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"Rational Scientific Theories from Theism"

 

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12.1 Life

We have to understand in practical terms what life means here. Modern science has been progressively reducing the idea of anything specific that can be called life. In our new context, we want a general concept which can be used for all psychological, biological and physical processes. I acknowledge that physical objects are not normally taken as ‘living’ in the normal sense, and elsewhere in this book I have stressed that they are ‘dead’. Yet here a particularly inclusive concept is required. We will therefore define

Definition 1   Life of an object is the most fundamental (or: original, deepest) disposition: whatever it is that gives rise to its actions and capacities for interactions.

An object’s life is therefore that from which all of its behavior is derived, given its environment. In God’s case, the life consists of the divine Love as postulated in the previous chapter. In the case of other objects, persons, etc., we have yet to work out what the most fundamental dispositions are, but whatever they are, that is their life. When we talk of ‘derivation’ of capacities from the ‘most fundamental dispositions’, we must allow ourselves to use the theory of ‘derived dispositions’ within multiple generative levels, as described in Chapter 5.

Core theism asserts that, remarkably, God is that life itself. This means that the behavior of all objects derives from God. We have yet to see how this is done and how a single God can be the life itself of multiple living creatures. And, of interest to us humans, we would especially like to know who is in control at each stage. Who decides the course our life?

The task of science is to explain the dispositions and causal powers of all objects and to understand what is the life of humans, animals and plants, etc. The materialist view is that all these have a life which is reduced entirely (and only) to that of the fundamental dispositions of the composing atoms and molecules, and that these constituent particles have the powers as discovered by physics. If this were true and were combined with theism, we would have to conclude that atoms and molecules were divine. In that case, it would follow that the fundamental particles would be divine and would be indestructible and eternal since they have life in themselves and ‘live’ from themselves. If it is not the particles themselves that are divine, then perhaps it is the energy from which they are produced. This line of thought has indeed been followed by many atomic philosophers, from Democritus into the twentieth century.

A non-reductionist view is also possible. Such a view says that we have some kind of life--whether vital, mental, or spiritual--that does not derive from that of our constituent atoms but has a different origination. Most of us sense that this might or ought to be true, as we have reasons to believe that our spiritual and rational lives do not originally spring from physical causes. We may have difficulty, though, maintaining such a view in a way that is coherent with the conclusions of modern science. The view of scientific theism is even more divergent, as it insists that all our life is non-reductionist, since it originates from God. Even the fundamental powers of elementary particles come from that source, a theist insists. Our challenge is to make detailed sense of these claims, while avoiding a pantheism whereby we (or atoms) are part of God or whereby God is part of us.


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