Polkinghorne, John. The Laws of Nature and the Laws of Physics."
In his paper, John
Polkinghorne defends a version of critical realism in which the process of
discovering the laws of nature is interpreted verisimilitudinously as the
tightening grasp on reality. Yet these
laws ought not be reduced to those of fundamental physics; instead our
experiences of macroscopic nature are to be taken equally seriously. Polkinghorne accepts a constitutive
reductionism (in that we are composed merely of fundamental particles) but he
opposes conceptual reductionism (since the laws of biology cannot be reduced
to those of physics). Thus constitutive
and holistic laws must be combined in some way.
Polkinghornes proposal is
that, to our usual notions of upward emergence (which address the qualitative
novelty of mind and life), we must add downward emergence, in which the laws
of physics are but an asymptotic approximation to a more subtle (and more
supple) whole. Polkinghorne sees his
approach as contextualist: the whole
and the environment influence the behavior of the parts. It is guided by the principles of coherence
(the need to explain the known laws of physics, given this wider view),
historic continuity (the world must permit our experience of free agency), and
realism (not only the general claim that the world can be known through science
but the explicit claim that epistemology models ontology).
The reality thus known must
include the phenomena of mind-brain.
Polkinghorne admits that no solution to the mind-brain problem is
forthcoming, but hopes that his is a suggestive way of beginning. Here the dynamic theory of chaos provides a vital
clue. Chaotic systems, though governed
by deterministic equations, are highly sensitive to environmental circumstances
and initial conditions. They represent
a form of structured randomness whose intrinsic unpredictability, according
to Polkinghornes form of critical realism, means they are in fact
ontologically indeterminate. Thus he
concludes that the future is open, involving genuine novelty, genuine
becoming. This in turn allows for
human intentionality and divine action.
Polkinghorne then conceives
of the operation of agency as the exchange of active information, the
creation of novel forms carried by a flexible material substrate. Here Polkinghorne is contrasting agency as
the transmission of information with agency as causal influence, which would
include the transaction of energy.
Information transmission thus becomes a very general characteristic of
living processes. Quantum physics
provides similar insights to chaos theory, but Polkinghorne is cautious about
relying on it. We ought not confuse
randomness with freedom, and we need to remember both that the interpretation
of quantum theory is still in dispute and that quantum equations may not
exhibit chaotic solutions.
With chaos theory as a
basis, Polkinghorne returns to a suggestion he has previously considered, that
the mind/brain problem leads to a complementary metaphysics of
mind/matter. Here, however, he relates
this suggestion to the problem of divine agency. A conception of nature as open allows us to understand Gods
continuing interaction with nature as information input into the flexibility
of cosmic history. This entails a
free-process defense in relation to physical evil, a hiddeness to Gods
action in the world and a limitation on that for which we can pray. Polkinghorne rejects the criticism that his
is a God of the gaps strategy, since the open character of chaotic processes
are intrinsic gaps in nature revealed by science, not flaws in our knowledge of
nature. Likewise, he does not see
himself making God into a finite causal agent, since Gods interaction with
nature is through information, not energy.
Finally, in his proposal, God is highly temporal since the world is one
of true becoming. In this dipolar
(time/eternity) theism, eternity and time are bound together in the divine
nature. God cannot know the future,
since the future is not there to be known.
The divine kenosis thus includes an emptying of Gods omniscience. But God is ready for the future, being
able to bring about the eschatological fulfillment even if by way of contingent
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