Sunday, June 2, 2013

Levels of Causation

Two recent presentations have started to describe levels of causation in nature. These are what I called multiple generative levels, as discussed in various articles I have previously listed.

The first is a video made by Brian David

This is based on a script we wrote together, entitled "Theistic Science: An open-minded look at the cause of reality":

The second is a blog post by George Gantz

He wrote "Causation – another highly disputed concept in physics".  After discussion of previously-suggested possible ways to describe top-down causation, he finds them unsatisfactory, and in the last three paragraphs describes the ideas I am advocating.
Causation in this sense is similar to top-down causation, but puts the disposition (a higher level structure) as the primary cause and the circumstances and form of the underlying system as secondary. In the language of dispositional essentialism, there is a generative process of causation flowing from dispositions and a selective process resulting from the underlying circumstances of the object or system. In many cases, the result of the top-level disposition is to create or change dispositions at the next level, in a cascade of causation operating across multiple levels.
Thompson provides a series of examples of causation flowing though multiple generative levels in physics and psychology and reviews the work of a number of other experts in these fields. “Summarizing the quantum mechanical case, we see that here again, the principle causes act forwards down a set of multiple generative levels whose range of actions at any time is selected from all those presently possible, as constrained by past events.” P.67 When applied to psychology, the model places the role of intention (disposition) as central to the process of causation. Thompson also applies the model to the question of the highest generative level – the dispositions of God.
While this new model of causation working top-down in generative levels may seem more complex that the reductionist model we started with, it does a far better job at explaining the way the world works. It resolves all the criticisms of reductionism.
(The page number refers my book "Starting Science From God" indicated on the right)

Both these presentations give suggestions for how God can be related to the universe in the way theism expects to happen. This is, in a rational manner we may yet understand, that God both sustains and enlivens all physical, mental and spiritual processes continually.


  1. Nice film. Does that mean you are a Swedenborgian?

    1. I find very much of value in what Swedenborg has written, and (as interested in philosophy, theology and life) find many of his ideas useful for further rational development.

  2. I feel I should add more to my comment. My minimalist comment was not meant to imply disapproval of your fine film.I have been thinking about some of the aspects of your film and reading about them for some time. In fact the idea that we don't know what subatomic particles really are made of. I've been researching that in m armature way and received a great deal of derision form atheists and science types for saying that. When push comes to shove they have no alternative. They just say "O we can't give you a full four year university education on this message board. God take some classes."

    I am grateful to you to see that your film confirms what I've been thinking on that score. The implication is that we don't know what it means to say "matter is solid." Nor do we really know what it means to speak of energy. The standard answer I get is "it's made of charges." what are charges made of? More charges!

    I am interested in your views on Swedenborg he's very interesting but I have some theological problems with him.

    1. Let us focus on the physics for now. I can explain more of the ideas of the video, and they should be useful for your in your online discussions with naturalists/atheists.
      I am a physicist by profession, and I think we know more than your 'don't knows' might suggest.