My friend Dr. Randy Isaac read my recent post about emergence and got in touch with me about it. Randy recently retired from a long stint as the Executive Director of the American Scientific Affiliation. A physical scientist and a pretty brilliant guy, Randy is the archetype of the perfect blend of science and faith. We became friends years ago, when I joined ASA and Randy often came to the Washington DC meetings.
As it turns out, Randy is writing a review for the ASA journal (PSCF) of a book by the famous physicist George Ellis that has a bearing on the subject of emergence. The review will appear in the June issue of the journal, and we will discuss it here when it appears. Ellis has written extensively on cosmology, theoretical physics and the nature of reality. His new book is titled How Can Physics Underlie the Mind? Top-Down Causation in the Human Context.
While I don’t have the book yet, the first chapter and contents are available on Amazon. Here is an excerpt from the first chapter:
Reductionism is the principle that all phenomena can be traced to lower level components, so that an object can be “reduced” to the sum of the materials that make it up, and each such component can be further reduced to its component molecules and atoms and then particles Reductionism is often an important part of atheistic philosophy, since it leaves no room for anything other than what we can measure and describe. But one need not be a theist to reject reductionism, as is demonstrated in Ellis work.
Here are a couple of blurbs for the book, written by people I know. Both are leaders in the Christian/science dialog:
I also came across a video of Ellis speaking at a symposium on causality, which I think gives a pretty good summary of his views (although it moves very quickly).
Ellis speaks of emergence as something apart from the reductionist laws of nature we are familiar with, but the ideas are scientific, with no reference to God or supernatural forces. He makes a strong case that the emergent complexity we see everywhere we look is not readily accountable by the reductionist paradigm of rational materialism as we know it. I think it is important to hear this from such an authority on the physics of the universe.
There will be another post on emergence once Randy’s review is published – and if we are lucky, we might get a guest post directly from him. And after I have read and hopefully understood (at least part of) Ellis’ book, I might have more to say about reductionism as well.