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Creation and Contingency

Summary and Keywords

Contingency is a term that occurs in philosophical discourse as well as in theology in a number of contexts and with a number of meanings. In its modern sense the English term contingency refers to events, processes, or properties that may occur, but are not certain to occur; or that have, but might not have, occurred, because they depend on factors beyond our knowledge or which themselves are contingent. Generally speaking, it refers to events, objects, and properties that could be otherwise, that do not have to be as they are, and that do not have to be at all, and for whose existence we cannot give a sufficient cause. Thus contingency covers a whole range of meanings, including “not necessary,” “by chance,” “random,” and “unpredictable.”

In the discourse on science, the debate pivots on questions of determinism vs. indeterminism in physics (especially in quantum physics and in systems theory), on the contingent character of the cosmos and its fundamental physical laws, and on the question of whether the development of evolution and the actual forms of life that result from it are merely coincidental in biology. Some have referred to the first form of contingency as nomological and to the second as local contingency (Robert J. Russell, “Contingency in Physics and Cosmology: A Critique of the Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg,” Zygon 23.1 [1988]). The alternative is between physical determinism (all events necessarily follow from prior initial conditions, so that contingency only refers to a lack of knowledge) and indeterminism (some events are not determined by prior conditions, hence contingency is an ontological fact). In religion and theology, contingency often marks the fundamental difference between the Creator and creation. It is used in ontological and cosmological proofs of the existence of God in the sense that all created beings cannot account for their own existence, but—in their contingency—point to a Creator, who is not contingent, but the necessary ground of his or her own being. However, it is disputed whether such a conclusion is valid or itself contingent. Another divide is between those who argue for total divine predestination (God determines everything that happens; again contingency is only a human category regarding insufficient knowledge and insight) and those who argue that God leaves some things to chance or to being determined autonomously by created entities. A consequence of the latter view seems to be that God cannot have sufficient fore-knowledge with regard to the process of creation so that God’s omniscience and omnipotence seem in danger. On the other hand, the option of total predestination faces the problem that in its view the Creator seems to be responsible for everything, including all evil.

Keywords: creation, contingency, chance, modality, evolution, cosmology, purpose

Understanding Contingency

Perspectives on Contingency

Although people often and loosely say that contingencies happen “by chance,” one should be careful not to think of chance as a cause. It refers to a lack of knowledge of the sufficient cause, be it that no sufficient cause exists, or be it that the sufficient cause isn’t known (yet). In the latter case, future discoveries and theories may provide sufficient knowledge to transform a certain kind of contingency into a predictable and controllable event. For example, in former times the occurrences of comets were viewed as contingent signs of catastrophes, but later Newtonian physics was able to describe their trajectories as regular paths. The successful prediction of the return of a comet by Newton’s friend and editor Edmond Halley in 1758 (later named after him as Halley’s Comet) took away a great deal of fear of these phenomena. However, new discoveries may also lead to new forms of contingency that were hidden by the presuppositions and theories of the former standard model. In the eyes of many, quantum theory introduced a kind of ontological indeterminism that implies irreducibly contingent events that in principle cannot be traced back to sufficient causes and therefore have to be understood as unpredictable incidences. This is a fundamentally different view of physical reality than the Newtonian view in which everything is determined by antecedent conditions.

In religion and theology, contingency often marks the fundamental difference between the Creator and creation: Everything created could be otherwise, while God could not not exist. In medieval terms: God is the one absolutely necessary being (ens per se necessarium). Some, like René Descartes (1596–1650) and lately Charles Hartshorne (1897–2000) and Norman Malcolm (1911–1990), have argued that in Anselm’s famous ontological proof in its version of Proslogion chapter III is actually making use of this modal distinction. In their interpretation, Anselm has shown that the thought of an in itself necessary being is indispensable to explain existence as such. Thus the ontological and cosmological arguments actually merge, because both infer from the fact of contingent existence to the necessity of an absolutely necessary being, or as Hartshorne wrote: “purely contingent existence is not self-sufficient or intelligible by itself, so that to deny God would be, absurdly enough, to reject any and every form of existence … This is the cosmological argument.”1 However, the question remains by what kind of necessity God cannot not exist and what that means for the notion of the freedom of God. Theologians like Karl Barth (1886–1968) and Eberhard Jüngel (b. 1936) thus have argued for the absolute sovereignty of God, who is—with the words of Jüngel—“more than necessary.”2

Another fundamental question is whether creation is fully determined by God and thus follows a necessary plan or whether its apparent contingencies, the possibilities of it being otherwise, is an indication that events and entities can occur and situations can come into being that God as the Creator could not or did not determine right from the beginning. Depending on the answer to this question the notion of a Creator God might vary significantly. In traditional theistic concepts God was understood as the one, in itself necessary, being on whom all contingent creation depends. But if events, entities, and states of affairs occur in creation that are contingent in the sense that they are not determined, then—provided God is affected by creation—elements of contingency have to be part of the notion of God, and interaction between God and creation must be understood as contingent as well. God would be understood as contingently reacting to and interfering with creation in ad hoc ways.

Another central aspect of the issue of contingency is how to understand concepts like the freedom of will or autonomous agency (of human and maybe other beings). Do they require an openness in their creation in which at least the capacity of independent decision-making must be seen as an exemption from being strictly determined, so that contingency takes on the form of freedom that somehow transcends the dichotomy of chance and necessity? In all cases, the contingency of nature can either be seen as a genuine property of reality (ontological contingency) or merely as a virtual phenomenon, due to the limits of human insight (epistemological contingency). In God’s view everything might be necessarily the way it is, while for humans it appears to be contingent due to their finite and limited forms of knowledge and reasoning.

Contingency and Creation as Western Categories

Although Judaism, Christianity, and Islam share the concept of an omnipotent Creator God, in many Eastern religious traditions the notion of creation and a Creator is considered to be religiously irrelevant. What in Western traditions is called “creation” exists in Eastern understanding only as relative truth. The objective world is an illusion (Sanskrit māyā). Phenomena aren’t “created” in the sense that they pass from nonexistence into existence, rather they are born out of the deceitful human supposition that real things exist objectively. Worldly phenomena have no intrinsic existence, and only this deeper insight can be considered as absolute truth. In Buddhist thought considerations about the origin of the world are counted among the four issues the human mind should not speculate about: “Conjecture about [the origin of] the world is an unconjecturable that is not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness and vexation to anyone who conjectured about it.”3 Religion is about realizing absolute truth, so that the illusion of an objective reality of things disappears, and the self breaks through to ultimate reality.

Very broadly speaking, in Hindu as well as in Buddhist thought the focus of religion is not on the beginning and destiny of what in Western tradition is called creation, but on the connection and coherence of cause and effect within the unfolding of the cosmos and its phenomena (cf. e.g., the notion of karma). Everything is seen as interconnected, and everything is seen as subject to permanent growth and decay. In Hindu thought, which in many of its variants refers to notions of the divine, even the Gods are subject to the cycle of birth and death. In many schools only the highest God (Vishnu or Siva) is exempted from growth and decay, but as a deity the highest God does not bring reality into being as Creator, but represents the spiritual principle behind reality. Within these concepts of reality without a Creator, contingency is an obvious fact that reveals the coming and going of phenomena as pointless in a religious perspective. Traditional Western forms of thought such as the argument from contingency—that is, the inference that if something exists contingently and therefore could possibly not exist there must be a reason for its existence that itself is not contingent, that is, a divine Creator—make no sense within Eastern traditions. Thus many of the problems discussed appear only within Western religious and theological thinking, and do not apply to totally different religious concepts of reality.

Different Senses of Contingency

There are different senses or levels of contingency that can be distinguished and that must not be confused. First of all, contingency has a meaning in modal logic. It is usually understood in concordance with Aristotle’s famous definition as the symmetric possibility to be or not to be.4 What is logically contingent is that which is neither impossible nor necessary, but could possibly be or not be the case: The proposition p is contingent iff ⋄p ∧ ⋄¬p (read: possibly p and possibly non p). Or expressed in possible world semantics: p is contingent iff there is at least one possible world in which p is true and at least one possible world in which non p is true.

Apart from the logical sense the term denotes ontological contingency, that is, a characteristic of events that have no cause or reason at all. The fact of successful scientific predictions of events excludes the possible option that everything is contingent. If anything might happen anytime science would be impossible. However, within the framework of certain interpretations of quantum mechanics, quantum events can be said to happen without any antecedent cause and for no reason. Insofar as these interpretations hold the view that there is a positive argument for the nonexistence even of hidden causes, they consider quantum events like the decay of a single radioactive element as ontologically contingent and indeterminate in a strong sense of the word. However, ontological contingency still follows certain probabilities. Although every single event might happen without cause or reason, each ensemble of events shows certain characteristics, for example a certain distribution of values, and this distribution can be reproduced and predicted on a regular basis. Alternative interpretations therefore postulate that hidden variables are responsible for these events, thus transforming their contingency into lack of knowledge and shifting the meaning from ontological to epistemological contingency. The question whether or not ontological contingency in the strong sense exists was at the core of the debate between Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein and is still considered to be an open question.5 Einstein used to sum up his position with the famous phrase that God does not play dice, but this has to be understood as a metaphor because a die is usually understood to represent not ontological, but epistemological contingency. Later experiments have supported Bohr’s view by showing that quantum physics indeed violates Bell’s inequations, which apply to deterministic, local, and realist classical systems. The present alternative seems to be that either ontological contingency is real or everything, including all human volition and ways of thinking, is absolutely determined—a view Bell himself referred to as superdeterminism6 and that he considers implausible, because this determinism would include the mind of the researcher as well and thus make investigating nature and expecting real answers from experiments an illusion.

Epistemological contingency is the view that the contingency of events is the consequence of our lack of knowledge, but is not a feature of reality itself. Here the throwing of a die is not just metaphorical, but can serve as an illustration. When a die is thrown, the outcome of the throw is contingent because we cannot predict it. It is not that there are no causes for the fall of the die, but the causes are too difficult or complex to be identified and calculated. The trajectory of a die thrown might be determined in every aspect by the laws of mechanics, but still its calculation is technically and principally impossible so that the result is said to be contingent. Besides, a die has no absolutely ideal edges and angles. And even if a die had ideally sharp edges at the atomic level, the atoms at the edges would be subject to random thermic movement. In any case, the movement of a rotating die falling onto a flat surface is always following unstable curves with bifurcations at which even infinitely small perturbations may lead to very different continuations of its movement, with the resulting possibility of a different resting position with a different integer on the upper surface. Again, an ensemble of similar events under the same conditions might follow statistical distributions of probability, so that throws of similar dice produce similar statistical distributions of outcomes. We can infer from a series of throws of a die that the die is probably not of a regular cubic shape or of a homogenous mass if a certain number appears significantly more often than another.

Epistemological contingency as unpredictability comes at different levels. Some physical systems are in principle and in the long run unpredictable, although we model them as deterministic. When systems such as weather, turbulent smoke, or the throw of a die in their developments are highly sensitive to initial conditions or disturbances, they are called nonlinear or “chaotic” systems whose behavior cannot be predicted beyond a certain point in time. Small differences in the system’s initial conditions lead to widely diverging outcomes, rendering long-term prediction impossible. On the one hand, we cannot know the initial conditions of a chaotic system perfectly since we can only measure and calculate within limited error margins. On the other hand, nonlinear equations can be so complicated that they do not have a precise solution. Contingency in these cases has to do with finite knowledge of conditions and measurements, and that we operate in the field of real numbers and with equations too complex to solve.

As in the case of a probabilistic description of ensembles of events, the behavior of nonlinear systems often shows characteristic self-repeating patterns (known as “strange attractors”). These patterns represent (infinitely dense) possible developments within the state space of a system, and they can be modeled and described in their global properties with the help of mathematics. Often (but not always) their geometry is of a fractal dimension so that an infinite trajectory within a two-dimensional state space is neither a one-dimensional line nor a two-dimensional plain, but a geometrical figure with a fractal dimension somewhere between 1 and 2. This fractal dimension can be understood as representing the degree of “chaoticity” of that system.

Again it is an open question whether unpredictability, chaoticity, and strange attractors are properties of our models only or also of real-world systems. One possible hypothesis is that chaotic models point to real, structural properties of reality that evade an absolutely determined description but allow only for predictions of qualitative behavior rather than quantitative details, geometric features rather than causal processes, and patterns rather than law-like necessity.7 Thus epistemological contingency can be interpreted as an indication of ontological contingency in such systems.

Another source of epistemological contingency is the interrelatedness of all reality. All complex systems depend on initial and boundary conditions. It seems that no real system can be isolated completely from interactions with its environment, so that a certain amount of chaoticity and therefore contingency might apply to all natural processes. All laws of motion, even strictly deterministic ones, must then be understood as approximations to reality, leaving the question open whether or not reality in itself is deterministic. With this in mind, John Polkinghorne and others who subscribe to a critical realist position argue that reality must be addressed as a holistic entity, and that all physics that refers to differential, deterministic equations can be exact only in a limited sense. Contingency is thus seen as an intrinsic property of physical reality itself.

Another, common sense of contingency is compatible with a strict deterministic understanding of reality. One can call it coincidental contingency. Especially when interacting with a directional or ordered process or system, events are called “contingent” if their formation took place independently from that process. Thus, many scientists would call the impact of the meteor that is considered to be responsible for the extinction of dinosaurs contingent, although the impact as such might have followed strict deterministic laws of motion. There are two processes (the development of life on earth and the trajectory of a meteor) that originated independently from each other and then suddenly interact so that one or both of these processes changes significantly. When two sufficiently independent chains of causation interact, such a coincidence is often referred to as a contingent coincidence. Many geneticists would say that genetic mutations happen contingently because they happen independently of the processes that are relevant for the survival of the respective organism and do not follow a certain direction or propensity. That would mean that the evolutionary development on this planet is fundamentally contingent and could have taken very different paths. Others, however, argue that there are propensities effective in the process. They understand evolution as a process directed toward global goals and constrained by certain prerequisites, while others deny any directedness or propensity in evolution and see any such attempt as an anthropomorphic illusion. We will come back to the question of the contingency of evolution.

Finally, a more existential meaning of contingency can be distinguished, which again refers to the interaction of causal chains, but contrasts them with intentions of free agents. Aristotle calls it fate or chance (tychē, τυχή‎) and illustrates it with the example of a man going to the market to see a theater play who unexpectedly meets a debtor who pays him back the money that he owes him.8 From an observer’s perspective there would be no difference in the whole act if the man had gone to market in order to meet his debtor because he knew that he would be there. But given the non-corresponding actual motives of the man, the result of the debt paid back and the man going back home with his money can be said to be contingent. Contingency in this sense of the unexpected can only occur in connection with intentional agents who anticipate possible consequences, and it refers to an unintended effect of goal-directed acts. Of course, the outcome must not always be good fortune but can also be bad luck.

As we have seen, reality appears to human beings and their understanding as a mixture of contingency and regularity, of randomness and order. If there were no order in the universe, if it were pure chaos instead of cosmos,9 it would be scientifically inaccessible. If the universe were not contingent at all, there might be no point in natural science because then all laws of nature could in principle be found through logico-deductive reasoning without the necessity of empirical methods that are used to bring nature to reveal its structural regularities. Empirical science would in the end point to the one and only possible theory of everything. The specific interconnection between experiment, data, and theory, and the character of scientific theory as hypothetical and always capable of revision and improvement, would be lost. If the universe “were closed in upon itself and possessed an intrinsic necessity, scientific knowledge would proceed solely through a priori reasoning—yet since the universe is contingent in its order, it can be known only out of itself.”10

However, for most philosophers and for our everyday understanding contingency is different not only from necessity, but also from pure chance. Contingency in the sense of coincidence, the unexpected, the unexplained and unexplainable, refers to intentional processes of reality and thus is a category of interpretation that functions as a middle term between necessity and pure chance. Reality is a combination of both contingency and regularity, of that which could and can be otherwise and that which could not and cannot be otherwise. It is related to processes (like evolution) and agents (like animals) that follow propensities (like survival). It cannot be decided on purely empirical grounds whether or not and how exactly contingency is just a matter of knowledge or interpretation or if it is a property of reality as such. But at least it applies to reality as we describe it from scientific as well as phenomenological and existential perspectives.

With these considerations and distinctions in mind, theological reflections on the significance of contingency with regard to the cosmos and to the evolution of life on this planet are examined. Both issues are widely discussed in the field of science and religion and, in a sense, they represent the continuation of classical theological doctrines, that is, those of original and of continuous creation or providence with regard to nature.

Cosmological Contingency

The standard model of cosmology states that fundamental global properties of our universe, such as certain constants of nature as they appear in the fundamental laws of nature, have to be fine-tuned in order to bring about a universe that allows for the development of life, including human beings. According to the best available knowledge in modern physics, nearly all matter in the universe consists of four kinds of elementary particles: protons, neutrons, electrons, and neutrinos. In their behavior and in their properties they are mutually interrelated through the four fundamental forces of physics, namely the gravitational, electromagnetic, and strong and weak nuclear forces. The masses of the elementary particles, the strength of the fundamental forces (their coupling constants), and other properties must be in a delicate balance in order to allow for the evolution of stars, planets, and higher elements like carbon or oxygen, and to allow for specific properties of molecules like water and much more. Extremely small variations in the values of these and other fundamental constants would, according to our models, result in an empty and sterile universe with no life in it. The universe thus appears as a well-tempered cosmos in order to provide the necessary condition for the development of life forms. These statements are often referred to as the Anthropic Principle,11 which comes in weaker and stronger versions. In its weak form the Anthropic Principle simply states that human beings exist because the universe is the way it is. In its stronger form it states that the universe is the way it is in order to bring human beings into existence. In any case, it points to the fact that there is a sensitive dependence of life as we know it on the values of fundamental physical constants, all which must have been given at the beginning of the universe. These values cannot be predicted theoretically from scientific theory but have to be determined empirically by measuring them. According to our theories of the universe, very different sets of these values are possible. That poses the question of how the numerical coincidences necessary for a life-hosting universe can be explained. There are at least four possible options for dealing with this quest for a basic explanation of the features of our cosmos.

Option 1: There is a final Theory of Everything (at least for the physical world) to which there is no alternative. Then the current set of values would be necessary and not contingent. Stephen Hawking in his early writings promoted such a project of a Theory of Everything that combines all elementary forces of physics, and he suggested that such a theory would allow for only one set of values, or a small number of them, which would produce a consistent theory of space-time. All other sets of values would not bring an empty or sterile universe into being, but rather nothing. According to Hawking this would make an intentional Creator superfluous, because any Creator would have no choice. The only thing science, in Hawking’s view, cannot account for is the transition from the mathematical model to the real existence of the universe: “The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?”12 But even if one assumes a divine being who is responsible for this transition, this divine being could not have made the cosmos other than it is, and did not make it in order to bring about life, but only executed what the one and only possible mathematical formalism dictates.

There are certain problems with this view. Physics and cosmology are not as simple as they may seem. Although the cosmos might have started in accordance with a set of fundamental laws, which describe the symmetry breaking in the expanding and cooling cosmos and at the same time determine the rate of expansion, the interactions between elementary particles at the various stages of the development follow complex rules of quantum laws and other subsidiary laws. The formation of larger atoms, for example, with their respective possible excited states, could not be simply inferred from a unified theory of force. It seems disingenuous to say that one primordial self-consistent theory entails the total, complex, and remarkably rich development of the cosmos right from the beginning. Even physical reality is not the “one great fact.” However simple the state might have been from which the universe started, it can hardly be doubted that now it is composed of an incredibly rich variety of entities, phenomena, and state of affairs. And to bring this complex scenario into being, much more is needed than a general theory of force, matter, and space-time. No self-consistent Theory of Everything entails this variety right from the beginning, and it cannot provide an answer to “the question of why it is that we and the universe exist,”13 because it does not account for the complex reality of our actual physical world.

This consideration also reveals an important insight into the status of natural laws. Rather than being exact blueprint models of reality, they represent human models for regular, predictable properties of physical reality. Thus they are themselves contingent, and they do not entail the totality of our contingent universe. In addition, most physicists have abandoned the idea of a final Theory of Everything, including Hawking himself, who now opts for a whole set of comprehensive and in themselves consistent models of reality, which he—following the American mathematician and physicist Edward Witten—calls M-theory.14 The models of M-theory allow for a huge landscape of possible universes that all exist “at the same time” (whatever that means with all these universes not sharing the same space-time) and represent different values of the fundamental properties of universes. Some of these universes bring about life, others don’t. Still, Hawking reckons the formalism of M-theory as a well-constructed model that creates its own reality.

Option 2: There may be many, even infinitely many, different universes, so that each and every possible design of a universe is realized somehow and somewhere. This so-called Many-Worlds Hypothesis exists in variant forms. We will not deal with this hypothesis in extenso but point to a few important implications with regard to contingency. The Many-Worlds Approach to cosmology (sometimes called the “multiverse” model) attempts to eliminate the contingency of the basic features of our cosmos by postulating the existence of many variant universes, which exist either as diachronic (one after the other, so that the ending of one universe leads to the beginning of a new one with variations) or as synchronic universes (“parallel” universes). It is difficult to say what “after,” “parallel,” or “at the same time” mean in this context, because the universes do not share a common space-time. George Ellis and colleagues have pointed to the fact that theories of a multiverse require two steps: they have to define something like a possibility space of all possible universes, and then they have to specify which of all possible universes actually exist in the multiverse. At both steps contingent decisions with regard to the selection of possible models and real universes must be taken.15 Necessarily, among the multitude of universes there must be the one in which we exist. However, its contingent properties are not the result of deliberate choice, but just one instance within a full spectrum of realized possibilities.

The major problem with models of many universes is that they are not testable. They provide a kind of ad hoc explanation that dissolves the inexplicable contingency of our universe by making it just one case among many. The multiverse idea may be true, but cannot be shown to be true by observation or experiment insofar as all universes exist independently from each other. It has no explanatory power because whether or not the multiverse theory is true doesn’t change anything within our observable universe. And for the same reasons it also has no predictive power: it cannot be tested by observation. Thus, George Ellis states that “Multiverses are a philosophical rather than scientific proposal.”16

Option 3: The universe just happened to be, and there can be given no explanation for the existence of the universe as a whole, because there is no reason why it began. In this view, the principle of sufficient reason cannot be applied to the universe as “all of space-time with everything that exists.” Reality simply is, and any attempt of an explanation is futile. Explanations usually try to trace back complex states of affairs by resolving them into simpler elements and developing them out of less complex initial conditions. But maybe the Big Bang as the beginning of the universe has to count as an essential property of reality as such that is all there is, and thus is the end of the line of explanation. Charles S. Peirce seems to think along these lines when in his theory of evolution absolute chance (Tychism as opposed to Necessitarianism) and continuity are the primordial sources of reality, while all regularities of nature and mind must be regarded as products of the evolution and consolidation of the universe. Thus all laws of nature are just referring to statistical probabilities, not to absolute necessities, and final causes and reasons for them being the way they are cannot be given.

Usually, this is seen as scientifically unsatisfactory. However, every explanation has to stop somewhere, take certain things for granted and accept them as brute facts. And it is not an easy philosophical question where to stop and what to reckon as fundamentally basic.17 Referring to a necessary, absolute being as the sufficient reason for contingent reality can as well be understood as an excuse for not asking for any further explanation. It simply states that an unconditioned necessary being exists, but cannot account for its existence other than by stating it as an indispensable requirement of a satisfactory explanation. Therefore agnostic and skeptical philosophers like David Hume, but also critical philosophers like Immanuel Kant, have repeatedly argued for accepting the being of the universe as a contingent brute fact, beyond which human reasoning cannot ask for rational and reliable explanations. From a Christian theological perspective, the fact that there “is no logical or necessary bridge between the universe and God” can be valued as an indication of both God’s freedom and creation’s relative autonomy, while on a meta-level the irreducible contingency of creation serves as a “reference of the universe away from itself to God.”18

Option 4: The fourth option is the theistic answer, which interprets the existence and basic primordial features of the contingent cosmos as the deliberate choice of a Creator in favor of living beings including humans: “the numerical coincidences [necessary for an anthropic universe] could be regarded as evidence of design.”19 However, the rational, purposive order of the universe; its potential to realize life, will, beauty, virtue, understanding, and creativity; the idea of God as its reason that seems coherent and plausible—all this does not amount to an objective proof of a Creator God. But for the theist, and in the light of faith and religious experience, it accounts for the contingency of the universe as being willfully created by an intentional and benevolent being. Theistic views thus presuppose that life and human beings can be understood as goals of divine intention and therefore as goals in themselves—in the case of human beings, maybe even as ultimate goals. This presupposition is not self-evident but rests on certain anthropological values that consider life and human beings as things worthy of existence. In any theistic interpretation identifying a purpose for the universe, strong evaluations are part of the argument.

There are apparent limitations to this option as well. It is not a better scientific explanation, but, if at all, a more comprehensive interpretation of contingency, comprising existential and evaluative categories and presupposing a coherent and justifiable idea of a Creator God. It also limits itself to basic positive features of contingent reality, and usually exempts certain bad and evil contingencies in creation (disease, death, catastrophes, etc.) as not being directly intended purposes of creation. The question of theodicy (refer to entry) refers to the extent to which creation is designed and determined by a Creator God, and the puzzle of how the contingencies of badness and evil are related to the divine purpose of creation.

Are all four responses to the phenomenon of contingency on a par with regard to their credibility? This is very much a question of rational standards, of epistemology, of the view regarding the accumulation of arguments for a case, the status of religious experience and of theological truth-claims that transcend empirical evidence, etc.; and it thus depends on very general questions of scientific, philosophical, existential, and theological thinking that cannot be dealt with extensively here. This question is left open; nevertheless, the contingency of the universe in its fundamental features and overall structures calls for an explanation, but every possible explanation (insofar it necessarily transcends natural, empirical and logical methods of justification) must suspend the why-question at a certain point with reference to an ultimate cause (foundationalism of any kind), or leave it open as unanswerable (skeptical or agnostic positions).

Evolution and the Purpose of Creation

In cosmology, and with reference to nomological contingency, the contingency of the fundamental laws of nature with their delicate fine-tuning in favor of life has been interpreted as evidence for a Creator. In the view of many apologists from a theist perspective, the burden of proof lies with the despisers of the notion of intentional creation, because they cannot give reasons for the laws of nature and the basic features of the cosmos. The contingency of the evolution of life is often understood as speaking against a Creator. Here the burden of proof seems to be reversed, and to lie with those who want to defend a divine purpose effective within creation and bringing about its specific life-forms. In science, at least, nothing—or not much—seems to speak in favor of teleology, of a plan, of an intention behind the process of evolution. How, then, can the traditional notion of a Creator God, who willfully brings about creatures according to God’s plan, be defended against a view of evolution as coincidence and the result of the interplay between chance and certain conditions? While the debate on the contingency of the fundamental order of the cosmos resembles classical theological debates on original creation, the second one deals with the traditional issues of divine providence or continuous creation.

Concepts of creation regularly differ with regard to the degree and scope that they allow for contingency, as well as with regard to the relation in which the Creator stands toward the contingency of creation. Most classical theistic views are deterministic, in the sense that all of creation is determined by God, including everything that appears as contingent. These views understand degrees of freedom at different levels of creation as compatible with such divine determinism. From the beginning of the 20th century, however, there has been a significant number of alternative non-deterministic views for which contingency represents the interplay between free creative acts both of relatively free creatures and of a self-restrained Creator God determining only parts of creation and cooperating with it. These views have to allow for some kind of contingency for the Creator as well, so that the Creator may act responsively to contingent developments within creation. Though such a view of a contingent interplay between Creator and creation was, right from the beginning of Christian theology, criticized as a sloppy, anthropomorphic concept and as philosophically unsound, it seems closer to biblical traditions and to modern science, which points to the openness, contingency, and potentiality of physical reality on different levels.

Contingency in Evolution

We already mentioned that taking seriously the contingency of reality leads toward notions of continuing creation: “Creation is unfinished business.”20 This resonates with the general picture of the modern theory of evolution. In the view of modern science, the present universe is the result of a very long history with successive stages of development. Beginning with a very dense and compressed state it expanded (presumably through a phase of inflationary expansion) into three-dimensional space developing in time and rapidly cooling so that light atoms condensed. Stars were formed from hydrogen and helium atoms and started to breed heavier elements, and when they aged, they exploded and dissipated those elements into the cosmos. Later formations of planetary systems included our solar system, and on our planet a delicately balanced environment was established capable of originating and sustaining organic life forms. In a long process, which we have learned to call evolution, living cells with a metabolism and, later, with a nucleus containing genetic information, have developed, and more and more complex and differentiated multicellular animals have come into being that form the rich, pluriform, and closely interrelated biosphere of the earth.

However, the extent to which evolution has to be understood as contingent, as possibly being otherwise in its general development and its specific results, is highly disputed. Ernan McMullin has shown that there are two extremes of an interpretative spectrum of the evolutionary process.21 The first is a predictivist interpretation that focuses on the necessity of evolution. Given the fundamental conditions of the physical reality of the cosmos, it emphasizes the inevitability of life and consciousness emerging from the cosmic and biological developments. This interpretation pushes contingency back to the fundamental laws of nature and minor variations within the process. McMullin mentions biochemist and Nobel laureate Christian de Duve (1917–2013), astrophysicist Frank Drake (b. 1930), astronomer Carl Sagan (1934–1996), and paleoanthropologist Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955) as representing this strand of interpretation.

At the other side of the divide, McMullin places those who argue for the radical contingency of evolution and its outcomes. Since the 1960s an emphasis on the radical contingency of creation, and the claim that any kind of teleological interpretation of evolution has to be rejected as imposing anthropocentric categories onto science, became a predominant strand of interpretation. The alleged assumption was that any such interpretation is nurtured by the human tendency to make its own existence necessary and thus meaningful, and is therefore unscientific and religiously biased. McMullin counts zoologist and paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson (1902–1984) among the representatives of this group, who in This View of Life “developed an extended polemic against the assumptions underlying the predictivist account.”22 Simpson stresses the difference between fundamental natural science, such as theoretical physics, and more descriptive historical sciences such as geology and evolutionary biology. In the latter case, covering laws do not determine the process in its specific course, and they do not determine the pattern and properties of the entities that emerge through it. This is mainly due to the complex interrelatedness of the environmental conditions shaped by fundamental laws of nature and the formation of organisms, which is highly sensitive to random changes and interferences. Another exponent privileging the contingency and uncertainty of evolution is French biologist and Nobel laureate Jacques Monod (1910–1976) who, in his famous booklet Chance and Necessity from 1971, stresses the radically contingent character of evolutionary outcomes and draws existentialist consequences from it:

chance alone is at the source of every innovation, of all creation in the biosphere. Pure chance, absolutely free but blind, at the very root of the stupendous edifice of evolution: this central concept of modern biology is […] today the sole conceivable hypothesis, the only one that squares with observed and tested fact.23

If the radical contingency of evolution is irreducible, the whole notion of an omnipotent Creator whose purpose it is to bring about human beings, and whose purpose gives meaning to human existence, seems pointless.

One of the more recent controversies about the contingency of creation deserves closer attention, because it has provoked a lot of discussion and is still serving as a paradigmatic debate in the field of science and religion. In his bestseller Wonderful Life from 1989, American paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould defended the view of the unpredictability of evolution by natural selection and illustrated it with the following thought experiment: “I call this experiment ‘replaying life’s tape.’ You press the rewind button and, making sure you thoroughly erase everything that actually happened, go back to any time and place in the past. […] Then let the tape run again and see if the repetition looks at all like the original.”24 He concluded that “any replay of the tape would lead evolution down a pathway radically different from the road actually taken.”25 As a paleontologist Gould had studied Cambrian Burgess Shale fossils, and he has suggested that the extraordinary diversity of these fossils indicates that many lineages became extinct and only a few survived and thus led to present life-forms. If other species from the Cambrian Explosion had survived, evolution would have had taken a very different path afterwards. In this sense, Gould understands biological science as introducing the “essence of history” into the scientific worldview, and the essence of history is contingency:26 given similar initial and boundary conditions, evolution will still follow very different and unpredictable paths. Applied to homo sapiens, this means: “We are the accidental result of an unplanned process […] the fragile result of an enormous concatenation of improbabilities, not the predictable product of any definite process.”27 That evolution on this planet took the path toward homo sapiens, and not to completely different organisms, is owed to some minor “initial perturbation so apparently trivial”28 that from there no light is thrown onto human existence. Gould draws very general moral consequences from this view on the contingent and accidental history of the origin of human beings, emphasizing moral autonomy: It is “offering us maximal freedom to thrive, or to fail, in our own chosen way.”29

In response to Gould, and referring to the same paleo-biological data, the British paleontologist Simon Conway Morris in his book Life’s Solution holds the opposite view, drawing conclusions that are the “exact reverse”30 of those of Gould. He explicitly argues against Gould’s notion of contingency with regard to the process of evolution in general and of human beings in particular: “This book aims […] to refute the notion of the ‘dominance of contingency.’”31 Conway Morris seeks to safeguard the inevitability of humans in the course of evolution, and he sees this inevitability as evidence for the meaning of human existence: “The science of evolution does not belittle us. […] Something like ourselves is an evolutionary inevitability.”32 Conway Morris speaks of the convergence of trends and properties that narrow and shape the paths evolution could have taken. They consist of global adaptive challenges that demand appropriate solutions, so that there is a limited number of ways of solving the same problem. Convergences thus function in the same way as attractors in chaos theory and represent “islands of stability” toward which evolution is drawn. Illustrations are the independent development of visual senses (eyes) in different species, or certain morphological properties. In the case of human beings “all the principal properties that characterize humans are convergent,” so that “‘we’ as a biological property will emerge.”33 If we look back into the history of evolution on earth and ask if it could have been otherwise we might discover that there are hardly any “evolutionary counterfactuals,” but that evolution follows a “pre-ordained trajectory.”34 Conway Morris thus tries to reduce the significance of contingency without reducing it to zero. There are many paths in the space of evolutionary developments, but due to convergence they will bring about similar, and with regard to certain higher properties like intelligence even identical, results. Conway Morris actually takes his argument beyond evolutionary theory into theology. He is bold enough to link the inevitable emergence of intelligence and mentality to the inevitability of contact with a different sort of mind, an encounter with God, who is present and active in, with, and under all evolutionary processes.

Conway Morris’s attempt to reduce contingency within evolution is usually seen as only partly successful. Convergence alone does not seem to be able to account for a significant reduction of possible pathways, because not only adaptive challenges drive evolution, but there are also purely accidental events—coincidental contingencies that have apparently pushed evolution in certain directions and fundamentally transformed the landscape of options for further developments. There are phenomena like symbiosis and co-option, which bring about novelty in contingent ways.35 Conway Morris intends to sketch a theology of evolution. However, his attempt to reduce contingency to the covering laws of evolution implies a view of God as the general designer of nature, guiding evolution through fundamental laws but not interacting with anything in particular. He argues in favor of an overall designer who determines the outcomes of evolution, including human culture, by establishing an overall design of nature that inevitably leads to the goals intended by the Creator right from the beginning. But he can do so only at the cost of surprise, risk, and non-inferential novelty in creation. In any case, the argument with which he seeks to reduce contingency within evolution would not as such lead to the personal, active God of the Bible, but to a constraining principle rather remote from the actual process of evolution.36

However, both Gould and Conway Morris see it as an inevitable consequence of the theory of evolution that the process of evolution is not subject to any pre-determined teleology. The Creator does not exercise a dictatorial regime over each and every instance of creation. The development of life neither follows exactly a pre-determined plan, nor is it happenstance. It is the degree and extent of contingency, and thus of possible counterfactuals, that is disputed. There are propensities in biology and evolution that allow for short-range teleological phenomena, as well as non-deducible turning points that bring about unpredictable, though post hoc explicable, novelty. And there are complex interplays between genes and gene expression, between life-forms, environments, and individual and social behavior, including culture.37 Evolution is not just one long concatenation of cause and effect, of selective challenges and selected responses, which yet brings about living beings who are not indifferent to their own existence but strive to live and determine their own fate. Organisms arise as contingent complex entities out of a contingent process because they are not an artificial, but a “natural end,” and are therefore “organized and self-organizing” at the same time.38

Consequences for the Notion of God

The notion of contingency has an impact on the notion of God and on discussions of divine action, that is, the Creator’s constant and ongoing relationship to and cooperation with creation. In traditional Aristotelian and Platonic metaphysics, as well as in many strands of scholastic thinking, the deity was understood as simple and unchangeable. God was defined as the one and only, wholly necessary being, and what is necessary cannot be otherwise and cannot change. But if one concedes that, from the standpoint of evolution, creation is qualified as a fundamentally and irreducibly contingent development and still wants to hold the notion of a Creator who wills human beings to be, one seems to be obliged to spell out a relation between Creator and creation that includes temporal interaction.

Keith Ward is one philosopher of religion who has drawn the inference from the contingency of creation to a contingent Creator explicitly. The classical attempt to show how creation was “produced by God without changes in God” was “a failure, since it could not account for the contingency of the universe. […] A contingent universe can only be accounted for if one makes free creativity a characteristic of the First Mover, which entails placing change and contingency within the First Mover itself.”39 In Ward’s view, a divine being in relation to a contingent creation unfolding in time must be itself a contingent, even a temporal being, so that the contingency of creation “entails a form of temporality in God.”40 God acts in cooperation with creatures in such a way that God determines what is possible, but what becomes actual is left to the cooperation between God and creatures. Providence, then, is not planning the universe and evolution in every detail, but offers providential ordering of and cooperation with creation in order to finally bring about the divine purpose of creation. Thus the divine being is unchanging insofar it follows its own nature, and at the same time it changes in cooperation with and response to relatively free and contingent creation. Through this process God “is responsively changed by uniting creation with the divine life.”41 Ward sees his idea of a more dynamic and relational notion of God to be in concordance with the Christian tradition of incarnation and Trinitarian thinking. From the central Christian notion of incarnation one can infer that the divine being must be capable of becoming flesh, of entering and thus adopting contingent creation. And the doctrine of the Trinity is the Christian model of a divine being that is relational and dynamic in itself, and thus can identify with a human being without renouncing divinity.42

Ward is not alone in this view. He himself points to process philosophies like that of Alfred N. Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne, and their distinction between God’s primordial, eternal nature and God’s consequent nature, with which God is involved in creation. Others try to spell out the temporal interaction between the Creator and creation with regard to evolution and its contingencies, by identifying different levels and means of God’s continuous creative influence. Michael Welker, for example, dismisses any traditional “theism of abstract omnipotence and ubiquity” that understands creation exclusively within a “concept of pure production and causation.”43 Instead he wants to make use of biblical notions of the interaction between Creator and creation. In his view, biblical texts about creation refer to a manifold of mutual interdependencies between Creator and creation and describe “in a differentiated way God’s reacting through perception and evaluation. They describe God intervening in what is already created, intervening for the purpose of further specification.”44

An important and ambitious enterprise has been the Divine Action Project, a multi-year series of conferences that resulted in a series of six books of essays, which was sponsored by the Vatican Observatory and the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS).45 More than fifty authors discussed different versions of divine action in relation to modern views of reality informed by science. Many proponents in this discussion emphasize the necessity of not allowing for interventionist actions of God (e.g., Intelligent Design), because this would imply an inconsistent notion of God and laws of nature. God would, at the same time, be responsible for the laws and regularities of creation and for acting against them. Many of the scholars involved have argued that God would be then interacting with the cosmic process in two contradictory ways.46

Robert Russell and others therefore argue for the Creator acting directly under the cover of quantum indeterminacy in order to guide creation in response to its contingency toward the goals God intends without “breaking” or “overriding” the laws and regularities of nature.47 Others, like John Polkinghorne, have proposed that divine action takes place via top-down causation so that God, by interacting with the world as a whole, can influence even particular events or patterns of events without interrupting the regularities that empirical science reveals. For Polkinghorne, chaotic systems provide an opportunity for this interaction, and he suggests that the category of “information” can be applied in those cases when chaotic systems can take different, energy-equivalent paths and divine action lures them toward a certain development without the exchange of energy.48 Arthur Peacocke, on the other hand, draws on the analogy of the mind-body relation to understand possible ways of top-down-causation. He admits that the world is not God’s body, but that this analogy points to the possibility of God directly affecting and forming states of wholes and thus making a difference that extends right down to the behavior of the constituents of the world without abrogating any of the laws and regularities that apply to the fundamental levels of physical reality.49

Within these non-interventionist models of divine action, the traditional distinction between general and special providence can be maintained insofar as the Creator, on the one hand, has established the fundamental laws and regularities of nature that are responsible for the necessary, ordered aspects of reality and, on the other hand, is able to concur and interact with nature through special providence and from time to time as required by the contingent process of an unfolding, emergent creation. Still others, like Alvin Plantinga, argue for a more robust difference between general and special providence and see no problem in granting interventionist concurrence between Creator and creation. Plantinga opts for “guided evolution”50 through special interventionist action including miracles. Niels Gregersen, in contrast, reckons that the ontological distinction between God’s general and special action cannot be maintained, because these categories refer to our ways of theologizing and must not be understood as referring to a difference in the “mind” of God.51

Against all these attempts to combine a temporal, contingent process of creation and evolution with the notion of a purposive Creator guiding and informing this process by ways of temporally contingent divine action, Ernan McMullin objects that such a notion of the divine stands against the predominant Christian tradition of God being eternal and not subject to temporal processes. According to Augustine, temporality is the first and most important constraint on creation, a condition for the existence of creatures but at the same time an obvious sign of their dependence. For McMullin, the Creator is not a temporal being facing some “of the limitations and vicissitudes that beset the creature,”52 but stands outside53 the temporal sequence of creation. For creatures, creation continues at every moment and moves from one instance to the next in contingent, that is, unpredictable, non-necessary ways. The Creator, however, knows the whole of creation within the act of creating it, because for the Creator there is no temporal difference between modes of time, between past, present, and future. The Creator has no “fore”-knowledge according to which creation might be guided, which would be a rather anthropomorphic idea, but just knowledge of creation simpliciter. “Creation and conservation blend together in this view, as do transcendence and immanence.”54

The Historiography of the Term Contingency

The concept of contingency in relation to cosmology and evolution has been discussed. A brief study of the history of terminology and the related philosophical and theological discussions will be presented, as these continue to inform contemporary discussion.


The term contingency is derived from the Latin contingentia. It enters Western philosophy and theology by way of Boethius (c. 480–c. 524) who passes on essential parts of Aristotelian philosophy to the so-called Middle Ages, mainly translations and commentaries of Aristotle’s logical works, the Organon, and of Porphyry’s introduction to Aristotelian logic, his Isagoge. Contingentia is Boethius’s invention as a Latin translation for the Greek term randomness (endechomenon/ἐνδεχόμενον‎) in Aristotelian logic. Aristotle himself is not always consistent in his use of the term, but he refers to contingency mainly as the symmetric possibility to be or not to be. While everything that is necessary cannot fail to be, and everything that is impossible cannot be at all, everything that is contingent can either be or not be. This distinction leads him to discuss severe philosophical problems regarding the truth of statements. If with a certain statement we refer to future events that are neither necessary nor impossible and hence may take place or may not, are the truth values of these sentences already determined so that either that sentence or its contradictory opposite must be regarded as true?55 Does that imply that future events are inevitable? Aristotle rejects both determinism and fatalism. While some of his contemporaries argued that the future battle must be either necessary or impossible, Aristotle introduces a third modal category, namely that of contingency, which keeps the principle of non-contradiction intact, but regards reality as indeterminate in its possible outcome: “A sea-battle must either take place tomorrow or not, but it is not necessary that it should take place tomorrow, neither is it necessary that it should not take place, yet it is necessary that it either should or should not take place tomorrow.”56

Medieval Theology

Beginning with Boethius’s translation and commentaries on Aristotelian logic in the 6th century, an intensive debate about contingency and its theological and philosophical relevance can be traced through medieval literature. Boethius himself argues that contingency is only an illusory appearance. Everything has a cause, and although we are not able to fathom the relevant causes for something to happen, we still have to concede that God knows of them: “For what place can be left for anything happening at random, so long as God controls everything in order?”57 Later contingency becomes a predominant term characterizing the whole of creation as totally dependent on its Creator, without being a necessary emanation of the divine, or an independent counterpart or even antagonist of the Creator. The contingency of creation affirms that created reality has “no self-subsistence and no ultimate stability of its own, but that it is nevertheless endowed with an authentic reality and integrity of its own which must be respected.”58

Duns Scotus (1266–1308) as a representative of late voluntarist scholasticism, however, attributes contingency to God’s will as the primary source and cause of reality. God-self is contingent in everything he wills: “The creation of things proceeds from God not out of any necessity, whether of being or of knowledge or of will, but out of pure freedom which is not moved, much less necessitated, by anything outside of itself so as to be brought into operation.”59 Scotus distinguished between potentia absoluta and potentia ordinata (absolute and relative power) for any kind of action and applied this to divine agency—a distinction that was then promoted by William of Occam (1288–1347) and influenced medieval discussions of the matter deeply.

The Modern Era

Early modernity can be understood as a dispute about the contingent character of both reality and the Creator, against the background of the emerging scientific worldview. Although René Descartes hardly uses the term contingency, nevertheless the problem of contingency is at the heart of his philosophy, and he sees his philosophy as a means of coming to terms with the radical contingency of a world in which everything might have been different.60 In a sense, Descartes is heir of medieval voluntarism. He understands God as an absolutely almighty being and all laws of nature, including all logical and mathematical truths, as decrees issued by the Creator. Everything could have been otherwise, although we as creatures have no idea how that could be. For Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677), however, the actual and the necessary coincide and thus contingency disappears. Although each and every finite individual can be called contingent insofar as it need not exist and we find nothing in its essence that makes its existence necessary, this does not apply to reality as a whole. Reality or nature as such is identical to God, who doesn’t plan, decree, and bring into being something that is ontologically different from God. Created reality rather is an aspect, a manifold of modes of the divine itself. Therefore Spinoza states: “In Nature there is nothing contingent; all things have been caused by the necessity of the divine nature to exist and produce an effect in a certain way.”61 A middle position between Descartes’s radical contingency and Spinoza’s absolute necessity is held by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716). He holds to the view that creation could have been different from how it actually is, so that not everything that possibly could exist actually does exist. He defines as contingent everything whose opposite does not imply a contradiction, and he develops the notion of possible worlds in the mind of God, which represent consistent and complete sets of creatures out of which God chooses the best to bring into being. Other than in Spinoza’s view God had a choice in creation. However, this divine choice or decree was not, as Descartes wanted to have it, an absolutely arbitrary, but a moral decision based on God’s absolute goodness bringing the best of all possible worlds into being. From this it follows that even those truths that are contingent are what they are because there is a moral reason for their being so.

The new mechanical physics of the 17th century, as developed by Isaac Newton, led to an emancipation of natural processes from their dependence on God. When Newton introduced the principle of inertia, in the sense that every physical entity preserves its state of movement due to an intrinsic disposition, the fundamental dependence of contingent reality on being preserved or at least determined by God in every moment and instance was dissolved. The continuous existence of any given state did not require an explanation, but only the occurrence of change.62 And these were exactly the changes that the new physics was able to describe and predict. Insofar as Newtonian physics proved to be applicable not only to terrestric, but also to sidereal physics, this view was extended to the physical cosmos as such, and for the first time the vision of a scientific-rational worldview arose that promised to reduce contingency to some fundamental laws through the scientific modeling of reality. Only at the very beginning of the cosmos was a Creator presupposed, who prepares the stage of creation by providing space and a starting time, and who puts the laws of nature into effect but later does not intervene in the natural world, which develops according to the laws of nature (deism).

However, there seemed to be exceptions to this closed, deterministic view of physical nature, and they were identified in living beings and in the consciousness and free will of human beings. With great public success William Paley popularized the argument from contingency with reference to organisms, and argued that for such delicate and sophisticated entities like living beings an intelligent and intentional Creator has to be presupposed: “never was […] an organized body of any kind, answering a valuable purpose by a complicated mechanism, the effect of chance.”63 Charles Darwin, once an admirer of Paley, came to the conclusion that chance plays a much more important role in the development of organisms. The Darwinian concept of evolution identified random mutations and natural selection as the driving forces of biological development. Although the modern, Neo-Darwinian synthetic theory of evolution complemented these notions with genetic laws, morphology, observations of the development of populations in response to environmental conditions, and other ideas, the process of the evolution of living beings on our planet is seen by many scientists as a non-purposive, contingent development that is accidental in its results. When we turn to the history of ideas, we see that over time, the discussion on contingency has become associated with the understanding of laws of nature and cosmology and with the evolution of life—two specific topics central to contemporary discussions.

Further Reading

Conway Morris, Simon. Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2003.Find this resource:

    Hughes, George E., and Maxwell J. Cresswell. A New Introduction to Modal Logic. London and New York: Routledge, 1996.Find this resource:

      McMullin, Ernan. “Cosmic Purpose and the Contingency of Human Evolution.” Zygon 48.2 (2013): 338–363.Find this resource:

        Pannenberg, Wolfhart. “The Doctrine of Creation and Modern Science.” Zygon 23.1 (1988): 3–21.Find this resource:

          Polkinghorne, John C. “Does God Act in the Physical World?” In Belief in God in an Age of Science. By John C. Polkinghorne, 48–75. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998.Find this resource:

            Russell, Robert J., Nancey Murphy, and C. J. Isham, eds. Quantum Cosmology and the Laws of Nature: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action. 2d ed. Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action 1. Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory, 1999.Find this resource:

              Russell, Robert J., Nancey Murphy, and Arthur Peacocke, eds. Chaos and Complexity. 2d ed. Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action 2. Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory, 2000.Find this resource:

                Russell, Robert J., William R. Stoeger, and Francisco J. Ayala, eds. Evolutionary and Molecular Biology: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action. Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action 3. Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory, 1998.Find this resource:

                  Saunders, Nicholas. Divine Action and Modern Science. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2002.Find this resource:

                    Smedes, Taede A. Chaos, Complexity, and God: Divine Action and Scientism. Studies in Philosophical Theology 26. Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 2004.Find this resource:

                      Torrance, Thomas F. Divine and Contingent Order. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1908.Find this resource:

                        Ward, Keith. God, Chance & Necessity. Oxford: One World, 1996.Find this resource:


                          (1.) Charles Hartshorne, A Natural Theology for Our Time (La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1967), 50.

                          (2.) Paul J. DeHart, Beyond the Necessary God: Trinitarian Faith and Philosophy in the Thought of Eberhard Jüngel (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1999).

                          (3.) Acintita Sutta, Anguttara Nikāya 4.77, Pali-Canon.

                          (4.) See De interpretatione 13, 32a 18–20; 32a 29–32 b3.

                          (5.) Cf. Anna Ijjas, Der Alte mit dem Würfel: Ein Beitrag zur Metaphysik der Quantenmechanik, Religion, Theologie und Naturwissenschaft/Religion, Theology, and Natural Science 24 (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011).

                          (6.) Cf. Paul C. W. Davies and Julian R. Brown, The Ghost in the Atom: A Discussion of the Mysteries of Quantum Physics (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 45–46.

                          (7.) Cf. Stephen H. Kellert, In the Wake of Chaos: Unpredictable Order in Dynamical Systems (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993).

                          (8.) Physics II, 4–6, 196a–198a.

                          (9.) The English word cosmos stems from the Greek kósmos (κόσμος‎), which applies to any ordered system. The Greek verb kosméo (κοσμέω‎) means “to put in proper order, to adorn,” originally referring to military and political order. The philosopher Pythagoras is said to have been the first to apply the term cosmos to the universe. The opposite of cosmos was chaos.

                          (10.) Thomas F. Torrance, Divine and Contingent Order (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1908), IX.

                          (11.) Cf. the seminal work of John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford: Clarendon, 1986).

                          (12.) Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam, 1988), 174.

                          (13.) Ibid., 193.

                          (14.) Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam, 2012).

                          (15.) George F. R. Ellis, Ulrich Kirchner, and William R. Stoeger, “Multiverses and Physical Cosmology,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 347.3 (2004).

                          (16.) George F. R. Ellis, “Issues in the Philosophy of Cosmology,” in Handbook of the Philosophy of Science, eds. Jeremy Butterfield and John Earman (Amsterdam and Heidelberg, Germany: Elsevier, 2007), 1183–1286, 1265.

                          (17.) In case of everything that exists one might want to concede that asking beyond it for a reason is, using the words of Wittgenstein, “connected […] with our wrongly expecting an explanation, whereas the solution of the difficulty is a description, if we give it the right place in our considerations. If we dwell upon it, and do not try to get beyond it. The difficulty here is: to stop” Ludwig Wittgenstein, “Zettel,” in Werkausgabe Bd. 8: Über Gewißheit [u.a.], 11th ed. (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2008), 347 (§314). Cf. the interpretation of these remarks by Phillips Dewi Zephaniah Phillips, “Wittgenstein’s Full Stop,” in Wittgenstein and Religion (New York: St. Martin’s, 1993).

                          (18.) Torrance, Divine and Contingent Order, XI.

                          (19.) Robert J. Spitzer, New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), 49.

                          (20.) Niels H. Gregersen, “Laws of Physics, Principles of Self-Organization, and Natural Capacities,” in Creation: Law and Probability, ed. Fraser N. Watts, Theology and the Sciences (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008), 95.

                          (21.) Ernan McMullin, “Cosmic Purpose and the Contingency of Human Evolution,” Zygon 48.2 (2013).

                          (22.) Ibid., 343.

                          (23.) Jacques Monod, Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology (New York: Knopf, 1971), 112.

                          (24.) Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (New York: Norton, 1989), 48.

                          (25.) Ibid., 51.

                          (27.) Stephen J. Gould, “Extemporaneous Comments on Evolutionary Hope and Realities,” in Darwin’s Legacy: Nobel Conference XVIII Gustavus Adolphus College St. Peter Minnesota, ed. Charles L. Hamrum (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983), 101–102.

                          (28.) Gould, Wonderful Life, 321.

                          (29.) Ibid., 323.

                          (30.) Simon Conway Morris, Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 283.

                          (31.) Ibid., 297.

                          (32.) Ibid., xv–xvi. It might be interesting to note that both Gould and Conway Morris speak of “we” and “ourselves” when referring to the species of Homo sapiens in its development. The origin, ancestry, and self-identity of human beings are closely interconnected via narratives. The evolution narrative can be told in very different ways, as the examples of Gould and Conway Morris show, but in both variants it seems to fulfil the task of a modern myth of origin, including certain moral obligations, which are inferred from this narrative.

                          (33.) Ibid., 96.

                          (34.) Ibid., 24.

                          (35.) Holmes Rolston, III, “Inevitable Humans: Simon Conway Morris’s Evolutionary Paleontology,” Zygon 40.1 (2005): 227: “Co-option is as revolutionary as it is evolutionary.”

                          (36.) Cf. the criticism by Rolston.

                          (37.) In rudimentary form this applies even to certain species within the animal kingdom, cf. e.g., Kevin N. Laland and Bennett G. Galef, eds., The Question of Animal Culture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009).

                          (38.) Immanuel Kant, “Kritik der Urtheilskraft,” in Gesammelte Schriften Abt. 1: Werke. Bd. 5 (Berlin: Reimer, 1913), 374.

                          (39.) Keith Ward, Religion and Creation (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996), 202.

                          (40.) Ibid., 266.

                          (41.) Ibid., 284.

                          (42.) Another suggestion for countering the issue of contingency in creation by Trinitarian thought is developed by Andrew Robinson; see Andrew J. Robinson, “Continuity, Naturalism, and Contingency: A Theology of Evolution Drawing on the Semiotics of C. S. Peirce and Trinitarian Thought,” Zygon 39.1 (2004).

                          (43.) Michael Welker, Creation and Reality (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1999), 10.

                          (44.) Ibid., 9.

                          (45.) See the overview by Wesley J. Wildman, “The Divine Action Project, 1988–2003,” Theology and Science 2.1 (2004), where all biographical data can be found.

                          (46.) Ernan McMullin, “Evolution and Special Creation,” Zygon 28.3 (1993): 324.

                          (47.) See Russell’s fresh assessment of his model in Robert J. Russell, “Divine Action and Quantum Mechanics: A Fresh Assessment,” in Philosophy, Science and Divine Action, ed. F. L. Shults, Nancey C. Murphy, and Robert J. Russell, Philosophical studies in science and religion 1 (Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2009), 351–404.

                          (48.) John Polkinghorne, “The Metaphysics of Divine Action,” in Philosophy, Science and Divine Action, eds. F. L. Shults, Nancey C. Murphy, and Robert J. Russell, 97–110.

                          (49.) Arthur Peacocke, “The Sound of Sheer Silence: How Does God Communicate with Humanity?” in Philosophy, Science and Divine Action, eds. F. L. Shults, Nancey C. Murphy, and Robert J. Russell, 53–96.

                          (50.) Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), passim.

                          (51.) Niels H. Gregersen, “Divine Action and the Quilt of Laws: Why the Distinction between Special and General Divine Action Cannot Be Maintained,” in Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action: Twenty Years of Challenge and Progress, ed. Robert J. Russell, Nancey Murphy, and William R. Stoeger, Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action 6 (Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory, 2008).

                          (52.) McMullin, “Cosmic Purpose and the Contingency of Human Evolution,” 354.

                          (53.) It is not quite clear what the spatial metaphor “outside” means in this respect. McMullin calls it “an imperfect one” ibid., 355 and specifies it as “atemporal,” which actually doesn’t help much.

                          (55.) The famous discussion of future contingents (in Latin: contingentia futura) is found in De Interpretatione 9. For illustration Aristotle uses the example of a sea battle that might take place tomorrow or not. For the history of the discussion of this example see Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry Medieval Theories of Future Contingents.

                          (56.) De interpretatione 9, 19a.

                          (57.) Consolatio philosophiae V.

                          (58.) Torrance, Divine and Contingent Order, VII.

                          (59.) Duns Scotus, Quaestiones disputatae de rerum principio, q.4, a.1, n.3.

                          (60.) See Jürgen Goldstein, Kontingenz und Rationalität bei Descartes: Eine Studie zur Genese des Cartesianismus, Paradeigmata 28 (Hamburg: Meiner, 2007).

                          (61.) Ethica I, prop. 29.

                          (62.) Cf. Wolfhart Pannenberg, “The Doctrine of Creation and Modern Science,” Zygon 23.1 (1988): 9.

                          (63.) William Paley, Natural Theology; or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature, 13th ed. (London: R. Faulder, 1811), 63.