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"Rational Scientific Theories from Theism"

 

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2.4 Insights and critiques

Instead of following or inventing a rational system of metaphysics, David Hume (1711-1776) was more skeptical and wanted to ground his beliefs only on what could be empirically observed. He attempted to form an entirely naturalistic ‘science of man’ that described the psychology of human nature. He saw this nature as based on desires rather than on reasons, in contrast to the rationalists of the previous generation. He was skeptical of religion, especially its more metaphysical assertions and its acceptance of miracles. He wanted, with John Locke, to keep religion separate from civic activities.

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) started out similarly following the new scientific philosophies and wanted to understand how all of nature, organisms and even the soul functioned in the world. To this end he began to develop theories based on the observations of his contemporaries. However, in midlife he experienced a kind of spiritual awakening that led, he said, to his constant presence in a spiritual world as well as in the physical world. He then published many works detailing a religious and theistic philosophy, from which I have learned a great deal. In fact, I find in Swedenborg (1912) the clearest presentation of the arguments within theism that I use in Part III, in particular the arguments from love and from life, and also the universal three-fold subdivision of parts. It continues to surprise me that his theories are not more widely known. One reason for this may be that his philosophy was bound up with specifically religious content which made historical and particular claims. His views were also expressed in the terms of the science of his day that we know is no longer adequate. Furthermore, his supporting evidence consisted of his spiritual explorations which are difficult or impossible to replicate, though some reports of near-death experiences show a commonality. Perhaps there will need to be further independent support for Swedenborg’s claims before they can be generally accepted today.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was a philosopher who was of two minds about Swedenborg. Kant had also started out thinking about physics and nature, being an enthusiastic supporter of the new sciences from Newton. Kant (1929) tried to develop science along these lines, with several attempts to form realistic ideas of space, forces and motion in nature. He wanted to include religion (or at least the good effects that it has on practical reason for society), but, in the new scientific age, he was unable to find a realistic basis for this in ontology or metaphysics. He saw that Swedenborg claimed to have precisely what he needed here--an empirical basis for a spiritual reality--but was unable to go along with him for fear of disapproval by his academic peers. The product of this conflict in 1766 was the anonymous2.6 book of Kant (2002), where he more-or-less accurately describes Swedenborg’s theory but in the end ridicules Swedenborg and his claims. In private he was more accepting. Palmquist (2002) and Thorpe (2011) both explain how Kant’s later philosophy of an ‘intelligible world’ can be usefully regarded as an attempt to construct a view that has the same practical effect as would follow from Swedenborg’s religious philosophy but with neither the ontological commitment nor the allowance of any evidence not based on sensory inputs. In, for example, his metaphysics lectures of 1782-3, given between the publication of the first and second editions of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant argues for ideas rather similar to those of Swedenborg. Kant argues in favor of the concept of a moral community not governed by physical separations but by qualitative moral relations. Thorpe points out a significant difference, however, in that Kant later arrives at a position where that community in the intelligible world is determined by the free choices of autonomous agents and hence not influenced by God. Such autonomous existences, we note, are not really possible within theism.


Previous: 2.3 The scientific revolution Up: 2. A Short History of Theistic Ideas Next: 2.5 Creation and evolution

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