Heidi Ann RUSSELL. Quantum Shift: Theological and Pastoral Implications of Contemporary Developments in Science. Liturgical Press (Collegeville, MN), 2015, pp. xxvi, 207. ISBN978-0-8146-8303-3. Reviewed by Joseph A. BRACKEN, S.J., Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH 45207.
Heidi Ann Russell, associate professor in the Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University, Chicago, sets forth in this book what she sees as the theological and pastoral implications of recent developments in quantum theory and relativity theory. In Chapter One, for example, she focuses on the differences in measurement of space and time parameters required by relativity theory and then links it with the inevitably provisional and perspectival understanding of the God-world relationship among Christian systematic theologians. In Chapter Two she notes that the terms particle and wave in quantum theory may be complementary rather than logically opposed to one another for understanding quantum phenomena and then suggests that matter and spirit may likewise be complementary rather than opposed to one another in systematic theology In Chapter Three she explains the notion of entanglement in quantum physics and applies it to the explanation of social justice issues in Christian ethics. In Chapter Four she takes note of the role of the “strange attractor” in chaos theory and asks whether or not the role of God in the workings of human consciousness may also be likened to a “strange attractor” rather than an extrinsic Lawgiver and Judge. Chapter Five deals with current scientific understanding of the Big Bang and compares it with the classical theological understanding of creatio ex nihilo. In Chapter Six she raises the possibility of a pluriverse rather than simply a universe to explain Ultimate Reality and then asks what that implies for classical Christian belief in redemption through Christ. In similar fashion, within Chapter Seven she contrasts scientific and religious understandings of the end of the present world. Finally, in Chapter Eight she offers a brief analysis of contemporary string theory and loop quantum gravity as the starting-point for the workings of the cosmic process and then proposes that love (understood as cosmic energy) from a theological perspective links the creatures of this world to one another and to their Creator God.
Simply as an overview of current scientific research in all the above-named specialties within the overall field of relativity theory and quantum theory, this book is a remarkable achievement. Her text and footnotes are filled with references to scientists and philosophers of science who are familiar figures in the field of religion and science. Her own focus in the book, as noted in the subtitle, is on the theological and pastoral implications of such scientific research in line with her own professional training. But, to present the state of the question fairly on each of the issues in question, one has to do a great deal of patient background reading. Yet in citing so many authors in support of her explanation of these various issues in the field of religion and science, there is a hidden danger. One will be citing authors who may disagree sharply with one another in terms of their overall philosophical world view. Classical Thomists strictly guided by the thought of Aquinas, Transcendental Thomists like Karl Rahner, students of the thought of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Whiteheadians and other process-oriented thinkers do not provide a unified philosophical understanding of reality as one tries to construct one’s own logically coherent world view. As a result, key terms like matter and spirit, the body-soul relationship, top-down vs. bottom-up causation within the God-world relationship, etc., remain ambiguous within one’s own world view because they mean different things to the various authors that are cited along the way. Russell’s next move, as I see it, might well be to settle on an already well-defined philosophical cosmology and use it to construct one’s own philosophical cosmology, albeit with the aid of many of the authors cited in the present book. Like many other Christian systematic theologians, Russell seems to favor Karl Rahner’s basic approach to the God-world relationship as expressed in Foundations of Christian Faith and other writings. But Rahner himself was in my judgment himself to the end of his life in transit between different world views: on the one hand, the conceptually rigorous but relatively abstract metaphysics of classical Thomism and, on the other hand, a more empirically grounded and process-oriented approach to the God-world relationship akin to the philosophical cosmology of Teilhard de Chardin who was himself struggling with the reconciliation of Thomism and his own evolutionary understanding of the cosmic process. So a more explicitly process-oriented philosopher of science like Charles Sanders Peirce or Alfred North Whitehead might be of greater value here as a guide in fashioning one’s own world view.