Arimathea

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Monday, February 14, A.D. 2011

Kristor on the Fall

Kristor, who frequently shares his wisdom on Auster’s View from the Right, has added his profound thoughts to my post, “Orthodoxy and Evolution.” Moreover, the American Orthodox Institute blog, The Observer, now features the entire post. I have been thinking about the issue over the weekend, and I am dissatisfied with my first objection to Fr. Andrei’s theory. It is quite muddled. When we are dealing with such fundamental and ultimate matters as the unfallen world and, by association, the eschaton, we have entered a realm of metaphysical questioning that makes me sympathetic to Kant when he warns about the transcendent temptation. The difficulty involved reminds me of the human attempt to comprehend the underlying metaphysics of Christ’s incarnation or ascension. We just do not have the relevant insights. However, I do believe that echoes of such knowledge permeate the world. So, I do not wish to judge such understanding impossible, but I realize that I am grasping in the dark to make sense of some very basic questions, such as what are we really meant to be according to the divine plan? What would unfallen creation look like? Is such the same as redeemed creation? Is there a distinction between the necessary imperfection of creation, as that which is not God, and sinful imperfection? Are instantiations in time and place of the ideas in the mind of God inherently imperfect in such a way that they imply or are contiguous with fallen nature, or is it possible for reflections to be good as reflections?

I do not know, but I have been pondering these questions for many years, and their possible answers impact my attitude toward Fr. Andrei’s proposal. It is possible, I suppose, to hold his interpretation and to attribute our blindness of and obtuseness toward the world simply to the distortion of our spiritual faculties. Yet, I think that the difficulty of seeing God in all things is not only our problem. I may harbor an irrational bias here, but I think that human ignorance and the failure to see the world clearly are not simply the result of human failure. Understanding involves both the mind and the object known; intellection takes two to tango. That it is so difficult to think rationally about being makes me suspect that the world is less intelligible than it should be in our fallen state. Fr. Andrei’s interpretation removes man from the cosmos so radically that it reminds me of Cartesian dualism, wherein the human mind, separate from the world, thinks about and acts upon the world. A Christian could defend Fr. Andrei (and Descartes) by appealing to the special status of man wherein God gives man spirit, which seems to put man in a radically different relationship to the rest of creation. Yet, I would reply that such spirit is what makes us be able to transcend the bounds of space and time, as our thought may consider any link in the temporal chain of causality or any magnitude of space. We may contemplate spiritual realities and rise above the limitations of our animal nature. Our spiritual nature allows us to exist on multiple levels of being, but such does not mean that we are not truly still animals that are part of the rest of creation. Fr. Andrei’s Eden story lends credence to this disembodied Cartesian view that lays the foundation for several species of modern spiritual perversion. Is it accidental that non-human death seems so trivial in such a scheme? For the Cartesian, everything besides the human mind is mere mechanism—the playing out of matter in motion. I do not doubt Fr. Andrei’s best Christian intentions, but in seeking to accommodate a materialist, mechanistic world view, he may repeat the Christian metaphysical surrender of early modern thought. Such a view of the world has no place for the transcendent. The fall, affecting both man and the world, produced a situation where such horizontal ideas are not only possible but persuasive.

In my previous post and in this one, you may get the impression that I have indicted Fr. Andrei for nominalism, Humean skepticism, and the Cartesian mastery of nature. Not so, though I have not written or explicated well. Obviously, Fr. Andrei believes in Orthodox doctrine. His theory accepts the fall of man. However, I worry that his interpretation of Genesis has the faint odor of these noxious humors, and my hypersensitivity toward such poisons has triggered an allergic reaction of the spirit.

Far more interesting than my ramblings are Kristor’s reflections on the fall. Kristor notes what I have overlooked—namely, the prior fracture of being that the Adversary represents.

[Kind words of introduction snipped]

I have thought about the Fall a bit. I, too, cannot gainsay the impression that evolution is a fact. It seems to me no more remarkable, or difficult to explain, or for that matter easy to explain, than motion in general, of which it is a department. I, too, am not interested in whether the world was created all at once a moment ago, and only seems to stretch back so very far into the past, or whether it really does stretch very far back into the past, so that its creation has, from a creaturely perspective, “taken time.” Sub specie aeternitatis - that is to say, in very truth - there can be no difference between these two alternatives. Yet whether temporal procedures really do, in an absolute sense, take time or not, it is apparent that we are from our own creaturely point of view - the only one possible to us - temporally ordered, so that each moment of our experience stands as deriving from a set of causes - from, i.e., a past - and ordered to a set of consequences - toward, i.e., some futures.

So, from our perspective, things change. They evolve. Whether species evolve or not, seems to me to be rather a trivial question, compared to the question of how things in general can evolve. For it is not easier to explain how a billiard ball is translated from one side of its table to the other, than to explain how hominids evolved from apes. If a billiard ball at point x really is, wholly and in truth, a billiard ball at point x, it seems almost impossible to understand how that same ball could ever, ever be still the ball that was completely at point x and also be now the ball that is completely at point y. You may talk until you are blue in the face about the difference between essential and accidental properties, and I shall honor your for so doing, and by the way agree with you; but it shall still seem to me that the 8 ball at x with momentum A is a totally different entity (albeit not, perhaps, a totally different sort of entity) than the “same” 8 ball at y with momentum B. For remember that for the 8 ball to change from x/A to y/B, everything in the universe had to change concomitantly, and coordinately. For the 8 ball to accomplish that translation, literally everything in the universe had to change with it; so that, at the end of the translation, the whole universe was a different universe than it had been prior to the translation. Now, how this sort of thing could be accomplished seems to me to be almost incomprehensible. So that, explaining how some macromolecules changed does not seem particularly intimidating, as a problem, by comparison.

From our perspective, then, we are in time, and things change, and it sure looks like change is ubiquitous. I see no difficulty, then, in biological evolution. The world as it now stands indicates that there were once dinosaurs, just as it indicates that there was once a thriving metropolis at Persepolis, just as it indicates that I was at the store earlier today and bought a few things, and just as it indicates that I’ve had a beer this evening – there stands the bottle, still somewhat cool.

I am not so interested then in reconciling the details of the story of the Fall in Genesis with the geological and archeological record. The idea that such a reconciliation might be needed seems to me to be a fundamental methodological misprision.  Genesis is not an accounting in natural history, it is an allegory of the basic truths about the world. And the Fathers seem to agree with me: whether or not there was ever a walled garden, or a tree, or an apple, the story is true, in just the same way that the story of the spirit of God moving across the face of the waters of Chaos is true, whether or not there were in Chaos anything that we could really compare with waters we have known.

The real difficulty for me about the story of the Fall, then, is to reconcile it with the Laws of Nature. I notice in particular that entropy seems to be a basic feature of our world. Death seems to be built into it at the most basic level; indeed, death may be the only way that physics can be sure that there is a direction to time built into the equations. What sense then can it make to talk of this world’s Fall from a prior state in which entropy did not afflict it? Indeed, is not the notion of a world where entropy does not occur incoherent? For entropy, at root, amounts to nothing more than the principle that not everything can happen. It is the law of economics, and tragedy, writ large; writ cosmologically large. A molecule cannot be forever both at point x, and also at some point over there at point y. In order for anything to happen, all the goods available in everything else that might have happened must be sacrificed. The molecule must sooner or later choose between x and y. And if it does change from x to y, the order of things – for the entire cosmos - that had before obtained will have to change with it. All the values inherent in the state of the cosmos prior to that change will also be changed: some for good, some for ill. But, since it is always going to be creatures that are doing such changing, we may rely upon their preponderant failure to achieve anything like perfection in their evolutions, so that if anything changes, we may rely upon the fact that some values will necessarily be lost forever in the process. Not only will we lose the values present in the prior state of affairs, but we will fail to achieve the full perfection of the values potentially available in the state toward which we move. Creaturely change, then, entails devolution.

How, then, could there ever have been a state of things where there was no death? How could any creature, even the angels, escape death?

This may seem like a deus ex machina, but: God. When creatures are wholly governed by God, they can in moving from x to y always be sure of increasing the beauty, orderliness, and harmony of things. They can be sure always that they are moving everything toward greater fullness of being. For God’s creative resources, his capacity to rescue a situation and provide it a path forward to a future that preserves and enhances all the values it already expresses, while at the same time opening up new creative possibilities, are infinite. There is no reason in principle, for example, why the Baroque should ever be exhausted as a source of musical novelty and delectation. There are an infinite number of Baroque compositions that could be written and performed and enjoyed. But ditto for the Classical. The Classical does not contradict the Baroque. But creatures can do only so much of either; their ontological budget is finite. Not so with God. God can supply to creatures the resources to explore the Baroque forever, and to explore the Classical, too. He cannot enable the creatures to explore them both simultaneously, any more than he could create a rock that he could not lift; but he can provide them with the resources sufficient to an everlasting project.

The Fall, then, was from that plenitude. Once turn from God, and ipso facto you turn from that fullness of being. The Fall afflicted the whole cosmos. How? Not, I think, because of the Sin of Adam. His sin came late in the game; for one of the first creatures had already fallen. Adam and Eve, when they fell, fell for man. But their Fall was not the first.

The second great problem of the Fall, it seems to me, is understanding why a being like Lucifer, chief among the seraphim, would choose to sin. The answer, I think, is the same as the answer given in the story of Eden. For why would Adam and Eve disobey God? How could they have been so stupid? Because they knew no better, before they sinned. Think about it. Until you have hit your thumb with a hammer, you don’t really know how important it is to avoid doing so. Adam and Eve were wholly innocent. They had no idea what it could mean to do wrong, or even what “wrong” was. So likewise with Lucifer when he fell. He knew everything that had ever happened since the first creation. But nothing had ever yet Fallen; he could not have known what a Fall would be like. He knew only what it was like to be an obedient seraph. What it is like to be a disobedient seraph was a thing that was incomprehensible to him, far more incomprehensible than the experience of a bat is to us. Disobedience did not seem bad to him, ex ante; for, having lived only in Heaven, he had no idea what “bad” might be. Why not, then, disobey?

So he Fell. And with him, went the whole created order. There was War in Heaven. The whole creation was turned away from God, forced by the necessity of the maintenance of good causal order among things to reckon with Satan’s Fall, and thus to be affected thereby; and has tended ever since toward death. Entropy is inescapable for any closed system. When the cosmos had turned away from God, it closed in upon itself. Grace still gets in everywhere (that’s why there is still a world from one moment to the next); but it is reliably wasted. Frittered away; God forgive me. Yet there is no ontological necessity that any creature should turn away from the Divine influx, even in the midst of this world’s turbid stream; and, it is impossible to turn away from that influx altogether and still exist. So that, to the extent things exist, they are somewhat subject to God. So, Adam and Eve might not have Fallen.

This at least is how I reckon it.

I am clearly over my head, but such is the only kind of good swim.

Update: See “Evil Christians,” “Unde Malum,” “Kristor Promotes Ignorance,” “Kristor Elucidates the Darkness,” “Before Choice,” and “Kristor Poses Evil Problems” for this post’s continuation.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, February 14, Anno Domini 2011
Religion | OrthodoxyScriptureNon-ChalcedonianismProtestantismRoman Catholicism • (0) Comments
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