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. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Do religion and theism make factual claims?

Literal and metaphorical images and myths are often contrasted with each other, and we are sometimes asked to choose between them. Are the stories of the bible (with their miracles) to be taken literally, or metaphorically? Which? Tell me!  Julian Baggini recently asks these questions in the Guardian Newspaper, in his column entitled The articles of 21st-century faith. He says
Atheist critics of religion are often dismissed for dealing only with the simple, highly literal forms of belief, while ignoring more nuanced, intellectual understandings of religion. The form of this argument varies, but in general terms it rests on a rejection of the idea that religion requires belief in anthropomorphic supernatural beings. As Theo Hobson put it in an exchange with me a few years back, "a huge proportion of believers inhabit this grey area between 'literal' and 'metaphorical' belief – in a sense all believers do.
He wants to know whether religious people choose between a metaphorical interpretation of religion, the first bullet of which is:
M1. To be religious is primarily to assent to a set of values, and/or practise a way of life, and/or belong to a community that shares these values and/or practices. Any creeds or factual assertions associated with these things, especially ones that make claims about the nature and origin of the natural universe, are at most secondary and often irrelevant. 
Alternatively, the choice is to take stories and miracles literally, which is to take the opposing positions:
L1. Religious creeds or factual assertions are neither secondary nor irrelevant to religion.
L2. Religious belief requires the belief that supernatural events have occurred here on Earth.
L3. Religions can make claims about the physical nature, origin or structure of the natural universe. That which science can study and explain empirically should not be left to science, and if a religion makes a claim that is incompatible with our best science, the scientific claim need not prevail.
L4. Human intellect and imagination are insufficient to explain the existence of religious texts.
Baggini thinks that such people would like to take these 'opposing positions', but are reluctant to admit this in public, because this exposes them to being contradicted by science. So they retreat to the metaphorical views M1-M4, which are almost devoid of content.  Baggini's immediate aim is to determine whether the fashionable atheists of today are correct in attributing positions L1-L4 to the religious believers, and hence whether they are targeting actual beliefs when they attack these from the scientific materialist & atheist point of view.

In theistic science, by contrast, our position is clear. We clearly affirm all the positions L1, L2, L4, and the first sentence of L3. And we do not retreat from them in the face of science. Instead we take science as the systematic application of reason and evidence in examining the nature of things. We therefore use science to examine things of religion, of spirituality, of mind, and even of God insofar has the Divine has effects in the world. That is our challenge in theistic science.

There are some provisos, however:

  1. We do not insist that "if a religion makes a claim that is incompatible with our best science, the scientific claim need not prevail", because religions are also subject to investigation by theistic science, and, after sufficient investigations, not all parts of all religions will necessarily be found based on fact.
  2. We do not insist that all stories in religious scriptures are necessarily literally true. That is because some stories may be included because they are parables rather than history. Or they may be selected pieces of history put together to illustrate a spiritual truth as if history were the parable. We are not going to get into discussion about whether the stories are 'real but not true'.  Only to say that the true reference of the characters and events in the stories may be at one of the discrete levels that exist in the interior parts of our minds.

There is much to discover and to learn.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Trying to understand Spiritual Identity

Many of us feel that that our identity is not constituted by our bodily or mental processes that change many times during each day, but is formed from something more fundamental and permanent. We might call this our 'soul' or our 'spirit'. Two recent blogs have been trying to understand this in more detail. They have made partial progress progress, but are still short of a full account.

The first comes from a blog by StephenB under the topic of  'Christian Darwinism and the Evolutionary Pathway to Spirit, and has (so far) generated 59 comments. Stephen describes;
Traditional Theistic Evolution [that] acknowledges two Divine creative strategies. (1) Through a purposeful evolutionary process, God “forms” man’s material body from the bottom up, and (2) By means of a creative act, God “breathes in” an immaterial soul from the top down, joining spirit with matter
He contrasts this with 'Contemporary Christian Darwinism', but here I am more concerned with what he takes to be the better view. He elaborates:
spiritual entities such as souls, minds and faculties, are non-physical entities and contain no parts, which means that they cannot disintegrate, die, or be changed into something else. ….  If then, spirit is to be joined with matter, its origins cannot come from matter or from a material process; it must come from another source, that is, it must come directly from God, who creates spirit and implants it in a pre-existing being from the top down.
What is interesting to me about this, is how he characterizes souls as 'non-physical entities'. That is the challenge for theistic science: to describe those entities in a  realistic and scientific manner as possible. We should not rely negative descriptions such as 'non-physical, but should seek a good positive description. And our new scientific description of the soul should describe *how* the soul *operates*. It is not fruitful to describe our soul as having 'no parts', and being 'unable to change into something else'. I know he means that they do not stop being souls, but it sounds like they would have trouble changing into a newer soul. Birth, growth, and re-birth of souls almost sound like they are forbidden. He also claims that souls 'come directly from God' and are 'implanted' in our newly conceived bodies. Surely, we might have thought, no body can live without some soul -- since souls are the source of our lives. So how can we ever live before that soul was implanted? To think of bodies existing without souls, even for a short time, opens many bizarre opportunities from zombies to soul-less humans. Not only bizarre, I should think, but impossible.

The other recent blog comes from a blog by  Gregory Ganssle for the Evangelical Philosophical Society under the topic Existential Dissonance and Core Identity, especially in relation to how young people form their own spiritual identities as the result of trying to sort out cognitive dissonances between conflicting scientific, philosophical and theological viewpoints. Gregory writes:
At the heart of each person is the very deepest region of our selves. I call this region, for lack of a better term, our core identity. A person’s core identity involves the deepest sense the person has of who she is or who she longs to be. What constitutes our core identity is rarely in the forefront of our minds. Often it takes patient self-reflection and work to identify the contours of one’s core identity. 
We see again here a struggle to formulate some clear idea of our soul as the basis for our identity. However, he does not seem to have a clear idea of what this 'deepest region' is actually made of. It is clearly related to 'longing', but it cannot be just what we long to be, but what we already are, now. He sees that is related to our 'values and beliefs':
we may determine that some belief or value that functioned within our core identity ought to be revised in light of other beliefs and values. We may recognize that we have a deeply ingrained habit that we want to change. This habit may be revealed in our relationships with others or our thoughts about our own lives. Beginning such change will be difficult, in part, because we are changing against the contour of our deeper values. We have to re-habituate ourselves to inhabit a new ordering of values and beliefs.
I do not think, however, that we are constituted by what we value or believe, but by something else. One of his commenters (Marty) has put a finger on something important here:
"What we love, the proper ordering of our loves, is a critical component of spiritual formation. Our heart always follows our treasure. Always."

I think that the best explanation of our 'core identity' is  that it is our most fundamental love. It is what we love that defines who we are. Everyone loves differently, so we are all different people. This idea of love as a substance may seem strange, but I see it as an essential and fundamental part of the theistic science that we are trying to construct. 

This views also consonant with a new view of the substance of physical objects as being constituted by all their powers and dispositions. See for example my paper 'Power and Substance' at

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Karl Birjukov and Inertia in science

Karl Birjukov has been writing recently on the need to the sciences to be revised, in order to conform better with theism. Here are links to four of his articles.

Most of what Karl writes is of interest, and directly relevant to our task of finding a new account of our universe that includes what is true from theism as well as from modern science. We both recognize that there are many deficiencies with how science is normally taken to understand the world, and how its common understanding appears to block connections to spiritual or theistic matters.

Karl's focus is on one particular deficiency: on how, since Kant, the natural world has been taken to consist of objects governed by the 'law of inertia'. By this, he appears to mean that all things are inert objects acted on by external forces. He says that "it is necessary in the first place to strip out the inertial view, and only then to consider the situation anew." Birjukov examines the details of Einstein's relativity theory in its foundations, trying to find how concepts of mass and inertia may possibly be reworked in that context.

I reply that it is true that the standard concept of objects (since Kant especially) has been to take them as inert and lifeless: with inertia, and with no internal source of activity. However, when I examine modern quantum field theories that try to predict the masses of subatomic particles, I find that 'inertia' by itself is hardly used. Rather, the masses of objects are constructed dynamically from the rapid internal exchanges of particles that have themselves no rest mass, but only energy. These internal particles are photons in the case of electromagnetic interactions, and gluons in the case of interactions between quarks to make up nucleons.

What is needed, therefore, is a theory of science that takes into account how in these ways mass and inertia are not given as 'inert' qualities, but as the result of interior and active processes. I have outline a general framework for this in my paper Derivative Dispositions and Multiple Generative Levels.

My general experience of the development of ideas in the sciences is that the defects of old ideas are only clearly admitted when there is a new theory proposed that at least begins to replace the previous explanations. I differ from Birjukov, therefore, in his insistence on removing the old ideas that might be incorrect, but before there are new theories to replace them. He recognizes this in part, as he tries to formulate a new basis for relativity theory, but that is only the very smallest part of the problem. In fact, I argue that new theories of science can only be properly compatible with theism when they are consistently and diligently derived from theism. This means that our work should begin at the beginning (with Theos) rather than in nature (with Physis), as in some kind of 'theistic science', as only then can we constructed a unified cosmology.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Theistic Science and other Sciences

Allowing science to consider how God is the life of the mental and natural worlds would be a big mental jump from any naturalistic starting point.  It would necessarily change the kinds of scientific theories that should be permitted.  We are thus going to introduce a new kind of science called theistic science, as suggested by Plantinga.  You may argue that there is in fact only one kind of science, and that there is no sense in talking about e.g. `Australian science,' or `theistic science'.  However, there are still ways in which plurality can and should be part of science.  In particular, there can and should be multiple sources of ideas that lead to scientific theories.  This means that we can consider theistic science as a branch of each theoretical science that derives general theoretical principles from the theism presented here, and begins to give the results  described later in this book.  In general, I argue that we should encourage `ontological pluralism'.  This pluralism is already explicit in the foundation of physics, and in psychological modeling. Basic physics, for example, considers strings or spin foams or deformed space as alternative possible ontologies. Psychology can consider symbols or functions or network connections in alternative possible ontologies. There is no principle of science that forbids such ontological pluralisms.

Some may respond that this pluralism only makes sense in the initial stages of a science, but not in its mature stage.  I reply that neither fundamental physics nor psychology are mature sciences in the required sense.  Others may argue that we should stick with the framework we have, to see how far it will take us. There is always the possibility, they say, that materialist science may in the future give a complete and adequate account of mental processes, the creation of the universe, and of the creation of life, so in the meantime, we should not be impatient.  To which I reply by asking us to consider the possibility that theism is true, and that God does make a difference to the world.  Must we then wait 100 or 200 years until the naturalists have finally given up seeking natural explanations of those differences? Can we not start thinking now about these matters?  To do so, is to encourage ontological pluralism in science, especially concerning foundational questions.  As Feyerabend says in Against Method, in science there are in fact no fixed rules, and that successful explanation is what counts. If some of us want to seek alternate explanations in the chance that we may be more successful in producing scientific predictions, then we should be allowed to do so. This is pluralism.

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

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

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Changes needed for Future Sciences

The principal change needed for science is to give up on assuming the causal closure of the universe, and thereby to admit the likelihood of causal openness for the universe. That is, science should consider seriously the possibility of as-yet-undiscovered dependencies of physical processes on such things as our individual minds, or even on the transcendent mind of God. By ‘seriously’ here, I refer to a determination to intellectually evaluate theories which describe these things, and to experimentally consider the evidence which might possibly confirm such theories, and not to refuse to consider any evidence because of any denial in advance of the very possibility of openness. In the end, admittedly, any actual changes in science will be made only in the light of new theories and new evidence which describe properly and confirm how such influences operate, but at least evidence will not be denied a hearing. Scientists, in this new context, will still retain the ability to examine the regular and law-like behavior of material processes. It is only that, sometimes, the causes of those processes will not always be previous material powers, but something new to be investigated.

Some (perhaps many) scientists may well respond with “Over my dead body! Did not we get rid of occult influences five centuries ago, and look how much we are better for that!” The theistic reply to this, as usual, is “Fear not!” We are not asking for a return to the middle ages, to witchcraft or magic or anything similar, and moreover not to a ‘new age’ in which ‘anything goes’ and in which ‘we make whatever reality we want’. Rather, the civil contract between secular citizens of good will should remain untouched. Any new science should be entirely robust and transparent, and hence subject to public confirmations or disconfirmations. Admittedly we will be advocating immanent theism, rather than the deism in which God does not interact with the world, so the world is not so simple, but the ground is not thereby going to disappear from under our feet. It will not be the end of civilization as we know it.

In fact, it is likely that whole new sciences will be formed as we begin to understand for the first time the interactions between mental and physical. Many present-day scientists currently suspect that such interactions exist, but are reluctant to admit this in public, at least on weekdays, for fear of ridicule. This reluctance is not so much based on evidence against such interactions, it is just that every physical scientist, say, is ‘supposed to assume’ causal closure, in order to belong to that profession.

It seems to me that, at some level, scientists are afraid of something: of the possible incursion into the world (into the world of thought, if not the real world), of new powers which they have traditionally ignored, and over which they have no control. And they fear that even thinking that minds or God may have any influence would be to encourage some such incursion of what they think of as ‘black forces’. Some scientists may be relaxed about the prospect, but they are not a majority in those circles. The theistic response, to assuage these fears, is to emphasize that these new influences of the mind and of God are not arbitrary, or violent, or disruptive. Rather, the opposite. Those influences, we will see in theism, will be regular, will be conditioned in many ways, and will be supportive rather than upsetting. There is in fact nothing to be afraid of within science: these are ‘white’ rather than black forces, and in fact are largely responsible for generating the enormously complicated biological, psychological, sociological and civil structures we see in the world, and certainly not for breaking them down.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Does the size of different brain regions correlate with different personalities?

How might we respond, as non-materialists, to the article at, which claims that the size of different brain regions correlates with different personalities. 
This article contains many theoretical assumptions that are masquerading as facts, but which have to be substantially reinterpreted on any dualist view.

1. Bigger regions are assumed to be more powerful.
Blatant materialist assumptions
1. we … develop theories about how personality is produced by the brain
2. [we can] figure out the underlying brain mechanisms responsible for personality differences
Statements which may (possibly!) have a grain of truth (if understood properly).
1. the size of certain brain regions is related to people's personalities
2. people's personalities are likely shaped by both genetic and environmental factors
3. A connection between brain region size and personality was found for four out of the five traits (but no statistical significance given! 
4. a bigger brain region does not necessarily mean the region has better functioning
Statements which are probably true
1. many traits often go together and have grouped these traits into five overarching categories 
2. Our experience can change the brain. And as the brain changes, personality can change.

Dualist view:
We must have interactive dualism, not  minds totally decoupled from the brain (otherwise we cannot sense or act in the world!). Therefore, when the authors ask "how personality is produced by the brain?", dualists should equally ask "how is the brain influenced by the personality?". Either might give correlations as described here.
In general, therefore, it is probably true that the development of the brain contributes to the development of the mind. The body and brain provide (I claim) a permanent 'basis' or 'residence' for the mind, so our mental development must depend on the full and healthy functioning of the body and brain. 
Maybe size is important here. I suspect, however, that other functional factors are much more important than size. Connections and communications are presumably much more important than size.

Overall, dualists differ with the materialists here not about possible correlations, but about the nature and direction of the causation that is responsible for those causations.