Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science
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Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science
12 (1), March 1977

Table of Contents


March 1977 Editorial by Ralph Wendell Burhoe

This issue of Zygon presents five papers evaluating my >“The Human Prospect and the ‘Lord of History,’” which was the concluding response in the symposium on Robert L. Heilbroner’s An Inquiry into the Human Prospect published in the September 1975 Zygon. Five friendly colleagues—four in theology, with most of whom I have shared for several years an interest and some work on the relation of theology to the natural and the psychosocial sciences, and one in biology, who shares an interest in the problems of human values in relation to biology and medicine—have presented their views of some of the virtues and some of the weaknesses of my attempts to interpret religion (to theologize) by using the conceptual system (“body of truth”) accumulated by the sciences. They have availed themselves of several of my papers as well as considerable personal discussion for their understanding of my “scientific theology.” But they have focused primarily upon the seventy-seven page “Lord of History,” in which I tried to summarize in condensed form a wide range of the translations (equivalent conceptual terms) that allow me to make sense simultaneously of traditional religious wisdom and modern scientific understanding.

What struck me most forcefully about these five papers, first when they were presented during the spring of 1976 in the advanced seminar of the Center for Advanced Study in Religion and Science in cooperation with the Chicago Cluster of Theological Schools and again in reading them in preparation of this issue of Zygon, is the great difficulty of finding a truly broad and common understanding of a theology integrated with the modern sciences, even among friendly colleagues earnestly working together in the effort.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9744.1977.tb00295.x


“The Human Prospect and the ‘Lord of History’”: A Process Critique by W. Widick Schroeder

Ralph Wendell Burhoe uses the discussion of Robert L. Heilbroner’s An Inquiry into the Human Prospect in the September 1975 issue of Zygon to elaborate his own theory of the bases of religious phenomena and to project his own views of the contribution of religion to the future of humankind. He seeks “to show from a wider perspective of the scientific study of religion and a study of the religious implications of science that there is no need to fear that religion is necessarily incompatible with either the basic freedom or the basic rationality or truth of science.”¹ He seeks to “provide evidence that religion has been what has made human freedom and the rise of science possible and … does indeed have … the capacity to generate in men a readiness or motivation to the kind of social altruism and concern for the long-range future that is not possessed by governments.”² He aims to show that “the sciences depict a more-than-human reality that determines human destiny in very much the same manner as a traditional deity of religion.”³ …
¹ Ralph Wendell Burhoe, “The Human Prospect and the ‘Lord of History’” Zygon 10 (1975): 301.
² Ibid.
³ Ibid., p. 302.

W. Widick Schroeder is professor of religion and society, Chicago Theological Seminary.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9744.1977.tb00296.x

On Natural and Human Selection, or Saving Religion by Arnold W. Ravin

I trust that Ralph Wendell Burhoe will appreciate the intent of my opening remarks. They are somewhat facetious, but their intent is that of dramatic emphasis rather than that of ridicule or scorn. Indeed, who can quarrel with Burhoe’s fervent desire to save religion in a world of unfettered technical power? It is with Burhoe’s solution that I quarrel. In “The Human Prospect and the ‘Lord of History’” Burhoe argues, for example, “that the nature of the system of entities and forces portrayed by the sciences is the modern equivalent of the realm of God or ultimate reality of the higher religions and theologies, with characteristics very close to those of the monotheistic God or ultimate reality of certain of the traditional high religions.”¹ Burhoe’s equation of God with nature and his definition of religion as the submission of man to the ultimate realities of nature constitute what I shall call a naturalistic religion. Unfortunately, it is at least as troublesome as the problems he sought to attack. If God is equivalent to the entities and processes we perceive through our senses, the word “God” has been saved, perhaps, but who needs it? If religion consists in understanding the laws of nature so that we may submit ourselves to them, in what way have we given religion a task distinct from that of science? With such a savior of religion as Burhoe, who needs enemies?

Burhoe’s attempt to create a naturalistic religion is based on the laudable desire to reconcile science and religion. That science and religion are compatible, we agree, Burhoe and I. My view of religion and science, however, is one of interdependence, much like the dualities of genotype and phenotype, organism and environment, structure and function: It is difficult to conceive of one without the other—or, in invoking one, the other is implied. But of that, more later. For the time being, I simply wish to point out that Burhoe has achieved a compatibility of science with religion by collapsing one into the other, a somewhat different situation than the one I envisage. …
¹ Ralph Wendell Burhoe, “The Human Prospect and the ‘Lord of History’” Zygon 10 (1975): 299-375.

Arnold W. Ravin is professor of biology and microbiology, University of Chicago.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9744.1977.tb00297.x

Burhoe, Barbour, Mythology, and Sociobiology by John A. Miles, Jr.

In a pessimistic assessment of the 1975 “Interdisciplinary Workshop on the Interrelationships between Science and Technology, and Ethics and Values,” a project of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, William A. Blanpied wrote: “As the working group discussions developed, it became apparent that the modes of thinking and acting that characterize the different academic disciplines are not really understood or appreciated by scholars outside those disciplines. For example, for at least a century the humanities have been concerned with clarifying concepts. In contrast, practitioners of the social and natural sciences usually care little for such clarifications, but are more concerned with gathering data to test hypotheses suggested by them.”¹ The humanistic discipline most concerned with the clarification of concepts is, of course, philosophy, and no discipline has been more affected by philosophy than has theology. In any dialogue between science and theology, therefore, we may expect the contrast noted by Blanpied to be particularly marked. Those who approach the dialogue from a scientific starting point will be eager for data and will be content with whatever concepts the data seem to suggest or require. Those who begin from a theological starting point will be concerned to clarify in .advance the concepts used in the collection of data. Moreover, if, as is commonly asserted, science has assumed mythic proportions in secular society, we may expect the intrusion of concerns which regard neither the collection of data nor the clarification of concepts but rather the personal and social viability of those who do the collecting and clarifying.

In Ralph Wendell Burhoe, senior fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in Religion and Science and editor of Zygon, and Ian G. Barbour, professor of religion and physics and author of Issues in Science and Religion and kindred works, each of Blanpied’s two approaches finds an articulate representative. Burhoe is in essence a sociobiologist of religion, while Barbour, notwithstanding his scientific expertise, is best described as a process theologian. Neither of these writers has written with the other particularly in mind, but between them they define the usual methodological poles of the dialogue to which they contribute. In the remarks which follow I shall, first, review the conclusions of each and, second, assess those conclusions against a very tentative mythological analysis of the same dialogue. …
¹ William A. Blanpied, Interdisciplinary Workshop on the Interrelationships between Science and Technology, and Ethics and Values (Cambridge, Mass.: American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1975), p. 9.

John A. Miles, Jr., is associate editor, Doubleday & Co., New York.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9744.1977.tb00298.x

Two Types of Scientific Theology: Burhoe and Nygren by Donald W. Musser

In a recent issue of Christian Century Thor Hall reports on results of a two-year inquiry into the “present state of the discipline of systematic theology.” One of his conclusions is that “theologians are obviously concerned about the relationship between religion and science,” and especially they do seek to establish theology as a “credible science.”¹ The attempt to heighten theology’s credibility is nowhere more clearly illustrated than in the writings of Ralph Wendell Burhoe, senior fellow, Center for Advanced Study in Religion and Science, and research professor emeritus in theology and the sciences at Meadville/Lombard Theological School, Chicago; and Anders Nygren, retired bishop of Lund and retired professor of systematic theology at the University of Lund, a formative figure in what is called Scandinavian or Lundensian theology. In these two figures we find the somewhat strange occasion in which a Swedish Lutheran and an American Unitarian agree on a common proposal, namely, that theology should be scientific. But, as we shall see, the similarity is superficial, for there are fundamental and irreconcilable differences between these two types of scientific theology. Burhoe’s scientific theology is a synthesis of “facts” from the evolutionary sciences and religious claims; in Nygren theology is scientific because of its method. Burhoe’s theology is scientific because it utilizes the content and results of science. Nygren’s theology is scientific because it emulates the scientific way of arguing.

Though there is but a superficial similarity in the common use of the term “scientific theology,” there is value in setting the views of Burhoe and Nygren side by side. For their positions, though incongruous, represent opposite poles in the continuum of thinkers discussing the relationship of science and religion. Burhoe desires a synthesis, while Nygren wishes to maintain each in autonomous independence. …
¹ Thor Hall, “Does Systematic Theology Have a Future?” Christian Century (March 17, 1976), p. 254.

Donald W. Musser is a graduate student in the Divinity School, University of Chicago.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9744.1977.tb00299.x

To What Extent Can Science Replace Metaphysics? Reflecting with Ralph Wendell Burhoe on the “Lord of History” by Philip Hefner

In what follows I hope to contribute what I would call a “co-reflection” with Ralph Wendell Burhoe upon the dominant concern he expresses in his article “The Human Prospect and the ‘Lord of History’”¹ I say co-reflection because I wish to affirm the basic vision of that essay while I acknowledge that I am incompetent to bring to bear upon that vision the immense amount of scientific detail that Burhoe marshals. Yet I do believe that my reflections may enhance the vision by putting it in a slightly different perspective from Burhoe’s own presentation. The thrust of my comments is that if we look upon Burhoe’s work as a metaphysical attempt we can perceive better its significance and subject it to a constructive critique. …
¹ Ralph Wendell Burhoe, “The Human Prospect and the ‘Lord of History’” Zygon 10 (1975): 299-375.

Philip Hefner is professor of systematic theology, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9744.1977.tb00300.x

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