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"Rational Scientific Theories from Theism"


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Previous: 1.1 Theistic postulates Up: 1. Introduction Next: 1.3 Laying the foundations

1.2 Theism and science

According to theism, God is responsible for both creating and sustaining the world. The theistic God is omnipotent, having at least powers far beyond those of humans. It is commonly believed by scientists that if God were allowed as an explanation in science, then an ‘anything goes’ attitude would prevail. They believe that the explanation of ‘God did it’ could be used for any event whatsoever, however regular or irregular and however comprehensible or incomprehensible. They reject the idea of God as some arbitrary and capricious old man who can do what he likes. A theist claims, in reply, that this reason for opposing theism in science arises from misunderstandings about the nature of God. We already know that there are considerable regularities in the manner of sustaining the world, so we should instead explain the source and nature of those regularities. That source, for example, might be the constancy and eternality of the love and wisdom of God.

Allowing science to consider that God is the life of the mental and natural worlds would be a big mental jump from any naturalistic starting point. It would change the kinds of scientific theories that would be permitted. We will thus introduce a new kind of science called theistic science, as suggested by Plantinga (1991). You may argue that there is in fact only one kind of science, and that there is no sense in talking about e.g. ‘Australian science,’ or ‘theistic science’. However, there are ways in which plurality can and should be part of science. In particular, there can and should be multiple sources of ideas that lead to scientific theories. This means that we can consider theistic science a branch of each theoretical science that derives general theoretical principles from theism and which begins to give the results described later in this book. I argue that we should encourage ‘ontological pluralism’.1.3Some may respond that this pluralism only makes sense in the initial stages of a science but not in its mature stage. I reply that neither fundamental physics nor psychology--the subjects of this book--are mature sciences in the required sense. Some may argue that we should stick with the framework we have to see how far it will take us. There is always the possibility, they say, that materialist science will in the future give a complete and adequate account of mental processes, of the creation of the universe, and of the creation of life, so in the meantime we should not be impatient. I reply by asking that we consider the possibility that theism is true, and that God does make a difference to the world. Must we then wait 100 or 200 years until the naturalists have finally given up seeking natural explanations of those differences? Can we not start thinking now about these matters? To do so is to encourage ontological pluralism in science, especially concerning foundational questions. As Feyerabend (1975) says in Against Method, in science there are in fact no fixed rules, and successful explanation is what counts. If some of us want to seek alternate explanations on the chance that we may be more successful in producing scientific predictions, then we should be able to do so. This is pluralism.

We give the name theistic science to the kind of scientific activity within ontological pluralism that develops theoretical ideas for the relation between God and the created world and for how they function together. This enterprise starts by rigorously formulating and examining a ‘scientific theism’. It then leads towards theistic science that gives rise to ‘theistic psychology’, ‘theistic biology’, etc., within an environment of ontological pluralism. If successful, we might one day begin to call these just ‘science’, but that, of course, remains to be seen.

Theistic science simply starts with the postulate that there is a God, according to the living theism defined above. Just as naturalistic physics starts from the a-theistic assumption of God not existing, I start from the assumption of God existing. We have to assume that something exists to start with, so both these ontological approaches should be allowed within science as long as they produce good explanations. Science by itself should not prejudge the kinds of ontologies to be assumed in the best theories, since that should depend only on the results of the investigations. The earth will not disappear from under our feet if we consider the possibility of God existing and see what conclusions might follow from that assumption.

You may be puzzled that I begin with theism rather than something simpler. Do we have to start by assuming an infinite God in order to do basic physics? I will discuss questions of simplicity and infinity in Chapter 13. For now, I only ask that I be awarded at the beginning the same deferred judgment as is awarded to superstring theory (for example). In the first step of an ab initio or fundamental theory, scientists write down the basic postulates from which they want to start and then proceed to derive from these as many conclusions as possible about the visible world. If they make predictions about something new or explain known facts in a new way without contradiction, this is regarded as a success. I ask that theistic science be allowed to follow the same pattern so we can judge at the end whether observations confirm or refute the theory. If they confirm theistic theory, then they may be regarded as evidence in favor of theism, otherwise not. This is different than the way that religious people regard theism1.4, but that does not stop us doing theistic science using the standard scientific pattern. It is also possible that one day other non-theistic theories may be supported by the same evidence. I therefore challenge anyone to produce such other theories, similarly comprehensive, that are equally or more effective or better confirmed with respect to the predictions that this book will make on the basis of theism. Since in science the primary assumptions are not provable but are just that, assumptions, we should be allowed to consider alternatives.

When comparing theory with observation, we need to realize that every interpretation of observations depends on what prior theory we have in our minds, especially concerning how observations work and how it is determined that they are accurate. Observations are always ‘theory laden’ since their interpretation is not given by the observation itself but by previous theories. Without a method of interpretation, an experiment means nothing at all. It is therefore essential to consider alternative starting points so we are not saddled forever with what may be called a ‘departure bias’.

Theistic science, as defined above, is different from traditional religion, theology or philosophy in that it attempts to describe the mechanisms by which God sustains or manages the universe and sustains or manages all the cause-effect relations within the universe. This is what makes the project scientific and thereby allows theism to enter science.

Throughout this book, there will be a number of recurring themes and ongoing conversations. These primarily relate to topics of continual debate among scientists, philosophers and theologians. The themes include:

  • Is the world constructed as a monism, dualism, or theism?
  • Can there be multiple levels or planes of existence?
  • How can there be mind-body connections without denying the fully-fledged existence of minds or of brains?
  • How can there be a Personal God, a Living God?
  • How can we distinguish between divine and human actions in the world?
  • How do physical, biological and mental structures come into existence? Are they created, gradually developed, or evolved?

These themes are listed here since I believe that the theism and science now being developed will, by the end of the book, suggest new answers to these queries.

Many scientists and philosophers resist this kind of theistic science. One reason is because those with a naturalist view have a negative bias concerning all things related to God, spirituality, and even mind.1.5 Another reason is because there is a logical impossibility of proving that something non-natural exists when the proof allowed is limited to natural measurements or abstractions based on them. This is related to another reason: that science does not have the methods to investigate spiritual or divine things. Many might ask, for example, how can we perform experiments or tests on God? How can we investigate things that cannot be seen empirically? Surely science and religion are the ‘non-overlapping magisteria’ (NOMA), as advocated by Gould (1997), where science is concerned with ‘what is’, and religion is concerned with ‘what should be’ (morality, ethics, and metaphysics beyond observations)? Many of these logical objections have been answered already by the skeptics, such as Stenger (2008), Coyne (2009), and summarized by Boudry et al. (2010). They argue, and I agree with them on this point, that while science may adopt a pragmatic methodological naturalism, its naturalistic claims should not be stronger than this. We should not insist, for example, that science is forever barred from considering non-physical realities such as minds, spirits or God.1.6I agree with them because if these things are to make any practical difference, it must be possible for them to have effects in the natural word, and those effects must be able to be examined by scientists. If an angel appeared to heal the sick, then science should be able to investigate it rigorously. The above skeptics go on to argue that since such angels never appear, the theistic predictions fail and therefore theism should be rejected. I respond by arguing that theism was most often not correctly understood, and so the predictions were not correctly made. I will present new predictions for confirmation or falsification.

Previous: 1.1 Theistic postulates Up: 1. Introduction Next: 1.3 Laying the foundations

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