Russell - Does ‘the God Who Acts’ Really Act?

Additional Information

Category Lecture
Speakers Russell, Robert
Year 2014

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Does ‘the God Who Acts’ Really Act? A Theory of Non-Interventionist Objective Divine Action (NIODA) in Light of Contemporary Science

Respondent: Willem Drees

In a mechanistic world, such as dominated the modern period due in large measure to the resounding success of Newtonian science, all natural events were understood to occur deterministically from lock-step, natural causes. If God were to act, beyond creating and sustaining the universe, in special ways to alter the course of nature, God’s action would be considered ‘miraculous’ (in the Humean sense, at least): an objective intrusion into or suspension of the flow of natural processes and a violation of the laws of nature as discovered by science. Beginning in the twentieth century, however, philosophical arguments have been made that the natural sciences now can be interpreted in ways that allow for objective divine action that is non-interventionist (i.e., non-miraculous). In this lecture I will explore a variety of approaches to NIODA, assessing their relative fruitfulness and considering the challenges to them. I will argue that quantum mechanics, and thus ‘bottom-up causality,’ provides the most promising such approach.

ROBERT RUSSELL is Founder and Director of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS) and the Ian G. Barbour Professor of Theology and Science in Residence at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA. He is a leading researcher and spokesperson for the growing international body of theologians and scientists committed to a positive dialogue and creative mutual interaction between these fields. He is the author of Time in Eternity: Pannenberg, Physics and Eschatology in Creative Mutual Interaction (University of Notre Dame Press, 2012) and Cosmology from Alpha to Omega: The Creative Mutual Interaction of Theology and Science (Fortress Press, 2009). He co-edited a six volume CTNS/Vatican Observatory series on scientific perspectives on divine action and the first in the new series on scientific perspectives on the problem of natural evil. He is a founding co-editor of the scholarly journal Theology and Science which CTNS members receive internationally. Dr Russell received a Ph.D. in physics from the University of California at Santa Cruz (1978) and an M.A. and an M. Div. from Pacific School of Religion (1972). He taught physics and courses in science and religion at Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota, before coming to the GTU in 1981.

WILLEM DREES is the Chair in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics at the Leiden Institute of Religious Studies, Faculty of Humanities, Leiden University, since 2001. He is also the editor of Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, a scholarly journal, produced by Wiley-Blackwell, which publishes yearly 1000 pages of articles on all aspects of religion and science. He is the immediate past-president of ESSSAT, the European Society for the Study of Science and Theology. Drees has doctorates in Philosophy, at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, and Theology and Philosophy of Religion, at Groningen University, and a Doctoraal in Theoretical Physics at Utrecht University. His main interests focus on the interactions between religious convictions and practices and contemporary culture, modern science and technology. His publications include Religion and Science in Context: A Guide to the Debates, Routledge (2009); Creation: From Nothing until Now, Routledge (2002); and Religion, Science and Naturalism, Cambridge University Press (1996).