International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Chaos and Complexity: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action

edited by Robert John Russell , Nancey Murphy , Arthur R. Peacocke

Introductory Essay by V. V. Raman

The nature of science is such that periodically new discoveries are made, and fundamental insights arise to enhance and enrich our understandings of the world. Each generation strives to see the relevance of the altered worldviews to the traditional religious perspectives that give meaning and purpose to human life.

In the twentieth century the notions of chaos and complexity came to the fore as scientists tried to probe into aspects of the world that defy explanations based on the deterministic laws and causality that had served them well until then. Theologians and religiously-inclined scientists began to probe into these findings to see how they fit into the framework of God’s involvement with the world at large: a cornerstone in theological thinking. This book presents some of the results and reflections of a galaxy of thinkers who have studied and explored the relevant issues from a variety of perspectives. The chapters are from papers presented at a 1993 conference held at the Center for Theology and Natural Sciences which was convened in Berkeley, CA, and in which twenty distinguished scholars participated.

The book is not for the general reader but is useful for anyone who is interested in learning about the technical fields of Complexity and Chaos and how these discoveries reinforce, rather than challenge the basic theological thesis of Divine action. The first five chapters of the book constitute a clear and systematic presentation of the science of chaos and complexity. Leaving aside a few sections like The Relevance of Chaos Theory to Theology (p. 84), these chapters could be used as a separate introductory text on the subject. The discussions on thermodynamics, time, modern cosmology, and their relation to biology are clear and crisp. In John Polkinghorne’s “Theological Reflections” in the last of these chapters we are reminded that “God’s immanent creative action in the world generates within the created order a being, the human being, who becomes self-aware, morally responsible and capable of himself being creative and of responding to God’s presence (p.138).”

The seventh chapter explains how the notion of Trinity can be retrieved from chaos theory, and the twelfth describes God’s action in the world in the light of scientific knowledge of reality.. As in science, there are differing and sometimes contradicting proposals to resolve problems in theology. So there is a chapter which provides “an alternative account of causation and divine action that is both theologically adequate… and consistent with contemporary science (p.326).” One chapter analyzes the difference between ordinary and extraordinary divine action (p. 359).

The book on the whole reflects the rich tapestry of (Christian) theology in the face of developments in modern science. Unlike some instances in past centuries, many theologians today are not confrontational vis-à-vis scientific findings, but are appreciative and accommodating of scientific results. This is certainly the case with the scientifically informed theologians represented in this volume. The book must be required reading and critiquing for anyone who is seriously interested in Christian theology in the twenty-first century. It is a mine of information and insights from competent and thoughtful scholars. Even scientists and others who may not be religiously inclined will find some of the discussions fascinating.