A Very Brief Argument Against Pantheism

The Logical Impossibility of Monism

“From the Law of Identity, A is A, we may validly infer that A is not ~A. From this we may validly deduce that “A” cannot be “all that exists,” for there will always be that which “A” is not. Therefore, the proposition “Everything is one” is false. For if “Everything is one,” then it necessarily follows that “Everything” is not more than one. And this plurality, against which the Oneness of being is starkly contrasted, is irreconcilable to monism. Thus, every postulation of identity, A is A, presupposes difference as that which enables the postulation of identity to even be possible. “A” is predicable by virtue of difference; therefore, monism is false. For the mystics who like such meaningless statements, I used to be one of them, such an argument won’t convince them. However, for the thinking person, such an argument should at least begin to move him to question the absurd statements of eastern and western mystical monists.”

Axiomatic Patchwork: The Collected Fragments of Jacques Futon, Vol. 2, p. 123

(Edited by Jonathan Cullings)

A Side Note

I’ll be back on Wednesday, Lord willing, to post my own writing. As for today, however, I’m spending my time reading B.B. Warfield’s wonderful book, Counterfeit Miracles. You can download it for free at googlebooks.

-h.

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16 thoughts on “A Very Brief Argument Against Pantheism

  1. Heather says:

    I’m spending my time reading B.B. Warfield’s wonderful book, Counterfeit Miracles.

    Are you planning to write a review?
    My plate doesn’t have room for another reading assigment right now but I would be interested in reading your impression of the work. While I believe that the Lord does deal miraculously with His people, the cessation discussion (concerning “tongues”, prophetic visions, casting out of demons, healing by way of laying on of hands, etc) has always fascinated me and it has been disturbing to note the creepiness of what is often reported to happen in certain circles that focus on supernatural occurences.

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  2. Hiram says:

    You know, I wasn’t planning on it, but it sounds like a good idea! I’m a little over half way done with it and I am really enjoying his writing style and depth of research. It’s well documented, although it isn’t at all heavy laden with technical jargon.

    I remember visiting “churches” when I was little that had all sorts of crazy things going on in them. I praise God that He has since saved me and led me to trust in His Word and not my own experiences/liver-shivers.

    I’ll post a review, Lord willing, some time next week….

    :)

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  3. turbut says:

    The theory of “God,” in whatever religion, can only exist in the mind of man. Monism cannot be applied to religion, although many would like to do so. It can, however, perhaps be applied to a singularity called “The big bang” which likewise is quite incomprehensible to the mind of man. There are, of course, people who would like to attribute this event to “A Godly creation”

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  4. Hiram says:

    Turbut, thanks for stopping by.

    The concept of Monism, no matter how it is articulated is logically impossible, so the issue is not solely a theological one, but a logical one. How can all be one, when the postulation of identity requires that one presupposes difference? A is A cannot be true unless A can also be defined as not ~A. This means that plurality cannot be avoided in any meaningful sense. All is not one, for if it were it would also not be plural. And if it is not plural, then it stands in distinction to something besides itself – i.e. it is one among, at least, two.

    Theories of origination, moreover, only beg the question, for every form that such theories takes involves (a.)space, (b.)time, and (c.)matter. The concept of the universe coming from nothing involves a logical contradiction unless there is a God who brought the universe into existence, therefore, since analogical predication is valid when applied to a Being who, although Transcendent to His creation, has condescended to reveal Himself to men in a manner that is comprehensible to them, we can appropriately speak of the beginning of all things. However, if we deny the existence of God, then we are speaking of a physical past that we know nothing about and to which we attribute predicates analogically, and that is not science – it’s mythology.

    h.

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  5. turbut says:

    “However, if we deny the existence of God, then we are speaking of a physical past that we know nothing about and to which we attribute predicates analogically, and that is not science – it’s mythology.”

    With those words, you have essentially stated what God and religion is–mythology. To relegate the origin of the universe to a “God” of some kind has no basis in reality or science. The theory that the universe was created from “nothing?” and expanded into nothing, may well give rise to speculation that it was a “God creation” since we have no other means to explain it (as of yet), but that point in time must be the closest thing to monism by definition.
    Ken

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  6. Hiram says:

    Perhaps you didn’t follow my response. My argument is this: Analogical predication is only valid when its subject really shares in these predicates, but shares in them in a manner that is somewhat qualitatively and quantitatively different. “Science” attempts to utilize analogical predication in theorizing about the origination of all things, but the subject of such analogical predication is not qualitatively different, but only quantitatively different.

    For example:

    How can we speak of the origin of the universe?

    Origin implies space, time, and matter. A singularity implies space, time and matter. Any material ultimate origin that you postulate presupposes space, time, and matter. Kant made this clear in his Critique of Pure Reason.

    All cognition presupposes space and time; therefore, anything that you postulate as the origin of all that exists must either be spoken of analogically or literally. “Science,” however much it tries to say it can, cannot think without utilizing the concepts of space and time. And this is the problem, Ken, what it postulates, necessarily, must be taken as literally or analogically. If what is postulated is to be taken literally, then they are speaking in flat-out contradictions. How can nothing produce something? What is time before time as we know it? What is space before space as we know it?

    In order for anything to “come” “in-to” “existence,” existence and the conditions that make existence possible must preexist existence. This is logically absurd.

    If, on the other hand, they say that such theories are only to be understood analogically, then they are speaking mythologically, attributing the origin of all things to a physical subject of which they analogically predicate certain qualities. Their analogical predication, however, fails, since the subject of predication merely differs in degree and not kind, or differs with respect to quantity and not quality.

    Necessarily, therefore, God is needed in order for anything you or I say to even make any sense. He is not a physical subject of whom we may predicate qualities that are different in degree from those which we participate in –

    God is ontologically different; therefore, analogical predication may be used when referencing Him as “making” or “framing” the worlds.

    Science is vacuous, Ken.

    Regarding the logical absurdity entailing monism, can you explain how monism is logically possible, let alone a sensible position to hold?

    How is a “point in time” possible “when” there is no time as we know it?
    How is expansion possible when the very concept of expansion presupposes space and time?

    Such terminology must be utilized analogically if it is to be meaningful at all. So,again, you are on the horns of a dilemma:

    Either a singularity at a “point in time” is literal, and it is a contradiction.
    Or “a point in time” is analogical, and is utterly meaningless.

    h.

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  7. turbut says:

    How is a “point in time” possible “when” there is no time as we know it?
    How is expansion possible when the very concept of expansion presupposes space and time?

    No one can answer those two questions. No meaning can be applied to them.

    Scholars of organized religions have applied Plato’s concept of transcendence to divinity, reiterating that God cannot be described, nor understood in terms of the human experience. This doctrine, a fundamental principle in the orthodox forms of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, brings the whole concept of a divine being into the realm of absolute ambiguity.
    Ken

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  8. Daisy Thecat says:

    looks like Jacques Futon was wrong.
    I dont know anything about Jacques Futon except what I read above, but I am willing to bet
    he was either a monotheist or some convoluted atheist.
    The fact of the matter is he appears to be suggesting that one cannot use the class of “everything” to mean “all that exists”. If his conclusions drew us to the premise that “whatever exists must be contained by somethingelse” then all we have to do is provide the conclusion that the class of “everything” can be expanded to include “all other things that the class of ‘everything’ is not” .
    If A is the class of “everything” then it stands to reason that there can be no other class so there cannot be anything which A is not. This alone tells us Futon is a fraud. His slight of hand goes like this.
    If there is A (everything) there must be a B (everything A is not) and if there is a B then A is not possible.
    but there can be no B, because there is nothing that is not A

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  9. Hiram says:

    Hey Daisy :)

    I think your point only serves to further support Futon’s argument.

    “If A is the class of “everything” then it stands to reason that there can be no other class so there cannot be anything which A is not.”

    I think you are missing Futon’s point here. If A can be identified as A, then it is necessarily differentiated from that which it is not. And if it is necessarily differentiated from that which it is not, then it cannot be everything.

    You show this yourself by saying that A = The class of everything (E).

    For if A = E → A ≠ ~E, then A ≠ ~E → A ≠ E.

    There is no sleight of hand in Futon’s argument; he is simply applying the Law of Noncontradiction to the proposition “All is One.”

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  10. m says:

    This is probably pointless since the previous posts are over three years old but here goes anyway.

    Unless I misunderstand you appear to be engaging in apologetics of the kind I call “spreading angel dust”, making a show of rigorous-seeming logic that may intimidate some but is irrelevant to the issue.

    Reason just doesn’t reach to these kinds of questions. Surely since at least Kant most philosophers and certainly most rational beings accept that logical statements about ultimate entities break down.

    So sure for A to be identical with itself not A would appear to be presupposed, but this kind of reasoning is really not very different from that of Mahayana Buddhism which maintains the emptiness, the no-thingness of the world since no object can be asserted except as mutually dependent on some indeterminate set of other objects, each of which by definition is non-object, in the sense of being empty of independent existence.

    Not only do these logic games prove nothing, they can never be taken at face value. Buddhists engage in them as part of their method and as a key to their soteriology; Christians in the interest of their apologetics. My only beef is with Christians who don’t admit the game they’re playing, who would claim to be merely reasoning “the truth”.

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  11. m says:

    Just one brief follow-up point. To use the syntax of your logic in this case is to misconstrue the issue from the start. The figure A naturally suggests a kind of object, and it’s from this suggestion that the so-called contradiction follows. But anyone expressing a monistic view is not referring to an object, but trying, vainly of course, to point to a reality. It’s simply bogus when one religious perspective is pitted against another on logical grounds when at base neither is not and cannot be based in reason.

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  12. Hiram says:

    Hey M,

    You say: “Reason just doesn’t reach to these kinds of questions. Surely since at least Kant most philosophers and certainly most rational beings accept that logical statements about ultimate entities break down.”

    “Pure” Reason doesn’t reach to these kinds of questions. I agree. But this doesn’t mean that reason cannot deal with such issues at all. Does it? However, more to the point, the fact of the matter is that we cannot get around dealing with ultimate entities. Your own assertion that “logical statements about ultimate entities break down” only makes sense if you deny that “logical statements about ultimate entities break down.” Why? Because your statement is a logical statement about ultimate entities. Isn’t the proposition “Logical statements about ultimate entities break down” equivalent to the proposition “All ultimate entities are logically inscrutable”?

    The assertion you make, then, only skirts the problem by conceding that we are ignorant apart from revelation. The point is that monism entails dualism, and therefore cannot be the case. This does not mean we cannot make logical assertions about ultimate entities.

    You also say that: “So sure for A to be identical with itself not A would appear to be presupposed, but this kind of reasoning is really not very different from that of Mahayana Buddhism which maintains the emptiness, the no-thingness of the world since no object can be asserted except as mutually dependent on some indeterminate set of other objects, each of which by definition is non-object, in the sense of being empty of independent existence.”

    If one makes the assertion “All things are One” it necessarily follows, by immediate inference, that “Not all things are not One.” The set of “all things,” seeing as it is meant to encompass every conceivable thing, includes itself, the proposition “All things are one.” So the problem is not merely that the law of identity necessarily entails that A is not ~A, but that the proposition itself immediately implies its own falsehood.

    Is independent existence the ontological foundation of thingness? Or is it the totality of relations that obtain between one object and all the others? The problem, I think, is that relationality presupposes distinctions between independently existing objects, doesn’t it? Otherwise, what does relationality even mean?

    Lastly, you say that: ‘Not only do these logic games prove nothing, they can never be taken at face value. Buddhists engage in them as part of their method and as a key to their soteriology; Christians in the interest of their apologetics. My only beef is with Christians who don’t admit the game they’re playing, who would claim to be merely reasoning “the truth”.

    I don’t think these are logic games. I also don’t think that they can be taken at face value. Whatever others do, moreover, I would hope you don’t class me with them simply out of frustration or annoyance.

    A reduction ad absurdum is not a logic game, but an analysis of the internal coherence of a given proposition or set of propositions using the assumptions underlying them.

    If I wanted to argue against the logical coherence of monism from a strictly Christian perspective, I would have turned to Scripture. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, though; so I decided to disprove monism by assuming monism.

    As for truth, however, the problem is that whatever the content of a logical procedure is, the fact of the matter remains: Either the conclusions inferred have been validly or invalidly inferred. In other words, even if the content of a syllogism is false, the assertion that a conclusion C follows premises A and B is either a true assertion or a false assertion.

    We can’t skirt the issue, as Kant did, by trying to separate the form and content of cognition, as though the form of a syllogism were not either valid (i.e. true) or invalid (i.e. false).

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  13. Hiram says:

    Regarding your last post. You say:

    “Just one brief follow-up point. To use the syntax of your logic in this case is to misconstrue the issue from the start. The figure A naturally suggests a kind of object, and it’s from this suggestion that the so-called contradiction follows. But anyone expressing a monistic view is not referring to an object, but trying, vainly of course, to point to a reality. It’s simply bogus when one religious perspective is pitted against another on logical grounds when at base neither is not and cannot be based in reason.”

    I understand that monists want to avoid saying what they mean, but this doesn’t absolve them of their responsibility for so doing. If the totality of objects that exist constitute the “all” of monism, then does it not follow that “reality” is merely the set of all things that exist? And if this is the case, then how is it a misconstrual of monism for me to identify all things as one reality?

    I’m pitting monism against itself, M.

    I believe Christianity is rational, logically coherent, yes. However, I don’t believe this on the basis of “pure” reason or abductive reasoning from the so-called facts of experience. I believe this on the basis of the Bible. I begin with the axiom “The Bible is the Word of God.”

    So, no, Christianity is not based in reason. Is any system based in reason? We all must begin somewhere, with an axiom. And if this is so, then we cannot begin with “pure” reason.

    I begin with the axiom mentioned above. Christianity is what the propositions of Scripture teach. And these propositions are the Word of God.

    P.S. I’m not trying to intimidate anyone. Reading psychological motives into my wording takes attention away from the issues at hand.

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  14. M says:

    Okay to simplify: I’m not arguing for the logical consistency of monism, so please spare yourself the trouble of yet more elaborate demonstrations of its illogic!

    Nor am I suggesting there is no reasoning beyond “pure” reasoning, and I certainly am not conceding the necessity of “revelation”. As for “ultimate entities”, no, I wasn’t saying we can’t talk about them (cheap shot by the way, claiming I contradicted myself – you’re better than that I think!), I was only saying again that they’re beyond pure reason.

    So what I am questioning here is the propriety and the point of the game. You concede that pure reason doesn’t apply to these kinds of questions, and yet you import a kind faux rigour which is really only appropriate to pure or theoretical reason.

    This rigour you allow yourself you suggest follows on the logical consistency of your Christian faith, rooted in revelation. And in a sense you are absolutely correct. Dogmas are literally axioms, starting points, from which you can elaborate a whole series of logically consistent doctrines. So borrowing heavily from the Greeks Christians have elaborated what they are pleased to see as the most logically consistent theology, dogmatics and apologetics on Earth.

    But you – with all your logic! – must surely see that those outside the fold, who see your beliefs as perhaps useful myths, historical traditions, postulates of practical reason, etc. but not as axioms, also see what you’re doing as an abuse of reason, a misapplication.

    And just who are these monists you’re arguing against? How many self-described monists do you know? Or is this a label you attach to people?

    The point is nobody outside your fold, monist or not, will accept your axioms and therefore can not accept your arguments as valid. And everybody within your fold is by definition not a monist. So who are you talking to? That’s why I call this the apologetics of angel dust, designed to strenghten the resolve of the already converted, but offering little enlightenment for anyone else.

    And no you can’t take off your faith hat and argue against monism as pure philosopher. Besides the difficulties already mentioned, you would be deprived of the very axioms you require to operate. For you would maintain that without God (of your particular brand) there can be no reason.

    Anyway, I apologize if some of the phrasing sounded harsh, a hard thing to avoid. I responded to your post in the first place out of curiosity, but also because as a pluralist I guess I find this a little off-putting. I’m fully onboard with traditions comparing and contrasting, and even pointing out what they consider their superior features – I’m not a relativist. And there are features of Christianity which I agree are unique and worth promoting. But this kind of thing, attacking the metaphysical “logic” of some other intuition of the divine is at best white noise and at worst downright offensive.

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    • Hiram says:

      M, you can’t have your came and eat it too. If I assert that God knows everything, then there can be no exceptions to this statement. If I claim there are, then I am contradicting myself. I’m sure you, whatever your faith is, would agree. Why then would this be different when hearing others speak of their own beliefs? Are you not assuming a transcendent position from which you can evaluate my beliefs and those of others?

      Now, I didn’t take a cheap shot at you. You seemed to be contradicting yourself. If I was wrong, then I was wrong. I can’t be both right and wrong in the same sense and at the same time.

      Christianity does not rest upon intuitions of the divine, but upon propositional revelation. So I can’t do anything other than what I’m doing. If God had said “All have sinned and fail short of the glory of God,” I can’t say otherwise. I can only think in conformity with these words and draw inferences from them.

      This is not derived from the Greeks, BTW, but from the Scriptures themselves. Greek philosophy didn’t have an affect on the Biblical authors. And what little does resonate with the Greeks can only be interpreted as derived from Greek philosophy if one is unfamiliar with the Bible.

      So I’ll give my last response here:

      If I cannot draw inferences from another person’s statements, then I cannot communicate with them. If their statements are always changing, moreover, I cannot communicate with then either, since that would make it impossible for me to draw inferences from their statements validly.

      If a monist makes a universal statement, and hope for me to hear and understand him, then I am already involved in the processes of drawing inferences from his statement.

      Would it be less offensive to ignore him and lie by saying I respect what he believes? This would be hypocritical dishonesty that no one would appreciate.

      So I take the words of others seriously. And I attempt to understand them. This necessarily means drawing inferences. If I wasn’t to understand someone’s beliefs, then, I have to draw inferences. And if the statements given to me are self contradictory, that’s not my fault. I’ll listen to further deduction/clarification, but the process of drawing inferences in order to understand said clarification will not cease.

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  15. M says:

    I think as usual in such cases we’ve been talking past one another just a little bit, and I have no problem taking the blame for that since I admit to not having reflected enough before responding so that I could be a little more succinct and not open up side issues.

    So I’m not interested in assessing the rightness or wrongness of our statements or positions, only in setting out our contrasting perspectives in a way I hope we both can accept. It seems to me that lacking clarity on contrasting perspectives/starting points to begin with only leads to muddled and futile discussions.

    So here goes. As has already emerged, your reasoning is based on the bible, in particular (as I understand it) the axioms of the creeds of Christianity, traditionally an historical religion based on certain agreed-upon facts on the ground. So that’s the first contrast, that I don’t share those axioms (but you may agree with Aquinas that this puts me in the wrong from the start, which within the Christian thought world is certainly a plausible notion, but moving along!). Here I can only respect your perspective and try to be cognizant of how it shapes your reasoning.

    The second contrast is more central for me, and that is respecting the proper use of reason. Certainly one is entitled to draw inferences from statements one is presented with, whether from a theoretical monist or anyone else. The problem for me here is that I can’t take such arguments seriously, monist or anti-monist. My perspective is the fairly common one (which of course doesn’t mean it’s right) that this is a misapplication of reason, that definitive conclusions are only valid regarding empirically verifiable objects, that applying such reason to entities that manifestly are not objects – the soul, God, the totality of things, etc. – only leads to contradiction.

    So no I didn’t engage seriously with those arguments, but it was not to be annoying. It was just that I couldn’t in all conscience. When I threw out the Buddhist example it wasn’t to argue the position but to simply provide just that, an example, of how these kinds of metaphysics are always paradoxical. You say that for objects to be interdependent there must be objects. Sure, in a sense. But what kind of objects are these that cannot be imagined as such, in their own-being as Buddhists say? Certainly one can argue with Buddhists and their terminology but that’s too miss the essential paradoxes they’re pointing to, as well as their soteriological intent. (And after all, didn’t Hegel arrive at an analogous place with his analysis of the “concept” and its internal contradictions, the instabilities of which have only been expanded upon by Deconstruction?)

    Anyway, this is only to lay out my perspective in the interests of understanding, not to try to convince you of its validity. You believe, unless I misunderstand, that such arguments can be decisive, I can only respectively offer my contrasting view.

    A third contrast is in our respective views of the relationship between Greek philosophy and Christianity, between Athens and Jerusalem. Certainly, I understand how Christians can claim to reason from what they regard as historical fact without having to spend their holidays in Athens. Certainly the independent Hebrew, Jewish and early Christian intellectual traditions are not to be underestimated. It’s just my impression or view if you like that the kind of abstract reasoning, especially in metaphysics, of the kind you engage in was not at all native to the Hebrew or Jewish tradition, was very much a Greek innovation, and only adopted relatively later by Jewish, Christian and (much later) Islamic thinkers. But I understand that the Hebrew tradition is rich and perhaps not as well known as it should be, and so other views are possible.

    As a parting gesture, it’s only fair that I admit my basic standpoint, as you have done. As already apparent, I do not believe that plausible views about God or reality can be either logically demonstrated or refuted, or that God can be historical in any meaningful sense, or that there can ever be a single narrative line in the story of God and Man.

    Everyone has to start somewhere, as you’ve said, and I start with some of the mahavakyas, great sayings of the Upanishads, in particular tat vtam asi, that thou art. Of course, that’s only a starting point. It asserts an identity but also, I would maintain, a difference. But the resurrection too, is but a starting point, as centuries of theology have shown. It asserts an identity and a difference. We are all left with a lot of work to do.

    Anyway, God bless, and thanks for your time and attention to my posts. M.

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