The Logic of Creation

This is a guest post by Eric Steinhart.

At a very high level of abstraction, Sabin characterizes the god and goddess as symbols for two aspects of natural creative power (natura naturans, being-itself as the power to be).  She says that “The God represents, among other things, power unmanifest; the spark of life.  The Goddess gives this power form” (2011: 117).  We experience these two aspects of natural creative power within our selves as will and reason.  However, atheistic philosophers have thought of will and reason as impersonal aspects of natural creative power, and have used them to explain the existence of all concrete things.

Atheists can use old theological arguments, such as the Cosmological Argument, for their own non-theistic purposes.  The Cosmological Argument reasons from the dependencies among things in nature to the existence of some ultimate independent thing.  Over the years, there have been many versions of that argument.  Aquinas famously gave three versions (the first three Ways in the Summa Theologica, Part 1, Q. 2, Art. 3).  Although theists want the Cosmological Argument to conclude with the existence of the theistic deity (typically, with the existence of the Christian God), the argument does not go to that conclusion.  On the contrary, the ultimate independent thing lacks the essential features of any theistic deity.  The Cosmological Argument is therefore an atheological argument.

Although there are many versions of the Cosmological Argument, they all share a common form.  The common form looks something like this: (1) Some objects depend on other objects.  (2) There are many descending dependency chains (chains in which x0 depends on x1, x1 depends on x2, and so on).  (3) Dependency chains have no loops of any length (not even length 0).  (4) Dependency chains cannot be infinitely descending.  (5) Therefore, every descending dependency chain bottoms out in some independent object.  (6) All dependency chains bottom out in the same independent object.  (7) There exists a single independent object on which all other objects depend.

Since the independent object does not depend on anything, it exists necessarily.  And, since it is at the extreme bottom of a series, it is ultimate, it is original.  Since any whole depends on its parts, it does not have any parts – it is simple.  It does not have any intelligence or psychology; it is not a person.  Nor does it transcend nature; on the contrary, it is within nature – it is immanent.   The independent object is not any theistic deity and it is certainly not the Christian God.  It is merely an ontologically original object.

One common objection to the Cosmological Argument aims to refute the premise (4) that dependency chains cannot be infinitely descending.  However, more sophisticated versions of the Cosmological Argument work with infinitely descending chains.  Such versions have been developed by Leibniz (1697) and Meyer (1987).  Leibniz shows how an infinite regression of causes nevertheless requires some ultimate sufficient reason:

Let us suppose a book entitled The Elements of Geometry to have existed eternally, one edition having always been copied from the preceding: it is evident then that, although you can account for the present copy by a reference to the past copy which it reproduces, yet, however far back you go in this series of reproductions, you can never arrive at a complete explanation, since you always will have to ask why at all times these books have existed, that is, why there have been any books at all and why this book in particular.  (Leibniz, 1988: 84-86)

According to Leibniz, even if nature has existed forever into the past, it is still possible to ask the Metaphysical Question: why is there something rather than nothing?   Even if nature contains infinitely descending dependency chains, Leibniz argues that they must bottom out, in the limit, in some original independent object.  Any ontological regression converges in the limit to an original object.  This original object contains the ultimate sufficient reason for all things.  Within this original object, being-itself is equivalent to the Principle of Sufficient Reason (the PSR).  The success of science empirically justifies the thesis that existence is rational.  If existence is rational, then being-itself is equivalent to the PSR.

The PSR says that for any proposition P, if P, then there is some reason for P (see Kane, 1986: 123-125).  Kane shows that the PSR has been used in scientific reasoning, so that there is scientific justification for the PSR (1976; 1986).  Although the PSR may appear to have no creative power, that appearance is incorrect.  The natural creative power of the PSR is manifest in the fact that the PSR entails the Principle of Plenitude (the PP).  The PP says that for any proposition P, if there is no reason for not P, then P.  There are two main lines of support for the PP.  The first line comes from its use in current physics.  Current physics uses Gell-Mann’s totalitarian principle: “Everything which is not forbidden is compulsory” (Kane, 1986: 130).  But the totalitarian principle is equivalent to the PP.  Hence all the scientific justification for the totalitarian principle flows to the PP.

Within the nature of the original object, being-itself is equivalent to the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which expresses itself as (which entails) the Principle of Plenitude.  The PSR is natura naturans unmanifest, while the PP is the original manifestation of natura naturans.   Leibniz formulates the PP like this: “Everything possible demands that it should exist, and hence will exist unless something else prevents it” (Rescher, 1991: 171).  Following Aristotle, it is reasonable to say that all possibilities are the potentialities of actually existing things.  If this is right, then the Leibnizian formulation of the PP must be stated more precisely:

The Principle of Plenitude: For every thing, for every potentiality of that thing, if there is no reason to prevent the actualization of that potentiality, then that potentiality will be actualized.

If the earlier analysis of the Wiccan ultimate deity is correct, then the original object is the original self-manifestation of that ultimate deity.  It is the ontologically initial appearance of natural creative power.  The essence of the original object is the PSR; and this essence entails the PP, which in turn entails the existence of the original object.  For the original object is possible; and since there is nothing on which its existence depends, there is nothing that can prevent it from existing; its demand for existence is satisfied by itself.  Within the original object, essence and existence coincide.  However, the original object is not any theistic deity, and it is certainly not the Christian God.  Theism incorrectly projects personality into the orginal object, and that projection is idolatrous.

On this atheological analysis, the Principle of Plenitude is the original manifestation of natural creative power.  This manifestation has an if-then structure: if the antecedent, then the consequent.  Natural creative power is the force which moves truth from the antecedent to the consequent.  But the antecedent involves reason while the consequent involves will.  The if-then structure of natural creative power binds reason and will together into an ontologically productive unity.  If the Wiccan god symbolizes will, and the goddes symbolizes reason, then the goddess symbolizes the antecedent of the PP while the god symbolizes the consequent of the PP.  The love between the god and goddess symbolizes the Principle of Plenitude itself.  Thus the sexually productive interaction of the god and goddess symbolizes the ontological effectiveness of the Principle of Plenitude.  It symbolizes the power of the Principle of Plenitude to generate nature.  Of course, this means only that the god and goddess are symbols for abstract principles.  It would be idolatrous to identify the will with the god or reason with the goddess, or to project a male person into the consequent of the PP or a female person into the antecedent.

An atheist must reject as idolatrous every attempt to project human persons or psychological elements into natura naturans.  If Wiccans say that there are people (namely, a male person and a female person) operative within the nature of the original object, then they are theistic, they are idolatrous, and atheists must reject that idolatry.  However, since Wicca explicitly permits the interpretation of the god and goddess as merely mythological symbols, it seems that Wiccans can avoid that idolatry.  If so, then an atheistic Wicca is possible.

On exactly this point it is valuable to contrast Wicca with Christianity.  The Christian Godhead may indeed be some abstract object similar to being-itself.  However, as the result of Biblical pressures, Christian theologians immediately project persons into their godhead.  They project the three persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit into the godhead.  These are three hypostases – they are three personal reifications of the impersonal.  The belief that the Bible is divine revelation compels Christians to make these reifications.  Within Christianity, abstract thought cannot overcome the concrete imagery of the Biblical text.  To say that the Biblical text is merely metaphorical is to say that Jesus is not Christ.  And that, of course, is impossible for any Christian.  If this analysis is correct, then idolatry is built right into Christianity.  The only way to avoid idolatrous projection is atheism.  An atheistic Christianity is absurd; an atheistic Wicca is a real possibility.

Some (but not all) posts in this series:

Atheism and Wicca

The Wiccan Deity: An Initial Philosophical Analysis

The Wiccan Deity: Related Concepts in Philosophy

On Atheistic Religion

Nine Theses on Wicca and Atheism

Criticizing Wicca: Energy

Some Naturalistic Ontology

Criticizing Wicca: Levels

Atheism and the Sacred: Natural Creative Power

Atheism and Possibility

Pure Objective Reason

Criticizing Wicca: Rationality

The God and the Goddess

Wicca and the Problem of Evil

The Wiccan God and Goddess: Reality and Mythology

Criticizing Wicca: God and Goddess

Wiccan Theology and Sexual Equality

Revelation versus Manifestation

References

Cunningham, S. (1988) Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner.  St. Paul, MI: Llewellyn Publications.

Kane, R. (1976) Nature, plenitude and sufficient reason.  American Philosophical Quarterly 13, 23-31

Kane, R. (1986) Principles of reason.  Erkenntnis 24, 115 – 136.

Leibniz, G. W. (1697/1988) On the ultimate origination of the universe.  In P. Schrecher & A. Schrecker (1988) Leibniz: Monadology and Other Essays.  New York: Macmillan Publishing, 84-94.

Meyer, R. (1987) God exists!  Nous 21, 345-361.

Rescher, N. (1991) G. W. Leibniz’s Monadology: An Edition for Students.  Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Sabin, T. (2011) Wicca for Beginners: Fundamentals of Philosophy & Practice.  Woodbury, MI: Llewellyn Publications.

 

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • SAWells

    But, Eric, things do not continue to exist by virtue of some power. They continue to exist if they are unable to cease existing.

    You may now continue wasting everyone’s time.

    • Steve Schuler

      But Brother SAWells, wouldn’t you agree that it is not possible for Eric to waste anybody’s time but his own and that anybody who regards Eric as having wasted their time is unfairly holding Eric responsible for that which they alone are responsible? If so, in this matter is it not fair to say that Brother SAWells has either chosen or been compelled by forces beyond his control, but not Eric Hisself, to waste his time alone but perhaps not “everone’s time” as Brother SAWell’s has suggested?

  • Gwynnyd

    It reads just about as useful to me as any other religious debate, which is to say, not at all.

    If someone needs to frame their approach to life in such abstract terms, well, go for it. But I can’t even say “The Principal of Plentitude generates nature” with a straight face. I keep giggling. It feels no more an explanation than “Trust Jesus and God puts meaning in your life.”

    “Principal of Plentitude generates nature” as a viable, *rational* alternative to “goddidit”? Nope, sorry. Still giggling. This is not for me. I’ll just do without the abstract thought experiments until science figures out the “We don’t know yet” parts.

    • Steve Schuler

      Hey, I’m with you totally, Dude!

      Oh yeah, giggling is a sure sign of a pretty solid rebuttal.

      But Man, don’t you love it when you are caught up in full on, uncontrollable belly laughs? That’s when you’ve got, no doubt about it, an escape-proof, slam dunk, ‘Who’s Yo Daddy Now?’, total triumph over your philosophical adversary, kind of an argument goin’ on.

      Man, I don’t know about you, but I KNOW I do!

    • Gwynnyd

      But, Steve, it’s weird to come up with “highly abstract” arguments while that giggling thing starts when I try to think seriously about it.

      I’m not saying that the “Principal of Plentitude” can’t be intellectuallyTRUE at some highly abstract level or cannot resonate with someone’s underlying unity of Being for being and in Being that they stand in while standing it (yes, I’ve read Heidegger and thought I, possibly, understood it at the time) at some imagined “highly abstract” level in the mythosphere, but these days I prefer my fiction to have better characterization and a more structured plot. I have infinite faith in the human brain to see pattern and to come up with ideas to explain it, even without trying to decide whether it’s there or not.

      But, I do patterns too, and that’s where the giggling comes in. Doesn’t “Principal of Plentitude” sound like the McGuffin from a bad novel to you? Maybe a paranormal romance? That would fit right in with the Wiccan theme. Or Steampunk! Yeah. “The Empire has been too long under the materialistic hand of the Roboticists, but, after the mysterious masked swordsman leaves her unsatisfied in the garden during the Annual Robot Review, Lady Jane Summerville steals her uncle’s airship and sets off to the mystic East to discover the long hinted at Principal of Plentitude that would usher in a true Age of …er… Enlightenment.”

    • http://www.ericsteinhart.com Eric Steinhart

      It would be pretty strange for anybody who wants to be rational to deny the Principle of Sufficient Reason. And the Principle of Plenitude follows deductively.

    • Gwynnyd

      Screw the philosophy. I’m stuck on the sheer amusement value of the name. “Principal of Plentitude” still has me snickering.

  • had3

    Hmmm, asking why the book exists implies that the book may not have existed, which seems to contradict the definition of infinite. Or maybe that’s the point. And asking why there’s something instead of nothing presupposes that nothing is the natural state whereas the opposite may be true. Happy new demarcation of a revolution around our sun.

  • http://marniemaclean.com Marnie

    Reword these arguments ever so slightly and most would sound like something straight out of william lane craig’s mouth.

    The Cosmological Argument simply sets up a premise that is logically consistent within itself but in no way proven. I think the common comparison is something like: All chairs are made of cheese, Marnie is a chair, therefore, Marnie is made of cheese.

    The statement doesn’t contradict itself but it is still wrong.

    You then migrate into a form of “the watch in the dessert” argument. Taking something that can clearly only exist by way of creation (geometry books or watches) and compare them to things your opponent says are mostly likely NOT created. It’s logically sloppy.

    I grew up in New Hampshire (USA) and we used to have a landmark called, “the old man in the mountain” which was a sort of profile of a man that could be easily distinguished in the natural formations of the mountain.

    http://hikethewhites.com/old_man.html
    This differs greatly from Mt Rushmore
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mt._Rushmore_Early_Morning.jpg

    They share some common ground in that they are human faces in mountainsides but one is clearly only possible with the hand of a creator (one we’ve seen and who is decidedly non-godly) and one is pareidolia.

    The geometry book is mt rushmore. Yes it has a creator but that doesn’t mean that everything does.

    And then you proceed to:

    According to Leibniz, even if nature has existed forever into the past, it is still possible to ask the Metaphysical Question: why is there something rather than nothing?

    It’s just as extraordinary a claim that there should just be nothing. And if there were nothing, and there may have been nothing for a very long time, we obviously wouldn’t exist to question it.

    This next statement really makes my eyes cross:

    Any ontological regression converges in the limit to an original object. This original object contains the ultimate sufficient reason for all things. Within this original object, being-itself is equivalent to the Principle of Sufficient Reason (the PSR). The success of science empirically justifies the thesis that existence is rational. If existence is rational, then being-itself is equivalent to the PSR.

    It’s just another god of the gaps and it’s set up to be secure, likely for all of the existence of humanity since it’s unlikely we’ll ever discover what happened before moment zero in all of existence. I find it a bit intellectually lazy. We are assuming a linear existence of all of everything that had a starting point and we’ll just give magical qualities to whatever triggered that first moment. Ta-Da!

    And then finally, you go to:

    “Everything possible demands that it should exist, and hence will exist unless something else prevents it”

    But this is not a proven theory, it goes back to “all chairs are made of cheese.” The argument may be logically consistent but no one has yet provided sufficient proof that this is true.

    As I say to any religious person who tries to argue that I should accept their views as scientifically sound, we have to hold *all* religions to the same level of scrutiny. We can’t make special exceptions for the religion we support, over all the others. If these arguments can be used to justify other religious beliefs than you have to ask yourself how good an argument they really are.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      As I say to any religious person who tries to argue that I should accept their views as scientifically sound, we have to hold *all* religions to the same level of scrutiny. We can’t make special exceptions for the religion we support, over all the others. If these arguments can be used to justify other religious beliefs than you have to ask yourself how good an argument they really are.

      Eric is not making these arguments in order to support Wicca. He thinks these things independently on metaphysical grounds and is using this series to explain how these classical atheistic metaphysical ideas might find a better and more properly atheistic symbology in Wiccan categories than in Christian ones.

      Earlier last year, before I had ever in 7 years of knowing Eric heard him utter the word “Wicca”, he wrote this interesting piece on the cosmological argument: http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers/2011/02/28/atheism-and-leibniz/

    • http://marniemaclean.com Marnie

      I understand that Eric is not Wiccan but I don’t understand the point of carefully outlining the justification for a religion if we aren’t here to discuss how those arguments hold up. He is representing the Wiccan view. I am saying why I think those views are not logically sound.

      To your second question, I feel like I broke down what I meant in my comment (for instance, comparing either a book or a watch (items that are known to be created) to natural things that I believe are not created). I probably could have worded it more clearly. Craig’s arguments are different in that they assume different deities but the logic is the same.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Reword these arguments ever so slightly and most would sound like something straight out of william lane craig’s mouth.

      Rewording the arguments in the required way would change the concepts drastically and, if Eric is right, make them false. Why abandon all metaphysics because William Lane Craig uses metaphysical concepts and language? Why cede the entire field to theists for fear of sounding like one of them (even when one is saying quite the opposite of them on the key points and doing so with good reasons)?

  • http://www.ericsteinhart.com Eric Steinhart

    Reword “God does exist” slightly and it becomes “God does not exist”.

    • http://marniemaclean.com Marnie

      I think I may have addressed your point up above in my reply to Daniel. I phrased my statement poorly, but I thought I provided examples of what I meant when I discussed gods of the gap, books and watches, and the general use of logical “proofs” that aren’t actually proven.

      I consider this worlds away from adding a “not” to a sentence to change it “slightly.” Of course, “slightly” can have a couple different meanings. Logically “not” changes a meaning totally even if visually the change is slight. I think it’s an unfairly flip response to something I took some pains to express carefully, even if I did fail to communicate as well as I could have.

  • sawells

    Once again, we have Eric presenting _a_ logic of creation as THE logic of creation.


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