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.
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:
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.