The papers in this issue of Zygon suggest that the fear that so many have today, that man is alone and a stranger in the cosmos with only his fragile self to count on for his fate, may not be warranted—even if some have declared the traditional God to be dead. Religion and theology may not be out of business, if theology takes seriously the imperative set forth by Hefner in his The Relocation of the God-Question that theology utilize the sciences to throw light on such questions as the trustworthiness of the processes of evolution, as mans survival, as the nature and demands of the world processes, and whether man is fundamentally at home or out of phase with them.
The question of whether God exists and what he is like is a perplexing one for Christian theology. Theologians would like to assert that everyone, whether he knows it or not, is asking the God-question when it is perfectly clear that most men and women in our day are not asking it at all—at least not in a form that is recognizable in terms of the categories we feel most comfortable with. Perhaps the most arcane and least read philosophy and theology is the work of those tackling the God-question head on, asking precisely what the word God means, what it refers to, what the linguistic characteristics of God-talk are. As illuminating as this sort of reflection may be at times, it lacks the urgency and meaningfulness that would seem to be a prerequisite for really significant thinking about God. There is something a bit incongruous about the claim that the God-question is the question that burns in the soul of everyman if philosophical and theological reflection about God is esoteric, confined to a few who are in the know, and even tedious to larger groups of men. …
Philip Hefner is professor of systematic theology at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.
New Concepts in the Evolution of Complexity: Stratified Stability and Unbounded Plans by J. Bronowski
Vitalism is a traditional and persistent belief that the laws of physics that hold in the inanimate world will not suffice to explain the phenomena of life. Of course it is not suggested, either by those who share the belief or by those like me who reject it, that we know all the laws of physics now, or will know them soon. Rather what is silently supposed by both sides is that we know what kind of laws physics is made up of and will continue to discover in inanimate matter; and although that is a vague description to serve as a premise, it is what inspires vitalists to claim (and their opponents to deny) that some phenomena of life cannot be explained by laws of this kind.
The phenomena that are said to be inaccessible to physics are of two different kinds. One school of vitalists stresses the complexity of the individual organism. The other school of vitalists asserts that physical laws are insufficient to explain the direction of evolution in time: that is. the increase in complexity in new species, such as man, when compared with old species from which they derive. such as the tree-shrews. The two grounds for finding physics to fall short are therefore quite distinct, and I shall discuss them separately. I begin with a summary sketch of each. …
J. Bronowski is resident fellow, The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, Calif., and director, Council for Biology in Human Affairs, sponsored by The Salk Institute.
Commentary on J. Bronowskis New Concepts in the Evolution of Complexity by Ralph Wendell Burhoe
When I first read Bronowskis manuscript on New Concepts in the Evolution of Complexity, I considered it to be the most significant document on lifes (and deaths) place in the scheme of things since Erwin Schrödingers What Is Life?¹ However, I wish to make two points which Bronowski urged me to publish with his paper: I suggest that his statement on Polanyis notions might be modified; and I would suggest a fruitful relation between Bronowskis notion of stratified stability and the concept of natural selection. …
¹ Erwin Schrödinger, What Is Life? (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1944; New York: Doubleday Co., 1956).
Ralph Wendell Burhoe is editor of Zygon and director of the Center for Advanced Study in Theology and the Sciences, Meadville/Lombard Theological School, Chicago.
A Bridge from Science to Religion Based on Polanyis Theory of Knowledge by William T. Scott
Michael Polanyis writings on man and nature¹ constitute a major effort to establish a new paradigm for philosophical discourse, largely by producing a radically original view of knowledge in science; As a physicist with religious commitments, I find that Polanyis thought points the way to a profound vision of the relation between science and religion.
Polanyi views scientific knowledge as grounded in the creative activity of responsible persons, reaching out in spite of their limitations to discover what is true and beautiful about the world. A scientist holds knowledge largely by commitment rather than by proof, in faith that beyond every partial truth there is more yet to be found. He both participates intimately in his subject matter and finds himself in a transcendent relation to the community in which knowledge is held, to the body of scientific knowledge, and beyond these to reality itself.
To show how the Polanyian system can lead to a bridge from science to religion, I shall proceed as follows: I shall begin with a discussion of Polanyis principle of marginal control to show the fallacy of trying to explain comprehensive entities from the laws of their constituent parts, and then argue that mechanistic determinism is a feature of certain intermediate levels of complexity and cannot be logically transferred to higher levels. I then come to a description of tacit knowledge, the heart of the Polanyian system, establishing the irreducible personal element in all perception, thought, and achievement. The remainder of the paper explores certain implications of the concept of tacit knowledge: indeterminacy and creativity, the variable boundary of self and. world, questions of commitment, the communal nature of scientific knowledge, and the role of authority. The essay concludes by using some of the Polanyian insights to discuss the concept of God and mans relation to him.
I should note three limitations to my discussion. I have rather underemphasized biology and overemphasized physical science, largely because it is the field I know best. My references to religion are based on my limited acquaintance with modern Protestant thought as represented by such theologians as Paul Tillich, H. Richard Niebuhr, and Robert Calhoun.² Finally, in the brief space allotted I can scarcely begin to do justice to the richness and complexity of Polanyis thought or to the profundity of the questions with which I deal. …
¹ The principal Polanyian ideas presented in this essay can be found in any of the following: Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-critical Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958; London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1958; New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1964); The Tacit Dimension (New York: Doubleday & Co. 1963); Knowing and Being, ed. Marjorie Grene (Chicago: University of Chicago Press; London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969).
² It is only fair here to record my belief that science has a closer relation to contemporary forms of Protestantism than to most other forms of religion.
William T. Scott is professor of physics and director of the interdisciplinary project in the Philosophy of Inquiry at the University of Nevada.
A surface, not a line, of grace
Bounds fluid motion
(A man, a beast is not an empty form)
Myriad nerve-channels, like parachute cords
Bind the surface movement to the moving thought—
—Essentic form is born
And I sense in the moments true surfaced expression
One channel, one graceful line
To a point infinitely small
Giving weight to weight,
Time to time, continuity to experience
And asleep or awake I too sometimes seem
A point of nothing
Inserted in the masters expressive line
A point of contact of living breath
With the multicolored. evanescent scene—
Giving form to surface.
Riddle: It I seem so to me, and others see to be
What is the potential at my algorithm tree?
When I left home I told my son that I was going to address a group of distinguished theologians. My son was astonished. He said, The world really must be in bad shape if you are preaching to the theologs.
Well, perhaps the world is in bad shape and in some ways in worse shape than we seem to realize most of the time. We dare not always listen to the undertone of poignant sadness that comes from feeling how wonderful the world could be compared with what it is. We sense it only from time to time. This deepest sadness—a sorrow greater than any I know—is a result of knowing about the blessedness of life, and the failure to actualize the potential for this which probably exists in all of us.
What I have to say to you relates to how our new scientific work gives rise to the hope that shadows of our civilization obscuring beauty and its power will gradually lift—shadows that hide some aspects of mans nature—and that these aspects will bring him into loving harmony with the order of nature greater than himself, in which he is immersed, and so also with his fellow man. For man, like all life, is a potential, and he is always, at any time, only a fragment of that potential. …
Manfred Clynes is chief research scientist and director of the Biocybernetics Laboratories, Rockland State Hospital Research Center. Orangeburg. New York. He is also a distinguished concert pianist.