Monday, July 5, 2010

Note to my reader-friends

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Subjectivity/Objectivity, Free will

A. Limitations of the Common Scientific Paradigm

Earlier, we mentioned the Grand Material Metaparadigm as identified by Schwartz. As another summary, quantum physicist Amit Goswami lists five characteristics of the “dogma” of conventional science for the last 350 years:

• Causal determinism: the universe is a grand machine with everything happening in accordance with Newton’s laws and the initial conditions (position and velocity).
• Continuity: all change is continuous, with no abrupt transitions.
• Locality: all causes progress in space in a finite amount of time. This gave Newton a problem, since he never found a local cause for gravity, and he famously stated, “I frame no hypothesis.” Einstein discovered that material objects have a speed limit, which is the speed of light. Thus causes could not produce effects in less time than light would take to travel between the objects involved.
• Strong Objectivity: the world is independent of observers; i.e., us.
• Material monism and reductionism: everything is made of matter and its force fields, and every phenomenon can be reduced to a material origin.
• Epiphenomenalism: Consciousness and all subjective phenomena are secondary effects (epiphenomena) of matter, and have no causal efficacy. All causation is upward causation in that subatomic particles constitute atoms; atoms constitute molecules; molecules constitute living cells; cells called neurons constitute the brain, in which consciousness arises. [Paraphrased from Goswami, Amit; The Visionary Window; Quest Books; Wheaton, Ill., 2000, pp 27-29]

Historically, there has been no problem with this list of characteristics defining the study of science; the problem is that it has – at least in the last two centuries – been taken to define reality. But none of these ideas can be proven, so they are taken on faith. Let us examine each doctrine.

The early years of the development of quantum theory were marked by intense metaphysical disagreements among the great physicists of the time. Heisenberg posited his famous uncertainty principle that literally states that there is an ultimate limit to the precision with which the position and momentum of an electron can be simultaneously measured. If we precisely locate the position, we know nothing about the momentum, and vice-versa. Initially, this fact was thought to result from the way in which the measurements were made: by shining light upon the electron, we perturb its motion. However, a great debate ensued, the result of which was that Neils Bohr’s Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics prevailed. According to this interpretation, not only are the precise position and momentum of an electron in principle unknowable, they cannot be said to have a cause in the normal sense of the word. Quantum mechanics is not about causes and effects, but rather about statistical probabilities. Quantum-mechanical equations yield an expression for a wave, not a particle, and Max Born brought attention to the fact that the square of this wave function yields a probability. Thus quantum mechanics can tell us where an electron (or other particle) is most likely to be, but not where it actually is. In fact, the strict Copenhagen Interpretation indicates that the particle is actually not really located anywhere until it is observed, at which time the probability wave “collapses” into a specific position in accordance with the observation This fact about subatomic particles is also true about larger objects, except that the probability function of – say – a table is not spread out very far in space compared to the physical dimensions of the table, so the uncertainty in its position is negligible for all practical purposes. Thus according to the most common interpretation of quantum mechanics, the initial conditions of particles cannot be known; hence, determinism is not a viable postulate.

One of the great problems in physics in the early 20th century was that atoms could be stable. It was known that moving charges radiate energy, so electrons orbiting in atoms must radiate – and thereby lose – energy. One would then expect the electrons to “spin down” to zero distance from the nucleus of each atom because they ran out of energy. Neils Bohr not only proposed the radical idea that electrons only lose or gain energy when they change orbits, but they lose or gain energy in discrete amounts, or “quanta.” He was able to support this idea by calculating the spectrum of light radiated or absorbed by hydrogen atoms: specific frequencies of light radiation that had been measured by optical spectrum analyzers. His calculations agreed so well with he measurements that his theory was considered proven. The later history of quantum mechanics records the acceptance of additional radical ideas. The electron does not change orbits by moving through the physical space between orbits, but by disappearing from one orbit and appearing in another simultaneously – a phenomenon somewhat misleadingly called “tunneling.” Quantized emission and absorption of energy and tunneling are distinctly non-continuous processes, so continuity is also not a viable physical postulate.

Albert Einstein, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen attempted to prove that quantum mechanics is absurd by showing that two particles created from the separation of a single particle, and thus sharing the same wave function (quantum entanglement), would remain related in certain ways even if subsequently separated by an arbitrarily large distance. For example, one of the characteristics of a subatomic particle is called spin. If the spin of one of two quantum-entangled particles is reversed, the other will simultaneously reverse, even if it is located on the other side of the universe. The EPR argument was that such “ghostly action at a distance is impossible, since it would require some sort of superluminal (faster that light) communication. In fact, French Physicist Alain Aspect showed experimentally in the early 1980's that quantum-entangled particles do indeed behave as Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen predicted, although it is believed that this phenomenon cannot be used as a means of superluminal communication, since the changes undergone by such particles are fundamentally non-causal or random in nature. Thus the EPR theory unwittingly predicted, and the Aspect experiment proved, that nonlocal events do occur.

As mentioned earlier, the most commonly accepted interpretation of quantum mechanics states that the position of a particle cannot even be defined until the particle is observed; all that we have before observation is probabilities concerning the location. A related characteristic of electrons and other subatomic particles is their nature: like waves, or like particles? For many years, electrons were considered without question to be particles, just as light was considered without question to be waves. Thomas Young’s demonstration of the wave phenomena of interference and diffraction of light in 1800 as considered to have finally proven the wave nature of light. Einstein’s work on the photoelectric effect – for which he first became famous – indicated that light could also behave as particles, which we now call photons. Louis DeBroglie suggested that electrons have a wave nature, and subsequent experiments demonstrated interference and diffraction of electrons. Then things became even more interesting, for it was demonstrated experimentally that if we observe an electron (indirectly, since there is no way to see an electron) with a particle-sensing instrument, we will find that the electron has a specific location and that interference and diffraction do not occur. But if we observe it with a wave-sensing apparatus, the electron’s “location” will be spread out in space and interference and diffraction will be found. Thus we find that the wave-like or particle-like nature of electrons, photons, etc., all depend upon the observer. Much discussion has occurred as to the meaning of observer: who or what qualifies as an observer able to “collapse” a probability into an actual position? In 1955, mathematician John von Neumann stated that the observer must possess consciousness. If this is so, strong objectivity cannot be defended.

If we admit that consciousness causes the collapse of probability waves into actuality, we must question whether consciousness has a material origin, since all matter ultimately begins as probability waves. Thus epiphenomenalism falls: the reasoning is circular. If consciousness exists, and if it is nonmaterial, then materialism – everything is made of matter – cannot be true.

B. Matter/Spirit/Mind

What is the scientific understanding of matter? First, the scientific understanding involves matter only as a subset of matter/energy, as shown by Einstein’s famous equivalency relation E=mc2 . The particles of which matter is made, presently considered to be quarks (which, according to string theory, are themselves configurations of vibrating one-dimensional lines), pop into and out of existence from the “virtual sea” of energy. At a larger level of size, matter is made of atoms which are primarily empty space, and are themselves not fundamentally separable into particles having definite positions or natures without the intervention of consciousness. In order to avoid yielding to feelings of insanity, we are forced to recognize that all we know of matter consists of models which we now know to be at best abstractions of whatever reality might be. David Hume must be chortling in his grave!

The current paradigm of science does not consider the possibility of spirit. But virtually all religions teach that there is a superior reality consisting of spirit or consciousness. These two terms are often used interchangeably, but in fact there are many definitions of each. Those who believe in the reality of spirit understand it as being the animating principle in all life. The Far-Eastern religions prefer to speak of consciousness rather than spirit, and consciousness is believed to be the ground or basis of everything. Spirit is considered to possess consciousness, or consciousness is believed to be an aspect of spirit, but the two are not quite the same.

A level of reality also not formally examined under the current scientific paradigm is mind as a distinct thing or function. Mind is also variously defined. Some philosophers think of mind as the portion of a being in which will originates. Others speak of it as an organizing principle. Twentieth-century mystic Edgar Cayce described spirit, mind, and body as a trinity or tri-unity in which “the spirit is the life, mind is the builder, and the physical is the result.” These conceptions of mind accord somewhat with the Logos as discussed by Philo of Alexandria, except that in Philo’s thought, Logos is an aspect only of God, not of humans.

In his book Eye to Eye, Integral theorist Ken Wilber identifies six levels of consciousness:
1. Physical: nonliving matter/energy
2. Biological: living, sentient matter/energy
3. Psychological: mind, ego, logic, thinking
4. Subtle: archetypal, transindividual, intuitive
5. Causal: formless radiance, perfect transcendence
6. Ultimate: consciousness as such, the source and nature of all other levels.

Quantum physicist Amit Goswami prefers to think in terms of Hinduism’s “five bodies of consciousness” [Physics of the Soul, Goswami]:
1. Physical: the human physical structure
2. Vital: the individual habit patterns of feeling
3. Mental: the individual habit patterns of thought
4. Supramental: cosmic consciousness
5. Bliss: ground of being

Goswami’s supramental body seems to subsume Wilber’s subtle and causal bodies; this level of consciousness contains the contexts in which we think (such as three-dimensionality) plus other contexts in which we do not habitually think, plus the archetypes in the Platonic sense: fundamental essences such as Love in the abstract, etc.

Solid-state physicist William Tiller’s model [Science and Human Transformation; Tiller] also has five levels:
1. Physical: the human physical structure
2. Etheric: a “body” that interpenetrates and interacts with the physical, but whose interaction with inanimate objects is non-obvious
3. Emotional: the “feeling” body
4. Mental: seems to include Goswami’s Mental and Supramental levels.
5. Spiritual: the fundamental level of “beingness”

According to Dyani Ywahoo [Voices of our Ancestors, Ywahoo], the Native American tradition speaks of three functions of mind:
1. The will to be.
2. Compassion and the resulting compassionate action.
3. Actualization: the “builder” aspect of mind.

Traditional Christianity speaks of body, soul, and spirit. The ancient Hebrew thought from which many Christian ideas flow was not essentially analytical in the sense in which the other systems that we have mentioned are. Nephesh, the Hebrew word translated as “soul” in the Old Testament, probably translates more closely into modern English as “entity”, meaning the whole of body, mind, and spirit. Subsequent influences from Zoroastrian (Persian) and Greek thought have modified this idea to speak of:
1. Body, including the physical urges and desires (flesh in St. Paul’s writings).
2. Soul, composed of mind – the thinking faculty, emotions, and will.
3. Spirit, which vivifies the body and soul and is the portion “created in the image of God”.
Christian mystics would add that the human spirit can become “one with” the Holy Spirit, one of the ways in which we perceive God, in the sense of holding unity of motivation and intention: unconditional love toward God and all His creatures. Thus God is One Spirit, and humans can grow to become part of that oneness.

All of these systems perceive spirit, mind, and the physical as distinct from each other. This can imply a hierarchy of reality, in which spirit is at the top and the physical is at the bottom. Ken Wilber says this is more accurately conceived as a holarchy: all levels are included in the Ultimate, whether you call it spirit, consciousness, or anything else. Under the Ultimate, there are other wholes (holons, in Wilber’s terminology), each of which contains separate wholes underneath them. As we move from macrocosm to microcosm, each holon includes everything that is “more micro”.

Modern psychology has identified four fundamental states of consciousness:
1. The “conscious” mind.
2. The “subconscious mind.
3. The superconscious mind.
4. The state of deep dreamless sleep.

These terms somewhat confuse the concept of consciousness, because what varies among them is not truly consciousness, but awareness. (After all, all four are called “states of consciousness”). Awareness can be described as the ability to communicate perceptions through the apparatus of the body, at the time when the perceptions are experienced. Maximum awareness of the physical world exists in the “conscious” state; less awareness of the physical world is experienced in the “subconscious” state; awareness of a different reality (real, at least, to the perceiver) is present in the superconscious state of deep meditation; and no awareness of the physical state is present in deep dreamless sleep, although consciousness is still present, as indicated by the documented ability of people in coma to recall conversations held in proximity to them. Edgar Cayce identified the subconscious as the level of awareness that is present in dreams: it is associated with the autonomic nervous system and has access to memories and feelings that are not accessible to the “conscious” mind. The “conscious” mind is associated with the cerebrospinal nervous system, and is more closely tied to inputs from the sense organs of the body. He described the superconscious as bearing the same relation to the subconscious mind as does the subconscious to the conscious mind. The conscious, subconscious, and superconscious minds in a three-dimensional reference frame then correspond to the body, mind, and spirit. It is through the subconscious that emotions affect consciousness. Viewed another way, the conscious mind is the most individualized; subconscious is more easily in contact with the subconsciousnesses of other sentient beings; and the superconscious is able to experience the unity of the Creative Forces, or God. This conception is in keeping with the descriptions of many Christian mystics. Thus, as suggested by Herbert B. Puryear [Meditation and the Mind of Man; Puryear], our experience of individuality can be represented by a field of inverted cones (point downward). Our conscious minds are represented by the points, which are separated from one another. Moving up the cones, we find that the separation decreases, and at the subconscious level we can experience telepathy and other “psychic” phenomena. At the top, all the cones merge into an infinity of consciousness that is shared among all sentient beings and is a part of God. This is the superconscious level.

These concepts are described variously in different religious traditions, and at the “street level” of the common adherent of most religions, they are seldom considered at all. Probably this fact accounts for the great differences among the beliefs of adherents at this level: in communicating their experienced reality, the founders and great leaders of all religions communicated some aspects of their experienced reality in different ways, and with different simplifications and emphases, to those having less deep experience of the superconsciousness. Thus different believers of equal devoutness, having different cognitive experiences, and quite likely, different subconscious experiences; and sharing no recall of direct superconscious experience of the trans-physical life, can hold equally strong convictions of quite contradictory ideas. This condition has led to most, if not all, of the enmity among those of different religious faiths, and also to much of the misunderstanding between science and religion.

In order to provide a basis for clear discussion, we must therefore adopt a consistent terminology. In particular, let us use the following words with the meanings given below (after Tiller):
1. Physical: the human physical structure, including the sense organs and brain.
2. Etheric: a “body” that interpenetrates and interacts with the physical, but whose interaction with inanimate objects is non-obvious. The reality of the etheric body is denied by the present paradigm of science, although it was explicitly accepted and studied by scientists and philosophers of the past, including William James, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mary Todd Lincoln, Emerson, and Thoreau; as well as contemporary nuclear physicist Amit Goswami and Solid State physicist William Tiller. The etheric body is thought to communicate with the physical body through subtle means affecting the subconscious mind.
3. Emotional: the “feeling” body. This body provides the “kick in the pants” to precipitate decisions supposedly in the conscious mind – the difference between thinking rationally that a certain decision is right, and actually making the decision with a sense of conviction. The emotional body communicates with the physical body through neuropeptides released throughout the body, especially by the endocrine glands. In much conventional usage, the emotional body is called the “ heart”, with the recognition that it is not the physical organ that is being discussed. (However, the extensive research conducted by the Institute of Heartmath clearly shows a connection between the experience of emotions and the physical functioning of the heart organ.)
4. Mental: seems to include Goswami’s Mental and Supramental levels. Includes both rational thought and the three functions of will (will to be, compassion, and actualizing will), as well as “revelation” or “spiritual callings” from the cosmic level. This level is mediated through the brain, although its functioning neither begins in nor is confined to the brain, since it includes the function of assigning and evaluating meaning, which John von Neumann has proven cannot be accomplished by a computer, whether mechanical, electronic, or biological. When we speak of mind, it should be taken to mean the mental body.
5. Spiritual: the fundamental level of “beingness.”

Using Wilber’s Holarchy concept, each of these five levels or “bodies” can be considered as a holon, containing all lower-numbered bodies within themselves. Thus we define, not an anatomy of the spirit, but something more like our microscopic view of matter: matter is made of molecules, which are made of atoms, which are made of neutrons, protons, and electrons, which are made of quarks, which are perhaps made of strings. In order to fully appreciate the power of this analogy, we must recognize that strings (if they exist at all) are not just tiny bits of matter, corresponding to grains of sand in a chunk of sandstone. They do not even have length, width, and depth, but are one-dimensional mathematical constructs. Thus they are not physical at all in the ordinary sense, but mathematical. So for the world of strings, mathematics is the ground of being, and it manifests as holons made up of strings, etc., and so on up the scale of holarchy. In spiritual reality, the ground of being is spirit, and it manifests as the cosmos, including all matter and life. Mathematics is a structure perceived by mind, and spirit is a “structure” perceived by Consciousness. (Here, Consciousness is considered to be unitive and all-pervasive. Goswami, Willis Harmon, and many others have argued eloquently for the idea of a unitive consciousness as the ground of being. Spirit seems to be a way in which we can think of Consciousness.) At the individual level, the spirit of a person acts upon, and is acted upon by, the mental body, which acts upon, and is acted upon by, the emotional, etheric, and physical bodies. And so on through the holarchy, or “great nest of being”.

Seen in this way, the Hebrew concept of the nephesh makes sense, as an individual person is a unique composite of holons. The Greek idea of mind is perhaps best understood as the characteristics of the mental holon as distinct from those of the other holons that are included within the mental body.

Goswami considers the soul to consist of memories. Those thinkers whom William James calls “medical materialists” have long held that the brain is the locus of memory. The work of Dr. Ida P. Rolf and others has demonstrated that memory at the physical level is potentially located in all structures of the body. Christians add the non-physical memory in “God’s book of remembrance”, which Hindus and Buddhists call “the akasha”. These latter areas of memory help to explain ideas such as Jung’s “collective unconscious”.

However we think of memory, is seems to be an element accessed within the mental holon. The "soul" of Christian thought would then consist of holons 2-4 (etheric, emotional, and mental). Note that in this definition, soul is distinguished from spirit, as seems to be the case in much of Hebrew and Christian Scripture, though perhaps not in common usage.

Logically (and perhaps chronologically), the holarchy is described by Buddhists, Hindus, and Native American religions as follows. First there was the One (“In the beginning was God.”) Then God considered Gods’s-self and the One became Two: the observer and the observed. The Two exhibited the aspects of polarity: male/female, light/dark, positive/negative, good/evil. (note that these are separate aspects, not parallel polarities such that male would be equated with light, positive, and good. There are many aspects of polarity.) Thus the two became Three, and as the Native Americans say, we live in the world of three. But the three are just different views of the One. Through intermingling of different polarity aspects in different proportions, the Three became many. Anything other than oneness is a model required so that we can perceive the cosmos. Hindus and Buddhists call this model maya, or illusion. According to this understanding, it is no accident that our world has three spatial dimensions, that we consider ourselves in the triune fashion of body, soul, and spirit, and that many religions teach a triune aspect of God (although the Christian Trinity is probably the best-known).

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Nature of Ultimate Reality

Earlier, we discussed the effect that the Big Bang cosmology has had upon the scientific perspective of the possible existence of God. Indeed, the response of scientists was polarizing. Astronomer Geoffrey Burbidge of the University of California at San Diego expressed concern that many of his colleagues were dashing away to join “the First Church of Christ of the Big Bang.” In fact, Burbidge’s own work involved the creation of an alternative theory to the Big Bang which we will discuss as a part of our examination of cosmology.

As Burbidge saw, the Big Bang theory certainly allows for – perhaps implies -- creation of the universe by a supreme being. However, it tells us very little about the nature of that being. Religions through the ages have had much to say about God’s nature. It would seem natural to summarize the development of theology at this point, but doing so presupposes a particular worldview that is not universally shared. Some people through the ages have believed that the history of humankind records continuous, gradual progress: growing development in bodily capabilities, knowledge, socialization, organization, and even theological understanding. “Gradual Progress” is the view of most historians. Other people, including the adherents of some very significant religions, posit the existence of a prior “golden age” from which humankind has gradually fallen. In this latter view, prehistoric views of God – not necessarily those suggested by archaeologists – are closer to the truth than most modern views. Thus summarizing the development of theology would require that we can all agree that theology has progressed, not retrogressed, during known history.

Therefore, let us discuss views of the nature of God without reference to any chronological frame of organization. We can do so by examining significant characteristics that at least some people attribute to God. This examination will inform our later examination of the science/religion dialog.

The Nature of God – Creativity

Having begun our discussion with the implications of the Big Bang theory, we can begin a discussion of God’s attributes with the ability and/or desire to create. Virtually all monotheistic religions, as well as non-theistic religions that do not identify their supreme creative principle as God, consider creativity to be God’s most basic attribute. This creativity of God is almost always assumed to be “ex nihilo” (from nothing); in modern scientific terms, God’s creation of the universe ex nihilo would mean that all matter, and in fact space-time itself, were/are created by God.

The Nature of God – Goodness

To those brought up in one of the Semitic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), the goodness of God is presupposed as a basic tenet, even though individuals may simultaneously hold beliefs about God that analysis reveals to be incompatible with goodness as ordinarily understood. Useful definitions of goodness include (1)moral excellence, virtue; (2) kindly feeling, kindness, generosity; (3) excellence of quality; (4) the best part of anything; essence; strength []. Some Christians affirm that God is good, but that God’s goodness is of such an order that humans are incapable of comprehending it; thus, it may even appear as evil. Buddhism and Hinduism insist that the supreme creative force is neither good nor not-good; since any attempt to define Its attributes ultimately limits our conception of It. The multiple gods of polytheistic religions were of differing degrees of goodness; none was considered to be perfectly good.

The Nature of God – Omniscience

A majority of religious views see God as omniscient, or all-knowing. This has caused problems with the idea of human free will, as we will discuss later.

The Nature of God – Rationality

Many modern people would affirm without thinking that God must be rational. However, closer analysis calls this idea into question. Rational thought falls into two classes: deductive and inductive. Deductive thought begins with basic premeses, then draws logical conclusions which add to the body of knowledge possessed by the reasoning being. Inductive thought begins with observations and organizes them into basic patterns and laws, which add to the context of knowledge possessed by the reasoning being. If God is omniscient, God would have no use for reasoning. It is quite another thing to suppose that God creates according to principles that are part of God’s nature, which allow creation to be understood by rational means.

The Nature of God – Omnipotence

Although limitations on the powers of their gods were certainly permitted by virtually all polytheistic religions, most modern theists would consider that God must be omnipotent or all-powerful. The very old question raised by non-theists, of whether God can create a stone so heavy that God cannot lift it, is still raised periodically. However, this question is not really about God, but about semantics. Language provides us with the opportunity to ask self-contradictory questions. Envision a maker of dyes who advertised the capability of making any color of dye that could be desired. If I then asked him to make me a dye that is so green that it’s blue, my request would quite rightly be seen as illogical and frivolous. The “stone” question is of the same nature, as clearly discussed at []. Another common logical error involving the omnipotence of God is the a priori assumption that God must use God’s unlimited power in all situations. But the ability to act does not necessarily entail the choice to act. For reasons that humans may not understand, God may be omnipotent, yet choose not to act in order to serve God’s own purposes.

The Nature of God – Personal

The Semitic religions describe God in personal terms; thus God can be known as Father, Lover, Mother, Friend, etc. In Hinduism, God can be known through mystical union or through God’s manifestations, which are distinctly personal. In Buddhism, the supreme creative principle is not personal in any way, but can be experienced through nirvana.

The Nature of God – Love

Christians, in particular, point to the statement in the letters of John that “God is Love” as the most complete description of God. Some branches of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism would concur. It must be pointed out, though, that there are four words for “love” in the Koine Greek in which the New Testament was written, and agape, the one used to describe God is most like the Hebrew hesed (or chesed) which is variously translated as “mercy” or “lovingkindness.” This agape love is not primarily erotic, grasping, or even aesthetic, but simply desires the best for the object of love.

Given all these ideas of what God may be like, plus the many sub-doctrines derived from the basis attributes, it seems clear that discussion of God can be clouded by the individual concepts of those doing the discussing. We must be very careful not to include unstated assumptions about the nature of God in our discussions.


A recurring question that influences many people’s belief or non-belief in God is the problem of theodicy: how can evil exist in a universe created by a good God? In order to discuss this question, we must examine what we mean by good and evil. The answer that comes most readily to mind relates good and evil to pleasure and pain. However, a little reflection reveals the weakness of this approach. Hedonism may feel very good, but it can also lead to very unpleasant consequences. Losing a baby tooth is painful, but making space for the new permanent tooth is an undeniable good. Wikipedia provides a helpful note: “the good is viewed to be whatever produces the best consequences upon the lives of people, especially with regard to their states of well being.” However, this definition is somewhat circular, leaving “best” and “well-being” undefined. ( It rather reminds one of a saying of that great sage, Mammy Yokum of Cartoonist Al Capp’s Li’l Abner: “Good’s better’n evil ‘cause it’s nicer.”) Those who adopt the view of earthly life as a school may define good as “that which brings about the greatest positive growth for all concerned.” Philip Atkinson has defined good and evil thus:
Good is that which improves the community.
Evil is that which weakens the community

But he goes on to say knowing which is which is a difficult task that can only be accomplished by wisdom. We still do not seem to have found a suitable definition. Those of religious persuasion can say that good is whatever corresponds to the laws of their tradition. This implies a moral absolutism. Those of non-religious persuasions may say that good can only be defined by majority opinion of a society at a particular time: moral relativism. So still there is no unanimity of definition.

Another approach to defining good would be to begin with particular examples of goodness, then attempt to proceed from the particular to the general, rather than to move from a general definition, as we have been attempting. Almost all people would agree that saving the life of a child is good, as is teaching others so that they can better meet their physical needs. These examples share the characteristic of helping others in the sense of maximizing the potential for satisfaction and fulfillment in the lives of other people.

Most religions espouse a tenet similar to “the golden rule” – treat others as one would like to be treated by others– and quite probably the vast majority of non-religious people would also consider this advice as good. Epicurus advised moderation in all things, as did Gibran. It may be noted that moderation excludes some of the more egregious examples of “pleasant-but-not-good” things, such as gluttony, thereby bringing pleasantness modified by moderation more closely into parallelism with good. The effect of adding moderation to our concept of good is to extend the evaluation of the results of an action to the long term, since most “pleasures of immoderation” are short-term by nature. When we add the consideration of the human community – local and remote – to these concepts, perhaps we can define good as “that which increases the long-term pleasure, satisfaction, and fulfillment of all people concerned.” More specific definitions are often found to depend upon one’s particular worldview.

As an aside, our difficulty in defining good without reference to a particular worldview emphasizes the genius of the Lawgivers in helping to define good in helpful way for the general populace in times of less advanced socialization and education. The Ten Commandments and the Noble Eightfold Path have provided specific guidance for many generations.

If we now have an acceptable definition of good, how then can we define evil? Evil can be defined passively, as an absence of or a perversion of good, or actively, an opposition to good. Evil can be defined absolutely by the religious ( even by those whose religion is humanism) as anything contrary to the tenets of the religion; indeed, the religion of political correctness provides a clear example of a secular religion that so defines evil. A more subjective view of evil would be that anything that goes against conscience is evil. This view presupposes that conscience is present and similar in all people, which is demonstrably not the case. The idea of conscience itself is fraught with difficulties: is it inherent in a person? Genetic? Socially induced? Many religions teach the idea that evil originates in human consciousness and as such is already morally defective even before it is manifest in the physical world. Does the designation of an act as evil presuppose volition? If I accidentally harm another person, is that evil, or is evil intent necessary for the designation evil? Does the evilness of an event depend upon one’s viewpoint, so that the killing of a vicious dog that is attacking a child is good from the viewpoint of the child, but evil from the viewpoint of the dog? Is there a moral calculus that says that the good of the many outweighs the good of the few, as explored in the Star Trek Movies? Recognizing that probably a definition consistent with our earlier definition of good must of necessity leave some open questions, we may define evil as “that which decreases the long-term pleasure, satisfaction, and fulfillment of some of the people concerned.” The percentage represented by “some” probably cannot be quantified in any systematic way: if a group of masochists torture a victim, then from a materialist viewpoint, a majority of the people concerned have increased pleasure; and if these people are deficient in conscience or are sociopathic, they may even have increased long-term pleasure. Yet I suspect that very few materialists would consider the torture anything but evil. Non-materialists generally believe in continuity of life (there is more to life than the physical), so the long-term pleasure of the masochists would not be increased; thus for them there is no problem with our definition.

Three other points about evil seem apropos. The first is that, contrary to the behaviorally-expressed beliefs predominant in our society, physical death is not the ultimate evil from the non-materialist viewpoint. Modern societies spend vast effort and resources in an attempt to delay physical death as long as possible, to the point that the most common reason for personal bankruptcy, and the largest expense item for many national budgets, is medical costs. There is the feeling that any cost and effort are justified in an attempt to prolong physical life. Yet if there is continuity of life, whatever awaits us beyond this physical experience is unlikely to be worse than the experience of a moribund person. And many materialists assert that the non-existence that they suppose follows physical death is preferable to continued suffering.

The second point is that some thinkers divide evil into two camps: that due to human causes, and that (so-called “natural evil”) not due to human causes. In this thinking, hurricanes and tsunamis would constitute natural evil, which may logically be of different causation than evil caused by humans.

The third point is that, as permitted by our definition, some seeming evils may ultimately have good results. Those that do not have such results are often called “gratuitous evil.”

Hindus insist that good and evil are co-necessary polarities: one cannot exist without the other. The yin/yang emblem of Taoism expresses the same idea. In this view, evil is a part of consciousness, and when it is manifested in the material world, it serves the purpose of allowing consciousness to explore itself. Experiences that are regarded as evil simply result from ignorance through which humans accept illusory physical manifestations (maya) as real.

This understanding has been criticized as denying the existence of evil, although a careful reading of the Hindu scriptures does not support this criticism. The Hindu understanding is that a thing appears as evil because of the values we attach to it, values which in the play of consciousness are not essentially connected with the thing in itself.

Buddhism sees evil as resulting from human attachment to things, ideas, thoughts, plans, etc. Such attachment springs from and leads to illusion, and hence – as in Hindu thought – to the appearance of evil.

Dualistic religions such as Zoroastrianism see creation as morally dualistic: There is a supreme good power personified as Ahura Mazda (God), and a supreme evil power personified as Ahriman (the devil). These two principles are in perpetual conflict until the end of time at which point the good will win. Some Christians also subscribe to this view, although most think of the devil or Satan as a tempter who was divested of all power at the Resurrection.

The ancient Hebrew religion attributed earthly evil to the fall of humankind, in which the first or prototypical humans broke God’s commandments and thus by the natural laws of consequences and “like begets like”, creation was infected with imperfection. Zoroastrian Dualism seems to have entered Hebrew thought during the inter-testamental period (ca. 420 BCE - early CE). Thus Christianity, though sprung from a monotheistic source that agreed with the ancient Hebrews: “The LORD thy God, the LORD is One,” accepted the existence of a personal agent of evil that they called Satan. This belief was not truly dualistic, though, because Satan was seen not as an independent agent of evil, but as one who, having been created by God, was given free will, which he subsequently misused, leading to the “fall of the angels” which preceded the advent of humans. Thus evil comes from a misuse of free will. In some Christian thought, evil has the purpose of “soul-making”; only by rejecting temptations to evil can humans develop spiritual strength.

The so-called “free-will” theodicy clearly does not apply to natural evil, although the “soul-making” theodicy can explain natural evil as a means of helping humans to develop faith. Non-theists have long argued that the existence of evil, particularly gratuitous evil, disproves the existence of God. The various theodicies explain otherwise. Non-theists now most commonly accept the free-will theodicy, (although as we will discuss later on, some even deny the existence of free will), but point out that it does not apply to gratuitous evil. Theists have several answers, the most common of which is that since we do not know the mind of God, we cannot say with surety that gratuitous evil does indeed exist, however things may appear from our limited perspective. A newer perspective based upon the concept of the primacy of consciousness is that all consciousness is interconnected, and so evil choices and actions by humans ultimately cause earthquakes, tsunamis, etc., even though their proximate cause can be found within the “natural world.”

One argument used by non-theists is, if God is omniscient, he must have known that free will would lead to evil, so why did God allow free will? Answering this question entails examining the nature of time and how that nature intersects God’s omniscience, as well as the nature and extent of free will. These topics will be a part of our next discussion.

A complete discussion of theodicy is beyond our scope, but the interested reader may want to check out:

By acknowledging the importance of theodicy, we have set the stage for later points at which our discussions will impact this topic.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Topics of the Dialog

In every discussion involving science and spirituality, certain preconceptions affect the thinking of those involved, or as William James put it many years ago, “Every explanation is based on a stated or unstated metaphysics. Even in the most air-tight systems, ‘the juices of the metaphysical assumptions leak in at every joint.’” [Harman, Willis: "Two Liberating Concepts for Research on Consciousness", Noetic Sciences Review, 25 (Spring 1993) p. 15]. One result of this is that the topics of discussion include points that do not properly belong to the shared domain of science and religion, but only to one or the other. Thus the dialog includes topics of science that have religious import and topics of religious thought that have scientific import, and also some topics of theology that interest some particular scientists, but that have no specific scientific import. The topics can be discussed in six groups.

The first group of topics concerns the nature of ultimate reality. Most of these topics are largely metaphysical and philosophical, and have been discussed for a very long time. However, recent developments in science shed new light on some of them. The most basic of these topics, and the one of greatest interest to many people, is the question of the existence and nature of God: can we, with intellectual honesty, believe in God; and if so, what is God like? If there is a good God, how can evil exist in the universe (the question of theodicy). Is there perhaps, not a personal God, but a supreme intelligence which creates the universe? How do we relate to God: as parts, only as creatures, as identical with supreme intelligence but misled by illusion? If the latter is the case, how do we perceive ourselves as being different from the rest of the universe? What is the relation among matter, spirit, and mind? How is religious thought, in both individual and group manifestations, affected by human psychology? What is the truth about time and space? How much can we really ever know and understand about all these questions? Does quantum physics have anything to say to us about spiritual topics?

The second group of topics concerns origins. Can science and religions agree on cosmology and the origins of the universe? Is the universe purposeful? If there is a Creator of the universe, how does the Creator interact with the creation? How did sentient life come to be? Is there any hope for reconciliation between science and religion on these important topics?

The third group of topics –- on the issue of prayer -- can be considered to spring from the last question of the second group, as prayer certainly assumes interaction between Creator and creation. First, some groundwork will be needed: what is prayer? What are the forms of prayer? How universal is prayer among different religions? What are the psychological effects of prayer upon the person praying? Does prayer for another person have real effects upon the person being prayed for? What can we learn from scientific experiments involving prayer? What do the skeptics have to add to the discussion?

The fourth group of topics relates to healing of the human body. Almost all religions provide examples of non-medical approaches to healing. What methods are actually used? What efficacy do they have? Is there a body of knowledge that can be systematically applied to produce or enhance healing? What scientific studies have been done on such forms of healing? What can we learn from these studies? Is there any possible materialistic explanation for such healing? How is non-medical healing related to prayer?

The fifth group of topics concern the survival of persons after death of the physical body. First, we must ask, what are the origin and nature of consciousness? What is individuality, and how does it come about? What is personality, and how is it related to individuality? If, as many religions posit, there is a spiritual realm, how does it affect material bodies; i.e., how does incarnation occur? Do we in some way survive death? How?

The sixth group of topics comprises two other issues that may not be directly related to each other, but are still a part of the dialog. Are paranormal events real, and if so, how do they occur? How can the study of such events be incorporated into science? Should such study be incorporated into science? Are there examples of rigorous scientific studies of the paranormal, and if so, what do they show us? And finally, what alternative viewpoints of science can we consider that would facilitate a growth in knowledge of issues that are presently excluded by the Grand Material Metaparadigm?

Next we will try to assess what is known, believed, or intuited about the nature of ultimate reality.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Nature of the Dialog Between Science and Religion - I

So far, the only attribute of deity that we have discussed is creativity. Virtually all theists have many other strongly-held beliefs about God: God is just, God is merciful, God is Love, and so on. Those claiming any organized religious faith, as well as those claiming none, who tell us they have experienced communion with God, agree that God is much more than we humans can ever comprehend. In fact, some mystics hold that any attempt to describe God ultimately limits us to an incomplete concept of God.

Most theologians, as well as mystics of all stripes, agree that there are various categories of knowledge: knowledge received through the five senses, knowledge deduced rationally, knowledge imparted to us by other people, knowledge received by direct spiritual revelation. P. D. Ouspensky adds emotional knowledge, the knowledge of how experiences interact with us at the subtle level. Science as historically practiced under the Grand Material Paradigm only accepts the first three kinds of knowledge, leading to an epistemological problem from the very beginning of any dialog between science and religion. Religion says, “God is real, in fact God is the supreme reality.” The materialistic scientist says, ‘Prove it.” Even Martin Luther said that the only god who could be deduced by logical arguments was the god of the pagan philosophers. “Faith does not require information, knowledge, and certainty, but a free surrender and a joyful bet on his unfelt, untried, and unknown goodness.” [Armstrong, Karen: A History of God, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1994, p. 278]

Western religion (exoteric) meets science: Asked to discuss God, the religious spokesmen begin to tread unfamiliar turf. No longer able to use the language of theology so laboriously developed over the centuries, they attempt the language of the science of the day. Thus unawares, these spokesmen have moved onto the turf of science. Forced to discuss in an alien language, the religious spokesmen have naturally been at a disadvantage. To this day, the unlevel playing field remains.
Attempts by theologians to discuss God rationally include:

Example of God’s Action: God holds planets and stars in place
Response of Science: Newton’s first law

Example of God’s Action: God created the universe
Response of Science: Uniformitism (now disproven)

Example of God’s Action: God is manifested in storms
Response of Science: Ben Franklin’s proof that lightning is static electricity

Example of God’s Action: God created all life forms
Response of Science: Darwinian evolution

At each point, it seems that the gap in causality formerly filled by God had been filled instead by science. This doomed attempt to prove God’s existence has been termed the “God of the Gaps.” Many sincere, well-meaning religious persons have fallen into the trap of the unlevel playing field through an uncritical literalism.
“At a time when Mulla Sudra was teaching Muslims that heaven and hell were located in the imaginary world within each individual, sophisticated churchmen such as Bellarmine were strenuously arguing that they had a literal geographic location. When Kabbalists were reinterpreting the Biblical account of creation in a deliberately symbolic manner and warning their disciples not to take this mythology literally, Catholics and Protestants were insisting that the Bible was factually true in every detail. This would make the traditional religious mythology vulnerable to the new science and would eventually make it impossible for many people to believe in God at all. ... This would ultimately enable the new ‘atheists’ of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries to get rid of God altogether.”[Armstrong, pp. 290-291]

Rene Descartes was deeply religious, and he considered mathematics to be the language of God. Recognizing the problem we have just described, he attempted to forestall a confrontation between science religion through an intellectual schism that we have already discussed: Cartesian Dualism. He said Creation is divided into dual domains: matter and soul. The proper study of science includes only the realms of matter and energy. The proper study of religion includes only values, emotions, and things of the spirit or soul. Thus it would be “unscientific” to discuss anything rationally except matter and energy. That this schism came to be generally accepted, at least by most scientists, led to the gradual rejection (until very recently) of all non-measurable data, phenomena, and experiences as unscientific and therefore superstitious, childish, weak, and outdated. The scientific study of psychology has been hobbled by the limitations imposed by Cartesian Dualism. And although Descartes explicitly accepted the spiritual domain and the existence of the soul, his intellectual offspring increasingly did not.

Ignoring the leap in logic that the dualistic division of experienced reality is entirely arbitrary, philosophers began to have a very difficult time figuring out how a non-material soul could affect a material body. However, today we understand more about the influence of the non-material upon the material. A computer controlling a powerful robot is itself controlled by software represented by electrical states of tiny transistors operating upon infinitesimal subatomic particles. Even though the software is represented in material objects, the essence of the software is ideas in the mind of the software writer. Some moderns who claim to be spokesmen for science will not allow this example, as they believe that the mind is “simply” an epiphenomenon of the brain. Another example was given earlier: human interpretations of experiences have physiological consequences. A third is the ability of love, especially altruistic love, to motivate humans to perform sometimes amazing physical actions. Many attempts have been made to explain mind/matter interaction through quantum physics. While we shall see later that quantum physics does contain some important keys, most of these attempts have been analogous to the God of the Gaps, the gaps having become quantum leaps.

Perhaps much more important than the constricting effect that Cartesian Dualism has had upon the science/religion dialog is the effect that it has had upon the practice of religion. “ ... for centuries, we in the West have divided the world into spiritual phenomena and natural phenomena, as if all phenomena were not natural. To put it another way, we came to believe that some natural laws were more God’s laws than others. Faith and spiritual experiences were dismissed as delusions that had no basis in fact.... Scientific rationalism even influenced religion. ‘The religious groups had to be creatures of the Enlightenment,’ explains David Baird, minister of the Putnam United Methodist Church in Putnam, Connecticut. Even today, reverend Baird notes, ‘the training we get is ninety-nine percent intellectual, theological, and philosophical. There is very little on the cultivation of the spirit.’ For the last few centuries, he notes, many religions have ‘tried to package religion in a way society could accept.’ When he did hands on healing as a Lutheran minister, he recalls, ‘people felt it was getting into magic. They thought I was leaving orthodox Christianity.’” [Goldner, Diane: Infinite Grace, Hampton Roads Publishing Co., Charlottesville, Va., 1999, pp. 42-43]

The formal dialog between science and religion can be summarized thus:
1. In the early days of science, the Church (in the West) and the leaders of Islam (in much of the Near East) not only controlled the dialog, but they employed professional scientists: astronomers, mathematicians, and the like. While these professionals made much progress in science, their conclusions were always subject to the tests of religious dogma. In India and the Far East, dogma has never been as highly esteemed, and scientific studies at that time were not a major part of the intellectual climate. The source of true knowledge was considered to be enlightened masters who claimed to maintain a union with the Ultimate (sometimes called “God”, sometimes not), and whose pronouncements were beyond questioning because the Ultimate is by definition omniscient.

2. Beginning during the so-called “Enlightenment,” (notice the almost diametrically opposed usages of this word in the East and West), the religious side of the dialog lost much of its following among the intelligentsia in the West and, to perhaps a lesser extent, the Near East. Gradually, the situation described above by Rev. Baird came to be, even to the extent of weakening the influence of the mystical religions of the Far East.

3. By the end of the 18th century, scientism had become the de facto religion of the intellectual elite in most of the world, although there were vast numbers of people less analytically inclined, who continued to accept the religious traditions of their ancestors. In fact, science did seem to prove the mechanical nature of a universe which was infinite in extent, history, and future.

4. During the 20th century, as we have discussed, many of the props were pulled from under scientism, and the work of Thomas Kuhn, the founders of General Semantics, and others helped to reveal the difference between scientism and science. Also, the influence of Indian, Far Eastern, and aboriginal religions began to be felt in Western society, largely due to a generation that found itself intellectually as well as spiritually unsatisfied with materialism. Willis Harman, in “Toward a Consciousness Metaphor in Science,”[ Noetic Sciences Review, 24 (Winter 1992), pp. 35-36] stated,
“There is a common misconception about science, not shared by good scientists. That is that science describes reality. But in fact the activity of science is basically a way of understanding based on making models ... or choosing metaphors ... to represent certain aspects of reality.... Great mischief can result when the models and metaphors of science are mistakenly taken to be the ‘true’ description of reality. Because when they are, people feel a necessity to defend them, and to stamp out competing reality claims. Many of the conflicts in the history of science, as well as the conflict between science and religion, have been battles between groups who insist that their metaphors are ‘really’ how reality is. Mainstream science, characterized by an obsession with prediction and control, has almost exclusively employed physicalistic metaphors such as ‘mechanisms’, particles, waves, or fields. It has been very dubious about more holistic metaphors such as organism, personality, ecological community, or the Gaia metaphor for the Earth and its biosphere. (Scientists have typically insisted that these whole-system descriptions can or will be understood in terms of their parts.) Further, science has tended to disallow a third kind of metaphor, a consciousness metaphor.’
In fairness, it must be added that many of the religious conflicts throughout human history have resulted from failure to perceive that models represent reality but are not themselves essentially real: “the map is not the territory.” We will discuss the consciousness metaphor in much greater detail later.

Next, we will enumerate the topics of discussion in the science/religion dialog as of this writing.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Cosmology as an Example

Although the modern view of the universe dates back to Galileo and Copernicus, the theoretical underpinnings of that view began with a mystic, alchemist, and arguably the first physicist to utilize the scientific method: Isaac Newton. Newton was a committed Christian who considered his mystical and theological writings to be his true life’s work. But his description of the action of gravitation both here on Earth and among the various heavenly bodies permitted the first modern understanding of the elliptical orbit of planets, and why they assume such orbits. His three laws of motion permitted the calculation of the position and velocity of any material body at any future time, given the initial position, velocity, and forces acting on the body. Although Newton would have never dreamed it, the conclusion was soon reached that the universe is a great machine. This concept ran counter to the prevailing conception (which was also Newton’s conception) of God and of free will. In the Hebrew tradition, God was considered to be active in history. LaPlace, in his five-volume work Celestial Mechanics, never mentioned God. When asked by then-emperor Napoleon why that was so, he famously replied, “I had no need of that hypothesis.” A mere three years later, William Paley, in his Natural Theology, posited his argument from design to support theism: If one were walking along and found a stone, it would not be absurd to suppose that it had been there forever. But if one were to find a watch, it would be absurd not to suppose the existence of a watchmaker. Likewise, finding the great machine which the universe was then considered to be, one’s only logical recourse is to suppose a universe-maker.

More recently, Paley’s argument from design was attacked by biologist Charles Darwin and paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, following in the footsteps of David Hume. They posited pure chance over an infinite period of time in order to explain the present existence and form of the universe. Philosopher Immanuel Kant went further by proposing that the universe is infinite in extent and eternal in time – both future and past – and hence the origin is in principle unknowable. Among those holding to the infinite-universe belief, there was a common opinion that the universe was also uniform in the sense that it is everywhere pretty much the same as the portion we can observe: same number and average size of stars per octillion cubic kilometers.

In the twentieth century, physics and astronomy struck the death-blow to the infinite-universe (in extent or time) theories. To begin with, if the universe were uniform and infinite, the sky on a moonless night would not be black. The reason is as follows. In a universe having three spatial dimensions (length, width, and depth), the light from a glowing object decreases as the square of the distance from the object, so the light from stars as observed on earth becomes weaker as the star becomes more distant. However, the cone of vision of an observer includes an area that is also proportional to the square of the distance to the observed object; if we can see twice as far away, we can observe four times as many stars in a uniform infinite universe. A finite, though small, amount of light emitted by each of an infinite number of stars will add up to an infinite amount of light. Thus if the universe were uniform in star density and infinite in extent, the day and night skies would be unbearably bright, though not infinitely so, because of absorption by the atmosphere and interstellar gases.

Second, the Second Law of Thermodynamics states that any material system tends toward a state of increasing entropy (disorder): mechanical systems run down, whether they be watches or universes. Thus the universe cannot be infinite in age or future extent. Further, modern measurements of the ages of stars reveal them to be no more than 16 billion years old. Certainly this is old, but it is far from infinite. Calculations indicate that a star can “live” for 80 to 100 billion years. Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity predicted, and Hubble confirmed an expanding universe, which implies an initial explosion. Einstein acknowledged the consequent “necessity for a beginning” of the universe and “the presence of a superior reasoning power.” [Lincoln Barnette: The Universe and Dr. Einstein, p. 106]

At this point (early 20th century), the idea of a universe infinite in extent and time was an established part of standard cosmology, but it is clear that a crisis had been reached. As Kuhn observed, the proponents of the old paradigm attempted to resist the evidence pointing to the need for paradigm shift. One was the idea of an oscillating universe as per Hindu belief. In this view, the universe has a beginning and an end, after which a new universe is formed. But by far the majority opinion among astronomers and physicists is that the best description of the origin of the universe is provided by the Big Bang theory , in which the universe is considered to have begun with an initial explosion from an area of no dimensions, no volume, and no area, and in which space and time were created. Initially, the Big Bang theory met with serious objections, although not generally on mathematical or physical grounds, but for metaphysical reasons. British astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington stated, “Philosophically, the notion of a beginning of the present order of nature is repugnant . . . . I should like to find a genuine loophole.” [Arthur S. Eddington: “The End of the World: from the Standpoint of Mathematical Physics,” Nature 127 (1931, p. 450], and “We must allow evolution an infinite time to get started.” [Arthur S. Eddington: “On the Instability of Einstein’s Spherical World,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 90(1930), p. 672] Experiments of the last few decades have provided very substantial verification of the predictions of the Big Bang theory.

The general acceptance of the Big Bang theory signaled the end of eternal uniformity. The question “what preceded the Big Bang” has no meaning, since time was also created by the Big Bang, so there was no “before,” at least in our time dimension. This can imply the existence of a creator beyond space and time, though some say, "not necessarily." The mathematics of quantum physics indicates that subatomic particles continually flash into and out of existence through quantum fluctuations. In the same way, some physicists think there is a finite probability that the Big Bang was caused by such a quantum fluctuation. The logical problem with this belief is that quantum fluctuations take place in space, and before the Big Bang, there was no space. Likewise, a quantum fluctuation implies a change in energy with time, and before the Big Bang, time as we know it did not exist.

Regardless of the view one takes of the origin of the Big Bang, it is clear that the paradigm shift is now essentially complete; the theory of an infinite, uniform universe is untenable, and the Big Bang describes the origin of space-time. A powerful confirmation of the theory came with the results of the COBE (Cosmic Background Explorer) satellite in 1992. A fascinating account of this event can be found in Hugh Ross, Ph.D.: The Creator and the Cosmos, pp. 19, 20.

One of the most difficult parts of the Big Bang theory is the concept of finite time. However, this idea appears in great religious texts. Genesis 1:1 in the Bible, accepted as Holy Scripture by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, states: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In the Christian New Testament passage of 2 Timothy 1:9, the writer says, “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time ...” and Titus 1:2 discusses “ a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time.” And both Christian and Muslim scriptures also speak of the end of time – not just the end of the world or universe, but the end of time. Christian sociologist and author Tony Campolo points out that the future does not yet exist, and the past is no more, so the only thing that is real is the present, which is where humans must contact God – in His eternal now. The same idea is present in certain forms of Buddhism, in which the student is advised to practice “mindfulness,” or full awareness of the present moment. Even our modern myths capture this concept: “Be mindful of the present, young paduan.” {Obiwan Kenobi admonishing Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode I.]

So how about the oscillating universe theory? Calculations show that the mass (more accurately, mass-energy) of the entire universe must be between critical limits for an ending “Big Crunch” to be followed by a new Big Bang. Also, the Second Law of Thermodynamics tells us that each new Big Bang would contain less organizable mass-energy than the previous one, thus even if there were once enough mass-energy in the universe for it to oscillate, there is not enough now, so the next Big Crunch would be The End. At present, the Big Bang theory has no real competition as a theory of the formation of the universe.

How, then, do we view the other characteristic of the universe (at least from the religious viewpoint): purpose? Was the universe created for humans? Some scientists believe that it must have been. They point to the Anthropic Principle: 25 “characteristics of the universe that must take on very narrowly defined values for life of any kind to exist” [Ross, p. 111] They deduce that for so many “coincidences" to exist, the simplest explanation is that there was an intelligent designer. Many of these scientists are believers in Intelligent Design Cosmology – the idea that a creator must exist, although perhaps no scientific statements can be made as to the nature of the creator. In other words, Intelligent Design Cosmology supports theism, but not any particular religion’s view of Theo! A comprehensive review of astronomers’ views of creation is given in Hugh Ross: The Creator and the Cosmos, pp. 114-117.

Opponents of Intelligent Design Cosmology attack the view as non-scientific: their position is that “Blind chance still rules; the fact that we’re here to witness the universe simply proves that by chance all the factors did fall into place.” Also, in Chaos Theory, there is a mathematical feature called “strange attractors” which lend the appearance of order to the outcomes of chaotic systems. Another view that is held by some cosmologists is that every possible universe does in fact exist. This “many universes” theory is certainly a minority view, but if it were true, the Anthropic Principle would be meaningless: all it would prove is that we happen to live in the one universe, out of all the possible universes, in which the requisite characteristics for life are present. Indeed, we could not live in any other.

Having examined cosmology as an example of a paradigm shift within science, we must see that scientists, even during the period of “normal science,” are as far from being in universal agreement as are religious persons. Indeed, some scientists still hold the view of Descartes: matters of values, soul, and spirit are outside the domain of science, and matters of natural science are outside the domain of religion. Thus there need not be – indeed by definition there cannot be – any meaningful discussion between science and religion through which the one informs the other. Thus these scientists are not interested in the religious implications of their theories. Many other scientists are deeply religious, and they allow an infinite variation of influence of their scientific views upon their spirituality, and vice-versa.

This brings us to an essential point: much – perhaps most – of the debate supposed to have existed between science and religion has not been between science and religion at all, but rather between scientism and religion. Scientism, or science treated as religion, is a societal problem in both the church and the laboratory. Schwartz states, “ A result of training within the paradigm is that history, metaphysics, and interdisciplinarity are downplayed. A false sense of history is promulgated in which previous scientific giants are portrayed as having the same theoretical biases (paradigms) as the current ones. As he undergoes this educational process, the aspiring scientist not only learns a false tradition but also tends to lose some of his empathy and ethical and philosophical overview of life. All too frequently he also develops what in some cases is an extreme antagonism toward anything not consistent with his newly acquired conception of the universe.” [Schwartz, p. 253] Note the similarity to the development of religious fundamentalism.

Scientism usually involves a misunderstanding of scientific laws – a belief in science as ultimate truth: “Galileo believed that there was a single and unique explanation to all natural phenomena, one that can be understood through observation and reason and which makes all other explanations wrong. The Church insisted that science, though useful, was only one route to knowledge about the world. With Plato and Aristotle, Church authorities insisted that number was not inherent in the world but was projected upon it by humans: laws of science were not discovered but invented. The elaborate mathematical formulae of the Copernican hypothesis ... were not descriptions of reality but maps or models of reality. It was a serious and prideful error, the Church said, to mistake the map for the territory. There would always be a gap between the models of science and the reality they represent, one that could not be bridged by human reason.”[Wade Rowland, M. A.: “Galileo Galilei, Misguided Cheerleader of Science,” Research News and Opportunities in Science and Theology, Dec. 2002, p. 22] The danger to science of the misunderstanding is that it presents almost insuperable obstacles to the growth of scientific understanding.

Scientism also often involves the misimpression that scientific laws as presently understood are complete at some point in time. Counterexamples include:
(1) Newton and the gravity problem – 17th century
With the backing of no less a figure than Aristotle, falling objects were explained by the belief that it was the nature of all objects on earth to fall. Newton proved that gravitation is a force that exists between massive objects and attracts them to one another. This is as true of heavenly bodies (Earth, sun, moon) as of terrestrial bodies.

(2) Einstein vs Newton – 20th century
Einstein showed that Newton’s Laws of Motion are only approximations that are valid at low velocities, and that they break down as a body approaches the velocity of light, which in fact is the ultimate speed limit of any massive body in the Cosmos.

(3) Bohr vs Einstein on causality – 20th century
Neils Bohr and the other pioneers of quantum theory showed that events at the subatomic level are not – even in principle – predictable by Newton’s or even Einstein’s laws of motion, for in that realm, probability reigns and predictability is not possible. Einstein objected that “God does not play dice,” but the success of the quantum theory indicates that indeed something like the chance operation of a dice game is built into the universe.

We pointed out earlier that the scientific method depends upon strong objectivity, and that the institutionalization of points of view as paradigms seems to make strong objectivity impossible. Thus perhaps there are no naked facts, only perceptions that are subject to coloration by the experience and opinions of the observer. Psychologists will affirm that perceptions themselves are facts, from the point of view of the perceiver. They are, however, not naked facts, but rather facts dressed in the clothing of opinion and experience. Such facts are then on the same footing as emotions, which are facts to the person experiencing them. The ability of non-material facts to influence material behavior is indicated by the normal human response to a sudden sound of screeching tires: heart rate and blood pressure will increase; various hormones will be secreted, and the medical condition of the body of the observer will change markedly. Another example is the action of motivation based upon one’s values.

Religious persons point to the importance of faith in their lives. Often non-religious persons denigrate faith as “belief in something you know isn’t true.” Actually, all life is based upon faith, because none of us can live long enough to experience everything that we hold true. During their education, scientists repeat some of the basic experiments of their disciplines, but not all of them. Most of what they “know” is based upon faith in their professors, and ultimately, in the founders of the current paradigm. Scientists also hold a strong faith that the universe is comprehensible; for if it were not, their efforts would by definition be in vain.

Thus in examining the dialog between science and spirituality, we must look not only at the sincere efforts of open-minded scientists to understand the universe, but at the manifestations of the all-too-human characteristic of making a religion out of our beliefs, then rejecting all the infidels who do not share them. Scientism and religious fundamentalism both add more heat than light to the dialog between spirituality and science.

Next, we will proceed to examine the dialog.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The study of Science

In seeking for a definition of science, we can hardly do better than that given by Dr. George P. Williams, former Professor of Physics at Wake Forest University: Science consists of organizing and classifying observed data. For explanations, it chooses the simplest possible one that fits all the known facts. Science involves both deductive and inductive reasoning. The former was the method employed by the ancient Greeks. They began from a proposition and deduced logical results of that proposition. Those who have taken high-school geometry will recognize the process. Inductive reasoning is the experimental method championed by Roger Bacon, and later Francis Bacon, in which principles are formed to correlate with observed phenomena.

The textbook process identified as the Scientific Method combines both forms of reasoning. It begins with observation. Then a hypothesis is proposed to explain the observed phenomena. Experiments are designed to test the logical results that can be deduced from the hypothesis. Based upon the experimental results, the hypothesis is refined – perhaps many times – until its predictions match the experimental results. Note that this process depends upon a concept called strong objectivity, the idea that reality is independent of the observer(us). Note that the concept of strong objectivity is metaphysical, not physical.It sounds quite clean and – well – scientific. However, in actual practice there is a fly in the ointment, since scientists share the foibles characteristic of our race. In fact, the forming of hypotheses, design of experiments, interpretation of experimental results, and refinement of hypotheses all depend upon the previously-built structure of science. Thomas_Kuhn named this previously-built structure a paradigm, which he defined as “a series of ‘universally recognized scientific achievements [in a given field] that for a time provide models of problems and solutions to a community of practitioners.’” [Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, quoted in Stephen A. Schwartz, The Secret Vaults of Time.] It can be argued that the influence of paradigms immediately invalidates any possibility of strong objectivity, since different observers operating from different paradigms will form different interpretations of observed fact; hence, the theories and laws that result from the scientific method constitute models, not ultimate truth. The existence of paradigms, however, is necessary to science: without them, each new hypothesis would have to begin at ground zero and progress would be essentially impossible. The valuable functions that paradigms perform include selecting permissible research problems, circumscribing the range of permissible solutions, and developing a “shorthand” language or jargon for each field of study. Paradigms lead to increasing specialization, which means that for any field, there are insiders and outsiders. Paradigms are promulgated through education.

Paradigms are formed in a predictable cycle:
a. Forming schools of thought
b. Fact gathering
c. Triumph of the most successful school of thought
d. “Normal science” during which the scientific method is exercised within the paradigm.
e. Anomalies are identified. When these become sufficiently numerous or consequential that they can no longer be ignored . . .
f. Crisis [See Schwartz, pp. 249-250]
Out of the crisis, a new paradigm is formed, following the same cycle.

The only danger of paradigms is that when their presence is not recognized, the current paradigm is assumed to be ultimate truth, and science stagnates. A well-known example is Ptolemaic astronomy, which assumed that the earth is the center around which other planets, as well as the sun and moon, revolve in perfect circles. In order to make valid predictions using this paradigm, the planetary orbits had to be approximated by complex combinations of circular orbits, called epicycles. The Copernican description in which the planets, including the earth, revolve around the sun in elliptical orbits seemed to be nearer the truth (as verified by modern space science). However, it was adopted only after its adherents were persecuted, and some were executed, for their beliefs. Kuhn’s study of the history of science showed that in practice, individual scientists seldom change paradigms. Instead, as quantum physicist Max Planck said, “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” Thus science progresses funeral by funeral.

Stephen Schwartz has identified a group of metaphysical assumptions that, like strong objectivity, underlie almost all paradigms accepted within science in the late 1900's. He called this group the Grand Material Metaparadigm:
a. The mind is the result of physical processes governed by bioelectrical postulates
b. Each consciousness is a discrete entity
c. Organic evolution moves toward no specific goal but simply flows according to Darwinian survivalism
d. There is only one space-time continuum and it provides for only one reality
[See Schwartz, pp. 260-261]

As we will discuss later, challenges to this metaparadigm have lately been mounted from within Physics, indicating that this foundational science is in or near a state of paradigm crisis.

Next we will examine the history of cosmology since Newton, as an example of the operation of science and its paradigms.