Emergence – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. When a system reaches a certain level of complexity, a new phenomenon emerges. It is the idea that if evolution keeps on adding ingredients to a biological system, it will finally transform itself into something new and qualitatively different from what existed before. The concept of Emergent Properties has been applied to the origin of life whereby a soup of organic chemicals becomes a metabolism and its emergent property is life.
The concept has also been applied to the question of humanness with the idea that in the course of evolution, when the brain reaches a certain threshold of complexity in neurons, consciousness emerges. Thus, the complex animal brain attains the emergent property of human thought, an example of which is belief.
The Concept of Emergent Properties and the ideas of Stuart Kauffman have been taken up recently by Theistic Evolutionists. Traditionally, Theistic Evolutionists have believed that God guided evolution such that chance events were not accidental. This would make God into an unseen agent of evolution. Today, it is generally affirmed by Theistic Evolutionists that God has not been an agent in evolution, and He has not caused the evolution of human beings. This was not necessary, they claim, because God knew that humans were going to emerge anyway due to the constraints on evolution (this was discussed in Chapter 8). The role that God plays is to gather in and embrace whatever has emerged, and lead it to an eschatological end (happy ending in heaven).
The role of chance in the coming into being of life has now mainly been replaced by the unknown law. This makes the origin of life seem easy again, in fact, inevitable! I think that those faithful to the unknown law will find themselves sacrificing on the altar of the unknown god.
Emergence certainly sounds good. But the details are less convincing. There are no mechanics behind it. I believe that Emergence will eventually join the science text books not as an explanation as to how phenomena came about, but more as a descriptive quality. This has also been the fate of the concept of Punctuated Equilibrium in palaeontology.