Physics, Complexity, and the Science—Religion Debate

George F. R. Ellis

in The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science

Published in print April 2008 | ISBN: 9780199543656
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Religion and Theology

Physics, Complexity, and the Science—Religion Debate


The extraordinarily successful reductionist approach of present-day physics is based on the concept of an isolated system. However, the physics approach tends to ignore three crucial features that enable the emergence of biological complexity out of the underlying physical substratum: namely, top-down action in the hierarchy of complexity; the causal efficacy of stored information; and the origin of biological information through evolutionary adaptation. Overall, it can be important in emphasizing all the dimensions of humanity as well as what we can access by scientific observations and theories. This can be an important integrative factor, helping us fully to see ourselves and the universe in which we live. The kinds of analysis of emergence and the limits of physics undertaken in this article can be helpful in this endeavour, providing support for understanding the reality of higher levels of meaning and affirming multiple levels and natures of existence.

Keywords: humanity; emergence; physics limitations; existence; isolated system; biological system

Article.  7855 words. 

Subjects: Religion ; Religion and Science

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