Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science

March 1991 Editorial

[Zygon, vol. 26, no. 1 (March 1991).]
© 1991 by the Joint Publication Board of Zygon. ISSN: 0591-2385
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9744.1991.tb00800.x

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For as long as it has been in existence, this journal has devoted intense reflection to the question of how what we know should be related to how we act. More specifically, this reflection has focused on the relationship between scientific knowledge and values. Zygon’s founder, Ralph Wendell Burhoe, underscored the great crisis of contemporary civilization that has resulted because we lack a set of credible concepts that can interpret this relationship between knowledge and values, which in turn has left us with no public consensus on this critical matter. Our most basic goal is to make whatever contribution we can to clarifying the knowledge/values interface. The major concern of the articles in this issue coincides with this goal.

This issue of Zygon marks the beginning of the journal’s second quarter-century. Accordingly, it serves us well to recall the vision that inaugurated Zygon and which underscores the kind of thinking that marks this issue. In 1965, Burhoe wrote our first editorial, a piece that also served as the University of Chicago Press’s advertising prospectus for Zygon.

Zygon, the Greek term for anything which joins two bodies, especially the yoking or harnessing of a team which must effectively pull together, is a symbol for this journal whose aim is to reunite the split team, values and knowledge, where coordination is essential for a viable dynamics of human culture.

We respond to the growing fears that the widening chasm in twentieth-century culture between values and knowledge, or good and truth, or religion and science, is disruptive if not lethal for human destiny. In this split, the traditional faiths and philosophies, which once informed people of what is of most sacred concern for them, have lost their credibility and hence their power. Yet human fulfillment or salvation in the age of science requires not less but more insight and conviction concerning life’s basic values. …

One might say that because of its radical mutations the cultural “gamete” from father science has not yet found any corresponding gamete from mother religion with which it can unite to form a workable new culture for future civilization. A valid union may require mutations or reformations in religious belief systems, or further mutations in scientific belief systems, or both. The journal Zygon is established as a workshop for those seeking ways to unite, in full integrity, the sciences with what people hold to be their sacred values, their religion.

The first five articles, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Fausto Massimini and Antonella Delle Fave, William Irons, Donald T. Campbell, and Philip Hefner, grow out of three symposia that took place in 1989, all of which were planned by the Chicago Center for Religion and Science. The first, “Year 2000 and Beyond,” occurred in late March of that year, under the auspices of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, as an occasion for the leadership of that body to focus attention on basic issues that may lie in the future. The second, with the theme “Evolution and Moral Norms,” was held in September on the site of its cosponsor, the Evangelical Academy of Loccum—a medieval Cistercian monastery enclave in the village of Loccum, fifty miles west of Hannover, Germany. The third event, which took place in early December 1989 under the title, “Values that Guide Our Lives,” honored Ralph Wendell Burhoe on the occasion of the presentation of -a portrait bronze that memorializes him at the Chicago Center. The Burhoe Bronze symposium also marked a gathering of the members of the Center for Advanced Study in Religion and Science, which together with the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science publishes Zygon.

The Csikszentmihalyi and Massimini/Delle Fave articles are companion pieces, in that they deal with what their authors believe is a global crisis facing the human community, and they define that crisis in similar terms. The crisis has its origins in dominant social philosophies that perceive physical nature and human life exclusively in what Pitirim Sorokin termed “sensate” terms. These philosophies undergird behavior that is exploitative, that views nature and humans only in quantitative terms, and that values chiefly production and consumption. Both articles insist that a dimension of “spirit” (Csikszentmihalyi) or “intrinsic rewards” (Massimini/Delle Fave) must be taken into consideration. Their analyses are based on their scientific understandings of biocultural evolutionary processes that have shaped human nature, and their proposals call for a substantial reorienting of human values with respect to the natural environment, human relations, the ritual dimension of human existence, conflict among persons and groups, and cultural diversity. Theirs is a grand vision of the human venture set within a large-scaled understanding of the evolutionary context of that venture. Both are audacious enough to pursue the challenge to which Csikszentmihalyi gives expression: “what I hope to show is that material and spiritual views of reality are mutually supportive, and that there is no necessary conflict between a truth expressed in religious, and one expressed in scientific, jargon.” Both articles pose an incisive challenge to existing religious communities.

William Irons’s article is a landmark presentation that readers will find themselves using as a reference work for some time to come. It is a comprehensive attempt to provide evidence for the claim that “evolutionary theory has been sufficiently successful as a theory of human behavior and sociality to make it something that should be examined by all types of scholars concerned with human affairs.” Students of human behavioral ecology (Irons’s term for what has been called sociobiology) have assembled a great deal of evidence for their view that modern Darwinian theory can deal with human social behavior, and Irons surveys that evidence, both in his text and in the accompanying comprehensive bibliography. Even though there may be little chance that all the partners to the controversy over his hypothesis will be satisfied even by his magisterial presentation, it certainly marks an important milestone in this journal’s ongoing discussion of these concepts.

Specific traditions of moral behavior form the focus of the pieces by Donald Campbell and Philip Hefner. Campbell continues to illumine a theme for which he has previously broken new ground, that the dynamics of cultural evolution are susceptible to interpretation by revised Darwinian concepts, and that traditions of discipline and altruism are required to ensure the survival of human cultures. His concrete focus is the protocivilizations of ancient Egypt, Sumer, Babylon, China, India, and South America. He sets before the reader a range of forceful and yet complex suggestions concerning the relations between the supernatural belief systems of these societies and their social organization. Hefner speculates on the origins and function of myth and its significance for values and morality, particularly on how, at the emergence of the human species, culture may have functioned for the survival of the creature, Homo sapiens, who requires more than its biogenetic apparatus for survival. He posits morality as a key constituent of this adaptive cultural supplement, and he uses the Christian formulation of the love command as a test case for his analysis.

Taken together, these six authors make proposals in terms both of methodology and substantive content in response to the perennial question, How can traditional religious wisdom and scientific modes of understanding can be related so as to provide guidance for our lives today?

In a critique of a piece by James W. Jones, which appeared in the March 1989 issue, William Rottschaefer presents his own .substantive argument about the significance of cognitive social learning theory for religion. Finally, the third installment from David Breed’s work on the life and thought of Ralph Wendell Burhoe throws light on Burhoe’s impact upon the Unitarian Universalist community and upon theological education.

Since this issue does mark the beginning of our twenty-sixth year, and also the beginning of the second year of our operation under a new editorial team, it seems to us to be a useful time for receiving feedback from readers. If you have criticisms and/or suggestions for the future, by all means let us hear them.

Philip Hefner

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