Monday, November 12, 2012
THERE WAS NO FIRST CAUSE---AND NO NEED FOR ONE
The ‘great’ monotheistic religions---Judaism, Christianity, and Islam---are indeed strange. Very strange. Each one of them postulates the existence of, and the need for, a so-called ‘first cause,’ God being that ‘first cause.’ Yes, God---who supposedly ‘is because He is’ (cf Ex 3:14)---is said to be the ultimate ‘necessary’ Being on whom or on which everything else depends for its existence. After all, is it not the case that whatever cannot account for its own existence must depend on something which can. That ‘something’ is God.
One of the many problems with the assertion that God was the first cause is the problem of infinite regress. If God made everything, who ‘made’ God? (There is a problem as well with that word ‘made,’ which presupposes a ‘maker.’) The theist will reply, ‘No, I am not saying that everything which exists must have been made by someone. I am saying that there must be something which is not made.’ Why must there be? There are no ‘musts.’ I repeat---there are no 'musts.' In any event, with a word like ‘made,’ how in the world is it possible to conceive of something ‘unmade.’ It is unintelligible. It is unspeakable. Yes, it is the case that everything in the world is limited and dependent. However, it does not necessarily follow---indeed, it does not logically follow at all---from the fact that everything in the world is limited and dependent that everything is ‘made,’ nor that there must be someone or something who is ‘not made,’ whatever that means.
Now, there are certainly states of interdependence throughout the universe. That much is clear simply from observation or perception alone. The Vietnamese monk and Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh (pictured left) uses the expression ‘InterBeing’ to refer to this state and process of interdependence, that is, the interdependent relational nature of things. Hanh, in his book Zen Keys, gives the example of a table. We recognise its existence ‘only when the interdependent conditions, upon which its presence is grounded, converge.’ Certain interdependent conditions or factors---for example, the wood, the saw, the nails, the carpenter, and so forth---come together, that is, converge, to produce the table. Some of those factors are more directly connected with the existence of the table than others, the latter being more indirectly connected. Nevertheless, all are ‘necessary’ to bring the table into ‘concrete’ existence. In a sense, the table existed ‘before being there’---at least in potentiality. Of course, we are unable to recognise its existence before all the above mentioned conditions are brought together,
However, let’s get one thing perfectly clear. Everything is not present to everything else in ‘one vast instantaneous co-implicated completeness’ (to use words penned by William James [pictured right]). Yes, there are interrelationships throughout nature, but there are also innumerable cross-currents and conflicting forces. What we find are partial unities but there is no one, vast, overarching total unity of all things. Not at all. There is no one system, completely unified, that unites all the subsystems.
However, this much is true---a single ‘logic’ applies to all things, for all things exist in the same ‘level’ or plane of existence and observability. In addition, everything has some relations with some other things; that is to say, there is no entity which is independent of all other entities. Each 'thing' is a cause of at least one other 'thing' as well as being the effect of some other 'thing,' so every thing is explainable by reference to one or more other things.
Thus, all theological talk of the supposed need for some 'first cause' is, well, nonsense. Empty words. As Professor John Anderson pointed out, 'there can be no contrivance of a "universe" or totality of things, because the contriver would have to be included in the totality of things.'
There was no first cause---and absolutely no need for one. This is just one of the many areas where Buddhism has the edge over the monotheistic religions.