Archive for July, 2011
23 Jul 2011
The first part of chapter 10 of Roy Clouser's The Myth of Religious Neutrality (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9) covers some previous material in more depth. For example, why do our beliefs about the whole of reality necessarily control our beliefs about any part of reality? The answer is basically that it is impossible even to think about any part of reality in isolation. So when we think about (say) biology, we cannot do so without presupposing some way in which biotic properties relate to other kinds of properties.
But the meat of the chapter is a fascinating discussion about the nature of God.
First, we have the view developed by Augustine, Anselm and Thomas Aquinas (the "AAA view" for short). Under this view, "God's attributes all exist necessarily, and necessarily God has them all" (p.202). This view encourages reductionism in theories: trying to explain things in one aspect of reality in terms of their dependence on some other aspect of reality, for example, explaining psychology in terms of biology and physics. It encourages reductionism
precisely by holding that certain kinds of properties and laws found in the cosmos exist necessarily and are uncreated [in the sense of not being wholly dependent on God] while others are not. For if some properties and/or laws of the cosmos are created [dependent on God] while others are not, then what could make more sense than to theorize about creaturely reality by looking for the ways its contingent properties and laws depend on those that are uncreated? Indeed, how could it be avoided? (p.212)
The problem with the AAA view is how to explain how God's attributes (say, his justice) can exist necessarily without God thereby becoming dependent on them.
For if there is even one abstract property that (on the AAA view) would have to exist independently of God and which God would have to possess to be God, then not only is that property rendered divine per se, but God is thereby debarred from that status (p.210).
Another apparently insurmountable problem is that
according to the AAA position, God's attributes (goodness, justice, or power, e.g.) exist as necessarily and are as uncreated as He is and are shared (in a lesser degree) by humans. The difficulty with this is that humans are thereby made to be (partly) divine because the qualities humans share with God would have to be as uncreated in us as they are in God (p.210).
In contrast, the view of God that Clouser advocates is one which, apparently, "to this day  has no voice whatever in philosophy of religion in western Europe and North America" (p.223), but is one which "was elaborated by the Cappadocian Fathers of the Greek Orthodox tradition, rediscovered in the west by Luther and Calvin in the sixteenth century, and championed by Karl Barth in the twentieth century" (p.203), labelled as the Cappadocian and Reformational position (the "C/R view" for short).
Under the C/R view, "everything found in the cosmos [has been] created by God" (p.213). After a survey of relevant biblical passages, Clouser concludes:
So I find the evidence to be that the Bible is not silent on whether anything is uncreated other than God, including numbers, sets, properties, relations, laws, propositions, or any of the other denizens of Plato's barnyard. None can be regarded as uncreated (p.217).
But this goes further than theory-making, because
Bible writers simply do not allow for exceptions, not even for the attributes ascribed to God Himself (p.217).
So while this view affirms that God really has both the relations to creatures and the qualities that scripture ascribes to Him, it insists that He did not have to have them to exist. Rather, they are true of Him because he freely willed them to be, and to subject Himself to laws and norms He also called into being, all so as to accomodate himself to our creaturely limitations (p.218).
Having seen how these different approaches to theory making are tied in to different views of the nature of God, and having seen that the AAA view (and its associated reductionism in theory making) is less coherent and less biblical than the C/R view, the stage is now clear to begin to construct a non-reductionist view of reality, which is the subject of the remaining three chapters.
22 Jul 2011
What makes me who I am? Is it the laws of physics, operating on the cells in my body? Or is it the pressures of society, forcing me into its mould? (Nature or nurture?)
According to Roy Clouser, in The Myth of Religious Neutrality (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8), psychology has often tended to choose one or the other of these answers. In terms of Dooyeweerd's aspects (see here), if psychology is the study of the sensory aspect, then psychologists have tended to reduce the sensory aspect either onto the physical and biotic aspects, or onto the social aspect. This often reflects the psychologists' beliefs about the fundamental nature of reality (their religious beliefs). Let's treat each in turn, followed by a different perspective.
1. Psychology reduced to physics and biology. Clouser describes the "behaviourist" approaches of Watson, Thorndike and Skinner, with this summary:
Common to all these theories is the total rejection of allowing into psychology anything about human mental life and experiences that is prima facie non-behavioral such as thoughts, feelings, purposes, and even perceptions (p.166).
Why might these theorists take such an approach?
The reason is their materialist perspective on reality ... that sees all reality as restricted to, or dependent on, the physical aspect. That is, it holds either: (1) there exist only physical bodies and their actions, or (2) any non-physical factors involved are entirely generated by physical bodies and their actions. (p.167).
2. Psychology reduced to sociology. Under this heading would come the theories of Adler and the earlier theories of Fromm (who later moved towards a more pantheistic view of reality).
Adler insisted that psychology is a social science. He held that the goal of psychology "is not to comprehend causal factors, as in physiology, but the direction-giving ... [social] forces and goals that guide all other psychological movements" (p.171).
3. Non-reductionist psychology. The Christian perspective on reality that Clouser presents in his book is one in which God has made creation with its various aspects, and the different aspects cannot be reduced to each other. This view of the whole of creation reflects the biblical view of human nature, in which "each human is ... seen as an essential unity, no matter how many diverse kinds of functions an individual may display in the various aspects of creation" (p.180). Importantly, "this view is at odds with the notion popular among theists that a human is not an essential unity but a duality of two entities—a soul and a body" (p.181). What such a non-reductionist theory might look like in practice will the subject of later chapters.
16 Jul 2011
We're continuing our "Casebook" in the middle of Roy Clouser's The Myth of Religious Neutrality (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7), looking at how religious beliefs influence beliefs in particular areas. Last time it was mathematics; this time: physics.
But first, a few of my own ruminations. If in a particular area of study we are aiming to focus on a particular set of related properties that things possess, and to identify and explain the ways in which those properties relate to each other, then I suppose that our religious beliefs (our beliefs about the fundamental nature of reality) could affect what we think about the following:
- The properties themselves. If our beliefs about the fundamental nature of reality lead us to believe that certain properties that things appear to possess are merely illusions, then we're not likely to bother to study those properties in great detail. In other words, our religious beliefs could influence what we think are the legitimate boundaries for a discipline.
- The laws relating those properties. If properties appear to relate to each other according to some law, then we might not believe that to be the case if our religious beliefs contradict that. (I suppose this would only happen in the scholastic or fundamentalist ways of relating religious beliefs to other beliefs.)
- The explanations for the laws. It is not enough simply to identify the laws relating different properties. Far more important is to explain those laws. This is something that Clouser emphasises. We tend to explain laws by proposing the existence of some entity: an entity hypothesis. But what is the nature of that entity? Does it possess properties that would have relevance for other areas of study? Do my beliefs about the fundamental nature of reality allow me to believe that such an entity could exist? This was dealt with in Chapter 4 (and I think it's going to feature quite heavily in the monster-chapter 10).
- The purpose of the discipline. This point and the previous point both touch on how the discipline relates to the rest of reality. Why would I bother spending my time researching a particular area? Which particular questions are interesting to me? Why should people give their money to fund research into that area? What is important for people to do with their lives? What are human beings for? While this might not influence the details of the discipline itself, it clearly has a large effect on the broader features of the discipline and its place in society.
Anyway, back to physics. Atomic theory, to be more specific. Clouser takes us through three major theories about atoms, from the twentieth century, showing how the religious beliefs of their proponents guided them in formulating their views. Note that the differences are all of kinds (3) and (4) above, in that religious beliefs constrain the kinds of entities proposed to explain the laws (about which there was general agreement), and in that they guide the interpretation of physics as a whole.
1. The theory of Mach, who "did not believe that atoms exist", seeing them rather as "useful fictions" (p.149). He and others took so seriously the distinction between the world as it is and the world as we experience it that they "concluded that so far as we can ever know from our experience, reality is made of sensations" (p.150). This reflected Mach's own beliefs about what is fundamentally real. In his own words: "The assertion, then, is correct that the world consists only of our sensations" (p.157). In collapsing all of reality onto the sensory aspect, he was taking the same approach as that of John Stuart Mill towards mathematics, which we saw last time.
2. The theory of Einstein, who "believed that we are entitled to say there are (purely) physical objects outside our minds which cause our sensations, while Mach denied it" (p.152). In terms of Dooyeweerd's aspects (see last time), "he attributed independent reality to the logical and mathematical properties and laws" (p.152). And belief about what is independently real constitutes religious belief.
3. The theory of Heisenberg, who asserted, contrary to Mach and Einstein, "not only that elementary particles lack any sensory qualities, but that it is not even accurate to say they have being". "Instead, he holds the view that they are essentially mathematical possibilities" (p.154). "For Heisenberg [atomic theory] meant postulating micro-entities that comprise reality and that, while composed of physical energy, are essentially mathematical in nature" (p.157).
So what difference does this make? As in (4) above, religious beliefs help researchers to decide which questions are worth addressing. "For example, on Mach's view it would make no sense to attempt to confirm the existence of entities such as atoms and subatomic particles" (p.156). It would probably be fair to say that the neutrino would not have been discovered if physicists had generally held the religious belief that all of reality is purely sensory.
The great expense and effort highlights the motive which drove the physicists involved. Clearly, the motive was the belief that theories are attempts to know reality; that is, theories try to discover what exists and to know its nature. My point it that this belief presupposes a philosophical perspective which would have to accept (minimally) the logical, mathematical, spatial, physical, and sensory aspects of experience as (at least part of) the nature of reality. So whether that view was consciously adopted by those thinkers or not, it is the sort of perspective on reality that science needs. It needs, and is most benefited by, a view of reality that openly accepts its multi-faceted nature (p.157).