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Divine Information

Barbour, Peacocke and Sharpe make use of the idea that God interacts with the world via the 'communication of information.'Arthur Peacocke, Paths from Science towards God: The End of all our Exploring (Oxford: OneWorld, 2001): 120Such a notion is seen as fertile ground because conservation laws need not be violated - a perennial problem for accounts of Divine action. It's common to see the triplet of "matter, energy and information" listed as the basic units of reality, and we often think of information as somehow disconnected from the other two and not subject to the same laws. However, it seems to me that information is always and only realised in physical states. When found in such a triplet, I believe information is a synonym for the pattern, organization, or structure of matter/energy. Certainly it deserves to be elevated up with the other two, but the same laws bind all three. As I understand it, in order for God to "input information", matter/energy must be reorganized - by definition. It has been suggested that since God is omnipresent, no energy is required for such communicationIan Barbour, When Science Meets Religion (New York: HarperCollins, 2000): 166,Arthur Peacocke, Paths from Science towards God: The End of all our Exploring (Oxford: OneWorld, 2001): 122, but I don't see how this helps. Sharpe sees nonlocality as a means to impart the information without disrupting conservation,Kevin Sharpe, Sleuthing the Divine: The Nexus of Science and Spirit (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000): 54,55but the universe still needs to found in a state that is different from what we had expected, if we are to then claim that God was objectively effective temporally.

I should say that both Peacocke and Barbour are careful to state that information is only ever realised in physical states during coding, transmission, and decoding, and that it should not be seen "in purely static terms, as if the message where the pattern itself."Ian Barbour, When Science Meets Religion (New York: HarperCollins, 2000): 106Peacocke adds; "No information flows without some exchange of energy and/or matter."Arthur Peacocke, Paths from Science towards God: The End of all our Exploring (Oxford: OneWorld, 2001): 53I agree. If this is acknowledged, I don't think it is entirely fair to present the 'communication of information' route for Divine action as uniquely immune to interventionism critiques.

We sometimes use the word 'information' to mean quite different things. Sometimes we mean organization or structure - this is always physically instantiated. Sometimes we mean the input to an information-processing system. This input can vary from an unambiguously rich and clear signal, to pure noise. Once again, this input is physically instantiated. Finally, we sometimes mean an abstract concept as in 'the BRCA1 gene'. In this case we recognise that information as structure can be generalized and given a symbolic representation. Information in this last sense is 'multiply realisable', as is the case for computer languages and human languages to some extent. When discussing information, it’s very helpful to specify in what sense we are using the term.

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Divine Information

Agency: Human, Robotic and Divine
Techniques for Identifying Agency
Agency in Machines, Biology, and Humans
Machines and Beings
Robotic Agency
Digital Computers will Always be Machines
Embodied Robotics and Emergent Behaviors
No Thinking Necessary?
Divine Agency
Downward Causation
The World as God’s Body


Adrian Wyard

See also:

What Makes us Human?
Are we Free?
Does God Act?
Books on Information Technology