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John Polkinghorne and Causal Gaps

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A recent Oxford conference has celebrated the long service to science and religion by John Polkinghorne. This Guardian ‘Comment is Free’ blog post by Mark Vernon is of interest because it discusses Polkinghorne’s belief about causal gaps with top down intentional causality.
Chaos Theory Polkinghorne and God
Vernon comments that “it’s not an epistemological gap that’s being appealed to in John Polkinghorne’s work, but rather an ontological causal openness. Hence the possibility, at least, of making the link with divine action.”
Science and Values
The problem with the key science words like determined, underdetermined or undetermined, is that they are typically viewed from the point of view of our human understanding. Two sides should be considered to make a meaningful distinction — our human side of understanding, and God's side of understanding. From our human viewpoint nothing is or can be 100% perfectly determined, even the seemingly most deterministic phenomena are thus subject to rare but occasional exceptions we call miracles. From God's point, since He presumably knows everything, everything must be considered deterministic, even what we deem chaotic and quantum phenomena which are totally beyond our idea of determinism. Polkinghorne is indeed the leading intellectual in the philosophy of science and more attention should be paid to his ideas. The word "gap" is another misunderstood idea. It is not so much that God is the “God of the gaps”, (God is or can be everywhere, knows everything and can get involved in everything), but that we are “people of the gaps” — certain gaps in our knowledge will remain which we will never be able to fill, and these gaps allow God the freedom of operation and the preservation of His grandeur and mystery, which ultimately safeguards our freedom of choice as well. (If everything were determined or deterministic in our knowledge, we would have no freedom, we would be compelled to make the most logical choices, like automata.) Curiously, the shell of St. Augustine, (which is also in the coat of arms of pope Benedict XVI), is meant to convey the same idea — according to the legend, St. Augustine saw a boy on the beach trying to pour a sea into a hole he dug with his shell, Augustine thus realizing the impossibility of such a task when it comes to pouring God and the vastness of knowledge into our heads. rockyr
"shalone -If there is a choice between science and religion, I take science any time." The problem is, shalone, you're creating a false dichotomy. There is no choice between science and religion. Just ask Galileo or Newton. Barb
Actually there is one comment in the article that I don't think is entirely accurate. Vernon writes that "In other words, chaotic systems are not indeterminate, but underdetermined." The problem is that perfect determinism in science is an illusion. Quantum mechanics teaches us that it is impossible to measure anything with perfect accuracy. Heisenberg's Uncertainy Principle; that it is impossible to know a particle's position and momentum at the same time - there is in fact an immaginary number in the Schrodinger Equation that forces us to deal in probabilities to make sense of it. Computer models use irrational numbers to number crunch in chaotic systems i.e. Pi. Computers must chop imaginary numbers off somewhere, and this introduces errors that are compounded. So ontologically speaking I would suggest there will always be gaps in science. Andrew Sibley
TM I think it was the time dilation version of the Lorentz Transformation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_dilation Andrew Sibley
Hey Andrew, awhile ago you posted an equation representing a photon within its own timeframe. Could you post that again real quick? tragic mishap
Here are some interesting comments from William Lane Craig- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vnjNbe5lyE Phaedros
Seqenenre Thanks for your critique. I do think that was too strong of statement and I ended up saying something I would not affirm. After all I do believe Christianity to be God's answer for all time. What I should have said was, "These religions succeeded over eons of years precisely because they DO give some correct answers to these questions" After all, I do believe one can make judgments between religions and say that one is better than the other based on its practices. I do not think Islam correctly answers all of these questions, and I think there is a particular brand of Islam which answers these questions in a way that maintains order ( so the religion is sustained ) but at the same time creates by abuses of power acts of immense cruelty. The point was not to argue for the legitimacy of any one religion, but to defeat the idea of people who believe in "scientism". Most people who say they only live by scientific principles do not come close to actually doing it. Science can not answer multigenerational questions effectively. It can not answer the moral dilemmas of man. Once again, thanks for pointing out my error. I retract the original statement in favor of the second. JDH
JDH: I think Islam is a religion. I know Mohamed married a nine year old. "These religions succeeded over eons of years precisely because they DO give the correct answers to these questions." I don't know... Seqenenre
John Polkinghorne is a delightful and brilliant man. I enjoy reading his work like no other. He is definitely one of the people I would like to meet some day! above
I wish I could reply on the original post, but I love the typical stupidity of the first commenter
shalone -If there is a choice between science and religion, I take science any time. Reason is the ability to draw conclusions and foresee outcomes. you can call it common sense. Science is reason squared: observations become data, and hypotheses are accepted as theory after being tested by repeated experiment.
OK. "shalone" Please design scientific experiments to determine... 1. Who should you marry? 2. Is it better to have one or multiple spouses? 3. How should you divide chores in the home? 4. What is the correct way to raise children? As a matter of fact, I think many of the strictures which are codified in the great religions, are just what the scientific method would prescribe. These religions succeeded over eons of years precisely because they DO give the correct answers to these questions. The society that "experiments" with morals soon deteriorates under the burden of the natural amorality of the man who has no shame. Scientific experimentation can not dent any of these questions. The data is so varied and so subjective that a carefully designed "social science" experiment can come up with any answer the experimenter desires. I think the point is that science has its place, but it is very limited in what it can do. Wise people accept its limitations. Trying to get some of the ignorant people who practice "scientism" to see this simple fact is much harder than it should be. JDH

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