Future of Mainline Protestantism
Time to Celebrate! Mainline Protestantism and Natural Science
But wait! Much of the sciences on which such a closed view of nature was based have been replaced by the new sciences of the 20th century. From the mind/brain problem involving the neuro and cognitive sciences to the phenomena of the emergence of complex physical systems that transcend the causal behavior of their subsystems, from the non-local behavior of fundamental particles to the acceleration of the expansion of the visible universe, from the role of "evo-devo" in the evolution of species to the spontaneous emergence of order in non-linear thermodynamic systems, the universe is vastly more mysterious and astonishing than we ever thought. Who knows the extent to which nature -- at many, perhaps all, levels of organization -- reflects a fundamental indeterminism through which God acts to bring about the radically new out of the old.
I have dubbed this God's "non-interventionist objective divine action" or "NIODA." Today Christians can claim that science points to a view of nature that is compatible with God's loving, creative action in the world without casting it in awkward, interventionist terms. Thus when it comes to the evolution/creation debate, Christians no longer have any need for Intelligent Design or Creation Science. Belief in God as the author of life, in God's Spirit moving through the world and bringing about the truly new, is not only not challenged by evolution but makes deep sense in light of evolution.
The bottom line is this: we mainline Protestants can and should embrace the responsible dialogue with natural science and thereby fulfill our mission of offering a prophetic voice in contemporary scientific culture. And we can now do so in ways not dreamed possible by the Barths and Tillichs of previous decades -- and without the costly and fruitless alternative of warfare or disengagement that littered the past. Praise God for creating a vast and complex universe such that it is intrinsically open to God's ongoing creative agency and loving guidance. And this is "Good News" indeed!
Robert J. Russell, Ph.D., is Founder and Director of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS) and the Ian G. Barbour Professor of Theology and Science in Residence at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA. His most recent book is Cosmology from Alpha to Omega: The Creative Mutual Interaction of Theology and Science (Fortress Press, 2009). He has co-edited a six volume CTNS/Vatican Observatory series on scientific perspectives on divine action. He is a founding co-editor of the scholarly journal Theology and Science, which CTNS members internationally receive. Dr. Russell is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ.