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:
Concepts derived from time:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 natural states:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- A related suggestion is to use the classic quartet of earth, water, air
and fire, and, especially, to identify a spiritual degree as fire.
- 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.
- 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
- 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:
I hope not too many of your favorite images have been singled out here!
- 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.
- 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
- 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
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
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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:
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.
- 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.
- Affection, understanding and action are discrete degrees. These are analogous
to the previous set but generalized to all levels of the mind and soul.
- 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.
Finally, we reject one specific proposal for the nature of spirituality that
is increasingly common today:
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.
- Spiritual reality is not constituted by consciousness.