The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has posted his article The science of God: The philosophical antecedents of Intelligent Design, which is a useful summary of his position. I want to discuss the relation of his work to the theistic science that I am advocating.
"Theomimesis" is my neologism for attempts to acquire God's point-of-view - in short, to take literally that we might "get into the mind of God" or even "play God."This agrees well with the principles of theistic science, following from the core principles of theism whereby God is Love Itself, and whereby our life is a kind of reduced image of God. Our mental activities of desiring and thinking exist because they derive from the love and wisdom of God.
The deity in question is Abrahamic, indeed, the "monotheistic" deity that eighteenth century Enlightenment thinkers such as John Toland and Gotthold Lessing abstracted as the rational common core of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In practice, this monotheism was usually - but not always - heavily biased toward some version of the Christian deity. This deity is distinctive in that it transcends the world it has created, yet its nature is sufficiently close to our own that we might reasonably aspire to approximate the deity's virtues.
This is also more or less true, once we acknowledge that the work of 'species self-improvement' is something done largely by God's regeneration of our spiritual life insofar as we permit that to happen. I have discussed before the significance of "univocal prediction" of divine attributes.
The theomimetic moment has been captured in several ways. Kant, ever the diplomat, spoke of God as a "regulative ideal of reason." More plain-speaking theologians and philosophers have followed the great fourteenth century Franciscan theologian John Duns Scotus' theory of "univocal predication" whereby divine attributes differ from human ones only by degree not kind. Thus, God may be "all knowing" but the sense in which God "knows" is the same as our own, except we "know" to a much lesser degree. This in turn allowed for direct comparisons between human and divine conditions of being, resulting in a trajectory of progress - typically presented as a project of species self-improvement from Adam's Fall to (possibly) the construction of Heaven on Earth.
Two versions of this project have enjoyed considerable secular influence in the modern era:It seems that we are failing here to have a proper account of God's management of the world, and how Divine Providence is managed. We see, furthermore, how misunderstandings of theology lead to strange political platforms.
Historically these two secular theomimetic projects are known as capitalism and socialism, respectively. The theomimetic agents are correspondingly known as the entrepreneur and the vanguard.
- Leibniz's theodicy, which would understand Creation in terms of a divine utility function that tolerates many local harms in service of ours being "the best possible world";
- Hegel's philosophy of history, which makes temporality constitutive of God's own self-realization, which means that Creation itself is incomplete as long as the distinction between God and humanity remains.
But once religious believers started to take seriously that the actual world might reflect the design of a divine intelligence that is literally "superhuman" - that is, the ultimate extension of human intelligence - disaffection quickly set in, as God seemed to operate on the principle that the end justifies the means. For humans this normally means "unscrupulous."
To be sure, the Jesuits (God bless them!) had already seen this problem in the Counter-Reformation, proposing the "doctrine of double effect," which aims to dissociate what one intends and what one anticipates. Thus, God always intends good, and through his all-powerful nature can bring about good, but the good of primary interest to the deity is ultimate good, not immediate or transient good. These lesser goods are related directly to matter, which for God is always a negotiable instrument. So while it is unfortunate that many must suffer and die, this would happen in service of an end to which they themselves would have agreed (had they been asked). Both military invasion and land dispossession have been justified on these terms.
In light of this reasoning, it is perhaps unsurprising that Charles Darwin renounced his lingering attachment to Christianity once he studied closely William Paley's Natural Theology, which openly endorsed Reverend Thomas Malthus' views of divine population control through resource constraint. Of course, Darwin retained the substance of Malthus' theory - now re-branded as "natural selection" - but he refused to believe in the existence of a deity who would allow so many members of so many species to endure such miserable existences. Darwin's morally fuelled atheism thus led him to a kind of Neo-Epicureanism that dissipated divine responsibility in a sophisticated version of metaphysical indeterminacy.Again questions of divine providence seem to be driving scientific ideas, and in 'strange' directions. Darwin's principle of natural selection, I showed, is impossible within theism.
A very interesting observations, of how bad science and bad politics are repulsive.
However, the decline of theomimesis among professional theologians is trickier to explain. Most embraced Darwin's empirical findings and hypotheses without losing their faith. Indeed, the strong pro-science orientation of theologians in the half-century following the publication of Origin of Species is exemplified in Adolf von Harnack, who served as political midwife to the birth of the Kaiser Wilhelm (now Max Planck) Institutes, the pioneer vehicle for state-industry-academia research collaborations.
But the close bond between science and theology was undone by the German scientific community's strong presence in the First World War, whose unprecedented devastation led many theologians to doubt that science could be treated as the pursuit of God by technologically enhanced means. From this conclusion arose the sort of "fideism" championed by Karl Barth, which in the name of humanity's fallen state rendered theology a self-referential discourse without any aspirations or accountability vis-a-visthe world as understood by science. As the "Great War" had shown - at least to Barth's satisfaction - the very attempt to redeem theological claims in scientific terms was itself to court evil.
Barth's regrettably influential inward turn helps to explain the ease with which science's staunchest twentieth-century philosophical supporters, the logical positivists, could get away with asserting the "non-cognitive" status of religious discourse - without hearing much theological complaint in return. Today's "New Atheists" merely raise the positivist ante by querying the whole point of religion, once its cognitive aspirations have been abandoned. In response, religious believers do themselves no favours by acting as if theology were literary criticism applied to an especially vividly experienced form of imaginative writing, otherwise known as "fiction."Exactly. Theistic science aims to reclaim the cognitive status of scientific discourse, and show how theology may be used to make factual claims and predictions about the world.
Still worse offenders are those "religious pluralists" who declare intelligent design theory - the natural heir to the theomimetic tradition sketched above - as "bad science and bad theology" (here I think pre-eminently of Karen Armstrong's The Case for God). This must count as the "Big Lie" promulgated in the contemporary science-religion debate, for it merely serves to throw honest inquirers off a trail that would lead back to a literal construal of theology as the "science of God."Frank Tipler's theology is very far from theism, we should note. Only rather strange ideas seem to be promulgated these days!
In that case, one might expect theories about God's nature to have scientifically tractable consequences, just as the protagonists of Europe's seventeenth-century Scientific Revolution had thought, the main fruit of which was Newton's world-system. In this context, the physicist Frank Tipler, the most dogged proponent of a metaphysically full-blown version of the "anthropic principle," must count as someone who lives up to this ideal, despite his outlier status in both science and theology.
For those looking to work their way back to a clear theological foundation for theomimesis, the best place to start is with Augustine of Hippo's interpretation of the first three chapters of Genesis. In particular, he stressed three points of lasting significance:Remembering the "imago dei" is an extremely important part of theistic science. Further developments in theistic science furthermore indicate that the literal readings of scripture are only one of the many meanings that those texts may have. The Bible has many deeper meanings.
- A strong reading of our having been created "in the image and likeness of God." The Jews had originally read this passage as a naturalistic explanation for why God found it so much easier talking to humans than other creatures, while Muslims took it to mean that humans were essentially God's robots, ideal vehicles for the conveyance of the divine message, as in the composition of the Qur'an by the functionally illiterate Muhammad. However, Augustine, following Paul (in Romans 5), read this passage to anticipate Jesus, understood not as another Jewish prophet but the "Son of God," which encouraged the idea that humans could be godlike. In the short term, this idea begat many of the heresies that Augustine sought to stamp out as Bishop of Hippo, but it opened the door to query what it might mean to live in imago dei: Are we to live our lives according to the dictates of Jesus' anointed successors, or are we to rediscover Jesus for ourselves in each new generation? In short: Peter's or Paul's way of spreading the Gospel. Nowadays the choice looks like Catholicism versus Protestantism, but it was already present at the medieval founding of the universities, with the Dominican stress on natural history and the Franciscan stress on optics. But equally it captures two scholarly ways of reading the Bible "literally": as a historical document or as a theatrical script. In the one case, we recover the Word (that is, we find out what they meant back then); in the other, we re-enact the Word (we find out what they would mean now). By the late-nineteenth century, this had crystallised as the distinction between "idiographic" and "nomothetic" sciences, the one focussed on the archive, the other the laboratory.
Fuller is here briefly touching on the fact that our understanding changes significantly during the stages of our spiritual regeneration. And similarly, if we spiritually decline, that our understanding of spiritual things will decline. He also notes the fact that everyone thinks of what they desire as good, even if they have poor spiritual insight and hence mistake evil for good.
- A stress on the qualified nature of God's forgiveness of Adam's sin. Augustine interpreted Adam's divine death sentence, which extended to all his descendants, as implying that his sin was forgiven yet not forgotten: Each generation is born with a version of Adam's sin that they must then somehow redeem for themselves, presumably with divine approval and preferably with the aid of Jesus. (Contrast this with the account provided in Qur'an 7: Adam's debt is cancelled in return for perpetual submission, the literal meaning of "Islam.") A key feature of what Augustine coined as "Original Sin" is the specification of Adam's failure as being one of judgement, not action. Adam and Eve had erroneously trusted the serpent's plausible reasoning. Henceforth there would be grounds for questioning one's understanding of words, even though God had called things into existence. Many of the distinctive preoccupations of modern science flow from this sensibility, including these three: (a) the search for a pure language of thought that overcomes the noise of natural languages; (b) the concern with distinguishing genuine causal relations from their virtual ("evil") twin, empirical correlations; (c) the desire to mitigate our inherent imperfections by reverse engineering the bases of our material nature, tellingly called "genetics." Common to these preoccupations is the idea that Evil, though radically different in nature from Good, is quite similar in its appearance. Thus, considerable ambiguity has dogged the moral standing of science "pursued for its own sake," as this most ennobling of human endeavours can easily tip over into inhumane acts, as in the Faust legend.
This story of the nature of Adam's error is a little odd. According to theism, it is rather the desire to deny that his life is forever dependent on God and the desire instead to be 'as God' with life in himself. Fuller also fails to understand the deeper importance of "will". The true will of a person is the state of the loves which constitute the being and life of him or her.
- The placement of equal emphasis on the perfection of divine creation as a whole and the radical imperfection of its parts. The story of Creation is presented as a piecemeal process, in which God appears to weigh options, given the (undisclosed) limitations of the material medium within which creation must occur. With the rise of Islam, the divine modus operandi comes to be compared to a chess game in which the grandmaster always win but by means dictated by the position of the pieces on the board. In any case, the existence of such options suggests that God is an "optimiser" - or, as economists say, a "constrained maximiser" - whose ideal solution to the problem of Creation requires many calculated trade-offs that, when taken in isolation, may appear unbecoming of a supreme deity, if not downright evil. The "will" was the name coined for a divine faculty, also present in humans, which realizes the outcomes of such calculations. But it is arguably just such knowledge that God was trying to hide from Adam when he forbade him from eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil because he wished humanity to be innocent of the "dirty work" of creation - namely, the possibilities that had to be forgone to enable things to be as they are. However, once Adam had been persuaded to eat of the forbidden tree, the only possible (if at all) way back into God's good graces was by discovering - however fitfully and imperfectly it was likely to be - the divine plan to which the forbidden tree had promised access. This meant capturing in temporal terms (over many generations) an achievement that God had accomplished from a standpoint equidistant from all places and times ("the view from nowhere"). The signature legacy of humans trying to reverse engineer the intelligence behind divine creation is the idea that scientific inquiry should aim for the most economical set of universal laws, where such laws are understood as covering not only generalisations of experience but also counterfactual possibilities (for example, those that God considered but rejected).