Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science

December 1994 Editorial

[Zygon, vol. 29, no. 4 (December 1994).]
© 1994 by the Joint Publication Board of Zygon. ISSN: 0591-2385
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9744.1994.tb00685.x

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In her tribute to Roger Sperry, elsewhere in this issue, Jerre Levy speaks of this celebrated brain researcher as a “paradigm breaker.” In the September 1994 editorial, I cited Ervin Laszlo’s suggestion that a major goal of the religion/science conversation is the emergence of the kind of knowledge that will elicit new paradigms. New paradigms cannot be called forth simply by a wish or a clever abracadabra. We can look for new paradigms, prepare the soil of thought for their emergence; indeed, without such yearning and patient nurture they will never penetrate our sensibilities, but, as Jesus said of the spirit, emerging paradigms blow where they will, and their appearance is always a surprise, as to time and place.

This issue of our journal presents the papers of the 1993 Templeton Symposium, organized by Zygon and the Chicago Center for Religion and Science. The symposium was an exercise in preparing the soil for new ways of thinking by posing questions that are comparatively uncommon in the religion/science discussion. It is widely held, for example, that religion exists largely to serve a world “beyond,” rather than the world of nature and history. Consequently, religious revelation deals exclusively with God or the holy. One hardly ever speaks of religion as an experience of the world; such talk might seem antithetical to the view of religion as revelation about God. This may be the reason why even today the world’s religions are so halting in their engagement with contemporary science. In fact, there is no religious knowledge about God or the holy that is not embedded in and mediated by our experience of this natural and historical world.

Science is most often spoken of as knowledge about the world and control over it. Although scientists frequently speak of their experience of the natural world, images of knowledge and control are mostly to the fore. It is no surprise, therefore, that such questions as How can we pry loose nature’s secrets? and How can we fashion interventions that will enable us to use nature to serve our ends? are the guiding themes for so much of scientific discussion, both within the peer group and in the general population. Two of the most highly publicized and financed of the sciences today are genetics and the neurosciences. The shape of the institutional pursuit of these sciences and the style of their research cannot be understood apart from the motifs of gaining knowledge about and control over the natural world. It is scarcely recognized that before knowledge and control comes experience, and science is one of the most significant ways we experience the world.

The Templeton Symposium posed questions to its participants that were deliberately designed to pull theologians, philosophers, and scientists out of their ordinary orbits, in the hope that the character of both religion and science as experience of the world might better be glimpsed if the discussants were slightly off balance. Discussants were asked to speak from their own personal .involvement in their disciplines to the following questions: With what expectations do science and religion approach the world? How does one move from experiencing the world to interpreting it? What does our experience of nature tell us about what it means to be a human being in the world? Since both scientists and religious thinkers are human beings, and since they share a common world, is there a common stance toward the world that they share? Are there lessons, or constants, or enduring structures derived from the scientific and religious experience of the world that can ground our worldviews, our values, and the conduct of our lives? What import for understanding the natural world do such elements as the following have—prayer and ritual, belief in a personal God, prediction, humility, experiment, and trial-and-error?

The reader can judge to what extent the symposium prepared the soil for new emergences in interpreting religion and science and their relationships. There is more than one kind of scientific opinion expressed here, and also more than one kind of religious experience. We regret that the papers by Lindon Eaves and Karl E. Peters are not included in this company, but circumstances prevented their authors from doing the editing that they felt was necessary for publication. We acknowledge the John M. Templeton Foundation for underwriting the symposium and also providing a subsidy for publishing the papers in this issue.

Philip Hefner

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