To Be or Not To Be: Questions of Ontological Veracity (Part1)

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In this article I shall briefly, though importantly, address the notion of ‘God’ as the ‘ground of being’ rather than as a determinate entity; in other words that the creation, though not purely the product of chance and necessity, was not the ‘design product’ of ‘personality’ of ‘personal ingenuity’.Should the term ‘God’ refer only to a ‘ground of being’ first cause,  i.e. a first cause that defies description or a ‘first cause’ that may be loosely described as ‘nature’—then there would be no case to answer for the existence of evil/suffering—at least not on ‘God’s’ part, because there would be no personal creative-agent against whom a charge may be brought. It is the case that,should the term ‘God’ refer only to a ‘ground of being’ first cause—a first cause that defies description or that may be loosely described as ’ONE’ (as in Pantheistic Monism) or as ‘NATURE’ (as in Naturalism and Atheistic Materialism) then there is no case to answer—for there is, indeed, no personal agent that may be found guilty of failure of any sort.

The notion of a ‘Ground of Being’, presumably, thought by its advocates, to deal with, what might be considered, as a more ‘intellectually coherent’ case for ‘god’ or that might better fit with the problem of natural evil , does nothing of the sort apart from demeaning the God of the Bible. However, it is such a view that is commonly espoused by scientists and philosophical theologians such as Wesley Wildman. Wildman opines (2011) that any notion of ‘ultimate reality’  aka ‘the God of the Bible’ is bizarre but adds that ‘most theologians and a few philosophers are captivated by such (ultimate reality) speech’ and that they even choose it while understanding its ‘final futility’. In his section on ‘Determinate-Entity Theism’ Wildman, regarding this alleged futility, asks what kind of entity the divine reality is? His conclusion is that the God of the Bible seems to be made in the image of its authors (not an original thought). In short, God’s determinate nature is known in our longings. Everything else we say theologically (Wildman suggests) must serve this overridingly important version of ultimate reality, and this (according to Wildman et al.) becomes the crucial criterion of determinate-entity theism. Wildman’s ideas seem to have little to do with any perceived notion of the goodness of the Triune God of Scripture as Wildman’s picture of God bears no resemblance whatsoever to this God. Wildman’s rationale seems to be that, “Speaking of God as The Ground of Being removes the possibility of proposing a divine character that is profoundly different from the character of the world.” i.e. the evolved/evolving biosphere. Wildman is correct in his assertion that “Determinate-entity theism requires a divine goodness that our best scientific vision of the cosmos does not easily support, and so positively requires some ontological distance between God and the world and a layer of theological explanation for why the world is the way it appears to be—despite the purported impeccability of God’s moral character.”  I agree with Wildman when he says that, “Ground-of-being theism needs neither to explain a discrepancy nor to distinguish among events to articulate the divine nature.” (Wildman 2007). The question needs to be voiced:

Is this a valid reason for the ‘fabrication’ of a ‘god’ made in the image of other theologies or made in the likeness of  ‘prevailing ’  world-views?

Wildman’s views are clearly expressed. Indeed, it would seem that the notion of God as a ‘determinate entity’ creates huge philosophical questions—especially with regards to the problem of [natural] evil. It is, of course, possible that the God revealed in the Bible is a figment of the imaginative wishful thinking of latter-day ‘hominins’—particularly the authors of the Old Testament. Wildman states that the ‘divine goodness’ described in the Scriptures is a ‘difficult fit’ with the apparent evidence. However, it is striking that many distinguished theologians and philosophers are content to hold to a more classical approach. Keith Ward (2008) comments that to call God good is to say that God actualizes within himself the best of all possible perfections—moreover, Ward suggests that “If such a God produces a universe like this, then God remains good, whatever the universe may be considered. A supremely good God might, then, necessarily create this universe, or some universe with similar characteristics.” By ‘necessarily’, I take it that Ward means that the sovereign God chose to create this universe in order to bring about the best of possible circumstances, i.e. the ‘best possible world’. However, this does not imply lesser capabilities on God’s part, but rather that this world is the best of possible worlds in which God’s ultimate ‘Good’ purposes can be achieved.

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As far as Biblical Theism is concerned, there should be no willingness to dilute God’s attributes; however, should there be any attempts at ‘dilution’ the most likely candidates would be those of omniscience, omnipotence or benevolence. Should God be declared ‘less knowing’ or ‘not quite as powerful’ as previously thought, the question of God’s benevolence becomes less crucial. Any deity that is neither omniscient or omnipotent cannot be held responsible for that which is outside the scope of its influence. The attributes of omniscience and omnipotence, however, remain crucial to any theodicy that takes the legitimacy of the biblical narratives seriously. The ‘God is not omniscient or omnipotent’ view, in removing the notion of omniscience and omnipotence from the ‘stage’,leaves room only for the God of Open Theism or even worst: the ‘god’ of ‘no personality whatsoever—the ‘god’ of Monism—i.e. ‘the universe’. For proponents of the view that the cosmos is the #genius of some kind of ‘ground of being’, the argument is likely to be that this ‘god/nature’ does not have the necessary characteristics that enable ‘it’ to behave with consistent benevolence—leaving room only for some kind of dualism or impersonal monism–even Panpsychism .Wesley Wildman gives an outline of the possibilities: Firstly, he makes clear in his view that, (a) a personal, benevolent, attentive, and active deity cannot create through evolution and (b) that therefore God the creator is not a personal, benevolent, attentive, and active deity. He states that we can preserve those affirmations symbolically (for whatever reason), but goes on to say “… they no longer refer to a divine being with intentions and awareness, with feelings and intelligence, with plans and powers to act; rather, they refer to the ground of being itself, to the creative and fecund power source in the depths of nature, to the value structures and potentialities that the world manifests. They refer to the God beyond God, which is to say the truly ultimate reality that hovers behind and beneath and beyond the symbolic gods we create and deploy to satisfy our personal needs, to make sense of our world, and to legitimate the exercise of social control.” (2011)

Monism

There is neither time or space to discuss Wildman’s assertion that the God of the Bible could not have created through an evolutionary process, though I disagree entirely with Wildman’s conclusions that, somehow, this would be an improbable scenario. However, it is accepted that this does offer, to some extent, a challenge regarding providence within the evolutionary process. Wildman’s ‘god’ though lacks ‘substance’ lacks any notion of benevolence—indeed lacks anything in real terms. Naturally, this ‘god’ cannot manifest personal concern for the products of any likely creative processes  because this ‘ground of being factory’ has no ‘mind’ (consciousness being another matter) and no personality from which to proceed. Nevertheless, Wildman’s alternative is somehow able to ‘allow for’ the transformation of the material in the cosmos that, in turn, allowed for the evolution of the biosphere.

Wildman’s apparent disillusionment with the biblical notion of God seems to have provoked him to strong language. Clayton and Knapp (2007) make the following reference to Wildman’s disdain, quoting him thus:

“Frankly, and I say this with the utmost reverence, the personal God does not pass the test of parental moral responsibility. If God is personal in this way, then we must conclude that God has a morally abysmal record of inaction or action.”[1]

Wildman’s view, as pictured here, offers a not dissimilar view to Sigmund Freud. Freud’s view offered by Nicholi (Nicholi, 2002)—that the very idea of ‘an idealised Superman’ in the sky—is so patently infantile and so foreign to reality seems, most likely, to stem from a total miscomprehension—even caricature of the God of the Bible. It is no doubt the case that some may naively interpret the biblical notion of God in the way that Freud expresses;but some (an increasing number even) may, due to this kind of reasoning or lack of a plausible notion of the God of the Bible, wish to find an alternative ‘god’; this, is totally the wrong direction to take as it leads to another path—a path void of any notion of ‘God’ whatsoever—at least to anything other than an unworthy caricature of the God that Scripture reveals. Wildman’s view is that ‘ground-of-being theologies’ are important because of their denial that ultimate reality can ‘possibly’ be a determinate entity—that this establishes a valuable theological contrast with determinate entity theisms. The ‘ground-of-being’ view of the ‘personhood’ of God as well as God’s possible interaction with the world may, as Wildman suggests, produce an enthusiastic intellectual response to these pervasive evils. But, at the same time, this view favours, what Wildman considers to be, philosophical logic over and above the revelation of Scripture.

Gods Word

Derek White (September 2019)

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[1] Wildman says, regarding the use of the word ‘evil’, that ‘suffering is a more useful category than evil because suffering is more neutrally descriptive and does not prejudge the moral character of…[?] regarding  natural disasters, predation and the like’. Here, Wildman may well be correct.

 

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