Theistic Science: The Metaphysics of Science

By Alexanian, Moorad | Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, March 2007 | Go to article overview

Theistic Science: The Metaphysics of Science


Alexanian, Moorad, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith


A recent letter of mine, (1) which suggests that an entity in nature is either: (1) purely physical, (2) purely nonphysical, or (3) both, viz., physical/nonphysical and considers the existence of the supernatural, was meant to clarify the theistic science put forward by Roy Clouser. (2) In fact, several authors criticized Clouser's attempt of a theistic science. (3) Nonetheless, in a recent letter, Clouser characterizes the "purely physical" as "on a par with talk about square circles." (4)

Clouser's objection that an entity could be purely physical is based on the gedanken experiment of "thinking away the non-physical properties of a thing to see what they have had left when they finished." (5) Clouser adheres to the philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd, (6) to whom even atoms, clearly purely physical entities, can have "biotic, sensory, logical, linguistic, and many other kinds of properties." (7) Surely, atomic properties, e.g., mass, spin, change, etc., are detected by purely physical devices via physical interactions and such data is ascribed to inherent properties of individual atoms.

Physics deals with the physical aspect of nature. A reasonable start then is to suppose that science is the study of the physical aspect of nature and its subject matter is data that can be collected, in principle, by purely physical devices. Note that only the physical aspects of physical/ nonphysical entities are amenable to the study of science. Accordingly, life, rationality, consciousness, etc. are purely nonphysical since purely physical devices cannot detect them. Herein lies the non-reductive aspect of our set-theoretic description of the whole of reality.

Laws of experimental science are generalizations of historical propositions, viz. experimental data. Thus, history is constitutive of experimental science, whereas metaphysics is regulative of it, while formal logic and mathematics are instrumental to it. Theology is neither constitutive, nor instrumental, nor regulative of science. Hence, theistic science can only be envisioned as supplying the metaphysics that regulates science without creating incompatibility between historical propositions and particular theological propositions.

Consider a book, which is purely physical even if it contains ciphered, rational information. A rational human being, which is a physical/nonphysical entity, together with the book, gives rise to more than just the sum of its parts. By deciphering the information, the human acquires knowledge, which is purely nonphysical.

Similarly, purely physical devices collect data when interacting with other entities, whether purely physical or physical/nonphysical, which the experimenter transforms into purely nonphysical knowledge via data analysis and theory building. Of course, one ought never to forget that human rationality characterizes the whole of reality by nonphysical mental models, abstractions, and constructs that have their counterparts in the real but are not necessarily identical to them. (8)

Scientists deal with secondary causes, not first causes. (9) The latter involves ontological questions. (10) From the standpoint of the order of being, one can say that without the ontological neither the generalizations nor the historical propositions of the experimental sciences would be possible. However, the theistic concept of creation ex nihilo is actually impossible for humans to understand or think since prior to creation there is nothingness, which humans cannot conceive. …

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