Vatican Observatory and CTNS Collaboration

Collaboration with the Vatican Observatory

The Vatican Observatory/CTNS Project: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action (VO/CTNS: 1990-2005).

Beginning in 1990, the Vatican Observatory and CTNS co-sponsored a series of international research conferences on a variety of topics in “theology and science” that touch in varying ways on the overall theme, “scientific perspectives on divine action.” The series produced six scholarly volumes with contributions from over fifty distinguished scientists, philosophers and theologians. CTNS Founder and Director Robert John Russell served as the General Editor of the VO/CTNS series. Click the tab on the right for chapter summaries from these volumes.  

The Vatican Observatory-CTNS book series is the fruit of a multi-year collaborative research project between the two institutions. It brought together into creative mutual interaction a diversity of topics in contemporary systematic and philosophical theology and fundamental theories and groundbreaking discoveries in the natural sciences. Special attention was given to the theological concept of divine action in relation to the sciences. The series featured an international team of scholars including cosmologists, physicists, biologists, cognitive neuroscientists, philosophers of science, philosophers of religion, systematic and philosophical theologians, biblical scholars, and historians of science.

The series began with a call from Pope John Paul II in 1979 for "fruitful concord between science and faith, between the Church and the world." In response, Dr. George Coyne, Director of the Vatican Observatory in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, organized the first major international conference in 1987 which resulted in the volume, Physics, Philosophy, and Theology: A Common Quest for Understanding (1988). This volume included an eloquent message from Pope John Paul II on the need for a fruitful dialogue between science and religion. Based on this, Dr. Coyne proposed a major new initiative: a series of five conferences to span the decade of the 1990s. Its goal would be to expand upon the research agenda begun in Physics, Philosophy, and Theology.

In 1990, CTNS accepted Dr. Coyne's invitation to co-sponsor the series and jointly publish the resulting papers. The books were jointly published by the Vatican Observatory and CTNS, distributed by the University of Notre Dame Press. The resulting five publications focus on the problem of divine action from a particular scientific perspective: Quantum Cosmology and the Laws of Nature, edited by Robert Russell and Nancey Murphy (1993), Chaos and Complexity, edited by Robert Russell, Nancey Murphy, and Arthur Peacocke (1996), Evolutionary and Molecular Biology, edited by Robert Russell, William Stoeger S.J., and Francisco Ayala (1998), Neuroscience and the Person, edited by Robert Russell, Nancey Murphy, Theo Meyering, and Michael Airbib (1999), and Quantum Mechanics, edited by Robert Russell, Philip Clayton, Kirk Wegter-McNelly, and John Polkinghorne (2002). A multi-year grant from a San Francisco Bay Area foundation supported the Center's collaborative work with the Vatican Observatory.

The VO-CTNS collaboration then took up the problem of theodicy in the context of moral evil to what is routinely overlooked: the problem of theodicy in the context of natural evil (i.e., suffering, disease, death, extinction, and so on), beginning with the problem of natural evil at the level of physics and cosmology. The resulting publication is titled Physics and Cosmology: Scientific Perspective on the Problem of Natural Evil, edited by Nancey Murphy, Robert John Russell and William Stoeger, S.J.