KARL JASPERS FORUM
7 (to C7, RW Moodey)
THEISM AND THE
UNSTRUCTURED - WHOSE
PURPOSE AND CONCERN ?
by Herbert FJ Müller
14 March 2009, posted 21 March 2009
‘...for there to be a purpose there has to be a person who intends that purpose’
Indeed, and that illustrates that our purposeful thinking is (and can only be) anthropocentric. Exclusive objectivism (tries to) eliminate the subject, although its original purpose is only to minimize subjective bias, which does not require absence of subjects.
‘religious believers ... interpret evolutionary theory as attempting to go beyond what can be studied by science by attempting to answer what Tillich calls "a question of ultimate concern." Dawkins seems to me to be doing this by claiming that evolutionary theory disproves the existence of God.’
Indeed again. The clash is between anthropocentric ‘purpose’ and supposedly mind-independent ‘chance mutation plus natural selection’.
(Brown :) ‘ Tillich defines faith, and indirectly religion, as "ultimate concern." Religion is direction or movement toward the ultimate or the unconditional And God rightly defined might be called the Unconditional. God, in the true sense, is indefinable. Since the Unconditional precedes our minds and precedes all created things, God cannot be confined by the mind or by words. Tillich sees God as Being-Itself, or the "Ground of all Being." For this reason there cannot be a God. There cannot even be a "highest God," for even that concept is limiting. We cannot make an object out of God. And the moment we say he is the highest God or anything else, we have made him an object. Thus, beyond the God of the Christian or the God of the Jews, there is the "God beyond God." This God cannot be said to exist or not to exist in the sense that we exist. Either statement is limiting. We cannot make a thing out of God, no matter how holy this thing may be, because there still remains something behind the holy thing which is its ground or basis, the "ground of being." ’
That is in agreement with what you write :
‘I agree with Aquinas that we cannot know what God is, but only what god is not. In this sense, even a Christian theological notion of God is a conceptual void.’
Is there in that case a difference between (a) theism (especially in its mystical forms) and (b) the non-theism of Buddhism or Taoism ? In (a) much of the agency and also the conceptual structure (and perhaps some of the responsibility) are originally shifted away from the subject to an imagined ontic ‘outside’, or rather replaced by an anthropomorphic outside agent, and responsibility is largely toward that agent (implying belief in mind-independent reality, MIR). But in mysticism this shift is secondarily reversed, or eliminated. Then what happens to the person-likeness of God ? That God is not a thing corresponds to the fact that the subject cannot be a thing or object, the key problem for the conceptual mind-brain puzzle. In (b) there is no shift to start with, and there is presumably also no primary (outside) structure; these are determining characteristics.
‘ I don't know what it means to attribute a purpose to the body from an atheistic perspective. ’
This I guess amounts to asking how a subject-exclusive naturalistic view deals with ‘purpose’. I have tried to outline something like that in terms of the (as-if-) MIR-view of biology (in TA112 ) : ‘ The subject’s activity may be difficult to see in the more elementary structures like qualia and gestalt-formations, because they arise biologically, automatically, and are thus not deliberately influenced or designed by the subject, who starts thinking from the later deliberate stage, and perceives the early one mistakenly as ‘given’ in a pre-structured (ready-made) state. Spontaneous gestalt-generation is indeed a main reason for the prevalent ontological leap of faith to a mind-independent world in the MIR-views. But contrary to this belief, pain, colour, smell, gestalt-formation, touch sensation are produced by the organisms’ activity, and would not occur without it.
And more generally, all biological structures, starting with self-replicating molecules, even before reaching the level of the DNA mechanism, affirm themselves; they sort of assert ‘that is how I am and what I do’. To what extent they will further replicate depends on their success (natural selection, Darwin). The long term overall results of spontaneous-mutation-plus-natural-selection may be misinterpreted as-if acquired individual characteristics were inherited - or also, by the way, as-if they had been purposefully designed by an intelligent agent, such as God or Nature. These views are extensions from the anthropocentric-design view, which is our only available start-point for thinking. ’
Objectively one can probably understand human deliberate intelligent design as a continuation of biological development. Chance mutation plus natural selection becomes structuring-positing plus feedback evaluation of viability during use. That might also respond to a question which Byers poses in his book on mathematics (p.321) : whether it is reasonable to say that natural processes are intelligent. Over the long term, they behave as-if they were intelligent.
But the supposedly subject-exclusive MIR-belief (be it theistic or naturalistic) is created within subject-inclusive human thinking (from TA112 ) : ‘... with varying degree of subjectively purposeful deliberation, as well as of interpersonal communication. Understanding and deliberate structuring occurs within ongoing subject-inclusive experience, which is not only goal-directed, but also encompassing (umgreifend), as Jaspers emphasized. For 0-D, the encompassment is a fundamental condition and determining feature. In order to deal with the mind-brain question, the encompassment needs to be understood as valid without restriction (and this goes actually further than Jaspers’ proposition, who still maintained some MIR-belief).
Because the mind creates and modifies its structures actively and concurrently within ongoing experience, thinking cannot be confined to already-structured algorithmic processes. For the same reason, the possibility of metaphysics-ontology, i.e., of pre-structured mind-independent ‘outside reality’ is explicitly excluded as such; it is converted into subject-inclusive reality-design. That leads directly to the 0-D position. This consequence of the encompassment aspect of experience may at first come as a surprise, but is inevitable. One can commence thinking only from this anthropomorphic design start-point within ongoing experience : the subject(s)’ activity is always included. The awareness that reality is constructed with subject-participation is itself an aspect of reality. It becomes a fundamental insight of the theory of knowledge (epistemology, Erkenntnis-Theorie). ’
The following conclusions from the 0-D point of view (see TA112 , ) are tentative; they are meant for discussion. (See also TA112, especially , , and [15.8].)
For theistic doctrines of all types, which have a strong medieval flavour, a central question is how to remain relevant in dealing with evolving society and science. The Vatican opinion so far is that evolution and belief in God are not in conflict. But since reconciliation of religion with science is a declared recent aim of the Vatican, positive statements for instance of how chance mutation plus natural selection is to be reconciled with creation by God would also be needed, in addition to this negative assertion. Creationists need to acknowledge that they have to create an anthropomorphic purposeful God if He is to create them, though it is not likely that they will do so.
For science the question is how to maintain inclusion of subjects and their need for holistic thinking, despite the need for objective knowledge. Objective ‘theories of everything’ are impossible, for instance because the subject(s) cannot become structured. In Dawkins’ view a created outside agent called ‘Nature’ seems to replace God; unless he wants to advocate a purely functional (algorithmic, computer-like) type of thinking. In the latter case there would be not only no holistic concern (he says that the existence of God is to be decided on the basis of natural science), but also subjects including himself would be eliminated.
For non-theistic religions like some forms of Buddhism and Taoism, there is presumably no ontic ‘outside’, because their start-and-anchor point is unstructured. Structures (and the differences between them) develop within this unstructured matrix; they are not ontic but pragmatic only. This avoids some of the mentioned conceptual problems; and also, most people would probably agree that they are not devoid of ultimate concern.
Holistic structures of theistic, naturalistic and other kinds can actually be understood as originating within such an unstructured matrix, for as-if-MIR stabilizing purposes; the unstructured matrix would then appear to be a suitable basis for them as well. The unstructured anchor point has been used for about the same length of time, about 2500 years - since what Jaspers called ‘axis time’ - as the theistic methods, but it still seems to be of undiminished contemporary relevance, and avoids conceptual difficulties.
Brown DM, Ultimate Concern - Tillich in Dialogue
by D. Mackenzie Brown
Jaspers K (1955), Vom Ursprung und Ziel der Geschichte. Fischer Bücherei (Piper, München).
Herbert FJ Müller
e-mail <herbert.muller (at) mcgill.ca>