The Experience of God

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dastardly stem
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The Experience of God

Post by dastardly stem »

Some couple weeks back Don Bradley recommended the book The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss by David Bentley Hart. The recommendation made sense since I often endorse more of a naturalist perspective and Hart is adamantly opposed to such thinking. Having not known Don Bradly personally but having watched him a bit from a distance, and yep I bought and read his book about the lost 116 pages (sitting in my library to this day--recommended for any interested in Mormonism), I was looking forward to an engaging and thoughtful book. Admittedly there were some useful parts and aspects found in it, but over all I was very disappointed. I'm going to give a brief review and some thoughts, hoping to further any discussion anyone might want to have on the book or the topic in general.

Mainly my issue with Hart is he says many things without hardly saying much of anything. He continues that process throughout the book. His wording is confusing and his logic runs circular for the most part. Its almost as if he's trying to confuse his audience rather than make a clear case for anything. But even if I'm missing something, I don't think he has much here on the question of God. He denigrates traditional Christian belief in God, attacking such a view as virulently as he does a lack in belief in God and castigates atheists for responding to those traditional beliefs. THat's odd. He then claims his god, defined essentially as a hidden mind or power which is the ground for everything, is really the traditional god that every theist society ever worshipped (really old believers are to be trusted but knew modern ones are basically atheists, or something).

His view is there is no such thing to question the existence of God...yet God on his view doesn't exist in the normal use of that term. God isn't a something. He's not a "he" or an "it". He's not a "being", he is only being. He demands there is no possible way anything exists if there is no god. God, on Hart's view, is completely hidden not because he doesn't exist but because he couldn't be seen..there's nothing to see there, and there is no "there" for God anyway. He follows Tillich (whom he never mentions in the book as I recall) in saying God is the ground of all being--using preeminently the argument of ignorance in suggesting since we have no other valid explanation what that ground of being is it must be God--this nothing character who must be there but can't be detected or so you'd think. But a major point of the book is God can be detected. He is detected by sheer presupposition, I guess. He has to be, otherwise there'd be no finding him. He continues to make this point, tells us he's going to explain why that must be, but then never does. His explanation when he gets to it amounts to him repeating himself, in different words, dogmatically claiming he's right because he is right.

All of that is a twisted circular rendition of word jumbles if you ask me. But, there's more. He's adamant, even dogmatically so, in suggesting atheism with it's inherent naturalism, represents the height of irrationality. I can't help but point out his appeal to rationality. He claims to have a rational position, but fails to rationally explain his position. It's as if its not even rational to question his position, on his take. And that somehow demonstrates he's the most rational. That's what it comes off as. He's claiming the most rational position, while failing every rational test, often speaking as if he holds a position that is above rationality. I' guessing I'd use rational differently than he, but he never defines the concept.

Let's take his position on [/i[the supernatural[/i]--or God as he seems to define these:
Physical reality cannot account for its own existence for the simple reason that nature—the physical—is that which by definition already exists; existence, even taken as a simple brute fact to which no metaphysical theory is attached, lies logically beyond the system of causes that nature comprises; it is, quite literally, “hyperphysical,” or, shifting into Latin, super naturam. This means not only that at some point nature requires or admits of a supernatural explanation (which it does), but also that at no point is anything purely, self-sufficiently natural in the first place. This is a logical and ontological claim, but a phenomenological, epistemological, and experiential one as well. We have, in fact, no direct access to nature as such; we can approach nature only across the interval of the supernatural. Only through our immediate encounter with the being of a thing are we permitted our wholly mediated experience of that thing as a natural object; we are able to ask what it is only in first knowing that it is; and so in knowing nature we have always already gone beyond its intrinsic limits. No one lives in a “naturalistic” reality, and the very notion of nature as a perfectly self-enclosed continuum is a figment of the imagination. It is the supernatural of which we have direct certainty, and only in consequence of that can the reality of nature be assumed, not as an absolutely incontrovertible fact but simply as far and away the likeliest supposition.
--pgs 95-96

Ten pages later he demures:
In short, all finite things are always, in the present, being sustained in existence by conditions that they cannot have supplied for themselves, and that together compose a universe that, as a physical reality, lacks the obviously supernatural power necessary to exist on its own. Nowhere in any of that is a source of existence as such. It is this entire order of ubiquitous conditionality—this entire ensemble of dependent realities—that the classical arguments say cannot be reducible either to an infinite regress of contingent causes or to a first contingent cause. There must then be some truly unconditioned reality (which, by definition, cannot be temporal or spatial or in any sense finite) upon which all else depends; otherwise nothing could exist at all. And it is this unconditioned and eternally sustaining source of being that classical metaphysics, East and West, identifies as God.
And there you have it. God, the supernatural, must be, because if he isn't, then there'd be nothing, "obviously". And we can't have things like infinite regresses or a first contingent cause. It just can't be. We have to have a God--you know the one that no one really believes in, only the one he and other trained thinkers assume is possible. And since possible it must be. I mean since they think he's there, and stuff...he must be. But not "there" there really. Alright I'm getting too cheeky again.

He's stuck in a cause and effect mindset while living in a world of physical laws. What if, for instance, there is no cause to the universe? Where would that lead him?

A whole bunch of words to say nothing (pg 151--concluding chapter 3):
That sudden instant of existential surprise is, as I have said, one of wakefulness, of attentiveness to reality as such, rather than to the impulses of the ego or of desire or of ambition; and it opens up upon the limitless beauty of being, which is to say, upon the beauty of being seen as a gift that comes from beyond all possible beings. This wakefulness can, moreover, become habitual, a kind of sustained awareness of the surfeit of being over the beings it sustains, though this may be truly possible only for saints. For anyone who experiences only fleeting intimations of that kind of vision, however, those shining instants are reminders that the encounter with the mystery of being as such occurs within every encounter with the things of the world; one knows the extraordinary within the ordinary, the supernatural within the natural. The highest vocation of reason and of the will is to seek to know the ultimate source of that mystery. Above all, one should wish to know whether our consciousness of that mystery directs us toward a reality that is, in its turn, conscious of us.
Contemplating the mystery of being is contemplating God, who knows all about us. If God really is just a person's contemplation of being, then what is that being everyone believes in? I mean...whatever.

More:
Simply said, if there were no God, neither would there be such a thing as moral truth, nor such a thing as good or evil, nor such a thing as a moral imperative of any kind. This is so obviously true that the need to argue the point is itself evidence of how inextirpable our hunger for a transcendent moral truth even is, even when all our metaphysical convictions militate against the existence of that truth. So, yes, it certainly is not the case that one needs to believe in God in any explicit way in order to be good; but it certainly is the case, as classical theism asserts, that to seek the good is already to believe in God, whether one wishes to do so or not
pag 256

"Screw you or anyone who dares think morality can persist without God"--or that humans can seek morality if there is no god. If they try to be moral and address what is moral they are only seeking God. Heads Hart wins tails you lose. I mean...whatever.

He spends a good portion of the book talking about consciousness, the mind/body problem. It's probably the best parts of the book, I'd say. But on the topic of the book I don't think he made much of a case there--the consciousness problem doesn't give reason to think there's a God and he somewhat admits that after spending much ink trying to make it be one of his main points.

He conlcudes his consciousness discussion with more of his wordy pile of nothingness--his vague allusion to things as if he's making a solid case:
If indeed to exist is to be manifest—to be intelligible and perceptible—and if to exist fully is to be consciously known, then God, as infinite being, is also an act of infinite knowledge. He is in himself the absolute unity of consciousness and being, and so in the realm of contingent things is the source of the fittedness of consciousness and being each to the other, the one ontological reality of reason as it exists both in thought and in the structure of the universe.
hmm....
God explains the existence of the universe despite its ontological contingency, which is something that no form of naturalism can do; but God also explains the transparency of the universe to consciousness, despite its apparent difference from consciousness, as well as the coincidence between reason and reality, and the intentional power of the mind, and the reality of truth as a dimension of existence that is at once objective and subjective. Here, just as in the realm of ontology, atheism is simply another name for radical absurdism—which, again, may be a perfectly “correct” view of things, if reason is just a physiological accident after all, and logic an illusion.
So what makes the universe ontologically contingent? What if the universe is not contingent on anything? How would he know? And I don't think he ever really talks about how his presuppositions easily demonstrate the frailty of his position. This is a problem he never wants to acknowledge. On the consciousness issue, he dismisses the problem initially pointed out by Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia in responding to Descarte--if Cartesian dualism is true how do we account for the immaterial spirit interacting with our material brains? Hart dismisses it, like Descartes, by saying in the whole of traditional views religionists simply didn't see a problem here. The spirit was not necessarily seen as immaterial but *it* was the self. Somehow old traditions that came around before Descartes shows there really isn't a problem to deal with. To be fair he acknowledges it as a problem, but then dismisses it and continues to speak as if it's not really a problem anymore. The issue I have here is if he's going to maintain the problematic view it carries no higher ground than say monism simply because he wants to dismiss it. he still has the problem--he has an introduced item to the equation, a spirit, that he can't account for, and just assumes it can magically cause the physical processes to work. Because of god; because of being.

I'd say while his view is possible, it hardly makes it more likely. At least a monism view doesn't introduce an unknown to the equation. He has to account for the unknown item (spirit) and then account for the interaction. Instead of saying something about we don't know, he concludes he must be right. Mechanical forces, he dogmatically delcares, can't possibly account for imagination, thought or consciousness. So in place of our ignorance he places God, and declares it most likely.

In concluding the book he references Plato's allegory of the cave saying:
The greatest metaphysical allegory of Western tradition, to which all our philosophies explicitly or implicitly respond, is Plato’s allegory of the cave in The Republic, which tells us that the world most of us inhabit is really only an illusion, and that the true world lies beyond what our ordinary vision can perceive.
Except, of course, in the allegory that which demonstrates reality is perceptible. The sun is perceptible. Hart tells us he perceives a god and others are stuck in a cave. His explanation of his perception is he imagines there's a God so there must be.
wisdom is the recovery of wisdom at the end of experience. It may be the Wordsworthian Romantic in me, but I do believe that all of us, as persons and as cultures, enjoy an initial state of innocent responsiveness to the mystery of being, a spiritual dawn unburdened by presuppositions and interests, when we are aware of a truth we can express (if at all) only by way of a few imaginative gestures—stories or myths or simply guileless cries of fear and delight. We stand amazed before the gratuity of being and the luminosity of consciousness and the transcendental splendor that seems to shine in and through all things, before indurated habits of thought and will can distance us from the radiant simplicity of that experience. We see the mystery, are addressed by it, given a vocation to raise our thoughts beyond the apparent world to the source of its possibility. In time, though, we begin to seek power over reality and so become less willing to submit our minds to its power over us. Curiosity withers, ambition flourishes. We turn from the mystery of being to the availability of things, from the mystery of consciousness to the accessible objects of cognition, from the mystery of bliss to the imperatives of appetite and self-interest. We gain what we can take by relinquishing what we can only receive as a gift, and obtain power by forgetting that dimension of reality we cannot dominate but can approach only when we surrender ourselves to it. And late Western culture may well be the social order that has ventured furthest away from being in its quest to master beings.

The path to true wisdom, then, is a path of return, by which we might find our way back to the knowledge of God in our first apprehension of the inseparable mysteries of being, consciousness, and bliss. Our return to that primordial astonishment, moreover, must be one in which we bring along all we learned in departing from it, including the conceptual language needed to translate wonder into knowledge. We shall then be able clearly to see how the contingency of finite existence directs our thoughts toward an unconditional and absolute reality, and how the intentional unity and rationality of the mind opens up to an ultimate unity of intelligibility and intelligence in all things, and how the ecstatic movement of the mind and will toward transcendental perfections is a natural awareness of an ideal dimension that comprehends and suffuses the whole of existence. More simply, we shall arrive at a way of seeing that sees God in all things, a joy that encounters God in the encounter with all reality; we shall find that all of reality is already embraced in the supernatural, that God is present in everything because everything abides in God, and that God is known in all experience because it is the knowledge of God that makes all other experience possible. That, at least, is the end we should seek. For the most part, though, we pass our lives amid shadows and light, illusions and revelations, uncertain of what to believe or where to turn our gaze. Those who have entirely lost the ability to see the transcendent reality that shows itself in all things, and who refuse to seek it out or even to believe the search a meaningful one, have confined themselves for now within an illusory world, and wander in a labyrinth of dreams through and beyond the world of ordinary experience, and who know that nature is in its every aspect the gift of the supernatural, and who understand that God is that absolute reality in whom, in every moment, they live and move and have their being—they are awake.
All I can say is I suppose I ain't woke unwilling to surrender to something that becomes apparently only if we first assume it, treat it as real, pretending only by it can we ever really be. His imagined other world isn't real simply because he really wants it to be, and hopes it grounds our world.
“Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.”
― Carl Sagan, Cosmos
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Re: The Experience of God

Post by Physics Guy »

A mentor of mine and I once discussed a new project at some length, until he concluded accurately that we didn’t really have an idea, but only an idea for an idea.

This Hart guy’s book sounds like that, except for the part at the end where you recognize the problem and admit it.
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Re: The Experience of God

Post by Rivendale »

Here is a little chronology of my reading of the same book I have shared on PM with the opening post. Maybe some will find interesting.
I started reading it after seeing your posts. It is difficult. Some of his critics claim his writing is self congratulatory on his knowledge of language. Every sentence is dripping with Deppak Chopra euphemisms. I am just a little way in but his arguments are similar to William Layne Craig. Where everything has to be grounded or properly basic. I agree it is not convincing at least yet. I haven't seen anything that is nothing more than presuppositions. It is interesting though because he slams intelligent design. Current evangelism and others. His use of the term demiurge is interesting because it seems like he agrees with "new" atheists that that god doesn't exists. But God does. At this point in my reading he seems to be just repeating parts of panpsychism. But instead of turtles all the way down God is at the bottom.
I have no idea what this means.
"I find most convincing, it would be the “metaphysics of eminence”—borrowing the scholastic notion that lower reality is always “more eminently” or “virtually” contained in higher realities, while the higher is participated in and expressed by the lower. "
Here is some comments on the consciousness section.
I am in the consciousness section. The qualia aspect is old news. What makes someone experience something in the way they do he counts as a point for transcendent interference. I count it is unique arrangement of atoms in a person. He also talks about intentionality. Dennett has an entire book called The Intentional Stance that covers intentionality. Hart seems to ignore and dismiss the fact that accumulation of mental processes can't happen without some kind of transcendental interference. His bizarre attribution of a compass having intrinsic meaning by pointing north being meaningless without a mind is correct. Plus he seems to think that intentionality is the silver bullet for the demise of materialism.
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Re: The Experience of God

Post by Moksha »

Rivendale wrote:
Tue Jun 07, 2022 6:16 pm
But instead of turtles all the way down God is at the bottom.
At least turtles all the way down made for a fun and comprehensible graphic.
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Re: The Experience of God

Post by dastardly stem »

Hey, Rivendale, thanks for adding these.
Rivendale wrote:
Tue Jun 07, 2022 6:16 pm
I started reading it after seeing your posts. It is difficult. Some of his critics claim his writing is self congratulatory on his knowledge of language. Every sentence is dripping with Deppak Chopra euphemisms. I am just a little way in but his arguments are similar to William Layne Craig. Where everything has to be grounded or properly basic. I agree it is not convincing at least yet. I haven't seen anything that is nothing more than presuppositions. It is interesting though because he slams intelligent design. Current evangelism and others. His use of the term demiurge is interesting because it seems like he agrees with "new" atheists that that god doesn't exists. But God does. At this point in my reading he seems to be just repeating parts of panpsychism. But instead of turtles all the way down God is at the bottom.
I find Hart's book a bit perplexing. While I agree with all of this, your point about seemingly repeating parts of panpsychism hit home for me, I can't really tell how he's playing along with Craig, for instance. Craig has definitely given his idea of God being some immaterial mind, I know, hidden because he ain't a something, but Craig is also adamant that God can be found through reason and observation. I Think Hart agrees with that to an extent, but he gets pretty snippy at one point, as I recall, suggesting a god who made everything isn't really God--basically taking Craig's position out from under him. And yes, for me reading his book was like trying to have a conversation with a presuppositionalist. No matter how one slices it, as they say, its really just god hidden back there anyway. So reason, it feels, tends to go out the window. But for some reason he claims to really prize reason and thinks it evidences God. It was really quite confusing.
I have no idea what this means.
Same. Its more confusion if you ask me. He seems to be suggesting there is a higher place, a spirit realm that he calls supernatural, or God (all of that is the higher reality), and our world (the lower reality), as I'd term is, is simply a reflection of or expression of that hidden higher reality. I really think he's repeating this idea over and over again, in different ways, many times in the book. But who knows? its nebulous.
Here is some comments on the consciousness section.

Yep. What you sent me catches my eye because I did not see where he took the leap to, "see, materialism couldn't possibly work". I'm not following it either. This reminded me. He made a good point, I think just before his delving into qualia. He references a test from I think the 80s or so, when neurologist showed that humans, when making choices, show signs of the choice being made inside them before the person was aware that the choice was made. He points out this doesn't necessarily prove we are mechanistic in our minds. Sure. I don't think anyone really argues that it does. It's moreso concluded since we could be making choices or decision before we're aware of our options that could suggest our minds are mechanically operating. Think about it, if our choices are determined before we are aware of the decision, is it the mechanics inside us that influences our conscious thoughts or is it out thoughts that influences our decisions?

Sean Carroll puts it more as our brains are activity all the time. the product is the thoughts in our minds. Thoughts and minds are just way of describing what is happening. Or at least that could be the case. Seems reasonable to me.
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Re: The Experience of God

Post by sock puppet »

Thanks, Stem. Some people can't get their head around the likelihood that matter/energy has always existed. by the way, how about treating us to your review of Don Bradley's book on that 116 lost pages?
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Re: The Experience of God

Post by Doctor CamNC4Me »

This is an interesting post, in that the claim of “God’s existence” has to be, by its nature, circular and self-serving. I read some paper a long time ago, it was by, I think, a sociologist or ‘socio-biologist’ from Harvard where he coined the term (I think) of xenopsychology and discussed ‘sentience quotient’ where not only the Other’s psychology would necessarily be alien to us due to its genetic or fundamental make-up, but Its sentience quotient would be unknowable unless we shared genetic and environmental imperatives. Whatever reality-pressures that brought them into being would be the factors that create their psychology, and whatever state of advancement they’ve achieved would also make them knowable or unknowable to us.

The fact that a god would not only be constructed very differently from us, and the fact that a god would be an incalculable orders of magnitude more intelligent AND processing bits of information at rates incomprehensible to us would make us incapable to understand its nature, its psychology, its Being. You might as well tell us God is a Black Hole, it’s the same thing in every sense of the concept.

Furthermore, and perhaps more terrifying if the idea terrifies you, if this God does exist and is programming Reality (if It’s not Reality Itself), then you’re just a deterministic data set operating within the parameters an involved God has with Itself. There’s no free will, unless you’re willing to just believe otherwise, then we’re back to circular reasoning set forth in the opening post. And if that’s the case, we need to discuss existential dread and what motivates the individual to avoid accepting annihilation.

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Re: The Experience of God

Post by huckelberry »

Sounds like he wants to take a moment of clear enjoyment and make some great big project out of it.
Take a moment of simplicity and make a big conceptual engine to pull it around in circles.

Is this the book that wants to equate God with our moments of bliss, or to have such moments be experiencing God? I do not feel at all comfortable with such a mix. It might tangle my enjoyment of life and might diminish the role and hope of God.

I experiment with the idea that contemplation might glimpse order and relationships that are a closer reflection of God than harried everyday moments. But God may be be importantly in the harried and troubled moments in life not just the harmonious.
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Re: The Experience of God

Post by DrStakhanovite »

Props for reading David Bently Hart, most people don’t give that much time or expend that much effort listening to somebody they don’t agree with.

I think one of the biggest disconnects Hart struggles with is putting his own beliefs in terms that are relatable to those who share an atheistic outlook. His eastern orthodox faith and theology is grounded in a Aristotelian framework (and to lesser extent, a Platonic framework too) that really isn’t shared by most people in the West. I don’t think he is fully aware of just how much is lost in the act of communicating his beliefs, because he doesn’t seem to expend much effort in trying to mitigate it.

Take your example of the problem of interaction in Cartesian substance dualism, I don’t think Hart sees a problem because he most likely adopts a position of hylomorphism (a more modern take on Aristotle’s metaphysic) where that kind of problem doesn’t really make sense. He probably didn’t spend any time explaining that Cartesian metaphysics is an explicit rejection of Aristotelian metaphysics and so, the baggage that Descartes has to deal with doesn’t always carry over to his view.

I also see it cropping up again when he sort of uses a transcendental argument against naturalism on the issue of “being”. By transcendental, I mean the strategy of taking a view held in common between both parties (i.e. things exist) and then asserts that a necessary condition for this common view to be true is that there must be a “ground” for this being and the only possible ground is God.

The problem though, is that contemporary philosophy doesn’t view ontology in this manner, when we speak of “ground” we mean something that is determinative, but not causal. This becomes important because the topic of causal relations is sort left to the topic of physics and philosophical commentary on physics.

In much the same way the problem of the interaction between the mental substance and the physical substance doesn’t make much sense to a hylomorphic view, the grounding of being doesn’t make much sense to anglophone philosophy. To us, it is obvious that there can be an infinite regress, there is an entire branch of modern mathematics that allows such a thing.

Maybe that's the lesson here? If you want to successfully convey your views to another party, it might behoove you to learn enough about that party so you can effectively communicate your beliefs in terms that are more relatable to them.
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Re: The Experience of God

Post by dastardly stem »

sock puppet wrote:
Tue Jun 07, 2022 7:31 pm
Thanks, Stem. Some people can't get their head around the likelihood that matter/energy has always existed. by the way, how about treating us to your review of Don Bradley's book on that 116 lost pages?
Ahh...I read it a couple of years ago. I thought I might find some of my thoughts on here about it, but I searched and couldn't find anything. I'd have to give it a review before I could say much. I remember being a little bit frustrated with the degree of guesswork it took, but I also think that was part of the intention--we can only put assumptions into the equation.
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― Carl Sagan, Cosmos
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