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A. God and Nature

The diversity of views regarding the meaning of “God” and the ‘God & nature’ problemmatic that characterize contemporary Christian theology is reflected in, and to some extent has been affected by, the past four decades of discussions about ‘theology and science’. The following is representative, but far from completeAgain I want to stress that this paper is meant as a brief overview of the field heavily restricted due to limitations on space. Nevertheless I hope it is somewhat representative of the broad range of...: neo-Thomism (eg., Michael Buckley, Ann Clifford, George Coyne, Ernan McMullin, Bill Stoeger, Steve Happel); dipolar theism (eg., John Polkinghorne, Tom Tracy); non-process panentheism (eg., Sallie McFague, Arthur Peacocke, Phil Clayton, Rosemary Radford Ruether); process panentheism (eg., Charles Hartshorne, Ian Barbour, Charles Birch, David Griffin, John B. Cobb, Jr., Marjorie Suchocki); Trinitarian theism (eg., Phil Hefner, Denis Edwards, Elizabeth Johnson, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jürgen Moltmann, Ted Peters, Tom Tracy); feminist theology (eg., Clifford, Johnson, McFague, Ruether, Suchocki); liberation theology (eg., Moltmann, Juan Luis Segundo); evangelical theology (eg., Nancey Murphy, William Craig, Walter Hearne, Howard van Till, Richard Bube); kenotic theology (eg., Murphy, Ellis, Peacocke, Polkinghorne, Barbour); British natural theology (Peacocke, Polkinghorne); theism/naturalism (eg., Willem B. Drees, Ralph Burhoe, Paul Davies).

The theological genre varies widely as well. Some scholars (e.g., George Ellis) directly challenge the assumptions of atheists who co-opt science to attack religion (e.g., Richard Dawkins, Stephen Weinberg) and who often seek to replace it with a new ‘science-based’ religion (e.g., Carl Sagan). Others revise the traditional ‘arguments for God’ in light of contemporary science, including the ontological argument (eg., Hartshorne), the cosmological argument (e.g., Craig) and the moral argument (e.g., Murphy and Ellis). Some introduce specific scientific issues into constructive theology. This includes i) scientific metaphors (eg., Happel on time and religious language, McFague on the world as God’s body), ii) scientific concepts (eg., Pannenberg on God as Spirit using the concept of field), iii) scientific theories such as relativity (eg., Polkinghorne regarding eternity and temporality), quantum mechanics (eg., Murphy and Tracy on divine action), chaos theory (eg., Polkinghorne, Edwards, and Niels Gregersen on divine action), and evolution / ecology (Hefner on theological anthropology, Ruether on Gaia/God); iv) key phenomena in nature, such as suffering and death in evolution (eg., Peacocke on Christology or Tracy on theodicy). Some introduce science-based worldviews into theology (eg., Barbour, McFague, Moltmann, and Ruether on nature as organic/ecological). Some focus on particular philosophical themes which arise in both theology and science: the world as temporal and relational surfaces in theology (e.g., Trinitarian, panentheist, natural, feminist and liberation theologies) and in science (e.g., evolutionary biology, ecology, special relativity and quantum physics).

Two examples illustrate the subtle way in which 20th century science both challenges and reshapes the ‘God & nature’ problemmatic. The first is the relation of the eternity of God to the temporality of creation and the challenge from special relativity to the assumption that creaturely time is marked by a universal, flowing present. The second is the relation of divine and natural causality often referred to as the problem of ‘divine action’, and the way a variety of scientific fields offers new possibilities for the world to be intrinsically open to divine action. Each example is present in both philosophical and systematic theology.

Contributed by: Dr. Robert Russell

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