Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Stephen Barr on connecting God and the world

In my previous posts here and here, I discussed the position of catholic physicist Stephen Barr, starting from his article at First Things. He was advocating a view in which the influence of God on the world was confined to the 'deep principles' of physics.

The (unfortunate) consequences of this position for biology and evolution are now the subject of vigorous discussion at the blog Uncommon Descent, first here and now here. Barr wants to claim that scientific theories cannot confirm or deny the existence of purpose, and that any scientific theories (including materialism) which e.g. appear to deny purpose have to be reinterpreted. The trouble, then, is that the materialists would not even recognize their own theories any more.

In theistic science, by contrast, we explicitly make purpose an integral part of the operation of the universe. A universe, that is, which is not just material, but has also mental, spiritual and divine operations. According to theistic science, the grand claims of materialism are simply false. And hence also the exclusivity of natural selection in the production of biological creatures by means of (non-Darwinian) evolution. Only then can we have a proper causal account of how we have evolved. Being a causal account, we go further than activities investigating intelligent design, which deliberately refrain from examining the causes of design.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Why evolution is true (within theism)

There are many similarities of theistically-driven evolution with raising a family or raising democracy in a nation. We never begin from scratch. Sudden changes are rarely successful. Everyone must gradually develop his own character, as if from himself. Molecular designs will have been selected, not only for physical efficiency, but also, as we discussed, for their ability to receive theistic influx and so represent some small part of the human functional form in the mental and spiritual degrees. It may be that putative examples of ‘bad design’ have their good uses when the needs for reception are taken into account. We certainly cannot decide ‘good design’ on purely physical grounds since the overall purpose is always the coming into existence of human-like beings who are able to spiritually receive, retain, and delight in (and hence return) the love of God. When evolution comes to the spiritual stage where actions during the life have very long-lasting consequences, then phenomena of disease, predation, etc take on new importance and have to be managed to minimize their occurrence.
Many scientific investigations are still needed, even given the concept of theistically-driven evolution. We still have to understand the history of life on earth and the frequencies of genes in the various populations. We still have the problem of finding transitional species. Even in the hands-on limit, there must still be transitional forms between the main taxa of life in the various eras. There are the same needs here for evidence as in Darwinian evolution. The development of a new species may now seem easy to explain, perhaps too easy, but speciation is still a difficult process to understand and to accomplish. There must have been preparatory collection and harboring of new genetic information in the non-functional parts of existing genomes until these new sections could be activated together to give birth to a new species. How, given what we know of molecular genetics, could that have been managed?  And managed simultaneously in several creatures of a species (especially if there is sexual reproduction)?  Apart from that word ‘managed’, the questions of the continuous variations of genetic structures are very similar to those asked by Darwinian evolutionists. Therefore such research work is still needed.
The origin of life is still difficult to understand, even if now it is not so astronomically improbable as it would be according to a purely naturalistic account. We need to understand how the materials for life were assembled together into a form that keeps some perpetuating structure of its own. If you watch these materials in detail they will not follow exactly the laws of physics of inanimate bodies. Only the very simplest structures can be directly assembled (for reasons explained above). After the first assemblies, all else must follow by driving ‘behind the scenes’ to make these evolve gradually into new forms of life. The difficulties, even for God, of assembling organisms (as if from themselves) are sufficiently numerous that the idea that all the world’s creatures came from just one ancestor (‘universal common descent’) seems (to me) to be rather plausible. Whether it is also true must be the subject of scientific investigations, but, certainly, universal common descent cannot be used as distinguishing feature of only Darwin’s theory.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Theistically Filtered Evolution and Theistically Driven Evolution

I argued in a previous post that God needs to develop living creatures by means of a continuity of physical forms, so evolution must proceed by means of descent by modification. This phrase is often taken to define Darwin’s theory of natural selection, to distinguish his theory from that of immediate, special and separate creations. Now, however, different terminology is needed. Since Darwin thought of his theory as natural selection, let us describe ours as containing theistic selection. Where he talked about survival of the fittest, we agree, as long as we do not forget that fitness also depends on reception of life from God, a reception that also depends on our organic structures. Thus, in theistic selection, we have also a survival according to reception. We are talking here only about what factors influence the survival of plants or animals in the world. We especially mean those that are in addition to physical and ecological factors already known. Theistic selection must include all the considerations of natural selection as well since the natural or physical degree is an essential part of our theistic structure.
The details of the causes and means of modifications remain an open question within theistic science. Two limiting cases for these causes can be called the ‘hands on’ and ‘hands off’ treatments by God. The hands-off case is when the only sources of modifications are random mutations, genetic drift and genetic recombinations during reproduction, just as in present-day neo-Darwinism. That is, God would wait for suitable new forms of organisms to naturally arise, and then the degree to which these new organisms are physically, mentally and perhaps spiritually fit will mean that they live longer and be more likely to reproduce. There is therefore both natural and theistic selection, but the actual origin of the species is explained in the same way as by contemporary evolutionary theory.
According to the ‘hands off’ explanatory theory, we would see why the forms of organisms are not arbitrary. The theistic component of the selection process means that creatures who are able to successfully receive and retain life from God are more likely to survive and hence to reproduce. Over the long term, organisms that have the human form will tend to be produced because they will be favored numerically in any competition for limited resources or (say) in resistance to diseases. Their mental perceptions and thoughts will more accurately portray reality. This hands-off view is one kind of theistic evolution. Let us call it theistically-filtered evolution to distinguish it from the common view of ‘theistic evolution’ wherein God does not have any kind of causal or filtering role in evolution at all.
The other limiting case is that of ‘hands on’ management by God. In this limit, God is continually involved in the day-to-day influx of divine life and hence also in the long-term management of genetic and physiological structures. That is, God would be not infrequently be producing modifications to the molecular structures of organisms, but in such a way that this is not directly noticed by the creature. The creature is never deprived of its sense of living as if from itself.This is a fundamental requirement for all life on earth, with the result that any new modifications must in some way be hidden from having immediate effects, at least until the being develops new loves that want and correspond to the new molecular structures. We could call this limit theistically-driven evolution. We should expect some ‘driven nature’ of evolution if we think that God has a particular interest in or desire concerning its result. In the ‘fully driven’ limit, which we might expect if God is completely benevolent, unselfish, and diligent in wanting us to develop, God will be doing everything possible to manage the detailed generation of genetics, species, and ecologies to accomplish first what is good and later what is very good.
All of these kinds of theistic evolution imply that the actual causes of evolution are internal. If we watch evolution in progress, we always see continuous changes in living organisms. And even if we could examine the physical and molecular structures of the organisms during that evolution, we would still only see continuous paths of the molecules. There is never any ‘popping into physical existence’ of a new creature or species where there had been empty space. Neither is there any sudden creation of new creatures ‘out of dust’. Even the very simplest bacterium has a complex internal structure that must already correspond to some simple mental sub-degree and therefore cannot be created immediately by God. Otherwise the non-physical sub-degree would be missing its ‘skin’ of previous historical actions as the basis for that bacterium’s independent life. This necessary physical continuity what is meant by ‘descent by modification’, by gradual modification. Descent by modification, we conclude, cannot be used to characterize Darwinism or neo-Darwinism, since now we see that it is a necessary component of any theory of evolution within theism.
We may think of theistically-driven evolution as intelligent design since God is intelligent and God is continually working on and modifying species. However, it is certainly not part of the ‘design and build’ procedure as we know it in, say, engineering. God is always working with existing biological creatures and doing the best that is possible to pull creatures into life, always according to knowledge of the physical structures that will successfully receive and retain their mental and spiritual life. Patience is clearly needed. Sometimes beings, once developed, are invaded or eaten by others (infection and predation) if that helps the function of the overall ecology though perhaps not some of the individual beings. The requirement of physical continuity means that the beings possible within a given time scale have genetic or epigenetic (in the cell, but not part of the genome) relics from previous creatures whose genes were modified to make the present creature. This must happen often since no creature is a creation ab initio. There is always a development from what already exists towards what is desired in the future.
For more details, see the book "Starting Science From God"

Monday, February 20, 2012

Causal Explanations of Evolution Cannot be purely natural

When we look for an explanation of how life came to exist on earth, we want not just descriptions or a few reasons why life happened. We want to know about the causes for what has happened. Any theory of evolution must depend on a theory of what kinds of causes exist and of how these causes operate. If theistic science investigation proposes a new (and plausible) account of how causes operate in the world, we are obliged to reconsider the theory of evolution and revise it to take into account the proposed kinds of causes and their manners of operation.
Darwin, in fact, was motivated to develop his theory of evolution via natural selection because he precisely wanted to follow the then new naturalistic theory of causation. It was the theory in which God was not involved in the day-to-day running of the universe. From an early stage, Darwin looked for a theory in which a self-sustaining and self-developing natural world could produce all the living creatures seen today without God being responsible for its details and (in particular) not being responsible for the disease, predation, and parasitism that he saw. We may debate whether or not Darwin’s theory is plausible or successful with its causal explanations. However, within the absent-God causal scenario, it is clear that it is more or less the only possible explanation. As a result, it has today a very large number of followers. Many of them are still seeking the detailed causal explanations but uniformly agree on the ‘sanctity’ of the laws of nature within a naturalist philosophy.
There are many scientists who do profess religion and think that theism and Darwin’s theory can co-exist. This compatibility is possible since theism means to them that God sustains the world, and Darwin has described how creatures in the world have functioned and developed together. (They remind us of Galileo’s phrase, “Scripture teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”) This view, however, is equivalent to deism, not theism. It holds that God is not involved with the world once its operation has started (except, perhaps, in special events such as the founding and/or culmination of new religions). Once ‘laws of nature’ are assumed to be inviolate, Darwinism can accommodate such deistic views.
Within our new scientific theism we are unable to follow Darwin, in either the naturalistic or deistic world views. When God sustains the universe, this is not accomplished ‘at a distance’ by ‘merely sustaining’ the universe according to laws of physics but (we now conclude) by the presence of God in some degree. There can be no power without substance and no substance without present existence. This means that any sustaining action of God in the world will necessarily require the reception of life from God, not abstractly but as a substance really existing. This life is not always according to fixed physical laws. It necessarily has spiritual and mental components that will be effective if a suitable receptive form (e.g. a human form) is present. The fitness of a living organism is not purely a function of its interactions with the physical world and other organisms. It depends also and at least on the fullness of its reception of life from God. This implies that, within a proper theism, it is impossible to have a purely naturalistic account of evolution. Fitness, and hence selection, are not entirely natural. They are subject also to spiritual and mental considerations. There must be some kind of theistic selection, as well as natural selection.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

No Instant Adults in Theistically Driven Evolution

Many people wonder why God does not immediately create humans and other creatures, instead of going through the long-winded process of birth and growth. The earth has been the basis for life for a very long time, but the processes of making species, people, societies and democracies all seem to take longer than we think they should. The reason, according to theism, comes from the nature of God, as Life Itself. That life cannot be given immediately, but we have to grow a foundation which can receive, retain and reuse that life, if we are to be at all satisfied with living.

That is, God cannot create robust theistically-sustained organisms immediately. By ‘theistically sustained’, I mean like us (humans, animals, and plants), sustained by reception of all the discrete degrees of life according to theistic science. By robust, I mean organisms that can fend for themselves in the physical world. For this, the organisms must be sufficiently ‘thick skinned’, rather than ‘thin skinned’ and overly susceptible to contrary influences from outside. 

Suppose someone creates a new spiritual affection or a new mental idea. This can be done rather easily, and then we may have that affection or idea in our mind. But be careful, lest we forget it!  Forgetting can done even more easily than formation. Forgetfulness is common if we do not constantly pay attention and if we do not make some memory to remind us in the future. Memories make a permanent physical trace that is caused by the idea. New content in the mind is evanescent and disappears quickly if there is no physical effect either from producing an outward action or from an internal memory trace. This would not construct robust individuals with an apparent life of their own. To be created immediately like this is to have no ‘skin’ at all. A lack of skin is the condition which corresponds to having no physical basis for the permanence of one’s spiritual life.

Some religious people ask, but did not God create Adam rather quickly, and was he not a whole person?  In reply, I first note that I believe that the first 11 chapters of Genesis have only a meaning based on correspondences and not a literal or historical sense. Still, let us examine the story of the creation of Adam and Eve for its spiritual meaning. In that story, God did create Adam almost immediately. Adam (and Eve) were ‘very good’ and lived full of innocent, unashamed and wonderful love in the Garden of Eden. But look what happened next: there was a ‘fall’ within the first generation!  This was hardly a robust life. Adam and Eve were thin-skinned rather than thick-skinned individuals. And look what prompted their fall in this story: it was the desire of Eve to ‘be as gods, knowing good and evil’. To want to ‘be as a god’ is to fail to realize that one can not be a god. It is to argue from appearance and to forget that one has life only ‘as if’ from God. These newly created individuals lacked a robust intellectual discrimination concerning even a fundamental truth of theism. They were therefore easily led astray by superficial and erroneous conclusions.*

To create permanent and robust individuals, they must be developed so that, at every stage of their life, they are thick-skinned, which is to 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, 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 in return.

The creation of such people must be gradual, by means of a series of beings that themselves have their own personal histories. The process may only start by some simpler physical action by God if one could be found that did not require a history of its own. Once such an ab initio physical event has occurred, all subsequent actions must be gradual and by means of successive modifications of what already exists. This is what we (should) call evolution. It is needed by God. Not Darwinian evolution of course, but something different that we might call theistically driven evolution, a subject for further discussion. There can be no immediate creation of new beings, neither plants, nor animals, nor humans. There are no instant adults. There can only be gradual internal modifications of already-existing beings. God has to be patient.

These arguments concerning biological evolution may hardly be widespread among religious people or theologians today, but surely they can see the same logic at work in the development of individual spiritual lives and in the creation of new religions or churches. When developing our spiritual life, God works with what we are and tries to improve that. Such changes cannot be sudden, or we would lose our sense of individual existence. That certainly could not be permitted. Some will argue that the influx of grace may have a sudden effect and that the creation of a new religion by revelation or incarnation is surely a sudden process. My answer is that gratuitous grace has indeed dramatic influence, but the real task of religion is afterwards, when we return to our original lives and diligently seek to modify our previous habits into the new pattern that was briefly glimpsed. With Paul, the well-known recipient of grace, the assimilation took more than ten years, probably fourteen years!  It is similar with new religions. Miracles do convert quickly. Jesus always asked beforehand whether the person was prepared: whether he or she ‘had faith’. That meant there would be some continuity even in these miraculous cases. It is well known that the receivers of a new religion are often recalcitrant in keeping their old rituals that are supposed to be given up. The greatest number of religious conversions are by assimilation rather than by replacement precisely because of the need for continuity in our most permanent biological and spiritual lives.

Such superficial conclusions are those reached on the basis of only appearance and external knowledge and not on understanding or wisdom. To conclude on the basis of only appearance is to have eyes not looking up but only at ground level, like a snake.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

We are connected with God, but we are not characters in God's novel

Continuing the previous discussion about how we have viewed, and should view, the relation between God and the world:

One view is that we are related to God as are the characters in a book to the Writer of the book.  Edward Feser, a new Aristotelean-Thomist philosopher, encourages us to use this metaphor:
On the classical theist conception of God, God is not one causal factor in the universe among others, not even an especially grand and powerful causal factor. He is not a “first” cause in the sense of being followed in a temporal series by a second cause, a third cause, a fourth cause, etc. Rather, He is “first” or primary in the sense of being the fundamental cause, the necessary precondition of there being any causality within the universe at all, just as the author of a story is the “first cause” of what happens in the story, not in the sense of generating effects in the way the characters and processes described in the story do, but rather in the sense of being the necessary precondition of there being any characters or processes in the story at all.
The same metaphor was developed at some length in the talk by physicist Stephen Barr at the 2012 Science and Faith Conference: "Can Science Inform Our Understanding of God?", the video for his talk being available on youtube. This metaphor of a Writer and his book characters has the virtue of emphasizing some of the great philosophical / ontological differences between us humans and God. God is (thereby) not just another person among us persons, or another object among the world's objects, but can be the necessary precondition for the existence of any of us persons or objects.

This Writer metaphor, however, has a serious defect, and one which I believe is fatal. This is that a writer can never love his characters in any manner which respects their freedom. And the characters can never love return love to God-as-writer in any way which gives delight to God. The ontological chasm between God and creation, having been made great, is now in fact too great to be bridged, even by love. Even God (who is love) cannot now make anyconjunction which should be of love.*

I wonder whether Thomas Aquinas has something to do with this separation. Was there something in his views which emphasizes separation rather than conjunction? I read more about Aquinas in an article by Elizabeth Johnson, for example:
One of the strengths of Aquinas's vision is the autonomy he grants to created existence through its participation in divine being. He is so convinced of the transcendent mystery of God (esse ipsum subsistens) and so clear about the sui generis way God continuously creates the world into being that he sees no threat to divinity in allowing creatures the fullest measure of agency according to their own nature. In fact, it is a measure of the creative power of God to raise up creatures who participate in divine being to such a degree that they are also creative and sustaining in their own right. A view to the contrary would diminish not only creatures but also their Creator: "to detract from the perfection of creatures is to detract from the perfection of divine power.'' (SCG 3.69.15This is a genuinely noncompetitive view of God and the world. According to its dynamism, nearness to God and genuine creaturely autonomy grow in direct rather than inverse proportion. That is, God is not glorified by the diminishment of the creature but by the creature's flourishing in the fullness of its powers. The nature of created participation in divine being is such that it grants creatures their own integrity, without reserve.  
This participatory relationship has strong implications for the question of agency. The power of creaturely forces and agents to act and cause change in the world is a created participation in the uncreated power of the One who is pure act. Conversely, God's generous goodness and wisdom are seen especially in the creation of a world with its own innate agency.  
Admittedly her article comes from part of a polemic by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in their 'perspectives' about evolution, but I still believe what she says about Aquinas.

If so, then Aquinas has a serious problem in his theory. He wants to be "allowing creatures the fullest measure of agency according to their own nature". However, our agency requires us to have things which only God has: we need being, we need love, we need wisdom -- we need life in general. And God, in theism, is being itself, love itself, wisdom itself, and life itself. Aquinas does indeed recognize this about God: he acknowledges the 'aseity of God'. The word 'aseity' come from 'a se - ity', where 'a se' is latin for 'in itself'. But he does not acknowledge that we have to receive love, receive wisdom, receive life from God. This cannot be done arbitrarily 'at a distance', but must be done by the actions of God. And the actions of God require the presence of God. So it is certainly not the case that "nearness to God and genuine creaturely autonomy grow in direct rather than inverse proportion."

Aquinas seems to follow the traditional view of God creating the world, that is by fiat, taking literally the commands 'fiat lux: let there be light,' and so on. He, and other theologians since, have usually separated the question of how God sustains the existence of things from the question of their dynamical properties. These properties are taken to give rise to secondary causation, which is assumed to be independent of whatever primary causation there is from God.

The creation of substantial objects nevertheless involves God giving them their being (since he is being itself). There can be no power without substance nor without some kind of presence. It is impossible that God sustains merely the existences of things while at the same time remaining completely absent. In the theism of my book, the immanence of God, by which all things are sustained, is less an abstract  metaphysical principle and much more the immediate and mediate re-generation of life by continual influx from God. The sustaining of being by re-generation does allow this, as long as the beginning of the chain is in the presence of God.

The fact that God sustains all beings by such 'influx' can be the meaning of Matthew 5:45: "He ...  sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." Alternative imagery in the same verse refers to light rather than liquid flow: "He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good."

For more discussion of these things, and the broader picture, see www.beginningtheisticscience.com.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Religion is not just about meaning, though science may be about causes

One way of reconciling science and religion is to seem them as describing different aspects of reality.  Then, should we not know the difference between physical and spiritual things, we can still make distinctions. The differences can be described, even if they only concern 'perspective', rather than what exists.

John Polkinghorne, a physicist turn theologian, gives a talk in which he says:
Science and religion look at different domains of encounter with reality. Sciences deals with an objective dimension, in which things can be manipulated and events repeated, thereby affording it access to the great weapon of experimental verifiability. 
The gift that religion has to offer to science is not to answer its questions – for we have every reason to expect that scientific questions will receive scientific answers – but to take science’s insights and set them within a broader and deeper context of intelligibility. 
The difference in domains means that science and religion ask different questions of reality: in the former case how things happen; in the latter whether there is meaning, purpose and value in what is happening – issues that science tends to rule out of its discourse. Science and religion, therefore, complement each other, rather than being rivals on the same turf. 
Alister McGrath, another theologian with some background in science, writes:

... science takes things apart to see how they work. But religion puts them back together again to see what they mean. 
If science is about explanation, religion is thus about meaning. Science helps us to appreciate the wonder of individual aspects of the universe; religion to see, however dimly, the "big picture" of which they are part.
This approach was also popularized by biologist Stephen Gould, who in 1997 advocated seeing science and religion as  ‘non-overlapping magisteria’ (NOMA). Here science is concerned with ‘what is’, and religion is concerned with ‘what should be’ (morality, ethics, and metaphysics beyond observations).

These ideas are initially plausible, but all have a fatal defect: they relegate spiritual and religious processes to a ghetto where they can have no effects in nature!! If religion is only about meaning and not about causes, then (as it is not a cause) it can have no effects at all! Any spiritual God would be impotent. That is not what religious thinkers have in mind.

Scientists like Polkinghorne and McGrath prefer this view, as it keeps the 'causal closure of the universe', as I have discussed before. But if mental, spiritual and divine things are to have any practical reality, then they must be able to have effects. At least, they must be able to have effects on us, as otherwise we could never observe or talk about them because of their isolation from the physical. Quite unacceptable.

Better ideas are given by those with some actual experience of mental and spiritual processes! David Benner, for example, talks in a recent interview about those with spiritual experience:
The mystics offer us a number of valuable gifts that I think are tremendously important to contemporary Christians.  Among the most valuable of them is .... their understanding of the fact that all of life is returning to God.  Life, as they point out, is the continuous outflow of the very life of God - a flow that if we follow it, returns us to our Source, the Ground of our Being.  All human becoming involves, therefore, a fuller engagement with this outflowing life of God.
Here, we see our role as humans to engage with the life that comes from God: to receive, act on and return it in some way. That would be completely impossible of that life were only about meaning, and not about causes!

A similar view is presented by Vincent Torley when he discusses what consequences theism must have for the evolutionary process that has produced all the life on earth:
 ... we live in a cosmos which is made to be manipulated: it’s an inherently incomplete, open system, and the “gaps” are a vital part of Nature, just as the holes are a vital feature of Swiss cheese. I see no reason to believe in the existence of hidden, information-rich laws of the cosmos, especially when all the laws we know are low in information content; moreover, as Dr. Stephen Meyer has pointed out in his book, Signature in the Cell, all the scientific evidence we have points against the idea of “biochemical predestination”: simple chemicals do not naturally arrange themselves into complex information-bearing molecules such as DNA.
...  information can[not] just appear in the cosmos wherever God wants it to appear, without God having to perform any specific act that generates it. 
Here, we see one important role for the causal influence of the life that outflows from God. If God were only to relate to the physical world by 'giving it meaning', that would be too distant to be of any practical use. It certainly would not help during biological evolution, especially for most of its duration where there were not yet rational minds to even imagine that meaning.

In conclusion, we find that mental, spiritual and divine things can not be confined in their influences to be only effective among themselves. They must also have effects in the physical world. Theistic science is the attempt to frame theories which explain in more detail how this happens.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What is mind: Information or Substance?

Some philosophers, including Kenneth Sayre, David Chalmers & others, think that the existence of mind can be explained if only we could allow 'information' to exist in reality as a property alongside physical attributes such as mass, charge etc. This is taken then within  'neutral monism', whereby physical and mental are just two different ways of looking at what actually exists. They just consider different properties if some single (monistic) substantial reality.  This was advocated by Bertrand Russell, etc., and is increasingly popular today. It allows for 'property dualism', but not 'substantial dualism'.

In fact, such neutral monism has features that make it strange as a fundamental theory. I agree that it at first sounds good to have 'information' is the fundamental basis for both physical and mental realities. However, information is essentially mathematical and formal. That is what information essentially means. And anything mathematical cannot change! And one thing we know about the physical and mental worlds, is that there are causes and changes there. Furthermore, mathematics is necessary -- it cannot be otherwise -- but the world we live in is contingent -- it could be otherwise. This holds whether or not we believe in free will. To say that reality is made out of information is like going back to Pythagoras, whose follows took the world to be made out of triangles. That is all form and no substance. There is no actuality. Clearly not the best choice for theory of reality!

I insist, instead, that in order to understand the existence of physical and mental things, we need to treat them as actually existing. They cannot be merely concepts, hypotheses, forms, or information. We may describe some of them by mathematics but actual things are not constituted by mathematics. This amounts to taking an Aristotelian view of reality, wherein every real thing is some kind of substance and has powers for change. This can immediately be contrasted with an extreme Platonic view, wherein only ideal forms are real, and things in our world are merely some kind of image or shadow of those ideal forms.

Following Aristotle, we can analyze the nature of individual things. We see how they all have some form and are all composed of some matter (Greek hyle). I am going to say that objects all have some form, and that form is a form of some underlying substance or stuff. By the term ‘form’, I refer not just to the external shape of an object, but to all the internal structure and descriptive details necessary to make a full account of what actually exists at a given moment. Spatial structures are forms, and so also are any other structures needed, whether they are spatial or not. This use of the term ‘form’ refers only to static or categorical properties that can be attributed at any one time. It therefore excludes causal principles since these describe what might happen at later times. The form and substance of each thing can be intellectually distinguished, but they never exist apart in reality. It is never the case that the form of a thing is here and the substance of it is over there.

This is to adopt a realism that takes seriously the need for substance and also for changes and processes involving substantial objects. Each object cannot merely exist self-sufficiently but must be closely linked to others by causes and/or effects. We therefore need a serious account of how causes exist and operate and how the causal powers of objects are related to their substantial nature. Because science is continually discovering new kinds of causes and new ways of causation, the realism here is not a naive realism wherein we take as real just what appears to our senses. There are enormously many things and causes that science postulates that are not apparent to our senses but are inferred from empirical or theoretical considerations.

The present realism, because it stresses the leading role of causes and powers in generating new processes, is going to be called ‘generative realism.’ If we want a slogan, we could say
“No process without structure, no structure without substance, no substance without power, no power without process."

My slogan can indeed be interpreted physically. But it is not confined to what is physical, since I want to apply it to mental and spiritual things too, and also consider applying to what is divine (God). All I am doing here is to avoid purely formal accounts of these things as being complete descriptions: as well as form, we also need process, substance, power, etc. I want to avoid purely abstract descriptions of mind, or accounts which are purely mathematical! Certainly a mathematical theory of communication can exists as a description of the forms of things, but things are not themselves purely mathematical. Because I apply the slogan also to mental, spiritual and divine things, I do not follow a purely neutral monism. I see all physical, mental, spiritual and divine things as existing substances with powers, process and form each. These are not 'distinct levels of abstraction' of some single monist substance.

Many past descriptions have been more poetic than literal. So much so, that we wonder if true statements can be accurately made about what is 'mind' and 'spirit'. So I have been seeking to form a non-metaphorical account of the way God starts the process, and how it is carried on through spiritual and mental worlds to the physical realm. 

I admit that there are still questions concerning whether units of measure are even possible for these things. I am more inclined that science has to develop more towards a theory of dispositions (affordances) and qualities, even if there are no numbers to go with them. Think even now how cognitive modeling works in psychology: they examine structures and processing, even without the 'units of measure'.

The objects in minds certainly carry information, but they are much more than only information! For example, to describe something only by information tells you nothing about the propensities it has for various effects. This is the 'further' that you mention: objects can and should be characterized also by capability, productivity, potential actions, dispositions, etc. And that the specific actions depend on the form (in-form-ation) of the object. This is not impossibly difficult. Psychologists interested in preferences and motives do it all the time.

In order to understand more, we have to get a better idea of all the different kinds of desires and affections. I claim that all mental propensities / affordances / dispositions are in fact various desires and affections: that is what their substance really is. And every kind of thought and concept and information-in-the-mind has to be caused by some appropriate kind of desire: in particular, the desire for knowing that particular thing, and then for using it to produce the wanted effects. That is, each kind of concept stage of Piaget (etc) must be linked to an individual kind of desire and affection. That is were Erikson comes in: he examined the stages and levels of emotional (psychosocial) development. He did this independently, but I report in my book that his levels agree surprisingly well with Piaget's levels. (This agreement was first shown by John Gowan.)   Mental propensities are the true substance of the mind, not information.

In part, this is extracted from a forum at Skeptiko
that discusses my book "Starting Science From God"