- Could Ultimate Reality Be Indeterminate? Inverting the Demands of Robert Neville’s Argument
In a recent essay of the AJTP, Wesley Wildman takes his reader through a three-step program—indeed, a “user-friendly guide”—for apprehensive theologians who are looking for a means to deny the indeterminacy of God against Robert C. Neville’s systematic and elegant argument for it.1 The “path of resistance” isn’t one that Wildman himself takes seriously—to be sure, his tongue is firmly in cheek throughout the short essay—but he thinks it could have some therapeutic potential for the beleaguered theologian who is struggling with Neville’s challenge. Upon completing the program, the theologian can rest easy that her preferred view of God can be sustained. Of course, if this is the final position of the theologian, she has “missed the point” of the exercise: Neville’s project is a sort of honest truth-seeking in wonder, worship, and playfulness that has no “ideological axe to grind”; it is a project that’s “just trying to describe reality as it shows up for us.”2 Thus, for Wildman, it seems that Neville’s view doesn’t just have an argumentative force hidden from the theologian’s anxiety-fueled myopia, but also a normative high ground due to its unencumbered purity of intention: simply to understand the world we live in.
I don’t doubt that Wildman’s might be an apt “response” to some theologians looking for a reason to avoid wading into the deep waters of Neville’s dialectic; however, Neville’s argument isn’t just problematic on account of how it assails any particular God-model. I believe it also has logical inconsistencies internal to its structure. As such, my aim in this essay is twofold. First, I will show that Neville’s argument—in espousing the possibility of absolute non-being—errs in the conception of indeterminacy, and that this has systemic effects. Second, I will argue that the ontological context of mutual relevance (OCMR) operates within a framework that ought to be inverted—it is not that determinacy [End Page 4] requires an explanative context, but rather the partial indeterminacies of finite being. But, before addressing these problems, I will begin with a short exposition of Neville’s terms and argument, primarily as they are found in his Philosophical Theology, volume 1, Ultimates.
II. An Overview of Relevant Terminology in Neville’s Argument
We should first give description to a few important terms. For Neville, his philosophical theology is concerned with ultimate reality, or “the reality that is ultimate or last in the seeking out of conditions, that which is presupposed by other things but has no presuppositions itself.”3 In that we are talking about conditions for being, we are also addressing determinateness—that is, “the question of the transcendental or universal traits that define being something” or “being this rather than that or nothing at all” (U, 169). In order to connect determinateness and ultimate reality, we must next turn to Neville’s depiction of this ultimate reality, what he calls the Ontological Creative Act (OCA).
The OCA can be made intelligible by a dichotomous formal concept: it is the “ultimate finite/infinite contrast” (U, 227). The infinite side is purely free, arbitrary, unconditioned, and entirely unintelligible. Importantly, Neville claims that it is the “absolute nothingness that would hold if it were not for the ontological creative act creating the world.” The finite side is the act of creation, “including the world in all its dimensions as [the OCA’s] terminus” (228). It is this finite side that may be considered determinate, but only insofar as it includes “the nature of the act which is itself the product of the creating.” However, the OCA itself, as act, cannot be modeled because it lacks any determinacy apart from the product—hence, it may be understood as itself the ultimate or final condition (225). The result is that the infinite/finite contrast is an indeterminate/determinate contrast (33).
“God” is one of three major models (i.e., that of personhood) that can be legitimately applied to the OCA.4 However, “no determinate...