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Partaking of God: Trinity, Evolution, and Ecology.

Partaking of God: Trinity, Evolution, and Ecology. By Denis Edwards. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2014. Pp. v + 186. $24.49.

Edwards, a familiar figure in international religion and science circles, offers in this book his own version of panentheism--everything in God but distinct from God. While most contemporary versions of panentheism are monotheistic, E. joins those who propose a trinitarian understanding of it. He lays out his argument in three steps. First, he calls attention to the trinitarian theology of Athanasius of Alexandria, who defended the divinity of Jesus at the time of the Arian heresy even at risk to his own life and liberty. For Athanasius, the incarnation of the divine Word in Jesus fulfils the long-term purpose of God in the act of creation. That is, all of creation but especially human beings are destined for deification, full incorporation into the divine life without losing their finite ontological identity (44-51). E. also calls attention to how Athanasius's trinitarian theology corresponds to what Niels Henrick Gregersen and others call "deep incarnation" (58-59).

Part II presents E.'s own views on the contemporary religion and science dialogue. Christ is the Divine Attractor, providing directionality to the cosmic process as it progresses toward the new creation, full participation in the divine life (85). Likewise the Holy Spirit is the "energy of love," empowering creatures to exist, interact, and move toward ever more complex levels of existence and activity (76-77). The divine Persons feel deep compassion for the suffering of their creatures. But they practice self-giving love (humility) in giving evolutionary processes autonomy to function in often misguided ways. Original sin has its roots in the rivalry between the instinct for cooperation and the instinct for self-preservation in all creatures, but especially in human beings.

The brief part III discusses the need for the "ecological conversion" recommended by Pope John Paul II and now Pope Francis in his early public statements. For Christians, this is a conversion to a Christ-like way of life with a responsibility to "protect" creation (149-51) insofar as all creatures belong to "one community of creation before God" (164).

E. has masterfully assembled material for a contemporary understanding of the God-world relationship from a variety of sources: frequent appeals to common human experience, citation of appropriate texts from sacred Scripture, and reference to the views of many other philosophers and theologians engaged in the field of religion and science. But there seems to be no controlling metaphysical system that gives logical rigor and conceptual coherence to his overall argument. Occasionally he cites Aquinas and more frequently Karl Rahner. But his main recourse is to a broadly conceived metaphysics of intersubjectivity with emphasis on relationality rather than substantiality as the first category of Being. That mixture of metaphysical systems is perhaps most obvious in a chapter on neuroscience and belief in the creation of the human soul by God.

While neuroscience would claim that the human life-principle or soul emerges out of enhanced neuronal activity in the human brain, E. argues for the immediate creation of the soul by God in one divine creative act that spans human history (126). This avoids the constant intervention by God into the cosmic process to which natural scientists take exception. But the proposal of a single divine creative act is presumably based on the classical Aristotelian-Thomistic understanding of cause and effect in which the cause unilaterally brings about the existence of the effect. Yet unilateral, divine causal agency undermines any appeal to a genuinely intersubjective relation between God and creation, since intersubjectivity is based on what might be called simultaneous mutual causality. The "I" and the "Thou" simultaneously cocreate their intersubjective "We" relation. One possible way out of this clash of theoretical presuppositions would be to distinguish between the soul as a naturally emergent life principle subject to scientific analysis and the spiritual reality of human personhood that is a gift (grace) from God to which a response on the part of the creature is the work of a lifetime. In any event 1 am less sanguine than E. that one can comfortably "hold both a neuroscientific view of the brain and a theological view of the human soul, including the idea of immediate creation" (129) without serious challenge from both theologians and natural scientists. As I see it, only a revised philosophical cosmology with new terminology and a corresponding set of explanatory concepts that are intelligible to both sides can hope to bridge the methodological gap between the approaches proper to theology and natural science. And that is a work in progress.

DOI: 10.1177/0040563914565312

Joseph A. Bracken, S.J.

Xavier University, Cincinnati
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Author:Bracken, Joseph A.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2015
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