Sunday, July 14, 2013

How to Start Theistic Science?

Let’s think now about how we would go about forming a scientific theory that had theism and God in it. How would you do that? Material science starts from the assumption that there isn’t a God, so what can we do? The obvious thing is to start from the assumption or postulate that there is a God! If some people are allowed to start by assuming that there is no God, then we can build another building next door which is based on the assumption that there is a God. We can follow that that as an alternative, in a contrast to the naturalistic way.

And then we have to spell out the basic ideas of theism. We have to spell it out without ambiguity, and in a non-metaphorical way. We have to form ideas that can be understood as literally true. When people look at Genesis, they say in Genesis, the first chapter is true, but not literally true. Ok. But what is Genesis 1 referring to? That is the question! And if are to understand what is going on, then we should have an idea about what Genesis 1 is actually referring to. And [another] consequence of this is that no paradoxes are allowed. Some philosophers are very keen on paradoxes, and here is an example of a visual paradox.

A box which is paradoxical in three dimensions.

We cannot have that in three dimensions! By paradox I mean two things which contradict each other. For example, some philosophies and some religions say that ‘we are God’ but ‘we are distinct from God’ at the same time. That is what I mean by a paradox: when two things are held which appear to contradict each other, or do contradict each other, if they are held at the same time. That means that we want to avoid all paradoxes, because it is well known (from the logical point of view) that if you have two things which contradict each other at the same time, then you can prove anything. This is a general feature of an inconsistent system. It is useless. So we want to keep rational consistency. So, therefore, we emphasize a lot the rational consistency of the ideas that we are trying to present.

Avoiding Reductionism

Furthermore, [we have] a general question. Actually it is a matter of taste, but this is the way that I have decided to proceed. Instead of saying that ‘minds are nothing but brains’, or that ‘souls are nothing but minds’, or that ‘God is nothing but an idea in our mind’, or the cosmos, or everything that there is, I want to avoid these reductionist or ‘nothing but’ explanations. We need to have a proper account of how there could be, for example, minds, and how they are related to brains, how they are connected, but not equal to each other. They are distinct. They are causally connected: one can affect the other, and the other can affect the one. [This must be possible] without demolishing [one or the other. For if we] do not actually have minds, we don't think, we don't have ideas, we don't have feelings. It is a serious problem to deny that there are minds!

Lastly, to make theistic science, we want to make predictions, and compare with experiments. We say that if these predictions are confirmed, then this is evidence in support of theistic science. That is the general principle of doing science. We will see, as are doing this, whether you agree that the starting point is confirmed. We will discuss later how you can ‘prove’ things.

Objections to Theistic Science

Now if I present these ideas to a scientific group, there are some standard responses they make. There are some scientific objections to theism. The first one is that, if God were allowed as an explanation in science, then ‘anything goes’. They say that, no matter what happens, one can say ‘God did it’.
The explanation of ‘God did it’ could be used for any event whatsoever. God, they think of as some person with a free will outside reality, who is not bound by any of the natural laws. They think that this is so overwhelmingly different that it would interfere with everything that they do. If that were to happen then you could not form any rules or patterns, or regular or irregular activities. Comprehensible or incomprehensible things could equally well be explained by God. If God was making miracles happen all the time, then this wouldn’t make sense: you couldn't do science like this.

We want start by replying to this objection, that God is not some arbitrary and capricious old man who can do what he likes. It is clear that when you get a better understanding of religion, there is a certain constancy and reliability about God which not everyone agrees with, but you get a better understanding in my opinion. In fact, as the religions and the churches get a better understanding of God, he does not look like this: 

That means that, if we want to allow for a scientific theism, we want to say that the previous reasons for opposing theism in science arise from misunderstandings about the nature of God. That is why we have to make it clear what the foundation of our theism is, and explain it in a simple rational way: without contradiction and without paradox. [This is] to avoid these particular misunderstandings. I believe that, with the help of Swedenborg, we will see later that there are some basic ideas which can be used in this way.

See for example and my rebuttal of Robert Pennock.

We know that there are considerable regularities in the world, and we should be able to explain the source and nature and reasons for these regularities. As an example of this, we can say that the source of regularities might be the constancy and eternality of the love and wisdom of God. So that is a beginning of an explanation within theistic science of why there are regularities. But we then have to explain lots more about how the love and wisdom of God operate, and what are the regularities that result.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Theism has Empirical Effects

I say that theism has empirical effects. It makes predictions about what happens in the world, and these happenings can be observed. The opposing view to that is what is called the Non-overlapping Magisteria view, or NOMA. Stephen J Gould, the evolutionary scientist, produced this name. And this quite common. Another way of putting it is that ‘Science tells us how things happen, and Faith or Religion tells us why’. It is a common way that many people use to divide science from religion, and it has some advantages. It protects science from religion, so if you want a theism or a religion or an idea about God that does not feel threatened by science, then one way of removing that threat is to say that they are not connected with each other. 

But this view, this Non-overlapping Magisteria view, has some serious defects. Because, for example, if we are to know God, then God must be able to influence us, now. And if God is to be involved with the world, as most religions say that God is involved with the world, then it must make a difference. And you can argue that God cannot make a difference, if the world has evolved completely has it has without any [causal connection with God]. Why do you need God [in that case], if you have a complete explanation without God. And so, if we are to have some understanding  or knowledge or even perception of God, then there must be some influence. And furthermore, religion and theism do talk about what is, and not just why things are. For instance, they talk about human nature. We discuss whether we have souls or minds. These things are disputed by science, so that if theism makes predictions about this, then we might be able to understand these things better. We might get a better understanding of psychology, or spiritual psychology, for example. And then, in religious history, revelations have occurred. People have said that God spoke to them, and they told us what [was] said. A dramatic example of that is the incarnation. Someone appears and claims that they are God, or that they and God are one. This is obviously a serious influence of God on the world if that was true.

What I am saying is that there are overlaps between theism and the natural world. And if we are to understand these overlaps properly, we have to think carefully about what religion is on one side, and what science is on the other. And we have to think of them in such a way that they can be combined, without collapsing into one. Because there are some differences as well as connections.

Extracted from Starting Science from God. Part I: Connecting Science and Theism