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Report on Science and Religion Conference in Kyoto, Japan

Here, CTNS Founder and Director, Bob Russell contributes a partial presentation that he gave at a public lecture at the Center for Humanities, Science and Religion Conference, Kyoto, Japan on June 21, 2005.

“Religion and Peace in the Nuclear Age: Reflections as a Christian Theologian on the 60th Anniversary of the Nuclear Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki”
By Robert John Russell


The central question raised for me by this extraordinary conference is this: how am I to respond to the challenge posed by nuclear weapons to the very credibility of Christian faith on which I have based my ethical assessment of nuclear deterrence? Indeed is Christian faith even intelligible after the events of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? If it is in fact unintelligible, why should anyone take seriously its ethical arguments in the inter-religious and the public debates over nuclear weapons? I will articulate this challenge in the form of three key questions to which I will offer preliminary responses for further discussion and reflection. (The first of these is presented here in abbreviated form in this brief summary of the complete conference paper.)

A. Why would God create a universe in which nuclear weapons are possible?

My response starts with a theological claim about God’s purpose in creating the universe: namely the creation of life in all its forms and, in particular, creatures capable of accepting God’s gracious invitation to enter into covenant with God, with each other, and with all of life on earth. Turning to mainstream science we now know that life arose on earth through the processes of variation and natural selection that underlie Darwinian evolution. Thus in light of our scientific knowledge the clear conclusion theologically is that Darwinian evolution is God’s way of creating life: God works in, with, under and through the biological processes through which life evolves. This claim is often called “theistic evolution” since it is a theistic, compared with a non-theistic or an atheistic, interpretation of biological evolution. Theistic evolution is held by most scholars in ‘theology and science,’ including Arthur Peacocke, Ian Barbour, John Polkinghorne, Nancey Murphy, and many others.

Now there is an intimate connection between the evolution of life and the kind of physics required for evolution to be possible. I will focus here on special relativity because nuclear fusion and nuclear fission, which are based on relativity, are crucial to evolution. For example, nuclear fusion in our sun transforms hydrogen to helium. The accompanying loss of mass, predicted by Einstein’s famous equation e = mc2, is transformed into sunlight. Sunlight, in turn, heats the earth and is turned into food by photosynthetic plants. Nuclear fission heats the core of the earth, producing the earth’s magnetic field and, through volcanic eruptions, leading to changes the geological history of the planet, a major factor in natural selection.

The crucial point for our conference is that nuclear fission and fusion are also the bases for the atomic and hydrogen bombs, respectively. This means that the kind of physics which helps make evolution possible, special relativity, also makes nuclear weapons possible. How overwhelmingly ironic that relativity should play a crucial role in one of humankind’s most heinous weapons for potentially ending the very life which relativity helped make possible in the first place. Yet the connection between relativity and evolution leads us back to and offers a partial insight into the issue we began with: God’s purpose in creating the universe in general is to create life in all its forms through the natural processes of biological evolution. Within this, God’s particular purpose is to create creatures capable of accepting God’s gracious invitation to enter into covenant with God, with each other, and with all of life on earth. The indirect but unavoidable consequence is that the universe is one in which nuclear weapons are possible.


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