[asa] Prophet of Science (Part One)

From: Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Thu Jun 04 2009 - 12:54:17 EDT

I'm glad that Fred Heeren wants to talk about my essay on A H Compton, in the latest issue of PSCF. ASA members will have their copies by now. Non-members unfortunately cannot access it for another 12 months, but individuals may subscribe for one year at $40. Since my essay will be printed in 3 parts, ending in December, non-members could have the whole essay by subscribing for one year and asking for the subscription to start with the June 2009 issue (table of contents at http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2009/PSCF6-09.html). The essays by John Brooke and the essay review by Davis Young are among the many other reasons why this issue will be interesting to many.

In any event, I thought I'd start a separate thread for this, and lead by responding to Fred's questions, here:

FH: I wanted to draw attention to how helpful Compton's views appear to be on the subject (at least to me).

TD: Fred means the topic of mind/brain and dualism. Fred continues:

FH: Ted mentions how Compton "felt 'compelled to give up both materialism and dualism,' turning instead to personal idealism, 'the doctrine that mind is the fundamental reality, and that the objective world is a mere product of the activity of the Supreme Mind or Spirit, God'."
 
This is just part 1 of Ted's three parts, so I'm anxious to see if Compton develops this further. In part 1, Ted also states, "Just as we cannot conceive 'of a thought or volition which exists apart from mental activity,' so 'we may think of the physical world as being both produced and maintained by God's mental action.' ... 'the difficulties confronting us on the dualistic system with regard to evolution now disappear, for since the development of the world is continually subject to the will of God, the introduction of life and consciousness are no longer mysterious'."
 
And regarding immortality: "If 'we think of it as the final product of the evolution of God¹s world,' and keeping in mind that 'the existence of everything depends only upon God's continued care,' then immortality seems
'more than probable'."

I like the way this line of thinking begins to provide a framework for understanding God's continuous, creative and sustaining role through our world's formative history. Nature itself seems to raise problems with strict dualism, while also raising problems (through quantum mechanics, for one) for strict materialism. I like the way Compton expresses his third way.

I'm wondering, though, if the term "personal idealism" is the right term for it. Doesn't that term normally suggest that there is no absolute, single mind behind the world? More important, does anyone else find Compton's views (about the world as a mere product of the Supreme Mind) as helpful as I do in the dualism/materialism debate?

TD: Fred, I will be saying more about AHC's views on mind/brain, esp with regard to immortality, in future parts, and I won't show my hand in advance. I also like that he was looking for a third way, and your reference to QM is prescient in this instance: in part two, I will discuss how Compton used QM to defend human freedom, though interestingly he did not apply it also to God -- it wasn't until the 1950s that people did that, as far as I know. And I also like his view of what is often called "continuous creation." On this point, at that time (ca. 1910), Compton was an orthodox Christian and his theology of creation was "state of the art" for that period--really, he was reflecting the ideas of others, he wasn't creating those ideas himself.

As for "personal idealism," that is the term Compton used, and I am not an authority on the term itself. Jon Roberts (Boston Univ) is an authority on it, and he suggested the specific names I give on the top of p. 80 if you want to flesh out more fully what this view entailed. Its basically the idea that individual persons are more real than "material" objects. My understanding is that the term has sometimes meant that there is no single mind behind the world, but Compton certainly thought there was such a mind behind the world, so I don't know how to answer that question accurately on his behalf.

Fred, you are an excellent science writer. I appreciate you being an ASA member, I'm glad you asked me about this essay, and I'm esp glad that you are finding some of Compton's ideas personally useful. There will be some things in part two (September) that you may also find useful, at least interesting, esp his ideas on what he himself called the "intelligent design" of the universe. Non-members who want to know more about that -- and there could be quite a bit of interest in Compton's views on "intelligent design" among many who are not members -- are invited to become subscribers to find out. There wont' be an electronic version until some time in 2010.

Ted

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Received on Thu Jun 4 12:55:11 2009

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