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Gilkey, Langdon. “The God of Nature.”

Langdon Gilkey’s paper considers two questions: whether nature’s processes suggest the existence of a God, and if so, what sort of God. However, he emphasizes that the traces of God that may be found in nature are not the main source of religious belief; for Christians, God is encountered primarily in history.

Science, including chaos theory, provides a picture of reality that combines both order and novelty; the ascending order can well be described as an order of increasing value. Reflection on this scientific picture of reality, along with the wider data of human experience (history) leads to ontology or metaphysics - the effort to understand the structure of being qua being. This level of reflection is crucial for both the scientist and the theologian. For the scientist it provides the rational grounding for science itself. Metaphysics is crucial for the theologian, since “proofs” of any sort for the existence of God are always conditional upon a particular metaphysical structuring of experience.

Consequently, the aspects of nature suggested by the sciences must be represented in ontological categories. Beyond and through the abstractions of the scientific understanding of nature, nature’s reality has manifested itself as power, as spontaneity or life, as order, and as implying a redemptive principle, a strange dialectic of sacrifice, purgation, redemption, and rebirth. In nature each of these appear as vulnerable and ambiguous as well as creative. Each of these characteristics, therefore, raises a “limit question,” and thus represents a trace of God. For example, what is the deeper, more permanent power that makes possible the transitory appearance of power in nature? ‘God’ is the name for that ever-continuing source of power. To know God truly is to know God’s presence in the power, life, order, and redemptive unity of nature; to know nature truly is to know its mystery, depth, and ultimate value - to know it as an image of the sacred.

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