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Autopoiesis: Less than Self-Constitution, More than Self-Organization: Reply to Gilkey, Mcclelland and Deltete, and Brun

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Replying to the variegated responses by theologian Langdon Gilkey, philosophers Richard McClelland and Robert Deltete, and biologist Rudolf B. Brun, I emphasize three elements of my theological use of autopoietic theory: (1) Autopoietic systems are less than self-constitutive, since they do not create themselves from scratch, but more than self-organizing, since they are capable of producing new elements inside the local system. Correspondingly, the theological importance of autopoietic theory is not found within the doctrine of a creation out of nothing but within the doctrine of non-uniform continuous creation. (2) Locating the concept of autopoiesis within third-generation systems theory, I underline the pluriform character of type-different systems; the possibility of giving a full causal account from the purview of any privileged single systems (including physics) is thus denied. (3) I distinguish between two complementary roles of theology in the dialogue between science and religion: whereas theology1 offers a participatory second-order description of the internal meaning of particular traditions of faith, theology2 provides a third-order inquiry into the external coherence between religious and nonreligious worlds of meaning. Theology2, however, always presupposes the internal descriptions of theology1. On this basis, my use of autopoietic theory is related to the theologies of creation and providence of Paul Tillich and Langdon Gilkey; likewise, I discuss various theological strategies for relating a theology of creation to standard interpretations of evolution.

Keywords: Alfred North Whitehead; Christian doctrine of creation; Langdon Gilkey; Niklas Luhmann; Paul Tillich; autopoiesis; divine causality; evolution; general and particular providence; structuring causality

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Aarhus, Aarhus C, Denmark Denmark,

Publication date: 1999-03-01

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