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"Rational Scientific Theories from Theism"

 

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Chapter 1. Introduction

1.1 Theistic postulates

In this book, I will formulate a theistic manifesto that makes explicit the foundational postulates of a scientific theism. On this basis, I will then show how deductions from these postulates give rise to the regularities of the physical world and how they generate psychological and physical structures and processes that can be confirmed from what science already has discovered. The essential theistic postulates are:

  1. God is love which is unselfish and cannot love only itself.
  2. God is wisdom as well as love and thereby also power and action.
  3. God is life itself: the source of all dispositions to will, think and act.
  4. Everything in the world is a kind of image of God: minds and also natural objects.
  5. The dispositions of an object are those derivatives of divine power that accord with what is actual about that object.

On the basis of such postulates, I claim that we can understand how the world appears to function with considerable regularity in its underlying principles. It is from these principles that everything has its nature. There are laws which describe how these natures operate.

In a 2011 article at Salon.com, MIT physicist Alan Lightman1.1 recognizes what he calls “the Central Doctrine of science”, that “All properties and events in the physical universe are governed by laws, and those laws are true at every time and place in the universe.” Theists do agree with that. However, in theism, the laws themselves are not physical. Lightman later refers to “physical laws”, but he had not mentioned that qualification to start with. He only inserted it without argument. This question, of the physical nature of laws, illuminates the difference between the existing sciences and what I show is possible for science within theism.

Our discussion will focus on the features of God that are dynamic and therefore have an effect on the world. The relevant dynamic features may have higher priority in practical religious life than in traditional philosophy since they will often be outside the ‘essential divine attributes’ traditionally considered. That traditional list of divine attributes includes infinity, eternity, omnipotence, omniscience, immutability, impassivity, simplicity, necessity, etc., but not many of these have consequences for the way the world functions. In this book, therefore, I do not want to talk about merely the God of philosophy, but the ‘God of the living’. We will discuss for example how God is Love, how God is one into whose image we are growing, and how God is one who is delighted when we are happy for the longest period. These facts may appear to be less a part of philosophical than of vernacular religion, but they are no less important or true for that and they should be an essential part of any successful theism. I will lead up to a ‘living theism’, the view that God is that Person who is a necessary being, who is unselfish Love itself, Wisdom itself, and (in fact) Life itself.1.2

1.2 Theism and science

According to theism, God is responsible for both creating and sustaining the world. The theistic God is omnipotent, having at least powers far beyond those of humans. It is commonly believed by scientists that if God were allowed as an explanation in science, then an ‘anything goes’ attitude would prevail. They believe that the explanation of ‘God did it’ could be used for any event whatsoever, however regular or irregular and however comprehensible or incomprehensible. They reject the idea of God as some arbitrary and capricious old man who can do what he likes. A theist claims, in reply, that this reason for opposing theism in science arises from misunderstandings about the nature of God. We already know that there are considerable regularities in the manner of sustaining the world, so we should instead explain the source and nature of those regularities. That source, for example, might be the constancy and eternality of the love and wisdom of God.

Allowing science to consider that God is the life of the mental and natural worlds would be a big mental jump from any naturalistic starting point. It would change the kinds of scientific theories that would be permitted. We will thus introduce a new kind of science called theistic science, as suggested by Plantinga (1991). You may argue that there is in fact only one kind of science, and that there is no sense in talking about e.g. ‘Australian science,’ or ‘theistic science’. However, there are ways in which plurality can and should be part of science. In particular, there can and should be multiple sources of ideas that lead to scientific theories. This means that we can consider theistic science a branch of each theoretical science that derives general theoretical principles from theism and which begins to give the results described later in this book. I argue that we should encourage ‘ontological pluralism’.1.3Some may respond that this pluralism only makes sense in the initial stages of a science but not in its mature stage. I reply that neither fundamental physics nor psychology—the subjects of this book—are mature sciences in the required sense. Some may argue that we should stick with the framework we have to see how far it will take us. There is always the possibility, they say, that materialist science will in the future give a complete and adequate account of mental processes, of the creation of the universe, and of the creation of life, so in the meantime we should not be impatient. I reply by asking that we consider the possibility that theism is true, and that God does make a difference to the world. Must we then wait 100 or 200 years until the naturalists have finally given up seeking natural explanations of those differences? Can we not start thinking now about these matters? To do so is to encourage ontological pluralism in science, especially concerning foundational questions. As Feyerabend (1975) says in Against Method, in science there are in fact no fixed rules, and successful explanation is what counts. If some of us want to seek alternate explanations on the chance that we may be more successful in producing scientific predictions, then we should be able to do so. This is pluralism.

We give the name theistic science to the kind of scientific activity within ontological pluralism that develops theoretical ideas for the relation between God and the created world and for how they function together. This enterprise starts by rigorously formulating and examining a ‘scientific theism’. It then leads towards theistic science that gives rise to ‘theistic psychology’, ‘theistic biology’, etc., within an environment of ontological pluralism. If successful, we might one day begin to call these just ‘science’, but that, of course, remains to be seen.

Theistic science simply starts with the postulate that there is a God, according to the living theism defined above. Just as naturalistic physics starts from the a-theistic assumption of God not existing, I start from the assumption of God existing. We have to assume that something exists to start with, so both these ontological approaches should be allowed within science as long as they produce good explanations. Science by itself should not prejudge the kinds of ontologies to be assumed in the best theories, since that should depend only on the results of the investigations. The earth will not disappear from under our feet if we consider the possibility of God existing and see what conclusions might follow from that assumption.

You may be puzzled that I begin with theism rather than something simpler. Do we have to start by assuming an infinite God in order to do basic physics? I will discuss questions of simplicity and infinity in Chapter 13. For now, I only ask that I be awarded at the beginning the same deferred judgment as is awarded to superstring theory (for example). In the first step of an ab initio or fundamental theory, scientists write down the basic postulates from which they want to start and then proceed to derive from these as many conclusions as possible about the visible world. If they make predictions about something new or explain known facts in a new way without contradiction, this is regarded as a success. I ask that theistic science be allowed to follow the same pattern so we can judge at the end whether observations confirm or refute the theory. If they confirm theistic theory, then they may be regarded as evidence in favor of theism, otherwise not. This is different than the way that religious people regard theism1.4, but that does not stop us doing theistic science using the standard scientific pattern. It is also possible that one day other non-theistic theories may be supported by the same evidence. I therefore challenge anyone to produce such other theories, similarly comprehensive, that are equally or more effective or better confirmed with respect to the predictions that this book will make on the basis of theism. Since in science the primary assumptions are not provable but are just that, assumptions, we should be allowed to consider alternatives.

When comparing theory with observation, we need to realize that every interpretation of observations depends on what prior theory we have in our minds, especially concerning how observations work and how it is determined that they are accurate. Observations are always ‘theory laden’ since their interpretation is not given by the observation itself but by previous theories. Without a method of interpretation, an experiment means nothing at all. It is therefore essential to consider alternative starting points so we are not saddled forever with what may be called a ‘departure bias’.

Theistic science, as defined above, is different from traditional religion, theology or philosophy in that it attempts to describe the mechanisms by which God sustains or manages the universe and sustains or manages all the cause-effect relations within the universe. This is what makes the project scientific and thereby allows theism to enter science.

Throughout this book, there will be a number of recurring themes and ongoing conversations. These primarily relate to topics of continual debate among scientists, philosophers and theologians. The themes include:

  • Is the world constructed as a monism, dualism, or theism?
  • Can there be multiple levels or planes of existence?
  • How can there be mind-body connections without denying the fully-fledged existence of minds or of brains?
  • How can there be a Personal God, a Living God?
  • How can we distinguish between divine and human actions in the world?
  • How do physical, biological and mental structures come into existence? Are they created, gradually developed, or evolved?

These themes are listed here since I believe that the theism and science now being developed will, by the end of the book, suggest new answers to these queries.

Many scientists and philosophers resist this kind of theistic science. One reason is because those with a naturalist view have a negative bias concerning all things related to God, spirituality, and even mind.1.5 Another reason is because there is a logical impossibility of proving that something non-natural exists when the proof allowed is limited to natural measurements or abstractions based on them. This is related to another reason: that science does not have the methods to investigate spiritual or divine things. Many might ask, for example, how can we perform experiments or tests on God? How can we investigate things that cannot be seen empirically? Surely science and religion are the ‘non-overlapping magisteria’ (NOMA), as advocated by Gould (1997), where science is concerned with ‘what is’, and religion is concerned with ‘what should be’ (morality, ethics, and metaphysics beyond observations)? Many of these logical objections have been answered already by the skeptics, such as Stenger (2008), Coyne (2009), and summarized by Boudry et al. (2010). They argue, and I agree with them on this point, that while science may adopt a pragmatic methodological naturalism, its naturalistic claims should not be stronger than this. We should not insist, for example, that science is forever barred from considering non-physical realities such as minds, spirits or God.1.6I agree with them because if these things are to make any practical difference, it must be possible for them to have effects in the natural word, and those effects must be able to be examined by scientists. If an angel appeared to heal the sick, then science should be able to investigate it rigorously. The above skeptics go on to argue that since such angels never appear, the theistic predictions fail and therefore theism should be rejected. I respond by arguing that theism was most often not correctly understood, and so the predictions were not correctly made. I will present new predictions for confirmation or falsification.

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.

Footnotes

... Lightman1.1
Lightman (2011)
...1.2
Most often divine attributes will not be capitalized, except (as here) sometimes for emphasis, or for marking some important distinctions.
...1.3
This is already explicit in the foundation of physics and in psychological modeling. Basic physics, for example, considers strings or spin foams or deformed space as alternative possible ontologies. Psychology can consider symbols or functions or network connections in alternative possible ontologies. There is no principle of science that forever forbids such ontological pluralisms.
... theism1.4
Some religious believers are reluctant to expose the foundations of theism to possible scientific investigations for fear that theism may be refuted. In reply, I would quote Socrates on the ‘unexamined life’ and furthermore note that many refutations are even now being attempted, for example by Stenger (2008) or Coyne (2009). Ignorance hardly makes a good defense. Also, if I am wrong (whether in science or in religion), I want to know about it since I do not believe religious belief is only for other people.
...1.5
This is to be contrasted with a ‘positive bias’, whereby anything proposed is provisionally accepted to see whether it is true. Those with a negative bias provisionally reject something new, even before considering whether it is true.
...1.6
One consequence of adopting a pragmatic methodological naturalism, however, is what we already see: there are animated debates about what kind of evidence should be allowed in science, and what methods should be used to investigate the fringes of science such as parapsychology, near-death experiences, etc. Many scientists may, if pressed, admit that, if the same standard of evidence were to concern natural processes, then the already-existing evidence would be sufficient to prove the case. But still there is opposition.

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