Thursday, July 21, 2011

Causality at the Intersection of Process, Naturalism, and Theology

This is a response to Tom at Plastic Bodies

He writes,

" After reading a post at Immanent Transcendence, I would speculate that the theological and naturalist dogs in the SR/OOO fight will inevitably be lead to an impasse over causality. It will come down to whether or not you accept the reality of final, formal, and perhaps material cause in addition to efficient (and, for Harman, vicarious) causality. The theological wing will invoke Aristotle and Peirce to talk about several forms of causality, whereas the naturalist wing sticks to efficient and vicarious (perhaps material, anyone?)."

I would argue that he has not adequately parsed the "sides."  He implies that the "theological side" is for final and formal causes, while the supposedly opposed naturalism side is for efficient causality, etc.  First, I would not identify affirmation of teleological causality, e.g., Peirce and Dewey, as the "theological side."  That sides most if not all emergent naturalisms with theology, even though many are thoroughly secular and card-carrying "Brights" (militant aestheists).  Dewey was not sympathetic.  Second, the identification of "naturalist/naturalism" with efficient causality is too hasty.  That narrows the field to some popular naturalisms, i.e., scientific naturalism, but leaves out emergent naturalisms that embrace teleology.  Third, a Peircean/Deweyan teleology is not a strict Aristotelian one--far from it--and thus the implied identity between the two is quite misleading.  If one does not realize how different they are, then they probably do not know what I mean by pragmatic "teleological causation," because it's neither Aristotle nor scholasticism.  Fourth, the invocation of Spinoza against them is odd, as Dewey and emergent naturalists find a lot of inspiration in Spinoza (Spinozistic thinking, usually through the medium of German Idealism).

To answer your question, Tom, we need not agree to disagree just yet, because we're not on the same page.  I am not even sure how my linked post is connected to your comments, which leads me to believe that you interpreted them through Leon of After Nature's post on them … and he toke them a place I was never intending to go.  I have little to say about the Theology vs. X debates, although I do think that causality is key.


  1. I think Tom was right to point to causality as the key issue separating metaphysical schemes with a divine function from those without. I agree with you, Jason, that just because one finds a place for formal and final causality in their scheme doesn't necessarily mean they also find a place for God. It is possible to read entropy as the source of finality in a completely atheistic way. But I do think there is a marked tendency for those who do speculate on formal and final causes to end up arriving at some conception of God. Dewey, so far as I can tell, thought atheism and theism were equally misguided (though you have more to say on this than I, I'm sure), but still spoke of "God" as that which functions in nature and humanity to actively unify the ideal and the actual. Whitehead's function for divinity seems similar. Peirce's religious vision is not as clear to me (can you say more about it?). Hans Jonas also comes to mind.

    So in sum, it does seem that, while emergent naturalism may adopt formal causation without speaking of God, fully integrating formal and final causation in one's cosmological scheme means generating some conception of divinity.

  2. Matt,

    Thank you for joining me on Immanent Transcendence.

    Causality must be a central issue for both, but for at least different reasons. For SR/OOO theists, they face the problem of evil and must respond with a theodicy. In fact, the problem is dire for them since they're not absolute dualists and not likely to retreat to The Master Argument, e.g., Boethius' formulation of the nature of Gods eternity. For aesthetists or many non-traditional theists, they face various problems of cosmogenesis such as the ones I posed to you, e.g., why is there many rather than one (and vice versa), why order rather than chaos, etc. Traditional theists usually roll their answers to these into the first issue.

    As for "formal and final causality," it seems to me that "teleological causality" qua emergent teleology is a creative synthesis of both that is reducible to neither. I'm less familiar with Peirce's writigns on this and "growth" and more familiar with Dewey's appropriations.

    Considering Dewey on atheism and theism, he would say something like that, but even as a Dewey scholar I do not listen to anything he says on the subject. He was not truly open to it, although still tolerant. Parsing what Dewey meant by the "ideal," a totally naturalized and humanized concept, would show that he was far to anthropocentric for traditional theists.

    I am not as clear on Peirce, but if I recall it had the same tone as Whitehead, although more conciliatory than Dewey. Leon would be the person to ask about Peirce.

  3. p.s. I have posted a more general explanation of what I meant by the causal closure of nature. I do not say much new, and it is intended to be read with the other posts, but I wanted to make what I was doing more transparent.