International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Is Nature Ever Evil?: Religion, Science and Value

edited by Willem B. Drees

Introductory Essay by G√ľnter Thomas

Is Nature ever evil?: Religion, Science and Value presents a discussion arising out of a specific type of experience and another, equally specific insight. Throughout the ages people in diverse cultural contexts have experienced particular processes and events as not only unpleasant but evil. If this valuation is then connected to the scientific insight that these processes of events are based on natural processes, the question arises: is nature sometimes evil or is this solely a moral attribution by the person experiencing an event? Is it possible, with all “scientific” seriousness, to label nature as evil or, conversely, as good?

This volume takes up the age-old debate about the connection between nature and value judgments while placing it within the context of current debates in science, philosophy and religion. What makes this topic so fruitful is its location within both scientific discourse and theology. It appears that the sciences are not ‘borrowing’ free-form valuations when praising or criticizing the cosmos. What happens if scientists describe a hostile universe, if they feel called to improve nature, or if, at the other end of the spectrum of valuation, they point to an extremely well-ordered cosmos? Without a doubt, they have abandoned a position that associates scientific objectivity with abstaining from making any value judgments.

Within the Judeo-Christian tradition, how to evaluate creation is at the core of God’s interaction with the world. Is the cosmos as creation included in the drama of redemption? If so, one must face the perennial question of whether the God of creation is different from the God of redemption. At the same time, scientific insights into the ‘costs’ of evolution and the role of chance in nature contribute to a deep skepticism about how to attribute any kind of royal and providential core to God. Numerous insights from science challenge any realistic theology to reconsider critically its traditional answers to the question of natural evil. The book Is Nature Ever Evil? places the reader squarely within one of the most intense debates in religion, philosophy and science.

Quite often a collection of essays looks like a bouquet of flowers from a summer meadow – they are beautiful when seen from a distance, but on closer inspection a disturbing heterogeneity becomes apparent. This is certainly not the case with this collection edited by Willem Drees. It is a superbly well-organized collection of interlocking essays which create a tightly-interwoven texture of discourse. After an illuminating introduction by the editor, 34 authors contribute to four major sections: Nature, Science and Value, Improving Nature via Culture and Technology, and Values as Explanation or Values Explained?

After a very brief introduction and summary, each section begins with a programmatic essay by a key thinker followed by several responses commenting on each essay. This structure not only confronts readers with a particular position on each topic but also immerses them quickly in a lively discussion. This feature makes Is Nature Ever Evil? an excellent teaching tool.

Those wishing to deepen their knowledge further may also wish to read the collection of essays edited by Nancey Murphy, Robert John Russell, and William R. Stoeger, Physics and Cosmology: Scientific Perspectives on the Problem of Natural Evil, which is also included in the ISSR Library.