Oct 15, 2023
“Right now, scientists and philosophers all over the world are engaged in the search for a ‘TOE’, a Theory of Everything…(but) we already have such a TOE.”
A grandchild recently surprised me with a question, “Isn’t God dead?” I hadn’t realized that Nietzsche’s tentacles stretched so far. Time Magazine posed the same question on its April 8, 1966, cover. At the time, the magazine was reporting on a handful of radical theologians who claimed to have invented “Death of God Theology” (Theothanatology for short).
In fact, first in The Gay Science (1882) and later and more famously in Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883), Nietzsche, the self-appointed cosmic medical examiner, had already pronounced: “God is dead!” No surprise really. As every superannuated hippie knows, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”
Like a rebellious teenager taunting his parents, Nietzsche undoubtedly chose his worlds at least partly to shock his Judeo-Christian readers. Nonetheless, it is consistent with his overall philosophy. In the 1880s and then again in the 1960s, Christians were outraged. But why? Every year on Good Friday, Christians celebrate God’s death.
Of course, ‘Nietzsche and the Death of God Theologians’ did not have Good Friday in mind when they coined their slogan. Still, their core concept should horrify no one. Today, we are asked to believe that the universe came to be, literally, in a flash. While we have well-developed theories of how the universe evolved, no one claims to know anything about why it came to be in the first place.
So why is there something rather than nothing? Let’s start by looking at the world. What do we know about it? From one perspective, we see that it consists of discrete entities (objects, events) and relationships between them. From another perspective, we see that the world consists of qualities (colors, textures, values) and harmonies among them.
Both perspectives are true. Entities differ from one other according to the various qualities they display, but qualities are not displayed in the absence of an entity. Without entities and qualities, there could be no Universe as we know it. So accounting for the Universe means accounting for entities (and their relationships) and qualities (and their harmonies).
This is the project of Alfred North Whitehead’s Process Philosophy. To explain the world as we know it, Whitehead posited the existence of a single ‘super-entity’ that includes all qualities primordially and all entities consequently. Whitehead’s super-entity is the source of all the qualities that characterize the entities that constitute our world. It is every entity’s raison d’etre …its ‘subjective aim’, its purpose, its motivation, its goal, its destiny, and its fate.
Stated differently, each entity defines itself in terms of its relation to the super-entity and in terms of its relation to its own unique, inherited Actual World. Guided by its ‘subjective aim’, each entity ‘decides’ which qualities it wishes to display and how it wishes to display them. (There is no requirement that consciousness be part of this process.)
Each entity (including the super-entity) exhibits its qualities in a unique way which Whitehead called ‘subjective form’. The subjective aim conditions the subjective form, and together they constitute the entity’s identity. Entities share qualities, and shared qualities give Universe its solidarity. Every entity, of course, derives its qualities from the super-entity.
Pursuing its subjective aim, each entity combines a variety of diverse qualities. The entity harmonizes those qualities so that they form an integrated, holistic pattern. That pattern is the ultimate expression of the entity’s identity and constitutes the entity’s unique objective contribution to the content of the Universe. Whitehead called this the entity’s ‘superject’.
Some folks will recoil at the idea of a super-entity; the concept of God goes against their religion. They would be right to recoil if we were claiming any special ontological status for the super-entity, but we are not! This is the genius of Whitehead’s scheme: it conflates the sacred and the profane.
The super-entity is an entity among entities. All the ‘rules’ that apply to ‘other entities’ apply equally to the super-entity. Our world is one world! In Whitehead’s terminology, the super-entity is not an exception to the rules, it is the paradigmatic expression of those rules. The super-entity is unique only in the sense that it combines all qualities and harmonizes them in the particular configuration we know as Summum Bonum.
Whatever we say about the nature of the ‘other entities’, we need to be able to say about the super-entity as well. Likewise, whatever we say about the nature of the super-entity, we must be able to say about the ‘other entities’. At the end of the day, they are all first and foremost just entities, super or otherwise.
Right now, scientists and philosophers all over the world are engaged in the search for a ‘TOE’, a Theory of Everything. The hope is that once we can explain all the fundamental features of Universe with a single, self-consistent theory, we will be able to resolve rather quickly the remaining paradoxes of physics and cosmology.
Truth to tell, however, we already have such a TOE. It’s called Christianity. According to the Nicene Creed (325 & 381 CE), Christianity’s primary creedal document: God is the “maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible”. Jesus Christ is his “only begotten Son…true God from true God…consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made…By the Holy Spirit (he) was incarnate of the Virgin Mary…he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried…the Holy Spirit (is) the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.”
This, of course, expresses the famous Christian doctrine of Trinity: one God, three Persons. But it also happens to be exactly what we’ve been talking about in this article. God the Father (Creator) is God-primordial, God the Son (Christ) is God-consequent, and God the Spirit (Holy Spirit) is God-superject. It is by the Father that we have a world (qualities), by the Son (Christ) that that world consists of entities (logos), and by the Spirit that we have ‘life’ (i.e., novelty, creativity, process).
So is God, dead? You bet! And Jesus explains why (John 16): “If I do not go (die), the Advocate (Spirit) will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” Jesus Christ must ‘die’ so that his Spirit, God’s superject, may infuse the world - not by way of Creation or Incarnation but by Crucifixion (the “bloody sacrifice”), Resurrection, Eucharist (the “unbloody sacrifice”) and Pentecost.
Jesus explains this in a parable (John 12: 24): “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” In ‘parable-speak’, the fruit is the superject of the seed.
Without a super-entity to source qualities for other entities, there can be no world. But unless that super-entity is also an ‘other entity’ with its own unique superject, there is no way for those qualities to become part of the life of that world. So, if God eternal is also temporal (via Incarnation), then temporal entities (objects, events) must be eternal. Upon achieving Whitehead’s ‘satisfaction’, each entity contributes its unique superject, its ‘objective immortality’, to the ‘world without end’.
Without an eternal dimension, the temporal world would auto-abort. Time is ‘perpetual perishing’ (entropy). On the other hand, without a temporal dimension, the eternal world would be devoid of content. The pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, Parmenides, (c. 475 BCE.), confronted this dilemma in his ontological poem, On Nature. In that poem, he describes the Way of Truth (Aletheia) and the Way of Appearance (Doxa).
Re Aletheia, he writes: “What-is is ungenerated and imperishable, whole, single-limbed, steadfast and complete…it is, now, all together, one, continuous…Nor is it divisible since it is all alike…It is completed from every direction like the bulk of a well-rounded sphere…equal to itself from every direction…Thus coming to be is extinguished and perishing not to be heard of.”
But re Doxa, he writes: “It has been named all things that mortals have established, trusting them to be true: to come to be and to perish, to be and not to be, to shift place and to exchange bright color…Everywhere the same as itself, but not the same as the other…Thus according to belief, these things were born and now are, and hereafter, having grown from this, they will come to an end.”
For almost 2,500 years, philosophers (beginning with Plato) have debated the meaning of Parmenides’ paradox. Is he outlining a nihilist philosophy a la Nietzsche? Or does his model prefigure the Christian cosmology of John and Paul? In either event, Parmenides clearly understood the problem: a purely eternal world must be featureless, while a purely temporal world must self-destruct. But back to our story. Primordially, all qualities exist in God in perfect harmony, no conflicts! So consequently, all entities must exist in God in perfect harmony. All conflicts must be resolved into contrasts, and all contrasts must contribute to God’s harmony.
Every temporal entity is initially responsible for its own subjective aim, and ultimately responsible for its own superject. Pursuant to that aim, each appropriates the combination of qualities that it wishes to exhibit and determines how it wishes to exhibit them to achieve satisfaction, its superject. That is our work and when it is done, God takes over.
It is God who harmonizes each entity’s superject, including his own, with the superjects of every other entity. This is what we mean by Grace. As a result of Grace, every entity shares in eternal life. That is what we mean by Salvation. Finally, our participation in the Consequent Nature of God is what we mean by the Kingdom of Heaven.
From our earliest musings, humans have been confronted with the task of explaining how it is that there is a world and what purpose that world has, if any. Christian theology answers those questions. It offers a comprehensive model…and the model works.
But could there be other, non-Christian, atheistic solutions? Aren’t there secular models that accomplish the same thing? First, as far as I know, there are not! But second, and much more importantly, any such model would have to account for the presence of qualities (Values) and entities (Creation). It would have to account for the occurrence of solidarity and novelty. It would have to bridge temporality with eternity. Would such a model be anything other than‘Christianity by another name’.
So now I can answer my grandchild:
“God is not dead,
And it’s a good thing too,
Or there’d be no me…
And there’d be no you.”
David Cowles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Aletheia Today Magazine. He lives with his family in Massachusetts where he studies and writes about philosophy, science, theology, and scripture. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.