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Barbour, Ian G. “Five Models of God and Evolution.”

In the first part of his paper, Ian Barbour describes the evolution of Darwinism over the past century. Charles Darwin actually shared many of the mechanistic assumptions of Newtonian science. By the early twentieth century, population genetics focused on statistical changes in the gene pool and the “modern synthesis” took a gradualist view of evolution. The discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953 led to the central dogma of molecular biology: information flows from DNA to protein. Recent theories have explored selection at a variety of levels including gene, organism, kin, group, and species, as well as punctuated equilibrium. Other biologists have noted that mutation and selection are not the only sources of novelty. While these new theories can be seen as extensions of Darwinism, a few scientists, such as Stuart Kaufman, claim they are moving beyond Darwinism by invoking principles of self-organization and holism.

Barbour then outlines four philosophical issues which characterize the interpretation of evolution. Self-organization is the expression of built-in potentialities and constraints in complex hierarchically-organized systems. This may help to account for the directionality of evolutionary history without denying the role of law and chance. Indeterminacy is a pervasive characteristic of the biological world. Unpredictability sometimes only reflects human ignorance, but in the interpretation of quantum theory, indeterminacy is a feature of the microscopic world and its effects can be amplified by non-linear biological systems. He also argues for top-down causality in which higher-level events impose boundary conditions on lower levels without violating lower- level laws and he places top-down causality within the broader framework of holism. He distinguishes between methodological, epistemological, and ontological reduction. Communication of information is another important concept in many fields of science, from the functioning of DNA to metabolic and immune systems and human language. In each case, a message is effective only in a context of interpretation and response.

According to Barbour, each of these has been used as a non-interventionist model of God’s relation to the world in recent writings. If God is the designer of a self-organizing process as Paul Davies suggests, it would imply that God respects the world’s integrity and human freedom. Theodicy is a more tractable problem if suffering and death are inescapable features of an evolutionary process for which God is not directly responsible. But do we end up with the absentee God of deism? The neo-Thomist view of God as primary cause working through secondary causes as defended by Bill Stoeger tries to escape this conclusion, but Barbour thinks it undermines human freedom. Alternatively, God as providential determiner of indeterminacies could actualize one of the potentialities present in a quantum probability distribution. Selection of one of the co-existing potentialities would communicate information without energy input, since the energy of the alternative outcomes is identical. Does God then control all quantum indetermi nacies - or only some of them? Barbour comments on the way these options have been discussed by George Ellis, Nancey Murphy, Robert Russell, and Thomas Tracy. God as top-down cause might represent divine action on “the world as a whole,” as Arthur Peacocke maintains together with his “whole-part” models. But these are problematic according to Barbour since the universe does not have a spatial boundary, and the concept of “the-world-as-a-whole” is inconsistent with relativity theory. Grace Jentzen and Sallie McFague view the world as God’s body but Barbour is concerned that this model breaks down when applied to the cosmos. God as communicator of information would act through the pattern of events in the world, in human thought, and in Christ’s life as God’s self-expression, but this model does not capture God’s intention in creating loving and responsible people.

Process theology offers a fifth model of God’s action in the world by providing a distinctive theme: the interiority of all integrated events viewed as moments of experience. Rudimentary forms of perception, memory, and response are present in lower organisms; sentience, purposiveness, and anticipation are found in vertebrates. But process authors maintain that consciousness occurs only at the highest levels of complex organisms. There is great diversity in the ways in which components are organized in complex systems, and therefore great differences in the types of experience that can occur.

The process model resembles but differs from each of the four models above. God as designer of self-organizing systems is a source of order, but the God of process thought is also a source of novelty. God acts in indeterminacies at the quantum level, but also within integrated entities at higher levels. God acts as top-down cause, not through the cosmic whole but within each integrated system which is part of a hierarchy of interconnected levels. Communication of information can occur through events at any level, not primarily through quantum events at the bottom or the cosmic whole at the top. God is persuasive, with power intermediate between the omnipotent God of classical theism and the absentee God of deism. God is present in the unfolding of every event, but God never exclusively determines the outcome. This is consistent with the theme of God’s self-limitation in contemporary theology and with the feminist advocacy of power as empowerment. Process theology has much in common with the biblical understanding of the Holy Spirit as God’s activity in the world. Barbour concludes by considering some objections to process thought concerning panexperientialism, God’s power, the charge of being a “gaps” approach, and the abstract character of philosophical categories in the context of theology.

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