Prime Youver

The utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) thought that the notion of “natural rights” was “nonsense on stilts”. I’m inclined to agree with him, but I think the dismissal applies a fortiori to theology. In fact, I think theology is nonsense on stilts on roller-skates. It’s the pursuit of the unknowable, unprovable or impossible by the irrational, illogical or insane. The illiterate too, nowadays: at least Newman and C.S. Lewis are enjoyable to read, unlike most modern theologians. But there is a theological idea I’ve always found interesting: that you created the universe. And I did too. More than that: the idea says that you or I, or both of us, created God Him/Her/Itself. The idea works like this: if free will exists (I don’t think it does) and human beings can exercise it, every instance of free will must be an act ex nihilo, an act out of nothing, undetermined by what has gone before it, and not a necessary act, in the technical sense. But that act of free will can only take place because the actor exists in a universe. To put it another way: the necessary precondition of an unnecessitated act of free will is that the universe exist. One could conclude, then, that God is forced to create the universe in order to allow you, me and other human beings to exercise our free will: in other words, the primum movens, the prime mover or initial uncaused cause of the universe, is any act of free will by a human being. In short, you’re the prime youver and I’m the prime mever. But in order for God to create the universe, God has to exist. So an uncaused act of free will doesn’t just create creation, it creates the creator. The slightest freely chosen, undetermined act, from rubbing one’s nose to writing a postcard, brings about the Ultimate Whole and the Ultimate Holy. Whodunnit? Youdunnit! And I did too.

Okay, that’s nonsense on stilts on roller-skates on oily ice (in a hurricane) and undoubtedly blasphemous or sacrilegious by any normal theological standard. But it seems a sensical conclusion from nonsensical premises and it gives me the excuse for another piece of paronomasia.

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4 thoughts on “Prime Youver

  1. That’s some very circular logic. You are presuming that free will is an a priori truth. In fact it is an a posteriori truth (among those who use the language of “prime mover” anyway, in the sense that you use it). In other words, you are claiming that free will is a necessary (in the technical ontological sense) truth. It may be logically necessary for moral responsibility, but not ontologically necessary. Instead, given that the universe exists, and given that it was not necessary (ontologically) and we were not necessary, it was then possible for free will to be a given. The idea of an ontologically necessary free will is a nonsequitor (the terms are self-contradictory). Maybe instead of ridiculing philosophy/theology you should try to actually understand the concepts instead of misusing and mixing different (contradictory) senses of different terms.

      • Newman and Lewis might be more enjoyable, but I don’t know that they’d qualify as theologians. Lewis, in particular, took great pains to avoid being called a theologian, in large part because he had no training in the academic discipline, yet had a profound respect for his theological colleagues (he was a professor of medieval and renaissance literature). With respect to the usage of the terms “necessary” and the corresponding “contingence,” these are philosophical terms, not theological ones, though they are employed by theologians. They are used just as frequently by secular philosophers in epistemology, metaphysics, ontology, empiricists, the list goes, but in particular those concerned with logic in its truest philosophical sense. The point is, that while a necessary creation would mean that, in the Aristotelian sense, we are the (final) cause of God’s actions, and thus God is also dependent upon us, no credible theologian argues for the necessity of creation (and those who are philosophically minded instead describe the universe as contingent). What I’m noting is that you attempt to sound clever by supposedly “disproving” religious thought, or at least attempting to demonstrate its absurdity, when in reality you are misusing the terminology. It is intellectually dishonest and misleading. In short, your argument is invalid (in the logical sense).

      • Newman and Lewis might be more enjoyable, but I don’t know that they’d qualify as theologians.

        Well, Newman was C*th*l*c and some would say C*th*l*cs are not Christians at all. But the people who say that are heretics and destined for hell, according to Catholics. Or to some Catholics. The longer theology exists, the more contradictory and incompatible its ever-spawning varieties become, even within (single traditions of) single traditions. Hence the odium theologicum. There is no odium mathematicum, because maths, unlike theology, is unified, being based on reality (or a reality) and able to prove its claims. There is an odium scientificum, at least when Marxists get involved, but science is unified too and has rational methods of self-correction. Theology has no such methods: the only way of conclusively settling a theological dispute is violence. Ashes don’t answer back.

        Lewis, in particular, took great pains to avoid being called a theologian, in large part because he had no training in the academic discipline, yet had a profound respect for his theological colleagues (he was a professor of medieval and renaissance literature).

        Who needs training? Theology is not an intellectually respectable subject. Respecting theologians qua theologians is like respecting homeopaths qua quacks. And at least homeopaths have the placebo effect working for them. I respect Lewis’s literary ability and some of his political thinking. I do not respect his dancing on the heads of invisible epistemological pins. I would say the same of Richard Dawkins: I respect his writing and his science. I do not respect his anti-theology, because it IS theology: irrational, arrogant, and based on an assumption of knowledge and understanding that he does not in fact possess.

        (Which may also apply to my dismissal of homeopathy. We shall see: it’s a scientific question, not a theological one, i.e. it’s resolvable in this life.)

        With respect to the usage of the terms “necessary” and the corresponding “contingence,” these are philosophical terms, not theological ones, though they are employed by theologians.

        They’re words, i.e. volatile clouds of meaning shaped by chronological, cultural, and psychological winds. “God” does not mean to Christians what it means to gnostics, Muslims, Hindus, etc. “God” doesn’t even mean the same to all Christians of variety X, or of sub-variety X1, or of sub-sub-variety X1a, etc.

        They are used just as frequently by secular philosophers in epistemology, metaphysics, ontology, empiricists, the list goes, but in particular those concerned with logic in its truest philosophical sense.

        Yes, the list goes on: different philosophers use them in different ways. Logic in its truest philosophical sense is for mathematics or science, not theology. Using the intellect in theology is like pouring electricity into rubber or glass: futile. You might achieve something valuable from a literary POV, you might impress other theologians, but in terms of issues around genuine/veridical engagement with reality, you’ve done bugger-all of nowt, as we Mancunians say.

        The point is, that while a necessary creation would mean that, in the Aristotelian sense, we are the (final) cause of God’s actions, and thus God is also dependent upon us, no credible theologian argues for the necessity of creation (and those who are philosophically minded instead describe the universe as contingent). What I’m noting is that you attempt to sound clever by supposedly “disproving” religious thought, or at least attempting to demonstrate its absurdity, when in reality you are misusing the terminology. It is intellectually dishonest and misleading. In short, your argument is invalid (in the logical sense).

        I’m not misusing the terminology. This isn’t carpentry: I’m not trying to use a plane against the grain. If I claimed π=7, I would be misusing maths. This isn’t maths: it’s a vague subject based on words. What matters is not that you agree with my definitions, but that they’re defensible definitions. By “necessary”, I mean “that which must be”. Freely willed acts are not necessary acts. One could argue that God has no free will. He is a perfect being acting in perfect knowledge and with perfect foresight. Standard Christian theology would certainly say He cannot choose evil over good, so He has no moral free will. I don’t believe in free will, but it is, I suggest, possible only for rational but imperfect beings like Homo sapiens. Given those premises, my reasoning is reasonable. Risible, but reasonable. And unless you’ve got a stake and some faggots* to hand, I am quite happy to stand by my reasoning.

        *In the combustible sense.

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