Friday, December 30, 2011

Preparatory articles on ontology: form, substance, propensity and multiple levels

Preparatory articles written for my book Starting Science From God:

Ontology at

What does the Wave Function Describe? 
A physics talk about understanding the wave function of quantum mechanics: distinguishing form, substance and propensity.
An ontological extension of dispositional essentialism is proposed, whereby what is necessary and sufficient for the dispositional causation of events is interpreted realistically, and postulated to exist. This ‘generative realism’ leads to a general concept of ‘substance’ as constituted by its more fundamental powers or propensities appearing in the form of some structure or field. This neo-Aristotelian view is reviewed historically, and in respect to quantum physics.
The analysis of dispositions is used to consider cases where the effect of one disposition operating is the existence of another disposition. This may arise from rearrangements within aggregated structures of dispositional parts, or, it is argued, also as stages of derivative dispositions within a set of multiple generative levels. Inspection of examples in both classical and quantum physics suggests a general principle of `Conditional Forward Causation': that dispositions act 'forwards' in a way conditional on certain circumstances or occasions already existing at the `later' levels.
Examining the role of dispositions  (potentials and propensities) in both physics and psychology reveals that they are commonly derivative dispositions, so called because they derive from other dispositions. Furthermore, when they act, they produce further propensities. Together, therefore, they appear to form discrete degrees within a structure of multiple generative levels. It is then constructively hypothesized that minds and physical nature are themselves discrete degrees within some more universal structure. This gives rise to an effective dualism of mind and nature, but one according to which they are still constantly related by causal connections. I suggest a few of the unified principles of operation of this more complicated but universal structure.
An architecture is proposed in which connectionist links and pattern-directed rules are combined in a unified framework, involving the combination of distinct networks in layers. Piaget's developmental psychology is used to suggest specific semantic contents for the individual layers.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Unique explanatory advantages of book "Starting Science From God"

  • Presentation of a science of theism in a realistic manner with explanatory and predictive power.
  • Non-metaphorical and non-mythical understanding of theism
  • Philosophical account of 'substance' in terms of persistent underlying propensities
  • Recognition and many examples of 'multiple generative levels' in physics and psychology.
  • Presentation of the basis of theism as the consequence of One God existing who is being itself & unselfish-love itself & wisdom itself.
  • Principles in more detail:
    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.
  • Describes an honest, welcoming and living theism
  • No reductionist or 'nothing but' explanations of God, spirituality or mentality.
  • Prediction that minds exist with spiritual loves, mental thoughts and physical actions within an integrated complex.
  • Prediction of internal structure of minds: thoughts of love, of thought and of action.
  • Prediction of internal structure of physical degrees: principles of effects (pregeometric physics), propagation of effects (field  theories), and of final affects (quantum mechanics leading to actual selections)
  • Prediction of relations between the mental and the physical
  • Prediction of relations between the divine and the spiritual+mental: that we receive life according to those actions our loves have made in the past.
  • Prediction of spiritual degrees not in terms of expansion/ elevation/ vibration/ dimensions/ nondualism of consciousness, but in terms of principal loves.
  • Why progressive evolution of physical forms is necessary to make living & thinking beings like humans.
  • Gradual biological, psychological and spiritual build-up is necessary in general, as there are no instant adults.
  • That evolutionary fitness must be selected not only naturally, but also theistically according to reception of life from the divine.
  • The consciousness is the joint action of love and wisdom. It is not itself causal, but is theoperation of spiritual and mental causality.
  • That permanent spiritual growth depends on those actions our loves have made with wisdom/faith in the past.
  • That some formal modeling is possible within this scientific theism.

Friday, December 23, 2011

God does not support the world only by physical laws

It is generally agreed that, according to theism, God has not only created the world, but also sustains it in its day-to-day operation. If God stopped sustaining the universe, then everything in it would immediately cease to exist. Such a view can be contrasted with deism, whereby God was only the creator of the world, and has no further part or role in its existence or operation. In deism, the world must have within itself its continued principles of being. Both those views, of course, are to be distinguished with a-theism, which is like deism only without God: there is only the world continuing to  exist independently.   Note, finally, that all the above views are compatible with both universe and multi-verse theories of the world: we simply take 'the world' to refer to everything that exists.

We can order these views as theism -- deism -- atheism, with progressively fewer roles for God. In the last atheist view, there is no role. Theism is the opposite: that God is the direct or indirect source for actual causes in the world.

It is claimed often that modern science supports the view that the world (universe, multiverse, or whatever) exists in a self-sustaining manner, and has no causal input from outside it. That is to claim that scientific evidence supports the causal closure of the world. In that case, there are apparently no effects of God, and hence divine existence is unnecessary.

Some scientists with religious inclinations, and those desiring to see how the existence of God may be compatible with the supposed scientific evidence, insist that God still has a role. Namely, God is responsible for the laws of nature, and hence that God sustains the world by means of those laws. This view is essentially deism, but in popular culture the application of this theory to evolution has been called 'theistic evolution'. Under that name it has been supported by prominent scientists such as Francis Collins, Francisco Ayala and Stephen Barr. It is often taken as originating with Kepler, though in later posts we will investigate some earlier roots.

The laws of nature in modern physics are often essentially characterized in terms of their symmetries. These are the reflections/rotations/dilations that are allowed at the deepest level. More precisely, it is the 'underlying group structure' of the fundamental forces / fields / strings that is used to describe and distinguish different theories. Superstring theory is essentially the adoption of a particular set of fundamental symmetries at some deep level, though not at those levels we see with our eyes.
If God only sustains the world by means of natural laws, and these laws are only strict at some deep level, then it suggest a slightly more active role for God than in deism. But is it enough for theism?  Stephen Barr wrote along these lines in his First Things article "Fearful Symmetries" last year. He sees God essentially as producing the "great thought" that describes the deep symmetries, and hence sustains our world. This account enables him to continue as a mathematical physicist, and investigate these symmetries and these laws. However, it has particular consequences that hardly allow it to qualify as a theism.

The main consequence -- one Barr endorses completely -- is that "the world we experience is the result of processes that move upward". By 'upward', he means upward from the laws of physics to the evolutionary processes that produce living and then thinking creatures. These are just the processes that atheists point to, and he agrees that "that history--of matter self-organizing and physical structures growing in complexity--is correct as far as it goes."

Barr's view implies that all biological and mental processes are 'matter self-organizing', and can therefore be reduced to physical laws. The divinely-produced physical laws, he may insist, but physical laws nonetheless. There is nothing special in the human mind (if such minds are allowed at all to exist as minds) that allows humans to spiritually approach God in love, or even to think rationally. He might be reluctant to accept that conclusion, but that is the one that follows from his premises. He might seek endlessly for an account of 'non-reductive physicalism' for the mind, but, I believe, he will eventually fail.

The reason for this failure is that, in a proper theism, God enters into human life by means of spiritual and mental processes, and that God has causal effects in our spirits, minds, and hence also in our physical bodies. This is necessary not just for religious experiences, but also for day-to-day operations within us. In a fully fledged theism, the world is not causally closed, because it is open to God. 

Stephen Barr is reluctant to allow this openness to God to affect his science. He wants to keep some deep rationality of physics as the dwelling place of God in the world, rather than in the souls / minds / body complexes that make up humans (and other living creatures that might be sufficiently similar).

Part of this reluctance stems from a desire to follow the so-called theistic evolution theory (more accurately called 'deistic evolution' as I explained above), and to not allow the possibility of intelligent design. To allow divine input into specific creatures appears to unacceptably 'violate' the purity of his deep rationality, and remove from his mind the firm basis of natural laws at the physical level. 

Allowing divine input into the world, and allowing for causal laws that are not purely physical, is the task of the theistic science to come. For that, see the new book at

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What can be evidence for theism?

Sometimes it is claimed that we cannot have any evidence for God. We cannot, they say, put God in a test tube, or examine him under a microscope!

Our discussion within theism will focus on the features of God that are dynamic and therefore have an effect on the world. So I reply to the claims above: are you sure that God is not in the test tube, and that is he is not in the space under the microscope? Are you claiming that the omnipresent God is everywhere in the universe, but not there?

More seriously concerning theology: for God to make a world that functions within theism, then not to leave any evidence about where to find him at all would be pointless, since God is the source of all intellectual discernment and love. If he had everything that we need, and wanted to give it to us, but gave us no way to find him, would be self-defeating! Moreover, if you want to talk about purpose: our purpose is the receive that love and discernment from God. It is certainly not a purpose independent of God.

If God is to make any practical difference, it must be possible for the divine 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.

An important point is that 'evidence' only means something if we know how to interpret it, and that requires some prior theory to get us started. So I think there is lots of evidence for theism, but, because of our previous theories, we do not recognize that evidence. This kind of ambiguity means that it is not 'direct evidence' and certainly not 'proof', but that is never obtained in science anyway.

For example, I show in my book that theism, if that theory is understood as I recommend, leads to predictions that we have minds. And minds with desires and thoughts. Minds with all sorts of interesting internal structures and functions.

I suppose you never considered that the mere fact of having a mind was evidence for anything. That is because your theory never predicted it! So I certainly do not believe that God and evidence for God is necessarily hidden. We just have to look in the right way. "He who has eyes, ...".

Theism mostly operates by giving capacities and dispositions to physical, mental and spiritual things that would never be expected on the basis of the plain constituents of those things and their properties. These are the predictions that I try to show in detail.

When it comes to testing more detailed predictions, therefore, we have to test the behavior of things, to see if their response can be entirely explained in terms of the constituent parts. This is a kind of 'emergence' theory, but on a proper ontological basis with new capacities and powers. It is not just trying to see the collection of parts under a new description of the whole.
Trying to see the direct actions of God in the world is extraordinarily difficult. Not impossible, but not easy. That is because very many of his actions are delegated to intermediate spiritual, mental and physical levels as I try to explain. Of course, the very capacities of those levels depends on God, but the evidence for those capacities is then one more step removed from God. The direct evidence is primarily the existence of those levels in the first place.

I agree that this requires us to somewhat rework the 'scientific framework', but that is not impossible. It has happened before. Whether the existing practitioners will allow us to change slightly the rules of the game is what we will find out. What I'm doing is to at least make a definite theory which could be taken scientifically.

Friday, December 9, 2011

How can we distinguish between divine and human actions in the world?

Let me give a short answer presupposing the ontological framework of theistic science described in my book: it does not stand alone. I will also try to answer the question without using the word 'good' (though, if I could, the answer would be a little simpler). I will take the question as referring mainly to our own actions: trying to separate what is from ourselves from what comes from God.

There are 4 kinds of actions that should be distinguished here:
  1. actions by God directly, such as creating, visiting, etc
  2. actions done by God, by means of us.
  3. actions done by us, with concurrence by God.
  4. actions done by us, with permission from God but not initiation.
One purpose of my book is to show how the kind 4 can exist: we can redirect loves and dispositions from God to our own purposes quite distinct from his.
The challenge is to distinguish kinds 2 and 3. In general we only begin to distinguish them after the fact. That is because, during their operation, we tend to interfere if we see what is really happening.

The kind 2 requires no interference: we have to be almost distracted or looking the other way; at least with no self-consciousness. We still feel the delights soon afterwards, though. If we interpose our own ego, then actions get contaminated to some extent. For this kind, we will have to have previously 'cleaned the inside of the cup' by avoiding temptations and the later the desire for what was tempting.

Kind 3 is when our egos are still partially involved. That is the case for most of us on the path. In this case we ask for grace, and try to make way for it when it arrives. The actions will still be ego-connected, but, we pray, not too much.

This is necessarily a very brief summary of some different kinds of spiritual development, as we learn to turn away from selfishness. Some people, of course, would deny the very existence of these things. That is why my book deals mostly with ontology--what exists--rather than what we should be doing. In practice, of course, there are in us many desires pointing in various directions, and many partial insights that inform us of some of these directions. When it comes to actions by other people, it is more difficult again to tell.

As we all realize, distinguishing these aspects should be part of ongoing reflection about our own lives. For both theoretical and practical reasons.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Skeptiko thread discussing 'Starting Science From God' and theism

Over at the forums for the Skeptiko podcast, they have started a new thread to discuss my book and the ideas in it concerning theism and minds. Of particular interest to these people are Near-Death Experiences and parapsychology. Alex Tsakiris interviews researchers, near-death experiences, and those skeptical of these things. The focus is primarily on 'the data' and what can be shown on the basis of that evidence. 

They find, however, that they are hampered by the lack of any good theory for what is going on in these unusual situations. They wonder, for example, 'what - exactlyis consciousness'. Related to this is a lack of a proper theory, or even guidelines, to explain how the evidence from internal experiences and spontaneous events are supposed to be evaluated. I hope that the ideas I am developing might be useful for this and related applications. So on that thread I will be discussing various aspects of theism--trying to explain what theism is because it has been so long neglected philosophically--and how it relates to the existence of minds and spirituality. Some people think that there can never be any evidence for theism, for example, to which I reply here. Alex asked how theism might fit into a testable scientific framework, to which I replied here. It seems not often that theists defend their theory properly. I look forward to ongoing discussions.

I am 'phs1it', in case that is not clear.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

New book published: "Starting Science From God"

At last my new book is published!

This book describes a general theory to link science to theism. Theism is the philosophical basis of Western religions. As the first Amazon reviewer says:
Here is a scientist who begins by assuming God exists and develops his scientific ideas from that point of view. He has a unique idea that is fascinating. I loved reading this, even though it takes concentration to follow. The discussion combines philosophy, quantum physics, and religion. It reminded me of the Tao of Physics, only more modern and more Christian.
More details of the book are at, where there are sample chapters and preliminary reviews. It is available on Amazon now, and soon at Barnes & Noble. There are Kindle and Nook eBooks now, and soon there will be an iBooks version. It should be internationally distributed by the end of the year.

In future blog postings here, I will be discussing questions arising from the book and from its readers.