The Cosmos and the Creator: An Introduction to the Theology of Creation

Written by David A. S. Ferguson Reviewed By Rob Cook

The book is a reworking of Professor Fergusson’s Cunningham Lectures delivered at the University of Edinburgh in 1996. The four lectures have been crafted into four chapters: creation in the Bible, in cosmology, in evolution, and as related to evil and the end of life.

In the first chapter Fergusson explores the idea that humans are created in God’s image and concludes that the phrase in Genesis describes not human nature but our role as God’s agents in the exercise of dominion over nature; this dominion being one of stewardship, not domination. We are also provided with some biblical resources which suggest that we should guard against an anthropocentric picture of the universe. Animals have their own dignity and purpose in the overall harmony of creation.

The next chapter, which focuses on cosmology, begins by arguing that the doctrine of creation out of nothing is not directly derivable from Scripture. Nevertheless, we are told, the development of this tenet is consonant with the biblical picture of a deity who freely creates a wholly contingent universe. Fergusson explicitly distances himself from Process theism and the sort of emanationalism found in Moltmann. He goes on to provide a brief overview of recent discussions of the so-called Cosmological Proof for God’s existence and gives the arguments lukewarm approval. The chapter concludes with a theological discussion of the Big Bang theory with especial reference to the recent non-theist interpretations of Stephen Hawking.

Chapter three looks at Evolution in the context of its Creationist detractors. Fergusson feels that the combined evidence from the fields of cosmogony, geology, palaeontology, and biology provides overwhelming support for the evolutionary hypothesis. However, he disagrees with Richard Dawkins that a naturalistic explanation will suffice. Divine action is interpreted as the interplay of God with an intrinsically creative universe. Finally the chapter revisits the animal kingdom and provides a fascinating summary of the changing attitude to animals throughout Church history as well as a stimulating ethical discussion of their status.

Chapter four contains a discussion of the various options in explaining evil and suffering, and recommends an attitude not of disinterested enquiry but protest and struggle whilst holding firm to eschatological hope. A correct biblical understanding of this hope, according to Fergusson, involves recreation not evolutionary extension as postulated by exotic theorists like Frank Tipler.

Although only an introduction and summary, this short book explores an area of current interest due to the pressing questions raised by spokespersons from lobbies as varied as Green Ecologists, Feminists and New Age thinkers. I valued, in particular, the thought-provoking discussion on the role and value of animal life and the healthy anti-patriarchal insight that, ‘God’s action is one in which the creation is redeemed from within rather than over-ruled from without’ (85). Fergusson then quotes with approval Simone Weil’s memorable phrase, ‘Creation is abdication’ in that creation involved a kenotic act whereby God withdrew his power so as to enable the cosmos to exercise a certain creative autonomy. I warmly recommend this volume.

Rob Cook

Redcliffe College