God's Providence and Randomness in Nature

Scientific and Theological Perspectives

Robert John Russell Joshua M. Moritz

In October 2014, a group of mathematicians, physicists, ecologists, philosophers, and theologians gathered at a special conference in Berkeley, California to present the results of a two-year research program dubbed “Project SATURN”. This program explored many of the rich avenues of thought found at the intersection of modern science and Christian theology. Chief among them is the possibility that certain processes in nature might be so complex that they do not have sufficient physical causes. Known as “ontological indeterminism”, this idea has profound implications for theology. Specifically, it allows God to be thought of as acting providentially within nature without violating the laws and processes of nature.

Such a momentous insight could influence how we understand free will, natural evil, suffering in nature, and the relation between divine providence and human evolution. The essays collected here discuss each of these topics and were originally presented at the 2014 conference. Part I establishes the scientific basis for conceptualizing certain process in the universe as inherently random and possibly indeterministic. Part II discusses the philosophical and theological issues that spring from this understanding. Together they represent the cutting edge of thought in the increasingly productive dialogue between science and theology.

Short for the “Scientific and Theological Understandings of Randomness in Nature”, Project SATURN was created by the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, a Program of the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley. It was funded with a grant administered by Calvin College and provided by the John Templeton Foundation.

Introduction / 3
Robert John Russell

Part 1: Scientific Warrants for Indeterminism throughout Nature

1. Necessity, Purpose, and Chance / 21
George F. R. Ellis

2. The Universal Laws of Physics / 69
Robert E. Ulanowicz

3. Multiverse / 85
Gerald B. Cleaver

Part 11: Philosophical and Theological Perspectives on Indeterminism in Nature

4. Are Randomness and Divine Providence Inconsistent? / 117
James Bradley

5. What We’ve Learned from Quantum Mechanics about Noninterventionist Objective Divine Action in Nature—and Its Remaining Challenges / 133
Robert John Russell

6. Context-Sensitive Constraints, Types, Emergent Properties, and Top-Down Causality / 173
Alicia Juarrero

7. Is Classical Science in Conflict with Belief in Miracles? Some Bridge-Building between Philosophical and Theological Positions / 205
Erkki Vesa Rope Kojonen

8. Necessity, Chance, and Indeterminism / 235
Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen

9. Contingency and Freedom in Brains and Selves / 261
Ted Peters

10. Contingency, Convergence, Constraints, and the Challenge from Theodicy in Creation’s Evolution / 289
Joshua M. Moritz

About the Contributors / 329

Index / 333