International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Design and Disorder: Perspectives from Science and Theology

edited by Niels Gregersen , Ulf Gorman

Introductory Essay by R. J. (Sam) Berry

Many religions are concerned with how the origin and maintenance of order in our world is influenced by God or gods. The sciences are underpinned by a faith that there are ordering principles in our world which can be glimpsed through observation or test, perhaps as no more than a mathematical generality. Unsurprisingly therefore, questions of the origin of order and disorder lie at the heart of the science-religion dialogue, a dialogue needing continual reassessment in the face of developments in science.

Design and Disorder chronicles such a process of reassessment. It contains eight papers given at a meeting of the European Society for the Study of Science and Theology (ESSSAT) at Lyon, France in 2000. ESSSAT holds conferences every other year, the proceedings of which are published in a series “Issues in Science & Technology”. The present volume is the proceedings of its 8th Conference.

For Ulf Görman from Lund, Sweden,  “order characterizes the world as created by God. Accordingly, the goodness of God becomes manifest in the victory over chaos and disorder, which are seen as expressions of evil, the enemies of God”; in science, order means regularity and in this sense “any kind of order may be analysed and described” [1]. When they meet, these two understandings give rise to tensions, which should not be ignored.

The rest of the book takes up and explores these (and other) tensions. John Barrow, mathematician and cosmologist, delves into the complexity of design arguments taking into account (as we must) the mathematics of chaos. He wonders whether the ultimate simplicity of a ‘theory of everything’ is worth seeking or is illusory. Oxford historian John Hedley Brooke anchors some of these ideas in Darwin’s post-Paleyian world, and shows how metaphors can confuse as well as help us to understand ‘design’. A significant contribution by Aarhus theologian Niels Henrik Gregersen sets out some models of the emergence of complexity. This is followed by chapters exploring the philosophical end of the design debate – from Eton mathematician, John Puddefoot asking about the meaning of discourse, Brussels philosopher of science, Isabelle Stengers, exploring some of the early ideas of A.N. Whitehead, Paris Jesuit, Christoph Theobald, examining some of the insights of Roman Catholicism, and Russian Orthodox, Alexei Nestruk introducing ideas from Eastern Christendom. The volume concludes with an intriguing series of ‘theses’ from Dutch theologian, Willem Drees, challenging readers to examine whether their version of the science-theology debates may be too facile. His purpose (and conclusion) is “Disorder in nature is a reality which can be considered as if it were designed to call humans to responsibility, to serve God and each other with all our heart and soul as well as all our power and mind” [203].  If he is right, he provides a very worthwhile motive for taking the science-religion debate seriously.

Design and Disorder is not a comprehensive presentation of the concepts which form its title. It is a romp through the weeds that threaten to choke ‘design’ and ‘disorder’ and hinder their analysis. Readers will not get solutions from the book but they will have plenty of material with which to make their own conclusions.