page last updated 03.15.2000 



advancing the understanding of science

Naturalism Conference

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Purpose of Center

Michael Polanyi

The Directors


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The Michael Polanyi Center derives its name from the physical chemist and philosopher Michael Polanyi (1891-1976). Polanyi was a world-class physical chemist who turned to philosophy at the height of his scientific career because he was dismayed at the abuses and restrictions that materialist philosophy, especially in its Marxist guise, was inflicting on scientific research. The influential approach to the philosophy of science he articulated in response to this crisis was thoroughly non-reductive in character. He illustrated how philosophical, religious, psychological, sociological, and scientific concerns interact to affect each other's development, arguing that each perspective is essential and that none can be reduced to any other. Polanyi extended this multi-leveled analysis into his discussion of complexity in nature, arguing, for example, that the sort of complexity exhibited in biology could never be reduced to the laws of physics and chemistry. The information content of a biological whole exceeds that of the sum of its parts. His concern for the unhealthy effects of philosophical naturalism in science, his recognition that reductionism as a universal strategy in the sciences must fail, his emphasis on the need for multiple levels in the understanding of any phenomenon, and his realization that there needs to be a significant dialogue between science and religion, make Michael Polanyi the ideal representative for the center that bears his name.