In search of a new doctrine of “God”

Our view that “matter is a living dynamism” may seem to approximate the position of those who believe they see an “Anthropic Principle” operating in the evolution of life in the universe. Some try to use it as a proof of creationism. Their argument is:

… since the laws of physics are perfect for the emergence of chemistry, and che­mis­try is perfect for the emergence of life, then it all must have been designed so as to yield life in general and human life in particular. Had any of the laws of physics been anything other than what they are, the universe would have been very different, and perhaps not possible at all, and life as we know it would not have evolved.[1]

To assert that such features were imposed from without by the work of a Master Mind and Craftsman is gratuitous; there is no evidence to support it. But we can (must) say what we see … and what we see has produced a universe too vast to imagine with at least one planet teeming with a near infinite variety of life. Minimally it must be said, with Peirce, that we are looking at a living spontaneity, a living dynamism.

Creationism is wed to a supernatural theist notion of “God.” Practically speaking, that means a spirit-“God”-person who is a cosmic agent, who thinks and acts rationally (i.e., with reasons, for a purpose) on material reality from a spiritual realm beyond material reality. Creationists not only claim that the physical properties of the Universe were specifically designed for life by this rational “God,” they also insist that direct divine intervention was necessary on multiple occasions thereafter for the emergence of phenomena like life, animal sentience, human consciousness and many other things. To my mind, this is absurd. The “anthropic” properties could not have been very well designed if subsequent in­ter­ven­tions of a miraculous nature were still required to produce these emer­gent effects. On the other hand, to accept a “deist” evolution in which existence was initiated by a rational Creator and then aban­doned to its own devices, would make the “anthropically designed” universe someone’s little game, and the anguished struggle for existence a senseless torment needlessly extenuated over eons of geological time — all by the whim of an uninvolved absentee Parent. The projection is internally incoherent; for it is incompatible with the very notion of the omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent and providential “God” held by its protagonists.

The suggestion, on the other hand, that the primordial energy at the base and at the beginning of our universe may be described as an immanent, primitive, foundational, non-rational intentionality — a paroxysmal self-embrace of existence whose subsequent devel­op­ments were all un­pro­gram­med self-elabor­ations, while not supporting the cherished image of a rational, purposeful, providential “loving Father,” does admit the possibility of a benevolent intentionality so immensely self-donating, universal and non-particu­lar as to appear utterly “impersonal” to us. It can also correlate with the traditional characterization of “God” as esse in se subsistens, for matter’s energy, as far as we can see, is neither created nor destroyed and appears to have no explanation beyond itself. This is sharply distinguished from traditional supernatural creationist theism on the following counts:

(1) There is no rational consciousness embedded in the primordial intentionality of existence. This is where we part company with Whitehead, for example, who claims that the “primordial nature of God” (which for him is the material substrate) is imbued with an appetitive “envisagement” of what he shamelessly equates with Plato’s “world of ideas.” But there is no other world, and no “mind” that constitutes it. The conatus, as we observe it across the levels of emergence, approximates to desire, not to thought, purpose and plan. And its “objective” is not a plethora of Platonic “essences” accounting for the “forms” of untold number of species, but rather one single common goal in all its emergent forms: existence! This non-rational, non-teleo­logical cha­r­acter remains functional without rational purpose in every form matter’s energy evolves, no matter how primitive or developed. At the most primitive level there is, obviously, no evidence of any rationality; but even at the most advanced levels, as in humankind, it can and most often does pre-empt and override a contrary rational preference: for the conatus spontaneously rejects life-denying choices and suicidal intentions.

(2) There is no plan, no purpose, no “point.” The only “purpose” is to exist. As a self-embrace material energy can’t help existing; it is neither created nor destroyed. It has to exist. That is the very meaning of “necessary.” I have already had the temerity to suggest on more than one occasion that in this vision existence displays itself as a dynamic material version of esse in se subsistens.

(3) There is no creative action, no “efficient causality ad extram” as from one entity to another (as, for example, from “God” to creation), for there is only “one thing” relating to itself. The physical-biological elaboration of the universe is (and doesn’t just appear to be) entirely immanent, i.e., a self-initia­ted, self-sus­tained, self-contained and self-directed process. It is a self-elaboration, a self-extru­sion, a self-unfolding not entirely unlike the way the oak tree rises from the acorned earth, or the way the rose unfurls its splendor.

(4) Its transcendence consists in its ability to go beyond what exists at any given point in time and “extrude” new forms of existence from itself. Considering the “distance” covered from the first proton to the emergence of humankind, this transcendence is as beyond comprehension in depth and complexity as the physical universe is in size and volume. Infinite? Why quibble … ?

is existence “necessary”?

With such an all-encompassing definition of existence as esse in se subsistens, haven’t we come full circle on our initial critique of the concept of “being” and now find ourselves ironi­cally saying that existence (the word I have chosen to contrast with “being”), by being a self-em­brace, is self-explana­tory, self-subsis­tent and therefore necessary (and infinite)?

Our earlier critique of the concept of “being” was fundamen­tally a rejection of the ancient philosophical methodology which inva­lidly drew conclusions about reality from an examination of concepts alone. But, whatever we claim to know, cosmo-ontology insists, must be directly observed and verified or be an immediate corollary to those observations. It is impossible to verify any necessity that is not a conceptual tautology … nor an infinity that is not a conceptual projection.

But please note: Cosmo-ontology is not there­by denying that matter’s energy may be both infinite and necessary. Our rejection is as provisional as any other hypothesis. We cannot affirm it, but that doesn’t prove that something infinite and necessary does not exist and that, perhaps, the totality of material energy necessarily exists … and is infinite.

a living dynamism

If we were to classify “things” in an order of increasing complexity chronologically following the elaborations of evolution, we might come up with a “horizontal” chart that runs across the page from left to right in the following manner:

strings-quarks–>protons–>hydrogen atoms–>heavy atoms–>molecules–>complex mole­­­cules–>viruses–>bacteria–>eukaryotes–>multicelled organisms … etc, etc.

With such a schematic it is easy to think of these entities as distinct and separate from one another. One might then be temp­ted to imagine that life begins at a certain point on the chart, perhaps with viruses or bacteria, the earlier entities obviously not being alive.

But this way of looking at things fails to illustrate that the entities to the right in every case are constructed of and include those to their left. The more primitive are structurally integral to the more complex. A vertical chart would display these cumulative inclusions more graphically to show clearly that all things are simply extensions of what went before and ultimately only varied combinations of the particle-energy substrate at the very base of the pyramid.

This is why reductionism always remains an option. Every part of every thing is made only of quarks and electrons. The very same quarks, with the very same “spins,” “colors” and electrical charges exist in the protons of hydrogen and oxygen atoms whether they’re found in the fusion furnaces in the heart of stars, or in a molecule of water in a muscle cell in a human heart. The “quark in my heart” is neither more nor less than a quark; but that quark is me! These quarks of mine throb with life … where does that life come from? Either there is another source of life, like a separable soul providing life to my quarks from “outside,” or the life comes from “inside” the quarks themselves which have somehow cobbled together a set of interrelationships so clever and powerful that they can activate potential life and thought and love! For, by our science, there is nothing there but quarks.

From our observations, then, all life forms including ourselves are constructed out of untold numbers of living cells, that are themselves formed from aggregates of complex molecules, and those molecules are combinations of the many atoms built up from the simplest one proton hydrogen. Entering the proton opens us to a nano world of particles, too small to see or manipulate, where the foundational stuff of atoms — quarks and electrons — are a form of the primordial energy responsible for everything that exists in the universe, whether inert or living, infinitely large or infinitesimally small — everything! The ma­n­ifestations of life with its fierce desire to be-here that we are familiar with on earth have apparently drawn their energy from this energy substrate of the universe. As life complexifies and intensifies through the levels of evolutionary development, one thing seems to remain constant, an existential self-embrace: a raw, implacable, insuppressible existential dynamism the drive to survive. Unless someone would unscientifically attempt to insert an arbitrary wall of division between living things and the substrate out of which they are constructed, we have to say that life reveals that matter’s energy itself is a living dynamism in which “we live and move and have our being.”


We might say that since the significance of being-here (existence) is established in all cases exclusively from its apprehension in experience, it is qualified by the constitutive role of the conscious organism (the human being), which was evolved by and for the self-embrace of matter’s energy. From such an endo-existential etiology, we should expect little more than existential tau­tologies. Human consciousness is material energy looking at itself. Existence is nothing other than our experience of matter’s energy.

In the ancient traditional usage, on the other hand, the ersatz significance given to “being” was believed to be established not from observation but rather from its conceptual characteristics derived from another world and were considered more real than material existence itself. The exchange of the one perspective for the other reflects the philosophical shift from the ancient / mediae­val vision of rational divine spirit, creating fixed permanent immaterial essen­ces, based on eternal ideas, terminating in a fixed, eternal divine unity as finality, … to the world-view suggested here, of material energy, in a process of blind, purposeless existential self-embrace, utilizing integrative recombination (community) as a tool of creative development, anticipating an unprogrammed process without term. If the keynotes of the earlier view of the world were immortal living spirit, eternal idea, fixed essence, pre-deter­mined static end, those of the vision proposed here are undefined existential energy, groping self-embrace, temporary phenomena, endless unprogrammed “pointless” process.

The word and concept “being,” developed within the essentialist world-view, performed the functions for which it was designed. The view of the world revealed by modern science and cosmo-ontology, on the other hand, requires a different terminology and concept. We have chosen existence, presence, being-here, which we equate with matter’s energy.

[1] Ursula Goodenough, The Sacred Depths of Nature., p.29


5 comments on “In search of a new doctrine of “God”

  1. jorisheise says:

    It has been a long, long, long time since I enjoyed a Late Medieval philosopher (cf. Duns Scotus, Ockham) write a piece as convincing and tightly wrought as this. I grasp your efforts to move the view (concept, idea, insight, fresh approach) to reduce or–from your perspective–eliminate the transcendence of God. It is all quarks, I get it, I get it. I Lile your exploration, but feel somehow that the use of terms from that philosophy might be somewhat shaky–perhaps you need to explore, somehow, a somewhat different terminology. But my thoughts keep going forward with what you wrote (beside the teasing). and I would like to salvage, perhaps, some middle way–some awareness of quarks as perhaps being jiggled into the shape of charm or up by a field/process/”mystery”/god/?

  2. rjjwillis says:

    I am seeing with one eye! I hope that means I can see well enough, and that my brain is not just half there!

    I have often disagreed with those who hold that the traditional “God” is All-Being and that other beings are somehow created outside of “God” (Ad extra). Such is absurd. Either all things are “God” or they aren’t existing.

    Those same traditionalists claim that reason is a spiritual faculty and therefore it cannot have evolved from matter. Obviously, this begs the question. What we have in our experience is the fact of rationality as an expression of, and capability of, the matter who we are.

    Transcendence comes in and through community. And community seems to be the immediate and forever goal of existence. This evolution, whether it is reflectively conscious or not, is a movement from “I am” to “we are”, from “we are” to “we is becoming’ from “we is becoming” to “we is.” Because of this, I would maintain that transcendence occurs only in relationship; indeed, transcendence is relationship.

    One final thought that your essay prompts: Before the fact of life, It might be reasonable to hold that life need never be, that life need not be eternal. ( This is the basis of the demand for “creatio ex nihilo.) But given that life is, it can only be necessary and eternal. It cannot not be once existence is.”God” can only be life. Life ,itself, is existence.

    I think of you and of all your fellows and friends in West Virginia. May life be kind, may life nourish, may death be forever finding its match in your peerless lives.

    • tonyequale says:

      Bob, hi!

      Nice to hear from you.

      I am with you in your struggles as are all. Our sufferings make us a “we” and we are suddenly something entirely new, never seen before, a new creation. Once those bonds are made they can be twisted or they may lay dormant but they are never broken.

      In that respect we are simply following the tracks laid down over the last 14 billion years by the LIFE of which we are made which has coalesced, aggregated. complexified and integrated to produce this astonishing variety of living experiments in existence. We are the transcendent versions of what the search launched by the big-bang has accomplished.

      The experiment goes on, determined to find the combination that authenticates and perpetuates LIFE, thus enabling us to remain what we have been from the beginning.

      Warm regards to Pat. I miss you both.


    • Sal Umana says:

      Bob, I don’t know how I missed this comment of yours. It’s so good to hear from you. Thank you for the effort, what with your eye and other problems. I love what you say about evolution moving from ‘I am’ to ‘we are’, from ‘we are’ to ‘we is becoming’, from ‘we is becoming’ to ‘we is.’ ‘Love the grammar: we is singular. And best of all : ‘transcendence is relationship’. Pure Willisian psychology. Love you Bob & Pat,
      Sal Umana

  3. Sal Umana says:

    Tony, First of all, thank you for the work you do composing these extraordinary essays on ultimate reality. I am delighted by the philosophical and scientific reach of your writings. I have pondered for years now why we have accepted the scriptures and “deposit of faith” in tradition as “Revelation” from a “spiritual, theistic, God-person”. How can a magical, made-up personal God “reveal” anything to us through the writings of “sacred scripture” or the teachings of a self-appointed ecclesiastical hierarchy?
    But now, having read you and personally discussed with you for several years, I see a new meaning of “revelation.” By reflecting deeply on our own human embrace of life/existence, we are the mind of the material universe discovering who we are. We are intimately part of the material Oneness of being, we are participants in the One, True, Good, and Beautiful Oneness of being, in whom we live and move and have our being. Thank you for telling us this over and over again. And never stop doing so in ever clearer and more enlightening ways.
    Sal Umana

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