“Creation arises relative to our astonishment about the ‘that it is,’ not curiosity about the ‘what’ of what is”

Worries about the God of the whole make us wonder about a God beyond the whole? Need such a “beyond” be a dualistic beyond, fixed in a frozen spatiality, void of intimacy with the immanent whole? The metaxological response must be no. Agapeic origination is communicative giving to be, intimate to the being given to be, an intimacy that comes again in the woo of mystic love. Moreover, there is this striking singularity about God: God is God and nothing but God is God. If this is so, we are addressing something absolutely singular that cannot be dealt with wholly in terms of any immanent holism. Are there any terms at all then? Does creation ex nihilo merit attention as addressing God’s singular and hyperbolic transcendence? This singular God contests the primacy of the whole.

God as creator is central to the Western tradition, though now placed in question in a number of ways. For instance, in the wake of evolutionary science, “creation” seems a discredited scientific hypothesis about determinate cosmological beginnings. But surely creation is not a scientific hypothesis at all, with a claim to determinate scientific cognition. It has to do with astonishment and perplexity about the ultimate, expressed in a metaphysical metaphor of origin that shapes our religious sense of the ontological ethos. We are dealing with the thought of something hyperbolic in excess of univocal, scientific determination. Some religious people can be as confused here by a univocal literalism as are their scientistic counterparts – and nemeses. Can we make any intelligible sense of this hyperbolic thought?

If creation is not a scientific hypothesis, is it then a non-reflective myth or a merely naïve “representation”? This question branches out in different directions. If creation is a hyperbolic thought, it cannot be a mere “representation” in Hegel’s sense to be aufgehoben in the Begriff, wherein conceptual thought is said to be at home with itself. Creation, rather, points to something other to thought at home with itself – which yet asks to be thought. If creation is a “representation,” as hyperbolic, it points to what exceeds all “representation” – and all conceptual thought at home with itself.

Likewise, if creation is not the determinative making of a demiurge, it cannot be aligned with any sort of techne. It is disproportionate to any finite making. What makes it thus disproportionate? Its radical origination of the new; its giving to be of the “never before” into its unique “once.” But if creation has to do with the coming to be of the determinate, it cannot be grasped in determinate representations or concepts. This means that creator as origin is not a first being whence other beings become: the ultimate source of coming to be cannot be a being in that determinate sense. It cannot be assimilated to the terms of Heidegger’s critique of “ontotheology.” The projects of Aufhebung or overcoming “ontotheology” cannot be appropriate to creation understood in the hyperbolic sense. Far from being captive to an idol, creation shatters all idols. It is, so to say, a “representation” of hyperbolic transcendence that shatters “representation,” in so far as the latter is liable to be a dissimulating figure of transcendence in immanence.

In many mythologies we find something like “creators,” but it is within the monotheistic religions, stemming from biblical inspiration, that the hyperbolic notion develops. Our concern is philosophical, but this religious source is not irrelevant. An idea of religious provenance becomes the occasion of a more radical philosophical reconsideration. That “creation” has religious origins does not mean it is philosophically illegitimate to engage with it. You cannot put up “No Trespass” signs over religion and order philosophy not to step across. Nor should philosophers themselves erect the “No Trespass” sign. Who is giving the orders here? Anything can become the occasion of philosophical thought; philosophy might have to revisit and revise its cherished ways under the impact of those others, like religion and art, which contest and challenge it. Some ideas are migrants without official passports. They wander extraterritorially from Jerusalem and shock into new astonishment the settled lucidities of Athenian minds.

Creation is said to be one such idea (by Gilson, among others). The claim is something like this: Since in the Greek view of cosmos, existence was eternal, the philosophical question concerns not why anything is at all but rather the what and how of things, as already given in being. Creation arises relative to our astonishment about the “that it is,” not curiosity about the “what” of what is. Thus, by contrast with Aristotle, Aquinas is said to take seriously “that things are at all.” While beings are intelligible, and intelligible perhaps in ways basically described by Aristotelian discourse, that they are at all is not simply an intelligibility; there is no unconditional necessity that they be at all; their being is not self-explanatory; their ontological character shows them as possible or contingent being. Hence the question “Why being at all, why not nothing?” takes on momentous significance.

William Desmond

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1 Response to “Creation arises relative to our astonishment about the ‘that it is,’ not curiosity about the ‘what’ of what is”

  1. brian says:

    With regards to the tendency of some to think transcendence of the Whole in terms of a radical dualism, Desmond reminds us that the “meta” of metaphysics is both “beyond” and “amidst.” Or as other discussions here have pointed out, God transcends the opposition between imminent and transcendent, cataphatic and apophatic, Word and Silence.

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