Sunday, October 11, 2009

Unborn, unnatural…

An unborn nature (natura nonnata) is a contradiction in terms. Insofar as commencement is intrinsic to nativity––which is to say, natural life in basic form––an uncommenced Nature ceases to be authentically natural.

"Non nobis nascimur"––we are not born for ourselves. Equally true is it that we are not born of ourselves––"non ab nobis nascimur." In both respects (viz., in our natal contingency and finality), we are perfectly natural: quintessentially other-born beings (entia qui ab aliis natus sunt). Nature exemplifies its fundamentally natal character in the ceaseless wave of births which propagate natural life.

How much more, then, should Nature itself be true to its own effects. How much more, that is, should nature be most authentically natural when we recognize its own natal origins and cease trying to make an eternal fetus of what was obviously born to bear more life after its fashion.

11 comments:

UnBeguiled said...

Does God, to your understanding, have a nature?

The Cogitator said...

Good Q. Ask Alvin Plantinga!

UnBeguiled said...

Punting to a Calvinist? Weak.

At minimum, it seems God's nature is to be. Yet you want to say an unborn nature is a contradiction? Maybe you should rethink that.

The Cogitator said...

unBe:

Plantinga is hardly a boiler-plate Calvinist. Not the least because he teaches at Notre Dame (which of course only raises the Q of how Catholic ND is... but forget that conundrum for now, heh).

Your point is well taken (and fully anticipated). I would have spent more time on this post, precisely to address the objection you raise, but my attention was torn between the other post about special relativity and, truth be told, an online game haha. I had to split for dinner anyway.

So, to address your point, I would have to explain my more basic worry about naturalism. Historically and metaphysically, once naturalism deflates Divinity ("naturalizes God"), it ends up divinizing Nature. Nature, as some ultimate first principle, must take on traditionally God-like attributes in order to ground metaphysics in the same way God does theistically. My problem with this is that it distorts natural objects as objects of human enquiry. Once Nature starts "fulfilling" the same metaphysical role as God, it seems we are no longer really talking about nature as science is concerned. It's simply too a prioristic for me that nature accounts for itself, since all we see in nature are contingent, variable, mutable natural entities which do not in fact ground themselves.

Interestingly, Aristotle was more like a naturalist in this respect, insofar as he denied, functionally and at times explicitly, natural "substance" could not exist. For him the very concept of natural substances demanded their existence. He was thus an a priori ontologist about nature.

Further, I would go on to deny that God "has" a nature. This is the whole point of His transcendence and the doctrine of the analogy of being. By custom we refer concepts like nature, causation, power, etc. to God from what we fathom, but the theistic claim is that doing so puts the cart before the horse. All things, even Nature as such, derive their forms of being in various analogous and derivative ways from God as ipsum esse subsistens. God is not subsumable under some "higher" or "larger" category, such as nature. Granted, we speak of the divine nature, but this is actually but a metaphysical function of the Divine Persons themselves, who exist free of every normative category.

I'm sure the above seems incoherent to you. All the better, then, for you to see my worries about Naturalism. Would you really like to ascribe the same eternal "prerogatives" to "Nature" as believers do to God? E.g., the eternal filiation of the Son by the Father and eternal spiration of the Holy Spirit by the Father and Son.

Having said all that, I am willing to grant, more in the Renaissance Neoplatonic and Boehmian tradition, that something like an eternally "spiritual body" God and its presence in a "spiritual cosmos" could allow for something like an eternal "Nature" as you seem to want. But that assumes a lot of metaphysical baggage for you.

That's enough for now. Onward!

Best,

UnBeguiled said...

All that seems incoherent to me.

"Would you really like to ascribe the same eternal "prerogatives" to "Nature" as believers do to God?"

Do I want to ascribe some eternal exclusive right, power, or privilege to nature?

I don't understand that question.

The Cogitator said...

unBe:

Here's a little of what I'm getting at.

For an orthodox Christian, there is no "God" apart from the three Divine Persons in their perichoretic union. The Father is *eternally* the Father of the Son who is the *eternal* Son of the Father of the *eternal* Spirit of the Son-begetting Father. Their common divine nature just is their personal unrestricted and total openness and giftedness towards each other. They are only constitued as person by their mutality and only constitued as *divine* person by their infinite mutual agape. Meanwhile of course, such agape is only possible for a divine person. Mystery of mysteries! The unity of the divine "nature" is just a function of the unity of will (love) in the Divine Persons. Their personhood and their mutual love does not "fall out" from a higher divine nature; the divine nature is just shorthand for the eternal "structure" of the Triune Persons.

Compare this with a supposed Eternal Nature. Presumably, being eternal, Nature would be immutable, as well as one. (The arguments for the singularity and immutability of an eternal entity are either familiar enough or found easily enough that I won't rehearse them here.) Let's call a naturalist's "Nature" Nature*. The unified immutability of Nature* means its eternal "structure" will always be what it is, like the "structure" of the Trinity just is, eternally, that comprised by the Divine Persons. There would be no Nature*, as there would be no God, apart from its eternal "structure," which in this case I will imagine to be the fundamental laws and elements of nature as science (hypothetically) one day definitively unveils them.

But what this entails is that the laws of nature are *absolutely necessary*. At that point, however, not only do they clash with the strictures of Gödelian incompleteness, but they also cease being scientific entities, since they are totally a priori and thus unrevisable/unfalsifiable. In other words, Nature* entails that it is *logically inconceivable* for the laws of nature to be in any other form than they actually are found to be. This would have to be the case, since Nature* "generates" not only said laws but also the laws of logic which vindicate their absoluteness. That just seems absurd, however, to claim about natural laws. Consider Kant's folly of absolutizing Newtonian mechanics and Euclidean geometry.

The difference for me between this Nature* and God is twofold: first, we know of the Triune Life by revelation, by grace, not by a priori deduction nor even by positing an absolute "Nature" as a working palette; second, the structure of the Trinity is, as it were, recursively personally "ratified", and therefore is not a *logical* necessity, albeit an eternally metaphysical necessity.

In sum, once you "deify" Nature* to "be the being of Being", you have stopped doing science and have simply erected an a priori scaffolding for whatever string of theories might allegedly get us closer to that prime nature. Meanwhile, Nature* lacks any recursive, personal "ratification" mechanism.

I am not saying any of this easy to grasp, much less articulate, so understand I am just doing philosophical work here (verily, cogitating!), not pontificating.

Best,

UnBeguiled said...

"Compare this with a supposed Eternal Nature. Presumably, being eternal, Nature would be immutable"

Why? Perhaps the only eternal thing is change.

Godel's theorem applies to formal systems. It seems your application is inappropriate.

The Cogitator said...

unBe:

1. Change presupposes a subject of change which endures the scope of changes. Cf. Aristotle's Metaphysics.

2. Nature* would just be a formal system of logically necessary axioms, even if they couldn't be grasped by a mind outside the system, as it were. That's my point. Nature isn't a formal system but naturalism vaunts it up into Nature* at the expense of "natural" coherence. A non-personal absolute would just be a formally complete set.

Best,

The Cogitator said...

BTW, I was hoping for your thoughts on my above post about special relativity.

Cheers! (Do you drink?)

UnBeguiled said...

I've read that SR post twice. There might be something interesting in there, but I really have a hard time with your writing style.

I drink rarely, because I always get a migraine. Probably a good thing.

I'm going to a talk and then dinner with Vic Stenger on Saturday. Really looking forward to it.

The Cogitator said...

unBe:

Yes, a built-in migraine mechanism would curb my taste for the sauce as well. Probably a good thing too, heh.

Dinner with Stenger, cool. "My Dinner with Victor."

Best,