International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Cosmology from Alpha to Omega: Theology and Science in Creative Mutual Interaction (Collected Writings in Theology and Science 1983-2003)

by Robert John Russell

Introductory Essay by Alan G. Padgett

This volume brings together ten advanced, outstanding essays by one of the best known theologian-scientists working at the top level of scholarship in the discipline. The work is not for the beginner but rewards careful reading and reflection. Founder and director of the Center for Theology and Natural Science in Berkeley, California, Robert John Russell is both a theologian and a physicist. He is particularly well known for organizing and co-editing an important series of volumes on science and divine action (many of which are included in the ISSR Library). All of his contributions to that series appear here, along with other articles and previously unpublished work from 1984 - 2005.

The book is divided into three parts, dealing with God and creation out of nothing; continuous creation, non-interventionist divine action, and the problem of evil; and eschatology in theology and science. Always up to date on the latest issues in science, Russell tends to focus on issues in physics and Christian theology, finding creative and influential paths of mutual interaction. Unlike many authors in this field, Russell argues not only that science should influence theology but, more controversially, that theology can and should rationally influence the practice of science. This two-way dialog, like the Golden Gate Bridge he evokes as a metaphor, involves underlying philosophical perspectives, selection of problems to investigate, creative ideas for new theories, and even choice among competing theories that are equally probable on other known evidence and argument. Not only is this principle of “creative mutual interaction” (CMI) important and significant, I find it follows from the very idea of a dialog between theology and the sciences.  CMI is also the logical entailment of a principle of theory-choice in informal logic, namely “fit with other known truths or established theories.”

Russell’s discussion of Big Bang cosmology draws upon his extensive knowledge of quantum cosmology. He considers contemporary theories of the origin of spacetime in science, including the work of Hawking, and compares them to time and eternity in Christian doctrine. He cautions against a too-easy identification of current models of the cosmological “big bang” with the Christian doctrine of creation out of nothing. As Aquinas taught long age, creatio ex nihilo only implies that physical time is finite and contingent – even if it has no beginning, strictly speaking.

In discussing divine action, Russell is adamant that a “god of the gaps” must be avoided by theologians and scientists alike. He advocates his now-famous principle of NIODA, (non-interventionist objective divine action). Because the universe in not deterministic (according to recent physics) God can act in a real, objective way that does not “violate” the fixed laws of nature. Because he is serious about theology as well as science, Russell considers the problem of evil, especially natural evil. Like entropy in thermodynamics, suffering and pain in nature may be part of a universe filled with creative, dynamic new possibilities (e.g. evolution); ultimately God will provide a full response to evil in a future life beyond death. This leads Russell to his final part, and his most recent research project: eschatology in theology and physical cosmology. Here he fully develops his CMI principle, arguing for a number of creative interactions from science to theology and also from theology to physics.