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30.3 Rationality and love

Other sources of debate are the relation between ‘rationality in the understanding’ and ‘love in the will’ and also the assessment of which is ‘higher’ or ‘better’ in some sense. Which should describe the essence of human nature? Philosophers (naturally) have very often taken rational thought to be highest expression of humanity, so much so that the ‘God of the philosophers’, for a long time since the Greeks, is taken as Pure Intellect and is therefore in contemplation of whatever is eternal (which is only the divine itself!). Others, perhaps influenced more by religion, have taken Love to be at the heart of God. This debate may be exactly like a squabble between the two brothers Esau and Jacob, each seeking their father’s birthright blessing, but it has important consequences concerning human nature as well. Aristotle, Plato, Aquinas, Descartes and Spinoza all took rational thought as the highest, most-godlike human activity, and hence they assumed human life should be understood as the product of rational agents. Others, such as Hume, Swedenborg, Schopenhauer and James, saw that love and desires were the deeper motivating factors for human life and often also for the life of God. Of course, we now remind ourselves, both love and rationality should work together, with love motivating rational thought and rational thought guiding love towards its desired actions.

This debate even has consequences for physics. If philosophers see rationality as the only principle in God and humans, they tend to see what can be comprehended by rationality as the only principle that should govern physical processes. Rationalists tend to characterize physical nature in terms of forms. Pythagoras thought the essence of nature was number. Descartes thought the essence of nature was extension. Many theoretical physicists today think that nature can be characterized as information, group structures, or binary digits (bits). If pressed, they may explain that they are talking about ‘active information’. They then think that if they could produce a mathematical theory for the universe, the universe itself would be explained! If, however, a philosopher sees love as an essential principle in God and humans, then he realizes that forms and mathematics are not enough to explain existence: some further being is needed to constitute any existence (whether physical, mental, or divine).

Understanding that ‘further being’ that embodies forms has not proved easy. Most traditional concepts of ‘being’ are either static (like Parmenides) or else almost devoid of content (like the ‘pure potency’ of Aquinas). There has been a widespread rejection of static being in the last century, in favor of becoming as primary, as witnessed by the development of pragmatic and process philosophies. Theistic science claims, however, that this is still not enough. We need not just a philosophy of becoming as Whitehead gave. We need a philosophy of the love or propensity that generates that becoming at the appropriate moment. Aristotle always emphasized potentialities for becoming, and while Aquinas knew of these, they were not fully integrated into his theology. These considerations bring us back to love, as a universal principle, that exists (in various likenesses) in nature, minds, and (where we started) also in God. Not only does our theology become different (and better, we claim), but so also do physics and psychology.

In contrast to Descartes, we see now the need for active powers in nature and also in minds. If he talks of the physical as extension only, he forgets half the story and so does not allow for real causes. Then, as most people realize, although Descartes was talking of passions and emotions, he was completely missing the nature of mental substances such as love and will that would be capable of being the subject of passion and emotion. In contrast to Whitehead, we now need continuing substances and not just events. For the continuation of objects, we need efficacious causes, not retrospective perception.


Previous: 30.2 Firsts and lasts Up: 30. Metaphysics Next: 30.4 Divine immanence

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