The relevance of emergence theory in the science-religion dialogue

Mikael Leidenhag

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this article, I call into question the relevance of emergence theories as presently used by thinkers in the science–religion discussion. Specifically, I discuss theories of emergence that have been used by both religious naturalists and proponents of panentheism. I argue for the following conclusions: (1) If we take the background theory to be metaphysical realism, then there seems to be no positive connection between the reality of emergent properties and the validity of providing reality with a religious interpretation, though one could perhaps construe an argument for the positive ontological status of emergence as a negative case for a religious worldview. (2) To be considered more plausible, religious naturalism should interpret religious discourse from the perspective of pragmatic realism. (3) Panentheistic models of divine causality are unable to avoid ontological dualism. (4) It is not obvious that emergent phenomena and/or properties are nonreducible in the ontological sense of the terms; indeed, the tension between weak and strong emergence makes it difficult for the emergentist to make ontological judgments. My general conclusion is that the concept of emergence has little metaphysical significance in the dialogue between science and theology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)966-983
Number of pages18
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 20 Nov 2013


  • emergence
  • religious naturalism
  • reductionism
  • panentheism


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