Sunday, 7 October 2012

Active Information

I have read just about everything that John Polkinghorne has written in book form. I have long wanted a better understanding of his notion that God interacts with the world through “active information”. I have a bit of a problem understanding this term (not being a scientist) and coordinating it with the Biblical testimony. Of course, the Bible speaks of God working through his Word, in the creation narratives and in the New Testament. Certainly LOGOS is an active, rational, information bearing concept. But it seems to me that a deeper look into the Biblical narrative alerts us to other aspects of divine action that John deals with in his works that don’t immediately coordinate so well with the notion of active information: especially the power of God’s self-giving love, supremely shown on the Cross and the power of the Holy Spirit, which is of course God’s being in action. Perhaps one way of speaking about this is to say that God’s Love is always seeking shalom (a deep, peaceful relationality) in creation and in and specifically among humans.

I cannot help thinking of this in the context of a counseling session with a parishioner. Often people come in wanting a pastor to help them with a problem. Sometimes they actually want information, “What does the Bible say about this problem I am having?” But, my experience is that they also want a healing of sorts, a return to wholeness, perhaps a wholeness they have never felt. This, I think, is often communicated by the pastor/counselor not so much in what we say but in the presence of Divine Love we embody for a moment. I often speak of this as “Walking with a Person to the Cross where they do their business with God”. I am just there as a supporter and perhaps guide to get the person to the point where they experience the power (dunamis) of God. Yet, the person senses the presence of Agape Love in the encounter.

So, here is the question: “Is the “Active” part of Active Information the presence of God in Divine Love by the power of the Spirit?” and how does this modify what might be a kind of “computer system analogy” implicit in the notion of interjecting “Information”? I may be misunderstanding some aspect of “information” as it is used in physics.

Response:Thank you – you raise some very interesting points.

John uses the term “active information” in what he calls a “pre-socratic hand-waving sense” because we don’t really have the concepts yet to make it more precise. If we think of information written down in a book this is in a sense non-active and it’s fairly reasonable to think of it as simply being a property of a set of atoms and molecules. But when information is processed by our brains (for example) then it becomes active in the senses that (a) explanations of what is happening necessarily involve information and (b) the information is transformed both at the informational and physical levels.

You raise the interesting and deep point that in many contexts there may be a very deep level of activity in the active information through which the Spirit of God acts, and that often our role, especially in a pastoral context, is to become channels for this deep level of activity and shalom. I’m sure you are right.

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