Is God Omniscient? (Revised again)

2The Person shares in the Divine as being made in the image of God. We too are free. We are co-creators with God; He in His macrocosm and we in our microcosm.

What it means for us to be made in the image of God is not self-evident. Berdyaev’s philosophy explores what it might mean and takes it further than most.

Perhaps we underestimate just how many things we have in common with God.

Berdyaev agrees with the mystic Jacob Boehme that God emerges as Being from the Ungrund whose nature is complete Freedom. Freedom is more fundamental than love, or goodness. It is their precondition. The Ungrund is beyond concepts and rationality.[1]

The Ungrund is that from which God as a being, as the Creator, emerges. As Berdyaev writes, tautologically, the Creator does not exist without the created, God as love does not exist without the loved. God the Creator emerges simultaneously with His creation. God and Man create each other in this sense. God the Creator is the Logos responsible for cosmic order.

God the Creator is a Person with properties and so is accessible to the cataphatic tradition, i.e., what is expressible in positive concepts. The Ungrund, on the other hand, is the Great Mystery which has given rise to the apophatic theological tradition that operates in terms of via negativa only – describing only what something is not.

A Person, whether human or Divine, has this infinite depth reaching into the Great Mystery and but knows only what enters consciousness. The Divine Creator makes creatures with genuine agency, and thus free of causal determinism, via the Great Mystery, making us, too, inscrutable.

Creativity takes something from the realm of the unknown and mysterious, and turns it into order whereupon it is objectivized,[2] made known and becomes an item in the objective realm. Spirit gets objectivized but its true reality resides within the subjective which retains its inherent connection with spirit. The world of objects can only be a symbol for spirit and the sacred – like a mighty cathedral, or the visible portion of a person, a crucifix, or a cross.

If the universe were only physical, then all would be locked in a deadly determinism. Love, hatred, friendship and enemies, goodness and evil would not exist.

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The objective is the known, light of day, and in a sense, dead. The joy of creation is the transition from mystery to objectification.

Many actors claim that having made a movie, they never watch it again, ever. Many musicians never listen to an album once it has been recorded.[3] In both cases, the person has moved on to new projects rather than walking around in a self-created museum of the static.

Fulfilling human existence partakes in creativity. Every good conversation with oneself or with others is spontaneous and nonformulaic. We improvise as the situation demands.

Nothing is more boring than the entirely predictable. Someone whose mind is possessed by ideology becomes a follower of the party line. His creativity is stymied. A pamphlet summarizing the latest zig or zag of the party line is as interesting as such a fellow and can easily be used in lieu of him.

Creativity by its nature involves surprises. Friends surprise each other. Part of this is the result of growth, change, novelty, development, progress.

It is a good rule of thumb not to imagine that humans are in some way superior to God. If people are capable of experiencing wonder and of being surprised it would seem unwise to suggest God is incapable of such things.

Some years ago I accidentally caused a Christian fundamentalist friend to renounce Christianity because in her mind fundamentalism and Christianity were one in the same. In the same vein, I asked a student once if she were Catholic and she replied, “No. I’m Christian.” [!!!] I had argued to the friend that like the story of the Prodigal Son, if my son were to do some great harm, but then to come to me in sincere regret, determined to turn his life around and asked for forgiveness and a second chance, I would give it to him. Hell as eternal punishment, a central feature of fundamentalism, and part of Catholic dogma too, is inconsistent with the notion of forgiveness – assuming that at least some of the occupants of hell would wish to renounce their former behavior at some point in their torment.

This argument is based on the assumption that I am not a bigger man than God, so to speak. Likewise, if I can be surprised and delighted by the unexpected insight or humor of another person, then so can God. Omniscience would render God incapable of such a thing.

Most crucially, however, is that the assertion of God’s omniscience in incompatible with the Ungrund – and thus with freedom, love, goodness and creativity – human and Divine.

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Subjectivity has its foundations in the Great Mystery, the Ungrund from whence freedom arises. In creating us, God proves Himself happy to co-exist with other agents, centers of consciousness, choosing, decision-making and purposive entities. Creatures whose freedom He does not interfere with through threats or other punitive devices.

George Dyson, who suffers from the defect of being a mechanist, lover of Hobbes and equator of consciousness and computation, nonetheless recently correctly replied to Sam Harris’ question “If we create AGI, [artificial general intelligence] how will we control it?” that by definition, if AGI is conscious, this means it has a mind of its own, and having a mind of its own means it is not controllable. Somehow Dyson managed this tautology despite being seemingly metaphysically committed to determinism.

The assertion of God’s non-omniscience has to be reconciled in some way with God’s connection with eternity and thus His ability to see into what we regard as the future. But then God’s own ability to be creative has to be similarly reconciled. To know in advance exactly what you will create is to do no more than the equivalent of painting by numbers. Eternity cannot be static. Stasis is incompatible with freedom, love, wonder, creativity, surprise, and novelty. Stasis is death. Eternity can neither be a record of every free choice made, done and dusted, nor a fixed set of all possibilities laid out in advance, like a CD-ROM of a computer game where every alternative choice is already foreseen. Eternity must admit of change.

Kant, also inspired by Jacob Boehme, though to less good effect than Berdyaev, offered what he called a transcendental argument, pointing out that if morality exists, and none of us, other than psychopaths doubts that it does, then free will must also exist. How free will exists remains a mystery. Likewise, here, whatever conception of eternity

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Echium plant in flower, Lyttelton Harbour and Sumner Road (closed due to rockfall from the 2011 earthquake), Christchurch, Canterbury, South Island, New Zealand

theologians choose to entertain, it has to be compatible with the Ungrund, which is the precondition of the Person, free will, love, creativity, change and growth in the living God.

Given the existence of an eternal plane, perhaps our “future” selves might be in dialogue with our earlier selves as imagined in Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men.

The mental image that has sometimes come to my feeble mind is of a kind of Milky Way with lights like stars blinking on and off as different decisions are made; the past communicating with the future and the future with the past in the realm of the eternal where neither category exists. But then, “on” at time T1 “off” at time T2 just reintroduces the temporal once again.

This sort of thing goes beyond paradox and defies comprehension – a rod shoved through the whirling spokes of consciousness stopping it dead in its tracks. Change and the eternal seem to need to go together while seeming incompatible.

5However God is imagined metaphysically, as a matter of faith and hope, we can ascertain that God loves us, is interested in us and is amused by us. This is made possible because both God and man, through his subjectivity, have a relation to the Great Mystery and realm of freedom.

In the creative act we commune with the Great Mystery and spontaneous imaginings emerge and become objectivized. This is what we are here to do; that and commune with God and other Persons through volunteeristic love.

We have to fight the urge to try to create a formula for creation; to ensure that every effort at creativity bears fruit; to get it under control. Novelists like Chaim Potok or John Irving turn out to have a formula to their writing which quickly becomes apparent upon reading more than one of their novels.

This seems different from the symphonies of Mahler or other composers that in some ways are different versions of the same symphony, not because a formula is being followed, but just because they bear the imprint of the artistic personality of their creator. Those great works of art retain a connection to their Divine origins in a particularly perspicacious manner.

The greatest novels involve a conversion experience by the protagonist and the author who creates in an act of self-overcoming, reaching a new plane of understanding and self-revelation. It is a great shame that Dostoevsky never managed this feat with The Idiot, an otherwise fascinating and first-rate novel. Instead, towards the end, the authorial voice intrudes and he starts discussing the difficulty of creating convincing characters in novels. Successful writing perhaps has that Hegelian dynamic of thesis, antithesis and synthesis.

The idea of omniscience, it would seem, removes surprise and interest from the world. It turns all into Order, the dead, objectivized realm of object, not subject. Subject, since it is free, is unknowable.

God, like Man, lives in wonder and wonder is infused with mystery. If God were ruled by a blueprint in the manner of Plato’s Forms then his behavior would be determined. God evolves. And evolution implies “creative emergence into novelty,” as Whitehead euphoniously describes it.

Is God perfect? Yes. And part of perfection is continued growth and change. A Thai meal might be perfect, but so might a Japanese meal. Perfection need not imply that God is changeless.

A two year old can be perfect little two year old. Human perfection differs from Godly perfection by degree rather than kind. If God were nailed to the cross of a static perfection then we would have killed Him.

God infinitely unfolds His genius in a way not remotely mechanical, in the way that driving through a landscape could reveal one breathtakingly beautiful vista after another. In New Zealand that might mean fjords, giving rise to snow-capped alps, to tree-ferned rainforests next to wild seas; from active volcanoes, to flooded extinct ones; red volcanic rock on cliffs covered in plants with waxy coverings especially adapted to salt-spray, Neo-Gothic university buildings with stained glass Victorian houses nestled in permanently green and lush forest interspersed throughout the city (Dunedin). Each landscape perfect and different from the next.

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God chooses not to make his existence unquestionable for that would contravene man’s freedom and turn us into slaves. That is one of Christ’s temptations. It would put God on the side of Order only – the known; and would effectively kill Him. It would objectivize God. We too have an unknown, free connection to Spirit and thus the subjective. We too cannot be fully objective without violating our nature. We too are unfathomably deep – though never fully realized. The Ungrund can never be absolutely exposed.

Mechanists and materialists among us trust in the opposite – that all is in principle explicable. Their desire for the predictable sometimes result in fantasies of a completed psychology and neuroscience which would allow us to throw out all those explorations of the human soul in the form of poetry and, for instance, the plays of Shakespeare.

Martin Heidegger pointed out that Man is not an object. He has a past he remains connected to and he projects himself imaginatively into the future concernfully.

God has a sense of humor. Humor, though mysterious, has an element of surprise. It seems to involve an unexpected merging of incompatible frames of reference; something that makes sense in one context is suddenly thrust into another context where it does not belong. Humor is creative, alive, and requires intuition. A joke explained and made explicit is a dead, unfunny bunch of words.

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God changes, evolves and grows. We are made in his image. So do we.

The idea of God’s omniscience abolishes freedom and creativity by turning the Ungrund, into Order and the known.

His commandments (suggestions) would not change, rooted as they are in Truth.

Thinking goes horribly awry when mystery is imagined away. When computer scientists hope to fully explain human consciousness in a mechanistic fashion, they are wishing for the abolition of man.

God creates the living mind-ridden creature with agency, freedom and connection to mystery. His creations retain the duality of subject and object acting as portals of fecundity. Ours do not. They provide evidence of their origins in a non-mechanized realm while still joining the ranks of the mechanical. As Einstein wrote, physics might be beautifully objective but the discovery of these objective principles involves intuition and imagination.

The cataphatic theology of the Logos must make room for the apophatic theology pertaining to the Ungrund. A fully explained or known Person, human or Divine, placed within some detailed system of rationalized thought is a dead Person. Eternal emergence into novelty and omniscience simply do not go together. The living God is a bubbling spring arising from unseen depths and He in his Divinity joins us with this Source which is part of His own nature.

Postscript

A friend has directed me to the book Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes by Charles Hartshorne which I was not aware of. I seem to have tapped a similar train of thought in the preceding. The book begins with the following quotations which I admit to finding exciting. However, Hartshorne’s rejection of an afterlife is less appealing.

Some Expressions of the New Theological Perspective

We do not honor God by breaking down the human soul, connecting it with him only by a tie of slavish dependence. It is his glory that he creates beings like himself, free beings . . . that he confers on them the reality, not the show, of power.
William Ellery Channing (1788 – 1842)

The fact that God could create free beings over against himself is the cross which philosophy could not carry, but remained hanging from.
Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855)

I . . . cherish the most certain of all truths and the one that should come first: I am free; beyond my dependence I am independent; I am a dependent independence; I am a person responsible for myself who am my work, to God who has created me creator of myself . . . What a terrifying marvel: man deliberates and God awaits his decision . . . Suddenly, O surprise . . . I have been witness of a change in the bosom of the absolute permanence . . . God, who sees things change, changes also in beholding them, or else does not perceive that they change.
Jules Lequier (1814 – 1862)

Should we say that because the later God develops beyond the earlier there was a defect in the earlier? But it was no other defect than that which progress to the higher itself determines, and each earlier time stands in this relation to a later time. . . . In this respect the world never advances, because this is the ground of the whole progress, to will something transcending the present . . . and the perfection of God generally is not in reaching a limited maximum but in seeking an unlimited progress. In this progress, however, the whole God in each time is the maximum not only of all the present, but also of all the past; he alone can surpass himself, and does it continually.
Gustav Theodor Fechner (1801 – 1887)

The traditional doctrines of theology do not solve the painful problem of evil. The ordinary conception of the creation of the world and the Fall turns it all into a divine comedy, a play that God plays with himself. . . . The freedom through which the creature succumbs to evil has been given to it by God, in the last resort has been determined by God. . . . When in difficulties, positive theology falls back upon mystery and finds refuge in negative theology. But the mystery has already been over ­ rationalized. . . . Freedom is not determined by God. Nicolas Berdyaev (1874 – 1948)

Appealing to his [Einstein’s] way of expressing himself in theological terms, I said: If God had wanted to put everything into the world from the beginning, He would have created a universe without change, without organisms and evolution, and without man and man’s experience of change. But He seems to have thought that a live universe with events unexpected even by Himself would be more interesting than a dead one.
Karl Popper (1902 – )

[1] The Ungrund is also not Chaos, for Chaos is a something, while the Great Mystery is a nothing that longs to produce the something.

[2] See https://wordpress.com/post/orthosphere.wordpress.com/18171Chaos and Order; the left and right hemispheres.

[3] Nick Cave, for instance.

22 thoughts on “Is God Omniscient? (Revised again)

    • Hi, Bedarz Illiachi: I am indeed worried that I might be going wrong in that direction. However, I would like more details of the argument addressed – especially the nature of creativity. Are we to worship a living God or a dead one? If Spirit is fundamental, is it all explicit light of day or endlessly fecund potentiality not known or determined in advance?

      We have been told that we are made in God’s image. I can imagine getting to heaven and God saying “Exactly what part of that did you not understand?” And sheepishly replying that we didn’t think He was serious. I don’t see why taking the idea seriously means I am reversing causation from the created to the Creator. It seems worth at least considering that God might have intended his words to be fairly literal when he said that.

      I think in general it is worth considering that human beings do not surpass God in any respect. If I can wonder at mystery, be surprised, and laugh at a good joke, and God cannot, I seem to be putting myself above Him.

  1. One of the things that makes this discussion confusing is the univocal and equivocal fallacies. We cannot conceive of perfection like Gods, so it is challenging to talk about it accurately. Perfection of, as you say, a two year old, or a meal, is a lesser order of perfection than the perfection of God. But when we, as finite human minds, say the word “perfection”, we include it with all the other things we also consider perfect, which includes meals, and children. If we were speaking univocally, we would say the Perfection cannot be used except when describing God, because meals and children are not like God. If we were speaking equivocally, we would say that perfection cannot be used to describe God because God is not like meals and children. So Thomas Aquinas says we can speak about God only analogically, through analogy, because we cannot understand Him, but we can understand things that are like Him.

    Secondly, I don’t know that I would say that God “renounces omnipotence”. In the scripture “The meek shall inherit the earth”, the greek word used (so I am told) is Praus which is the same word they used for taming war horses. These powerful creatures were meeked. they did not renounce their strength or skill, but allowed it to be directed by some outside force. God seems to do the reverse: He has great power, indeed all power (omni potens), but refrains from using it for our benefit. “Renounce” makes it sound like he has given up a piece of his Perfection. Rather, he has stayed his hand, to allow us an opportunity to make the right choice.

    • Hi, Scoot: That all sounds good to me. Maybe God “restrains” his omnipotence, or perhaps “limits the execution of” or something.

  2. A Perfect God wills ALL Right.

    Objective Supremacy.

    Active, free, ALL-seeing, ALL-knowing.

    For how else could God will Mr. Richard Cocks Right if God could not see and know Mr. Richard Cocks from the day of his conception until the day of his resurrection?

    • We do not honor God by breaking down the human soul, connecting it with him only by a tie of slavish dependence. It is his glory that he creates beings like himself, free beings . . . that he confers on them the reality, not the show, of power.
      William Ellery Channing (1788 – 1842)

  3. To the anti-Christian, Perfection is a limitation on the “right” to self-annihilation. Co-creation is pro-creation is anti-annihilationist. To be against self-annihilation makes for unlimited freedom. Ergo, Perfection is unlimited.

    • …the perfection of God generally is not in reaching a limited maximum but in seeking an unlimited progress. In this progress, however, the whole God in each time is the maximum not only of all the present, but also of all the past; he alone can surpass himself, and does it continually.
      Gustav Theodor Fechner (1801 – 1887)

  4. I’ve read much of what Hartshorne has written. Other process philosophers, too. They have much to offer, and I think you will profit greatly by reading them. Their master Whitehead is of course much better.

    For many years process theology was the only way I could understand God. But I had a niggle of worry: unlike almost all of his students, Whitehead himself did not consider God to be a series of discrete occasions of becoming, like us. Rather, he thought God is a single actual entity, just as classical theology had always done. But if God is a single actuality, how could he learn anything?

    That Whitehead thought of God this way was a bit of a scandal to process theologians.

    On the other hand, if God is indeed a series of discrete occasions of becoming, as Hartshorne and most process philosophers think, then all the difficulties of the infinite regress open up. God didn’t himself begin, presumably, for in that case he would have stood in need of an exogenous cause to get him going: he’d need a God to get him going. But if his series of occasions was infinite, stretching back infinitely far into the past, so that he would never have stood in need of a cause other than himself (and could therefore be God, properly so called), then … there would be no way that it could have finished its infinite procession of occasions so as to reach today; or, any other day either, for that matter.

    The problem was that I was thinking of God as being in time, when of course if God creates the world, he creates time with it (this would happen with his creation of any new world: it would come along with its own time and space). I had to take his perspective in eternity if I was to understand his relation to time. So I tried. It took a lot of work, but eventually I could see what Whitehead and the classical theologians had been thinking in calling God eternal, and simple, and singular. In eternity, which is prior to time, there is no “in advance.” God can’t know anything before it happens, because for him there is no before. God knows everything as it happens.

    So his omniscience does not ruin creaturely freedom, nor does it ruin his own liveliness, nor does it limit development, either in him or in his creatures. It’s just that the development in him is eternal, and not bound to time, as ours is. It is as it were orthogonal to all times.

    NB: God doesn’t need to limit his own omnipotence in order to carve out some agency for us. On the contrary. It is impossible to obtain a being that can’t do anything; that can’t have an effect of its own. And a thing cannot have an effect truly its own unless it is itself a source of somewhat untrammeled creative action. “Non-free being” is then a contradiction in terms, like “square circle.” So in creating us free, God is creating us in the only way that is logically possible. Berdyaev then is exactly correct in saying that, “Freedom is not determined by God.” If it were, it wouldn’t be freedom in the first place.

    • I guess if agency were from God it would be considered a theological virtue; like Hope. A thing to be gained. Agency being innate makes sense (and not just becsuse of the rational coherence) but because it makes agency an inextricable part of being. Imagining a being without agency is to imagine a non-being. God did, after all, call himself “I Am” and i can think of no greater declaration of agency.

      Thank you for this. I dont know the word for it (“learning something new” seems too trite), but i was missing something before and you led me to it.

    • The phrase “discrete occasions of becoming” doesn’t have any obvious meaning to me. Eternal, simple and singular sound fine to me. So does “to be as a being is to have agency” suggesting non-omnipotence. Also “God knows everything as it happens. So his omniscience does not ruin creaturely freedom, nor does it ruin his own liveliness, nor does it limit development, either in him or in his creatures. It’s just that the development in him is eternal, and not bound to time, as ours is. It is as it were orthogonal to all times,” sounds good.

      • My mention of discrete occasions of becoming was necessary only to contrast the human or animal person as usually understood by process philosophers such as Hartshorne – and Whitehead – with Whitehead’s own notion that God is not, like them, a series of such occasions but a single such occasion. In a nutshell, process metaphysics argues that change : discrete occasions of becoming :: integral slope : differentiated infinitesimals. Thus the life of a person consists of a series of discrete adventures, each of them an atom of becoming, most of them only microseconds long, and each of which “prehends” and integrates its predecessors into its own constitution, so that retrospectively that life constitutes an integral whole. Once such an atom of becoming has finished its process of becoming (this atomic process being the reason that process metaphysics has its name), it no longer changes. Creation then – the process through which the world keeps happening – is a ferment of new atomic occasions, each taking or feeling or prehending its mundane past – its “actual world” – and integrating those feelings in a new unity.

        If you read the process philosophers, you’ll get a lot on that topic. But it will be terrifically confusing, until you “get inside” the idea. Until you do get inside it, you will probably have a hard time understanding what those guys are saying. If I may make a recommendation, the best book I ever read on the subject, which really helped me understand what Whitehead and these other guys were talking about, is The Epochal Nature of Process in Whitehead’s Metaphysics, by F. Bradford Wallach.

        I would add though that, speaking strictly, it is not the case that “to be as a being is to have agency” suggests non-omnipotence. That other beings have agency does not mean that God is not omnipotent. This because omnipotence does not consist in the exhaustive possession of all the power that is or can be, but rather in the possession of the maximal power that a being can have. I’m pretty sure I learned that from Hartshorne’s Omnipotence & Other Theological Mistakes. Omnipotence, then, can do anything and everything that a being can possibly do – that, i.e., a being can logically do (thus it is not logically possible for God to create a square circle, because there is no coherent concept denoted by the character string “square circle;” so that God’s inability to create a square circle is not a defect in or limitation of his power, but rather an aspect thereof). No creature possesses that much power.

    • “non-free being” is a contradiction in terms.

      Are animals beings?
      They are supposed to lack freedom. As Aquinas wrote–stones move by necessity, sheep move by instinct and humans by free judgement.

      • Yes, animals are beings. Stones are not. The differentiator is not motion, but action. Animals act. Stones are merely acted upon.

    • God can’t know anything before it happens, because for him there is no before. God knows everything as it happens. So his omniscience does not ruin creaturely freedom, nor does it ruin his own liveliness

      This is almost identical to an exchange we had awhile back. As I said back then, this doesn’t make a particle of sense, it’s internally incoherent, and a bit surprising from someone as devoted to the principle of non-contradiction as you claim to be.

      However, it is boring to argue that again, so I am going to try hard to imagine a god that is eternal yet experiences every moment as it happens, unchanging yet lively, omniscient yet apparently capable of being surprised by his creations. A challenging exercise!

      • It is indeed a challenge. Take it from me! I wish you good luck with it.

        You are correct that if experience is temporal per se, then the notion of omniscience is nonsense. Is experience temporal per se? I have satisfied myself that it is not. You have not.

        Indeed, I have satisfied myself that experience is atemporal per se, and that its temporal aspect (if it has one) is a posteriori and not a priori. I.e., that occasions of becoming begin their process of becoming as not yet definitely located at a specific spatiotemporal address in a particular world. But that’s a big topic, for another day.

      • Kristor, I have some related questions.
        1- What do you mean by temporal and atemporal? Is there a metaphysical sense for these? I understand them to mean “in time” and “outside of time”. So maybe the lynch-pin to understanding is in the word ‘experience’.

        2- What do you mean by ‘occasions of being’ or ‘occasions of becoming’? I take you to mean, at this temporal instance, I am, and that necessarily implies that in some future temporal instance, I will be. [Afterthought: I read you reply to Professor Cocks again and it seems to imply something of the imagery used by CS Lewis in Mere Christianity; namely that a person as an entity is connected to all of the rest of humanity across time and space, and if we were to imagine ourselves in a petri dish that contains all of time, we might look like a tree of branches intersecting and multiplying. A Person, as a unit, must include all previous ‘adventures’ as you call them, but no future ‘adventures’ if you are examining a discrete instance of a person. Am I approaching understanding?]

        3- If my understanding in #2 is correct, when you say ‘a posteriori and not a priori’, do I understand you to mean that, for example, before I was born, i was not / i had no occasions of being prior to my conception, but at all occasions after my conception i was in some state or other. Embryo, child, adult, spirit, in roughly that order?

        I was going to ask more questions but I realize i’m out of my depth.

      • I’m out of my depth, too. But I’ve been swimming in this end of the pool for a long time, so I’m getting used to it, and learning my way around. You are indeed approaching understanding. I’m glad to help you approach more closely.

        An entity that is temporal is embedded in a causal system, or world – it is influenced by causal factors derived from other entities, and is itself a causal factor of other entities – and is subject to difference in the expression of its essential character. The second criterion calls for some unpacking. If Scoot has lost a foot, his expression of his essential bipedalism has become defective. If Scoot is having a nightmare, his expression of his essential rationality is defective. And so forth.

        God is atemporal. He is not subject to change in the expression of his essential nature – he is indefectible – and although he may influence and be influenced by events in causal systems, such influences are not essential to him: he cannot but exist as perfectly God whether or not there are any worlds, and no matter what happens in any of them.

        Angels are aeviternal. They are embedded in at least one causal system – may influence or be influenced by events in one or more worlds (whether their native heaven, or a heaven subsidiary or supersidiary to their own, or our own world, or some other world of our sort) – but they are not subject to change in the expression of their essential character. The Fall of Lucifer, e.g., is once and for all; he cannot express his seraphic nature otherwise than in the defective way that he chose for himself in the first moment of his life.

        The simplest way to understand an occasion of becoming is as a moment of experience. There are many ways that process philosophers, and Whitehead himself, referred to them, depending on what aspect of such occasions they were discussing: actual occasion, actual entity, actuality, occasion of experience, actual event, quantum of action, occasion of being, concrescence, and so forth.

        Your life is a series of such occasions. There is the moment when Scoot sips the coffee, and then the moment when he swallows it, and then the moment when he feels its warmth in his belly, and so forth. Because each moment in your life is somehow discernibly different from all the others, each one is disparate from the others, and distinct (this is a corollary of the Identity of Indiscernibles).

        There is a point when the moment of Scoot sipping the coffee is complete, and Scoot has moved on to the moment of swallowing. Once Scoot has moved on to swallowing, the moment of sipping is in his past.

        That past moment influences the present moment, but not vice versa.

        The way that Scoot moves on from moment x is that when x is complete and definite, and thus fully actual, a new moment in the life of Scoot begins. Why does it begin? God makes it begin: such is Creation.

        Only God is competent to begin a new creaturely moment.

        From the perspective of your present moment, all your past moments are integrated in a single continuum. Each new occasion of becoming is then an integration of all the precedent infinitesimal actualities of its past.

        Each new occasion of becoming is also an integration of all the precedent infinitesimal actualities of its spatial vicinity; this is how process philosophy solves the binding problem in the philosophy of mind.

        Those examples I gave from the life of Scoot are illustrative only. They are of much greater duration than most process philosophers take the quantum of action really to be. Some think that the minimum duration of a quantum of action (in our cosmos, anyway) is a function of the Planck length. Some adduce Buddhist texts that stipulate about 40,000 disparate occasions per second of our conscious lives.

        Phenomenally, these infinitesimals are integrated in what appears to us as a continuous flow, just as the frames of a cartoon appear to us – when the film is run – as depicting continuous motion (cinematic animation was a cultural factor of Whitehead’s philosophy of organism; most prior metaphysical systems did not have the phenomenal experience of cinematic animation as an analogical resource).

        The quantum of action is how process philosophy cuts the Gordian Knot of the Eleatic Paradoxes. Achilles doesn’t have to traverse an infinite number of infinitely small infinitesimals to reach the goal line, as he would if his progress in the race were purely continuous, because his progress is continuous only as an integral of a finite number of infinitesimals of minimum duration. The ontological minima of the quantum of action mean that Achilles can reach the goal line by traversing a finite series of finitely small steps.

        Note also that (so far as I can tell) process ontology resolves all the paradoxes of QM. E.g., the life or death of Schrödinger’s Cat is discovered first by the occasions of the experimental set up that line the inside of the box, fill its atmosphere, and indeed constitute the body of the cat. Lots of things fall into place if you think of the world as constituted entirely of observations; which is to say, of transfers of information: of forms. Allow me in that connection to recommend Being as Communion: A Metaphysics of Information, by William Dembski. It’s a lovely book.

        When I say that spatiotemporal location is a posteriori, what I mean is that, until an occasion has finished becoming and is completely definite and actual – i.e., posterior to its process of coming into being – it is not yet actual, and therefore not yet located in any world. Only when an occasion is completely definite and actual can it have any actual properties at all – including the properties that specify its causal inputs, and thus its spatiotemporal locus in a world. The process of its becoming is the process by which it becomes actual in its world. Until it finishes becoming, it is not actual, but rather potential. Thus the entire process of becoming of an actual entity occurs atemporally and aspatially. Experience, then – the raw material of each new occasion, that forms the initial conditions of its inception, and from which it cobbles together its integration of its inputs – transpires extramundanely.

        The taproot then of each new creaturely occasion is “above” and “beyond” and “before” all worlds (scare quotes inserted to alert readers to the use of religious language). It is in eternity. It is in God.

        This is why I have written that eternity is the forecondition and environment of time. In him we live, and move, and have our being [Acts 17:28].

        This present moment of your experience, then, is flowing in eternity. All things are in eternity (including all past occasions); so all flux of experience from past on toward future in the present moment is occurring in eternity. The Tao flows in eternity. Time happens eternally.

        There’s lots more. But that’s it in nutshell.

      • You have definitely expanded my understanding of the subject, thank you very much!

        I see now that temporality in the metaphysical sense is analagous to ‘time’ only insofar as time is (in a sense) a measure of change within a causal system. Scoot has a foot, and then at some later point, Scoot does not have a foot. Scoot cannot lose a foot before he has a foot to lose. Something that is not subject to change would necessarily not have any changes to measure and thus would not exist within time. An Experience, a discrete event, from start to finish, would be temporal if it was subject to causal systems. But you have said that experience is atemporal; an experience, once complete, cannot be changed. An experience, before it is complete, is not fully an experience. (NB: I am using the word experience loosely but I hope not too inaccurately. I hope to come back to a more precise usage here in a moment.)

        Your discussion regarding occasions of being is a cogent explanation that is logically edifying but I dare not claim to understand fully. I will be satisfied at least that you have taught me more than I knew before. Taking the foot example: Scoot with foot and Scoot without foot are two discrete observations. There is a point at which the foot is fully divested of it’s host. Occasion of Being I understand now to mean an observation at a specific point. The experience is the full event between occasions of being. Occasion: Scoot. Event: separation of foot. Occasion: Scoot, sans foot.

        And each step in the process can be broken down infinitesimally to the most fundamental occasions and God in between holding reality together.

        I’ve added that book to my reading list, thank you very much. I will definitely promise to look at the pages, here’s hoping some of the symbols osmote into my brain as knowledge!

        I’m going to have to roll this around a little more before it becomes an intellectual pearl, but I really appreciate your thorough and detailed response. Thank you!

      • You are welcome.

        An Experience, a discrete event, from start to finish, would be temporal if it was subject to causal systems. But you have said that experience is atemporal; an experience, once complete, cannot be changed. An experience, before it is complete, is not fully an experience.

        Close, but not quite. Experience per se is atemporal *until it is complete.* Once it is complete, its causal factors (if any; God has none) are completely specified. Only then is it a definite thing, and thus an actual thing, that can be in some world, and thus take up a particular position in a spatiotemporal nexus.

        Once an actual entity has taken its place in a causal system, it cannot thereafter take some other place in that system. It is thenceforth forever fixed in its definite character, including its spatiotemporal character. It is no longer subject to change: it is stuck in its own time and place in the flux of history.

        Occasion of Being I understand now to mean an observation at a specific point. The experience is the full event between occasions of being. Occasion: Scoot. Event: separation of foot. Occasion: Scoot, sans foot.

        It’s both simpler and more difficult than that. Occasions *are* events. An observation that something has happened is itself something happening. There’s nothing other than occasions, which are all events of observation.

  5. Another very excellent and insightful Berdyaev article by Prof. Cocks!! Concerning the arising problematics of trying to qualify that which cannot be qualified, i.e. God — perfection, omnipotence, omniscience etc. Some may remember that fiery retort by Tertullian “What hath Athens to do with Jerusalem?” Berdyaev’s buddy the Russian Jewish existentialist philosopher, Lev Shestov, actually wrote a book on this theme, “Athens and Jerusalem”.
    Regarding man’s cognitive knowing, they say that even Aquinas acknowledged the primacy of the “via negativa”. Berdyaev in places speaks of the limiting difference of rationalist logical positive (kataphatic) knowledge, and (apophatic) “via negativa” apperception. In apophatic terms, God is “not perfect”, because God is “beyond” any limiting human rational qualifications of perfection, beyond the limits of human reasoning alone. Indeed, why has rational philosophy proven so sterilely unconvincing in attempting to “prove the existence of God”? We need only to look at the example of Pontius Pilate, posing the quite radical question “What is Truth?”, whilst standing before Pilate was the verymost Truth. Why?? Because Pontius Pilate was asking the wrong question, which instead should have been “Who is Truth?”. The “Who” appertains both to God, and to the concrete human person, spiritual realities at their greatest depth.
    We are taught, that “God is spirit, and they that worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth”. Which means that we at our deepest ground are beings spiritual. In Genesis, we are told,
    that God created man “in His Own Image and likeness”. [hence if we are created in the image of our Creator, then hence we too are called to be “creators” — a Berdyaev motif].
    Which brings us into the mystagogical aspects of cognition, such as already obtained religiously in ancient Greece, in terms of psychic aspect of participation of the cultic mysterion.
    Nietzsche’s colleague, Erwin Rhode, actually wrote an excellent tome, “Psyche”, exploring this [heavy on the Greek, but in English in 2 volumes Harper torchbooks, very sadly hard to find].
    In Eastern Christian thought, which provides a basis for various Russian philosophic intuitivists such as N Lossky, there is emphasis upon a different sort of cognition, such as obtains with the hesykhia experience with the “Jesus Prayer” (minus the New Age navel gazing),
    where the dynamic involves the mind downgoing into the heart. All this does not involve irrationalism, as rather trans-rationalism.
    The devil is always in the details regarding rational concepts, pushed beyond their limits. The ancient Greeks, in their attempts to conquer the corrosive effects of time, saw “perfection”
    of the human form in the statue, in stasis, in which we tend to view timeless eternity from rational a perspective. But “stasis” is more proper to a corpse, than to an actual and living human person. The same rationalistic distortions apply when we attempt to qualify the unqualifiable God. Echoing Berdyaev, we need not the various phenomenologies regarding God as some “object”, but rather an ontology regarding both God and man, by plumbing the depths of the significance of “person/lichnost'” — that true basis of commensurability between God and man.
    Christ declares to Philip query regarding the Father: “who sees Me sees the Father”, (Jn. 14:9) and this seeing involves a graced perspicacity, like trying to see the nose on our face…
    Regarding our “Athens and Jerusalim” dichotomy, God and eternity do not represent a state of stasis, proper to the corpse, but rather the dynamism of life. German Idealism with its “volitionism” represents a major philosophic step forward over the ancient Greeks. St Peter once
    declared: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Mt. 16:16), and Christ teaches:
    God is the God of the living, not the dead”. The concept of the “Living God” is contrary to stasis,
    as exemplified in much traditional kataphatic rationalist thought, where the devil indeed is always in the details…

    frsj

  6. Pingback: Cantandum in Ezkhaton 05/12/19 | Liberae Sunt Nostrae Cogitatiores

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