International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

All That Is: A Naturalistic Faith for the Twenty-First Century

by Arthur R. Peacocke

edited by Philip Clayton

Introductory Essay by Ian G. Barbour

Arthur Peacocke has been one of the most prominent authors on science and religion in the English-speaking world. He was a respected biochemist at Oxford before he studied theology and was ordained in the Anglican tradition. In 1971 he wrote the first of a succession of influential interdisciplinary books and articles. His most systematic volume, Theology for a Scientific Age (1993), is also included in this ISSR Library. All That Is (2007) is the clearest summary of his thought, written shortly before his death. Philip Clayton sent a draft of his manuscript to ten respondents for comments, to which Peacocke responded and added a moving farewell reflection.

In 53 pages Peacocke presents the main themes in three decades of his writing. He views organisms as a hierarchy of levels in which patterns of activity at higher levels influence activity at lower levels, not by violating lower-level laws, but by setting boundary conditions for them. He draws examples of “top-down causation” (or what he has more recently called “whole-part constraint”) from systems theory, complexity theory, self-organization, and non-linear thermodynamics, as well as from biology.

Peacocke then extends these ideas to theology, in which he thinks of God as the most inclusive whole. “Whole-part constraint” is Peacocke’s answer to the question raised by many authors in the ISSR Library; how might we conceive of God’s action in the world as understood by science? He goes on to defend panentheism, “the belief that the Being of God includes and penetrates the whole universe, so every part of it exists in God, and (as against pantheism) that His Being is more than and not exhausted by the  universe” [22]. This view emphasizes God’s immanence but allows for transcendence. For Peacocke, God is still a personal agent with intentions. God is affected by events in the world and participates in its suffering, notably in the life and death of Jesus, in which God’s self-emptying love is manifest. Jesus was a man so responsive to God that through him we can know God’s power in our lives. Peacocke finds “transforming grace” in the life of the religious community and hopes that, facing environmental destruction, we can see nature, like the eucharist, as pervaded by God’s presence.

Among the respondents, Keith Ward holds that Peacocke went too far in modifying classical Christianity, while Karl Peters and Willem Drees think he was too traditional in defending the idea of a personal God. Robert Russell holds that he should have given more attention to indeterminacy at the quantum level. Clayton’s response, along with his introduction to the volume, is helpful in clarifying Peacocke’s use of the term “naturalism” (referring to any view that rejects supernatural intervention), in contrast to the more common definition of naturalism (“nature is all there is”), which rules out all forms of theism. The volume is an accessible introduction to Peacocke’s thought and the responses put him in the context of alternative positions today.