Science in Christian perspective

 

 

 

Functional Integrity and God's Interaction with His Creation

Philip E. Anderson, ASA Member
5 Taylor River Rd.
, Hampton Falls, NH 03844

Gordon C. Mills, ASA Fellow
118 Barracuda St., Galveston, TX 77550

From: PSCF 48 (December 1996): 282-284

 In the June 1995 issue of PSCF, Howard Van Till summarizes his views on "evolutionary creation" and "functional integrity."1 Critiques of those views are presented by Gordon Mills in the same issue of PSCF and also in the Christian Scholar's Review.2 In his PSCF paper, Mills notes similar views of those of Van Till that are held by two British scientist-theologians, Arthur Peacocke and John Polkinghorne. Since they have expressed their current views in a dialogue in Science & Christian Belief, it appeared of interest to compare some of the views of Peacocke and Polkinghorne with those of Van Till, Michael Corey,3 and Mills.4

Peacocke's view includes God unfolding by chance exploration the potentialities of matter that he gave to it. The overall mechanism involves both chance and law in the origin and development of living organisms. The "law" portion of this mechanism involves the analogy of nonlinear systems which, in a far from equilibrium thermodynamic state, form ordered "dissipative structures," and which, under certain conditions, fluctuate to a new ordered state. The above phenomenon is denoted as "order-through-fluctuations," and because of it Arthur Peacocke believes that the "emergence of ordered self-reproducing molecular structures that is, of living systems" is highly probable. It further is the basis for a model involving a "hierarchy of dissipative structures." Arthur Peacocke sees this hierarchical model as being analogous with "the early stages of biogenesis and the subsequent evolution to higher forms" wherein the emergence of life is inevitable.

This view is based primarily upon works of Ilya Prigogine and Manfred Eigen. It is a scientific view, but there is little reason to regard Peacocke's conclusions regarding the significance of these studies as correct. Thaxton, Bradley, and Olsen have discussed Prigogine's nonlinear thermodynamics and its possible application to the origin-of-life question. They note: "Prigogine, et al., Eigen, and others have suggested that a similar self-organization... can potentially account for the highly complex macromolecules essential for living systems. But such analogies have scant relevance to the origin-of-life question. A major reason is that they fail to distinguish between order and complexity."5

Polkinghorne's view involves God giving away "active information" to his creation by either "willed intentionality" or "holistic laws of nature" which supposedly cause "the universe to evolve greater degrees of complexity." Although Polkinghorne's theoretical framework appears to be fairly reasonable, any real significance with biologically relevant molecules has not been demonstrated. Polkinghorne also notes: "... it seems to me that agency through `active information' may well be the way that God providentially interacts with the world as well as the way in which we ourselves are agents."6 Also, "divine action will always be hidden, contained within the cloudiness of unpredictable process."7

In his response to Polkinghorne, Peacocke notes: "Polkinghorne rightly draws attention to our common suggestion of the usefulness of the notion of information in our attempts to model God's interaction with the world ... I refer to God's interaction with the world as a whole as the flow, or 'input,' of information and he to 'active information' and we both point out that this is distinct from an input of energy from God, which would indeed by `intervention.'"8 Thus, both Polkinghorne and Peacocke appear to recognize the necessity of some type of flow of information from God to his creation. To what extent Van Till agrees with their position is not entirely clear.

Although Van Till argues strongly for his view that the Creator has equipped his creation so that "... molecules and organisms have in fact accomplished the changes envisioned in the macroevolutionary paradigm simply by employing their own resident capacities," he does note that "... every one of these processes and every connective pathway in the possibility space of viable creatures is a mindfully designed provision from a Creator possessing unfathomable intelligence."9 The only apparent way of reconciling these two statements of Van Till is to suggest, as do Peacocke and Polkinghorne, that God's interaction with the world involves an "input" of information, particularly in regard to exploring possibilities.

Although Peacocke and Polkinghorne use the term "information," rather than "genetic information," it would appear that Polkinghorne's and Peacocke's views on information are not necessarily in conflict with Mills' statement: "... that in the history of the origin and development of living organisms, at various levels of organization, there has been a continuing provision of new genetic information by an intelligent cause." For Mills, a "provision of genetic information" involves the incorporation of information containing aperiodic polymers of DNA of a specified sequence and this provision might indeed require an input of energy.10 If Peacocke's and Polkinghorne's "input" of information "to the world-as-a-whole" is a secondary causational level physical transfer of a communication involving either particle or wave phenomena, then an input of energy might also be required for this physical transfer to be achieved. Moreover, note that Rolf Landauer states that "Information is inevitably tied to a physical representation ... [and in accordance with] ... the laws of physics ... [it is proper to ask] ... whether there are minimal energy dissipation requirements associated with information handling."11

Michael Corey, whose views in many respects are similar to those of Peacocke, Polkinghorne and Van Till, is much more explicit when he speaks of genetic information. He notes: " ... the a priori existence of a complex set of genetic instructions specifying the future development of all life on earth would itself demand the existence of some type of genetic programmer, which, in all probability, would turn out to be the Creator Himself."12 Corey is even more explicit when he notes: " ... there is no a priori reason why the very first life form couldn't have contained all the genetic information for the evolutionary development of the entire biosphere. Or alternatively, there is no a priori reason why some external source couldn't have infused the proper genetic instructions into the genome at the appropriate time in evolutionary history."13 This second alternative is very similar to the proposal of Mills. Corey clearly espouses the view that a Creator has infused, in some manner, genetic information into living organisms. Also he considers this view not to contradict his previous statement that " ... God seems to act almost exclusively through the use of natural cause-and-effect processes which he himself designed into matter ... "14

In their critique of Polkinghorne's and Peacocke's views, Doye, et al. note: "... we might wonder whether we can reasonably expect to demarcate the bounds of and reasons for the acts of the almighty Creator ... ".15 We wonder whether the distinction between "interaction" and "intervention" based on energy input is as clear as has been suggested by Peacocke and Polkinghorne.

In closing this letter, another comment of Polkinghorne is pertinent in regard to God's interaction: "All of us currently working in this area are seeking to find some account of divine action which is consistent and continuous in character, reflecting that unyielding steadfastness which is part of the divine nature."16

Notes

1Howard Van Till, "Special Creationism in Designer Clothing: A Response to The Creation Hypothesis," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 47, No. 2 (1995): 123-131.

2Gordon Mills, "A Theory of Theistic Evolution as an Alternative to the Naturalistic Theory," PSCF 47, No. 2 (1995): 112-122 and Gordon Mills, "Theistic Evolution: A Design Theory at the Level of Genetic Information," Christian Scholar's Review 24 (1995): 444-458.

3J. C. Polkinghorne, "Creatio Continua and Divine Action," Science & Christian Belief 7 (1995): 101-108; J. C. Polkinghorne, "Theological Notions of Creation and Divine Causality," In Science and Theology: Questions at the Interface, M. Rae, H. Regan and J. Stenhouse, eds., (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 225-237; A. R. Peacocke, "A Response to Polkinghorne," Science & Christian Belief 7 (1995): 109-115; A. R. Peacocke, God and the New Biology, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986), especially pp. 62-64 and 97-99. Other works of Peacocke and Polkinghorne are cited in Science & Christian Belief 7.

4M. A. Corey, Back to Darwin (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1994).

5C. B. Thaxton, W. L. Bradley, and R. L. Olsen, The Mystery of Life's Origin, (Dallas: Lewis & Stanley [second printing], 1992), 151.

6J. C. Polkinghorne, "Theological Notions of Creation and Divine Causality," In Science and Theology: Questions at the Interface, M. Rae, H. Regan and J. Stenhouse, eds., (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 236.

7Ibid.

8A. R. Peacocke, "A Response to Polkinghorne," Science & Christian Belief 7 (1995): 113.

9H. T. Van Till, "God and Evolution: An Exchange" First Things (June/July 1993): 32-41, quotes, p.34 and p. 38; see also H.J. Van Till, "Is Special Creationism a Heresy?" Christian Scholar's Review 22, (1993): 380-395.

10For the "provision of new genetic information" with more details see Gordon Mills, "Theistic Evolution: A Design Theory at the Level of Genetic Information," Christian Scholar's Review 24 (1995): 448-450 and C.B. Thaxton, et al., The Mystery of Life's Origin, (Dallas: Lewis & Stanley [second printing], 1992), 128-143 and 151-165.

11See Rolf Landauer, "Minimal Energy Requirements in Communication," Science 272 (28 June 1996): 1914-1918 at 1914.

12M. A. Corey, Back to Darwin (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1994), 287.

13Ibid., 288.

14Ibid., 4.

15J. Doye, I. Goldby, C. Line, et al.,"Contemporary Perspectives on Chance, Providence and Free Will," Science & Christian Belief 7 (1995): 117-139.

16J. C. Polkinghorne, "Creatio Continua and Divine Action," Science & Christian Belief 7 (1995): 108.