CORRESPONDENCE : ON “GOD SAID ” LET NEWTON BE.”

Replies to my blog-posts are very welcome. The following written is a very thoughtful and well-argued response to my most recent post. I add a reply. Further contributions are welcome.

“Thanks, Alan, for a well written and argued piece, ably outlining the development of an important process of enquiry and understanding in the realms of Science, Religion, Philosophy and the Arts, which I much enjoyed working my way through. And now, of course, you’re waiting for the “but”-so I won’t disappoint you.

What I find difficult with the piece arises from its dualism. You suggest, I think, that the eternal and infinite God is separate from all he has made – that his creation is outside himself. Being eternal, he must indeed be “outside” Einstein’s space-time. My problem is that, being infinite, there cannot be anything “outside” of what is infinite, or it would no longer be infinite! Additionally, you are, I think, suggesting that as well as being “outside” his creation, God is simultaneously “inside it”, and I find it difficult to make sense of this immanent/transcendent connundrum. It seems to me the equivalent of saying that “a” is simultaneously “not-a”, in which case old Aristotle, with his logician’s hat on, must be vehemently protesting from his grave!

I’m reminded of the difficulty Descartes ran into, when he separated mind from matter, and declared them to be different “substances”. His problem then was how to explain how they can interact with one another. A brain is a piece of matter, which has weight, shape and occupies space. The thoughts, feelings and experiences of a mind are utterly different, being weightless, shapeless and occupying no space. Where, then, is the link between mind and matter? Descartes settled for the pineal gland in the brain, the function of which was unknown at that time, a piece of nonsense that dented his philosophical reputation.

We can experience the problem for ourselves by putting a pebble on a table in front of us. We can then introduce into our mind the thought of moving the pebble without touching it. We can’t do this, however, there being no link between the two categorically different “substances”. If God, as John 4:24 says, is Spirit-invisible and intangible (compare, above, mind as “weightless, shapeless and occupying no space”), how can he interact with the material realm? One way of addressing this issue is simply to state the paradox of God being both transcendent and immanent is only to be expected, since we are dealing with what lies beyond the limits of human understanding. It might be argued, however, that this is more of an evasion than an explanation.

Interestingly, Newtonian physics has been, not replaced, but greatly enhanced by Quantum physics, one outcome of which, surprisingly, (and strongly resisted by some) has been a “re-introduction” of mind and consciousness into the objective realm of matter. Out of this, there has arisen a growing interest in , and exploration of , the age-old concept of Panpsychism, which leaves dualism behind. Mind is the inwardness of matter, and matter is the outwardness of mind. There can be a head and a tail but still only one coin. One is tepted to say that, “In the beginning there was Mind”- and therefore matter as its correlative outward expression. There is here, perhaps, a possibility for a re-marriage of religion and science, because, although, Panpsychism can be “Godless”, it can also be a foundation for Pantheism, if one wishes to travel in that direction- Spinoza’s alternative to Descartes or, picking up on your own references to Romantic literature, my favourite lines from Wordsworth:

                    "....... a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused, 
Whose dwelling is... in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things."      

My concluding thought is that Creation is not a one-off event, but an ever-ongoing unfolding of all that is, which one may wish to call God-as more of a verb than a noun, more of a process than a person as such-although a process that has given rise to life, mind, consciousness, self-awareness and personality. “Salvation” may then have less to do with the dualism of the restoration of a relationship between the categorically different-God and Humanity-and more to do with the realisation of an identity that transcends dualism. This takes us into the every bit as important and relevant realm of the religions and philosophies of the East-but space and time, alas, have now run out!

So, thanks again, for writing a splendidly thought provoking piece, and for stimulating a too often idle brain to respond with not just a provoking reply.

Ray Inkster.

Reply from Editor

Good to get your response Ray and a very thoughtful well considered argument it proves to be! I enjoyed reading and learned much from what you have written. Nevertheless I feel you have tended to use argument as a springboard for your own preoccupation, criticising dualism as an illogical connundrum. I have to ask the question after some re-readings how is it are you connecting your argument with mine? The question you deal with may be in the background but because background it is not really what I am focusing on: the challenge raised to an earlier world-view (based on Newtonian physics and empirical philosophy and celebrated by Pope’s epigram ) by the Romantic movement ( Blake and Coleridge in particular). You do not comment on this. The high point of my argument was the Coleridge quotation. The connection between God’s infinite creativity and that of the creativity of the great poet/ artist is to me fascinating and deeply relevant to how we conceive God today. But again there is no comment on this.

In my post, I relate three Biblical understandings of how God’s power of creation manifests itself. These might be worth your consideration. As it is, it seems clear to me that Coleridge’s quotation emphasises the primary significance of “emanation” a link which I would like to have seen you explore further.

On the Transcendence/ immanence connundrum you diagnose so well you advance one unsatisfactory explanation as mystery which we just have to accept. This you call “evasion”. My understanding is Christian theologians have sought to balance the two, though with differing emphases. Some mystics emphasise the transcendence so that there is little emphasis on God’s immanence. Others like Paul Tillich, who speak of God as the “ground of our being,” emphasise this so much there is little emphasis on the transcendent God. Perhaps those of us not theologically or philosophically minded can get by satisfactorily by accepting the mystery -“we know only in part”.

That said I must again acknowledge my gratitude to you. Your reply has encouraged me to get involved in reading David Bentley Hart’s very wonderful work “The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss (Yale University Press 2013). Of this work Rowan Williams has said, ” David Hart can always be relied on to offer a perspective on Christian faith that is both profound and unexpected. In this materpiece of quiet intellectual and spiritual passion, he magnificently sets the record straight as to what sort of God Christians believe in and why.”

As you know Hart, belonging to the Eastern Orthodox persuasion is among the foremost theologians of the U.S. and is extremely well-read in the scriptures and mystical works of all the faiths and he discusses these in this work. He is a brilliant philosopher and sharp-minded critic of what was once called the New Atheism.

A challenge of mine to you would be to write a review of this work, yourself, as a guest-post! Something to keep your brain working in your retirement!

Yours ever,

Alan