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The God of Nature: Incarnation and Contemporary Science.

THE GOD OF NATURE: Incarnation and Contemporary Science by Christopher C. Knight. Theology and the Sciences series. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007. xii + 164 pages. Paperback; $17.00. ISBN: 0800662210.

Knight is executive secretary of the International Society for Science and Religion and a research associate of the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge. In The God of Nature, he expands on the pansacramental naturalism that was sketched in his earlier book, Wrestling with the Divine: Religion, Science, and Revelation--also in Fortress Press' Theology and the Sciences series (2001). This expansion takes two directions: one concerns the doctrine of the incarnation; the other involves a teleological view of creation.

By pansacramental naturalism, Knight attempts to get beyond both the deism characteristic of much of modern theology and the interventionist theism that marks much of contemporary reaction to deistic notions of science and its relationship to religion. The solution proposed reaches both forward and backward: forward to what many contemporary thinkers are calling a panentheistic view of the world as being "within" God and backward to classical Christian sources emphasizing a Neoplatonic understanding of time as the moving image of eternity, and the world as the unfolding of a once-for-all but yet perennially active God. In this framework, there are no interventionist acts that are needed to "fix" the world or keep it on course, but there also is no chasm between God and the world that needs to be bridged (even if God remains transcendent from the world as affirmed by classical theism). This allows Knight to affirm the evolution of the world through chance and natural law--the major means of divine "action"--as well as to view the entire scope of the material world as a "creation" that manifests the handiwork of God. Such a pansacramentalism emphasizes a naturalistic ontology but not epistemology: just as the evolutionary unfolding of creaturely species depends on their different ecological niche-systems, so also does the evolutionary development of the various world religious traditions and their explanatory worldviews depend on their different socio-historical-cultural systems.

The two developments Knight proposes in this volume unpack the incarnational or Logos christology of John's Gospel as that unfolded especially in the tradition of Eastern Christianity. A more or less recent convert to Orthodoxy, Knight draws particularly from the Logos-theology of Byzantine theologian and saint, Maximos the Confessor, focusing on the latter's notion of the Logos as constituting the inner essence or telos of all things, and connects that with the inclusivistic pluralism (or pluralistic inclusivism, depending on one's point of view) of the twentieth-century Orthodox spiritual writer, Philip Sherrard. This Sherrard connection is what distinguishes Knight's proposals from that of the Russian Orthodox scientist-theologian, Alexis Nesteruk, although it is unclear why Knight neither cites nor footnotes Nesteruk's Light from the East: Theology, Science and the Eastern Orthodox Tradition (Fortress Press, 2003). In any case, the result is a reinterpretation of Maximos' Logos-cosmology for the twenty-first century, consistent with modern scientific naturalism on the one hand, but yet also informed by ancient Orthodox apophaticism, spirituality, and teleology on the other. The incarnation is thus the fulfillment and completion of creation (rather than a special instance of God's interface with the world) that allows for a naturalistic and yet pansacramental view of the world to come into focus.

Is Knight successful in what he attempts here? When compared with Nesteruk's book, The God of Nature is less robust in terms of the science (Nesteruk is also a lab physicist) but perhaps more expansive in terms of theological vision (Knight is explicit about his being a fundamentally theological rather than scientific proposal, and his dialogue with Sherrard accentuates this aspect of the book). Attentive readers will also note, however, that as retrieved by Knight, the classical Christian tradition's view of God, especially when set against the Neoplatonic (and Boethian) understanding of the relationship between time and eternity, may not be far removed from early modern deism in terms of how both paradigms explicate the God-world relationship. Yet the effort to add an Orthodox perspective into the science-theology conversation is surely reason enough to read this book.

Reviewed by Amos Yong, Professor of Theology, Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA 23464.
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Author:Yong, Amos
Publication:Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2008
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