As secretary of the steering committee of the Science and Religion Forum, I am pleased that we have been given the opportunity to present the papers of our first forum to the readers of Zygon.
For the past three years there have been a number of informal consultations in Britain among scientists who have been concerned to relate their scientific knowledge and modes of study to their religious faith and practice. Those involved decided in 1974 that their deliberations should be more widely known, and during April 10-12, 1975, the Science and Religion Forum was inaugurated at a meeting at van Mildert College, Durham University, devoted to The Problem of Consciousness. The Right Reverend Doctor J. B. Habgood, Bishop of Durham, was elected honorary president of the Forum. The 1976 meeting (April 7-9) was held at Cumberland Lodge, Windsor Great Park, on Mans Responsibility for Nature (including the Ethics of Research).
The following papers are all those which were presented, in shortened form, at the Durham meeting, except for a discourse given (at very short notice) by Dr. Habgood on Religion-and-Science and the Church. He stressed the need for philosophical sophistication in the science-religion debate, for reconciliation between the idea of continuity assumed by scientists and that of discontinuity implicit in the beliefs of ordinary Christians, and for mans responsibility for nature (including the ethics of research) to be a principal concern of the Forum.
A. R. Peacocke is dean and tutor, Clare College, Cambridge University.
Reductionism: A Review of the Epistemological Issues and Their Relevance to Biology and the Problem of Consciousness by A. R. Peacocke
Scientists are not given to analyzing, any more than other human beings, the philosophical presuppositions of their activities, for it has been remarked, with some justification, that the average scientist knows no more about what he is doing than the average centipede knows how it walks. This may be an unnecessarily severe stricture on scientists, certainly on those who would interest themselves in a paper of this kind; but it is extraordinarily easy for the scientist—say, a molecular biologist, who employs methodologically reductionist concepts (see below) in order to pursue his particular kind of research—to carryover that attitude into a more general philosophical position. Then the procedure of analyzing a biological organism, or part of it, by means of physical and/or chemical¹ techniques becomes a philosophical belief that a biological organism is nothing but a physicochemical system.
Occasionally, such a view is explicitly urged as, for example, by Francis Crick with respect to biology: The ultimate aim of the modern movement in biology is in fact to explain all biology in terms of physics and chemistry.² This is a fairly blunt statement of an extreme reductionist position, but some form of this view is very naturally espoused by scientists accustomed to investigating complex (e.g., biological) systems by taking them apart in order to see how the component units interlock temporally and spatially. …
¹ Henceforward frequently shortened to physicochemical.
² Francis H. C. Crick, Of Molecules and Man (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1966), p. 10.
A. R. Peacocke is dean and tutor, Clare College, Cambridge University. This paper is greatly indebted to the discussions and papers circulated in Oxford during 1971-72 among a group of scientists, theologians, and philosophers, including Rev. A. E. Dyson, Dr. R. S. Harwood, Dr. J. D. Lambert, Mr. J. R. Lucas, Dr. D. W. Millard, Dr. A. Miller, Prof. W. D. M. Paton, Mr. A. J. Robins, Mr. Howard Robinson, and Dr. J. A. Russell; I hope they will forgive me if I have misunderstood their views.
Discussion: Peacockes Reductionism by Mary Hesse
One of the misleading features of the problem of reductionism is that physics has been very fortunate in its Newtonian origins since it evidences reducibility of the following kind. If we are considering two Newtonian particles 1 and 2, then there are no ontological problems about them: They have one property, mass, and there are force relations between them which vary with distance. In Newtonian gravitational theory, if we now add a third particle 3, then in the new system 1, 2, 3 the forces between the masses are superposable—that is, how 1 affects 2 is added to the effect of 3 on 2, without the presence of 3 in any way altering the effect of I on 2. This is the principle of additivity of forces, which encourages an extreme ontological reductionism, for one can always reduce a complex system to the particles and the relationships between any pair of particles.
Now many of the questions about reductionism are about whether that scheme is adequate even for physics, let alone the sciences of higher-order, more complex systems. Take the well-known example from quantum physics: the two-slit experiment. Here a stream of particles (e.g., electrons) is directed at a screen in which there are two slits, and those that pass through the slits cause scintillations on a second fluorescent screen, placed parallel to the first screen. The presence of slit 1 affects what happens at slit 2: If 1 is closed, the scintillation produced by a particle passing through 2 is not the same as if 1 is open. Superposition of events at the first screen with 1 or 2, but not both, open does not yield the events at the screen when 1 and 2 are open together. That is, in quantum physics the more complex situation is not reducible to the simpler in the way that Newtonian classical physics allows. There is (in the two-slit situation) a triadic relation which involves more than the three diadic relations between the pairs. In more complex molecular biological systems, one could also possibly have these higher-order relations. …
Mary Hesse is professor of philosophy of science, Cambridge University.
The fact that the Science and Religion Forum met at Durham during April 1975 is a good starting point in our thinking about consciousness. Before arriving there, we all had to do some careful planning; we all had to ask some very basic questions and perhaps had to satisfy ourselves (and maybe others) that the topics on the program were worthwhile or interesting. We had to ask ourselves whether we could really afford the time. Could we fit two whole days into our already busy programs? Those of us with young families probably had to convince ourselves that we could justify leaving our wives to cope with the children on their own. We may have had second thoughts about attending a meeting which may be outside our own professional concerns. Is it right, for instance, that our employers pay us when we are gadding about the country attending meetings such as this? Some of us may have had a struggle with the financial question: Can I really afford to come? Or can I ask my employer to pay? I am sure that all of us who attended that meeting (or similar meetings) have asked at least some of these questions before making up our minds.
You are probably wondering what all this is leading to. What is he going to talk about, will I understand it? Some of you will already have built up a mental image of the topic. Some of you will already have very clear-cut ideas on the subject. I, for the moment at least, am doing the talking and you are listening. But the message which comes from me to you is not just one of words; my words are colored by your own imagination; they may even be rejected altogether. When we come to the discussion, I hope you will add words of your own, words which communicate to me and others in this room your own thoughts.
During this introduction we should have already noticed two main things. First, there is the question of language. What I have said so far is (I hope) intelligible; we have a common language. Second, I am aware of myself, that I am trying to communicate some ideas. But I am also aware of you. I am aware that you are physically in the same room as I am, and I am aware (and perhaps afraid) that I am sharing ideas with you. These are the two main themes which concern me—language and awareness; both are essential parts of the concept of consciousness. …
Tim Appleton is an Anglican priest and lecturer in physiology, Cambridge University.
The Mind-Body Problem in Contemporary Philosophy by H. M. Robinson
Traditionally, there are many problems connected with the relation of mind and body, but one of the principal concerns has always been with the question of whether one is somehow prior to or more basic than the other, that is, with the question of whether the mind is merely a part of the body or whether the body (and matter in general) is, in some way, a product of mind. The view that the mind is a part of the body has never been popular with philosophers. Even today, when the educated layman tends to take materialism for granted, it is still a minority position among professional philosophers. But imperialistic pressure from the proponents of the scientific world view has led some philosophers with a sympathy for that view to attempt to formulate a philosophically acceptable form of materialism. It is with these attempts that this paper will be concerned. My argument will divide into three parts. First, I shall try to explain what materialism is. Second, I shall show why the mind constitutes such a serious obstacle to materialism, thereby explaining the apparently obscurantist stance of philosophers in the face of the self-confident claims of natural science. Third, I shall explain how materialist philosophers have tried to overcome these problems and say (all too briefly) how they fail, thereby justifying philosophic obscurantism. …
H. M. Robinson is lecturer in philosophy, University of Liverpool.
Information Process, Systems Behavior, and the Study of Religion by J. W. Bowker
One of the curiosities of the study of religion is that nobody seems to know what it is—or perhaps one could put it more accurately by saying that it has not yet proved possible to define what religion is in a way which has proved to be universally satisfactory. This is not for want of trying: Religion is the opiate of the people; religion is a disease, but it is a noble disease; religion is a curb and a bridle placed upon the passions of men, but it is the bridle of an elephant placed upon the body of an ape; the true meaning of religion is not simply morality but morality touched by emotion; religion and rum are of much the same consequence, but, in the long run, rum works out cheaper.
The present century has become far more verbose and jargonistic. As Congressman William WidnaIl observed when speaking in a congressional debate on agriculture: The Lords Prayer has 56 words, Lincolns Gettysburg Address has 266, the Declaration of Independence 300; but the recent U.S. government order on cabbage prices has 26,911.¹ …
¹ Quoted from the Daily Herald (1961).
J. W. Bowker is professor of religious studies, Cartmel College, University of Lancaster.
The Moral and Religious Predicament of Modern Man edited by Benjamin F. Lewis, reviewed by John Lawry