Nudging John Polkinghorne


John Polkinghorne proposes that God interacts with the world by feeding information into chaotic systems. This influences the course of these systems and, since they underlie what goes on in the world, enables God to influence the world. While I applaud Polkinghorne’s insistence that God interacts physically with the world, his model for this faces several problems. Some of these he might rectify, but others look quite thorny. I also suggest an alternative God-world relation where God is the world-as-a-whole. This includes many of the benefits of Polkinghorne’s central chaos idea and avoids its problems.

John Polkinghorne’s contribution to the anthology, Religion and Science: History, Method, Dialogue (Polkinghorne 1996), restates and develops his ideas on how God relates to the world. The key to his approach is the idea of chaotic systems that he thinks make up much of the world: God feeds information into them and so interacts with the world. Polkinghorne’s paper in the anthology elaborates this image – which I call ‘the information-into-chaos route’ – in several new ways.

Polkinghorne’s work excites me. Perhaps I resonate because we stand in the same religious and scientific traditions. Further, it does not satisfy me to insist that God mysteriously interacts with the world. The same holds for the beliefs that God works through a person’s innermost subjective self and that God acts in history. I want to know how God interacts with the physical world, here and now. Polkinghorne tells me how. Yet I feel uneasy with what he says.

My comments focus on the backbone of Polkinghorne’s proposal: the nature of chaotic systems and how God interacts with them. By probing Polkinghorne’s understanding of the God-world interaction, I hope to help him further develop and rate his model.

Not that I agree with it. He revises, but still holds traditional theism, and looks to chaos theory to help him understand how God might interact with the world. My criticism of his stance I take within his paradigm. I finally have to say, though, that I prefer another stance, one that more closely associates God and the world than Polkinghorne would allow. I also indicate how the model I prefer might handle the problems I raise with Polkinghorne’s.

To Explain Individual Acts of Intervention

Does God interact with the world only by feeding information into chaotic systems? How does this explain individual acts of intervention, for example the resurrection or miracles? Perhaps the information-into-chaos route is too general and weak to explain specific events of such surprise. Polkinghorne’s model may wane if it cannot explain important acts of God or if it makes shaky assumptions when it tries to do so.

Polkinghorne recognizes this question in his paper and points to his answer published elsewhere (Polkinghorne 1996). There he writes that to understand miracles and the resurrection requires a larger framework of meaning. God always behaves in the same ways, but we usually cannot make out God’s logic. This action of God resembles phase changes, Polkinghorne writes; for example, the change of water into steam at boiling point. While water suddenly appears to act differently, it really does not. There exists a larger framework of natural law than what appears between freezing and boiling, at which point the curtain opens to reveal its ongoing action. This larger law says water is a liquid with all the properties of that phase, until it boils into steam. It then has other properties.

Polkinghorne thinks that God’s interaction with the world usually moves along the information-into-chaos route. Similarly to how natural law unfolds the various properties of water, however, a larger but consistent scheme exists that says God acts in the information-into-chaos way only in some circumstances. Under certain other conditions, according to Polkinghorne, the larger perspective says God acts differently, in unexpected and miraculous ways (Polkinghorne 1989b: 51). The dead come back to life.

The ‘phase change’ explanation of Polkinghorne is difficult to accept. He now invokes God’s mysterious action. Several points express this difficulty. To start with, the larger scheme that Polkinghorne refers to comes from theology and the chaos situation from science (Polkinghorne 1989b: 51-52). He imports an explanation from one field into another without examining and justifying this process.

Second, Polkinghorne does not say how God acts in these unexpected ways – the point of the information-into-chaos theory is to say how God interacts with the world. Is it by direct action in the world? Could a medically inexplicable reprieve from a fatal disease come from God’s intervention? Yet Polkinghorne designed his chaos route precisely to avoid this type of action. He does not like it.

If Polkinghorne wants the ‘phase change’ explanation, why does he have the new and suspicious scientifically based information-into-chaos idea of God’s interaction? It is redundant. This is my third point. The mystery of the larger framework overrides the careful working out of the chaos model. God could achieve the divine purposes more directly.

Fourth, what does Polkinghorne’s information-into-chaos model explain? The answer: God’s interaction with the world. What does God actually do in this? If God does something specific and hence miraculous, Polkinghorne would use the larger divine scheme as an explanation. So God must use it to influence every event in the world. Then Polkinghorne faces the traditional problem for theology of ‘evil.’ If each event involves God, why does each person feel the effects of ‘evil,’ for instance pain and death? God’s constant interaction and involvement with every event is weak if, in every person’s life, evil overcomes it. So maybe the information-into-chaos interaction also ought to explain specific acts of God.

As a child, I watched vegetables growing in the garden, and saw them picked and prepared for eating. I grew many myself. The garden and I felt at one; I sensed it as real. Suppose my parents answered the question of my origin with the ‘under the cabbage leaf’ story. I could have related to this response; it would have made sense to me. Polkinghorne’s idea of a larger framework of meaning strikes me similarly because the church has saturated and still saturates many young people with the idea of mystery. ‘You cannot know the mind of God. The Lord works in mysterious ways.’ Yet this and the garden explanation are weak because neither carry youngsters through the realities that face them in adolescence. They want to see the promised concrete and certain acts of God.

This powerful and orthodox appeal to a greater understanding, God’s will, often appears in explanations of how God relates to the world. I hope that Polkinghorne’s theology need not take this last ditch stand. Rather, Polkinghorne might rethink his angle on individual acts of God, maybe by developing the information-into-chaos idea further. Perhaps a clue lies in the phase change analogy. Compare, for instance, water and steam. They consist of the same matter, just organized differently. Since organization and structure are types of information, one could say water and steam differ because they contain different information. Similarly for God’s information-into-chaos interaction with the world and God’s individual acts. God feeds different types of information into chaotic systems for each mode of action.

The Information-Into-Chaos Model and Creation

Polkinghorne needs to explain another individual act of God, this time not a miracle in the usual sense or the resurrection or the eschaton. It is the grandparent of all individual acts of God, the initial creation of the universe. Does Polkinghorne’s information-into-chaos model appropriately handle creation? His proposal speaks to the continuous activity of God’s creativity, the contingency of everything. God constantly informs the chaotic systems that Polkinghorne thinks form a base for most of what goes on in the world. Understanding the initial creation differs from this. Yet Polkinghorne might already have several useful tools for the task. Quantum-level phenomena hold the key to the creation of the universe, and Karl Young and others might help work out the relation between chaos and quantum theory (Young 1996).

Divine creation includes both the nurturing and the conception of the universe. To understand a child, we need to know about her or his home and environment, parental influences, and so on. We also need to know the biological side: the input from parental genes, for instance. Similarly for the universe and God – and chaos theory may help explain both.

God Could Act Through Other Systems

While chaotic systems lend themselves to God’s interaction, other open events also provide space for God. So Polkinghorne must tell why he only takes chaotic systems as the locus of God’s interaction. John Barrow speaks to this in his review of Polkinghorne’s Science and Providence (Barrow 1991; Polkinghorne 1989b). Chaos ruptures traditional determinism to form a gap through which God might act. Yet it may not allow as much flow as other breaches, Barrow suggests. Even Newtonian systems show enough openness that, in principle, God could act in them. The theory may say determinism holds sway, but when scientists apply it, they always recognize its lack of precision.

Edward Ott and John Sommerer work on simple classical systems governed by Newton’s laws and whose behavior they can easily predict. Interestingly, though, these systems can be quite sensitive to initial conditions (Peterson 1993a). They differ from the chaos situation because it is possible to predict their behavior and they are not chaotic. Yet, in the words of chaos theory, they can have several attractors and the initial points leading to each can nestle close together. As these systems are not special, the commentator Ivars Peterson adds, this type of behavior could exist everywhere.

So the question to Polkinghorne becomes: Why say God acts in chaotic systems when nonchaotic, predictable systems also can be open and God could similarly act in them? Polkinghorne might extend his theory and have God act in a wider range of systems, but still use information input as the way God acts.[1]

Chaotic Systems as the Keys to Explanations

The idea that everything happening in the world depends on chaotic systems also intrigues me. To what extent do chaotic systems underlie what goes on in the world? Does Polkinghorne just suppose they pervade all and that by influencing them God can permeate every fiber of the world?[2] Does it compare to the pinch of salt that seasons every spoonful of a soup? If not and chaos does not touch much of the world, Polkinghorne needs to show how God interacts with the other pieces too. Perhaps, the discussion in the above section about predictable systems might answer this.

Information Influences Chaotic Events

I turn to a series of points that ask Polkinghorne to detail further his information-into-chaos model. They could force the model to break down, but that is not my hope.

What does it mean to say information can or does influence chaotic events? How might information influence the events?

Joseph calls me on the phone and imparts his woes. His wife feels so depressed: she does not pick up or clean anything, he complains, leaves the kids screaming and filthy, does not prepare the meals. From his perspective, he comes home from work exhausted but has to spend a couple of hours on the house and children, let alone trying to appease and help her. She refuses to go to counselling or see a psychologist. She just continues spiralling down. He adds that she is always mad at him. My opinion of him is low and I distrust his report; I imagine he shares at least half the blame.

What can I say? He asks for advice. He has tried everything. I suggest something, anything: how about leaving her, start a new life. I think to myself that this may help her. He thinks about it.

A couple of weeks later, he calls again. Life feels a little better. His voice has some spark and lost its dead and slow monotone. She is the same, but he is coping better. Yes, the job is on the rocks too, but he will manage. Later still, she is on medication, he has a new job, and life has a future.

I fed information into that chaotic situation. What direct effect did I have on it? None, apparently. My information aimed at a particular outcome. But this did not happen. My role was to listen, not advise.

Does information fed into a chaotic event influence the outcome and, if so, how does it do this?

Small Variations Act Like Information

This next point unearths even more the roots of Polkinghorne’s model. In his paper, he writes that the minute differences in the initial conditions of a chaotic system are ‘akin to “informational input”’ (Polkinghorne 1996: 247, emphasis mine). They are not information, but are like it. The rest of the paper then reads as if they were information. I take him to mean that God does supply information to chaotic systems. But, in what ways do the small variations act like information and in what ways do they not? Polkinghorne might explore the limits of the analogy to make sure he and everyone else do not overstep its bounds when they use it in theology. If a husband tells his wife that his love for her is like a ‘red, red rose,’ he does not mean it has a green stalk with thorns, that it will wither, and that its petals will fall off.

Many of the points I raise may have come to my mind because Polkinghorne does not detail the analogy.

Understanding and Processing Information

For a chaotic system to respond to incoming data, it has to understand them. It has to perceive them as information. Suppose I turn on my radio to the weather forecast and I hear the clicking sounds of a Kung! Bushman, nothing else. Data come from the radio but not, for me, information. I would not know whether to take my umbrella, snow shoes, or bathing suit. It is no good sending a chaotic system the equivalent to the African’s clicks.

Can God send information to a system so it ‘hears’ the ‘noise’ as information?

Similarly, the chaotic system has to process the information. It also may have to store it and then respond. Polkinghorne might say whether or not chaotic systems have these capacities. He must think that God supplies each system with information it can use. If each requires a different type of information, heaven must house a gigantic data base and innumerable specialist angels constantly informing the systems.

The Influence of Information on a Chaotic System

Suppose I know the answers to the above questions about chaotic systems. Then I would want to know what they could produce of a personal nature from the information God feeds into them. This question breaks into several points.

To start with, I want to know what influence information fed into a chaotic system might have. Polkinghorne assumes that information can influence the outcome of these systems, but he has not said what actually results.

Some time ago, publications listed how energy fed into certain chaotic systems can influence and control what comes out of them (Amato 1993; Brown 1992; Ditto and Pecora 1993; Langreth 1991; ‘Of Elephants and Butterflies’ 1992; Peterson 1993b; Shinbrot, Grebogi, Ott, and Yorke 1993). Chaotic techniques can stabilize lasers, electronic circuits, and the hearts of animals. Interestingly, it requires less energy to control and use chaotic systems than non-chaotic ones; for instance, chaos helps send information signals at much lower energies than regularly needed. Further, it makes the messages received clearer than those sent normally.

The success of these techniques comes from the extreme sensitivity of chaotic systems to tiny changes. A nudge to a system can put it into initial conditions from which it develops to some desired state. A nudge another way can lead to a different result.

I have two further remarks from the world of technology. First, these uses of chaos involve energy input rather than the introduction of energy-less information. This comes up in a later discussion.

The second points to my confusion. A chaotic system is extremely sensitive to initial conditions and no one knows precisely what initial conditions it actually has. Hence, we cannot predict what state it will end in. To Polkinghorne, this means the system is open, unpredictable in principle. On the other hand, the uses of chaos suggest we can maneuver some systems to get out of them what we want. That is not openness. I do not understand Polkinghorne’s position. Maybe there is a little slack in how precisely we can get a system to certain initial conditions. A little slack, so that most of the time the desired result occurs. While I wait for the solution, I temporarily and partly agree with Polkinghorne: chaotic systems are open, which I take to mean we can never pin down what they will do.

The problem becomes even more complex. We cannot predict what will happen when a particular piece of information goes into a chaotic system. That ‘we’ includes God. Not even God can know in advance what a chaotic system will do with the information fed into it. Polkinghorne acknowledges this and agrees that God is not omniscient (Polkinghorne 1996).[3] But then, why would God spend all of time feeding information into system after system, not knowing if any would help achieve the divine will? They might even act against it. Is this a nonsense God? The situation smacks of an eternal punishment in hell for the wayward spinner of a roulette wheel.

Personal Situations and Chaotic Systems

In the previous section, I described technological or mechanical systems: communication signals, electronics, lasers, and so on. Does God want to work with this type of system and outcome? Remember that, according to Polkinghorne, theology ‘speaks of God using the personal language of “Father” and not the impersonal language of “Force”’ (Polkinghorne 1996: 243). God finds personal situations more important than the weather in Addis Ababa or New York. So Polkinghorne probably hopes that experimenters will one day isolate and influence more human-like or personal chaotic systems. But he jumps from the influence of physical chaos to affecting situations that involve persons. At present, the information-into-personal chaos route for God’s actions remains speculative.

Suppose that some chaotic systems do have personal results. What type of information needs feeding into them for this to happen? Can God (or humans, for that matter) do this feeding?

Different types of information exist. Information to humans can come in different sorts. A bus timetable tells roughly when my son could catch a bus from a nearby convenience store to arrive at work on time. Compare that with the information I receive from my wife when her face has a certain look and her walk a certain prance and her voice a little lift. This tells me she feels happy, the work day went well, aches and pains are not troubling her, and life is going well. I can expect I can joke with her and she will enjoy it, that it is a good evening to walk and talk about hopes and dreams, and that we will enjoy sitting together reading and feeding each other the interesting tidbits we come across. I cannot codify that type of information as I could that on the bus’s movements.

To have something personal come out of a chaotic system, does this personal type of information need to go in? And anyway, do these systems accept this type of information?

Relating Chaos to Persons to God

An important assumption behind this relates chaos to persons. Polkinghorne takes it for granted that chaotic systems characterize humanness. This makes him emphasize three ideas: chaos as the base of what goes on in the world, God’s role in chaos, and the language of persons as that to use for God. His assumption is premature. Now is too early to jump all the way onto the band wagon of chaos, to follow the large and enthusiastic crowd of those who popularize science. If I were him, I would wait for a thorough study of person-like systems that uses the ideas of chaos.

There is more. Maybe God’s interest does lie chiefly in situations characterized by persons. If so, what does God’s information-into-chaos action do with these systems? I am not sure Polkinghorne answers this, besides saying God ‘guides’ the world in a general and undefined sense (Polkinghorne 1996). He should describe how information can influence chaos toward ends he thinks God would want to do. Otherwise, there is no reason to pursue this investigation.

Creating the Data for Chaotic Systems

Suppose God does take the information-into-chaos route. This requires that God create the information and send it in a physical form. Now the God-world relation question and the causal joint problem move right back into center stage. How does God create that physical data that, to the chaotic system, becomes information?

I speak Italian poorly. In Rome, I wanted to know the directions to the airport. I could not find any signs, not even from the main railroad station. But I did find an information booth. The man in the booth did not understand my English, however, or my clouded Italian. Aerobic sign language and appropriate sound effects conveyed the message of ‘airport,’ and out printed a chart with (I think) instructions on how to get to it. The information was in Italian. I could not escape the language loop.

Polkinghorne creates a loop. To solve the problem of how God might act in the world, Polkinghorne says God acts in the world. Information requires data, a way to send it, and a medium in which to transfer it. These are physical phenomena. Perhaps, as an alternative, his explanation expects data to appear suddenly out of nothing, by miracle. They then feed into the morass of chaotic systems which, he thinks, form the basis of the world. To say that goes against his desire not to have a magician God. The problem remains.

Energy Problems

Polkinghorne thinks he has solved the causal joint problem. It does not require energy transfer, he thinks, for God to send information and a unit of a lower level to receive and process it. ‘God influences God’s own creation in a non-energetic way’ (Polkinghorne 1991: 233; see also Polkinghorne 1989b: 32). Oliver Barclay disagrees: not everyone sees a basic difference between information input and energy input (Barclay 1992: 128). And Arthur Peacocke writes that the input of information probably does require energy (Peacocke 1990: 207 n.62). It takes energy to store information, for instance – a point Stephen Hawking makes (Hawking 1987: 46-49; 1988: 14). On the other hand, the idea of information does differ from that of energy. But, Peacocke adds, ‘in the real world’ a transfer of information involves a matter or energy exchange. The causal joint problem will not go away.

As I mentioned above, Polkinghorne’s information-into-chaos solution assumes the receiver has the means to store, process, and understand the information. It then has to act on it. Hawking and Peacocke do not cover all the problems.

When a student asks me for a reference, the asking and hearing transfers information and not, in principle, energy. But it does require energy from me to place the request in a pile of work to do, to remember it, retrieve it later, think about it, type it up, correct the spelling errors, print it out, lick the stamps and envelope, and mail it out. The request does not transfer energy, but initiates activities in which I use energy. And since my day was already full, this additional work makes me use more energy than I would have had. To take the analogy further, suppose my son looks over my shoulder and sees me frantically completing the reference. Not knowing the request, he might ask why this extra work.

The chaotic system that receives the information uses extra energy to receive, process, and act on it. Note the word ‘extra.’ Suppose God does inform the system and this does make a difference. Observers might not detect God’s information but would notice the extra energy use. They would have to ask why the system behaves as if it had received information. Either the system has gone crazy or it has a causal joint problem. To rely on information flow does not solve the causal joint problem.

In a review of Peacocke’s ideas, Polkinghorne dismisses his colleague’s concern that an ‘input of divine information’ requires a ‘divine input of energy.’ That would happen only if the world and God were the same sort of things, subject to the same rules (Polkinghorne 1992: 37). The problem is not that God has to supply energy, but that the chaotic system has an energy dilemma. One could say the energy comes from God. But that is not the focus of the problem. Does Polkinghorne think the divine information fed into the system differs radically from all other information? Does he assume spiritual information smothers energy imbalances without anyone noticing? I doubt he would. Even the cash the tooth fairy slips under the pillow has to come from a regular bank. The information God supplies must be the same as regular information and operate under the same rules.

Polkinghorne and Peacocke

I find it interesting to compare Polkinghorne’s and Peacocke’s ideas, and to note how they develop in tandem. Peacocke now talks about a holistic model for the God-world interaction in which God works in a top-down manner (Peacocke 1990). Polkinghorne’s paper follows this top-down track too. While Peacocke does not detail a model, Polkinghorne details his and both write that God acts via information.

Peacocke sees God acting on the world-as-a-whole which in turn acts on its parts. The causal joint in this view lies between God and the world-as-a-whole. Peacocke’s question becomes how God might influence – which means: feed information into – the world-as-a-whole, without putting in matter or energy (Peacocke 1990: 164).

The World-as-a-Whole

Peacocke’s move does not solve the causal joint problem within the world, however, because now the discussion centers on the world-as-a-whole acting on its parts. This opens many questions. To start with, the idea of the world-as-a-whole does not rally acceptance as a regular entity subject to normal energy conservation laws. Further, how wholes act on their parts and the nature of their emergent properties are empirical matters open to investigation. They help form a research program on holism – which also could include an investigation into the world-as-a-whole. Still, the causal joint problem here may hold more promise of a solution than in Polkinghorne’s scheme.

Polkinghorne proposes that ‘the physical the operation of holistic pattern-forming agencies which can be thought of as “active information” (presently not described in detail)’ (Polkinghorne 1996: 247).[4] I agree. Now, how might the world-as-a-whole act on the parts of the world? Each model for this starts with a holistic activity within the world and extends it to cover the whole. The information-into-chaos image of Polkinghorne offers an example. The world-as-a-whole acts on its parts by feeding information into the chaotic systems of the world.

A second model comes from Peacocke: Roger Sperry’s understanding of how the mind, brain, and body relate (Peacocke 1990: 207 n.62). The mind, Sperry says, equals the brain-as-a-whole. It acts on the parts of the brain, the neurons for instance, which in turn affect the body. The world-as-a-whole acts on the world like the brain-as-a-whole acts on the body.

The third example – and by no means the last possible holistic model – comes from David Bohm and Basil Hiley (Bohm and Hiley 1993; see also Sharpe 1993). In their picture, the ‘active information’ carried by the ‘quantum potential’ guides the behavior of an elementary particle such as an electron.[5] They compare it to how the information in radar waves guides the course a ship steers. The potential not only acts in a holistic way on the electron and its surrounding particles, but on every particle everywhere. The model says what the information is physically and how it influences the electron. The world-as-a-whole could use a medium like the quantum potential to influence the behavior of everything in the world.

The idea of the world-as-a-whole needs a lot of thought. What supports the suggestion that the world-as-a-whole acts on its parts by using information-into-chaos – or any other means? What can we properly say about the world-as-a-whole and what can we not? For instance, does the world-as-a-whole have a color?

An Alternative Approach

I think of the world-as-a-whole as God. Then God’s actions – modelled perhaps on one or more of the above holistic mechanisms – connect intimately with what happens in the world. More research needs doing on this idea and a couple of paragraphs here can only cast a few seeds.

Take one of the problems with Polkinghorne’s model: the need for God to send information to the chaotic systems. The causal joint moves from the chaotic systems to the place where God transmits the information. Polkinghorne does not escape the problem. He may never get out of it, in fact, because he starts with the thought that God lies outside the world.[6] God has to get from the outside to the inside – Polkinghorne’s task is to understand how God could do this without intervening in the world. Further, the inside, the world, does not depend on God’s actions to function. God may enhance it, but its day to day operation does not need God. I suspect that, in this picture, God cannot get from the outside to the inside.

Similarly, I could not teach any of my children to crawl. They crawled because their biology made them and told them how. And I cannot get to their insides. Yet, in another sense there is no outside and inside. I am inside my children for they have my genes. When her mother tells my older daughter that she is like her father because she studies hard and has scholastic gifts, it is not that I taught her. Half the planet has separated us for many years. The connection between us lies beyond the ideas of outside and inside.

Neither do I accept the outside/inside theology. Rather, I think God is the world-as-a-whole and acts top-down in the world. I try to solve the problem of how God acts by saying God contains the world and that natural laws describe some of God’s work.[7] No longer does God stand on the outside trying to act on the inside of a self-contained world. And God does not relate to the world at particular places, for they interact at every place.

This image leads to several useful ideas. Note, for example, that the God-world causal joint takes the same form as that raised by any whole acting on its parts.

My suggestion also raises problems, of course. Polkinghorne asks several when he discusses the model that pictures the world as God’s body (see Polkinghorne 1989b: 18-23; 1996). I attempt to answer his points elsewhere (Sharpe 2000).

Yet my model keeps many of the significant benefits of Polkinghorne’s. For instance, he wants his theory to emphasize two freedoms. He stresses, first, the liberty of the world to develop as its processes allow. The second has creatures like ourselves able to do what we want. Polkinghorne thinks his model achieves these (Polkinghorne 1996). My theory also has them because it pictures the interactions between the world-as-a-whole (God) and its parts in a similar way. God interacts top-down within open systems, for instance like the brain-as-a-whole affects the body. As the body usually acts free of mental direction, so the world usually behaves without God appearing to direct it.[8] My model supports Polkinghorne’s freedoms.


What might we conclude about Polkinghorne’s theory? He usually finds models for God’s interaction with the world hollow: ‘talk of top-down causation (however phrased) is no more than the utterance of slogans whose conceivable validity is completely unclear’ (Polkinghorne 1991: 234). As he presents it in his paper, his information-into-chaos theory is not empty. One can judge its validity, as I have done. Scientific questions appear over his use of scientific models. Theological ones do too.

Much work lies between the early presentations of Polkinghorne’s model and its form after working on the questions. I do not want this process to empty his ideas. But to achieve a better model, he should pay attention to the difficulties. And he should avoid theological conjuring tricks – I am thinking of his invoking a wider framework to explain individual acts of God. His model might surpass those metaphysical sleights of hand not really rooted in science.

Polkinghorne’s model makes a good start or hypothesis, but now it needs much more exploration. Otherwise, it steals God in before an audience dazzled with the possibilities that might lie in the idea of chaos. We should not forget that Peacocke’s ‘chaos’ is a physics’ term. On the other hand, Polkinghorne deserves credit for a proposal rooted in science and open to development and empirical honing.


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Barclay, Oliver R. 1992. Reason and Reality: The Relationship Between Science and Theology by John C. Polkinghorne. Science and Christian Belief 4 (October): 127-129.

Barrow, John. 1991. Immortal, Invisible...not Really There?’ [Review of Science and Providence, by John Polkinghorne]. New Scientist 129 (9 February): 60-61.

Bohm, D. and B. J. Hiley. 1993. The Undivided Universe. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

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_________. 1988. A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes. New York: Bantam Books.

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Peacocke, Arthur. 1990. Theology for a Scientific Age: Being and Becoming – Natural and Divine. Signposts in Theology. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Peterson, I. 1993a. Finding Riddles of Physical Uncertainty. Science News 144 (18 September): 180.

_________. 1993b. Forwarding Information Via Controlled Chaos. Science News 143 (29 May): 341.

Polkinghorne, John. 1989a. Science and Creation: The Search for Understanding. Boston: Shambhala, New Science Library.

_________. 1989b. Science and Providence: God’s Interaction with the World. Boston: Shambhala, New Science Library.

_________. 1991. The Nature of Physical Reality. Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 26 (June): 221-236.

_________. 1992. Review of Theology for a Scientific Age: Being and Becoming – Natural and Divine, by Arthur Peacocke. Science and Religion Forum Reviews No. 20 (February): 36-37.

_________. 1996. Chaos Theory and Divine Action. In Richardson and Wildman 1966, pp. 243-252.

Richardson, W. Mark and Wesley J. Wildman, eds. 1996. Religion and Science: History, Method, Dialogue. New York: Routledge.

Sharpe, Kevin J. 1993. David Bohm’s World: New Physics and New Religion. Lewisburg, PA.: Bucknell University Press.

_________. 2000. Sleuthing the Divine: The Nexus of Science and Spirit. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Shinbrot, Troy, Celso Grebogi, Edward Ott, and James A. Yorke. 1993. Using Small Perturbations to Control Chaos. Nature 363 (3 June): 411-417.

Young, Karl. 1996. Deterministic Chaos and Quantum Chaology. In Richardson and Wildman 1966, pp. 227-242.

End Notes

[1]Similarly, God could act through the openness of the quantum level. (This indeterminism differs from the openness of chaotic or classical systems; see the discussion in Young 1996.) On the other hand, Polkinghorne (1989a: 58; 1989b: 27) agrees with the now accepted position that quantum events have little to do with those associated with God’s actions or with free will decisions.

[2]Compare with Young (1996: 13-14).

[3]This would then answer Peacocke’s criticism (1990: 154-155) that Polkinghorne’s model pictures God as intervening in the world.

[4]Note that the thesis of Polkinghorne might not assume that information-into-chaos is the only holistic way to influence the world.

[5]Their use of this term precedes Polkinghorne’s (for instance, Polkinghorne 1996).

[6]This is one of the reasons why the human operator differs from God – the human is part of the world.

[7]See Polkinghorne (1989b: 38) for a similar position on scientific laws.

[8]Polkinghorne would dislike this image; see his (1989b: 18-24), for instance.

Emerging Church Economics

There are too many errors in this book for unsophisticated readers. McLaren’s book has value only to readers who recognize the mistakes but are willing to learn about a position that springs from ideology and a theological framework. For me, the emerging church movement is enough to consider by itself without flawed economics intertwined

Mordecai Kaplan: Rethinking Judaism for the New World

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