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"Rational Scientific Theories from Theism"


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Previous: 23.1 What is the spiritual? Up: 23. Spiritual Discrete Degrees Next: 23.3 Sub-degrees of the spiritual

23.2 Common misconceptions

Many people are not sure what spirituality is. Theistic science gives a specific answer to this question, but our previous conceptions and prejudices need to be directly addressed. Here they influence even the first understanding of what theistic science is saying. This section is strictly a digression from the main thesis but is necessary in order to clear up some misconceptions.

One common idea, especially with those who consider themselves down-to-earth, practical, and oriented to their actions in the world, is that the spiritual is ‘merely spiritual’, and hence something weak and ineffectual. ‘Spiritualizing a parable’, they say, is to rob it of its immediate force and effectiveness. I agree that this would be true if the spiritual had no (or could have no) mental or physical effects, but I insist instead that the spiritual is the whole means of one of the essential stages for producing all other kinds of results. Nothing significant can exist if it has no effects. The spiritual degree does certainly have effects. It is our first recipient of love, and love is the primary or principal substance of all things. The spiritual is in fact extremely powerful. Used in the right way, it can move mountains of ideas. We know how difficult it is to persuade someone to change their thinking, especially if their loves are attached to particular conceptions. These are the mountains23.1 that spiritual love can move.

Some people are aware of the importance of spiritual power and love, but, lacking the concepts of discrete degrees and multiple generative levels, they imagine spiritual things to be properties, previously undiscovered, of physical nature. They have a sense that the spiritual is significantly different from the physical world but are not sure how. Those with near-death experiences feel that they have been touched by spirituality in some way but have trouble forming a consistent understanding of their experience. Many wonderful proposals have been made to this end, as we will see. The most important criterion in theistic science for judging such proposals is that spirituality is a discrete degree distinct from the physical. Therefore the properties of any spiritual object cannot be continuously transformed to or from the physical.

It is difficult to have a proper idea of discrete degrees, especially starting from our senses and logic, but it is not impossible. Our initial desires and the kinds of knowledge we can accept are all based on ideas that we can obtain from our senses, and, in our ‘scientific rational’, from logical reasonings derived from sensual ideas. Most of our starting ideas, therefore, are based on images obtained from sensations of space and time, and these spatial and temporal images attach themselves to many of our attempts to think about discrete degrees. One purpose of this section is to show how spatial ideas attach themselves to ideas of discrete degrees and hence of ideas of what is spiritual. We will see how spatial images may correspond to discrete degrees but be not identical with them.

Let us look at some ideas that have been used to describe discrete degrees. We will examine each in turn to see whether it is discrete or continuous and whether it is a means for understanding what is spiritual. First we consider

Concepts derived from space:

  1. Natural things with discrete units include such things as a ladder, a multi-storied house, even the earth with plants and animals and the sky, etc. Religious scriptures use such images, but only for illustration. We may picture the body, with head, neck, torso, legs, and feet, as representing or illustrating different discrete degrees by correspondence, but from looking at human bodies, as from biology alone, we do not thereby understand what spiritual degrees are.
  2. Similarly, the whole and its parts may be imagined as discrete degrees. The cells, nerves, muscles, skin and whole body of a person may be discrete degrees. However, the whole body, while controlled by the spiritual degree, is itself an aggregation of its parts.23.2 It is therefore not itself of a different degree from its parts.
  3. Sometimes the spiritual is thought of as expanded consciousness such as ‘cosmic consciousness’ in contrast to everyday ‘contracted’ or ‘narrow’ awareness, so the basic dynamics of consciousness are expansion and contraction. But size is a continuous property. Expanding one’s consciousness to include all stars and galaxies, whether in imagination or in reality, does not thereby give spiritual awareness.
  4. Sometimes the spiritual is thought to be raised consciousness such as ‘high levels of consciousness’, in contrast to everyday ‘myopic’ or ‘low-level’ awareness, as if the basic dynamics of consciousness were elevation and depression. However, while height is used on earth and in religious scriptures to represent degrees of spiritual condition, height on earth does not confer any spiritual advantages. Neither size nor height is a discrete degree.
  5. We may think of discrete degrees as another dimension such as the fourth (or fifth) dimension of space and time. It is true that dimensions can be counted and so are discrete in some sense, but they can still be continuously transformed into each other, for example by rotations. It is clear that rotating or expanding does not, by that fact, take one to a new spiritual discrete degree.
  6. Infinite space, or Space Itself. Spinoza, for example, saw matter and space as the twin aspects of an infinite divinity from which matter and space are themselves infinite in their details and in their extents. However, physical space is the product of creation and is in a discrete degree distinct from all divine and spiritual degrees.
Concepts derived from time:
  1. We may think of discrete degrees as new frequencies of vibration. Entering the spiritual world has been called ‘entering a new vibrational level’. However, frequencies can also be continuously transformed into each other, since time in nature is on a continuous numerical scale. It is clear that vibrating faster does not take you to a new spiritual discrete degree. Neither does vibrating more slowly.
  2. Some natural objects have discrete harmonic modes of operation. A guitar or cello string has fundamental and harmonic vibrational modes, and these resonate among themselves. Electrons in atoms have discrete levels of different energies. However, if we look in detail, we see that all intermediate vibrations and energies are still possible, in all combinations and for varying durations. I have already discussed the possible roles of different frequencies, and in physics, vibrational energy is proportional to frequency.
  3. Series of successive processes, such as waterfalls or other emanations, are often used to represent ‘successive discrete degrees’.23.3Theistic science often describes discrete degrees as ‘successive degrees’ when we talk, for example, of prior or later (upstream and downstream) degrees. We should be aware that this is just another representation based on time. Discrete degrees (such as spiritual and natural) exist concurrently and so are still ‘simultaneous’ in an essential manner.
  4. Infinite time, or the denial of time, is taken to be eternity. Encompassing all time is sometimes seen as a degree above all of us time bound individuals. However, the eternity of God is the source of all life and activity and is certainly not the freezing of time. Divine wisdom does see all time together (past, present and future) in an eternity. The accomplishments of his love require enacting that time successively.
Concepts derived from natural states:
  1. Solids, liquids and gases are discrete phases of many substances in nature. Ice, water and steam are discrete manifestations of the one chemical H2O. However, these multiple phases of water can be continuously transformed one into another and back again, so they are not discrete degrees.
  2. A related suggestion is to use the classic quartet of earth, water, air and fire, and, especially, to identify a spiritual degree as fire.
  3. Sometimes, spirituality is experienced as extremely intense light, of an intensity and detail unimaginable to us on earth. However, intensity is a continuous degree, so, unless some discrete differences are also essential, intense light by itself is not a discrete degree. Only by comparison with the impossibility of light (‘thick darkness’) is it discretely different.
  4. Sometimes we imagine the spiritual as a fine or subtle substance that pervades and influences ‘coarse matter’ as Epicurus and Lucretius suggested. Something like this may be true, but unless we have an independent idea of the spiritual degree, we cannot properly describe it merely from the idea of ‘fineness’ or ‘subtlety’.
  5. Various polarities in nature, such as positive and negative in electric charges or male and female in biology, may be taken as indicating spiritual in contrast to nature. Opposite electric charges, such as of electrons and its antiparticle the positron, however, are exact mirror images at exactly the same natural level. Male and female organisms, in contrast, have internal complexities that are very similar and meet at the same level. We cannot say, for example, that only positive charges or only females or their opposites are connected to what is spiritual.

Concepts derived from Inside and Outside:

  1. We may think of discrete degrees as the internal and the external of bodies or of persons. The inmost, inner, and outer may be the discrete degrees we are trying to describe. Certainly we can use these adjectives to contrast spiritual with mental and natural things. However, if we examine the specific meanings of these words, we see that they are essentially spatial images that must be interpreted metaphorically if they are to indicate spiritual, mental and natural as distinct discrete degrees.
  2. Connected with the previous suggestion, sometimes the spiritual degree is seen as the ‘first person’ inside view of nature, so that physical matter is the outside or ‘third person’ view. This is a popular belief among those trying to reconcile science and spirituality, but it does not help, for example, in trying to understand life after the death of the physical body. How can there be a life from a coherent inside view if the outside view is of matter broken into pieces?
  3. A recent suggestion is based on chaos theory where we see self-similarity: a similarity of behavior patterns when we compare the whole and the parts. Again this is an image of Divine operation, according to Chapter 19, but self-similarity does not by itself require that operation.
I hope not too many of your favorite images have been singled out here!

Many of the above distinctions have been adopted in popular culture as sufficient for defining the distinctness of degrees that lead to the spiritual, and some gain satisfaction, for example, with understanding the spiritual in terms of higher resonant states in higher dimensions of reality as yet undiscovered in physics. However, all the above classifications are continuous, not discrete. The desires for continuous spiritual degrees, though widespread in many contemporary and Eastern philosophies today, are based on what we would call natural or even sensual thinking. The spiritual in these cases becomes a special case of the natural and sensed worlds examined by physicists.

We need to separate our understanding from natural and sensual images. This separation may never be complete, but we can at least be aware of the way we presently think.

Let us try to form some more positive accounts. My immediate problem here is that you may be most happy if I produce a new picture which I claim shows discrete degrees most accurately. However, we have just seen that all pictures are based on spatial and temporal images and by that fact should be called into question. What can we do?

This is a problem that modern quantum physics has faced for much of the last century. Physicists have realized that pictures based on ‘particles’ or ‘waves’ are no longer satisfactory, but they have nothing satisfactory with which to replace them. Some among them have wisely said that ‘we can no longer rely on naive pictorial thinking’. Thus, for spiritual degrees as well as physics, we have to rely on some different kind of thinking. Quantum physics can use its mathematical equations, but what can we use?

To understand discrete degrees in a specific way, we can either (a) build on and extrapolate whatever discrete degrees physics and philosophy have discovered, or (b) rely on our own intuitive understandings of causes and effects in ourselves, or (c) rely on revelation from God to guide us over a difficult impasse. This book has tried to present some combination of these. Let us examine the possible candidates for discrete degrees derived from physics and philosophy. Some of these have already been presented in Chapter 5. I list them as:

Degrees in Philosophy and Physics:

  1. Form and substance are a pair of discrete degrees. For a given thing, such as a chair, the form is its position, orientation and shape. The form is not just the overall shape but also the shapes and arrangements of all its constituent parts. The substance of the chair is that of which the constituent parts are forms (are made of). Physics can give us some idea of substance such as a kind of energy or propensity to interact. Form and substance cannot be continuously transformed into each other.
  2. End, cause and effect are a triplet of discrete degrees. The end (or purpose or ‘final cause’) is the original principle according to which a process starts. The cause is the formulation of means that is poised to act. The effect is the resulting action. End, cause and effect produce each other in sequence but cannot be reversibly transformed into each other.
  3. Heat and light, strictly, are radiation in the same electromagnetic spectrum, making them a pair of continuous rather than discrete degrees. However, heat has a more general meaning: that of energy in general. Light has a more specific meaning, as a form of radiation that can be encoded with much information.
  4. Energy and information do form a discrete pair of degrees. Note that ‘light’ is a particular form of energy, so we could approximately say that light is like form and heat is like substance.
  5. Force and motion are discrete degrees. This was first realized by Boscovich and by Kant. Forces may be present even if no movement of matter occurs and vice versa.
  6. Potential energy and force are discrete degrees. This was made clear with the discovery of electromagnetic fields by Faraday and Maxwell. Electric energy fields, for example, only produce forces if a charged particle is present within the field. Similarly, the gravitational fields of the earth and sun are not themselves forces but only produce forces on planets and satellites should these be present.
  7. Waves and particles, or better waves and events are discrete degrees. This is the best way of understanding quantum physics: waves are a description of causes, and specific particle positions (or events) are the actual effects of those causes.
  8. Virtual and actual processes are discrete degrees. Electric fields, for example, are generated by a prior degree of virtual photons. I discuss this more in the next chapter.

Other discrete degrees are seen by our intuitive understanding of causes and effects, for example within ourselves, within our own minds, and they have been discussed in Chapter 5. These are related to those conceived of within theistic science:

  1. Desire, cause and effect are a triplet of discrete degrees. The desire is the original impetus which motivates us. The cause is that motivation when it has formulated the means and is poised to act. The effect is the resulting action. Desire, cause and effect produce each other in sequence but cannot be reversibly transformed into each other.
  2. Affection, understanding and action are discrete degrees. These are analogous to the previous set but generalized to all levels of the mind and soul.
  3. Soul, mind, and nature, are the three discrete degrees describing the production of creation. This creation starts from what is spiritual. It then proceeds through minds which contain affections and thoughts. It finally has effects in nature.
The classifications 19-26 do describe discrete degrees, but only in nature. By themselves they do not indicate any spirituality. Nevertheless they reflect the true spiritual discrete degrees (27-29) more accurately than the continuous degrees (1-18) since they are themselves discrete and not continuous. I believe that trying to understand any kind of discrete degree is a useful education toward understanding what is spiritual.

Finally, we reject one specific proposal for the nature of spirituality that is increasingly common today:

  1. Spiritual reality is not constituted by consciousness.
In Pfeiffer et al. (2007), for example, the spiritual and the material poles are distinguished according to whether the substance of something is consciousness, or whether it is matter. According to the current theism, however, Section 18.7 has that consciousness is a feature of the operation of love with wisdom, and it does not say that love or wisdom is made out of consciousness as if a substance. I argue that consciousness cannot itself be substance, on the basis of the Aristotelean ‘metaphysical grammar’ we are following. Only something dispositional like love or power can be a substance.

Previous: 23.1 What is the spiritual? Up: 23. Spiritual Discrete Degrees Next: 23.3 Sub-degrees of the spiritual

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