Sunday, January 22, 2017

Using Swedenborg to Understand the Quantum World I: Events

For the last hundred years, physicists have been using the quantum theory about the universe, but they still do not properly understand of what the quantum world is made.

The previous physics (referred to as “classical” and started by Isaac Newton) used ideas of “waves” and “particles” to picture what makes up the physical world. But now we find that every object in the quantum world sometimes behaves as a particle and sometimes behaves as a wave! Which is it? In quantum physics, objects behave most of the time like waves spreading out as they travel along, but sometimes measurements show objects to be particles with a definite location: not spread out at all. Why is that? It is as though their size and location suddenly change in measurement events. This is quite unlike classical physics, where particles exist continuously with the same fixed shape. In quantum physics, by contrast, objects have fixed locations only intermittently, such as when they are observed.  So they only offer us a discrete series of events that can be measured, not a continuous trajectory. Quantum objects, then, are alternately continuous and discontinuous.
Why would we ever expect such a fickle world? Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) has some ideas that might help us. He describes how all physical processes are produced by something mental, or spiritual, and this can be confirmed by reason of the similarity in patterns between the physical processes and their mental causes. In Swedenborg’s words, there are correspondences between the physical and the mental—that they have similar structures and functions, even though mind and matter are quite distinct.
I need to state what correspondence is. The whole natural world is responsive to the spiritual world—the natural world not just in general, but in detail. So whatever arises in the natural world out of the spiritual one is called “something that corresponds.” It needs to be realized that the natural world arises from and is sustained in being by the spiritual world . . . (Heaven and Hell §89)
Although these ideas are not part of present-day science, I still hope to show below that they may have some implications for how science could usefully develop.
Swedenborg’s theory of mind is easy to begin to understand. He talks about how all mental processes have three common elements: desire, thought, and action. The desire is what persists and motivates what will happen. The thought is the exploration of possibilities for actions and the making of an intention. The action is the determined intention, the product of desire and thought that results in an actual physical event.
The [actions] themselves are in the mind’s enjoyments and their thoughts when the delights are of the will and the thoughts are of the understanding therefrom, thus when there is complete agreement in the mind. The [actions] then belong to the spirit, and even if they do not enter into bodily act still they are as if in the act when there is agreement. (Divine Providence §108)
All of the three spiritual elements are essential. Without desire (love), or ends, nothing would be motivated to occur. Without thought, that love would be blind and mostly fail to cause what it wants. Without determined intention, both the love and thought would be frustrated and fruitless, with no effect achieved at all. In everyday life, this intention is commonly called will, but it is always produced by some desire driving everything that happens. 
Here is the pattern:
      Spiritual                                                                   Natural
Desire + Thought => Mental Action (Intention)    >>    Physical Action, or Event, in the World

Swedenborg summarizes the relationship between these elements as follows:
All activities in the universe proceed from ends through causes into effects. These three elements are in themselves indivisible, although they appear as distinct in idea and thought. Still, even then, unless the effect that is intended is seen at the same time, the end is not anything; nor is either of these anything without a cause to sustain, foster and conjoin them. Such a sequence is engraved on every person, in general and in every particular, just as will, intellect, and action is. Every end there has to do with the will, every cause with the intellect, and every effect with action. (Conjugial Love §400:1–2)
Now consider Swedenborg’s theory of correspondences mentioned above. He says that there is a similar pattern between the details of the effects and the details of the causes. ”As above, so below,” others have said. So if mental action produces some effect in the physical world, then, by correspondence, we would expect a similar pattern between that physical effect and each of the three elements common to all mental processes. We would expect something physical like desire, then something physical like thought, and finally something physical like mental action. Do we recognize these patterns in physics? And if so, do we recognize them better in classical physics or in quantum physics?
I claim we do recognize them in physics:
  • We recognize the “something physical like desire” as energy or propensity. These are what persist physically and produce the result, just like desire does in the mind. They are in both classical and quantum physics.
  • We recognize the “something physical like thought” as the wave function in quantum physics. This describes all the possibilities, propensities, and probabilities for physical events, just like thought does in the mind.
  • We recognize the “something physical like mental action” as the actual specific physical outcome, a selection of just one of the possibilities to be made actual. This is a measurement event in quantum physics, the product of energy or propensity and the wave function, just like the product of desire and thought is the mental action.
We will discuss energy and wave functions in later posts, focusing here on the final step of mental actions and physical events. According to Swedenborg’s ideas, the structure of mental processes and the structure of physical events should be similar. So, too, the function of mental processes and the function of physical events should be similar. Can we tell from this whether we should expect a classical world or a quantum world?
One feature of thought and mental action with which we should be familiar is time. That is, we always need time to think! Without any time gap between desiring and intending, we would be acting instinctively and impulsively. Sometimes that works but not always (at least in my experience!). Most often, there has to be some delay, even some procrastination, between having a desire and fulfilling it. That delay gives us time to deliberate and decide on the best action to select. And, most importantly, if it is we who decide when to act, we feel that we act in some freedom. It feels better.
If the physical world corresponds to those mental processes, according to Swedenborg, what hypothesis do we reach about physics? It is that there will be corresponding time gaps between the beginning of some persisting energy or propensity and the selection of physical outcome. Remember that quantum objects are selected and definite only intermittently—when measured, or observed—while classical objects are continuously definite with no gaps. All this leads us to expect that physical events should not be continuous; that is, we should expect a quantum world rather than a classical world.

First appeared here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Aristotle's and Aquinas' ideas about Substance and Form.

Something about Aristotelean-Thomist (A-T) metaphysics bothers me, and Jon Garvey reminds me of it again in a recent post.
He says above “substance” has to do (in A-T thought) with form.

To me, this is an abuse of language and of all metaphysical intuition!
Normally, we say thing is 'substance in a form', or a thing is made out of some substance and is arranged in some form. So 'substance' and 'form' are combined (metaphysically) to make a particular thing. A substance can be arranged in many possible forms, and a given form may be made out of many possible substances. But, if we specify substance and form, then we specify a thing.

But, as Jon points out, this natural way of speaking is completely up-ended in A-T language. There 'substance' and 'form' are practically identified! They are of course completely allowed to define words how they like. But, if I were starting a new metaphysics suitable for science, that is NOT how I would proceed. It is completely bizarre!

In fact, Aristotle bears some responsibility for this. He talks of things made of matter, and then 'form' as 'everything else that makes a thing what it is'. But that leave unclear how causal powers of thing are supposed to exist: since they are not matter they must be form. This conflates (in a stupid way) the ideas of 'form' as structure and 'form as causal power'.

Then Aquinas bears further responsibility. He sees the above problem. He wants to attribute causal powers to substance (a good idea, I say). But, rather than fixing Aristotle's definition of 'form', he then conflates (in a stupid way) the ideas of 'form' and 'substance'. He has no option left. But that results in the idea of a 'substantial form'. That might be ok, except (as I point out just above), any clean new metaphysics would distinguish 'substance' and 'form'. A-T is not clean in that respect.

Essence is that which makes something what it is.
Substance is that out of which something is made.

The format of Thomistic metaphysics then takes a somewhat dyadic structure of descending generality: (i) essence and existence, (ii) substance and accident, (iii) matter and form. (much good Thomist presentation!)

In general, we can (must!) diverge from materialism. We can be guided by Aquinas’ insights, not to mention more general Christian insights. But that does not mean necessarily following the A-T system in all its glorious details. Instead, see my previous post for what a new kind of metaphysics could be that talks properly about substance and form.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Physical and Mental Substances: what are the stuffs of nature?

Here is a potted summary of a non-reductive 'propensity account' of physical and mental substances:

Quantum theory must deal with substance, but just not substance of the classical material or atomistic kind.  Rather, something that perseveres through time without existing in a actualized form at every moment. The substance would be something like the 'potentiality' or 'propensity' for acting, and that acting occurs with non-zero time steps, not continuously. This is the 'propensity interpretation' of quantum mechanics, initiated by Heisenberg and Popper. Because of the finite time steps, propensities exist and persist from one event to another actualization. Between events, therefore, they are the substances of quantum things.

We talk about mental information, and ask "what property of substance, makes it amenable to human cognition". You (like many others) are asking, 'what is the stuff of mind?'. My answer is an extrapolation of what I said above for quantum physics. It is 'potentiality' or 'propensity' but now of mental kinds. What is that, you ask? Do I know it? Yes: I say. It is the 'love' or 'desire' that make a person. For loves and desires are what in us persons that does persist. Again we make actualizing decisions intermittently. Between those decisions it is our love which persist. Love is our mental/personal substance. Just (certainly not!) material substance!

Quantum objects are propensity-substances in various forms. Those forms are the wave functions of quantum theory.
Mental objects are love-substances in various forms. Those forms are the information of mental kind, a.k.a thoughts and perceptions. The actions of love (a.k.a. decisions) have physical effects.

These ideas are based on the ideas of the kind Aristotle might have had without much effort, though in fact he did not. Just remember that there are two kinds of substances (at least), and the kinds are not reduced to another, or aggregates of other kinds. It is the job of physicists and psychologists to determine how the two kinds of substances actually cause things, and hence what they actually do.

There are functional correspondences between the way physical and mental things exist and operate, even though the substances involved are completely different and can never be transformed one into another.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Spiritual Physics

Streamed live on May 11, 2015
Is there a connection between spirituality and physics? What is the nature of the mind? In this episode, host Curtis Childs from the Swedenborg Foundation and featured guest and physicist Dr. Ian J. Thompson explore the answers to these questions from spiritual and scientific perspectives.

Discussion points:
--Meeting a Mind
--The Substance of Consciousness
--Energy and Distance
--Materialism Issues
--The Interaction of Planes

Special thanks to our featured guest Dr. Ian J. Thompson. Dr. Thompson is a nuclear physicist in the Nuclear Theory and Modeling Group at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, USA, having until 2006 been a professor of physics at the University of Surrey, UK. His research deals with the coupled-channels and few-body models for nuclear structure and reactions, especially concerning halo nuclei. He is a fellow of the Institute of Physics.


References and Downloads:
Check out "Starting Science From God: Rational Scientific Theories from Theism" by Ian J. Thompson

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Book Expo at Bryn Athyn College on Saturday April 11

Bryn Athyn College
Book Expo 2015
Science and Spirituality throughout History
April 11, 2015
9:00 am – 4:00 pm

Brickman Center, 2945 College Drive,
Bryn Athyn, PA 19009
Join us for a day of books and talks.
Browse, read, discuss, and take some home!
  • Follow spirituality weaving through early history, sciences, philosophy,
    medicine, abolition of slavery, child labor rights, and more
  • Learn new spiritual paradigms and envision the afterlife
  • Learn the why of two Testaments and even a third
  • Join authors for short talks, followed by Q & A
Enjoy a great variety of books!
A sampling of book titles publishers
  • Osteopathy and Swedenborg
  • Starting Science From God
  • Religion and Science: Big Bang and Chaotic Dynamics
  • Swedenborg’s Hidden Influence on Kant
  • Swedenborg, Fourier and the America of the 1840’s
  • The Triune Word
  • Swedenborg’s Scientific Works
Bryn Athyn College Press,
Swedenborg Scientific Association
Fountain Publishing
Swedenborg Foundation
General Church of the New Jerusalem Publications 
Ian Thompson

Organizer: Lisa Childs: 

More details at 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Starting Science From God: An Evening Talk in Chicago on June 6.

with physicist Ian Thompson

Many of us sense there is something real beyond the scope of naturalistic science. But what? Must mental and religious lives always remain a mystery and never become part of scientific knowledge? Can theism ever be connected with science?

Professor Ian Thompson will explain a new rational approach to combining science and theism. He presents theism as a scientific theory, explaining its basic postulates, consequences and predictions as simply as possible and without paradox. Dr. Thompson shows how a following of core postulates of theism leads to novel and useful predictions about the psychology of minds and the physics of materials which should appear in the universe. 

We will see if those predictions agree with the world as we observe it, both externally in nature and internally in our minds. In fact, they mesh surprisingly well with the structure of reality already revealed by modern quantum field theory and by theories of developmental stages in human minds. 

The result is a promising new rational theory encompassing theology, psychology and physics. 

Dr. Ian Thompson is a nuclear physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. He is Visiting Professor at the University of Surrey in England, where until 2006 he was Professor of Physics. For more information see his website, Ian Thompson

LOCATION: 77 W. Washington St., 17th floor,
                 Chicago, Illinois.
DATE:         Friday, June 6, 2014
TIME:         7-9 PM; refreshments 6-7 PM.
FEE:           $10. 
Many of us sense there is something real beyond the scope of naturalistic science. But what? Must mental and religious lives always remain a mystery and never become part of scientific knowledge? Can theism ever be connected with science?

Professor Ian Thompson will explain a new rational approach to combining science and theism. He presents theism as a scientific theory, explaining its basic postulates, consequences and predictions as simply as possible and without paradox. Dr. Thompson shows how a following of core postulates of theism leads to novel and useful predictions about the psychology of minds and the physics of materials which should appear in the universe. 

We will see if those predictions agree with the world as we observe it, both externally in nature and internally in our minds. In fact, they mesh surprisingly well with the structure of reality already revealed by modern quantum field theory and by theories of developmental stages in human minds. 

The result is a promising new rational theory encompassing theology, psychology and physics. 

Dr. Ian Thompson is a nuclear physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. He is Visiting Professor at the University of Surrey in England, where until 2006 he was Professor of Physics. For more information see his website, Ian Thompson

LOCATION: 77 W. Washington St., 17th floor,
                 Chicago, Illinois.
DATE:         Friday, June 6, 2014
TIME:         7-9 PM; refreshments 6-7 PM.
FEE:           $10. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Creationism, Intelligent Design, and Theistic Science

One common alternative to the theory of natural selection is the theory of intelligent design. The intelligent design theory, however, is deliberately limited, as it does not attempt a causal explanation. It tries to develop techniques to examine physical organisms and then to determine whether or not that examination provides evidence for the existence of an intelligence in the coming to be (or design) of those organisms. Strictly, it is neutral on whether the intelligence is God or whether it might be previously-existing extra-terrestrial beings who have (say) genetically-engineered the organism. Because intelligent design theory does not produce causal accounts, it is often criticized as lacking in predictive power. It does make general ‘structural’ predictions about the forms expected to occur within living organisms, but it will never, it seems, yield the detailed prior and conditional probabilities necessary to form Bayesian arguments of the kind that many scientists use to assess the likelihoods of the hypotheses they are considering.

Intelligent design theory has generated an extraordinary amount of animosity from mainstream (naturalistic) scientists. They often accuse it of being false. Then they simultaneously accuse it of being non-scientific because non-falsifiable!  

By comparison, the theistic science that I advocate on this blog is advocating a much stronger theory than intelligent design since it cannot be neutral about ‘the nature of the designer’. We start from the assumption that God exists, as being itself and life itself, and argue that causal explanations of evolution cannot be purely natural.

Another common alternative to natural selection is creationism, where different species are created individually and specifically by God according to the first chapter of Genesis that culminates in the creation of man (and woman). These acts of creation, with apparently whole new populations of plants or animals coming into existence, would have been rather spectacular to watch!  Are such special creations possible according to theistic science?  The answer, I have argued, is no.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Evolution within Theism: a Summary of the Main Options

1. God cannot create self-sustaining organisms immediately: nothing else is life itself.

2. God cannot create robust theistically-sustained organisms immediately:
  •  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 are physical events themselves. Everything else takes longer. There are no instant adults.
  • To create permanent and robust individuals, they must be developed so that, at every stage of their life, they have a substantial history of physical actions in the past and mental and spiritual lives built on that.
  • Since not even God can create history afterwards, this means that a longer and slower process of creation is needed if a race of people is to be developed who have fully-developed and long-lasting characters to be loved and to love God in return.
  • Hence some process of ‘descent by modification’.
When spiritual or mental ideas are produced immediately, they do not ‘have a life of their own’. Rather, they disappear again when the attention goes elsewhere, unless some physical effect has been produced. (Our memory must involve such effects.)

Hence, for biological evolution, the main theistic options are:

Theistically-filtered evolution:
  • The very fact of discrete degrees means that plants and animals must receive specific cognitive and affective dispositions, according to their biological form.
  • Even if God took no active involvement in the history of our earth’s species (as Darwin wanted), beings will still be favored if their forms well receive mental life.
  • This gives a tendency of evolution to make beings approach full mental reception.
  • We hope that this is a tendency toward the human form. I think so.
Theistically-driven evolution:
  • If God took active involvement in biological history, then he could specifically change the genetic structure of species, so that new species were born. And do this widely, to make a new population. This is driving the production of new species.
Thus we have three competing theories:
  1. neo-Darwinian theory: random mutations, genetic drift and recombination, natural selection (no influence from God, except perhaps through physical laws),
  2. theistically-filtered evolution: random mutations, drift and re-combination, so there is both natural and theistic selection (God gives influx by laws of discrete degrees)
  3. theistically-driven evolution: preselected and random mutations, genetic drift and recombination, along with both natural and theistic selection.
To be decided between by comparing the observed evidence with the various predictions of the several theories.

Note that these theories 2 and 3 go beyond the avowed scope of Intelligent Design theorists. They want 'merely' to first establish that intelligence was involved in the production of biological species. Here, in 'theistic science', we want to go further, and investigate the causes that produced the species (whether divine and/or spiritual and/or physical).

More discussion in a previous blog post.
And see also discussions by Jon Garvey on Theoretical Preferences and related posts.

Points from Chapter 26: Evolution of the book Starting Science From God.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Thinkers or Lovers? Anthropology for Persons

R.J. Snell, here, asks in the blog of the Society for Christian Psychology:
Is “love” enough around which to re-habilitate the necessary edifice of human self-understanding and normativity with any level of exactness and perspicacity?
I’d suggest yes, if, and only if, an exploration of love reveals something (1) intelligible, (2) normative, (3) structural, (4) self-referentially consistent, and (5) defining of our anthropology. To put it another way, I’m not suggesting we examine love abstractly, but that we examine our own concrete selves and subjectivity as the access point, and in so doing will discover human nature and human norms, but in a way less guilty of reifying our identity into “thinkers,” and without the tendency to force our own selves into correspondence with any theory about human nature. At the same time, it seems right to me that the basic impulse of the Western tradition—which is to identify a basic isomorphism between the way we are (our natures) and the way we ought to be (teleology)—is valuable and true. Ethics not rooted in the way we actually are is either groundless or ideological or both; politics out of keeping with our nature is either false or violent or both; accounts of flourishing unmoored from human nature tend to be unserious or oppressive or both.
The task, then, is to discover human nature as it actually is, and as it actually is in our own concrete empirical selves, and to rehabilitate normative accounts of our well-being and flourishing. And to do so by an analysis of love, but an analysis which is concrete, intelligible, and differentiated.
Something of a steep task, I suspect.

I have begun to describe work on this task:

And Section 20.4 (Persons and their Identity) of my book (Starting Science From God):

The system of discrete degrees that comes from an analysis of theism suggests a possible solution to the problem of continued personal identity. In Section 6.5 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 the prior degree were strictly unchanging during a person’s lifetime, then we would have 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 that could said to be our ‘true self’.

This core, according to our basic theism, is our most fundamental love. For God this core is the divine love. That is clearly his core and the basis of his continued divine identity. For us, it is the love that is the most prior generative degree that can be said to be ‘us’ rather than ‘someone else’. That love is the most constant underlying disposition in our life. It is like Plato’s ‘self-moving soul.’ Let us call this most constant underlying disposition our principal love. Because the principal love produces our life, it is recognizable by its effect of producing a ‘theme of our life’. We agree with Hume that this identity is not immediately apparent to our introspection, but that does not make it any less real. Along with dispositions in general, our principal love can be tested by examining skills, character, and performances when there are few or no external constraints, by examining 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 more easily than 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 even 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. Then we could be sure not to confuse any two people. Theistic religions claim that we 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.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Charles Tart, on "Toward a Post-Materialistic Science"

Charles Tart has a recent post "Toward a Post-Materialistic Science – Materialism and Science", discussing a recent "small, working conference" he went to, and the ideas there for trying to improve science.

He reminds us
that Promissory Materialism is not a scientific theory, because scientific theories are generally required to be capable of falsification, and there is no way you can falsify the belief that anything will be explained in material terms someday.
So, in am important sense, the description in "post-materialist science” is redundant! He thinks science, by its 'true' nature, can deal with the new topics needed. Though, of course, there might still be "denial [that] can reach the level of the unethical and/or pathological". He gives a good example.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Is Naturalism a Conclusion from Science, or was it Presumed at the beginning?

David Tyler has been been commenting on a paper by Massimo Pigliucci about issues in the theory of evolution.

We should pay attention to Tyler's conclusions:
A science that presumes naturalism MUST necessarily end up as an atheistic science. It fails as science because this approach presumes what it then claims science has confirmed. This means that naturalistic science is not objective and is not able to follow the evidence wherever it leads. For example, this is why the advocates of abiogenesis focus their efforts on chemical evolution, as this is the only avenue that naturalistic science permits researchers to follow. Consequently, the information characteristics of life are underplayed and they hope for information to arise by currently unknown emergent processes. The evidence however, points to complex specified information being fundamental to life, which naturalistic science cannot concede. By contrast, theistic science does not prescribe or predetermine outcomes, but it can handle natural processes as well as recognise intelligent agency. We will make progress when multiple working hypotheses can be tested without prescribing philosophical presuppositions for science. This is where education should be heading, not enforcing naturalism as the essence of science.
In particular, we do need 'multiple working hypotheses': some based on naturalism, and some based on theism. This is to include the theistic science I have already suggested.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Evolution by Natural or Theistic Selection?

I have previously discussed how biological evolution can occur within a theistic framework, in my post Theistically Filtered Evolution and Theistically Driven Evolution.

I now recommend that you read a very useful discussion about the adequacy of natural selection (Darwinism) as the sole means of evolution (after mutations, drift, and other natural processes). This is from The OFloinn, who often takes a refreshing view of old issues.  (See, for example, his detailed history of the astronomies of Ptolemy and Galileo: "The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown")

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Is God Simple?

The question of whether God is 'simple' is recently being discussed, again.

We all agree that 'God is One', and has an essential unity. The issue is whether there is any kind of internal structure to God.

The discussion started with David Bentley Hart's recent book The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss.  One reviewer summarizes Hart's view as
First, there was a consensus among ancient philosophers and theologians regarding the simplicity of God. Divine simplicity can be stated in many ways, but it basically means that God has no parts. Or you could just say that God is immaterial (since anything material can be divided). Second, this consensus was shared by nearly all the world’s oldest religions. Third, this consensus is crucial for the Christian faith. It is, in fact, the only way to make sense of God, and thus it is fundamental for everything that Christians believe and say about the divine.
This kind of view, Vincent Torley reminds us, is a theological consensus. Torley quotes the Thomist philosopher Edward Feser:
As I have indicated in earlier posts, the doctrine of divine simplicity is absolutely central to classical theism. To say that God is simple is to say that He is in no way composed of parts – neither material parts, nor metaphysical parts like form and matter, substance and accidents, or essence and existence. Divine simplicity is affirmed by such Christian, Jewish, and Muslim thinkers as Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Maimonides, Avicenna, and Averroes. It is central to the theology of pagan thinkers like Plotinus. It is the de fide teaching of the Catholic Church, affirmed at the fourth Lateran council and the first Vatican council, and the denial of which amounts to heresy. (Classical theism, September 30, 2010.)
It should be noted that not only Christians, but Jews and Muslims, have traditionally affirmed the doctrine of God’s simplicity. According to the article on Divine Simplicity in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “the roots of [the doctrine of God's] simplicity go back to the Ancient Greeks, well before its formal defense by representative thinkers of the three great monotheistic religions— Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.” It adds:
…representative thinkers of all three great monotheistic traditions recognize the doctrine of divine simplicity to be central to any credible account of a creator God’s ontological situation. Avicenna (980–1037), Averroes (1126–98), Anselm of Canterbury, Philo of Alexandria, and Moses Maimonides (1135–1204) all go out of their way to affirm the doctrine’s indispensability and systematic potential.
I [Torley] might add that the doctrine of Divine simplicity isn’t an invention of medieval theologians. It actually predates Christianity:
Christianity is in its infancy when the Jewish theologian Philo of Alexandria (c. 30 B.C.E.– 50 C.E.) observes that it is already commonly accepted to think of God as Being itself and utterly simple. Philo is drawing on philosophical accounts of a supreme unity in describing God as uncomposite and eternal.

However, is it true?

Let me quote from George Porteous's book Emanuel Swedenborg: As a Philosopher, Metaphysician, and Theologian (text here), written in 1874:

Metaphysicians, since the sixth century, have all agreed that the Divine Being "is without body, parts, or passions," that He is a divine simplicity, divine essence or unity. The assertion that God is without parts, passions, and a form, amounts to the bold and blank declaration that "there is no God." It is this doctrine of the metaphysicians that is the basis of all that extreme imbecility exhibited and generated by the school-men and book-men respecting the nature of God and the faculties of man. The only hopeless mystics have been these metaphysicians. Though they lost the play of wisdom and insight, they endeavored to retain its gravity. They clutched at the reputation of being wise on the subject of Deity, and still they profess to know nothing of Deity! They built upon denials and assertions; and, in the words of the incomparable Droll—
     "They knew what's what, and that's as high As metaphysic wit can fly."
To every human note of inquiry they answered—"Mum!" To the painful utterances of struggling souls—to the voice wailing after God, "O that I might find Him," these cold men of the schools replied, "The substance of all our knowledge concerning God is the knowing what he is not, rather than what he is," and more modernly expressed by Bishop Beverage, "We cannot so well apprehend what God is, as what he is not."
God is represented on the one hand as a "pure idea," and on the other as a pure divine simplicity; now, as a "luminous abyss, without bottom, without shore, without bank, without height, without depth, without laying hold of, or attaching itself to anything—pure infinity then as a "formative appetency," a "metaphysical ens," an "infinite point," "the great ether of the universe." And solemnly let us repeat it, the framers of these definitions maintain that we cannot do better, when thinking (?) of God, than to think of Him after the fashion indicated above! Think of a luminous abyss, of a bottomless, fathomless, shoreless, bankless, depthless being! Truly this is mockery to the thought.
In striking contrast to this medley of absurdities, Swedenborg comes as a liberating angel, giving us, if not the absolutely true or final views, at least such views of God as redeem the nature of the Divine from the misapprehensions of a dull, scholastic theology, and an imbecile metaphysics, and show how God in himself exists, and what attitude He maintains to man. He clearly demonstrates that a being without body, parts, or passions, is not a being at all. His reasoning on this point, though more profound and less rationalistic and materialistic than John Locke's, is substantially the same. This great and gifted English philosopher has stated that whatever "has no form and parts has no extension, and having no extension, has no duration, and thus no existence." This is the severe logic of material reasoning: but it contains a spiritual application. Apply this reasoning to the doctrines currently taught about God. If God is without body, parts, or passions, He has no existence; for, as before observed, that which has no form, extension, and no duration, has no existence—no being—is not. When we say, " Our Father who art in heaven," we are, according to the stem logic of the preceding argument, addressing a nonentity. Do not mistake us. We are not insinuating for a moment that God has material parts or passions; all we are bent on advocating is, that God is a personality—is the infinite Divine Substance—is the only real substantial Being, with parts, and affections, and form, in ever hallowed and sublime activity. And this is Swedenborg's doctrine; yet without a knowledge of his doctrine of discrete degrees, and the nature of life, influx, and form, it is impossible, in the brief space allotted to a lecture, to give you anything approaching a clear and candid view of his position. Sufficient, however, has been advanced on the nature of God, as stated by Swedenborg, to quicken thought, and suggest volumes for your meditation.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Why was I repelled by ideas of God and Spirituality?

I think back to when I was a teenager 'in the grip of scientism', and how I felt various reactions to proposed ideas about mind or spiritual things:

I remember feeling almost a gut distaste when those things were mentioned. I felt ill! I felt I had stomach ulcers! It was like feeling that the whole ground you are standing on is about to give way. It was like seeing your life's problems in front of you as a terrible tangle that I could never solve even in a lifetime.
I thought that there were indeed some terrible ideas that science had managed to banish from everyday life (eg. witchcraft, magic, I thought), notions that should be banished, on peril of making the world worse. (This is similar to Sagan's later banishing the 'demon-haunted world').

I do not feel that it was 'group think' as such. I was scientifically oriented, but knew that I could still change things in science by new discoveries. I could imagine changing the way the group thinks, just like my heroes of Faraday, Maxwell, Einstein, etc. (I may have been naively optimistic about the likelihood of that, but I knew it possible, so I was not committed to group think.)

For the same reasons I was not just about preserving the status quo, as such. I could change that. Perhaps I was still preserving science or scientism, though at the time I did not see it.

On reflection now, I conclude:

Each of us has adopted some various ideas as unconditionally true (whether about science, or religion, or agnosticism, or whatever). And that these ideas become attached to our manner of feeling what is good and what is distasteful. We develop a feeling for those ideas as good, and 'good' becomes defined as what agrees with those ideas. Conversely, any opposing ideas give rise to distaste and unease and uncertainty and anxiety. So we fight back! That is what the pseudo-skeptics are doing. They are fighting back against ideas which (in their own minds) are upsetting.

What should we do?

You may well ask whether this is the correct way that our affections and ideas should be organized? Should we be able to become so emotionally attached to ideas which have (in the end) a high chance of being wrong? Should not we keep some kind of flexibility?

Now in my life I can generalize that each of us, as we grow up, is seeking for something to be taken as 'unconditionally good'. Something that be a foundation on which to build one's life. It may be religion, or science. It may be 'creativity as such' (it was for me at one point), or art, or community commitment, or saving the whales, or whatever.

Theistic View

Even taking a religious viewpoint, this is necessary. We have to make some kind of commitment or other: some kind of affirmation of trust in what is good and faith in what is true. On a religious view, humans are 'designed' to have to make such affirmations: preferably to what is good in God and true from God of course. 

Though, as we see so often these days, these same kind of commitments are now being made to other things that should not be affirmed in the same way. Nowadays, there is so much seemingly-angry commitment to atheism or materialism or science. We are intended to make some commitment.

Adapted from a skeptiko post

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Images and Correspondences of God in Quantum Physics

Let us find what connections we can see between God and Quantum Nature. If we find some relation or correspondence between them, that should help us to understand both a little better.

We know there must be some connection, since the God is Life Itself, and hence the source of all the power and activity that we have. All spiritual, mental and physical things must depend on God for their sustained existence and capacities for action. That dependence is what theism asserts.

Let us now focus on the beginning and the end of the chain of being: God as the source and the physical world as the final effect. Let us omit the middle stages for now.

God, we should know from our religious background, is all of
  1. a God of Love, 
  2. a God of Wisdom, and 
  3. a God of outreaching activity.  
The love of a being is its substance, so Love is the substance of God. There should be no surprise there.

Wisdom is concerns all true thoughts. Now thoughts are about the forms of things. To think of something is to consider by abstraction its structure and properties, and not to interact with it directly. God's wisdom is the source of all true thoughts, so we can think of divine wisdom as the complete set of true forms. But forms of what? Forms of some substance, of course. So, with God, wisdom is the form of divine love. 

Outreaching activity is the proceeding divine that created, sustains and enlivens the world. It is therefore somethings specific for each part of the world, and it enables us to make our own actions.

Quantum reality, we should know from our physics education or from our reading, concerns collections of things that have the following features:
  1. some energy, comprised of kinetic and potential energy,
  2. a wave function that spreads out with some form, following Shroedinger's equation, and 
  3. some specific outcomes that result from measurements produced with some probability.
The energy of a quantum particle is represented mathematically by an operator called the Hamiltonian operator H(t) for that particle. The Hamiltonian usually has two terms: the kinetic energy term and the potential energy term. We assume (for simplicity now) that these are given.

The Shroedinger equation, namely
describes how the wave function  varies with time and space. Wave functions are mathematical objects, and are therefore forms. Forms of something, necessarily (since the physical world cannot be made just out of abstract forms), but forms of what?

The outcomes that result from measurements depend on probabilities calculated by the square-modulus of the wave function ||2.    Wave functions therefore describe (by means of their square modulus) the propensities for specific outcomes.  The substance of whatever the wavefunctions describe is therefore that propensity. (Here the introduction to this kind of inference.) 

The measurements in quantum mechanics are not yet properly described in quantum mechanics.  That is why there are so many interpretations of quantum physics. Their common thread (in all except the many-worlds interpretation) is that measurement is some kind of selection between distinct outcomes. Measurement, then is the final act of the quantum world in the transition from a partially-determined future to a fully-determined past. I wrote a whole book about this process. 

Comparing God and Quantum Reality, we see some similarities:
  1. Love is like the energy of a particle.
  2. Wisdom is like the form of the propensity of the particle.
  3. Measurements are the outreaching activity that are the final effects.
I am certainly not saying these are identities. Love is not energy, but like energy. Wisdom is not a spatiotemporal form, but like a form. The divine outreaching acts are not measurements, but are like measurements. All these 'likes' are because the divine elements and the physical elements function in similar ways. These functional similarities are called correspondences by Swedenborg, who has described them in more detail than I have found elsewhere. According to him, they arise because all things of creation, not just humans, are kinds of images of God.

You may have considered the deep conflict in quantum mechanics to be between 'waves' and 'particles'. Lee Woofenden recently, then, tried to find the divine correspondences of waves and particles. 

However, 'particles' never appeared in by description above.  Let me quote from my book:
One feature of the present account of substance is that [quantum] objects need not be located in small fixed volumes of space as, for example, the corpuscles or particles of classical physics would be. The propensity fields that have been defined do not need to have any special ‘center’ distinguishable from all the other places in the field. They may have no center at all that could be regarded as the ‘true substance’ whereby the surrounding field could be regarded as just the ‘sphere of influence’ of the central substance.
It is commonly believed by many physicists, that high energy scattering experiments allow us to conclude that fundamental particles like electrons, quarks, etc. are point particles, like real objects of zero size. However, this inference is incorrect. What the experiments show is that there is no lower limit to the size that the wave packet of an electron (for example) may be compressed. They never show that there is actually a point particle, as this would contradict the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle by requiring infinite energy to be used in producing it. Some other objects (e.g. atoms or nuclei) do have a lower limit of compression, and this is interpreted as arising from a composite internal structure. No matter how small we then compress the wave packet for an atom’s centre of mass motion, the atom as a whole cannot be made arbitrarily small. At all times, both fundamental particles and composite objects have some varying finite size that depends on time and circumstances and may be legitimately said to occupy the volume of this size in space. Whether they also fill that volume depends on the probabilities of interaction with instruments, which may be small or large and so are a matter of degree in a similar manner to the way that air ‘fills’ a room according to its pressure. 
A substance-field of propensities may have a variable spatial size. Sometimes it behaves more like a spread-out wave, and when at other times it interacts, it behaves like a localized particle. (Starting Science From God, pp. 47-48)

Monday, August 26, 2013

Science and Theism discussion group starting September in Livermore, CA

Starting from Sept 8 at the First Presbyterian Church in central Livermore, CA, I will be leading a 'reading and discussion group' on Sunday evenings. This will focus on the ideas in my recent book Starting Science From God.

For more details, and to register, go to the FPCL registration page.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

How to Start Theistic Science?

Let’s think now about how we would go about forming a scientific theory that had theism and God in it. How would you do that? Material science starts from the assumption that there isn’t a God, so what can we do? The obvious thing is to start from the assumption or postulate that there is a God! If some people are allowed to start by assuming that there is no God, then we can build another building next door which is based on the assumption that there is a God. We can follow that that as an alternative, in a contrast to the naturalistic way.

And then we have to spell out the basic ideas of theism. We have to spell it out without ambiguity, and in a non-metaphorical way. We have to form ideas that can be understood as literally true. When people look at Genesis, they say in Genesis, the first chapter is true, but not literally true. Ok. But what is Genesis 1 referring to? That is the question! And if are to understand what is going on, then we should have an idea about what Genesis 1 is actually referring to. And [another] consequence of this is that no paradoxes are allowed. Some philosophers are very keen on paradoxes, and here is an example of a visual paradox.

A box which is paradoxical in three dimensions.

We cannot have that in three dimensions! By paradox I mean two things which contradict each other. For example, some philosophies and some religions say that ‘we are God’ but ‘we are distinct from God’ at the same time. That is what I mean by a paradox: when two things are held which appear to contradict each other, or do contradict each other, if they are held at the same time. That means that we want to avoid all paradoxes, because it is well known (from the logical point of view) that if you have two things which contradict each other at the same time, then you can prove anything. This is a general feature of an inconsistent system. It is useless. So we want to keep rational consistency. So, therefore, we emphasize a lot the rational consistency of the ideas that we are trying to present.

Avoiding Reductionism

Furthermore, [we have] a general question. Actually it is a matter of taste, but this is the way that I have decided to proceed. Instead of saying that ‘minds are nothing but brains’, or that ‘souls are nothing but minds’, or that ‘God is nothing but an idea in our mind’, or the cosmos, or everything that there is, I want to avoid these reductionist or ‘nothing but’ explanations. We need to have a proper account of how there could be, for example, minds, and how they are related to brains, how they are connected, but not equal to each other. They are distinct. They are causally connected: one can affect the other, and the other can affect the one. [This must be possible] without demolishing [one or the other. For if we] do not actually have minds, we don't think, we don't have ideas, we don't have feelings. It is a serious problem to deny that there are minds!

Lastly, to make theistic science, we want to make predictions, and compare with experiments. We say that if these predictions are confirmed, then this is evidence in support of theistic science. That is the general principle of doing science. We will see, as are doing this, whether you agree that the starting point is confirmed. We will discuss later how you can ‘prove’ things.

Objections to Theistic Science

Now if I present these ideas to a scientific group, there are some standard responses they make. There are some scientific objections to theism. The first one is that, if God were allowed as an explanation in science, then ‘anything goes’. They say that, no matter what happens, one can say ‘God did it’.
The explanation of ‘God did it’ could be used for any event whatsoever. God, they think of as some person with a free will outside reality, who is not bound by any of the natural laws. They think that this is so overwhelmingly different that it would interfere with everything that they do. If that were to happen then you could not form any rules or patterns, or regular or irregular activities. Comprehensible or incomprehensible things could equally well be explained by God. If God was making miracles happen all the time, then this wouldn’t make sense: you couldn't do science like this.

We want start by replying to this objection, that God is not some arbitrary and capricious old man who can do what he likes. It is clear that when you get a better understanding of religion, there is a certain constancy and reliability about God which not everyone agrees with, but you get a better understanding in my opinion. In fact, as the religions and the churches get a better understanding of God, he does not look like this: 

That means that, if we want to allow for a scientific theism, we want to say that the previous reasons for opposing theism in science arise from misunderstandings about the nature of God. That is why we have to make it clear what the foundation of our theism is, and explain it in a simple rational way: without contradiction and without paradox. [This is] to avoid these particular misunderstandings. I believe that, with the help of Swedenborg, we will see later that there are some basic ideas which can be used in this way.

See for example and my rebuttal of Robert Pennock.

We know that there are considerable regularities in the world, and we should be able to explain the source and nature and reasons for these regularities. As an example of this, we can say that the source of regularities might be the constancy and eternality of the love and wisdom of God. So that is a beginning of an explanation within theistic science of why there are regularities. But we then have to explain lots more about how the love and wisdom of God operate, and what are the regularities that result.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Theism has Empirical Effects

I say that theism has empirical effects. It makes predictions about what happens in the world, and these happenings can be observed. The opposing view to that is what is called the Non-overlapping Magisteria view, or NOMA. Stephen J Gould, the evolutionary scientist, produced this name. And this quite common. Another way of putting it is that ‘Science tells us how things happen, and Faith or Religion tells us why’. It is a common way that many people use to divide science from religion, and it has some advantages. It protects science from religion, so if you want a theism or a religion or an idea about God that does not feel threatened by science, then one way of removing that threat is to say that they are not connected with each other. 

But this view, this Non-overlapping Magisteria view, has some serious defects. Because, for example, if we are to know God, then God must be able to influence us, now. And if God is to be involved with the world, as most religions say that God is involved with the world, then it must make a difference. And you can argue that God cannot make a difference, if the world has evolved completely has it has without any [causal connection with God]. Why do you need God [in that case], if you have a complete explanation without God. And so, if we are to have some understanding  or knowledge or even perception of God, then there must be some influence. And furthermore, religion and theism do talk about what is, and not just why things are. For instance, they talk about human nature. We discuss whether we have souls or minds. These things are disputed by science, so that if theism makes predictions about this, then we might be able to understand these things better. We might get a better understanding of psychology, or spiritual psychology, for example. And then, in religious history, revelations have occurred. People have said that God spoke to them, and they told us what [was] said. A dramatic example of that is the incarnation. Someone appears and claims that they are God, or that they and God are one. This is obviously a serious influence of God on the world if that was true.

What I am saying is that there are overlaps between theism and the natural world. And if we are to understand these overlaps properly, we have to think carefully about what religion is on one side, and what science is on the other. And we have to think of them in such a way that they can be combined, without collapsing into one. Because there are some differences as well as connections.

Extracted from Starting Science from God. Part I: Connecting Science and Theism