Re: [asa] More Michael Polanyi

From: Don Nield <>
Date: Sun Jan 20 2008 - 16:40:51 EST

A good Wikipedia article on Michael Polanyi is at
Polanyi was born in a Jewish family in Austria. He married in a Roman
Catholic ceremony in Germany. He later held a chair at the University of
He was a physical chemist who became a philosopher of science and later
had an interest in economics.
His philosophical ideas are most fully expressed in his Gifford lectures
published as Personal Knowledge (U. Chicago Press, 1958). Other
noteworthy books are The Tacit Dimension (Doubleday, 1967) and Knowing
and Being (U. Chicago Press, 1969).
Polanyi argued that positivism encourages the belief that science ought
to be directed by the State. Polanyi embraced the existence of objective
truth but he criticised the notion that there is something called the
scientific method which enables science to supply us with truths in a
mechanical fashion. Instead, he argued that all knowledge is personal,
and as such relies upon fallible commitments. Observers cannot remove
themselves from their observations and judgements. However, our tacit
awareness connects us with realities.
Polanyi's article "Life transcending physics and chemistry" in the
Chemical and Engineering News , 21 August 1967, influenced Charles
Thaxton and had a seminal effect in the ID movement. His article also
influenced Neil Broom, How Blind is the Watchmaker? (Intervarsity Press,
2nd ed., 2001). Dembski and Gordon formed "The Michael Polanyi Center"
at Baylor University but the name was abandoned in 2000. A Baylor U.
committee reported that "It is quite appropriate to associate the name
of Michael Polanyi with discussions of science and religion. However,
Polanyi explicitly indicated that he did not think that an agency such
as that implied by claims of intelligent design need to be invoked when
dealing with the growth in complexity of the living world over aeons
past (Personal Knowledge, p. 395)". Dembski accepted an invitation to
present a paper at the Polanyi Society's annual meeting in 2003 but
later withdrew. The meeting went ahead, and three scholars independently
came to the conclusion that Polanyi would not support the "Intelligent
Design" project. Their presentation were published in Zygon, vol. 40
(2005), no. 1. For more details see
Polanyi's 1967 article in Chem. Engrg. News pointed out some limitations
of reductionist arguments in biology. However, his discussion is now

James Mahaffy wrote:
> Folks,
> I am updating an annotated bibliography that deals with science and Christianity. I shared the bibliography with the Christian geologists and biologists but not with the ASA list [I did not want the url to be publically archived]. In any case, someone was nice enough to suggest I should add Michael Planyi to the list. I have not read him but I seem to think he is important. In any case, can someone help with my annotation (given below).
> I am interested in knowing if this is a book that college science majors should be aware of and what was the major contribution of Plany. Was he a Christian? Just a few sentences would help. I would like to hand out the updated bibliography Monday morning so a quick response from someone would be appreciated.
> I will cc this to the Christian biology list.
> Michael Polanyi 1967 (1983 reprint) The Tacit Dimension. Doubley.* I gather that Polanyi made some very important contributions on how science works. This is one of the better books to get a feel for his thought. JFM
> James Mahaffy ( Phone: 712 722-6279
> 498 4th Ave NE
> Biology Department FAX : 712 722-1198
> Dordt College, Sioux Center IA 51250-1697
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Received on Sun Jan 20 16:42:14 2008

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