GOD: Right my boy, time to discuss and simplify what you have been reading and getting confused
TERRY: Don’t rub in the bit about my confusion. I live amongst people who seem to think that I cannot think like a scientist, at the same time holding religious beliefs. While I don’t mind be called a dualist, I found the description “double minded” hard to take.
GOD: Can you sort out this confusion?
TERRY: Well start with material reality, this includes items that we can reliably encounter with our senses and thus find clear evidence of their presence. For the whole of my professional life I have taught that matter is composed of atoms; and these atoms cannot be directly observed by any physical means; further the quantum nature of these atoms will ensure that atoms will remain shadows or phantoms even if we modified our detection systems in unimaginable ways. Physically when we touch matter, we think that our body is being denied access to a space that is already filled by solid material; while this is a reasonable assumption, the scientific models suggests that only a million millionth of the volume of a solid contains ‘lumps’ of matter. All we can feel is the interaction of invisible force fields. Yet despite these theories people are happy to believe in ‘solid reality’. They get upset when I suggest that our view of the universe is largely illusory.
GOD: This is because every one thinks that an illusion is a deliberate distortion designed to deceive. No one likes to be told they are being fooled. You humans put a lot of faith in your atomic models, but your scientific theories do not match your commonsense.
TERRY: Illusions are unavoidable and very necessary, but they are not deliberate. But it is foolish to think that you cannot be fooled. We may not see things as they are, but this doesn’t stop us building useful models of reality to help us understand the world we live in. It is the business of science to constantly test and challenge our models of reality.
GOD: So, what is troubling you?
TERRY: YOU are. When I study and test what has been said about YOU I am trying to construct a spiritual understanding of reality. Strangely my science colleagues are quite sympathetic with my efforts; but my religious friends become most aggravated and insecure.
GOD: Why do you think this is?
TERRY: I suppose they have become so attached to the simple, but useful, models of reality, they like to pretend that spiritual matters can be approached in the same way.
GOD: Time to introduce Fred and Bert.
TERRY: Oh you mean Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell?
TERRY: Whitehead was an English mathematician, logician and philosopher who gained a great reputation in England and America in the twentieth century. His student and later long time collaborator was Bertrand Russell. Russell remains a well known figure and was a genuine outstanding intellectual. He had a deep understanding of mathematics, logic and philosophy as well as early twentieth century science. Together, Whitehead and Russell produced a book called Principia Mathematica, perhaps the greatest text on logic ever written; this book showed that arithmetic and hence mathematics was a completely logical set of ideas (although it was later shown that no system can be completely logical).
GOD: Yes, that will do for their reputations, they were indeed outstanding.
TERRY: Well Russell was a popular philosopher, who taught that reality was found only in the material universe and that spiritual things were meaningless. Essentially he was a rationalist and an atheist. His proposed scheme is simple and easy to understand. As a sensible human being, he drew his moral standards from humanism and his principles lead him to struggle to ban the development of nuclear weapons.
GOD: Yes, Bertrand’s world view challenged the Christians who believed (with considerable justification) that all humans are born with a natural tendency to be sinful. For our part, WE are more concerned with human behaviour and its outcomes. WE don’t judge people on their inherited nature, intelligence or beliefs; rather we assess them on how they live and what outcomes they promote. For your part, you shouldn't judge people at all.
TERRY: By contrast to Russell; Whitehead had an almost opposite view of the universe.
Unfortunately this view is neither simple nor immediately appealing. Whitehead supposed that the universe came with ‘awareness’ at all levels from the atoms upwards to living things. This awareness (also called sentience) is an aspect of ultimate reality. Thus atoms have the potential to develop, or favour, the formation of living things with increasing complexity. While rocks etc. remain inert, plants can grow and respond to their environment, animals can use brains to adapt to their environment and finally humans can reason and exercise free will.
GOD: And this line of thinking points to US as the creative focus of the universe.
TERRY: Yes this is why Whitehead was also considered to be a theologian.
GOD: Explain how you assess the contrasting viewpoints.
TERRY: In the view of rationalists, such as Russell, the universe started as dead matter and the appearance of life is unaccountable. There is general agreement amongst scientists that the probability of life starting from random combinations of atoms is so improbable that the miracles claimed by the Holy writings are just as likely. Further, if life did just happen it would require an equally ‘miraculous’ environment to support it, feed it and allow it to reproduce. From the point of view of a physical scientist it all appears to be quite impossible; except for one thing, it happened, once! But after that everything dies!
GOD: Does death scare you?
TERRY: Not particularly, provided it is not too painful. But with the rationalist theory, existence seems boring and pointless.
GOD: But not illogical.
From Whitehead’s viewpoint, atoms have the potential to encourage precursor life molecules and support them as they form living things. This gives a plausible reason why life has occurred on earth. The statistics would thus be strongly biased in favour of life forming. Further, there may well be a constant bias to favour the evolution and development of life. While the competing viewpoints are equally logical, Whitehead’s plausible process philosophy also gives a reason for the occurrence of life.
GOD: You have always had this dualistic view of existence as both reality from experience and spiritual from intuition. WE are trying to get you to clarify these issues to reduce your confusion.
As far as other people are concerned you should explain your ideas carefully and leave them to decide for themselves whether they agree. Have you any further questions?
TERRY: Yes, how does Christianity fit into all of this?
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