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John BarrowCambridge University

Chance, Uncertainty and Unknowability in the Universe and Beyond


The idea of chance idea is persistent in the Judeo-Christian tradition as a way of discerning the mind of God and God’s will for human lives. We read in the story of Jonah that the seafarers caught in the storm cast lots in order to determine who was responsible for the evil events that had fallen upon them “and the lot fell on Jonah.” In the Acts of the Apostles, Matthias was appointed in preference to Barsabbas as the thirteenth apostle, to replace Judas Iscariot, by the drawing of lots. This type of chance, therefore, has nothing to do with randomness: it was the definite act of God, foreseeable by the deity but not by us. 

The simplicity and economy of the laws and symmetries that govern nature’s fundamental forces are not the end of the story. When we look around us, we never observe the laws of nature; rather, we see the outcomes of those laws. The distinction is crucial. Outcomes are much more complicated than the laws that govern them because they do not have to respect the symmetries displayed by the laws. By this subtle interplay, it is possible to have a world which displays an unlimited number of complicated asymmetrical structures yet is governed by a few, very simple symmetrical laws. This is one of the secrets of the universe.
— John Barrow

Indeed, there was no mathematical theory of probability and chance in the ancient world. They developed arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and the study of motion, but no theory of probability. It may be that the association of chance with the voice of the gods would have been sacrilegious and so perhaps the idea of random chance was a major taboo, tantamount to foreseeing or foretelling the will of the gods and thus putting them under the control of human calculation. 

John D. Barrow’s essay for the Abraham’s Dice volume traces the rise of mathematical notions of uncertainty through several cultural and theoretical developments. He espouses these notions for general readers in an engaging and understandable way, opening understanding as to how chance became a mathematical, rather than purely philosophical or theological, issue and what it has meant to scientists, scholars and laypeople throughout recent history. 

Future astronomers will not be able to observe the expansion and acceleration of the universe that we see today and will have no knowledge of other galaxies. Gradually, when the universe is only fifty times its present age (and long before all the hydrogen-burning stars die) the microwaves from the hot beginnings of the universe will cool and increase in wavelength so they will be unable to penetrate the interstellar medium in our galaxy. All the evidence we have of the hot “big bang” and the structure of the universe will become unavailable to those future astronomers. They will read old books and astronomical journals to learn of the structure of the universe that their predecessors could see but they cannot. Our epoch of cosmic history is not only conducive to the emergence of life, but it allows understanding and a degree of certainty to be gained about the structure of the visible universe that will be denied to astronomers in the far, far future.
— John Barrow

John D. Barrow is Professor of Mathematical Sciences in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Clare Hall. He has also held the positions of Professor of Geometry and Professor of Astronomy at Gresham College, London, and was Director of the Astronomy Centre at the University of Sussex. Barrow directs Cambridge University’s Millennium Mathematics Project, which focuses on increasing the teaching, learning, and appreciation of mathematics and its applications amongst students of all ages and the general public. He holds a DPhil in astrophysics from the University of Oxford and five honorary doctorates. One of Britain’s leading public intellectuals, Barrow has received numerous international prizes. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society and of the Academia Europaea. He is the author of more than 500 research articles in cosmology and theoretical physics, and over twenty acclaimed books, including The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, The Constants of Nature, The Book of Nothing, and The Book of Universes, along with many reviews, web articles, and op-eds about science and mathematics. Barrow also wrote the play Infinities, which was premiered at the Piccolo Teatro, Milan, directed by Luca Ronconi, and which received the Italian Premi Ubu award for best play in the Italian theater in 2002 and the 2003 Italgas Prize for contributions to Italian culture. He delivered a series of centenary Gifford Lectures at Glasgow University in 1989 and received the 2006 Templeton Prize. He has lectured around the world at many prestigious venues including, 10 Downing Street, Windsor Castle, and the Vatican Palace.

Reinhold Bernhardt | University of Basel

Abraham's Dice in the Flow of Life: The experience of the Tragic and Its Theological Interpretation


Theologians have never liked the notion of the “tragic.” It seems to contradict the Christian conviction that every occurrence in nature, history and in the human biography has a meaning, because God’s providence rules over it. The “tragic” assumes that there is meaningless chance. In this essay, theologian Reinhold Bernhardt shows why it is important to include that notion into an understanding of God’s action in the world and in human life. While the issue of the tragic has been dealt with in philosophy from the times of the ancient Greeks, in theology there has not been much investigation on the topic. Bernhardt wanted to put the tragic on the agenda of theology because theology, at the least, has to help people to cope with their lives—including the “tragic” experiences in life. Bernhardt wanted to elaborate on an understanding of God’s providence in a way that does not exclude the tragic, but takes it seriously. 

A theological interpretation, which considers tragic experiences to be the consequence of misconduct— be it a contravention of a divine command or of human moral (or even legal) imperative— misses the complex structure of tragic experiences, which are imbued with an overlapping network of situational context and human guilt. As per my analysis of tragic situations and experiences above, the tragic is a complex relationship of behavior and doom. It cannot simply be accounted for by the misconduct of the person afflicted by it nor explained as the result of wicked people doing wicked things. All these things may play a role, but none can be singled out as the one and only cause, sometimes not even as the “main” cause. The notion of “emergence” as opposed to “causation” is appropriate to understand tragedy. At best a tragedy can be understood—but never explained.
— Reinhold Bernhardt

Bernhardt’s interest in doing this work stems from experiences he had when he worked for some years as a pastor and was often confronted with tragic events in the lives of people. They experienced sheer meaninglessness and yearned for some kind of significance to ascribe to their pain. He found it necessary to accept that there is real meaninglessness under the providential reign of God. But out of the meaninglessness of tragedy there can grow new meaning, like a new plant can grow of a decomposing grain. 

Bernhardt’s life experiences have influenced his theological understanding of the notion of tragic events. Many experiences in life can be qualified as “tragic.” For example, when we have to choose between two bad options, or when things happen at a wrong time in the wrong place, where they cause devastating effects, or when good intentions lead to bad results. That is Bernhardt’s starting point: to clarify the meaning of the notion of the “tragic” and give a theological response that combines understanding of God’s providence, God’s omnipotence, and God’s acting in the world in general. God should not be regarded as a super-power who rules every single event and thus causes tragic events, but rather as a loving parent who helps to overcome tragic experiences by opening new life perspectives. God breaks open the crusted earth so that the seeds of new life are able to sprout as “grains of resurrection.” 

Is there a basic conceptual framework for the tragic that accounts for the complexity of guilt and disaster, contingency, and necessity as described above? Can we view tragic darkness without, on the one hand, denying, marginalizing, or assimilating its reality into a higher purpose and not taking seriously enough its experiential quality as meaningless suffering and, on the other hand, without hiding it from God’s light, thus declaring it to be a metaphysical principle elevated into a tragic worldview? The appropriate theological interpretative framework for the experience of the tragic appears to me to be, perhaps surprisingly, the doctrine of original sin. However, understanding tragedy this way will require a radical reinterpretation of that doctrine.
— Reinhold Bernhardt

Bernhardt believes an understanding of the tragic in theology should be important to all Christians who try to cope intellectually or existentially (or both) with tragic experiences and try to understand them in the light of their faith. It could also be important for theologians who deal with the question of “theodicy” (the question of how bad things can happen under the good reign of God). In the future and perhaps as a response to my chapter in Abraham’s Dice, he hopes that more and more theologians will take up the whole issue, clarify further our understanding of the “tragic,” and see it as a challenge for understanding God’s providence. They should take into account how important the topic is for pastoral care and for the interpretation of human lives in relation to God’s providential care for them. 

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Reinhold Bernhardt is professor of systematic theology at the University of Basel in Switzerland, holding the chair formerly occupied by Karl Barth. From 2006 to 2008, he served as dean of the Faculty of Theology. He is coeditor of the quarterly journal Theologische Zeitschrift, an interdisciplinary and multilingual publication promoting cross- disciplinary theological dialogue. Bernhardt earned his PhD from the University of Heidelberg in 1990 with a dissertation titled “Der Absolutheitsanspruch des Christentums: Von der Aufklärung bis zur Pluralistischen Religionstheologie” (The absoluteness of Christianity: From the Enlightenment to the pluralistic theology of religions.) Bernhardt has written four books: Was heißt “Handeln Gottes”? Eine Rekonstruktion der Lehre von der Vorsehung Gottes (On divine action: A reconstruction of the doctrine of God’s providence); Wahrheit in Offenheit. Der christliche Glaube und die Religionen (Truth in openness: The Christian faith and the religions); Ende des Dialogs? Die Begegnung der Religionen und ihre theologische Reflexion (End of dialogue? The encounter between religions and their theological reflection); and Christianity without Absolutes. Bernhardt has also edited ten anthologies, and written more than eighty articles for books or encyclopedias and more than fifty articles for scholarly journals.

James Bradley | Calvin College 

Random Numbers and God's Nature


For computer scientists, random numbers are not numbers chosen by an unbiased process as they are in statistics, but are infinite binary decimals whose digits are unpredictable and lack a pattern. Many theologians and scientists over the centuries have seen numbers as part of God’s nature. Combining these insights, the existence of random numbers implies that randomness is part of God’s nature—not randomness in the sense of gratuitous chance, but rather of providing a clear example of an aspect of God’s nature that is unpredictable, without a finite pattern and always capable of being surprising. 

Mathematics is indispensable for doing science. Not only is mathematics necessary to do measurements and articulate formulas for laws of physics and chemistry, but frequently manipulations of these formulas yield surprising predictions that turn out to be true. This close linkage between mathematics and the physical world gives credence to the idea that God used mathematical ideas to provide patterns for creation, as Kepler suggested. But if God used mathematical ideas to provide patterns for creation, a natural conclusion is that these ideas were present in God’s mind at creation.
— James Bradley

Throughout most of its history, the Christian church has rejected the notion of chance because of its association with Greek ideas of fate and gratuitous events. With Darwin’s affirmation of the role of chance in evolution and the introduction of randomness into quantum mechanics, a new perspective on chance began to emerge. In 1958, William G. Pollard wrote that God might use randomness; more recently David Bartholomew has pursued the same theme. A few other scholars such as John Polkinghorne have advanced similar ideas. To our knowledge, James Bradley’s chapter in Abraham’s Dice is the first publication that provides a solid ground for asserting that randomness (understood in a certain way) is rooted in God’s nature. 

Bradley’s major claim – that randomness is part of God’s nature – presupposes a Platonist view of abstract entities such as numbers. (That view is out of fashion these days; post-modern thinkers like to see all knowledge as contingent upon culture. Computer scientists are not typically post-modernists but neither are many of them likely to see abstract entities as existing in God’s mind. Of course, some will, and they are likely to be interested.) In Bradley’s paper, he joins this traditional view of numbers and God to recent insights on mathematical randomness from theoretical computer science. Joining these streams—one ancient, one recent—yields the surprising conclusion that randomness, defined in a particular way, is part of the nature of God.

What does the idea that randomness is part of God’s nature tell us about God? First, let’s consider what it does not tell us. The popular concept cited above is that randomness means not having a governing design, method, or purpose; without order; without cause. This popular concept is what makes the idea that randomness might be part of the divine nature seem strange or shocking. But algorithmic randomness is quite different from the popular concept of randomness and is informative about God’s nature ... under the mathematical hypothesis of numbers being ideas in God’s mind, the properties of random numbers are necessary properties of God’s nature and can enrich our understanding of God’s infinitude.
— James Bradley

During the Enlightenment, many scholars investigated the relationship between science and Christian belief. But the relationship between mathematics and Christian belief has only been addressed spottily and until recently the literature on that relationship has been minor. But the questions are important; they involve fundamental issues about God’s nature, the nature of truth, and many other matters. Many of today’s “new atheists” have challenged the concept that God exists on the grounds that randomness provides prima facie evidence that the universe is not under the control of an omnipotent, orderly God. But the idea that randomness is part of God’s nature suggests that the universe is deeper, more complex, and subtler than any of us, theists or atheists, have imagined. 

Bradley’s interest in these issues began perhaps forty years ago when he was teaching an undergraduate course in probability theory, when he began to look at processes that clearly appeared random from a human perspective and asked “Would they look random from God’s perspective?” It seemed to Bradley that most would not but some might. The question sparked an interest that stuck with him over many years. For him, one of the more surprising things about the process of conducting this research has been that this investigation has considerably deepened his sense of worship. That is, the sense of what it means to say that God is infinite or transcendent has become much more robust. Bradley has also come to believe that the normative power of reason is rooted in God’s consistency, that is, every time we think rationally, we are mirroring an aspect of God’s nature – Bradley says it reminds him of the Apostle Paul’s statement, “In him we live and move and have our being.” 

James Bradley.jpg

James Bradley taught mathematics and computer science at Calvin College, Michigan, from 1986 to 2005 and served as Calvin’s director of assessment and institutional research from 2005 to 2007. His work explores the relationship between randomness and probability, challenging the common perception that there is no purpose in the world because biology and physics show that reality is random. From 2000 to 2001, Bradley served as a William C. Foster fellow with the United States Department of State, consulting on the problems of arms control and missile defense. Long a leader in Christian explorations of the nature of mathematics, he is the coauthor of Mathematics through the Eyes of Faith and coeditor of Mathematics in a Postmodern Age: A Christian Perspective.

John Hedley Brooke | Oxford University

Divine Providence in the Clockwork Universe


There is a common assumption that new ideas in science impact religious belief in only one way – negatively. The successful explanation of phenomena by “natural” causes is assumed to corrode or displace belief in divine providence – the belief that God, as Creator of the world, is not only active in creation but cares for and has purposes for humankind. John Hedley Brooke’s thesis in his chapter, “Divine Providence in the Clockwork Universe” is that this common assumption fails when applied to the classic debates on divine activity that took place in the period we know as the “scientific revolution.” 

...the breakdown of a once- prevalent harmony between Christian theology and Aristotelian natural philosophy did indeed require and stimulate new thinking about God’s relationship to
nature, but that, far from destroying belief in providence, the consequence was the emergence of new syntheses of science with Christian belief. It is nevertheless undeniable that new metaphors applied to nature during the scientific revolution, such as “clockwork,” “law-like,” and “mechanical,” while originally accommodated, even embedded, in theological literature, were later appropriated to justify deistic and other antiprovidentialist rhetoric.
— John Brooke

New mechanical models for the workings of nature did challenge an established synthesis between Christian theology and Aristotle’s natural philosophy, in both of which nature was understood teleologically; that is, embodying purpose. But when, in the seventeenth century, nature came to be interpreted as a machine rather than as an organism, there were gains as well as losses for Christian theology. Brooke argues that mechanical models for the workings of nature were open to a wide range of theological interpretation and that new syntheses were forged between concepts of providence and scientific knowledge. Especially among Protestant Christians, scientific progress was itself seen as a sign of God’s providence. 

In the seventeenth century, a common way to conceptualize a mechanical model of nature was in the metaphor of the “clockwork universe,” which was favored by some of the leading natural philosophers of that time (Descartes, Boyle, Newton, Leibniz). A favorite analogy compared the workings of the universe with the elaborate clock of Strasbourg cathedral. On one level this was a concept of divine providence that denied a degree of autonomy to the natural world. But for Boyle, and other Christian commentators, there was an intelligible order in creation that the clockwork analogy nicely captured. Because clocks were made for a purpose, and because each part of a clockwork mechanism had its particular function, or purpose, the mechanization of nature did not exclude the category of providence. Indeed, the mechanical metaphors were often absorbed into Christian natural theology as support for God’s existence based on the argument from design.

There is already an extensive literature on the rise of the mechanical philosophies of nature, much of it written by historians of science and historians of philosophy. This is a subject on which Brooke has been writing for more than forty years, devoting a chapter to its theological ramifications in Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives (1991 and 2014). In this new essay, Brooke does not claim to be breaking new ground, but has tried to achieve a helpful balance by identifying the anxieties that the new mechanical philosophies did pose for Christian philosophers and by investigating the various ways in which the challenge was met. There is a myth that science was separated from religion during the scientific revolution – a view his essay aims to correct. Brooke also shows how scientific and theological explanations for events in nature could co-exist and complement each other in the minds of seventeenth-century naturalists. This was a different world from the secularism of today in which naturalistic and theistic explanations are often, uncritically, assumed to be mutually exclusive.

Nature in other words is not dead like a machine. It has a vitality that transcends clockwork mechanism, as in the growth of vegetation. In this less mechanistic world, God is not remote from nature but omnipresent in it, even constituting space. This is a God not deprived of providential control but a “powerful ever- living Agent, who being in all places, is more able by his Will to move the bodies within his boundless uniform sensorium, and thereby to form and reform the parts of the universe, than we are by our will to move the parts of our own bodies.” For Newton there is an overarching providence at work that he believed could be demonstrated
from history as well as nature, notably by the fulfillment of biblical prophecies. Far from science invalidating conceptions of providence, it offered support.
— John Brooke

Because, according to Brooke, one of the benefits we gain from historical enquiry is the realization that scientific theories have rarely entailed specific theological or metaphysical conclusions, the cultural meanings we find in scientific theories depend heavily on the religious and philosophical presuppositions we bring to them. Historical research not only reveals a far greater range of philosophical and theological options than we may be aware of; it may also help to inculcate a spirit of humility and tolerance that is often lacking in contemporary theological and scientistic pronouncements. Brooke’s interest in the “clockwork universe” was first sparked when, studying the history and philosophy of science as an undergraduate in Cambridge, he was introduced to the philosophy of Descartes. Even then, Brook saw how Descartes’s defense of mechanistic explanation was interpreted by his contemporaries in many different ways—by some as potentially atheistic, by others as embedded in a theistic metaphysics, and by others as a resource for proving the existence of God. The fact that Descartes himself spoke of God’s re-creation of the world moment by moment suggested to Brooke that the whole subject was worthy of further exploration.

We hope the concepts discussed in this chapter will be of interest to historians of scientific and religious thought, but also to those wishing to increase their understanding of the richness of the literature on science and religion. Brooke’s essay has not been designed to resonate with any particular constituency, though it may be worth pointing out that the mechanization of the world picture has been a subject of special interest to eco-feminists, especially as discussed by Carolyn Merchant in her book The Death of Nature, and to students of eastern religions fascinated by Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics. These books have been as popular as they have been controversial in their unsympathetic assessment of the mechanical philosophies and their consequences.

In constructing their theologies of nature today, theologians are more likely to be found commenting on an evolving than on a static clockwork universe. The paradigm shifts that have led in cosmology to an expanding as well as an evolving universe have also rendered the clockwork images of nature obsolete. And yet the language associated with them still pervades the discussion of science as when we search for the “mechanism” underlying events in the natural world. Along these lines, Brooke expects future scholarship to attend more closely to the resilience and survival of the mechanistic metaphors and what that signifies for any rapprochement between scientific and religious understandings.

John Brooke.JPG

John Hedley Brooke is an Emeritus Fellow of Oxford’s Harris Manchester College and a Distinguished Foundation Fellow at the University of Durham’s Institute of Advanced Study. From 1999 to 2006, Brooke held the Andreas Idreos Professorship of Science & Religion and Directorship of the Ian Ramsey Centre at Oxford University. He has served as editor for The British Journal for the History of Science, as president of the British Society for the History of Science, and as president of the Historical Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. With Geoffrey Cantor, he delivered the 1995 Gifford Lectures. 

His books include the acclaimed and influential Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives, Thinking About Matter: Studies in the History of Chemical Philosophy, and (with Geoffrey Cantor) Reconstructing Nature: The Engagement of Science & Religion. More recently, he co-edited Science & Religion around the World with Ronald Numbers; he contributed to The Oxford Handbook of Natural Theology; and he contributed to Martin Nowak’s anthology Evolution, Games, and God. He has written many articles, both scholary and popular, and contributed to many edited volumes. Brooke is president of the Science & Religion Forum, a founding member of the Oxford Centre for Science of the Mind, and recently served as president of the International Society for Science & Religion. 

Oliver Crisp | Fuller Theological Seminary

Jonathan Edwards and Occasionalism


The New England theologian, pastor, and metaphysician Jonathan Edwards had some interesting and influential things to say about the relation of God to the created order, and about divine action in particular. Edwards is a very popular theologian partly because he was instrumental in the birth of evangelicalism and the Great Awakening in America—however, it happens that his views about divine action and creation are rather more exotic than some of his erstwhile followers might be willing to stomach, and they have some significant drawbacks that his contemporary defenders need to address. Chief among these are the difficulties his views have with accounting for the problem of evil in a world governed by a providential god, or “theodicy.”

...Edwards denied that the world God creates persists through time in order to be preserved at moments after its initial creation out of nothing. Instead, he maintained that God continuously created the world at each moment. Lest this view be mistaken for another, we must be clear that Edwards did not think that God, an eternal and timeless being, atemporally generates the world such that at every moment at which the world exists from its first to its last moment, God can be said to be continuously (that is, atemporally) creating it. Rather, Edwards’s position was that God (atemporally) creates the world which immediately ceases to exist. God then creates a numerically distinct but qualitatively identical world with small incremental changes built into it. This process is repeated in a third and in subsequent worlds in an ordered sequence, which are really only momentary stages or (perhaps) temporal parts of a four-dimensional whole. The picture is rather like the numerous photographic exposures that are run together in one roll of film to make up a motion picture projected onto a cinematic screen.
— Oliver Crisp

In this chapter Oliver Crisp sets out five key motifs in Edwards’s thought, which collectively form the basis of a theologically and philosophically rich and interesting metaphysical picture of God’s relation to the world. Crisp then offers some critical reflections upon them from the point of view of contemporary philosophical theology with an eye to the religion and science debate.

Consider CGI, the computer-generated images that make up animated aspects of many live-action motion pictures, as well as cartoon feature-length films such as those produced by Pixar. Each frame in the digital sequence for a given scene of a movie must be composed by artists and compositors. In order to ensure the appearance of continuity of action across time, the artists must ensure that each frame works with the same “physical” principles. That is, in each frame, the artist seeks to ensure his characters act according to a facsimile of the same forces and laws as we see in the world around us. If they suspended these all the time or simply ignored these considerations in their work, the continuity of the movie would be destroyed. Nevertheless, strictly speaking, there are no exceptionless ‘laws’ governing the artist’s work. It seems to me that this is a good analogue to the sort of view Edwards espouses. God is the artist creating each ‘frame,’ that is, each world-stage, ensuring continuity of physical constants across the different stages, even though these are not actually physical laws that persist through time, strictly speaking.
— Oliver Crisp
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Oliver D. Crisp is professor of systemic theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the author of eight books, and the editor or coeditor of another nine volumes. His most recent monograph is Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology. Crisp has published articles in professional journals such as Religious Studies, the Journal of Theological Studies, International Journal for Systematic Theology, and the Journal of the American Academy of Religion. He co-organizes the annual Los Angeles Theology Conference with Fred Sanders, is a founding editor of the Journal of Analytic Theology, and coedits the Oxford Studies in Analytic Theology series with Michael Rea.


Chance, Sovereignty, and Providence in the Calvinist Tradition


Is every creature unexceptionally and unavoidably dependent on the Creator, and does the being and subsisting of every creature depend on the Creator? Is every creature, as well as every accident and event in the world, entirely subject to the command of God? The apostle Paul writes that we have our being, live, and move in God because his word of power sustains us. ... according to the Calvinist view, nothing exists or even happens by chance or fate independently of God’s sovereignty and providence. This view, however, has been condemned by many as deterministic or fatalistic. ... This chapter intends to demonstrate that the Calvinistic view on chance, sovereignty, and providence, though diversely expressed, is not deterministic or fatalistic but biblically reasonable.
— Byung Soo Han

Calvinism argues that God is in sovereign control of all things and events, even including chance or randomness whose causes are usually invisible and unsearchable. In Paul Han’s essay for Abraham’s Dice, he introduces the Calvinistic view of chance by summarizing the thoughts of Calvin and some important Calvinists on chance. The personal experience of Isaiah 45:7 convinced Han that God knows all things and does all things, though not being the author of sin and evil. While Han knows this conviction may seem to some absurd and contradictory, this experiential conviction, he has realized by reading, is not his own. There were and are many thinkers who argue such a providential sovereignty of God even governing 'chance.' 

A new idea Han found in researching for this chapter is that Reformed thinkers in the 17th century understood the term "chance" and "fate" in quite a different way, making a precise distinction of chance or fate into the mathematical, the physical, the Stoic, and the Christian chance or fate. The same word does not always deliver the same meaning. Also, prominent Calvinist thinkers like Calvin, Polanus, Twisse and Turretin, had formally, but not essentially, different views on chance. (For newcomers to this conversation, Calvin is a representative of the Reformed circle among the Reformers; Polanus is the seventeenth century Reformed thinker who constituted a most developed system of Reformed theology; Twisse is a moderator of Westminster Assembly which produced the Reformed confession of the grandest scale, and Turretin is the Reformed thinker of Geneva who summarized Reformed theology in a most arguable way and whose dogmatic theology is most available to readers using English.)

Calvin draws our attention to what is necessary for us to recognize that God’s providence must rule over fortune: We should mix fear of God as our creator and redeemer with humility. The fear makes our eyes open to see what is unseen. Calvin is convinced that no one could duly grasp the divine working in the world without fearing God.
— Byung Soo Han

Han’s investigation into Reformed views on chance and providence will be important to those who excessively trust in visible and understandable things and events, and also who need to know that "what is seen was not made out of what was visible" and that "the universe was formed at God's command" and all things are sustained "by God’s powerful word." In the coming years, Han plans to spend some time researching the unity of knowledge and disciplines, which was strongly argued by seventeenth century thinkers such as Keckermann, Alsted, Timpler, Ames, Bacon, Richardson, and so on. These studies will be grounded in Han’s conviction that the Bible covers every field of study in a sense and that God is in control of all disciplines, not only chance and fate. 


Byung Soo (Paul) Hanis an assistant professor of systematic theology at the Asia Center for Theological Studies and Mission, and the director of the Institute for Reformed Theology in South Korea. He is also teaching in Central Reformed Theological Seminar during summer and winter breaks. He holds a PhD from Calvin Theological Seminary in historical theology focused on Reformation and Post-Reformation Reformed theology. Dr. Han has published two books, Reformed Orthodox Theology: Prolegomena and Mirroring: Theological Meditation of Scripture. In addition, he has published three Korean translations of theological texts: Richard A. Muller’s After Calvin, Willem van Asselt, Maarten Wisse, T. Theo J. Pleizier, and Pieter L. Rouwendal’s Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism, and Willem van Asselt and Eef Dekker’s Reformation and Scholasticism. He is translating Francis Turretin’s Institutio elencticae theologiae, volume 1, into Korean.

Peter Harrison | University of Queensland

Evolution, Providence, and The Problem Of Chance


Darwinian evolution appears to be a random process, with the emergence of intelligent life a vastly improbable accident. This seems to be inconsistent with Christian ideas about the special status of human beings and God’s providential oversight of the processes of creation. In this chapter, philosopher Peter Harrison seek to address this apparent inconsistency, drawing upon some traditional Christian understandings of how providence operates in history.

Darwin’s theory has rightly been accepted as revolutionary in this regard because it seems to make all the outcomes of evolution, including the arrival of human beings, a matter of chance ...
While contingency and chance had always been something of an irritation to proponents of providence and teleology, the elevation of the status of chance in Darwin’s theory of natural selection represents for many an insurmountable challenge to Christian notions of providence, at least as traditionally conceived. In order to understand fully the roots of this apparent incompatibility, it is helpful to consider in more detail how providence has traditionally been thought to operate in the distinct spheres of nature and history.
— Peter Harrison

The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw much discussion of God’s design in nature.  There was a broad consensus that organisms appeared to have been designed, and that God was the designer. During this period the design argument came to be regarded as the chief argument for the existence of God, and this argument drew its support from the scientific evidence. When in the nineteenth century Darwin proposed evolution by natural selection, this cut the ground away from had been the major argument for God’s existence. This, then, was the ‘demise of design’.   

However, it is important to understand that there were a variety of ‘design’ arguments, only one of which relied upon the structures of living things. Another kind of design argument was based on the laws of nature, and the way in which they produced their effects in a way that showed evidence of purpose. This form of the design argument is unaffected by evolutionary theory, and its most prominent form today is the family of ‘fine-tuning’ arguments. So the demise of design really refers to just one version of the design argument. It was only because so much weight had been placed on this one specific version of the argument, the argument from organismic design, that Darwin’s theory seemed to be so devastating. 

Issues to do with providence and chance have been perennial ones within the Christian tradition. We can see this in the way that major Christian thinkers such as Augustine and Calvin grappled with the issue of apparent chance events in history. Evolutionary theory represents a particular case of this general problem. So this is a question that is important for anyone who gives thought to how divine providence is consistent with apparently meaningless or random events. 

The apparent directionless of evolution is thus a ‘known problem’. However, there is a diversity of views among biologists about how random and directionless evolutionary processes really are. There is a very interesting body of recent work pointing to evidence of directionality and predictability in evolutionary change. The work of Cambridge paleontologist Simon Conway Morris, which highlights the phenomenon of evolutionary convergence, is a good example of this. In his book, Life’s Solution (2003), Conway Morris argues that the emergence of something like human life on this planet was virtually inevitable. 

Harrison comes at this problem from another angle, taking as his starting point the often overlooked fact that evolution is a historical science. This is important because traditionally God’s providential activity in history has been regarded as largely a matter of faith. Whereas one might infer design and purpose from those features of the natural that are lawful and predictable—physics is now the prime example here—divine purposes have always been much more difficult to discern in the course of history. Simply put, Harrison’s suggestion is that the ‘problem’ of apparent directionless in the evolutionary process arises out of our bringing to the historical science of evolution a set of expectations that really only work for the physical sciences. This misplaced expectation has occurred because it was only in the nineteenth century that biology became a historical science. Up until that time, an ahistorical natural history had been one of the chief sources of evidence of divine creativity.

...if the history of nature were understood to be more akin to human history at the time Darwin published the Origin, no one would have expected to see conspicuous instances of purpose at every moment. What the doctrine of providence would dictate, then, would be that in spite of the prominence of apparent chance events, the faithful should be prepared to accept that God’s hidden purposes were being fulfilled. Viewed in this light, the purpose behind the successions of species in the Darwinian framework would be no more obvious than the logic of the rise and fall of kingdoms in human history. Why so few read Darwinian evolution in this fashion is owing to a combination of historical factors—foremost among them the fact that the full implications of natural history’s transformation into a temporal enterprise were not fully recognized at the time. Hence, the fateful collision between the expectation of design and the apparent randomness of the Darwinian theory.
— Peter Harrison

Harrison’s first undergraduate degree was in the biological sciences, and he has always had an interest in the broader implications of evolutionary theory. His subsequent academic career led Harrison in the direction of philosophy and history, and in this work he tries to bring these disciplines to bear on issues at the science-religion interface. The directionless of evolution has been a genuine problem for traditional Christian belief since the publication of Darwin’s Origin, so it was a natural issue for him to look at. 

Two recent trends might prove helpful in anticipating the future direction of scholarship on these topics, according to Harrison. First, within the evolutionary sciences themselves there are already signs of a swing away from ultra-Darwinist positions that emphasize natural selection, randomness and contingency, towards an identification of mechanisms that suggest a greater degree of directionality, predictability and lawfulness in evolutionary processes. It is important to remember, in this regard, that no version of a scientific theory is the last word, and that as science moves forward there can be some surprising revisions of prevailing orthodoxies. Second, Harrison personally hopes that philosophers and historians will continue to make their contributions. History is often an underexploited resource in these discussions, and sometimes understanding how a particular problem emerged historically can go a long way towards ameliorating that problem. The apparent clash of evolutionary contingency and divine providence is a case in point.

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Peter Harrison is an Australian Laureate Fellow and Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Queensland, Australia. Previously, Harrison was the Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion and Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre at the University of Oxford. He holds a PhD from the University of Queensland and a DLitt from Oxford, and he is a senior research fellow at Oxford’s Ian Ramsey Centre. Harrison is the author or editor of six books. His first book, “Religion” and the Religions in the English Enlightenment, traces the roots of the discipline of comparative religion back to the Enlightenment. The Bible, Protestantism, and the Rise of Natural Science establishes a link between the rise of modern science and the Protestant approach to interpreting texts. The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science demonstrates the religious underpinnings of scientific knowledge and inquiry. His newest book is The Territories of Science and Religion.

Jennifer Michael Hecht 

Ancient Hebraic Voices of Chance and Choice over Fate and Justice

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Jennifer Hecht is the author of seven books of history, philosophy, and poetry, including the bestseller Doubt: A History. Her most recent works are Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It, out from Yale University Press, and Who Said, a poetry book with Copper Canyon. Hecht’s The End of the Soul: Scientific Modernity, Atheism, and Anthropology won Phi Beta Kappa’s Ralph Waldo Emerson Award “For scholarly studies that contribute significantly to interpretations of the intellectual and cultural condition of humanity.”  Publisher’s Weekly called her poetry book, Funny, “One of the most original and entertaining books of the year.”  Hecht has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and The New Yorker. She has served as judge for literary prizes including the National Book Award. Hecht holds a Ph.D. in the history of science from Columbia University and now teaches in the MFA program at the New School in New York City.

Shaun Henson  | Oxford University

Throwing Dice? Thoughts of God in a Quantum World


Theologically, the “unknowability” of quantum physics creates interesting, if speculative, opportunities. If no scientific theory completely explains the actions of particles like electrons and photons, is the door not then open for God to influence particles to conform to the divine will? Are these phenomena merely a final gasp for divine providence, before science explains everything? Or does quantum mechanics deliver us to the place where, at nanoscopic scales, our world rests on randomness and unpredictability? Are the inexplicable operations of quantum particles just quaint puzzles for physicists, or are we peering into the abyss from which God moves, molds, makes, and mends a universe in which the future is not inexorably specified by the past?
— Shaun Henson

Quantum mechanics, which is how the universe really works at its most discrete and fundamental level, reveals a counterintuitive randomness that is shocking even to seasoned physicists. While this randomness can at first seem destructive to any notion of an orderly God (Albert Einstein thought so), the opposite effect is arguable: the quantum world reveals an openness and freedom that is actually more in keeping with major monotheistic depictions of a loving, gentle, and humble God, like one finds in Christianity.  

Writers like the particle physicist and priest John Polkinghorne, to name one well-known example, have written plenty on God and the quantum world. Many others by now have published what must be countless essays, articles, and even blog posts contemplating the same matters. Shaun Henson’s chapter, “Throwing Dice? Thoughts of God in a quantum world” gives a concise, helpful historical and philosophical treatment to the basics of quantum mechanics that interdisciplinary audiences can easily follow, and it includes the matter of God in a way that is true to that history and recent thinking on the subject, delivered in an entertaining yet serious way. 

The idea in this chapter of “throwing dice” comes from Einstein, who in debates with fellow physicist Niels Bohr likened the then growing random interpretation of quantum mechanics to the chance involved when throwing dice. He expressed this famously to Bohr as, “God does not play dice with the universe”. Reality, at the quantum level, demonstrates a universe that defies a gradually closing, organizational logic as explained by the likes of Aristotle, Newton, and Einstein. Instead, it shows an indeterminate openness that can only be discussed in terms of probability at best, and which can certainly be described as randomness and chance in everyday terms. The concept of chance is explained in the chapter in understandable detail using a number of familiar, everyday examples.

Shaun Henson has had a lifelong interest in the interface of philosophy and theology, especially with physics among the sciences. As early as high school he was particularly good in physics, such that Henson’s physics teacher asked him to teach the class quite a few of he and his peers were taking, and told him that he would be “wasting his life” if he didn’t become a physicist instead of pursuing his equal interests in philosophy and religion (Henson may not be a very good listener, it seems!). Eventually Henson’s doctoral work at Oxford University continued this interdisciplinary trend, as did his first academic monograph, God and Natural Order: Physics, Philosophy, and Theology (New York and London: Routledge, 2014).

Neither physics nor philosophy has fully grasped the implications of quantum mechanics. Despite the preponderance of evidence, it will take both time and creativity to adjust to the idea that our universe is fundamentally open. Perhaps Einstein’s principal mistake in rejecting the reality of the randomness revealed by quantum mechanics was also a theological error at some level, conflating his notion of “God” and a preference for a certain kind of natural order according to science, a determinism being overturned by the scientific revolution of quantum mechanics.
— Shaun Henson

In Henson’s opinion, the idea of God in a quantum world should be important to anyone who takes seriously, or who finds interesting in any sense, religion and physical science, or the separately considered concepts entailed when considering God and quantum mechanics. As his essay for Abraham’s Dice shows, ideas of God were a part of the development of quantum mechanics from the beginning, however seriously or not they may have been contemplated. This topical area overall is an ageless, timeless one with good appeal to any age group or gender. 

The future of this topic, says Henson, will largely concern multiverse theory, which, like it or not, is increasingly prevalent as an area in which physicists are investing their entire lives and research. It is also a controversial space in which those averse to God see a way to dismiss religion—as if one must choose—and in which religious people, including some physicists, are equally averse to the multiverse or dismiss it as nonsense. “If you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse,” as one British physicist frames the options. This either/or view is a mistake by both sets of thinkers. A concept like the multiverse, which reputable physicists are exploring at places like MIT, and which the public finds fascinating, is rich for philosophical and theological exploration (for an example of how multiverse theory has been applied to philosophical and theological questions, look no further than chapter 15 of Abraham’s Dice, by Michael Ruse, “Darwinian Evolution and a Providential God”). Both Ruse and Henson think people do not need to choose between God and the multiverse, particularly if they keep their focus on the serious foundations of such an idea in the development of quantum theory.

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 Dr. Shaun Henson teaches and researches in Oxford University’s Faculty of Theology and Religion. He works at the intersections of science, philosophy, and religion, teaching in areas like science and religion and Christian doctrine. Shaun has recently collaborated on an international research project based at the London School of Economics investigating God’s Order, Man’s Order, and the Order of Nature. A Church of England priest, he serves as Chaplain to St. Hugh’s College, Oxford. His new book is God and Natural Order: Physics, Philosophy, and Theology (New York and London: Routledge, 2013).

Alister McGrath | King’s College London 

Chance and Providence in the Thought of William Paley

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Alister McGrath is Professor of Theology, Ministry, and Education at King’s College in London, where he is also the head of the Centre for Theology, Religion, and Culture. He is the author of dozens popular-level books, including The Twilight of Atheism, The Dawkins Delusion?, and Why God Won’t Go Away. He recently published C.S. Lewis: A Life, a biography and collection of essays marking the 50th anniversary of Lewis’s death. Like Lewis, McGrath began his academic career as an atheist before becoming a Christian apologist; McGrath earned a doctorate in molecular biophysics from Oxford in 1978 and a doctorate in divinity from Oxford in 2001.

McGrath has also authored many academic texts, including Christian Theology: An Introduction, which has become one of the world’s leading theological textbooks. In 2009, McGrath delivered the Gifford Lectures, titled “A fine-tuned universe? Natural theology and anthropic phenomena.” McGrath is a Senior Research Fellow at Oxford’s Harris Manchester College, a founding member of the International Society for Science and Religion, and a fellow of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce.

Richard Miller | Creighton University

Chance and Providence in Early Christianity

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Richard Miller is Associate Professor and Director of the M.A. in Theology program at Creighton University.  His research interests include reconciling the Christian doctrine of providence with evil and human suffering, God as Mystery, the implications of the doctrine of the Trinity for ontology, the thought of Karl Rahner and Thomas Aquinas as resources for contemporary theology, and Catholicism and American public life. 

Miller has written numerous books including: Suffering in Christian Life and Experience; Women Through the Ages: Women and the Shaping of Catholicism; Spirituality for the 21st Century: Experiencing God in the Catholic Tradition; and Lay Ministry in the Catholic Church: Visioning Church Ministry Through the Wisdom of the Past.  Miller’s edited volume God, Creation, and Climate Change: A Catholic Response to the Environmental Crisis received second place in the Faith and Science category for the 2011 book awards of the Catholic Press Association. 


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Andrew Pinsent is the Research Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion at Oxford University, a Research Fellow of Harris Manchester College, and a member of the Faculty of Theology and Religion at Oxford. Pinsent is a co-director of “Science and Religion in Latin America,” a three-year research project at the Ian Ramsey Centre that aims to promote and document inquiry on science-and-religion in that region. He is a priest in the diocese of Arundel and Brighton in England and has contributed to thirty-one papers for the large hadron collider project at CERN in Switzerland.

In addition to numerous articles, Pinsent is the author of The Second Person Perspective in Aquinas’s Ethics: Virtues and Gifts, which illuminates Aquinas’s understanding of virtues through the lens of the science of social cognition. Pinsent has a doctorate in particle physics from Oxford, a doctorate in philosophy from Saint Louis University, and a degree in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. 


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Rev Dr. John Polkinghorne of Cambridge University, England, is a Fellow of the Royal Society, and a Fellow (and former President) of Queens' College, Cambridge. He gained his PhD in Physics in 1955.  He has been appointed an Honorary Professor of Physics at the University of Kent, a Fellow, Dean and Chaplain Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and in 1989 he was appointed President of Queens' College, from which he retired in 1996.  

He was Chairman of the Science, Medicine and Technology Committee of the Church of England's Board of Social Responsibility, of the Advisory Committee on Genetic Testing and of the publications committee of SPCK.  He chaired the joint working party on Cloning of the Human Genetics Advisory Commission and the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority.  He served on the General Synod and the Doctrine Commission of the Church of England, and on the Medical Ethics Committee of the British Medical Association. Polkinghorne has published a series of books exploring and developing aspects of the compatibility of religion and science, beginning with The Way the World Is ("What I would like to have said to my scientific colleagues who couldn't understand why I was being ordained"), and continued in a trilogy published by the SPCK: One World, Science and Creation, and Science and Providence. He was also awarded the Templeton Prize for Science and Religion in 2002 and also in that year became the Founding President of the International Society for Science and Religion.


The Natural Science of Greek Philosophy and the Social Science of Judaism Become the Super-Providence of Paul


In this chapter, writer and religious scholar Sarah Ruden argues that the Apostle Paul—who seems to give us the foundation of Christian theology, as he wrote before even the Gospel authors —introduces a startlingly new way of thinking about chance and providence. According to Ruden, the Greek philosophers had applied different degrees of quasi-scientific reasoning, and Jewish scripture and sectarian writing stress ethics and the covenant (a "science of history," as she calls it), but Paul really throws the fundamentals of both sides away through the idea of a "super-providence": humankind is cared for transcendently by the new salvation, so individual earthly fate, in detail, is not even important or interesting, let alone traceable or controllable.

The “Super-Providence of Paul” is best thought of as a reaction by Paul against the way explanations of the meaning of life were imbibed traditionally. In the historical period, both the Greeks and the Jews used reading, writing, and discussion to work out and propagate understandings of how and why things happened; it was a public, intellectualizing, sometimes legalistic process. (And for Hellenizing Jews—those inclined toward Greek culture, that is—religious thinking was to a significant degree philosophical, not scriptural: in their practice, the two traditions came even more closely together.) 

Christianity is, in its fundamentals, absolutely unique in its assertions about the events built into the structure of the universe and what they mean for individual human beings. This viewpoint is especially evident in Paul’s writings. Though Paul’s intention may have been to focus his followers’ minds on the helplessness and triviality of their earthly existence, as opposed to God’s immense, inscrutable power and unfailing, eternal care for them, one practical result of Paul’s teachings over time seems to have been the opposite: a space substantially empty of human authority was created, in which people felt licensed to understand and act as they wished.
— Sarah Ruden

For Paul, the conversion experience is all-important. A vast load of meaning is dumped on you from on high; you can't grasp a fraction of it, but that doesn't matter, because it's all so deeply accepted in its power and benevolence. You are on fire to share it, even though you can't explain it; over time, other people may more or less force you to take stabs at rationalizing, and a whole roughly coherent system may emerge, but you'll probably keep thinking and saying that this is all beside the point. As Paul writes: the Jews have "signs" (i.e., beliefs about the communication and enactment of the divine will), and the Greeks have philosophy, but he only "proclaims" (like a herald shouting it, that it) Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1:22-23, 2:2). 

It may all sound rather ho-hum according to our modern expectations; but at the time, this is not what respected writers and thinkers did. Paul was revolutionary both in doing it and in licensing others to do it. He thus turned what was at bottom mystical, inspirational, individual assertion into the machine of intellectual development it still is today. That meant, in essence, claiming that academic and ritual clubs were not in charge any more: God had done away with any cause such groupings had ever had to be preoccupied with how and why things happened. Ironically, Paul's "Forget about everything but the already accomplished big picture, and trust in God," became a license to chuck human authority and think with wild freedom about every conceivable picture, big and small. And this license prevailed, in spite of official crack-downs (some of them long and harsh, of course), from the age of myriad contradictory Christian sects through the Enlightenment and far beyond.

Pauline Christianity’s basic formulations reached well beyond religion in influence. It is not a coincidence that the Scientific Revolution was grounded in the same geography as Christianity. Not every celebrity of the new thinking was Christian, but Spinoza, Newton, and others— though in different ways— all adjusted themselves against existing dogma and moved beyond it, and it proved to have little power to slow them down. The unexpungeable license to speculate, to reason, to formulate for oneself continued to mean a busy, broad, and deep filling- in of the enormous gap in authority that Paul had endorsed and acted on again and again in his ministry. Ironically, the natural sciences and other studies that reject metaphysics altogether have their ancestor in the ideas developed by history’s greatest religious innovator.
— Sarah Ruden

In this work, Ruden acts mainly as a translator concentrating on original texts, trying to read them more intricately, skeptically examining traditional translations, and getting into the minds of the authors. Ruden reads a lot of the contemporary literature, that is, what the authors read or may have read, and uses reference books like concordances and a few dedicated works like commentaries to aim at the style and tone as well as the meaning of passages. In fact, in ancient works, form and content were more tightly fused, so that you can learn a lot just from, say, word order. 

In a roundabout way, says Ruden, this work along (with her first book, Paul among the People) has brought her to the theological and philosophical questions other scholars address in more familiar ways. In an inquiry like this present one, into a text like Paul's letters, her method of reading deeply and broadly in ancient literature adds something, in that she question not just what the bare words mean, but also Paul’s attitude as shown by his words. Is he being impatient? Sarcastic? Goofy? Solemn? It's helpful to consider such possibilities particularly in connection to chance and providence, as we have very few statements about them in Paul that we could call direct. Ruden takes the ancient rhetoricians at their word that a literary persona—especially a personal style—tells a vital story, and in this way she reads Paul, and help us to read Paul, as to how he thinks the universe and history work.

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Sarah Ruden is a journalist, poet, translator, and writer on religion and culture. She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2010 to translate Aeschylus’s Oresteia, and she has also published translations of the Homeric Hymns, Virgil’s Aeneid, and Aristophanes’s Lysistrata and Apuleius’s Golden Ass. She is currently working on a translation of Augustine’s Confessions. In addition to translating, Ruden writes about religion: her book Paul among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Re- imagined in His Own Time, contrasts Paul’s egalitarian vision with contemporaneous Greek and Roman literature; and she is completing The

Voice, the Harp, the Book: A Translator on Beauty and Meaning in the Bible. In 1996, she received South Africa’s then- leading book prize, the Central News Agency Literary Award, for her collection of poems entitled Other Places. Sarah Ruden earned a PhD in classical philology from Harvard University, after which she spent ten years teaching, translating, and writing in South Africa. Her work there shed light on the role churches played and could play in alleviating post- apartheid problems.


Chance and Providence in the Islamic Tradition 

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Dr. Mustafa Ruzgar is an Assistant Professor of Religion at California State University, Northridge.  Born in Turkey, he completed his B.A. in Islamic Studies at Uludag University in Bursa, Turkey.  He received his Ph.D. in Philosophy of Religion and Theology at Claremont Graduate University in 2008.  Ruzgar’s research interests and publications include themes in Islamic thought, contemporary philosophy of religion and theology, process philosophy and theology, religious pluralism, and interfaith dialogue. 

Ruzgar’s most recent article, “An Islamic Perspective: Theological Development and the Problem of Evil” is published in Religions in the Making: Whitehead and the Wisdom Traditions of the World, edited by John B. Cobb, Jr. 


Darwinian Evolution and a Providential God: The Human Problem


...part of the problem here is what one means by complexity ... Compare warthogs with millipedes. Does one count every warthog hair, or does the hair as a whole count as one? Does one count every millipede leg or do the legs collectively count as one? If you are comparing a bald man with a hairy man, then surely each active follicle counts as something at the same level of detail. ... Complexity is a very nebulous notion. Even if it does make sense, why it should equate to advancement, or in the biological world, to intelligence, seems entirely another matter. And even if it does all work, can one guarantee that it actually will work down here on this planet—or elsewhere in the universe for that matter?
— Michael Ruse

The central thesis of philosopher Michael Ruse’s chapter is deceptively simple: Christianity is untouched by science. Of course, Ruse goes on to argue, Christianity is not untouched by science if one’s idea of Christianity includes a literal Adam and Eve; however if you are talking of God, of Jesus as savior, and even of resurrections, on Ruse’s view, science can’t touch you. However, this does not invite attempts at proving that the resurrection is a reasonable belief. According to Ruse, “You take it on faith or not at all.”

This topic and the line of questioning Ruse undertakes in Abraham’s Dice is not new by any means; however often when discussing questions of theology and philosophy, scientists come unprepared because in our modern world with its strong disciplinary divisions, scientists’ training does not emphasize philosophy. Thus books and essays by scientists about theology—including those of well-knowns like Arthur Peacocke, John Polkinghorne, George Ellis, and others—is far from first rate scholarship in the field. Ruse, whose formal training is as a philosopher first and foremost, and because he is not, himself, a Christian, explores the relationship between science and religion with a view to judging claims on their worth as rational arguments and is not “handicapped by a desperate desire to prove Christianity rational at any cost...” 

Can one find laws that will do what one wants— whatever God’s role in making and sustaining them? Can we produce human beings in a way demanded by Christian theology? Actually, thanks to points made by atheist writer and popularizer Richard Dawkins, God might be a bit more constrained at this point than one suspects.
— Michael Ruse

According to Ruse, this orientation towards the scholarship is “deeply Kantian;” for it was Immanuel Kant who once wrote, “I had to destroy reason to make room for faith.” And like Thomas Henry Huxley, Ruse is deeply religious in the complete absence of theology. His choice to focus his research on the intersection of science and religion came, at first, from Ruse’s discovery of so-called “human problem” in philosophy of science and religion. When he wrote Can a Darwinian be a Christian? Ruse thought the big problem hindering Christian acceptance of evolution would be the problem of evil. It is still a big problem overall but in the Darwinian case, Ruse found the existence of humans in the face of the non-directedness of evolution to be the more massive issue. According to Ruse, “I didn’t solve it in that book but I have come back to it and now I think I can solve it, so long as one allows multiverses... ” Ruse jokes, “At a personal level, since I am 75, I expect in ten years’ time to have all of the answers!

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Michael Ruse is the Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy and the Director of the History and Philosophy of Science Program at the University of Florida. Ruse has written numerous books, including The Darwinian Revolution: Science Red in Tooth and Claw, Monad to Man: The Concept of Progress in Evolutionary Biology, and Can a Darwinian Be a Christian? The Relationship between Science and Religion. Ruse specializes in the relationship between science and religion, emphasizing the creation versus evolution controversy and the problem of defining the boundaries of science. He frequently writes for widely read publications such as The Guardian and the Huffington Post. Ruse describes himself as an agnostic, claiming that both “new atheism” and “humanism” fail to represent his views. Ruse formerly taught at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, for thirty- five years. He was a key witness in the 1981 trial of McLean v. Arkansas, which determined whether the Arkansas school system had the right to mandate the teaching of “creation science.” In 1986, he was elected as a Fellow of both the Royal Society of Canada and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Ruse holds honorary doctorates from four institutions: University of Bergen (1990), McMaster University (2003), the University of New Brunswick (2007), and University College London (2014).

Ignacio Silva | Oxford University

Thomas Aquinas on Natural Contingency and Providence


For Thomas Aquinas, natural things have a tendency to act in a particular way, according to their particular kind of being. Thus (as before) fire heats, and water wets. Aquinas asserts, then, that natural things are somehow determined to act toward one single kind of effect. Nevertheless, Aquinas also teaches that a natural thing may or may not accomplish the effect which its nature has determined it to accomplish. In saying this, Aquinas explicitly rejects a rigid determinism in nature, that is the position that whenever there is a cause a certain determinate effect necessarily follows. Because natural things are contingent in their being, that is, they either can or cannot be, Aquinas affirms that their actions are also contingent. Thus, they can fail in their natural actions.
— Ignacio Silva

Thomas Aquinas, a thirteenth century philosopher and theologian, strongly supported the view that events in the natural world where we live are not fully determined in their causes. As such, he crafted the notion that as things are contingent in their being (because they depend on the creative act of God), they are also contingent in their acting (because it is possible for them not to cause what their causal powers were to cause) hence failing seldom in their causing.

Much has been written on Thomas Aquinas, certainly, him being one of the most prolific and profound authors in history, counted among the most influential authors of all time in philosophy and theology. Nevertheless, not much has been written on his ideas regarding the relationship between contingent events and divine providence, and it is on that particular issue in which Ignacio Silva focuses his attention in this chapter. Silva’s formative studies in philosophy in Argentina sparked his interest in studying Aquinas, and he has done so for the last fifteen years. Noticing, however, the different perspectives taken by different currents of Thomist thought in the English-speaking and Latin worlds, he has decided to bring those two together in his writing.

Aquinas inherited the discussions on divine activity in the world in relation to natural causes from his Arabic Aristotelian and anti-Aristotelian predecessors. Addressing this issue with a synthesis of Neoplatonic and Aristotelian philosophies, Aquinas was able to produce a sophisticated account of God’s action and its relationship to the action of natural created contingent causes. Yet in what can be seen an unexpected move, Aquinas affirms that the created universe is more perfect because it includes imperfect contingent causality, that is, natural causes which do not determine the effect in its totality. Nevertheless, Aquinas does not want to say that it is God who somehow completes this lack of efficient power. On the contrary, Aquinas is convinced that, given his account of primary and secondary causation, God accomplishes God’s own intentions through the contingency of the created causes.
— Ignacio Silva

The basic idea in Thomist understanding of chance is that nature is flexible, meaning that there are events in nature which one could expect with certainty, and those are events fully determined by their causes (Aquinas, thinking in an Aristotelian pre-Newtonian world, speaks of the movements of the heavens); then there are other events which one could expect with a very high probability, and these are events which are not fully determined but happen almost every time in the same way; and the there are events which happen occasionally and somehow escape from the determination of their causes. Hence, one could say that Aquinas sees in the world an interplay of determination and indetermination, contingency and necessity. Aquinas’ main argument—which distinguishes between the way God acts in the world and the way in which creatures act—emphasizes God’s transcendence and at the same time God’s involvement in creation. This understanding can illuminate for scientists and theologians the ways in which we speak about God’s actions and the actions of creatures, and hence can help us distinguish between the discourse of science and that of theology.

In doing this work for the Abraham’s Dice project, Silva feels the insights articulated from Thomas Aquinas have helped him see how God is active in the whole universe, in every event, and hence in his own life. In the future, he thinks that if scholars can expand with greater detail upon Aquinas’ ideas on why natural beings act contingently with contemporary ideas of randomness and chance, and upon Aquinas’ thought on why things behave and act the way they do, such research could prove extremely beneficial and shed some light in our understanding of science itself understanding the natural world.

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Ignacio Silva is a Research Fellow at the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion and Harris Manchester College at the University of Oxford. He received his DPhil from Oxford for his work on divine action. Silva is a codirector of “Science, Philosophy and Theology in Latin America,” a three-year research project at the Ian Ramsey Centre that aims to promote and document inquiry on science and religion in that region. Silva has written two books, Saint Thomas Aquinas: On the Unity of the Intellect against Averroists and Indeterminism in Nature and Quantum Mechanics: Werner Heisenberg and Thomas Aquinas. Silva is also coeditor of the series “International Perspectives on Science, Culture and Society” at Pickering and Chatto publishers. Silva has written several scholarly essays, including: “Revisiting Aquinas on Providence and Rising to the Challenge of Divine Action in Nature” and “Thomas Aquinas Holds Fast: Objections to Aquinas within Today’s Debate on Divine Action,” which explore Aquinas’s account of divine action and analyze the arguments for and against it; and “John Polkinghorne on Divine Action: A Coherent Theological Evolution” and “Great Minds Think (Almost) Alike: Thomas Aquinas and Alvin Plantinga on Divine Action in Nature.”

Karl Giberson, Editor | Stonehill College

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Karl Giberson is a leading public voice in America’s creation-evolution controversy. He has a Ph.D in physics from Rice University.  He teaches science & religion, and writing seminars at Stonehill College and blogs for the Huffington Post and other venues. His book Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution was recognized as “one of the best books of 2008” by the Washington Post. 

Giberson has appeared on NPR's Talk of the Nation, the Milton Rosenberg show and other radio programs, and been featured in the NY Times, USA Today,,, the Guardian and other leading publications. He has lectured at the Vatican, Oxford University, London’s Thomas Moore Institute, The Ettore Majorana Center in Sicily, The Venice Institute of Arts and Letters, The University of Navarre in Spain, and other venue.  Giberson has authored and co-authored 9 books, including Seven Glorious Days, The Wonder of the Universe, The Anointed, and Quantum Leap. His work has been translated into Italian, Spanish, Romanian, Polish, and Portugese.