Why Double Agency Works for me – an emergentist defense

Reflections evoked by Fr. A. Kimel’s:

The World is a Novel in the Mind of God 

Fr. Al wrote “God’s activity as creator,” notes McCann, “operates in such a way that my integrity as an agent is exactly what it would have been if the subject of creation had never come up, and we had concluded that, as many libertarians believe, my decisions and actions have no determining cause of any kind, primary or secondary” (Creation, p. 105). 

The only difference between his construal of human freedom and the typical libertarian construal, McCann tells us, is that his account presents our decisions and actions as grounded in God as primary cause, “whereas on the standard libertarian view their existence is grounded in nothing whatever” (p. 109). <<<<<

The approach to free will with which I most resonate precisely comes from philosophers and scientists who’ve grappled with a person’s “integrity as agent” apart from the “subject of creation.

Some frame the issue less in terms of in/determinism, a reality that presents in degrees and better conceived in probabilistic terms like propensities, and more so in terms of reductionism and downward causations (e.g. whole-part constraints as well as formal and final).
For these theorists, among whom are believers, unbelievers and nonbelievers, the question of free will does not so much turn on the putative reality of neurobiological determinism (although some do speculate regarding quantum indeterminacies) but much more so on the question of neurobiological reductionism (both epistemic and ontological), which, long story short, remains phenomenologically indefensible.

Of course, I’m talking about those who, primarily informed by modern semiotic science, embrace an emergentist stance. I resonate with that perspective in its most generic sense, which affirms emergent teloi in nature but which doesn’t necessarily invoke further distinctions, such as between weak and strong emergence or supervenience. For example, even a nonreductive physicalism, in my view, proves too much.

These emergentists would all affirm — not only the teleomatic and teleonomic teloi of, respectively, inanimate (end-stated-ness) and sentient things (end-purposed-ness), but also — the robustly teleodynamic (end-intended-ness) consciousness of sapient persons, who enjoy genuine autopoietic agency or an authentic will or personal intentionality.

This emergentist stance remains a phenomenological, exploratory heuristic. This is to say that it does not ambition an explanatory metaphysic. It merely takes an inventory of nature’s emergent novelties, among which are different teloi, and affirms the most robustly downward causation observed as human, personal, intentional agency.

I say intentional agency as distinct from human freedom, which can sometimes more, sometimes less, characterize any given person’s agency. I draw that distinction partly out of sympathy for DB Hart’s conception of freedom and, also, from the perspectives of both human developmental psychology and formative spirituality, whereby true freedom must be grown in a radically social-relational milieu.

Fr. Al wrote: McCann thus seeks to move philosophical reflection beyond the ever-ellusive causal joint that ostensibly binds divine and human agency. Perhaps we should not even employ the notion of causality—hence his suggestion that we think of the relation between God and creatures as analogous to the relation between intention and content. <<<<<

The emergentist stance, as an exploratory heuristic, does not explain the novelties that present as the cosmos emerges from the quantum, as life emerges from stardust, as sentience emerges from early life forms, as sapience finally emerges from sentient consciousness. Nature’s causal joints remain ever-elusive.

Not only are nature’s causal joints for the emergentist ever-elusive, the emergent teloi, themselves, —- from the teleopotent quantum fields (veldo [field]-poietic) to the teleomatic thermodynamics and morphodynamics of physics and chemistry (cosmo-poietic) to the teleonomic life forms (bio-poietic and sentio-poietic) to the teleo-logical (sapio-poietic) person — remain only weakly analogical, as varieties of formal and final causations.

This is all to suggest that we are asking too much of any given metaphysic, presently, by requesting an explanation of nature’s causal joints. No root metaphor has yet reconciled gravity and quantum mechanics and the latter still admits several interpretations (epistemic and/or ontological). How much more so would we be telling untellable stories to pretend to describe the causal joints between divine and human agency?

This is to further suggest that our vague understandings of formal and final causations in nature’s emergent teloi require a great deal of analogical — not univocal — predication. There are manifestly qualitative — not just quantitative — differences between the teleonomic sentience, which humans share with other animals, and the teleo-logic sapience, which is unique to Homo symbolicus. It’s no easy task to imaginatively answer the question: What is it like to be a bat? How much more would we be saying way more than we could ever possibly know by facilely imagining: What is it like to be omniscient? How much more careful we must be in our analogical predications between emergent teloi and the primal Telos of a self-subsisting esse?

All that said, then, absent any neurobiological reductionism, which many scientists and philosophers clearly would deny, if some don’t even see the threat (to human intentional agency and freedom) from a materialist monist determinism, atheologically, then I certainly don’t see one from a divine determinism, theologically.

Grounding our emergent teloi, in general, a robustly telic human agency, in particular, in God as primary cause, seems a very defensible move, and double agency a very reasonable conception.

God’s sovereign control over nature’s teloi or regularities would sustain or suspend them per the divine will but never to the extent that the emergent and robust telos of the human will (the apex of nature’s teloi) would be suspended. Theologians might argue whether such a divine constraint would be essential (intrinsic), metaphysical (in/coherent logically) or kenotic, but, given the grounding of any human agency/divine constraint in the Source via creatio continua, who would not characterize it, per any of these scenarios, as sovereignly authored?





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