God in Cosmic History

Where Science & History Meet Religion

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Ted Peters
  • Winona, MN: 
    Anselm Academic
    , February
     358 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


God in Cosmic History describes the cosmos’ beginning with an exploding cosmic singularity. Ted Peters extends the interdisciplinary study of big history with theology. The questions are: Whether the universes originated from natural processes? Was God the author of the cosmos? or Might there be an argument for co-authorship?

Discussion of cosmic origins proceeds from “why there is something rather than nothing?” The prevailing responses include: 1) God created this unique universe from nothing ex nihilo as described in the Bible; 2) God created the universe and its natural laws and process which He conserves and continues to be active with; 3) God designed and created the cosmos as a mechanism which does not require His ongoing interaction; or 4) ours is a daughter universe destined by the laws of thermodynamics to fail and to spawn offspring. Having described the complexity of cosmic formation—including stars, earth, and moons—Peters next attends to the origins of life.

Peters frames development of life questioning, “How did the inorganic become organic?” (48). The two leading scientific theories are: 1) that material developed in a primordial soup on land; and 2) that life arose from compounds suspended in the ocean. Theory one states that an electric charge from lightning animated material containing chemicals—carbon, iron, hydrogen, etc. The second theory claims that chemicals and non-living material existed in the ocean. These material compounds were adrift on the currents and met volcanic energy. The inorganic material became living by heat energy, organisms crawled out of the pond or sea and then evolved.

A counter theory is that the bible is literal fact. God created life by the work of His hands. There is evolutionary doubt in the neo-creationist view. God instantaneously created the universe and life. He molded Adam from the earth then drew Eve from Adam’s side. The distance between then and now has been short, raising criticism that the fossil record or current scientific research does not correspond well with this view. There is another theistic evolutionary hypothesis.

Theistic evolution presents God creating the material essence, physical laws, and means for life to evolve. God is active in conserving life. Human people evolved to what they are today over a long natural process. Kenneth Miller, in Finding Darwin's God: A scientist search for common ground between God and evolution (Harper Perennial, 2000) shows it is through the evolutionary process that the human brain and intellect developed the ability to receive the true revelation of God’s existence. Peters provides a dynamic analysis of Genesis as a faith and historical document that addresses the biblical creation story in contrast with Babylonian culture and science. Peters shows that Genesis is an account of natural cosmic and human development. The biblical account may reconcile with the Big Bang. God spoke the cosmos into existence out of nothing and breathed life into the instantaneous creation. Further, that any interpretation of Genesis and creation must address of a teleological future.

The biblical text presents God commanding that the primal duo of Adam and Eve abstain from the fruit of the Tree of Life. Eve, tempted by a spirit appearing as a serpent, eats the restricted fruit. In expression of free will, she succumbs to temptation. She shares the fruit with her mate and, exercising his free human will, he also partakes. The action breaks communion with the divine—visiting death upon creation. Peters states, “To replace God with oneself as ultimate is what the Greek myths called hubris and what the Latin Christians called pride” (119).

A break with God was initiated by the first humans, and communion with God is interrupted. That distance from God would forever place all human beings in a natural state of sin (original sin). The initially created environment described in Genesis was perfect and imbued with good. Peters reminds us that, “There is no abject evil in this story, only competition between a variety of good things” (120). Original sin is one of transmission rather than commission. Regardless, the story of Genesis prompts a reflection on an essentialness of human beings and points to universal violence and death.

At first, the way Peters locates the question of war and human violence appears strange. However, human beings seem to display the need for hope and reconciliation within themselves and with each other. Human beings are oriented toward goodness, but cannot fulfil or sustain that orientation in word, thought, or deed. Out of this tension, transformative critique and thought emerged that gave rise to new schools of thought, of science, and belief.

The axial advance was a dramatic progression of human understanding. In the ensuing historical period, we find breakthroughs in thinking in the Chinese, Indian, Greek, and Mesopotamian regions. Axial philosophers, seers, and thinkers developed a transformative means to conceive and critique ultimate reality, models for God were advanced, means for just and peaceful social order created, and the nature of what it means to be human is addressed. Peters’s exposure of the axial philosophical inquiry is broad. We are next led to consider the possible links with the future.

Gaudium et spes (The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 1965) states we, “sincerely professes that all men, believers and unbelievers alike, ought to work for the rightful betterment of this world in which alike live; such an ideal cannot be realized, however, apart from sincere and prudent dialogue.” Peters’s work presents the questions of God in the context of being called out from cosmic and world history. The critical questions called forth are: does the personal good that human beings seek end with the grave, or is there a possibility of eternal existence in which we find ourselves reconciled and in full communion with a loving, almighty, and sovereign God? God in Cosmic History is commended for evoking a sincere and prudent dialog.

About the Reviewer(s): 

David C. Martin is an independent Roman Catholic academic with foci in worldviews, religion, spirituality, social contructionism, and higher education.

Date of Review: 
May 31, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Ted Peters is coeditor of the journal Theology and Science, published by the Francisco J. Ayala Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California. He is Research Professor Emeritus in Systematic Theology and Ethics at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley.


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