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A website for the book by Ian J Thompson:

"Rational Scientific Theories from Theism"


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Previous: 1.2 Theism and science Up: 1. Introduction Next: 2. A Short History of Theistic Ideas

1.3 Laying the foundations

This book sets out the structure of a theory that includes theism, then draws systematic conclusions from this theory, and only towards the end gives more details about our experience and observations. Part III contains a series of postulates that lay the foundation for the theory. The preliminary discussion surrounding each declared postulate is not meant to justify that assertion but only to make sure that it is understood correctly and that its declaration is plausible within a fundamental theory.

This will seem strange to many philosophers and theologians, especially those who have devoted their life’s work to finding arguments, justifications and/or proofs for the existence and nature of God. I, by contrast, start in Part III by simply assuming that God exists and then follow that with claims about the nature of God--and all with no visible justification! How can I hope to get away with such audacity? The reason is that I am laying out the foundational postulates for a scientific theism as if it were just another scientific theory. Only after the postulates are complete and understood do we try to see what follows in detail, and only much later do I compare those predictions with observations. This is standard procedure in science, though perhaps not in philosophy and theology where more attention is paid to each claim in isolation. In today’s scientific practice, whether we are theorists or experimentalists, we do not develop standalone arguments for the existence of (for example) quarks or superstrings. Rather, we only argue within the context of an overall theory that makes predictions on the basis of such existence claims. If the predictions prove correct, then this, we argue, allows us to legitimately claim support for the existence of what was postulated to exist at the fundamental level. This approach is particularly necessary if we are dealing with entities like superstrings, quarks (and now, even God) that will almost certainly never be observed with the naked eye.

There will therefore be few attempts to justify theism except by the results of the whole book. There already exist various attempts in ontology, from Aristotle, Anselm, Aquinas and others, to prove various properties of God from the existence or change or contingency of bodies in the world. Many of these proofs depend on a particular analysis of causation in nature, and since the analysis presented in this book is slightly different from Aristotle’s, the details of the proofs do not proceed in the same manner. Investigating the various proofs, therefore, is beyond the scope of this book.

Part I continues in Chapter 2 with a short historical review of how monotheism has developed in Western thought and how it is presently suffering in competition with a modern science that remains based on naturalism. Chapter 3 outlines some minimal changes necessary in our views of both science and religion in order to bring them closer together. We will see the important role of ‘love’ in the constitution of beings, and multiple ‘levels of existence’ will be considered.

Part II develops the relevant concepts of dispositions and multiple generative levels, using examples entirely from existing science. There is no mention of theism whatsoever. The notion of disposition is found to be an essential ‘unit of understanding’ in all kinds of science, from physics to biology to psychology. It has the benefit of being largely content-neutral in the division between physical and mental properties. Chapter 4 considers all these kinds of dispositions and how science relies on them to provide the causal explanations that it seeks in order to gain understanding of the nature of things. This chapter claims, moreover, that the concepts of dispositions and of forms are sufficient together to construct a concept of substance. Substance is a serious philosophical problem that should be solved in any comprehensive account of ontology. Part III begins by laying out the foundational postulates for a scientific theism. By ‘scientific’ here, I simply mean the systematic attempt to think clearly, logically, without contradiction and in such a way as to make predictions whose validity can be confirmed (or not) by observation. There are many steps in making such predictions which therefore only follow in Part IV.

We will see that there is a logical gap between Parts III and IV. Part III produces an abstract and formal structure for what the world would be like under theism. It leaves open the identification of parts of that structure with what we experience and observe and does not declare what is mental or physical. Part IV, therefore, has to make some contingent identifications, and this is where empirical scientific activities enter in. I present my own judgements for what parts of abstract theistic structure should be lined up with the many physical and mental processes we see around us, but I always allow that I may be mistaken. Assuming that I am not wrong, in successive chapters I propose derived scientific theories for the nature of spiritual, mental and physical processes. I look forward to seeing whether they are (or are not) confirmed by experiments.

Part V follows the consequences of these theistic theories for topics of current public interest and scientific investigations. These topics include the question of how life has developed on earth: have living creatures been created specifically or have they evolved according to mutations and natural selection? A second topic, much debated in recent years, concerns the nature of our conscious awareness and how it is related to the neuro-chemical processes in our brains. The connected topic of spirituality and spiritual growth is also discussed, in particular as to whether that growth depends on only mental influences or whether it also depends on actions in the world. Finally, Part V touches on the problem of evil in the world and how it could exist when God is both omnipotent and wholly good. No final resolution of this problem is given, only considerations about the nature of the world and of God’s interaction with the world, things which need to be known before the problem can addressed properly.

Part VI examines how these ideas fit into existing accounts of metaphysics, in particular with the relations of this theory with those of past philosophers as they dealt with similar problems about spirituality, minds and nature. Since many scientists prefer their theories to be formally expressed by mathematics, Chapter 31 discusses what the prospects are for such formalizations. While no completely formal version of theism can be given--it describes both God and persons who have their own free wills--there are various aspects of theism which could be expressed mathematically, and I make suggestions for further research. Part VI ends with a collection of possible objections to theism. Each point is stated and answered rather briefly. Again, most of these questions deserve a more full and comprehensive response.

The reader may in the end wonder what claims or predictions I can make to justify the ‘extraordinary claims’ to be made about God. Will I have produced ‘extraordinary evidence’ to prove these demanding claims? One answer is that the determination of what is ‘extraordinary’ relative to ‘normal’ is itself theory-laden: it depends on our previous theoretical suppositions. Many of the claims of modern science, for instance that material objects may possess consciousness and intentionality, are themselves equally extraordinary and so should require extraordinary evidence and not merely promissory notes that ‘one day in the future’ science will explain how this is possible.

I am not ever going to logically prove the basic features of theism that are needed for theistic science. There are in fact many attempts in other places to prove the existence and attributes of God from what we know and maybe from what we already know outside of religion, but that is not my approach. I do not argue in a natural theology from nature and science to God. Instead, I start from God. Indeed, I propose to start science from God and theism. You will see what theistic science looks like. Perhaps you will consider that this theistic science has provided retroactive evidence for God: just as a successful string theory will provide evidence for the existence of strings. Like all inductive arguments from observations to ontologies this is not an absolute proof. You are free to declare (or delay) your own decision.

Previous: 1.2 Theism and science Up: 1. Introduction Next: 2. A Short History of Theistic Ideas

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