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Davies, Paul. “Teleology Without Teleology: Purpose through Emergent Complexity."

Paul Davies offers us a modified version of the uniformitarian view of divine action. In selecting the laws of nature, God chooses specific laws which allow not only for chance events but also for the genuine emergence of complexity. He claims that the full gamut of natural complexity cannot be accounted for by neo-Darwinism, relativity, and quantum mechanics; one must also consider nature’s inherent powers of self-organization based on, though not reducible to, these laws. Still the emergence of complexity does not require special interventionist divine action.

Davies begins by classifying divine action into three types: interventionist, non- interventionist, and uniform. He rejects the first, since it reduces God to nature and involves theological contradictions. The second is a new possibility which appeals to quantum indeterminism and bottom-up causality or to the mind-body problem and top-down causality. Davies considers several possible objections and responds to them before turning to his own view, a modified form of uniform divine action. This emphasizes God’s continuing role in creating the universe each moment though without bringing about particular events which nature “on its own” would not have produced. Davies illustrates this via the game of chess, in which the end of a given game is determined both by the rules and by the specific sequence of moves chosen by each player. Thus God selects the laws of nature; being inherently statistical, they allow for chance events at the quantum or chaos levels as well as for human agency. God need not violate these laws in order to act, and there is room for human freedom and even for inanimate systems to explore novel pathways.

The existence of these very specific laws raises the question of cosmological design. Davies acknowledges that “anthropic” arguments like his might be countered by a cosmic Darwinism, such as the “many worlds” view provided by inflationary cosmology, but he gives several reasons why he rejects these accounts. He then argues that quasi-universal organizing principles will be found to describe self-organizing, complex systems. They will complement the laws of physics, but they would not be reducible to or derivable from physics, nor would they refer to a mystical or vitalistic addition to them.

Davies sees his view of divine action as going beyond ordinary uniformitarianism. Chance in nature is God’s bestowal of openness, freedom, and the natural capacity for creativity. The emergence of what he calls the “order of complexity” is a genuine surprise, arising out of the “order of simplicity” described by the laws of physics. He calls this “teleology without teleology.” The acid test, according to Davies, is whether we are alone in the universe. If the general trend of matter toward mind and culture is written into the laws of nature, though its form depends on the details of evolution, we would expect that life abounds in the universe. This accounts for the importance of the SETI project. Finally, Davies is open to the possibility of combining his view with a non-interventionist account of divine action.

In his final section, Davies addresses biologists who, he expects, will find the concept of “teleology without teleology” favorable for two reasons. First, biologists have already incorporated elements of self-organization and emergent complexity into the neo-Darwinian account. Second, some biologists see evidence of complexifying trends in biological phenomena. Finally, the theological interpretation he advances would in no way be obligatory on others.

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