2008 J. K. Russell Fellowship with Dr. George V. Coyne, S.J.
Saturday, March 15, 2008, 9:30am-5pm
J.K. Russell Research Conference, “Twenty Years After the New View from Rome: Pope John Paul II on Science and Religion”
Richard S. Dinner Board Room, Graduate Theological Union Library (Hewlett)
When the adventure of exploration, which I wish to summarize here, began I was privileged to be a party to it and, in fact, wrote the Preface to the book, Physics, Philosophy and Theology: A Common Quest for Understanding (PPT), whose publication became the inspiration and the guiding beacon for the series of conferences which ensued over a period of twenty years, dedicated to the overarching theme of Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action.
At that time I insisted upon the fact that we were about to engage in a “small beginning.” That small beginning was a conference held at the Vatican Observatory from 21 to 26 September 1987 at the request of Pope John Paul II to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the publication of Isaac Newton’s Principia. One of the first steps in that small beginning was the publication in that PPT volume of an outstanding message of John Paul II on the interaction between the culture of religious faith and that of science. The Pope says, for instance, directing himself to the scientists, philosophers and theologians whose research is contained in the PPT volume: “You are called to learn from one another, to renew the context in which science is done and to nourish the inculturation which vital theology demands. Each of you has everything to gain from such an interaction, and the human community which we both serve has a right to demand it from us.”
And so from that small beginning where have we arrived? I would propose that, having accomplished a great deal in defining the principal issues in coming to understand God’s action in the universe in light of our scientific knowledge in areas ranging from cosmology to the neurosciences and having begun to refine a research methodology to address those issues, we are at a new beginning. A sampling of the issues which came to be more acutely defined as the series progressed would include: diversity in the metaphysics employed in understanding the nature of God, the interplay between general divine action and special divine action as well as between God’s activity in nature and in history, the status of natural theology, interventionist versus non-interventionist approaches to understanding God’s action, the limits of science, the nature of the laws of nature, the understanding of quantum indeterminacy, physical evil, reductionist versus an emergent philosophy of nature, the role of information theory, and so on. The adventure continues and the excitement of discovery is there. Our past experience presents a rather well defined road for the discoveries that lie ahead.