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Peacocke, Arthur. “God’s Interaction with the World: The Implications of Deterministic “Chaos” and of Interconnected and Interdependent Complexity.”

According to Arthur Peacocke, the long-established aim in science of predicting the future macroscopic states of natural systems has recently come to be recognized as unattainable in practice for those systems capable of manifesting “deterministic chaos.” The possibility of prediction has also been closely associated with the conviction that there is a causal nexus which scientific procedures will unambiguously ascertain. In this paper, Peacocke surveys the applicability of these concepts with respect to relatively simple, dynamic, law-obeying systems; to statistical properties of assemblies; to Newtonian systems which are deterministic yet unpredictable; and to “chaotic” and “dissipative” systems. In doing so he also analyzes the limitations to predictability stemming from quantum theory.

Chaotic and dissipative systems prove to be unpredictable in practice, primarily because of the nature of our knowledge of the real numbers, and possibly (and more problematically) because of quantum uncertainties. The notion of causality still proves to be applicable to these systems in an unambiguous, even if only in a probabilistic, fashion. However, for many significant interconnected and interdependent complex systems the concept of causality scarcely seems applicable, since whole-part constraints operate, whereby the state of a system-as-a-whole influences what occurs among its constituents at the microscopic level. Peacocke acknowledges that in the past this phenomenon has also, perhaps somewhat misleadingly, been denoted by himself and others as “downward” or “top- down” causation, in particular in relation to evolution and to the brain-body relation.

Peacocke then considers how to conceive of God’s relation to the world in the light of modifications in the scientific concepts of predictability and causality which the phenomena of deterministic chaos and dissipative systems on the one hand, and of “whole-part constraints” on the other hand, have induced. Consideration of the former has to take account of the possible, and as yet unclear, effects of quantum uncertainty on chaotic and dissipative systems. Peacocke concludes that, whatever is decided about those effects, the unpredictabilities for us of non-linear chaotic and dissipative systems do not, as such, help us in the problem of articulating more coherently and intelligibly how God interacts with the world, illuminating as they are concerning the flexibilities built into natural processes. The discussion is based in part on the assumption that God logically cannot know the future, since it does not exist for God to know.

However, Peacocke argues that the notion of “whole-part constraints” in interconnected and interdependent systems does provide a new conceptual resource for modeling how God might be conceived of as interacting with and influencing events in the world. This is particularly true in conjunction with a prime exemplification of the whole-part constraint in the unitive relation of the human-brain-in-the-human-body - in fact, this model of personal agency is the biblical and traditional model for God’s action in the world. He evokes the notion of a flow of information as illuminating this ‘whole-part’ interaction of God with the world, which could then be conceived of as a communication by God to that part of the world (namely, humanity) capable of discovering God’s meanings.

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