POLKINGHORN, John  "So just exactly what is a person?" Church of England Newspaper, Friday March 10, 2000

John Polkinghorn began as a Mathematics Professor at Cambridge University, and was later ordained as an Anglican minister. Here is an extract from his article relating to the resurrection:

"There's something more to us than the merely material. But whatever that extra is, it is intimately connected with our bodies. We are a kind of package-deal, mind and body closely related and not wholly detachable from each other. It's a puzzle to understand this. Oddly enough, the clue we need may be found in watching water being heated in a saucepan.

It the heat is applied gently, the water circulates from the bottom in a remarkable pattern. Instead of just flowing about any old how, it forms a pattern of six-sided cells, rather like a beehive. This is an astonishing phenomenon. Trillions of molecules have to collaborate and move together in order to generate the pattern. The effect is an example of a new aspect of nature that scientists are just beginning to learn about. They call it complexity theory.

Physicists naturally started studying the simplest systems available. They are the easiest to understand. Recently, the use of high-speed computers has extended the scientific range and it is now possible to think about quite complicated situations. As this began to be explored, an unexpected realization dawned. Very often these complex systems turn out to have a quite simple overall behavior, ordered in some striking pattern - just like those trillions of molecules moving together in the saucepan.

The way physicists traditionally thought was in terms of the bits and pieces that make up a complex system. The exchanges of energy between these bits and pieces looks extremely complicated. However, it turns out that if you think about the system as a whole, there can be these remarkably orderly patterns of behavior. In other words, there are two levels of description. One involved energy and bits and pieces. The other involves the whole system and pattern. At this second level, using computer-speak, we can say that what we need to think about is the information that specifies the pattern.

What has this got to do with the human soul? Whatever the soul may be, it is surely the 'real me', linking that little boy of 60 years ago with the ageing academic of today. That real me is certainly not the matter of my body. That is changing all the time, through eating and drinking, wear and tear. We have very few atoms in our bodies that were there five years ago. What provides the continuity is the almost infinitely complex pattern in which matter is organized. That pattern is the soul, the real me.

It makes perfect sense to believe that God will remember the pattern that is you, or the pattern that is me, and recreate those patterns in the world to come. Christians call it resurrection."

In addition to the huge implications for our theology of the resurrection, the complexity theory described by John Polkinghorn enables us to take seriously the mind-body-soul picture typical of Old Testament Jewish thinking. We no longer think of our soul popping out of our body at death.

A week or two back I suggested that at death Jesus, as a mind-body-soul person, was immediately reconstituted by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11). And three days later I picture the body that was laid in Joseph of Arimathea's grave being disposed of by disintegration so it would never become an object of veneration.

Complexity theory is also relevant for model theology. We can view each of the perennial forms of religion or ideology in terms of information theory. Rather than focus on trying to explain this or that little bit of a particular religion we can set it in a typical pattern of thinking. And the Bible is designed to give us from many different angles the pattern of what humans are by nature, and what it means for us to be perfected in the image of God.

Quantum Entanglement - In the light of recent articles on Quantum Entanglement (e.g. James Glanz in the New York Times on using entanglement for totally unbreakable cryptology) the following was written.

The fact that trillions of molecules instantaneously organize themselves in a hexagon (beehive) pattern when water attains a certain temperature helps us illustrate the fact that every molecule of our present body is organized by our characteristic personal pattern for this life. At death that characteristic pattern ceases to organize our corpse.

But we can picture how the characteristic personal pattern that is me can instantly be organized to give me a totally recognizable resurrection body that is suited for heaven. That answers the materialist argument that death must logically terminate our existence as persons. Whether or not physicists can explain the phenomenon does not change the usefulness of the argument.

Similarly the phenomenon of quantum entanglement helps us theologically to picture how prayer might work. Two quantum events can apparently be entangled so that what happens in one also happens instantaneously in the other at an infinite distance. This has not yet been explained by physicists, but when they do, it will not change the usefulness of the theological illustration.

When physicists were able to use wave lengths to quantify the colours of the rainbow the gullible imagined the wonder and mystery had been explained away. It was no longer an act of God. But looking with awe and wonder at a rainbow the other day, I realized that physics has by no means eliminated the purpose of the Creator.

This illustrates Paul's point that "in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom" (1 Cor.1:21). And in particular the message of the cross (1 Cor.1:17) is a "demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (1 Cor. 2:4). The mysteries of complexity theory and quantum entanglement could perhaps help our theological explanation. The death of the Messiah on the cross brought to light the mystery of sacrifice (Colossians 1:26) in the mind of God. And the quantum event of the cross was instantly entangled with every person who ever lived or will live in our world (Colossians 1:20).

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