Robert Thompson, Point Loma University, "Constitution and the Emergent God." Alumnus speaker for the Annual FOCAS (Focus on the College of Arts and Sciences) Week.
February 20, 2009, 4:00 p.m., 607 Dale Hall Tower
Abstract: One of the promising philosophical developments in the 20th century is the metaphysical position known as nonreductive physicalism. Conceived as a moderate response to a reductionist physicalist metaphysic, folks writing in this area have used the nonreductive physicalist model to address such intractable issues as consciousness, personal identity, and causation. It represents a moderating position because it makes room for such phenomena as, say, mentality, without appeal to a nebulous, nonphysical substance, while also refusing to reduce in an eliminative way all such phenomena to the level of the physical sciences.
Nonreductive physicalism, however, is in tension with certain other philosophical commitments, particularly those related to western conceptions of religion. For example, philosophers publishing in the area of nonreductive physicalism, but with Christian commitments, have sought to show that a nonreductive physicalist account is compatible with Christian beliefs, especially those relating to the human person. Even so, such a view faces a rather glaring problem: namely, what to do with God.
In the current paper I offer a model of the relationship between God and the cosmos that is consistent with a nonreductive physicalist metaphysic and upholds a number of the more controversial doctrines related to God, e.g., God as Creator. More specifically, I offer an emergent model of God’s relation to the cosmos, using the relation of material constitution, where God is emergent on, and is wholly constituted by, the cosmos, and show that it is consistent with a nonreductive physicalist metaphysic, a Christian worldview, and aides in explaining the relationship between God and the natural order. To that end, I first offer a brief argument for the need of the material constitution relation and then provide the necessary and sufficient conditions for said relation. This leads to the Emergence Thesis: where x is K-arranged and in K-circumstances but is not a K, then there is a y such that y is a K and x constitutes y. I then use this transitive, irreflexive, and asymmetric relation to model God as emergent on the cosmos and what that means for some of the Christian doctrines related to God, particularly those that concern the relationship between God and the natural order. It turns out, however, that the constitution relation, and so the emergence of objects, is ubiquitous. Not only does it explain the relation of God to the cosmos, it also explains the relation of many types of objects to their compositional parts, including standard everyday objects, like statues.