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Peacocke, Arthur. “The Sound of Sheer Silence: How Does God Communicate with Humanity?"

In “The Sound of Sheer Silence: How Does God Communicate with Humanity?” Arthur Peacocke advocates an emergentist-monist account of the natural world: its unity is seen in the fact of its hierarchical ordering such that each successive level is a whole constituted of parts from the level below. This world exhibits emergence in that the properties, concepts, and explanations relevant to higher levels are not logically reducible to those of lower levels. An emergentist- monist account of the human person fits consistently within this worldview. It is important to note that, unlike many philosophers, Peacocke does not identify mental properties with brain properties. Rather, he recognizes the mental or personal as an emergent level above the (purely) biological, and attributes mental properties to the unified whole that is the “human-brain-in-the- body-in-social-relations” (Note: Brothers and other authors in this volume would agree in emphasizing both the embodied and social character of mind and personhood).

More important than the logical irreducibility of levels in the hierarchy of complex systems is causal irreducibility. Peacocke discusses the concept of downward causation and a variety of related concepts of causal processes in complex systems, one of which is the distinction between structuring and triggering causes. A structuring cause is an ongoing state of a system (for example, the hardware conditions in a computer) that makes it possible for an event (the triggering cause; for example, striking a key) to have the effect that it does. Peacocke concludes that the term “whole-part influence” best captures what is common to all of these insights.

This essay elaborates on Peacocke’s earlier work on divine action, which regards the entire created universe as an interconnected system-of-systems, and adopts a panentheistic account of God’s relationship to the world such that God is understood as immanent within the whole of creation, yet the world is seen as “contained” within the divine. Thus, God’s action is to be understood on the analogy of whole-part influence.

The foregoing account of divine action lays necessary groundwork for an account of revelation: until we can postulate ways in which God can effect “instrumentally” particular events and patterns of events in the world, we cannot hope to understand how God’s intentions and purposes might be known “symbolically.” There are a variety of ways God is taken to be made known: general revelation through the order of nature; through the resources of religious traditions; through the “special revelations” that serve as the foundation of religious traditions; and in the religious experience of ordinary believers. While dualist anthropologies allowed for direct contact between God and the soul or spirit, Peacocke concludes that when the person is understood in an emergentist-monist way it is more consistent with what we know of God’s relation to the rest of creation to suppose that God’s communication is always mediated, even if only by affecting the neural networks that subserve human memories and other sorts of experience, including the feeling of God’s presence. Thus, all of these forms of revelation can be understood as the result of God acting through the mediation of the human and natural worlds.

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