Session VI…Creation <--> Creator?
Concluding Session: The Creator Question
Sunday 9 October—Day Three
Creation <–> Creator? Alternatives?
Moderated by Denys Turner
Sunday 9 October—Day Three
The concluding session of the Conference began at 10:00 a.m. at the Greenberg Center following Continental breakfast. Arvind Sharma (McGill Comparative Religion) and Dean Zimmerman (Rutgers Philosophy) gave the keynote presentations. Responding were Joel Primack (UC Santa Cruz Astrophysics and Physics; delivered the 2009-10 Terry Lectures at Yale with Nancy Ellen Abrams) and Kathryn Tanner (Yale Divinity), followed by extended plenary discussion. That session ended with brief closing remarks from Conference organizers Michael Della Rocca, Priya Natarajan, and Denys Turner, followed by a farewell reception.
The scientific, philosophical, and religio-theological perspectives of the previous Conference sessions converge upon this final intellectual (and perhaps spiritual) challenge. Arguably, for most people in all times and places, the question whether the dazzling wonders of cosmic creation revealed by science imply an intentional creative agency has far outweighed in personal significance the question of why there is something rather than nothing—regardless of the answers. Yet the challenge of accounting for anything at all has sometimes seemed theism’s trump card, while from an atheist viewpoint that same question can be approached meaningfully via mathematical descriptions of physical reality. In that sense, whether creation implies creator (and vice-versa) is inextricably intertwined with “why anything”.
Are there two genuinely distinct questions here: first, “How does it come to be that there is anything at all?” and, second: “How come just this world?” Or is the only possible answer to the first question whatever the scientist offers by way of answering second?
When it comes to alternatives, does the notion of a multiverse offer possibilities of accounting for the “how” of this Universe even as the “why” is dispensed with? Or do they rather point toward a vastly greater reality of which the same question continues to pertain: how/why all of this instead of nothing at all? By now the near-impossibility of conceiving of utter nothingness will have been raised in our conversation. Does the quest for the answer to the Conference’s Really Big Question draw us into the tension between nothingness and a theoretical multiverse of the vastest scale?
Joel Primack is a Distinguished Professor of Physics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He specializes in the formation and evolution of galaxies and the nature of the dark matter and is one of the principal originators and developers of the theory of Cold Dark Matter. He is currently the director of the University of California High-Performance Astro-Computing Center, which he founded in 2010, where he is using supercomputers to simulate and visualize the evolution of the universe, comparing the resulting predictions to the latest observational data. He co-authored Advice and Dissent: Scientists in the Political Arena (1974) and co-founded the Union of Concerned Scientists and the AAAS Program on Science and Human Rights. In 2006 he and Nancy Ellen Abrams authored The View from the Center of the Universe: Discovering our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos, followed this year by The New Universe and the Human Future: How a Shared Cosmology Could Transform the World, based on their 2009 Terry Lectures at Yale. [more]
Arvind Sharma is the Birks Professor of Comparative Religion at McGill University in Montreal. In 1962, Sharma joined the Indian Administrative Service, serving in Gujarat until 1968. In 1971 he received an M.A. from Syracuse and in 1974 a Masters in Theology and in 1978 his Ph.D. in Sanscrit, both from Harvard. In 1987 Sharma took the position of Associate Professor of Religious Studies at McGill. Sharma was the first Infinity Foundation Visiting Professor of Indic Studies at Harvard and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society. He currently writes blogs entitled “Indological Provocations” and “The Comparative Study of Religion”. [more]
Kathryn Tanner is the Frederick Marquand Professor of Systematic Theology at the Yale Divinity School. She began her career at Yale University, then moved to the University of Chicago Divinity School as the Dorothy Grant Maclear Professor of Theology. She is a past president of the American Theological Society, and is a member of the Theological Committee that advises the Episcopal House of Bishops. Tanner practices constructive Christian theology in the Protestant tradition. Her works addresses contemporary challenges to the Christian faith through the creative use of both the history of Christian thought and interdisciplinary methods, such as critical, social, and feminist theory. Tanner’s most recent book is Christ the Key. [more]
Dean W. Zimmerman is a professor of philosophy at Rutgers and one of the most influential figures in contemporary metaphysics. He specializes in metaphysics and the philosophy of religion. He is a member of the Society of Christian Philosophers. He is writing on the persistence of material objects and persons, surviving death, the idea that God is “outside of time”, and the question whether nomic necessity might be necessity in the strongest sense. He has been co-organizer of the last two Logos philosophical theology workshops that bring together philosophers, theologians, and other scholars of religion working on a specific topic in philosophical theology. [more]