Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
possibility

Hart's understanding of God as applied to potentiality

Recommended Posts

I've been in discussions on another thread with Thormas, but I wanted to highlight this particular one separately to avoid further diverting an already off topic discussion that we’ve been enjoying, as well as hopefully attracting some diverse viewpoints on the subject.

I took a look at a number of short videos interviewing David Bentley Hart: including one where he discusses the question 'Is God a person?', and another in particular where he talks about 'the being of God'. 

I have transcribed relevant quotes here, and all the descriptors below are Hart’s own wording from the videos, but if you’re interested in the context, then the links are here:

https://youtu.be/oSHoDqF0xaY

https://youtu.be/A_v1JtrrI54

Hart applies a number of descriptors to his 'classical view of God', a this view he believes is the “most coherent”, but throws up a straw man at the suggestion that those same descriptors could apply to anything else:

Quote

“The correct claim is that when you prescind from all the conditions of contingency, inevitably you arrive at something that has to be entirely unconditioned. That is: not composite, not dissoluble into parts on which it’s dependent, not a being among beings and therefore dependent upon some larger sphere of actuality, not temporal... As soon as you begin removing the attributes that make for contingency, you’re left with a question of the absolute that doesn’t make room for something like, perhaps, matter - what would that mean anyway...?”

So I'm going to pull on the thread because it's there...

The notion of ‘potentiality as God’ certainly seems like a stretch at first glance. But the more I have been looking into it, the more sense it seems to make. I don’t propose it as an alternative to God, but as a way of developing a better understanding of this apparent mystery we have named ‘God’, and how it relates to this all-important question of how we should live.

Hart goes on to state:

Quote

“I think that this is the correct deduction of reason: that there is no way ultimately of accounting for the being of anything at all without a logical reduction to a source that is without all contingent qualities.”

So let’s explore this (and I've included descriptors from the above quote as well as other descriptors offered throughout these two videos):

I propose that potentiality (understood as a whole and in relation to quantum theory):

  • is not temporal;
  • is not composite or ‘dissoluble into parts on which it is dependent’;
  • is not ‘a being among beings’ or ‘dependent upon some larger sphere of actuality’ (despite Aristotle’s argument);
  • is omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient;
  • is logically necessary;
  • 'knows, loves and relates’ to us all.

The base definition I have used for potentiality is from the Cambridge English Dictionary (online):

"An ability to develop, achieve or succeed that is natural or has not been used."

As far as I can see, potentiality seems to fit all of Hart’s descriptors for God. So I’d be interested to hear from others on this particular convergence of thought between science and theology.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, I waited about 24 hours to see if others would participate but didn't want to waste the potential of this new thread.

You lost me on what the straw man is?

Plus the interviewer talks of matter by referring to quantum theory and Hart responds that such laws or theories exist in that which is contingent.

I'm just not seeing potentiality as God. Even referring to your definitions, potentiality speaks of developing and achieving. Hart would say in the absolute simplicity that is God, there is no development; God is all, in perfection, i.e. all is fully actualized.  Development suggests from lesser to greater, development suggests dependence on something(s) else actualizing one's potential and potential seems to be different in degree and perhaps kind than actuality. Existence and essence are not one when there is potentiality that must actualize. Yet, for Hart, they are one in the Absolute that he calls God. 

Potentiality is (played out in time) temporal and the reality is that any development from A to B (rock, tree or man) is both dependent on and dissolvable into composite parts. Therefore, potentiality is not omnipotent: the achievement of what is potential is dependent on other (composite parts).  Given this dependency and powerlessness, potentiality is not logically necessary but is dependent of that which is logically necessary: God (as explained by Hart).

 

Edited by thormas

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

On 18 July 2018 at 4:14 AM, thormas said:

You lost me on what the straw man is?

 Plus the interviewer talks of matter by referring to quantum theory and Hart responds that such laws or theories exist in that which is contingent.

Well, now that I've looked at it again, it is 'matter' that I am talking about as potentiality, isn't it? So perhaps it's not a straw man after all. 

Hart's expression of "what would that mean, anyway?" is telling, because we're not entirely sure what 'matter' is or means. What we are learning, and what the interviewer alludes to but doesn't pursue (owing in part to a dismissive remark from Hart about the supposed contingency of matter), is that there is a relationship between matter and quantum theory. But I'll get to that.

On 18 July 2018 at 4:14 AM, thormas said:

I'm just not seeing potentiality as God. Even referring to your definitions, potentiality speaks of developing and achieving. Hart would say in the absolute simplicity that is God, there is no development; God is all, in perfection, i.e. all is fully actualized.  Development suggests from lesser to greater, development suggests dependence on something(s) else actualizing one's potential and potential seems to be different in degree and perhaps kind than actuality. Existence and essence are not one when there is potentiality that must actualize. Yet, for Hart, they are one in the Absolute that he calls God. 

Potentiality is (played out in time) temporal and the reality is that any development from A to B (rock, tree or man) is both dependent on and dissolvable into composite parts. Therefore, potentiality is not omnipotent: the achievement of what is potential is dependent on other (composite parts).  Given this dependency and powerlessness, potentiality is not logically necessary but is dependent of that which is logically necessary: God (as explained by Hart).

You keep twisting potentiality to read 'what is potential', but this is incorrect, and I have tried to explain this before. 'Potential' is an adjective, and is therefore conditional - it is an awareness of absolute potentiality, but one that is necessarily limited to a particular point in spacetime, namely the subject or noun in question, from the point of view of the 'observer' (who is also in spacetime).

Potentiality may speak of developing and achieving, but this developing and achieving does not occur in potentiality, but in actuality. Any actual development from A to B is both dependent on and dissolvable into composite parts (including limited awareness of potential), but that's not potentiality. Potentiality is merely the ability to develop - an ability that exists independent of time, space or any actuality at all. There is no occurrence of anything (no movement, no action, no change) in potentiality, because there are no constituent parts - there is just potentiality. This potentiality is not 'nothing', it is not dependent, either - but it is logically necessary and it is omnipotent. Actuality relies primarily on the existence of potentiality in order to exist at all, let alone achieve anything.

Aristotle, and by extension Aquinas, also misunderstood the nature of potentiality when 'speaking absolutely'. They said that it is matter that changes and moves, but matter at the sub-atomic level has always been the same across the universe - it is form (actuality) that changes, that moves in time and space and interacts with other forms. We can see this in the way everything around us changes and moves in shape but not in matter, and we especially see it in mathematics, where both form and movement/change can be reduced to mathematical formula, to equation: a statement of relationship between actualities: (variables and constants).

This understanding of matter as constant then suggests that we re-examine Einstein's Theory of Relativity: which states energy (e), or the unfolding of the universe, as the nature of the relationship between matter (m) as a variable and the speed of light (c) as a constant. If we look at matter as a constant instead, and also take into account the role of the 'observer' as understood in quantum theory, then the unfolding of the universe is more likely to be the nature of the relationship between matter as a constant (ie. potentiality or God) and the variable position of the observer (consciousness) in whatever formula (equation determining form, movement and change) that the relationship between space and time works out to be. 

And from there I say 'good luck' to physicists and mathematicians, who have a much better chance than me of working out the details. 

But I don't need to know the formula in order to understand the nature of the relationship. Because that relationship is the unfolding universe that 'I' observe (and also participate in both consciously and unconsciously) from my uniquely subjective, continually variable and highly conditional position in time and space - this subset of actualising potentiality.

Actualising potential is not a must, therefore, but a 'choice' - one that we make in every moment of every day, whether or not we are even remotely aware of making it. The more we develop our awareness of the trajectory of our position in relation to both spacetime and the absolute potentiality that exists both within and beyond each actuality, each element of 'reality' we observe in our momentary awareness of that position, the more we can make conscious 'choices' that actualise absolute potentiality, not just our limited view of conditional potential in time and space. 

But whether we do or don't makes no change to potentiality, which exists and remains constant independently of what 'I' do, and makes all things possible regardless of whether or not anyone or anything acts or 'chooses' to act at any particular time or place. 

This is the nature of God.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

OK...please ignore my reference to Einstein's theory - I'm fond of thinking outside the box, but I occasionally lose track of the box altogether... :wacko:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
10 hours ago, possibility said:

Well, now that I've looked at it again, it is 'matter' that I am talking about as potentiality, isn't it? So perhaps it's not a straw man after all. 

On 7/17/2018 at 4:14 PM, thormas said:

Hart is not being dismissive rather he goes to your point about what that would mean (there is no definitive consensus). Matter is recognized by both parties in the dialogue as contingent. 

10 hours ago, possibility said:

You keep twisting potentiality to read 'what is potential', but this is incorrect, and I have tried to explain this before. 

I simply disagree with your premise as presented.  

10 hours ago, possibility said:

Potentiality is merely the ability to develop - an ability that exists independent of time, space or any actuality at all.

If the point is that "God" in the 'act of creation" (so to speak) allows for the development of creation or even that the potentiality of all 'rests' in God. I agree. I simply don't see or, better yet, consider it , helpful to 'define' God as potentiality. 

10 hours ago, possibility said:

Potentiality is merely the ability to develop

If this is potentiality, it is meaningless, as suggested, unless something develops and this, by your admission, if it occurs, only occurs in time and space. Again, the very being of everything, including the potentiality of everything, is grounded in God. I simply don't think it makes adds or explains anything to define God as potentiality itself. That you so define God, I accept; that I don't, you seem to have difficulties with. 

10 hours ago, possibility said:

This potentiality is not 'nothing', it is not dependent, either - but it is logically necessary and it is omnipotent.

It is dependent on some (every) thing developing or succeeding; it not, it is nothing. It is neither logically necessary nor omnipotent: there is potentiality only because there is the universe. If there were not the universe, there would be no potentiality because there would be nothing to develop. Potentiality comes with creation (of the universe) and the universe is not logically necessary. And it is certainly not omnipotent because not all achieves its potential.

10 hours ago, possibility said:

Actuality relies primarily on the existence of potentiality in order to exist at all, let alone achieve anything.

Actually, it is the reverse: there must Be (Actuality) in order for anything to have being and it is being that has potentiality - which is then, hopefully, actualized. Again, we simply disagree.

10 hours ago, possibility said:

Aristotle, and by extension Aquinas, also misunderstood the nature of potentiality when 'speaking absolutely'. They said that it is matter that changes and moves, but matter at the sub-atomic level has always been the same across the universe - it is form (actuality) that changes, that moves in time and space and interacts with other forms. We can see this in the way everything around us changes and moves in shape but not in matter, and we especially see it in mathematics, where both form and movement/change can be reduced to mathematical formula, to equation: a statement of relationship between actualities: (variables and constants).

It is matter, then, that is actual and must exist for there to be potentiality. And it is the realization of the potentiality of actuality that moves in time and space. Further, there is no logical necessity for matter: it is but it doesn't have to be. As indicated, it is contingent and dependent on interaction to achieve potentiality - until all is not (apparently). Potentiality is not reality, it is a description of reality; it is a description of what occurs in actual things. If A has potential to be B, it is A that is real, not B. And if A achieves B, then B is real and B is not potentiality. Potentiality describes reality, it is not. Potentiality is description.

I will not presume to re-examine Einstein. Plus, you equate God with matter - so physicalism and pantheism. Again, I accept this is your belief, I simply don't buy it.

I disagree that I am twisting things but I do allow that, given the limitation of language, how you seem (to me) to talk of God might not fully capture what you believe.

We disagree and that is fine. 

Edited by thormas

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

I come from an Orthodox background (the same as Hart) that has a less rationalistic approach to God and differs from Aquinas and Aristotle, but I still don't think its true to say they would agree that God is potentiality.  Orthodox focus on the divine nature being unknowable and knowledge of God is mediated through grace rather than reason.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

On 28 July 2018 at 1:22 PM, FireDragon76 said:

I come from an Orthodox background (the same as Hart) that has a less rationalistic approach to God and differs from Aquinas and Aristotle, but I still don't think its true to say they would agree that God is potentiality.  Orthodox focus on the divine nature being unknowable and knowledge of God is mediated through grace rather than reason.

Thanks for your comment, FireDragon.

I'm making a connection that I'm pretty confident Hart would never make himself, let alone other Orthodox Christians. Like Thormas, his focus is on God as pure actuality, backed up by rationalistic argument by Aristotle and Aquinas. Regardless of whether or not the source of his 'knowledge' is grace, he nevertheless presents it as reason.

It's essentially a 'chicken or the egg' argument - I'm just exploring the 'egg' side of the argument, because I think it has merit in the light of quantum theory and consciousness studies.

Incidentally, would you say that the nature of pure and absolute potentiality is 'unknowable'?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hart is an Orthodox Christian that is conciliatory towards Anselm and Aquinas.  I see Hart as not presenting knowledge of God so much through reason, as much as the concept of God being reasonable.  There is a difference.   Orthodox Christians are not necessarily anti-rationalistic or against reason, but they are an eastern religion that prioritizes intuition and experiential knowledge above all else.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 hours ago, FireDragon76 said:

Hart as not presenting knowledge of God so much through reason, as much as the concept of God being reasonable.  There is a difference.  

Correct!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×