The Cambridge Companion to Science and Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 244–259
In this chapter, Nancey Murphy surveys a range of material mostly relating to the concept of emergence and its implications for divine action. As might be expected, she also discusses the place of reductionism in the sciences and how human freedom can be safeguarded. Following Galen Strawson, Murphy argues that the traditional debate between compatibilists and libertarians has reached an impasse, and that the more challenging issue is the possibility that higher-level systems (e.g. human behaviour) are absolutely determined by lower-level particularities (e.g. genes). Murphy does not believe that this is the case, for the emergence of complex systems (e.g. human persons) from lower-level parts and their environment (e.g. neural processes) admit of a combination of deterministic and indeterministic elements, where certain deterministic elements so constitute complex systems in ways that allow a system a form of control over its constituent parts. Thus the God–world relation, which is ‘the highest of complex systems’, indicates that God acts at the lowest level of created reality (the quantum) in order to ‘uphold [the] capacity for free [human] action.’ (p. 258).
While I do not agree with Murphy on every point (I don’t see how God’s action at the quantum level avoids the usual problems associated with divine action), I have no hesitation in commending this Cambridge Companion chapter as a decent intermediate summary of divine action and emergence.
About Providence, Divine Action and the Church
In this blog, Terry J. Wright posts thoughts and shares research on the Christian doctrine of providence. This doctrine testifies to God’s provision for all things through creation’s high priest, the man Christ Jesus. However, the precise meaning and manner of this provision is a perpetually open question, and this blog is a forum for discussion of the many issues relating to providence and the place of the Church within God’s action.