HOME

 

 

    NEWS

INTERVIEWS

RESOURCES

ABOUT

View by:

 SUBJECT

 THEME

QUESTION

  TERM

 PERSON

   EVENT

Russell, Robert John. “Special Providence and Genetic Mutation: A New Defense of Theistic Evolution."

Robert Russell works within the context of theistic evolution: biological evolution is God’s way of creating life. God is both the transcendent source ex nihilo of the universe as a whole, including its sheer existence at each moment and the laws of nature, and the immanent Creator of all physical and biological complexity, acting continuously in, with, under, and through the processes of nature. But can we press the case further and think of God’s special providence in nature? And can we do so without viewing God’s action as an intervention into these processes and a violation of the laws of nature?

To many theologians, the connection between special providence and intervention has seemed unavoidable, leaving them with a forced option. 1) Liberals, attempting to avoid interventionism, reduce special providence to our subjective response to what is simply God’s uniform action. 2) Conservatives support objective special providence and accept its interventionist implications. The purpose of Russell’s paper is to move us beyond these options to a new approach: a non-interventionist understanding of objective special providence. This is only possible theologically if nature, at some level, can be interpreted philosophically as ontologically indeterministic in light of contemporary science. Russell’s claim is that quantum mechanics provides one such possibility. Moreover, since quantum mechanics underlies the processes of genetic mutation, and since mutation together with natural selection constitute the central features of the neo-Darwinian understanding of evolution, then we can view evolution theologically as genuinely open to objective special providence without being forced into interventionism.

In section two, Russell claims that his project is neither a form of natural theology, of physico-theology, nor an argument from design. Instead it is part of a general constructive trinitarian theology pursued as fides quaerens intellectum. He suggests why a non-interventionist view of objective special providence should be important theologically. He argues for an indeterministic interpretation of quantum physics. Finally he address three scientific issues regarding the role of quantum mechanics in genetic mutation and the role of genetic variation in biological evolution.

Section three reviews the history of the project, beginning with the writings of Karl Heim and William Pollard in the 1950s and including recent works by Arthur Peacocke and John Polkinghorne. One key question is whether God acts in all quantum events (as Nancey Murphy claims) or merely in some (as Tom Tracy suggests). Another regards the problem of theodicy when God is taken as acting throughout evolution. Russell closes this section by reflecting on issues raised by these authors.

Section four addresses three caveats. First, Russell’s hypothesis is not meant as an explanation of “how” God acts, but merely one domain where the effects of God’s special action might occur. Second, it is not meant as either an epistemic or an ontological “gaps” argument. Still quantum mechanics may one day be replaced. Russell’s methodology is intentionally designed to handle “gaps” like this by incorporating implications from physics and philosophy into constructive theology while keeping theology open to changes in these implications. Third, Russell’s argument is not meant to exclude divine action at other levels in nature or “top-down” and “whole-part” approaches. However, these are unintelligible without intervention until the evolution of sufficiently complex phenomena. This leaves a bottom-up approach via quantum mechanics the most reasonable option for the early sweep of evolution.

Section five engages two final challenges. First, “chance” in evolution also challenges the possibility of God achieving a future purpose by acting in the present. Russell responds that God acts not by foreseeing the future from the present but by eternally seeing the future in its own present. In passing Russell comments on a potential conflict with the implications of special relativity regarding this claim. The second challenge is theodicy. Russell notes that suffering, disease and death are conditions required for the evolution of freedom and moral agency. He suggests that we relocate the question of God’s action in evolution to a theology of redemption and eschatology if we are to address adequately the problem of theodicy.

Email link | Printer-friendly | Feedback | Contributed by: CTNS/Vatican Observatory

| More

Topic Sets Available

AAAS Report on Stem-Cells

AstroTheology: Religious Reflections on Extraterrestrial Life Forms

Agency: Human, Robotic and Divine
Becoming Human: Brain, Mind, Emergence
Big Bang Cosmology and Theology (GHC)
Cosmic Questions CD-ROM Preview...
Cosmic Questions Interviews

Cosmos and Creator
Creativity, Spirituality and Computing Technologies
CTNS Content Home
Darwin: A Friend to Religion?
Demystifying Information Technology
Divine Action (GHC)
Dreams and Dreaming: Neuroscientific and Religious Visions'
E. Coli at the No Free Lunchroom
Engaging Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence: An Adventure in Astro-Ethics
Evangelical Atheism: a response to Richard Dawkins
Ecology and Christian Theology
Evolution: What Should We Teach Our Children in Our Schools?
Evolution and Providence
Evolution and Creation Survey
Evolution and Theology (GHC)
Evolution, Creation, and Semiotics

The Expelled Controversy
Faith and Reason: An Introduction
Faith in the Future: Religion, Aging, and Healthcare in the 21st Century

Francisco Ayala on Evolution

From Christian Passions to Scientific Emotions
Genetic Engineering and Food

Genetics and Ethics
Genetic Technologies - the Radical Revision of Human Existence and the Natural World

Genomics, Nanotechnology and Robotics
Getting Mind out of Meat
God and Creation: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on Big Bang Cosmology
God, Humanity and the Cosmos: A Textbook in Science and Religion
God the Spirit - and Natural Science
Historical Examples of the Science and Religion Debate (GHC)
History of Creationism
Intelligent Design Coming Clean

Issues for the Millennium: Cloning and Genetic Technologies
Jean Vanier of L'Arche
Nano-Technology and Nano-ethics
Natural Science and Christian Theology - A Select Bibliography
Neuroscience and the Soul
Outlines of the Science and Religion Debate (GHC)

Perspectives on Evolution

Physics and Theology
Quantum Mechanics and Theology (GHC)
Questions that Shape Our Future
Reductionism (GHC)
Science and Suffering

Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action (CTNS/Vatican Series)

Space Exploration and Positive Stewardship

Stem-Cell Debate: Ethical Questions
Stem-Cell Ethics: A Theological Brief

Stem-Cell Questions
Theistic Evolution: A Christian Alternative to Atheism, Creationism, and Intelligent Design...
Theology and Science: Current Issues and Future Directions
Unscientific America: How science illiteracy threatens our future
Will ET End Religion?

Current Stats: topics: >2600, links: >300,000, video: 200 hours.