Best Possible World: Gateway to the Millennium and Eschaton



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Good question, Bob.
The only alternative is truly radical: to pursue the possibility that a commitment to eschatology will lead to an alternative scientific [sic] cosmology.
Tipler and Pannenberg have engaged in an interesting and constructive interaction to which Drees, myself and others have replied. Meanwhile, Tipler’s scientific claims have been attacked aggressively by other scientists while both Dyson’s and Tipler’s theological proposals and their reductionist assumptions have been widely criticized by scholars including Polkinghorne, Barbour, Peacocke, Clayton and Worthing.
If this alternative is not to be taken, what options are left? [Immaterialism, anyone?] Polkinghorne is representative of most theological views when reminding us that “an ultimate hope will have to rest in an ultimate reality, that is to say, in the eternal God himself, and not in his creation.” Such hope is not in the survival of death of a purported soul, since we are a psychosomatic unity. Instead it is in our resurrection: God remembering us and recreating us in a radically new environment. God will create the world to come through a transformation of the universe.
Maybe, Bob, just maybe, we get to participate in this recreational transformation of our already immaterial universe. A radical recreation implies a radically sub-optimal creation. It wasn't a Big Bang, it was a Big Boner! I don't think so, Bob.
Worthing has proposed that we take up Pannenberg’s distinction between theological and scientific apocalyptic visions. Rather than equate the parousia with the remote future end of the universe, Worthing suggests we understand it as a renewal or transformation of the universe as a whole. The Biblical ‘end’ is not a cosmic end, since it “allows for a bodily resurrection and creation of a new heaven and new earth. ”This, in turn, shifts the discussion from the end of the world to the concept of eternity as the real issue in relating science and theology. We are led to consider “the future of the universe...(as) taken up into the eternality of the Creator --- an eternality of a decisively different order from that which the physical universe could potentially possess...”.
Exactly what does this mean, Bob? Why do you insist on this incoherent dualism?
Ted Peters writes from just such a perspective, developing the Trinitarian theology of the 20th century with particular attention to the implications of Big Bang and quantum cosmology. What we need is “temporal holism” in which the cosmos as a unity of time and space is both created proleptically from the future and redeemed eschatologically by God’s future initiative which we know proleptically in Jesus Christ. Prolepsis ties together futurum, the ordinary sense of future resulting from present causes, and adventus, the appearance of something absolutely new, namely the kingdom of God, the renewal of creation. The creation, from alpha to omega, will be consummated and transformed into the eschatological future which lies beyond, but which will include, this creation as a whole. “The eschatological future is the key that opens the gate to eternity.” Peters, too, is ruthlessly honest about the challenge from science. “Should the final future as forecasted by (scientific cosmology) come to pass...then we would have proof that our faith has been in vain. It would turn out to be that there is no God, at least not the God in whom follows of Jesus have put their faith.”
Amen!
I believe the approaches suggested by Pannenberg, Polkinghorne, and Peters are particularly promising, but I also want to underscore the challenge of making them intelligible in detail in light of scientific cosmology as it currently stands. If we are to engage in a genuinely mutual interaction, a more complex methodology is called for. I will make preliminary suggestions about such a methodology in Part III: F.
Don't hold your breath, folks: Part III: F, seems no longer to exist. Should we be grateful to be spared the 'more complex methodology'? Only by God's grace do some of us refrain from 'methodology'! I did meet Bob once: a theological apparatchik. But what else could he be if he chooses not to rise to the messianic occasion? All the more for the rest of us. Thanks, Bob.
There you have the bleeding edge of academic eschatology.
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Now we need to check out that German idealistic theism, tracing its genealogy to the present.
Starting with idealistic theism, the first entry is On the Rationality of Theism, right up our alley. It starts out as a critique of Ayn Rand. Scott Ryan surmises that her incoherence stems from her emotion laden atheism. He then matriculates to his own cosmology.
I hope it is clear that classical theism is "idealistic" in this sense, i.e., it maintains that reality consists fundamentally of a single absolute mind and, less fundamentally, of the objects created by that mind's activity.
This is not rocket science. How then are so many theologians still hung up on Cartesian dualism, three centuries after the fact? What a waste of mind.
Unfortunately, Scott does not manage to put Ms. Rand behind him for long. I have yet to comprehend either the positive or negative fascination with this person. Shades of Blavatsky? Charlatan?
But hear his concise defense of idealism:
Now, beyond the claim (made earlier) that there simply are no fully "external" relations, I can suggest at least two further powerful reasons for thinking that the relation between thought and object is not external in the other direction either. One is that the object of thought must be such as to be "thinkable." Thus, if (as we have suggested) everything which exists can, in principle, be present to and instantiated in thought, then to say that something is "real" is to make essential (though not necessarily explicit) reference to thought.
The other is that even on the most strongly "materialist" or "physicalist" view (I emphasize with Grayling that these are not the same), it still seems to be the case that the "material" or "physical" universe gives rise, in a causal manner, to the existence of mind. If the cause-and-effect relation is also a logical relation, so that causes logically entail their effects and (arguably) vice versa, then the material or physical universe does logically entail the existence of thoughts "about" it.
So it appears that we cannot strictly conceive of any "external" reality that is so completely independent of thought as to be related to it externally even in one direction. Thought is not "external" to its object if (a) that object is such as to be "thinkable" and therefore composed of the sort of stuff that can be instantiated in our thoughts, or if (b) the cause-and-effect relation between "matter" and "mind" involves logical entailment, so that "mind" was a causal potentiality always logically, and thus eternally, present within "matter." Either of these points suffices to establish that "external" reality is not logically independent of mind in any meaningful sense.
I appreciate Scott's fresh restatement of classical arguments.

[10/28]


From theistic idealism, I find an excellent source (Britannica? What else?) on its modern provenance.
And here is a lengthy, vitriolic rebuttal to Scott Ryan by Greg S. Nyquist. Greg does capture much of the current popular sentiment against idealism. I'm not aware that Scott has responded. Greg frequently alludes to the 'absurdity' of idealism. I gather that he is generally and implicitly referring to what Ralph Barton Perry called the 'ego-centric predicament', but I don't think this alleged 'predicament' has had a lasting impact. Rand had her own kind of ego-centric predicament. What is shared in Johnson's, Nietzsche's, Rand's and popular critiques is a rather crude, unthinking, anti-idealist machismo.
This visceral reaction likely shares something with the orthodox reaction represented by Carl Henry. One illuminates the other. Henry is in partial denial of his own idealist influences:
The most influential figures on Henry’s thought are Gordon Haddon Clark and Edgar Sheffield Brightman. Ronald Nash summarized Clark’s thought as following: (1) the epistemological bankruptcy of any form of philosophical or religious empiricism; (2) the indispensability of Divine revelation to human knowledge as a whole; (3) the shortcomings of any attempt to remove the cognitive and propositional element from the content of God’s revelation; (4) the importance of refusing to separate faith from reason whether this separation be a humanistic attack on faith, an existentialist critique of reason, or a Thomistic segregation of the two into different realms of human knowledge;....
Also Edgar S. Brightman who was Henry’s professor in the studying period at Boston University is one of significant figures of Boston Personalist tradition. Brightman’s personal and theistic idealism influenced to Henry. He argues that whatever exists must be an element in the experience of a conscious mind. Hence, everything will exist as an element either in some finite mine or in God’s mind. Also for him, personality is the highest kind of conscious life.
We need to follow-up on Carl's conflicted thought.
Something to note about the orthodox is their taboo on God. God may reach out and touch us, but we are not meant to return the favor, on pain of being struck by a divine thunderbolt. This is true. Once we act upon the divine mutuality implied by rationalism and idealism, we are setting in motion the eschaton and whatever apocalypses may attend upon it. The popular anti-idealist machismo thinly disguises a deep, collective fear of our Maker. Only such a reversal could explain its visceral vehemence. This same fear motivates the attraction of materialism and Cartesianism. Don't touch God!!
All such tribal taboos are meant to reinforce perceived cosmic dichotomies. Any violation is dire.
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One might, however, be instructed by Mr. Nyquist's interest in Santayana, 'last century's greatest philosopher.'
Santayana may be the original naturalist. From the Britannica:
Scepticism and Animal Faith (1923) conveys better than any other volume the essential import of his philosophy. It formulates his theory of immediately apprehended essences and describes the role played by "animal faith" in various forms of knowledge.
"The realm of essence," in Santayana's system, is that of the mind's certain and indubitable knowledge. Essences are universals that have being or reality but do not exist. They include colours, tastes, and odours as well as the ideal objects of thought and imagination. "The realm of matter" is the world of natural objects; belief in it rests--as does all belief concerning existence--on animal faith. Naturalism, the dominant theme of his entire philosophy, appears in his insistence that matter is prior to the other realms.
This quibble about essences is at the bottom of the incoherence of all attempts at a non-reductive materialism: mind is epiphenomenal relative to matter, and essences are epiphenomenal relative to mind, so they don't exist, but they're real. The notion of real non-existence smacks of purest sophistry. If one could penetrate the rationale for this sophistry, one might be further instructed. I'm of the impression, though, that Santayana has little residual clout among professional philosophers.
Then there was Bertrand: Russell's The Problems of Philosophy:
Russell was a realist on two key issues, universals and material objects. In both cases he was opposed to much of nineteenth century idealism.
Bertrand was a 'neutral monist'. That would be a more accurate appellation for 'naturalism'.
Once again we are back to the question of reductionism. I am not aware that there has been a global or thorough-going reductionist. Who will be the last materialist? I cannot name a contemporary philosophical materialist. Such a person would have a technically argued global thesis of physical reductionism. I don't know that there has been an extreme and reasoned materialism presented in modern history. Holbach's Systeme de la Nature (1770) may have been the first and last such thesis.
We then have to explain the existence of knowable irreducible entities, even if there were only one. Partial reductionisms abound: there is no consensus as to the primary candidates for irreducibility, yet no one is claiming there are no such entities.
At the very least, there must be material atoms, along with some form of informational or perceptual atoms, whether the latter might comprise numbers, logical atoms or sense data of some kind. A perceptual atom might exist only in individual experience. Even if consciousness were an illusion, there would still be the fact of information transfer, and so there would have to be informational atoms or bits. The bits may be physically instantiated, but they must also be abstractable by the communicating agents. Bit patterns have a computational or functional significance that supervenes on the physical pattern. By definition, there can be miscommunication, but miscommunication has no purely physical analog. There are no mistakes in physics. Physics always just keeps on happening, regardless of anyone's protocol. Informational 'noise' is not a physical construct. I am not aware that anyone has ever claimed that information does not exist. Even if one eliminated mind and consciousness, materialism would be strictly incoherent if there existed no information about matter.
Informational bits, although physically instantiated are not physically reducible. Indeed, instantiation is not a physical construct. It is nowhere represented in the extensive terminology of physical science.
With the advent of quantum physics, many physicists are espousing various forms of metaphysical 'informationalism', and there are, of course, informational/physical dualists, but none who deny information, per se, to my knowledge.
Where do genetic DNA sequences fit into this picture? Are they physical or informational? I would have to say they are an indeterminate hybrid, or proto-informational. I'm sorry not to be more informative. Be informed, however, that the idealist's notion of genetics strays very far from that of the materialist. Be grateful that I have been sparing you all the 'scare quotes' on 'atoms', 'DNA', etc. Your computer may run on bits, but mine runs on 'bits'. If 'you' do not believe 'me', just wait until 'we' are all 'using' 'quantum' "bits"!
Could not one be a strict nominalist about information? Names carry information. There is no way to duck that bullet. But if anyone does know how to duck it, please communicate that information to us.
If these last few paragraphs do not constitute the reductio of reductionism, nothing will. We cannot shed any more tears over its demise. Our next stop is the Eschaton. There is no other end for non-reductionism. If I can't prove that, the messiah will.

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10/15/02

What Is There?



My claim is that any systematic attempt to answer this question will land us on the doorstep of God and the Eschaton. Let me provide you with a rough outline of how this comes about. We will then have all the time in the world to refine our answer.
Our main guide will be William of Occam and his infamous 'razor'. That is, we seek ontological parsimony. How is the parsimony to be measured? Let me just say that quality will count for quantity. In other words, coherence will be a necessary component of any strategy of parsimony. Am I thereby giving away the game? That is debatable.
The reductionistic answer used to be 'arbitrary configurations of atoms.' Well, I know of no one who still takes that answer seriously. There are no longer any materialists, per se. There are physicalists and naturalists. If you ask a physicist about physicalism, she will most likely speak in terms of information and probabilities or potentialities. No phenomenon is real until measured, and the results of measurement are strictly informational. Even physicalism is being outmoded, by informationalism, among those who are supposed to know.
Another place to look for reductionists is among the AI professionals. There used to be two camps: the connectionists and the computationalists. For a brief time, connectionism was in ascendancy. All information could be contained in dynamically weighted feedback networks variously elaborated. To make a long story short, there was a slight problem. It was the communication problem. Information is not of any use if it cannot be exchanged. Information is rather like money: its only value is its exchange value.
To exchange information, it has to be chunked. On the lowest level, it is often digitized, but then there also have to be higher level patterns or chunks. The specification of those higher levels becomes very elaborate, very quickly. Protocols abound. Then comes transcription, translation and interpretation. The high end of the AI spectrum consists of competing ontological strategies. There we are, right back on Occam's doorstep. We have seen an example (smoking gun?) of these neo-ontologists speaking of the 'naturalizing of Platonism' at the Stanford Metaphysical Research Lab.
We then have to wonder what opinion the naturalists have of Plato these days. Platonism and naturalism are the opposite ends of the metaphysical spectrum. It would seem that Plato is coming back to haunt them. It must be scary, and this just two days before Halloween. Are there ghosts out there in the ecosystem? The serious naturalists speak of deep ecology and Gaia, and that is just for starters. Our targets though are the armchair, philosophical naturalists. At the minimum they have signed on to the ontology of the sciences. Most physicists that I know are, at least, mathematical realists, i.e. Platonists or Pythagoreans, and that's before you get them started on informationalism.
In short, this is not the high water mark for reductionism. There has been a lot of water over that dam, to amend the metaphor. There is now a veritable spillway.
Where does that leave the rest of us? Struggling to stay afloat on the rising ontological tide. Where is Occam when we need 'im? Unfortunately, Occam is no longer with us. Where are the ontology police? It looks like we will just have to deputize ourselves. All we need is a post-reductionist strategy.
Our postmodern sistren and brethren have thrown up their hands in ontological surrender. For them, any ontological strategy is simply a power-trip. It could also be a truth-trip, but, for the life of them, they can discern no difference. Someone will have to try.
We are left to appeal to emotion and reason. I appeal to both. A rational strategy will start with reason and acknowledge emotion when it is unavoidable.
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The first big question concerns monism. Pluralism is, by definition, incoherent. Pluralism is tantamount to a surrender to emotion. We will end up there, that is more or less what the Eschaton is about: ecstatic rapture. But before then we will attempt to exhaust the natural(?) human capacity for reason. Coherence, with Occam's blessing, dictates monism. Materialism has been retired, we are left with immaterialism. Immaterialism is tantamount to idealism, taking into account the pragmatic dictum that what is unknowable or unperceivable won't hurt us.
OK, take a deep breath. The only coherent idealism has ever only been theistic. By the same token, the only coherent theism has ever only been idealistic.
That's all folks. There you have my rough outline of ontology, sans Eschaton. The appeal to the Eschaton is simply the acknowledgment that any unbounded history is incoherent, again virtually by definition. The same goes for the concept of the Best Possible World, of which the Eschaton is a very significant component.
As I keep saying, this in not rocket science. Why are so many of us so reluctant to engage in this most basic of thought processes? If it's not rational, it must be emotional. The Eschaton, et al. are emotion laden. We must deal with that.
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Now for the refinements. What is the weakest link in my argument? I submit it is the appeal to coherence. That is the next topic.

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10/29/02

Coherence



(At some point in the following, you may wish to refer back to Coherence Theory.)
It is remarkable that there are knowers in the world. It is only slightly less remarkable that there is so much for us to know.
We speak of the knowledge explosion. We speak of the mysterious comprehensibility of the world and even of a Theory of Everything.
Did the world have to be so knowable and with so much to be known? We are finding this coherence despite our lack of expectation that there should be any. Is it just an illusion? Appeal is made to the controversial Anthropic Principle and to the appearance of a cosmic design, by way of explanation. Did the world have to be thus? Is all this just the luck of the draw?
Appeal has also been made to the Principle of Sufficient Reason. Nothing happens without a reason, or at least without a knowable cause. When there is an 'accident' we try to ascertain the cause, and seek to avoid it in the future. When there is sickness, we expect to find a toxic agent or some malfunction.
In biology there is an almost overwhelmingly pervasive appearance of teleology. We refer to it as teleonomy, and chalk it up to natural selection, but there would be no biological science without it.
The still very young science of ecology finds, wherever it looks, an almost unimaginable relational intricacy in the entire system of nature. The web of life is a living coherence.
We find similar situations in the human sciences. Linguistic semantics is a case in point. There was once the expectation that the meanings of words could be analyzed or reduced to logical atoms and sense data. After almost fifty years of failure, we realized that meaning is holistic. This realization spelt the effective end of analytical philosophy. The repercussions are still being felt. The end of analysis marks the beginning of postmodernism.
Meaning holism is part of what lies behind the expanding gap between what we know of natural and artificial intelligence.
It would seem that the very remarkable external coherence is mirrored in the mysterious coherence and irreducibility of natural intelligence. This could all just be an accident. But ought we not wonder about the cause? Some see a cause in natural selection. That may be a necessary part of it, but is it sufficient? Can it be considered a natural, scientific cause if there are no known or knowable limits on what its ultimate power might be. Such indefinable power and potency seems much closer to what would reasonably be ascribed to a deity. Ascribing it to nature is only to deify nature. Where then might one draw the line between natural and supernatural? If there is no longer a logical distinction, then what is the sense of calling oneself a naturalist?
Under the aegis of naturalism, coherence is a gratuitous mystery. With immaterialism it is a logical necessity. With materialism, everything is alleged to be contained within a space-time receptacle. With idealism there is no such container. Instead of a container, we need a glue. Coherence is nothing more nor less than the cosmic glue.
With materialism, existence is absolute, all or nothing, atoms in the void. With immaterialism, existence can only be relative or relational. To exist is to relate. This is just cosmic holism. We have excellent models for this kind of existence in the holistic domains of mathematics and language.
Is it any great surprise that the potency of nature is bursting the arbitrary, artificial seams of materialism and naturalism? Why should not coherence be considered perfectly natural? It is, just as soon as we bring God into the picture. With idealism, God is the natural and logically necessary centerpiece of its attendant coherence. Is God anti-nature? Does not human nature reflect divine nature? Are we not each just a microcosm? Are we unnatural?
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