This is a guest post by Eric Steinhart, Professor of Philosophy at William Paterson University.
As immanent, being-itself is just the ultimate nature of every natural thing. So, how does this immanent being-itself manifest itself? It manifests itself in all the categories of nature. These are the categories of naturalistic ontology. To use some language from Nicholas of Cusa, these categories are derived from the self-unfolding of being-itself. This unfolding is a self-sundering which in which being-itself splits into subordinate universals (which contrast with one another). Another name for this self-unfolding is the Greek term physis, from which we get our concept of nature and from which we take the name physics.
The categorical structure of an ontology is traditionally presented in a taxonomic tree. The root of the tree is the most generic universal (the deepest universal); as the tree branches, the more general categories divide into more specific categories. The tree is a genus-species taxonomy. It’s like listing the taxons of an organism: Kingdom > Phylum > Class > Order > Family > Genus > Species. For instance, being-itself splits into the categories of universal and particular; within the category of particulars, it splits into the mathematical , geometrical, and material; within the material, it splits into the simple and the complex; within the simple, it splits into quarks and leptons and bosons; within quarks it splits into the types of quarks. Thus, after a long series of divisions, being-itself manifests itself in the types of entities found in our best physical ontologies.
Any immanent universal is a form; it is a logos. As the ultimate immanent universal, being-itself is the ultimate logos. A logos is an immanent rational pattern or structure – it is the logic of some domain of being. The logos is an old Stoic concept (that is, it is an old pagan concept). As the ultimate logos unfolds into contrastive categories, each category has its own logos – the logic of its own specific partial domain of being. Scientific theories describe these specific logoi. Thus biology is the logos of the category that contains all living things. The axioms of set theory encode the logos of containment. Tillich (1951: 23) gives a nice description of the logos and its relation with pure reason:
The philosopher looks at the whole of reality to discover within it the structure of reality as a whole. He tries to penetrate into the structures of being by means of the power of his cognitive function and its structures. He assumes – and science continuously confirms this assumption – that there is an identity, or at least an analogy, between objective and subjective reason, between the logos of reality as a whole and the logos working in him. Therefore, this logos is common; every reasonable being participates in it, uses it in asking questions and criticizing the answers received. There is no particular place to discover the structure of being; there is no particular place to stand to discover the categories of experience. The place to look is all places; the place to stand is no place at all; it is pure reason. (1951: 23)
For those atheists who are positivists, all this is anathema. All this is metaphysics, and positivists hate metaphysics. But not all atheists are positivists. Some atheists are likely to affirm the power of pure reason – those atheists are rationalists. Being-itself is identical with its own logos; it is pure objective reason. It is the object of scientific study. And thinking or acting in which the logos in you corresponds to the logos of being-itself is truthful. And, despite its abstractness, all this reasoning remains wholly within nature. Atheists who are naturalists are certainly free to agree with it.
It is entirely consistent with atheism to affirm that being-itself is real, and that it is sacred or holy. To be sure, terms like sacred and holy are merely valuational – the sacred is that which has ontological value, while the holy is that which arouses aesthetic-affective reactions like wonder and awe. The affirmation of the sacredness or holiness of being-itself is equivalent to the affirmation that reason and truth are sacred or holy.
Some atheists might be willing to refer to being-itself as divine. For others, that affirmation is too close to thinking of being-itself as a god. However, it would be an error to think of being-itself as a god of any kind. It cannot be either anthropomorphized or even reified. Being-itself is not an idol. If gods are the objects of worship, then being-itself cannot be worshipped. That would be idolatry. Perhaps some atheists would say that, since it is sacred or holy, it can be revered, where reverence is a positive attitude towards that which has value. Reverence for being-itself is entirely consistent with atheism.
Tillich, P. (1951) Systematic Theology. Vol. 1. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.