Burgy Notes 3.

A review of RELIGION & SCIENTIFIC NATURALISM by David Ray Griffin

By John Burgeson, Denver, Colorado, September 15, 2001. 1587 words.

RELIGION AND SCIENTIFIC NATURALISM, OVERCOMING THE CONFLICTS, by David Ray Griffin. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 2000. 345 pages, index, notes, bibliography. Softcover; $25.95. ISBN 0-7914-4563-1.

David Ray Griffin, Professor of Philosophy of Religion and Theology at Claremont, a prolific writer on issues of science and religion, has written a watershed book, one which has received the Book Award for 2000 from the (UK-based) Scientific and Medical Network. This volume, one in the SUNY series in Constructive Postmodern Thought, argues a Whiteheadian based philosophy that religion does not require supernaturalism and science does not require materialism. Griffin describes himself as a panentheistic Christian, one who sees God as more than the universe and yet the universe as part of God. He sees God at work in the universe, but in a “persuasive” rather than in a “coercive” way.

One does not have to subscribe to panentheism to benefit from this work. It was the primary text in Dr. William Dean’s Science and Religion Ph-D level course at the Iliff School of Theology in the spring of 2001. While a difficult read, demanding full attention and study, I found it to be well worth the considerable effort demanded during that course.

Both Whitehead, writing in 1925, and Griffin see a middle ground between materialism and supernaturalism. Griffin uses the term “theistic naturalism” for this worldview. While some may view that phrase as oxymoronic, a study of this book will show it has significant meaning. Griffin writes (Page xv):

“The central question of this book is simply whether there is anything essential to science that is in conflict with any beliefs essential to vital religion, especially theistic religion. My answer is No, but the dominant answer has been Yes… .”

Griffin defines two metaphysical terms, “naturalism(sam)” and “naturalism(ns). Naturalism(ns) is all science requires, he argues, and is fully compatible with theistic religion. He defines naturalism(ns) as being simply a rejection of supernatural interventions which interrupt causal relations, and naturalism(sam) as including naturalism(ns) plus sensationism, atheism, materialism, determinism, reductionism, no causation from mind to body, upward causation only, no transcendent source of religious experience, no variable divine influence, and no ultimate meaning to life (nihilism). The (sam) comes from the terms “sensationalism,” “atheism,” and “materialism.” He also observes that other writers call naturalism(sam) by the names reductionistic naturalism, materialistic naturalism and atheistic naturalism. I have been used to the term “metaphysical naturalism.”

Arguing that Naturalism(sam) is the dominant scientific worldview, Griffin cites Russell, Monod, Skinner, Uttal, Wilson, Provine, Drees, Asimov, Lewontin, Crick, Searle, Weinberg, Dawkins and others as evidence of this. Seeking a religion/science harmony, he sees three things as necessary:

1. They must share a worldview.
2. Science must insist only on naturalism(ns), not also on naturalism(sam).
3. Religion must agree that it can live with naturalism(ns)
    and therefore without supernaturalism.

Griffin examines three alternatives (of the many that exist), which challenge one or more of these theses:

1. Theistic Science, as proposed by Plantinga and Johnson.
2. Scientific naturalism within a supernaturalistic framework,  
    as proposed by Van Till and others.
3. Accommodating religion to naturalism(sam), as proposed by Drees.

The discussions on these, 38 pages in all, are very well done. One of the strengths of this book lies in the way Griffin can find merit in some, but not all, of these competing ideas. Advocates of any of these positions can benefit from his remarks.

Having argued that none of those alternatives succeed, Griffin turns to the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, proposing a theistic naturalism that can bring harmony. Griffin argues that theism need not require supernaturalism to be genuine and “robust.” He first discusses Deweyan naturalism, as proposed in 1944, rejecting it. He then discusses the views of James Pratt. In Pratt’s book, published in 1939, naturalism can recognize “the reality of teleological, purposeful causation.” (Page 87). Pratt also held that teleology included both the living and non-living world, and that the mind and brain could, and did, interact.

Pratt, however, did not go far enough (Griffin asserts) and so this book takes up where Pratt left off. Arguing against the supernaturalistic version of theism. Griffin, like Whitehead, believes that the basic causal principles of the world are never interrupted. How, then, does Griffin find a “genuine robust religion?” Disdaining modern liberal religion, because it denies divine activity in the world, he asserts such activity for theistic naturalism, arguing that there are nine features to the “generic idea” of God:

1. a personal, purposive being
2. supreme in power
3. perfect in goodness
4. created the world
5. acts providentially in the world
6. experienced by human beings
7. the ultimate guarantee for the meaningfulness of human life
8. the ground of hope for the victory of good over evil
9. alone worthy of worship

Theistic naturalism retains all nine of these features, he says, by modifying the traditional understanding of #2, from coercive power to persuasive power. This, in turn, modifies the traditional meaning of #4, #5 and #8. He rejects Creation ex Nihilo, arguing that it is not biblical, and is the concept that leads to the problem of theodicy. He sees God as one of the causal influences on every event.

In chapter 6, Griffin addresses the mind-body problem in detail, asserting that it has been the central problem for modern philosophy. He says that we have some “hard common sense” (i.e. non-negotiable) beliefs about ourselves, which we presuppose in practice. Among these are:

1. We have conscious experience
2. We have at least partial free will
3. Our free will can act on the body, therefore
4. We have at least a degree of responsibility for our bodily actions

While there are those, such as Searle, Crick, and Skinner, who argue that science has proven false one or more of these ideas. Griffin effectively rebuts them. In a high point of his book, he argues that if one eliminates a belief in the reality, self-determination and causal efficacy of conscious experience, the belief still remains, because as much as one may deny these beliefs verbally, he will continue to assume them. If a speaker tells you that you should eliminate beliefs in these three things, he must necessarily assume that:

(1) you can understand what he is saying, 
(2) you can freely choose, or reject, his advice, and
(3) you can freely choose, in the future, to tell others of it.

To deny this is irrational, it is a “performative self contradiction.”

In chapter 7, Griffin argues that paranormal events are “real” and that this reality provides empirical support, beyond what Whitehead himself had provided, for the Whiteheadian concept of God. He does not argue that it is an essential part of that foundation, however. Readers of this section may want to compare the writings of William James in his 1902 book, THE VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE, in particular lectures XVI and XVII.

In chapter 8, the chapter I enjoyed most, Griffin addresses “Darwinian Evolutionism,” arguing that it is not an all-or-none affair, but a mixture of ideas. Darwinian Evolutionism has fourteen dimensions:

 1. Microevolution
 2. Macroevolution (all present species have come from previous species)
 3. Naturalistic
 4. Uniformitarianism

Griffin accepts these dimensions, but rejects the next ten:

 5. No theistic guidance, either non-causal or "directing influence"
 6. Positivism. All influences are, in principle, 
     detectable through sensory perception
 7. Predictive (in principle) Determinism. No teleology. 
 8. Macroevolution understood as microevolution happening long enough
 9. Natural selection acting on mutations the sole cause
10. Gradualism. Tiny step by tiny step
11. Nominalism 
12. Atheistic
13. Amoral
14. Nonprogressive

A significant argument for Darwinism is that we require a materialistic theory (because we are good methodological naturalists) to explain how we got here and Darwinism is not just the best such theory, it is the only such theory (garbage dumped on the earth millennia ago just moves the area of interest from the earth to another location). Therefore, if materialism is true, Darwinism must be true. Materialism being the scientist’s presupposition, Darwinism is the only game that can be played.. Griffin observes that this argument can be turned against Darwinism. If materialism has proved inadequate for other issues, such as human consciousness, or for psi effects, or for certain religious experiences, then the obvious presumption ought to be that it is also inadequate for evolution.

God, says Griffin, not being external to the universe, is essentially the soul of the universe, and exists with the universe, with equal necessity, being coeternal. He identifies himself as a Christian, but points out that one implication of theistic naturalism that some will find problematic is that it provides no basis for arguing that Christianity is “The One True Religion.” Not considering this implication a drawback, Griffin, an advocate of religious pluralism, sees it to be a benefit. He argues that classical theism’s depiction of God is, itself, unbiblical.

There is an extensive bibliography, 16 pages, in excess of 300 citations. So many books! So little time! Griffin has written a later book, REENCHANTMENT WITHOUT SUPERNATURALISM: A PROCESS PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGION (Cornell, 2001) in which he expands on many of the ideas developed so well here.

This book is highly recommended to those who study science/religion issues in depth, and to others interested in the philosophical issues of process theology. It is a “keeper” in my own library.

John W. Burgeson
Stephen Minister
First Presbyterian Church
Durango, Colorado
Completed September 15, 2001
Published in PERSPECTIVES, the quarterly journal of the American Scientific Association,
Volume 54, Number 3, September 2002

Burgy Notes 2

Naive Realism What Lee Ross calls naļve realism:

“Naļve realism is the conviction that one sees the world as it is and that when people don’t see it in a similar way, it is they that do not see the world for what it is. Ross characterized naļve realism as “a dangerous but unavoidable conviction about perception and reality”. The danger of naļve realism is that while humans are good in recognizing that other people and their opinions have been shaped and influenced by their life experiences and particular dogmas, we are far less adept at recognizing the influence our own experiences and dogmas have on ourselves and opinions. We fail to recognize the bias in ourselves that we are so good in picking out in others.”

Certainty is at the core of the fundamentalist, whether he be on the right or on the left. All gall is divided into two parts:

1. Presuppositions not completely researched
2. Shrill advocacy.

How to recognize gall:

1. Opinions stated as fact
2. Little or no attempt to explain grounds
3 No attempt to study contary arguments
4. Opposers are always “them.”
5. Motivations of opposers are assumed to be either evil or ignorant.
6. Ad hominem argumentations are perfectly valid

Burgy Notes 1

I am adding this because I know Ted and i was facebook friends with Burgy for years.

Date: Wed, 12 Apr 2006 12:50:04 -0400

I got this email from a friend and ASA colleague. I pass it along as it expresses my own position so very clearly — jwb

From: “Ted Davis”

Subject: Easter homily #3

This one comes from one of the best books I’ve ever read, NT Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God, p. 717.

The question which must be faced is whether the explanation of the data which the early Christians themselves gave, that Jesus really was risen from the dead, ‘explains the aggregate’ of the evidence better than these sophisticated scepticisms. My claim is that it does.

The claim can be stated once more in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions. The actual bodily resurrection of Jesus (not a mere resuscitation, but a transforming revivification) clearly provides a *sufficient* condition of the tomb being empty and the ‘meetings’ taking place. Nobody is likely to doubt that. Once grant that Jesus really was raised, and all the pieces of the historical jigsaw puzzle of early Christianity fall into place. My claim is stronger: that the bodily resurrection of Jesus provides a *necessary* condition for these things; in other words, that no other explanation could or would do. All the efforts to find alternative explanations fail, and they were bound to do so.

Many will challenge this conclusion, for many different reasons. I do not claim that it constitutes a ‘proof’ of the resurrection in terms of some neutral standpoint. It is, rather, a historical challenge to other explanations, other worldviews. Precisely because at this point we are faced with worldview-level issues, there is no neutral ground, no island in the middle of the epistemological ocean, as yet uncolonized by any of the warring continents. We cannot simply arrive at a topic and make grand declarations, as in Francis Drake’s celebrated annexation of California, and suppose that all the local inhabitants will take them as binding. Saying that ‘Jesus of Nazareth was bodily raised from the dead’ is not only a self-*involving* statement; it is a self-*committing* statement, going beyond a reordering of one’s private world into various levels of commitment to work out the implications. We cannot simply leave a flag stuck on a hill somewhere and sail back home to safety.

To which I add, “AMEN.” — Ted

On Science: Two Physicists Philosophizing.

Burgy summarized his thoughts on John Polkinghorne’s book.
(stolen from 50Megs).

REASON AND REALITY, The Relationship Between Science and Theology by John Polkinghorne. London, England: WBC Print Ltd, Bridgend, 1991. 119 pages, index, bibliography, notes. Paperback; L6.95. ISBN 0-281-04487-2.

Notes, February 2003, by John Burgeson. Much of these notes are partial quotations, often abridged and/or paraphrased.

Begin with “Go from the bottom upwards, not from the top downwards.” Luther

Pg 1. Neither science nor theology can be pursued w/o a measure of intellectual daring, for neither is based on incontrovertible grounds of knowledge. Both can claim “critical realism.” Each demands commitment to a corrigible point of view as necessary. Both must speak of entities not directly observable, therefore both must make use of models and metaphor.

JP distinguishes models from theories. Models are heuristic devices; theories are candidates for the verisimilitudinous description of what is actually the case. Therefore a variety of (possibly contradictory) models is tolerable – a theory demands that it be unique.

Pg 2. Theology is unlikely to achieve more than a collection of models, each usable with discretion.

Math is the language of science – symbol that of theology.

Biology is more than physics writ large.

Taking science seriously should not lead us to believe that the world is “nothing but” a collection of elementary particles.

Pg 3. Everyday reasonableness is seen not to be the measure of all things; the world has proved strange beyond our powers of anticipation.

Pg 4. Science and theology have this in common, that both are investigations of what is, the search for increasing verisimilitude in our understanding of reality.

Pg 5. The underdetermination of theory by experiment … some say science is no more than an instrumental success, effective in getting things done, but not to be taken with ontological seriousness. JP rejects this view.

Pg 21. The word “model” is used to mean a heuristic device by which one tries to gain some insight w/o believing that the model is either totally accurate or fully adequate.

Pg 22. A model is a coarse grained representation, applicable only in a limited domain.

Pg 23. Models are to be taken seriously, but not literally. They are imaginative tools, not descriptions. They are aids to understanding, but not the end of the scientific search. A plurality of models can be tolerated.

Theories are, OTOH, candidates for the verisimilitudinous description of reality. We have no warrant for expecting absolute success. We should “believe” only one theory at a time. (Note – I have a problem with this statement).

Pg 25. Sometimes a theory turns back into a model. Maxwell’s wave theory of light is an example.

Pg 28. Aquinas’s Summa Theologicia may be the nearest theology has ever come to a theory. But the object of theology is One who transcends us – while in science we transcend the objects (the physical world). Therefore theology must employ many models but always fall short of a fully articulated theory.

JP notes that Aquinas had a spiritual experience near the end of his life here – no commentary however.

Page 35. Chaos theory. See separate CHAOS.DOC.

Pg 43. The denial of human freedom is incoherent, because it destroys rationality.

Complex dynamical systems. Consider gas molecules as tiny (classical) billiard balls. In .0000000001 seconds, a typical molecule experiences 50 collisions. Postulate two universes, one with an extra electron placed at the most remote distance in the universe away. The two universes will differ considerably in a very short time, just due to the extra gravitational attraction of that single electron. JP does not elaborate enough on just how large the difference would be in some finite time; I wish he had done this.

Pg 45. It is by no means clear that information input (changes to the physical world by some intelligent agent) originates solely from animals and humans. It is conceivable that God might also interact with it. Perhaps he influences his creation in a non-energetic way.

Pg 46. Panentheism is an unsatisfactory answer, in JP’s opinion. If there is to be any “free” action, either human or divine, there needs to be gaps in physical processes. We are “people of the gaps.” JP denies that this is in any way connected to the old GOTG arguments, which look for the divine within patches of current ignorance.

Pg 47. JP also described Whitehead’s god as one more to be pitied than to be worshipped. He finds Whitehead’s “strings of events” to be unpersuasive. He specifically finds the panpsychism involved in Whitehead’s “prehension” to be unconvincing.

God’s acts, says JP, will be veiled, discernable by faith but not demonstrable by experiment. Process thought sees him as a passive pleader (persuader), but he is able to act.

Pg 60. Detailed attention to the Bible plays only a subsidiary role in the S/T debates, for the ST debates ought not have much, if any, bearing on one’s own religious stance. The S/T issues are second-hand, a fringe activity.

Pg 61. A conservative biblicism implies “look up the answer in the handbook. ” But the search for verisimilitude in science does not proceed that way, and JP clearly thinks theological searches ought not be done that way either.

Pg 62. Because revelation is the encounter with a Person, and not the deliverance of a set of propositions, the Bible is not our divinely-guaranteed textbook, but a prime means by which we come to know God’s dealings with humankind and particularly his self-utterance in Christ.

Pg 67. It is not possible to square the God of love with I Sam 15. There is contradiction within scripture. Those who treat it as a divinely-guaranteed textbook are trying to reconcile the irreconcilable. At best, their efforts are described as “crazy ingenuity.”

Pg 75. What science can do for theology is to tell it what the physical world is actually like. This is a healthy corrective for theology, which all too often engages in ungrounded speculation and then begins to insist on that speculation being essential to it. What theology can do for science is to provide answers to those meta-questions which arise from science but are not themselves scientific in character. A thirst for understanding.

Pg 76-84 Two examples of the latter and three of the former:

1. Intelligibility. Why is the universe so rational? And why is anything at all?
2. The anthropic principle. Why are the physical constants of the universe what they are?

1. Origins.
2. The end.
3. Chance and Necessity

Pg 86. QM has brought about an extension of the limits of what is conceivable. Our imaginations have been enlarged.

Pg 88. An axiom of classical logic is

If A is at X or A is at Y
Then either A is at X or A is at Y.

But if A is an electron, then A may be in a state which is some superposition of (A at X) and (A at Y). IOW, (A is sometimes at X) is a valid possibility. This is a possibility undreamed of by Aristotle. There are suggestions how to solve the problem:

1. Determinism. Bohm’s theories.
2. Many- worlds.
3. Stochastic jumps.
4. Emergence upward
5. Emergence downward