Jointly Sponsored by the Vatican Observatory and
William Blake, Elohim Creating Adam
Religious language in most traditions is replete with images of God's action. In the Abrahamic traditions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), in particular, the history of human interaction with God--often called salvation history--presupposes a process of deliberate self-revelation of God to receptive human communities and individuals. In parts of these traditions, personal imagery for God dominates popular piety. Accompanying such forms of piety is the attribution to God of both intentions and the capacity for action as a means of expressing those intentions. Nowhere is that more clearly evident than in forms of prayer that assume God acts in response to human petitions.
Divine action might be commonly assumed in religious piety, but making sense of the concept of divine action is a tricky philosophical and theological issue. The Vatican Observatory (VO) and the Center for Theology and Natural Sciences (CTNS) jointly sponsor a series of conferences on divine action. The theme of each conference is an area of the natural sciences: quantum cosmology and the laws of nature (1992), chaos and complexity (1994), evolutionary and molecular biology (1996), neuroscience (1998), and quantum mechanics (2000). This brings specificity and precision to the discussions of divine action.
Invited specialists from relevant disciplines interact with each other beginning eighteen months before each conference, writing papers and commenting in detail on each other's drafts. It is an unusally intensive process of collaborative research. At least four rounds of revisions and commentary lead to publication of a volume corresponding to the theme of each conference.
I wrote a paper with Robert John Russell for the chaos and complexity volume and has been a member of the subsequent conferences. For the evolutionary biology volume, I wrote an analysis of the teleological argument for divine action. For the neuroscience volume, I wrote a paper with neuropsychologist Leslie Brothers entitled "A neuropsychological semiotic model of religious experiences." Work is in progress on a paper for the quantum mechanics volume.
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