HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO THE IDEAS IN CHAPTER 6
(‘FREE, EMPOWERED CREATION’)?
(1) In response to Johnson’s section, ‘The Wisdom of Philosophy’
(Ask the Beasts pages 160-169) and summarized here:
John Horsley writes,
I think that the neo-Thomism approach of Elizabeth Johnson is fine as far as it goes but I tend to agree with Polkinghorne that it seems to be missing something, and that something is what the various theologians (listed on pages 161 and 162) are addressing.
My own belief, for example, is that God does indeed “lure the world in a desired direction” towards more wholeness. Then the question is: how does God do this without “interfering” with the natural order? Several of the suggested approaches described briefly in p 161-162 seem to me promising. In fact some of them seem to overlap and might be saying much the same thing with different metaphors. For example, single action theory, top down causality and the organic model seem to me to have much in common and are not necessarily in conflict with the autonomy of the natural order. I need to think more about Elizabeth Johnson’s criticism of Polkinghorne’s causal joint theory, but I have a feeling that she may not understand the implications of quantum theory, whereas Polkinghorne definitely does, having worked with one of the founders, Paul Dirac, and written several books on the subject.
In addition I don’t see how Elizabeth Johnson could address what are called “miraculous” events, which are normally attributed to God’s special intervention (such as a healing in response to prayers that appears to be inexplicable in medical terms). It is surprising in view of her Roman Catholic faith that she does not address this. More generally, we believe that God acts in history (specifically through the acts stated in the Eucharistic prayer, the calling of Israel, the sending Jesus etc.). Did God’s specific actions only start when human history started? Aquinas certainly had to give an explanation of these things somewhere, but I’m not sure I would be able to follow it, even if I found it!
(2) In response to Johnson’s section on ‘The Interplay of Law and Chance’
(Ask the Beasts pages 169-174) and summarized here:
John Horsley writes,
Dawkins et al. assert that because chance plays such an important role in evolution the whole process must be purposeless and is incompatible with a Creator God – i.e. they say you are compelled to come to this conclusion just from looking at the facts – no other conclusion is possible. In fact they are making the same mistake as William Paley with his argument from design (only in the opposite direction). It is how you interpret the data that is important. They interpret the data in the light of their prior commitment to materialism. We are free to interpret the data based on our prior commitment to a Creator God, as Arthur Peacock has done very ingeniously.
The idea of God using chance events (mutations or epigenetic changes) to produce novelty fits very well with the recent discoveries in Evo-Devo, as I mentioned in my presentation in February. There is a basic body plan due to a common set of “tool box” genes and new forms are produced by using chance events to tinker with the switches that switch these genes on at particular times in the development of the embryo. Following Elizabeth Johnson, these new forms could be said to actualize “propensities” that were in a sense ready to be actualized because they had been given to the natural world at the beginning of time.
The question that arises in my mind is: is the interplay of regularity and chance the only process at work in creating new organisms, or is this model too “mechanistic”? Two other possible factors occur to me:
a) quantum effects
Biologists until recently discounted any possibility of quantum effects in biological systems (too warm and too wet). However, quantum effects have now been found in several processes, including photosynthesis, the sense of smell, and the navigation of birds using the Earth’s magnetic field. Quantum biology is an exciting new field. This opens up the possibility that these effects, including quantum entanglement, for example, play a role in evolution. This is just speculation, but my feeling is that they will come to be seen as important. The present neo-Darwinian theory is based on 19th century physics. It should at least be brought into the 20th century.
Animals are certainly aware and conscious, even if they don’t have the self-awareness of humans, and their consciousness will influence their behavior. As the process theologian John Cobb has pointed out: “When animals find that their present behavior does not procure the food and safety they require, some try out different behavior. To suppose that these trials are purely random strains credulity. When one animal is successful, it repeats the successful action, and others imitate it. Genetic change follows, and this priority of animal behavior over genetic change is far from rare. Indeed, it is probably more common that the reverse sequence presented us in standard evolutionary theory.
Some of this behavior is surely both intelligent and purposeful. But the mechanistic model opposes any role for intelligent purpose. Because of commitment to the mechanistic model, standard formulations of evolution simply ignore the role of animal action. “
(There could also be a sort of Jungian collective unconscious governing behavior in a species, but we might not want to go there).
(3) In response to Johnson’s section on ‘Emergence’ (Ask the Beasts pages 174-180) and summarized here:
John Horsley writes,
Elizabeth Johnson states (p.173) that if you rewound the tape of life’s evolution back to the beginning and let it roll again the community of life would not look at all how it does now. But how different would it be? The Harvard paleontologist and author Stephen Jay Gould has claimed that it would be totally different due to the large number of random and contingent events in evolutionary history. On the other hand, Cambridge paleontologist Simon Conway Morris has vigorously challenged this, claiming on the basis of “convergent evolution” that, on the contrary, the community of life would be very similar what exists now.
Convergent evolution is the process whereby organisms that are not closely related evolve similar forms and adaptations in similar environments. For example there is a marsupial version of several different placental mammals (e.g. marsupial moles, cats, wolves, and flying squirrels); the eye has evolved independently at least seven times; birds have evolved independently twice, etc. According to Conway Morris such convergence is the rule rather than the exception so different organisms in similar environments will always tend to converge on the same “solution” to enable them to survive (although by different routes). Conway Morris writes, “The number of things that ought to work (biological solutions) is ridiculously large, whereas we find that the number of things that actually work is surprisingly small – a very small fraction of all possibilities”.
Conway Morris even proposes that in view of convergent evolution the evolution of consciousness and something very like humans was inevitable. Hence, evolution appears to have an inherent direction and purpose (something also proposed by Teilhard de Chardin). Elizabeth Johnson rejects this and believes that evolution is open ended and indeterminate (nature having an adventure). Other theologians, for example Keith Ward, agree with Conway Morris. According to Keith Ward, the purpose of evolution is “the generation of communities of free, self-aware, self-directing sentient beings” (Keith Ward, God, Chance and Necessity). So play the tape again and something like us will appear.
(4) Also in response to ‘Emergence: On Behalf of Matter and the Body’
(Ask Beasts, pages 174-180)
Barry Turner writes,
Looking at Conway Morris – a biologist who has different metaphysical assumptions – is a good way of saying that interpretation is indeed based on one’s metaphysics. Scientists are not immune to metaphysical assumptions though many seem to claim that.
Barry and Swimme argue for what they call a Cosmological Principle that asserts that the universe has natural powers that when given the proper conditions, will create galaxies, etc…. It is a principle as opposed to a fact because we assume that it operates at other places and times than our own corner of the universe. It overcomes both the bare reality of chance as well as the intrinsic property of matter that we call entropy which always progresses to disorganization. They write that it is characterized by differentiation (complexity), auto-poiesis, and communion at every level of reality. They also use the metaphor of music as a way notes are organized in a symphony. Their descriptions of these qualities is really beautiful.
This seems similar to a movie I saw last week called The Imitation Game, the story of how Alan Turing defeated the German encryption device called The Enigma. Because there were so many million ways that the encryption codes could be done by this machine, humans could never in thousands of years decipher the codes which were changed daily.
Anyway these are my non-scientific meanderings.
Once again – what are your responses?