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Conference Proceeding

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Systems theory, Metaphysics, Science and religion, Theodicy


'Systems theory' is familiar to many as the scientific enterprise that includes the study of chaos, networks, and complex adaptive systems. It is less widely appreciated that the systems research program offers a world view that transcends the individual scientific disciplines. We do not live, as some argue, in a post-metaphysical age, but rather at a time when a new metaphysics is being constructed. This metaphysics is scientific and derives from graph theory, information theory, non-linear dynamics, decision theory, game theory, generalized evolution, and other transdisciplinary theories. These 'systems' theories focus on form and process, independent of materiality; they are thus relevant to both the natural and social sciences and even to the humanities and the arts. Concerned more with the complex than the very small or very large, they constitute a metaphysics that is centered in biology, and thus near rather than far from the human scale.

Systems metaphysics forges a unity of science based on what is general instead of what is fundamental; it is thus genuinely about everything. It counters the nihilism of narrow interpretations of science by affirming the link between fact and value and the reality of purpose and freedom in the natural world. It offers scientific knowledge that is individually useful as a source of insight, not merely societally useful, as a source of technology. With the new world view that it brings, systems metaphysics contributes to the recovery of cultural coherence. It builds a philosophical bridge between science and religion that is informed by our understanding of living systems. It suggests a secular theodicy in which imperfection is lawful yet perfecting is always possible, and uses this perspective to analyze religions as systems. It provides scientific insights into traditional religious concepts, including those ideas that guide spiritual practice.


Paper presented at Metanexus 2007: "Transdisciplinarity and the Unity of Knowledge: Beyond the Science- Religion Dialog," June 2-6, Philadelphia, PA.

The conference presentation that the conference proceeding article derived from is located here:

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