In The Metaphysics of
Divine Action, John Polkinghorne notes that any discussion of agency requires
the adoption of a metaphysical view of the nature of reality. He claims that
there is no deductive way of going from epistemology to ontology, but the
strategy of critical realism is to maximize the connection. This leads most
physicists, he claims, to interpret Heisenbergs uncertainty principle as
implying an actual indeterminacy in the physical world, rather than an
ignorance of its detailed workings.
Polkinghorne is critical of
physical reductionism, which makes unsubstantiated and implausible claims for
the explanatory power of the idea of self-organizing systems. Moreover, it
focuses strictly on the generation of large-scale structure rather than the temporal
openness necessary to accommodate agency. A theological appeal to divine
primary causality is too vague to yield an understanding of providential
action. We need not be stymied by the problem of the causal joint that makes
this possible. Top-down causality is a valuable idea, but it is not
unproblematic and its plausibility depends upon exhibiting intrinsic gaps in
the bottom-up description in order to afford it room for maneuver.
Polkinghorne believes that
such gaps might originate from indeterminate quantum events. However, there are
problems about amplifying their effects, and the idea also leads to an episodic
account of divine agency. Polkinghorne prefers an approach based upon
interpreting the unpredictabilities of chaotic dynamics (in accord with the
strategy of critical realism) as indicating an ontological openness to the
future whereby active information becomes a model for human and divine
agency. He interprets sensitivity to small triggers as indicators of the
vulnerability of chaotic systems to environmental factors, with the consequence
that such systems have to be discussed holistically. It is not supposed, however, that such triggers
are the local mechanism by which agency is exercised.
The resulting metaphysical
conjecture Polkinghorne calls a complementary dual-aspect monism, in which mind
and matter are opposite poles or phases of the single stuff of created reality.
This scheme is antireductionist, stressing instead a contextualist approach in
which the behavior of parts depends on the whole in which they participate.
Polkinghorne then discusses some of the consequences of adopting this point of
view, including the insight that divine agency has its own special
characteristics and that Gods knowledge of the world of becoming will be truly
temporal in character.
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