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Abraham's Dice

Abraham's Dice

Oxford University Press | 2016

Due May 2016

Due May 2016

Abraham’s Dice is a collaborative effort among leading scholars from around the world to explore the interplay of chance and providence in the monotheistic religious traditions.

We aim to examine the significance of randomness and its intersection—or lack thereof--with divine action. We want to know how that interplay has been understood over time as our appreciation of the workings of nature has changed. Our explorations range widely and include:

  • Chance in the Hebrew and New Testament Worldviews
  • Chance in the early Christian Tradition to Augustine
  • Chance in the Koran and the Islamic Tradition
  • Purpose and Randomness in the thought of Aquinas and the Scholastics
  • Chance, Sovereignty and Providence in the Calvinist Tradition
  • Chance in the Scientific Revolutionthe Clockwork Universe, from Isaac Newton to William Paley
  • Contingency and providence in the historical sciences: evolution and earth history
  • Quantum Mechanics and the ontology of randomness
  • Chaos theory, randomness, and divine action
  • Theological reflections on quantum mechanics
  • Randomness in the history of the universe: Modern Cosmology
  • Is evolution too random to be God’s way of creating?
  • Randomness and the problem of evil
  • Divine action in non-Abrahamic religions

Contributing authors

John BarrowCambridge University


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, Abraham's Dice

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, Abraham's Dice



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.

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Reinhold BernhardtUniversity of Basel | Email

Reinhold Bernhardt is a professor of systematic theology at the University of Basel in Swizterland, where he previously served as dean of the Faculty of Theology. He is co-editor of the quarterly journal Theologische Zeitschrift, an interdisciplinary and multi-lingual publication promoting cross-disciplinary theological dialogue. Bernhardt earned his Ph.D. from the University of Heidelberg in 1990 with a dissertation titled “Der Absolutheitsanspruch Des Christentums: Von Der Aufklarung Bis Zur Pluralistischen Religionstheologie” (“The Absoluteness of Christianity: From the Enlightenment to the pluralistic theology of religions”).

In addition, Bernhardt has written four books: Was heißt "Handeln Gottes"? Eine Rekonstruktion der Lehre von der Vorsehung Gottes (“What are “Acts of God”? A reconstruction of the doctrine of God’s Providence”); Wahrheit in Offenheit. Der christliche Glaube und die Religionen (“Truth in Openness: The Christion Faith and Religions”); “Ende des Dialogs? Die Begegnung der Religionen und ihre theologische Reflexion” (“End of Dialogue? The encounter of religions and their theological reflections”), and Zwischen Größenwahn, Fanatismus und Bekennermut. Für ein Christentum ohne Absolutheitsanspruch (“Between Megalomania, Fanaticism, and Courage of Conviction: Toward a Christianity Without Absoluteness”). Bernhardt has also edited ten anthologies, written more than eighty articles for books or encyclopedias and more than fifty articles for scholarly journals. 

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Jim BradleyCalvin College | LinkedIn | Email

Jim Bradley taught mathematics and computer science at Calvin College 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 co-author of Mathematics through the Eyes of Faith and co-editor of Mathematics in a Postmodern Age: A Christian Perspective. 

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John Hedley BrookeOxford University | Email

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. 

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Oliver CrispFuller Theological Seminary | LinkedIn | Email

Oliver Crisp is a professor of systemic theology at the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He has also taught at the University of Bristol in England, the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and Regent College in Canada. Crisp is the author of seven books, including Divinity and Humanity: The Incarnation Reconsidered, God Incarnate: Explorations in Christology, and Revisioning Christology: Theology in the Reformed Tradition. His most recent book, Jonathan Edwards on God and Creation, argues that Edwards offered original and overlooked insights on the interrelation between God and the created order.

Crisp has also published articles in professional journals such as Religious Studies, Journal of Theological Studies, and International Journal for Systematic Theology. He is on the advisory board for the Center for Philosophy of Religion at the University of Notre Dame, and from 2007 to 2010 he was Secretary to the Society for the Study of Theology in the UK. He is working on two books: one about the atonement and another on the eschatological themes of universalism and particularism.


Byung Soo Han | Central Reformed Theological Seminary

Byung Soo (Paul) Han is a professor at Central Reformed Theological Seminary and vice-president of The Theological Institute of Yullin Church in South Korea. He is completing a Ph.D. in historical theology from Calvin Theological Seminary, and holds a masters of divinity from Korea Baptist Theological Seminary. He has taught theology at Central Reformed Theological Seminary and Calvin Seminary.

Han has published three scholarly essays: “Scriptura sui ipsius interpres: Moethodological continuity and exegetical discontinuity between Humanism and Reformation as seen in Erasmus and Calvin” in Jurnal Teologi Reformed Indonesia, “Comprehensive Reformed orthodox theology in Amandus Polanus” in Reformed Theologians after Calvin, and “Kant on God and Morality” in the Journal of Christian Philosophy. In addition, he has published three Korean translations of theological texts: Richard A. Mueller’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.

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Peter HarrisonUniversity of Queensland | Email

Peter Harrison is a Research Professor and the Director of the Centre for the History of European Discourses at the University of Queensland in Australia. Previously, Harrison taught history and philosophy at Bond University in Australia and was the Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion and Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre at the University of Oxford. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Queensland and a D.Litt 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 the 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 Religion, Science and Modernity.

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Jennifer Michael Hecht  | Email 

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.

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Shaun Henson  | Oxford University 

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).

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Alister McGrathKing’s College London | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube

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.

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Richard MillerCreighton University | Email

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 PinsentOxford University | Facebook | Email

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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 John Polkinghorne | Cambridge University

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.

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Sarah Ruden | Brown University | Email

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 Homeric Hymns, Virgil’s Aeneid, and Aristophanes’ Lysistrata. In addition to translation, Ruden writes about religion, including her Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Re-imagined in His Own Time, which contrasts Paul’s comparatively egalitarian vision against contemporaneous Greek and Roman literature. She received South Africa’s then-leading book prize, The Central News Agency Literary Award, for her collection of poems titled Other Places in 1996.

Ruden earned a Ph.D. in classical philology from Harvard University, after which she spent ten years working as a writer in South Africa. Her work there shed light on the role the church had played and could play in alleviating the post-apartheid problems. Ruden’s ninth book, The Music Inside the Whale, and Other Marvels: A Translator on the Beauty of the Bible, will be published shortly.                

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Mustafa RuzgarCalifornia State University, Northridge | Email

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. 

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Michael Ruse | University of Florida | Email

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; The Philosophy of Biology Today; Sociobiology: Sense or Nonsense?; and Is science sexist? And Other Problems in the Biomedical Sciences. Ruse specializes in the relationship between science and religion emphasizing the creation vs. evolution controversy and the problem of defining the boundaries of science.  He frequently writes for 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. In 1990, Ruse received honorary doctorates from the University of Bergen, McMaster University, and the University of New Brunswick. 

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Ignacio Silva | Oxford University | LinkedIn | Email   

Ignacio Silva is a Research Fellow at the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion at Oxford University. He received his Ph.D. from Oxford for his work on divine action.  Silva 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. 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 has written several scholarly essays, including “Thomas Aquinas Holds Fast: Objections to Aquinas within Today’s Debate on Divine Action,” which analyzes problems with the arguments for and against Thomistic accounts of divine action, and “John Polkinghorne on Divine Action: a Coherent Theological Evolution,” which examines Polkinghorne’s account of divine action.  Silva’s doctoral thesis, “Divine Action in Nature. Thomas Aquinas and the Contemporary Debate,” highlights modern issues with divine action in contrast to the viewpoint of Thomas Aquinas. 

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Karl Giberson, Editor | Stonehill College | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

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. 

2 things to do today:


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2 things to watch for:

  1. Abraham’s Dice conference at Stonehill College in 2014
  2. Abraham's Dice the book, expected publication 2015


Are chance and randomness related? Find out.