Sunday, November 1, 2015

Causality: The Unhidden Face of God

While scientists study God, priests and theologians tell us flattering fictions. Theistic religions are about superpowerful people, but God isn’t personal. God is the supreme creator. God is obviously, then, nature which creates and develops itself before our eyes at every moment. God or Nature does so by means of causality. God has a vast, sprawling body but no mind. God is therefore monstrous. God is the natural universe, since natural forces and materials comprise methods for actualizing every possibility. We are therefore surrounded by an abomination that reaches out to distant galaxies and dimensions that we can never hope to reach, and our bodies are made of the same monstrous stuff. By a quirk of the monster’s evolution, however, our minds are free to impose a supernatural, which is to say artificial, order to replace the natural wilderness. God acts through causality, the satanic rebels like us through ideality, through purpose and intelligent design and existential resentment. To know God, we needn’t pray or read preposterous and outdated scriptures; instead, we must understand causality. What is it for one thing not just to come before another, but to cause it?

Three Approaches to Causal Knowledge

Aristotle famously answered that question by basing all causal explanations on the explanation of a sculpture. We can inquire, then, into material causes (how what something’s made of changes it), formal causes (how a thing’s structure or type changes it), efficient causes (how other things interact with it to change it), and final causes (how the thing’s end changes it, such as by drawing it towards that end). Only two of these causes turned out to be objectively natural, the material and the efficient. Formal causes depend on the concepts we bring to bear, and final causes apply only to artifacts, not to nature. To be sure, we can inquire into the purpose of rain or of sunshine, but in so far as we’re philosophical, we shouldn’t trust mass opinion since most people don’t love knowledge. Knowledge is a burden since most of what’s there to be known is horrific, and most people prefer to be happy than to be acquainted with the elementary facts. Artifacts are created by minds and natural creations are monstrous precisely because they’re produced by no mind at all.

We know now that matter as well as time and space themselves evolved, that most types of particles spread like seeds from exploding stars which in turn flicker into being from nebulas, the earliest of which emerged soon after the Big Bang. Prior to those “stellar nurseries,” the universe was practically immaterial. This is to say that material explanations aren’t essential to natural ones; nature isn’t necessarily material, just as it’s not necessarily made up of stars and planets and empty space. The universe evolves and there may even be a multiverse encompassing all quantum possibilities. So-called efficient causation is closer to the core of nature’s divine creativity—except that “efficient,” like finality (Aristotle’s final cause), is tainted with teleology. We speak of efficiency as a kind of best performance according to the criterion that time and effort shouldn’t be wasted. Applying that criterion to nature is ludicrous since the universe is maximally wasteful. In the fullness of time and in the evolution of universes, everything comes to be, so there’s obviously no effort taken in nature to discriminate, to discard possibilities, to favour one eventuality over another. If in one corner of the universe something rather than something else obtains, wait a while or travel elsewhere and you’ll find that very other thing which it looked like the universe was excluding because it could be produced only by an inefficient system that generates everything in the spectrum of possibilities. Efficiency is a luxury for living systems that can conceive of ends and can choose to work towards one rather than another, but it’s also a burden because to care about efficiency, your time and effort must be limited. The universe has neither that luxury (mentality) nor that burden (ephemerality). Its processes have no absolute beginnings or ends, they spread out over eons and intergalactic territories, and they unfold through every conceivable convolution and happenstance.

Nevertheless, for the most part, the basic idea of natural causality is that one thing interacts with another to change it. David HudasadsHume argued that that’s all we’re entitled to conclude is objectively part of causal connection, which is that Y has followed from X in certain observed cases. As soon as we add that there’s a necessary connection between two things, that X brings about Y because X is bound somehow to do so, we project our subjective expectation onto the evidence from our senses. Unfortunately for Hume’s self-refuting empiricism, as Kant pointed out, that’s just what knowledge is, a certain coming together of a mind with the rest of the world. Hume mocked so-called rationalist philosophers for positing “occult” powers and forces which are nowhere perceived. He thus failed to realize that all artificiality is bizarre, that the relative autonomy of minds in general is virtually supernatural. Knowledge is thus no mere additional physical mechanism, but a meeting of supernature with nature, a clash between satanic rebels and their hideous creator. 

Historically, there have been three approaches to causal knowledge. The first is socialization, in which lipstick is applied to the pig of the monstrous universe, and the headless cosmic body is personified by animists, theists, and teleologists so that they and their huddled and deluded flocks can avoid feeling adrift and alienated from the world. Just as children are socialized by a process of domestication, which is to say that they’re taught how to be sociable so that they can perform some function in a dominance hierarchy as opposed to being ostracized, so too the world is tamed by the human imagination. We project categories that properly apply only to minds onto the nonliving world; we do so not gratuitously but because that’s how we evolved to interact with the other. We’re social mammals so we instinctively socialize, meaning that we construe the other as being like ourselves, interpreting its patterns in familiar terms, thus anthropomorphizing it. The result is that we posit gods and other superpowerful beings with which we can interact in the standard ways, by communicating with them (bargaining through prayer or social hierarchies), by double-crossing or obeying or befriending them, and the like.

The second approach is artificialization, in which the pig of nature is turned into the philosopher’s stone, into something we engineer to be more appealing, to satisfy all our desires. This kind of understanding, which positions mind well with respect to the world, proceeds by scientific analysis of the heart of nature, of so-called efficient or mechanistic causality, so that that heart can be altered. This is the purpose of empirical knowledge, the application of knowing how the world works so that natural ends might be avoided or accelerated as the case may be. Artificializers posit not hidden gods and other superhuman persons, but indirectly observed objects such as atoms, forces, or mathematical structures, which are natural realities just in so far as they’re stripped of their terrifying existential significance. Thus, instead of being frozen into inaction upon learning that natural events have no purpose or nonhuman social status, we’re equipped with information that mitigates the inevitable doom that follows from the indifference of those events.

Notice that both of these kinds of knowledge aren’t just matters of cogitation; they involve collective interactions with the world. Socializers of nature form religious organizations that fortify communities, while artificializers combine the often solitary study of the world with applied mathematics, engineering, business enterprises, and indeed all realistic human effort that’s based, in effect, on an understanding of nature’s monstrosity, restraining the imagination in making use of common experience. Both, then, are social in scope: the one extends society to cover the whole cosmos, while the other erases the cosmos, including animal aspects of society and of ourselves, in service to a new world of our creation.   

By contrast, the third form of knowledge, the existential, is primarily a solitary revelation, a dawning of horror that’s at the root of the other two forms. We socialize the natural world because we fear our true God’s palpable inhumanity. We artificialize the wilderness because we’re people who look down on animals for being in the barbaric grip of natural selection, because we’re primordially terrified of the horrors that lurk within the shadows or that hunt at nightfall, which is why we worship the light, why we huddled around the campfire, prized our torches and lanterns, and leapt to employ electricity to banish darkness forever. The wilderness is the world in so far as it’s not controlled by us, and we’re most helpless in the dark, because we have relatively poor native night vision. The deepest understanding, then, derives from the experience of alienation from the world, from the realization that even when we stick together, we’re collectively alone and estranged from everything that’s mindless. If the awakening to our cosmic insignificance has a social aspect, it’s the inspiration of artists and prophets and other antisocial outsiders who supply the vision that directs the other two social enterprises, that is, the content of religious myths that justify class divisions, and the technological innovations that are supposed to make a hedonic paradise on earth. Effectively, existential knowledge is insight into the nature of God: what we sense is that theistic religions are based merely on anthropocentric tall tales, that in reality there is no personal God but only Nature, and that each person is therefore a tragic wonder, a miracle consigned to oblivion. The existential facts are awesome but grim and so the fundamental, often esoteric knowledge is the existentialist’s interpretation of a mystical experience of the universe’s wildness, which is its naturalness.

Truth and Socialization

You might be wondering whether the interest in objective facts—and thus a fourth kind of knowledge, one we might call realistic—is more fundamental, since we can ask the metaquestion of whether the existentialist’s sense of nature’s monstrosity and of our ultimate helplessness within the cosmic sea of impersonal changes, for example, is true. However, the notion of a statement’s truth as a correspondence relation between the symbols’ meaning and some fact is rather part of the socialization process and thus falls within the ambit of the first kind of knowledge. To speak of an agreement between a statement and some other part of the world which the statement is about is to posit a unity between how we think and how the rest of the world works. In science, for example, the realist (such as the Platonist) maintains that scientific rationality is reflected in the natural order and that mathematical formulations of laws correspond to the world’s deep structure. But this implies that nature is fundamentally mental, that a personal deity, for example, is responsible for natural patterns and that descriptive laws of nature are really prescriptions which match the virtuosity involved in scientifically discerning them or the divine intelligence that designed them in the first place. In either case, a statement’s truth makes sense as a kind of agreement only if the mentality that produces the statement is shared with the natural fact to which the statement refers. Otherwise, meaning is attributed to the statement by way of mass hallucination and the statement (or the theory, lecture, etc.) consists of squiggles that bear no special agreement with anything outside the speaker’s head. Naturalists mock animists and theists for their naked mental projections of personhood onto inanimate natural processes, but naturalists who presuppose a realistic conception of truth likewise seek to socialize with an alien, impersonal wilderness.

Indeed, the use of language itself to pose the realist’s metaquestion is inherently socialistic in the above sense. Language was originally no mere utilitarian endeavour, but was caught up in the mythopoeic mindset which had no distinction between subject and object and which thus interpreted natural processes as magical. For example, spells would have been cast, with magical incantations, to impose desired changes on the world, such as a rainfall or an elder’s speedy recovery from illness. In fact, linguistic symbols may once have functioned like mirror neurons, which are those neurons that facilitate the learning of bodily actions, by simulating the action’s performance. When a father picks up a fork to eat, the son who’s learning how to eat at the table will eventually do likewise, in part because the son observes the father and certain neurons are thereby activated in the son’s brain, which are just those neurons that will eventually be activated to trigger the son’s motor cortex, causing him to pick up the fork at some point in the learning process. Mirror neurons stand between perception of others and action, keeping the two in balance in the social world, grooming the perceiver to fit in by causing her to mimic others’ behaviour. Similarly, linguistic symbols may originally have been offered naively as the equivalent of mirror neurons, except that instead of regulating bodily actions in an actual social context, they would have stood between the inner mind and the outer world in general. When language was invented in the childhood of sapiens prehistory, there would have been no clear separation between the inner and outer worlds, so language may have developed as an offshoot of mirror neurons, which evolved to regulate social behaviour; that is, the early language users may have presumed that natural events could likewise be regulated with a sort of mirror. In the mythopoeic mindset, names were thought to hold power over the named, so that to utter the magic word was to control the referent. This ideal is evidenced in the Genesis myth of Creation, in which reality reflects God’s speech: he merely speaks and what he says becomes so.

At any rate, existential knowledge, which is the experience of angst, horror, or awe due to the realization that God, the supreme creator, is a freak and a behemoth and thus that all our dreams and ideals are transient and absurd, shouldn’t be confused with the other approaches to knowledge, although they’re related; as I’ve said, if anything the existential experience underlies the other two kinds. But to ask whether nature really is monstrous is to use language and thus to fall back on a mythopoeic invention whose original function we’ve long forgotten, but which would likely humiliate us and undermine our pretenses were we to become privy to it. We assume that scientific language is the height of intellectual sophistication, but we resort to the default intuition that the success of such language lies in its capacity to get at the truth, as though that latter notion weren’t riddled with archaic conceptions bound up with adorable hominid pastimes such as socialization. There’s the sense of horror in light of the evident absence of any divine parent, and then there’s the talk of that feeling. Both are ways of acquainting ourselves with facts, but while the latter is at least consistent with the childlike endeavour to socialize with the world, existential experience tends to withdraw the knower from society. Existential knowledge is subversive; it weakens social bonds and calls into question the conventions that lend credence to the authority of those subcriminal sociopaths who tend to run societies. Both mirror neurons and mirroring linguistic symbols spread mentality like a virus, duplicating behaviours even if only in the theistic imagination. So being language-based, the realist’s metaquestion doesn’t open up a fourth kind of knowledge, but reverts to socialization.

Fear of the Face of God

If existential knowledge (the experience of horror, angst, and ecstatic madness) is fundamental, what does it tell us about God’s nature? What face of God (of supreme creativity) does it present us, by recording our reaction to the essence of natural causality? As I said, matter isn’t so essential to causality, but neither is the division between cause and effect. Prior to the evolution of matter, space and time, stuff may somehow still have happened: a singularity may have formed, a virtual particle may have popped into actuality from a field of quantum potentiality—or however that exotic event should be covered with human rationality according to the goals of socialization or artificialization. The essence of causality in nature is that the happening of a natural event differs fundamentally from a mind’s purpose-driven steering of some course. Causality differs from intelligent design, choice and action. Natural events happen for no reason whatsoever, according to the third, existential kind of knowledge. When we posit reasons and indeed causes in that sense, we engage in socialization or artificialization, which begin as just some hominid behaviours. The mystical experience of nature involves realizing that the world is absurd, that our rational schemes are pitifully irrelevant because the rest of the world is headless, whereas we live inside our heads; while we’re preoccupied with our social hierarchies and with the rest of our artificialities (our languages, arts, technologies, cities, and so on), the world in which we’re embedded doesn’t care and doesn’t agree with us. We evolve by adapting to our environment, which provides the illusion of some fitness, but the entire saga of life’s evolution on our planet is a vanishingly small sideshow in the cosmic course of changes.

That greater course, the becoming of natural events and their eventual interactions is the face of God which is most honourably confronted first by the existential outsider, then by the artificializer, and lastly, with hardly any honour at all, by the socializer. The deepest knowledge, that is, the most honest way of positioning minds in relation to the rest of the world in general begins with a feeling of nature’s impersonality. Social mammals like us balk at that understanding, initiating the neo-satanic rebellion through artificialization or the childish retreat to the theistic imagination. The natural universe is the totality of one thing’s happening because of another, where that happening isn’t due to any calculation or preference but just because. To understand the implications of what’s absent from the philosophical naturalist’s positing only of material and efficient causes is to realize our bleak destiny as hopelessly foolish creatures. We’re self-absorbed, which is understandable because the evolution of selves is effectively miraculous, that is, anomalous and unnatural in so far as selves tend to undo the natural wilderness. But as heroic as our counter-creations may be, they are dwarfed by the galactic products of No One. God is great indeed, but only in that the universe is so abominable that it doesn’t need a personal creator, which means that it also doesn’t need us, the appalled turncoats who dwell within its bowels. Natural operations negate every aspect of mentality even as the most sophisticated minds endeavour to nullify the unchosen world.


  1. maybe this is too personal but when my mother died there was no god or angelic being near her. No God. Raul

    1. A god or angel would be invisible, so how would you know whether one is present or not? You mean she didn't report somehow encountering one at the time? I suspect near death experiences are just powerful dreams or psychedelic trips, based on innate DMT, as I explain in these articles: