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Chapter 20. The Theistic Universe

We can now review the kind of universe to be expected under theism, by summarizing the results of the previous chapters in this Part III. This can usefully be done even before we proceed to detailed scientific theorizing in the following Part.

20.1 Support for the dynamic ontology

The kinds of assertions that we have made in the theism being developed have proceeded on the basis of the dynamic ontology developed in Part II, and are entirely in accord with the principles developed there. We follow still the slogan ‘‘No process without structure, no structure without substance, no substance without power, no power without process," even as it applies not only to temporal beings, but also to God. We still follow the ontology of substance and form, and do not need to resort to exotic ontologies that make, for example, ‘information’ basic; neither is ‘act’ the attribute that applies at all levels including in pureness even to God.20.1 All of us, as well as God, follow the basic principles of causation by interaction (once we understand the multilevel nature of generative causation). The past is definite and never changeable, even by God, who always works in the present by means of an (eternal) view of the future. As sufficient images of God, at least in our rational capacities, we are given abilities to understand what we need to know about the substance and operation of the universe, both physical and mental: these are not essentially or perpetually mysterious to understand. The details may of course be difficult to comprehend, but the means and the perseverance are available to us all to understand at least some aspects of the way God and the universe are organized in relation to each other.

20.2 Life from God

We now have within a scientific theism the principle that all our life, love and being derive from God, who has all these things in himself, and, indeed, as himself. From this it follows that God exists necessarily, so the dispute with the materialists is whether God is the transcendent and benevolent One of theism, or (as they should now have to claim) the multiple eternally-existing energies of the universe. The aim of this book is to provide sufficient theoretical detail and consistency for the God of traditional theism.

This life, from God, is that which infills and enlivens all living and non-living beings, all conscious creatures and non-conscious objects. It infills and enlivens according to the outermost forms of those beings, creatures and objects, namely just the previous actions which these things have performed as part of themselves.

Between God and us, theism implies that we have multiple generative degrees - of spirituality, mentality and physicality - each with internal complexities that we have only begun to explore. What I know about them will be presented in Part III. We will see that included here are many of the mental and physical processes what we have already come to know and love in the sciences: now they are being put together within a new theoretical framework. Much of the individual phenomena of the sciences can be carried over unchanged, but what will change are the kinds of causes that are supposed to produce those changes. This will be particularly interesting in psychology and biology, especially concerning origins and evolution. Neurophysiology will have to be revised, at least its theoretical component. At present, it looks for ‘neural correlates of consciousness’ and maybe finds some. Instead, some actual causal relations between consciousness and its neural ‘correlates’ will have to be established, and in a non-reductive manner.

The final effects of all loves and dispositions are the physical actions that we in fact perform. These actions, which we will see are kinds of choices, are the ‘bottom line’ of the whole theistic theory. They are the final and definite effects whose occurrence are most basic foundation for the existence of a particular created world. The temporal world is most certainly never maya (either as a game or as an illusion), because the production of particular acts in the physical world is what in turn provides the occasions for the operation of all prior loves and dispositions. God cannot create permanent beings that are fully formed, except insofar as there are prior physical events that form the foundation and ‘outer framework’ for the dispositions of the new being. What God can immediately create, therefore, are physical events themselves. Everything else takes somewhat longer.20.2

20.3 Mirrored functions as correspondences

Consider again the kinds of multiple generative levels implied within creation, according to the principles outlined in Chapter 4. There will be detailed constituent events in both of a pair of prior and produced degrees. Because of all these microscopic events, there will be successive generatives influxes from the prior degree reciprocating with sequential selections by the produced degree, and this alternation will repeat itself longest if the patterns of the constituent events are most similar in the two degrees, and they do not get out of step. By a sort of survival of the fittest, this in the long term gives rise to correspondences of function between adjacent degrees. We may conversely say that the functions in distinct degrees sustain each other in a kind of ‘mirror’ or ‘resonance’ when they are most similar in the patterns of their constituent events. We could speculate, for example, that our minds and brains sustain each other by influx and selection, when psychological and neural processes are most nearly isomorphic to each other in their functional description. There is much detail here to be learned by derivation and observation, not just in mind-brain functioning, but throughout living organisms. The different discrete degrees are never of one continuous substance that makes both, but now, we see, have functional relations that make them ‘contiguously intertwined’ at all stages, and at all levels of detail at each stage. Correspondences will be discussed more in Section 24.3.

20.4 Persons and their identity

The system of discrete degrees that comes as an analysis of theism suggests one possible solution to the problem of continued personal identity. In Section 5.5 we saw that, within an ontology of multiple generative levels, there was a sense in which the continued identity of a person could be attributed to some ‘prior’ degree, especially if this prior degree were relatively unchanging. So, if perchance the prior degree were strictly unchanging during a person’s lifetime, then we would have indeed a means of identifying our personal identity both during our growth and changes in this life, and possibly also after the death of our physical bodies. There would then be a ‘core’ in us that would be the basis of our continued existence, and therefore, in some good sense, could said to be our ‘true self’.

This core, according to our basic theism, is our most fundamental love. For God, this core just is the Divine Love, and that is clearly his core and the basis of continued divine identity. For us, it is the love that is the most prior generative degree that can still be said to be ‘us’ rather than ‘someone else’. That love would be the most constant underlying disposition in our life. It would be like Plato’s ‘self-moving soul.’20.3 Let us name this ‘most constant underlying disposition’ as our principal love. Because the principal love in fact produces our life, it should be recognizable by its effect in producing a ‘theme of our life’. We of course agree with Hume that this identity is not immediately apparent to our introspection, but that does not make it any less real. Rather, along with dispositions in general, our principal love can yet be tested by examining skills, character, performances when there are few or none external constraints, affections in action and in the voice, and so on. Just as physicists test dispositions by experiments and not by mere inspection, so our own identities could be inferred by examining all our characteristic actions, and not so easily by introspection.

This concept of personal identity as ‘principal love’ would be most useful to psychology and theology if that love were completely unchanged during our lifetime: from birth to death and (if necessary) after bodily death. This would require it to keep all the same intrinsic properties even though its effects and relations may vary. (Its relation to us will certainly vary as we grow up and later die!) It would also be most useful if we could assume that no two people had the same principal love, as only then could we be sure not to confuse any two people. In general, theistic religions have claimed that we must have some kind of continued identity that survives bodily death. I offer the concept of ‘principal love’ as a candidate for the needed kind of identity.

20.5 Intentionality

We note that there is a clear intentionality of mind, from the fact that desires, intentions and ideas are always about things, and that this is in a way that does not seem possible for physical objects.

This intentionality of the mental does not arise from any spatial aspect or relations of mentality, but rather from the fact that ideas are always being generated from loves, since loves are part of intentions for specific results. Furthermore, ideas themselves are the entertainment by the mind of forms of things, and therefore those ideas refer to the objects of whom we are considering the form.20.4 Ultimately, intentionality of both loves and thoughts comes about because they both arise from God’s Love. That love is the love of others, and hence intentionality is part of the very nature of God. The details of a resulting psychology will be discussed in Chapters 21 and 26, and will include outlines of the many other aspects of mentality.

20.6 Law and divine intervention

It is assumed by many people that religion should become accommodated to modern science, and that the best that can be hoped for from theology is that we have evidence that God created the world, and that the governing constants of the physical world are ‘fine tuned’ to make life probable. On this basis, we hope that thereby we can come to know that ‘we are wanted’, and that there exists a ‘plan for our lives’. In such a theology, divine intervention into the world is not strictly necessary, and may indeed be said to be ‘poor management’: as if God could not have set up the world to behave properly in the first place. Such ‘modern believers’ may yet admit that miracles were ‘once’ necessary, for example at the beginning of their religion in order to convince by means of miracles, but that now ‘we are mature adults’ and so miracles are no longer necessary. Divine intervention does not occur ‘in modern times, so they can follow with a clear conscience the principles and findings of those sciences which specify the causal closure of the physical world. This amounts in practice to deism, as distinct from theism.

Such a view misses the point of creation. We are not made for God either to ‘intervene’ or ‘not intervene’ in the world, but for God to reside in the world. The physical world provides the overall framework in which God can place his life, in order to infill and enliven us with the life (spiritual and mental) that comes only from God. It is like asking a resident: are you going to intervene in your house, or not intervene? Or asking a person, are you going to intervene in the world around you, or not intervene. In theism, it is not a question of intervention, but of presence and residence. And what is residence and presence, but constant contact; and how can there be constant contact except by persistence and bilateral causal connections. The purpose of the world, in theism by comparison with deism, is not just that we are in God’s plan (which is a thought), but that we are present and enlivened by God’s love (which, we have seen, means a substantial presence, and reciprocal causation). Presence in reality, rather than only in thought, is an essential part of our whole dynamic ontology, where, as proposed on Chapter 3, we follow the Eleatic Principle: that existence should only be given to that which has causal power. We lose nothing by applying this also to the Divine. We only have to then to reconsider science at the same time as theology, as science (especially empirical science) is concerned with whatever has effects in the world.

The reciprocal causation in theism, it should be remembered, is not equal on both sides. Rather, it follows the generation + selection pattern described in subsection 5.1.1: on the side of God, it is generation; and on our side, it is selection. The result of this asymmetric conjunction is yet to render a workable whole, and yields an effective bilateral cooperation between God and the world. In this bilateral cooperation, both sides have important roles to play. God’s role is to produce and govern all the loves and life that comes from him. Our role is to select by our actions those loves and life that we wish to see become permanent within our own persons. There are many intermediate stages in this process, as will be explored in the next Part.

In the meantime, we might reflect on the role of physical laws in describing the processes that occur in the physical world, and whether the actions of God in that world might not after all be described as ‘divine intervention’. Do occasional interventions ‘suspend’ or even ‘violate’ those laws of physics? Think, for example, of conservation of energy and momentum in closed systems. Are those conservation laws in fact broken by God when there occur what some would call miracles?

To answer this question, we have to note that the true law that governs the world of theism is one that describes the multiple generative levels that start from God, and eventually end up with the definite physical actions that beings perform in the world. Any so-called miracle that actually occurred or occurs must follow that true law.20.5 Anything that appears to be ‘inexplicably miraculous’ means that we do not understand the true laws of the universe, or the true intentions of the persons (including God) who may be acting within the structure of those laws. Even given that understanding, however, what we still might not understand would be the occasion or speed of operation of those laws.20.6

The other remaining paradox, however, is that many people today believe in physical laws (such as the conservation of energy), since they appear to be held without exception. Much of modern science is built in the assumption that these laws hold universally and without exception, but, according to theism, this is not correct. Rather, these (apparently universal) laws are held only locally within those physical systems whose purpose within theism is to provide an overall container or enduring structure that can persistently select a rather complicated set of internal dispositions. In theism, therefore, we should expect that there are complex organic bodies with a large amount of ‘physical autonomy’. The bodies are never entirely autonomous within theism - only to a large part - but have the purpose of sustaining (by corresponding generation + selection relations) equally-complex internal mental and spiritual bodies. The existence and dynamics of these internal bodies will be discussed in the next Part. Each kind of body (physical, mental or spiritual) is nearly autonomous, and purely-physical laws are nearly but not completely universal: that is the pattern that should be expected within a theistic universe.

Notes

...20.1

This is the view of Aquinas, who also starts from an Aristotelean natural point of view in trying to understand theism. However, he takes God to as the limit of ‘purely act’ and ‘pure form’. This unfortunately deprives theology from taking loves as the substance of minds, spirits and God, but (strangely) insists that these are purely form, and also purely act. One thing he should have learned from Aristotle is that forms, even forms of immaterial substances, cannot themselves separately exist with power and potentiality.

...20.2

What is surprising to me is how much longer is needed (over 1010 years).

... soul.’20.3

Plato, Phaedrus. Plato’s soul is the source of all our motion, except that within theism a soul is not actually self-moving, since only God is strictly self-moving. Only God is life itself.

...20.4

This is a combination of Aristotelean perception (the mind accepting the forms of objects) with a representational view (the mind containing ideas or percepts which represent external objects). Here, the representation occurs between ideas and objects which have some forms in common. The object has that form for its own substance, and the mind has that form to make up an idea.

...20.5

The logical possibility of something does not mean that we should not neutrally (and perhaps skeptically) examine the evidence for any alleged occurrence.

...20.6

I suspect that most of the miracles of the New Testament in Christianity, for example, are representations by correspondences of the processes of spiritual regeneration appearing much more quickly than we would ever expect in normal life.


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