Cosmology and Eschatology Podcast

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Cosmology and Eschatology Podcast

One of the hardest parts of Christian theology to reconcile with science is eschatology, or beliefs about final things. Whether it involves affirmations of the second coming of Christ or talk of “a new heaven and a new earth,” eschatology seems worlds apart (as it were) from the scientific method and cosmology’s predictions about the far-future universe. And yet some hope for a future in which God will be “all in all” seems intrinsic to the Christian faith.

I had the chance to struggle with these questions this fall. The following podcast gives you a sense of the difficulties and the kind of answer I’d like to give. It’s titled “Living toward an Open Future: What are the Theological Conditions for Hope in an Age of Science?” I offer my special thanks to my hosts, and to the audience members who asked probing questions, at the following institutions: the Humboldt-University in Berlin, Germany, and to the Guardini Foundation and the DFG, who sponsored the conference at which the talk was delivered; St. Andrews Presbyterian College, in Laurinburg, NC, and to the John Calvin McNair Annual Lectureship; McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada; and Emmanuel College of Victoria University, the University of Toronto, Ontario.

These are difficult issues, and there is no simple, easy, and definitive answer. Christians in good conscience will come down in very different places. But I do believe that it is important to struggle with the questions. I hope that the podcast will encourage you to ask deeper questions and to begin to formulate your own responses.

Podcast: “Living toward an Open Future: What are the Theological Conditions for Hope in an Age of Science?”


Joe Bankard

November 12, 2009at 7:03 pm

Dr. Clayton,

I really enjoyed your lecture. However, I do have one question. If current research in physics tells us that our universe is destined for a “not so good” end (an eternal cold), then how can we as Christians postulate a future hope without contradicting physics? You mention a redeemed earth (I agree), but how can this redemption occur without violating the information we have from physics?

Thanks for your time.

Joe Bankard


November 18, 2009at 7:22 pm

Dr. Clayton,

Thanks for providing this resource, as well as all the other helpful web resources on the site. After listening to the podcast, one question comes into focus for me. For those of us who have faith coloured with doubt, is there anything that we can lean on to reinforce our faith when we are struggling with it? Is there any instances in which science actually provides us with hope for our worldview rather than just getting out of the way of it? I have personally found that as my theology has become more liberal over a couple of tumultuous years, I have been less able to look to my Christian background for hope, and thus need other counterpoints against the materialist viewpoint. I get the sense from a lot of your writing and speaking that you have a deep faith that gives you the confidence to question and explore a lot of these questions that we face, and I am wondering (and am hoping to share in) what provides the deep core of faith that is not so easily shaken.

Thanks for any advice you could provide!


Philip Clayton

November 19, 2009at 10:41 am

Joe and Alex, thanks for your responses. The point of the talk was to be honest about how distant the Christian eschatological hope is from the information that physical cosmology is providing. There are other areas where the connections between science and Christian faith are easier to draw — areas such as the regularities of natural law, fine-tuning, convergent phenomena in nature (e.g., Simon Conway Morris), emergent complexity, the co-evolution of biological and cultural phenomena, and numerous features in scientific and philosophical anthropology. But eschatology is one of the hard areas.

That’s why in the talk I urge thinkers to take the long route through more general metaphysical features of the eschatological hope, rather than the short route of apologetic arguments for the second coming. If we think more deeply about what underlies traditional eschatological language, we find principles that (in my view) remain plausible today. I mention a few of these toward the end of the talk: contingency, providence, the participation of the created world in its divine source, and others. The more we’re able to defend such principles, the more we reduce the sense of an outright contradiction of the sort that Joe worries about. And I think that we also address the task that Alex is raises, the task of giving reason for the hope that is within us. If we can get Christian thinkers focused on these deeper questions, rather than on predicting the year of Christ’s return (and making claims like “the United Nations is the Antichrist”), we greatly strengthen the credibility of the Christian hope.

— Philip

max johnson

February 6, 2010at 2:10 am

Nice responses, Phil. (nice lecture, too!). A lot of my students have been asking similar questions in my Philosophy of Religion Class. I’ve been trying to get them to “think bigger” than simply a continuation of existence on this planet in this solar system in this universe.

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