In Forresters Churches at the Transition this issue of Zygon reveals a clear picture from a systems-dynamics viewpoint of the supreme importance of religion for maintaining the long-term values necessary for the survival of a society. This issue also unveils in the Proposal a new step by one of the two institutions which sponsor Zygon, a step that may be needed to help religious institutions meet their responsibilities for maintaining long-term values in the hearts and minds of men in the new age of science and technology. The third article, Evolving Cybernetic Machinery, provides an example of how mans long-range values or ultimate concerns can—even in the midst of contemplating the greatest threat posed by his scientific developments—be seen to be the same ultimate concern long expressed at the peak of religious culture. All three papers suggest that new survival requirements stemming from our use of science and technology pose upon the cultural institutions that engender mans ultimate concerns the greatest challenge in their million years of evolving. The Proposal suggests one way, perhaps historically a crucial way, to salvage for a new scientific age the traditional and necessary functions of these institutions. We hope that Zygon readers will be interested in this proposal for a new Center, that they will respond with critical and constructive evaluations, and that some will want to participate actively in making it a vital reality. The future of Zygon itself is tied to the new Center.
In recent studies of the dynamic behavior of corporations, cities, and worldwide forces, many general and fundamental characteristics of social systems have been identified. I was invited to interpret in this paper the earlier work for its meaning to the churches, now that population and industrial growth appear to be rapidly overtaking the natural capacity of the earth.¹
Civilization is in a transition zone between past exponential growth and some future form of equilibrium. The nature of that future equilibrium will depend on present actions. Present actions are determined by the interplay between social forces and the value system that governs our responses. If the churches are to be influential, they will operate through the value system that conditions our responses to the rising worldwide pressures. In studies of other social systems, it has often been found that intended policies lead to unintended consequences. Are the Christian churches propagating an ethical value structure that is incompatible with a desirable future condition of the world? Are the churches today acting in a way that will improve or worsen the future of mankind? What is the primary responsibility of the church in modern society? Because the short-term and long-term objectives are usually contradictory, how is the balance to be struck? Should the church be responsive to short-term pressures, or should it be the custodian of the long-term values of a society? How is the church to resolve the conflicting goals that are always to be found in a social system? …
¹ Jørgen Randers and Donella H. Meadows, Carrying Capacity of the Global Environment: A Look at the Ethical Alternatives, in Toward Global Equilibrium: Collected Papers, ed. Dennis L. Meadows (Cambridge, Mass.: Wright-Allen Press, 1972).
² Jay W. Forrester, Counterintuitive Behavior of Social Systems, Technology Review (January 1971), pp. 52-68.
⁶ Jay W. Forrester, World Dynamics (Cambridge, Mass.: Wright-Allen Press, 1971); D. H. Meadows et al., The Limits to Growth (New York: Universe Books, 1972).
Jay W. Forrester is professor of management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Authors Note: This paper was originally presented at the annual meeting of the program board of the Division of Overseas Ministries of the National Council of Churches. It followed a discussion by Jørgen Randers showing the implications of present world trends in growth of population and industrialization, depletion of natural resources, rise in population, and full utilization of agricultural land. Referring to the two hours of his talk and the ensuing discussion, Randers said, The entire purpose is to convince you that exponential growth cannot go on forever in a world of fixed size. Randers stressed that overtaxing of the natural environment is caused more by industrialization than by population. Industrial processes use natural resources and emit pollution. Capital-intensive agriculture in time decreases the productivity of land. Limiting of capital accumulation is as necessary as limiting of population. World civilization must and will move from growth to equilibrium, either by human choice or by the pressure of natural and social forces.
Many trade-offs and choices lie before us in the approaching equilibrium. We can press forward along the historical growth curves, exceed the limits of the world environment, and endure a collapse of population and industrialization back to a level the world can support. Or we can choose a redirection of law, policies, and religions to create a smooth transition to world equilibrium. Even in choosing equilibrium, alternatives arise. The higher the population, the lower will be the achievable standard of living and quality of life. Trade-offs will be made consciously or implicitly between advantages in the immediate future compared to advantages in the distant future. An inherent conflict exists between time horizons. Choosing to maximize the present quality of life condemns future generations to suffer for their predecessors advantage.
The reader should, if possible, read first any of those cited in notes 1, 2, or 6 listed [above] before reading [this paper].
Proposal to Establish an Independent Center for Advanced Studies in Religion and Science
Danger signals for human society are flying. These include the decay of moral values, the spreading confusion and fears of men about purpose and meaning (and the consequent losses in hope and morale), the retreat from realism to fantasy (with or without the aid of alcohol and other drugs), and the outbursts of irrational public violence. These interconnected problems are aggravated by trends of new technology that produce destructive weapons, overcrowded population, and many disruptive stresses upon the social, political, economic, and ecological balances upon which life depends. We believe these dangers may be avoided or reduced if ways can be found to reform and revitalize the institutions that generate morale and morals.
Preliminary explorations have been made in the past two decades by men of science, philosophy, and religion seeking to relate constructively the highly significant elements of traditional religion and social philosophy with the best scientific understandings of man and his world. These explorations suggest that, on the basis of recent knowledge, we can soundly unite some important religious and scientific views of human destiny and that from this union there can be formulated a credible vision of human hope and duty that could persuade the people of the world of more meaningful, satisfying, and viable patterns of life. Such a vision seems necessary to engender the morale and morals necessary for cooperative and viable life on the new technological spaceship Earth. Some of these explorations have been published in the first seven volumes of Zygon.
This vision must be further developed, validated, and communicated to scholars, teachers, clergy, writers, and others involved in the professions that transmit human values. Certain men and institutions are ready to cooperate in this program if adequate financial support can be secured. …Editors Note: This proposal is the present form of an evolving statement, the product of many minds who have spent many years wrestling with the problem of human values in an age of science. It may be said to be a declaration on the part of one of Zygons sponsors, the Center for Advanced Study in Theology and the Sciences (CASTS) of Meadville/Lombard Theological School, to say it has reached adolescence and must establish itself as an independent and responsible adult institution to carry on its work in the world. The declaration presents to the community of those concerned with religion in an age of science a proposal for the Centers future work.
The document is already the product of several cycles of feedback from a hundred or two of that community. It is here presented to a larger portion of that community as a contribution to the thinking and planning of all who would provide the ideas and institutional support for religion in an age of science. It is also presented with the hope of receiving further input of ideas and substance to shape the CASIRAS program.
Science and Human Destiny: A Special Unit in Theological Education toward an Advanced Degree
There is widespread evidence that in the twentieth century most of the worlds traditional religions and philosophies are failing to perform adequately their vital functions in the burgeoning, new, complex, interdependent, world-embracing, scientific-technological society, which now embraces more than three billion persons. There is much evidence that in all societies there is a decay of effective religion, and hence of morale and morals. This threatens social and personal integration. In the more economically and culturally advanced societies, increasing numbers of people, especially among the sensitive youth, are disillusioned about traditional values and are grasping at any straws to replace them. The increasing freedom to abandon beliefs and value patterns that to them no longer seem to make sense has thus far manifested itself too often as a freedom from the old ways and too seldom as a freedom to or for more adequate ways. This freedom has not yet given rise to effective, positive goals or values that are capable of providing the necessary, stable structuring of the complex new webs of intra- and interpersonal feeling and behavior for life in the radically new circumstances of a higher culture. Instead, many are regressing to untutored genotypic levels of motivation, too much of which would make man inviable. …
Evolving Cybernetic Machinery and Human Values by Ralph Wendell Burhoe
The relation of machinery to human values is much more intimate than many suspect. In order to understand more clearly this close relation between machinery and values, it may be helpful to clarify some recent enrichment for the words values and machinery. To talk about human values in an ancient language that does not intersect the meanings of the new language of contemporary science is a rather frustrating and often futile enterprise, as C. P. Snow has pointed out in his Two Cultures.¹ The specialists in the humanities sometimes do not have equivalent meanings for what is being said in the new scientific language. And members of different scientific and scholarly disciplines generally may get confused unless they take some time to get common referents for their terms.
To get a meaningful connection between machinery and values, then, I shall first talk about values, even humanistic human values, in a language or conceptual system which has common meanings deriving from physics that are commonly utilized in contemporary frontiers of learning in various fields of phenomena, ranging into biology, anthropology, sociology, psychology, and even theology. Perhaps some of the new concepts or theories used to describe biological and behavioral systems may provide us a bridge so that we can talk about human values and machines in a common language. …
¹ C. P. Snow, The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1964).
Ralph Wendell Burhoe is professor of theology and the sciences and director, Center for Advanced Study in Theology and the Sciences, Meadville/Lombard Theological School, Chicago.