regards knowledge as non-binding/ non-Good - as with 99.99% of professional scientists.

@Unknown - In a metaphysical system that is geinuingly based on 'Process', or Polarity - or relationships between Beings as I prefer to call it - then God's knowledge will increase as God's capacity increases - which it will do as Men develop towards divinity and participate in universal reality.

The usual way of regarding objective knowledge is an abstraction - people suppose God to possess an absolute, infinite, perfect, unchangeing knowledge etc; then try to compare/ measure actual knowledge against this ideal abstraction...

This way of thinking/ reasoning is so embedded taht it hard to notice or reject. But I nonetheless regard it as wrong, an illegitimate assumption and leading to contradiction.

Tobias said...

"In your system, God himself isn't responsible for existence as such, but a "creature" like us. He also found himself existing without knowing how or why. In a sense he was "grown" by the Universe - like we all were.

Such a God, when creating this world, would merely recreate what he understood by knowledge - but since he is not the Absolute, he has no way of knowing if his knowledge is correct. He cannot ratify his own knowledge."

Unknown seems to be describing a 'God' like the Gnostic Yaldabaoth here - and I don't think that Dr Charlton means anything like this.

Yaldabaoth is the creation of Sophia (Mother Goddess) alone, without the input of the Father God. She recognises that Yaldabaoth is monstrous, and she is ashamed by what she has done, and hides Yaldabaoth in a cloud. This cloud prevents him from knowing his origins as a created being, and he assumes that he is the one true God. He goes on to create the universe, and he is angry and vengeful. This is how the Gnostics explain the god of the OT. The Gnostics see creation as bad and Yaldabaoth's grand error. Mankind can find a way back to the real God, through the Christ impulse. They don't recognise that Christ came to die for our sins, but to show us how to transcend matter (Yaldabaoth's/Jehovah's creation), and return to pure spirit form with God the Father. For Gnostics, Yaldabaoth/Jehovah is an ignorant bully, and he is an entirely different being from Christ, who is the emissary of God the Father.


Unknown said...


I may be wrong, but as far as I understand it Bruce considers the creator god of this world the demiurge and not the Absolute.

He is not omnipotent or omniscient, and was once a human like us (in eastern traditions all humans ARE god, but God, and thus we, are really the Absolute).

Such a God could not ratify his own knowledge since he isn't omniscient and also something "within" the universe - his knowledge would have to be a primary assumption.

We push it one step back - the God who created us loved us so gave us accurate knowledge. This logically solves the issue of how we know. But we must accept as a primary assumption that God himself possesses accurate knowledge.

Chiu ChunLing said...

I doubt that Charlton's position can be that "God himself isn't responsible for existence as such, but a "creature" like us. He also found himself existing without knowing how or why."

God may not be responsible for the fundamental ontological distinction between existence and nonexistence in Charlton's view (and cannot be in my view). But that does not equate to being a "creature", let alone "like us". Even if both those were true, it doesn't suggest that God also would have ever found Himself existing without clear and exact knowledge of how and why.

A minor side note, ontology exists after and dependent on the fundamental distinction between existence and nonexistence which it attempts to describe. So God could invent ontology, even without being responsible for what it describes. God could have been created almost like humans but with clear and exact knowledge of how and why. God could have simply occurred uncreated, with clear and exact knowledge of how and why. Certainly something must have, though whether it would in every case be a benevolent Creator is uncertain absent decisive assumptions.

As for the question of whether knowledge of truth would necessarily be possible given a benevolent Creator, I think that we also need the additional axiom that we desire such knowledge and that it is possible in principle. First, I will dispense with the idea that the instincts of animals are not truth. They clearly are, particularly in the natural environment before being altered by human action. They are not absolute truths in principle, but more statistical aggregates of which actions are the most likely to lead to satisfaction of instinctive desires. But the question then is whether animals really hunger to know absolute truths in principle, as well as whether they really can't know them in addition to instinct. These both seem to me a bridge too far, I cannot accept them as assumptions because these assumptions (taken together) seem contrary to what I have observed of animal behavior.

That is, I see no evidence that animals commonly live in existential despair. Humans do, but only those who desire to know truth but cannot bring themselves to seek it where it may be found.

So discarding that particular presumption that we have definite evidence that it is common in Creation for entities to desire truth that is impossible for them to know, I would turn to the question of whether the assumptions of these would really be separate from assuming the existence of a benevolent Creator.

I think that it is clear that an intentional Creator (whether or not benevolent) would need to know truth, that is, knowledge at least of whether an attempt at creating something was a match for the intention. This knowledge need not be in advance in order for it to be true, God could have been resorting to trial and error until coming up with a Creation that matched His intention, but the knowledge of truth about that Creation being as intended would be true knowledge and cover all aspects of Creation that matched the divine intention. So knowledge of truth would be logically implied by the minimal criteria on which we can define a benevolent Creator.

The other assumption is that any given creatures do really desire to know truth, and this I think we cannot infer...but I also do not accept that we should assume it in any case for which we do not have independent evidence to answer the question. I don't expect that Charlton is assuming it either, but rather asserting it based on personal experience. But that doesn't mean he doesn't feel it should be taken for granted, though exactly who should other than those who personally experience such desire is unclear to me.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Unknown - I do Not believe that God was once a human like us. I believe that God was Just There. That is the primary assumption.

But also that God is a Man and Woman, a dyad, the creator is both Man and Woman - so that this distinction goes all the way down, and the source and basis of 'polarity' and the fact that ultimate reality is 'dynamic', a 'process' - based on Love.

It seems clear to me that God's knowledge comes from being the Creator. It is not knowledge *about* reality - but the knowledge that comes from having create-ed reality, from continuing to create. The nature and scope of creation defines the scope of God's knowledge.

Human knowledge comes from being immersed-in creation (as in pre-mortal spirit life) - and our goal is knowledge from participating-in the work of creation.

Since creation is really-real, and an act of agency - and Men are real agents - God does not know what is happening in Men's agency. This is not a constrain, it is part of The Plan - from Love; God is raising up his children to join-in the work of creation. God does not jealously guard creation - but wants maximum participation in loving harmony.

Tobias said...

'I may be wrong, but as far as I understand it Bruce considers the creator god of this world the demiurge and not the Absolute.'

Unknown - Yes, that is what I thought you thought. Dr Charlton has corrected your understanding of his position now I take it?


Unknown said...

CCL - I think my point is simply that at some level, you have to accept valid knowledge as a primary assumption. It can't be proved. If you consider knowledge important (I do not).

Bruce - thank you very much for explaining.

In some ways it is strikingly similar to Buddhism and Taoism, which also sees existence as a process rather than independently existing entities. Everything depends on everything else (nothing exists "on its own"), which is polarity, and one can call it love.

Taoism says that by surrendering to life and not imposing your will on it, you become free and participate in creation.

But of course it's very different as well.

Tobias - he did indeed and it is much clearer to me now.

Bruce Charlton said...

@U - You don't understand! - but, then, I don't think you are really motivated to understand! At present you seem quite satisfied with your current views. If or until that changes, you won't be able to make the effort to get inside what I'm saying.

Unknown said...

Perhaps you are right, and I can see how the similarities are only superficial, but to me even that's interesting.

You are right, for the time being my understanding of the Eastern traditions (as well as Jesus) has given me a world view that has solved my existential insecurity.

If this changes I will no doubt make a much harder effort to understand these ideas.

In the meantime I'll still engage with your interesting blog.

Chiu ChunLing said...

It's not that the similarities are superficial, but that they are so fundamental that they underlie all religions (including non-nihilistic atheism) equally.

My own view is that Christ certainly lived as a human, subject to the full limitations of human existence (implying also that humans have, by submission of their own wills to God, access to the miracles Jesus demonstrated, many of which I have personally verified). I think it is likely to be true to a degree of God the Father, with the proviso that I do not suggest that it would have had to have been in the context of a Fallen world, which seems a unique condition.

That is, I do not necessarily assert that God's life as a man would have been "mortal" in the sense that we understand that term, nor would it have been without the benefit of clear and accurate knowledge of the method and intention of such existence (it also seems that it did not require an intercessory sacrifice for redemption from sin, as God did not commit any).

The difference here on the physical conditions of God's prior existence is minor compared with the point that God was always perfect in virtue rather than absolute in power. God's power is and always has been derived from virtue, rather than the other way round.

I think that Dr. Charlton agrees with me that there is some other entity or force in the universe that always has been and always will be more absolute in power that is not derived from virtue. But this is not the Demiurge, it is not a creator at all, let alone of worlds, but an indiscriminate destroyer.