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.