Explanatory Irrelevance of the Transcendent

Nothing Can Be Explained by Reference to the Transcendent.

I have to confront the explanatory irrelevance of the Transcendent before I go on characterizing the Transcendent as some type of agent bringing about features of the immanent. In particular, I plan to characterize the Transcendent as bringing about truth conditions for religious claims by producing conditions which make some religious stories correct stories but also make other religious stories incorrect stories.

I need to be honest with my internal atheist when I accuse my self of dishonoring the agreement that nothing can be thought about what transcends thought.

The atheist concedes that we can ask the question “On what does everything depend for its existence and essence?” However, he does not concede that it is an interesting question. The simplest and clearest answer reveals the banality of the question. That upon which everything depends for its existence and essence transcends all thought. It is uninteresting because it offers nothing to think about. Reference to transcendence does not explain why anything is one way or another. Regardless of what exists, the same explanation for it would be given. For instance, the law of gravity would be explained by saying it depends upon the transcendent. If the attraction law were different, that law would be explained by saying, if there were intelligent beings around, it depends upon the transcendent. It cannot be used to explain why there is order rather than chaos. For a chaotic reality would, for all the transcendent does, depend upon it for its chaotic existence. It does not explain why there is something rather than nothing. For if there were nothing, there would be nothing and nobody to ask questions.

I am incapable of interpreting Aristotle. I suggest, however, that the above shows that we can give no causal explanations, where “cause “ is understood as efficient cause, by reference to transcendence. Next, I suggest that no causal explanation, where”cause” is understood as final cause, can be given by reference to transcendence. I do not even consider transcendence being the material cause of what exists.

The explanatory vacuity of a ground for existence beyond thought holds even if we are seeking teleological explanations.

The atheist will concede the admissibility of asking “On what does that which is depend for its existence?” because we do not need to assume existence to ask for its basis. We are immediately aware of existence. However, to ask for what purpose there is what is, presupposes purposiveness over and above existence. The atheist concedes the existence of purposiveness. Purposiveness is certainly in the immanent. People have purposes. So we can ask what grounds the existence of purposes along with the existence of everything else. But the atheist goes no further than asking about the ground for existence. That is as far into “high metaphysics” as I can push my atheist. Asking for the purpose of existence would presuppose more about what the transcendence is like than merely transcending all thought.

So, as earlier in,Religiosity and the Transcendent, I have to admit that trying to draw something of religious or existential significance from a thesis that there is a transcendent ground of all existence requires more than what could be called pure metaphysical interest. Unless the atheist shares those existential and religious concerns, the atheist need not follow in elaborating upon the Transcendent.

I close with some speculation about Aristotelian formal causes in the religiously motivated efforts to characterize the Transcendent. I do not regard citation of a formal cause as any type of explanation. When we ask for a formal cause, we ask “Why does x have feature F?” When a formal cause is given as the answer runs “There actually is F.” We get no answer on how or why the F which actually is brings about x having F. However, I suggest that my efforts to characterize the Transcendent are efforts to find the formal cause for basic features of the immanent. For instance, I have asked why there is intelligence in the immanent -the world, reality, whatever. The answer runs “Because there actually is intelligence in the Transcendent.