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Being
Chapter 5 ~ Theism

DEITY is considered theistic if both immanent in and transcendent to the world. (Of course by world here is meant all of reality. If just the earth was implied one could cheat by going to the moon.)

A god that is only immanent need not be designated god at all, but just called what it is, and therefore useless as a unique concept—

“All is god,” the god of pantheism, can be simply called the all, or all of existence. Naturalistic gods that are merely parts, or subsets, of the pantheistic god, such as “goodness is god” or “love is god,” can be simply called goodness or love. In these instances the word god is not necessary.

Transcendence

Deity that is entirely and always transcendent, which not even the creator-deity of deism was (the deistic god was described as just starting the universe and letting it run unattended— a divine slacker) has no connection to our reality, so is just as conceptually useless as deity that is only immanent.

Immanent aspects could include everything of possible deity that can be sensed or inferred, no matter how inaccessible or abstruse— that seems to be a good place to draw the line. That leaves any possible transcendent aspects as unattainable by any means, including reason.

For example if we try seeking visible effects on the universe (or on anything else we know) of any such aspects as a way of discerning either the presence or characteristics of transcendence, anything inferred thereby is actually a form of immanence;

Or if we try looking for forms of revelation as evidence of transcendence, anything made visible by these means is also immanence, unless the immanent revelation is in the form of a declaration from possible deity concerning a transcendent reality, and is picked up by the Associated Press.

Apart from such an occurrence, truly transcendent aspects are inaccessible. As we fathom the cosmos and other mysteries, to the extent that the unknown— the formerly transcendent now immanent— is being revealed, we are finding a furtherance of the natural world. This suggests that the remaining unknown may also consist of natural forms.

Immanence

In the meantime, in the presently-known natural world, immanent aspects of the divine, if there are any, should be possible to recognize provided— lacking the ability to discern possible accompanying transcendence— we can discern how to identify them. There are two possibilities:

First, the kind of panentheism wherein all of creation, as divine immanence, constitutes part of deity (as opposed to straight pantheism, which implies no aspect of deity outside of, or apart from, creation) would still obligate us to include evil as a part of God, rendering God not wholly good and maybe in need of an occasional spanking.

Second, a kind of panentheism wherein deity or divine immanence constitutes but a portion of reality, presenting the problem of separating the immanence from the rest of perceived existence. Let’s look at this option, and try to isolate immanent aspects—

One idea is to define only what cannot be explained by empirical means, including what we call miracles, as divine immanence.

The problem with this is that as holes in scientific knowledge are closed by new discoveries, this God-of-the-Gaps is cosmologically reduced to at best a deistic uncaused-cause, the creator-of-the-big-bang— meaninglessly distant and just one step away from being edged out of existence altogether.

Any vital concept of deity must be one that actively infuses all of time and space with the divine, not just a miracle here and there. But not necessarily fully-infusing. That would return us to undifferentiated pantheism or panentheism.

Although every situation in this world contains elements of both good and evil, albeit in varying amounts, that would— as we said earlier— make evil a part of God, and God not wholly good.

Power and Goodness

Two characteristics we usually associate with deity are power and goodness. A God without plenty of both is inconceivable, but of the two goodness is most important.

Were the universe to go into decay, death exceeding birth (if that is not already the case), entropy might be declared to be its greatest active power, but we would not be inclined to call that God. Rather, the life-sustaining energy that remained, reduced yet strong, which we might call extropy, would be our hope.

A few might argue that death is better than— or at least, as desirable as— life: good and evil, they say, are subjective terms, and by those person’s standards oblivion is to be desired, so is therefore good.

A nonexistent person has neither to suffer the pain of living, nor even be cognizant of what he or she is missing, much less try to start relationships with people who don’t return calls. But the majority of us prefer life, as hard as it sometimes is, for its many joys, even— especially— the free ones.

Only in existence can there be knowledge of— much less choice between— existence and nonexistence. The former permits the latter, not vise-versa. Informed and unmitigated freedom, autonomy, breaks the symmetry between good and evil.

Existence (life) is superior, therefore better. Good, thus allied with life, is neither relative nor subjective.

Perhaps the best way to find evidence of divine activity, or immanence, is to look for the means whereby consciousness, and subsequently autonomy, is brought forth, expanded, and enriched. (You can have knowledge without choice, but you can’t have meaningful choice without knowledge.)

Law, Life, and Love

While many such enablers can be identified, they can be classed as one of three components, or aspects. (Division of theoretically infinite variety of means into three classes is arbitrary. They could be divided any number of ways, but three catagories are enough to constitute division yet few enough to minimize complexity.)

The first and foundational of these makes the universe possible: matter and energy, time and space, natural law— for us at least, the building-blocks of existence.

These are bound together in unique harmony, effective even if the banjo is out of tune. A different universe might have different characteristics, even varying numbers and kinds of dimensions. Yet without some type of elemental structure we couldn’t exist; the eternal emptiness of noncreation would obtain, preventing everything— including words like obtain.

Ironically, that most perfect (in the sense of not being peculiar) state, that of eternal non-existence, would not only be the most simple but the most evil. (Good, including human existence itself, tends to be complicated and messy, but that makes possible daytime television.)

Beyond this, the cosmos and its workings are such that the remaining two components are possible. This might not be the case in the vast majority of possible universes.

The second aspect requires and incorporates the first: unconscious life process, from the earliest formation of structure to the first self-replicative unit, through our evolution and beyond. There might exist in the universe a planet where life started as a single entity that never died but only grew, but that’s just a different way of evolving.

While in itself entirely unselfaware, it’s what gives birth to consciousness, having the complexity and facility to do so— this might not be the case with the majority of possible organisms.

The third aspect requires and incorporates the first two aspects: any and all creative, life-enhancing acts consciously performed by sentient beings. We’ll call it love.

(While law and life can also be forms of love, we’ll reserve this designation for positive actions performed in knowledge and awareness by self-aware entities. A few might argue that all positives are conscious acts of God, but because a sunny day seems unconsciously-powered, for purposes of this system we’ll say that it is.)

Miracle of Being

If there’s consensus among theologians, it’s that the basis of a valid conception of deity, as well as the nearest thing possible to existential evidence, is an insight best described as miracle of being, the realization that everything we consider natural, from the universe to life and consciousness, is actually preternatural— wondrously abnormal.

(Although in miracle-of-being sense, the entire world is preternatural, to avoid confusion we’ll continue to call it the natural world, reserving preternatural to describe phenomena, if existent, unequivocally unexplainable via natural law.)

In contrast, the only perfection (happily only conceptual to us) is unmitigated nothingness— not even so-called-heavenly hocus-pocus (clouds, wings, harps, etc.) is comparable to the glorious ordered-messiness of life.

A skeptic could justifiably counter that this sense or feeling, rather than being objective, is subjective— the result of ingrained experience:

Since everything we encounter in our daily actions has come about— immediately if not ultimately— as the result of some cause or another (for example ninety days same as cash), it’s excusable to intuit that an uncaused universe of energy and life is uncanny, when in principle it is no more surprising than a timeless void.

Further, if the universe is caused or sustained by God as prime-mover or basis-of-being, then God is uncaused and unsustained, leaving us with God’s uncanniness.

Yet just as we humans consciously create via tangential or even random thought followed by selectivity (conceiving and rejecting ideas in our minds) we could call evolutionary processes (which randomly modify and select) a natural— albeit unconscious— creativity of nature or God.

In conclusion, while these reflections still leave uncertain the matter of whether or not there exists deity of particular form, we’ve come up with a partial model of a possible form, based on knowable aspects:

Immanence is being— law, life, and love. Extropy, empowerment, and existence as opposed to entropy, decline, and death.

Such a cosmic description, needless to say, might dismay those who like to think of God as someone handy to have around for that occasional miracle— a celestial Bob Vila. While seeming more personal, the latter’s actually more distant, leaving unquestionable supernatural manifestations— rare if existent at all— as the only truly-divine actions.

God-of-the-Gasps’ last gasp.

Faith By Reason Contents
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© 1999-2007 Warren Farr — revised 9/13