Simplicity is quite useful and even necessary in understanding God’s Creation, just as it was useful to such thinkers as Riemann and Einstein in developing the mathematics and the specific theories of spacetime. Yet, full understandings in many such matters comes only by way of analyses using concepts and words and ways of thinking which are quite complex. Simplicity can then follow, partly the simplicity which comes from simple acceptance of new ideas and the integration of those ideas, in words and related concepts, in our day-to-day language about our world. (See Alas, the World isn’t So Simple and Enriching Our Moral World: Simple Is Digested Complexity for short and, yes, simple discussions.)
Complex ideas (such as dualistic speculations of ancient pagan and Christian thinkers) are digested and then take on simple forms in our words and concepts, in our ways of thinking and feeling and doing. This is true of the dualisms such as mind-body which seem to explain so much. Unfortunately, the explanations are now in conflict with what we know about the minds and bodies of those creatures which are us, but they are deeply embedded in our ways of thinking and feeling and doing. And so it is that the processes of moving toward better understandings of the Creator and His works is stalled by the very processes which make it possible for the great majority of human beings to understand and use the thoughts of the small minority of creative thinkers.
In terms which point to the same confusions, modern Christians have been reluctant to deal with the seeming, in fact—real, complexity of what the Medieval scholastics labeled as the “effects of God.” I would bring that to tighter focus by changing it to the “effects of the Creator,” or even the “effects of God in His freely chosen role as the Creator of this particular world.” As it is, the ordinary Christian believer as well as Christian leaders and scholars, have retreated to a stance that:
It’s all simple.
It’s so simple that, over the past two centuries or more, they have stood by helplessly while the greatest civilization mankind has known—the Christian West, fell into ruins, some parts of those ruins being occupied by strange or outright unattractive bands of gangsters and so-called “cultural Marxists” as well as the more ordinary and expected hedonists who come out from the shadows whenever a civilization falls toward decay. It’s so simple that Christian leaders and scholars can’t pass on their faith to their own children or the others within their range of influence. It’s so simple they can’t express the faith in ways that make sense, even to their own baptized and catechized children, in light of what is now known about God’s Creation, about the Almighty’s “effects in Creation”.
Christian theology, Christian thought in general, deals with the relationships between and among God and all of Creation, Creation as a whole and all the individual created entities or realms of created being. Christian theology should teach its adherents or friends or even the merely curious how it is that we can think about, for example, the meeting of God and created being which occurs in the Sacraments of Christianity: baptism where God forms a special relationship with a human being, marriage where God and man and woman form a special relationship, the Eucharist where God forms a special relationship with the communicant through bread and wine after the Almighty has entered His own effects in a special way. There are other Sacraments and all of Creation is so many sacramental acts, that is, relationships involving God and creatures.
There is most certainly a dualism of a certain fundamental type: Creation and Creator, created being and He who creates all that is not Him. Thinking men have always had to account for living creatures or even creatures such as stars and planets, not obviously alive but constantly in motion. How could the stars be fully like rocks or even much like rocks if they seemed to move as if living creatures? Maybe they are living creatures or at least inhabited by living creatures? The Sun is a god driving a flaming chariot across the sky? The obvious way to account for living matter or even nonliving matter which seems to move on its own is to posit the existence of spirits of some sort. Arguably, it was the only way to make sense of the entirety of what lies around us.
But we created deep problems by literalizing this dualism, by making it simple in a way that it falsely seemed an obvious truth. Of course, men have souls (or minds or whatevers). Of course, angels and demons exist.
One take-away is that there is a true dualism between what-is-created and He-Who-Is-Self-Sustaining, a true difference in being between He who is a self-sustaining Act-of-being, and all His creatures who are not. The further dualisms dividing created being into realms of mind and soul, living and nonliving, are a different matter. They are contingent insights of past generations which are seen as truths by those not capable of or not willing to analyze newer knowledge of God’s Creation. It’s easy to understand how and why we fall into such errors since they greatly ease the necessary and inherently difficult task of determining the difference in moral status of a human child and a grizzly bear cub. Many slide over this difference, “It’s all so simple, so easy to see,” ignoring even the confusion of their own children who learn about the shared biological history and shared DNA and bodily organs and chemicals of human beings and grizzly bears, or even human beings and sharks.
Yet, we can deal with both revealed truths and empirical, contingent truths. We can recognize man is born a very unique animal—but an animal, and then, within the Biblical and Sacramental contexts, see that man rises above that status because of his relationship with Creation seen as such and his relationship with the Creator. From there, man can rise to a deeper relationship with God in His transcendent Being.
We start out by realizing that, from a metaphysical (or ontological) viewpoint, created being is created being is… The Almighty can make interstellar gas-clouds or lively little children of created being. Ultimately, all created entities are objects of God’s attention, all of created being is an object of God’s attention. What we are, what we perceive or conceive are relationships formed by God in such a way as to give the foci of those relationships objective existence, a certain sort of independence from even God Himself, but an independence which itself exists only as an object of God’s attention.
The Satanic rebellion, which is the essence of the Enlightenment gone bad, is a grab for independence of a sort which is impossible for creatures; it is unhealthy for creatures to even aspire to have control over their own being. It is unhealthy for rational creatures to be bereft of gratitude directed toward some creating and sustaining force which could be labeled `divine.’ We have allowed our educational communities and cultural communities to teach young human beings to aspire to that unwise, evil, state of controlling their own created being and the created being around them.
The nature of this universe is that of evolving and developing being. Entities might be born or might develop after birth into confused states—see The Life of a Human Animal Begins at Conception. And Ends at Death. Maybe.. This doesn’t justify the mutilation of the bodies of confused human beings nor does it justify the exploitation of, say, young boys and girls with lesser sorts of confusion. Nor does it justify changing institutions such as marriage which are centered on the begetting and raising of children, even though some man-woman marriages end up childless or child-centered by way of adoption or involvement with the children of other couples. The willful and ideological use of ephemeral or deep and permanent confusion in the sexuality of human beings is clearly an attempt to gain control over created being, to impose ideals of perverse imaginations upon the sometimes confused, and always evolving and developing, created being of this concrete, thing-like universe.
I’ve claimed in a number of writings that we can discuss and analyze communities as being real entities and not just ways of speaking about gatherings of individuals; we simply use concepts drawn from modern mathematics, especially some of the tools used by Einstein and others who dealt with gravity or—equivalently—spacetime. Those tools allowed physicists to treat the universe as itself an entity and not just a container for individuals entities such as stars or intergalactic magnetic fields. But stars themselves have properties which were speculations based upon empirical information about those stars; it doesn’t seem possible to have come to understand stars by starting with hydrogen and helium—though the bottom-up analyses and top-down analyses did meet by way of both that empirical information and theories fine-tuned to that information at each step of observation and then at each step of analysis. Lather, rinse, repeat. The result is the realization that entities such as communities or the universe can have real existence and aren’t just the gatherings of individual entities. (See The Shape of Being.)
What accounts for life, even for mind? What accounts for the generally dynamic nature of the seemingly most inert forms of thing-like being?
Matter in this universe is actually a cooled-down form of energy, stable so long as `trapped’ in certain sorts of complex relationships and less stable otherwise. This way of thinking assumes the normative, or at least starting, state of the thing-like being of this universe is that which occurred in the early fractions of a second after the phase transition falsely seen by many as a creation-event: the so-called Big Bang. This way of thinking can also be dangerously circuitous since temperature (hot, cold, frozen, etc) is typically a measure of the movement of bits of matter at the molecular level—hot gases are those where fast-moving molecules have broken away from relationships with other molecules, which relationships show themselves at our scale as liquid or solid; hot metals are those where molecules are straining at those relationships and might be changing from a solid to a liquid state. Note the clumsy but central use I’m making of that term `relationship’. As I’ve noted before: both modern quantum physics and also the theology of St John the Evangelist claim relationships to be primary over stuff. Another way to think of these matters, and one which might be of central importance in my project is to think in terms similar to quantum mechanics where abstract stuff (described by wavefunctions in quantum mechanics) can localize or particularize to, say, an electron.
We need to correct our tendencies to split created being into completely separate realms: mind vs brain, soul vs body, (creaturely) spirit vs all thing-like being, self-moving entities vs inert matter, etc. Created being is created being is… Yet, to repeat redundantly, there is some truth captured in the traditional dualisms, such as mind vs brain. We don’t wish to lose that truth but we don’t wish to preserve that truth in a false way by imposing some idealistic scheme upon reality.
I’ll try to post further explorations on this line of thought, perhaps every two weeks or maybe every month, with occasional postings of on subjects easier to deal with.