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BeginningTheisticScience.com

A website for the book by Ian J Thompson:

"Rational Scientific Theories from Theism"

 

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2.6 Consciousness and process

Even if biological evolution could be explained, there were still many questions remaining about the nature of mind and consciousness, questions which theism once might have been called upon to answer. There began to be much public interest in spiritualism and psychic phenomena, and the Society for Psychical Research was founded in 1882. These activities were not now based on theism but rather on phenomena that were not explained by either the religious or scientific establishments. William James (1842-1910) was not religious, for example, though from his father he had been exposed to Swedenborg’s ideas. He wanted to know about minds, took the question of human immortality very seriously, and published the first comprehensive description of religious experiences. James (1898) proposed a ‘transmission theory’ of human consciousness, contrasting it with the theory that it is generated by the brain. He lacked, however, a theory of what might exist to account for human consciousness or immortality, and in the end, James (1904) even asked “Does ‘consciousness’ exist?", seeming to reply in the negative. Unless there is some ontology, I will counter, the possibility of a proper science fades away.

Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) was a mathematician who became interested in the foundations of physics. He first followed interpretations of special relativity, in which only events existed. Then in 1929 Whitehead published a fully-fledged ‘process philosophy’. According to this mature viewpoint, the world consists of a succession of ‘actual occasions’ that develop and become actual by ‘perceiving’ their predecessors in a way reminiscent of conscious perception. Within his philosophy there is also the beginning of a ‘process theology’ whereby God is involved in creation, having both a primordial and a consequent nature, and whereby God develops along with the world. God’s influence on the world is first by the ‘ingress’ of forms for actuality (as with Plato) and second as a ‘lure’ to humans for what is good. In both cases, there are no directly causal influences. In fact, there are no active causes anywhere in his ontology, not even in the physical world. Rather, everything, even physical processes, is modeled on perception by organisms, resulting overall in a panpsychist view of the entire universe.

Whitehead’s philosophy can be called theistic, but only in a weak sense because the positive influences of God on the world are limited to those creatures with desire and with a conscience. His ideas were developed by Charles Hartshorne (1967) and by John Cobb (1965) into a ‘process theology’ that has became popular. It seems to offer consistency with modern physics. It has an emphasis on ‘becoming’ rather than ‘being’, along with explanations of how consciousness might arise in organisms. It also has an explanation of why Darwinian natural selection may have been necessary.


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