Overview: Being and Becoming in Physics

The emphasis of this dialogical structure is on Being and Becoming in nature (physis in Greek). This is an ancient debate that began in pre-Socratic Greece, c. 500 BC. Although it is not strictly speaking a theological debate, its conclusion provided conceptual material that was useful in the development of the Christian theology of nature.

The exaggerations were developed first, as follows:

Being: Nature cannot change, as Being cannot become non-Being. Therefore all nature is one fixed and unchangeable Being. (Parmenides).

Becoming: Nature is a continuous flux of change; nothing is permanent. Fixed forms or beings are an illusion. Becoming alone is real. (Heraclitus).

The dialogical resolution of the debate between followers of Parmenides and Heraclitus provided one of the necessary metaphysical foundations for modern physics. If nature is a fixed and stable Being, all change and diversity is an illusion and the physical properties of nature (such as its motion, history, composition, and structure), are of no significance. On the other hand, if everything is a flux of change, there is no point in trying to locate stable laws of nature.

Heraclitus himself taught the existence of an unchanging principle, the logos, as the universal reason in nature. But since the only law is "panta rhei" (everything changes), this was not a sufficient foundation for physics. It took the synthesis of Aristotle's thought to bring the debate between Being and Becoming to a satisfactory resolution -- as a complementary pair of valid ultimate concepts.

See the related dialogical structure of Form and Matter, and the extension of this dialogical form to theology in the 3-D trilogic on Nature.

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