Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science
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Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science
33 (1), March 1998

Table of Contents


March 1998 Editorial by Philip Hefner

This issue of our journal could be construed as an ensemble of “departments.” There are six of them: a theme section on Ernest Becker’s psychological theories concerning the denial of death, a regular article on humanoid robots, the Teachers’ File, a symposium on a major new book by James Gilbert, a section of book reviews, and an Endmatter section with two brief pieces on Ralph Wendell Burhoe.

The very organization of our table of contents calls attention to the many-facetedness of our enterprise. The six sections speak to distinct interests and audiences, it is true, and some readers will surely leave certain sections unread because their interests are not piqued. Since, however, each of the departments is equally rooted in dynamic, cutting-edge thinking on the religion-and-science interface, every reader will find in each section ideas that are enriching for our effort to yoke scientific knowledge with the values-concerns of religion and the humanities for the purpose of better understanding human existence in our time.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9744.1998.00122.x

Ernest Becker’s Theory of the Denial of Death

Guest Editor’s Introduction by Neil J. Elgee

Just after U.S. forces compelled the Japanese surrender by the use of nuclear weapons, Albert Einstein, in 1946, cautioned that the release of atom power changed everything—everything, that is, except our way of thinking. Einstein saw that the central human problem has always been located in the collective heart of humankind.

Ernest Becker was troubled by the same realization. He always pushed the question of why people act the way they do, particularly why human actions, no matter how heroically well-intended, seem to revolve around a fascination with power and violence. His investigation of human motivation led to an astonishing and seminal synthesis of science, psychology, and religion. While Becker ended his life’s work in an appropriate state of caution concerning human possibilities and the human future, his work provides substantial new ground for hope that ways around the unintended evil within the human heart may be found. As Becker wrote in Escape from Evil (p. 169), “evil itself is now amenable to critical analysis and, conceivably, to the sway of reason” (see “An Ernest Becker Bibliography” in this issue of Zygon, pp. 87 ff.). …
Neil J. Elgee; Emeritus Clinical Professor of Medicine; University of Washington, Seattle; President, Ernest Becker Foundation; 3621 Seventy-Second Avenue Southeast; Mercer Island, WA 98040; (http://weber.u.washington.edu/~nelgee/)
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.1231998123

Tales from the Crypt: On the Role of Death in Life by Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszcynski

An existential psychodynamic theory is presented based on Ernest Becker’s claim that self-esteem and cultural worldviews function to ameliorate the anxiety associated with the uniquely human awareness of vulnerability and mortality. Psychological equanimity is hypothesized to require (1) a shared set of beliefs about reality that imbues the universe with stability, meaning, and permanence; (2) standards by which individuals can judge themselves to be of value; and (3) promises of safety and the transcendence of death to those who meet the standards of value. An empirical research program in support of this theory is then described, and the personal and interpersonal implications of these ideas are briefly considered.
culture • death • prejudice • psychological defenses • religion • self-esteem • socially constructed reality
Sheldon Solomon is Professor of Psychology at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866. Jeff Greenberg is Professor of Psychology at the University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721. Tom Pyszczynski is Professor of Psychology at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, CO 80933. Responsibility for this article is shared equally among the authors; the article was generously supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (SBR-9601474), the Ernest Becker Foundation, and Skidmore College.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.1241998124

Reaction to Mortality: An Interdisciplinary Organizing Principle for the Human Sciences by Daniel Liechty

Ernest Becker’s theory about death denial is one example of depth psychological theory. Because very important features of Becker’s theory have now successfully and singularly met the rigorous empirical testing of Terror Management Theory (TMT), it must be concluded that the theory of death denial stands apart from and above alternative depth psychological theories in explaining human behavioral and attitudinal motivation. Nevertheless, TMT only touches the surface of Becker’s theory in the round. This essay looks at how Becker’s wider theories of death denial are applied to (1) personal psychological, (2) social psychological, (3) political, and (4) spiritual aspects of human experience and suggests that what Becker has given us is an organizing principle, a theory of considerable integrative, explanatory, and interpretive power, for a broadly interdisciplinary social science of human behavior.
Ernest Becker • curriculum reform • death denial • motivation theory • psychoanalysis • social sciences • Terror Management Theory
Daniel Liechty is the Psychosocial Coordinator at the Montgomery Hospital Hospice Program, 334 Sagamore Road, Havertown, PA 19083.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.1241998125

A Heroic Vision by Sally A. Kenel

Although the empirical studies of Terror Management Theory lend support to Ernest Becker’s anthropology, they hardly provide a vision with the power to inspire late twentieth century humanity. Becker’s own dark view of what it means to be human is, at least in part, to blame. On the basis of an exploration of the positive implications of the religious symbol of creatureliness, an alternative social theory, that of ecologico-social democracy, is proposed as a vision that requires and may even inspire heroism.
Becker • creatureliness • ecologico-social democracy • heroism
Sally A. Kenel is Associate Professor of Theology at St. John’s University, 300 Howard Avenue, Staten Island, NY 10301.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.1241998126

Ernest Becker and the Psychology of Worldviews by Eugene Webb

Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski offer experimental confirmation for Ernest Becker’s claim that the fear of death is a powerful unconscious motive producing polarized worldviews and scapegoating. Their suggestion that their findings also prove Sigmund Freud’s theory of repression, with worldviews as its irrational products, is questionable, although Becker’s own statements about worldviews as “illusions” seem to invite such interpretation. Their basic theory does not depend on this, however, and abandoning it would enable them to take better advantage of their finding that worldviews incorporating the values of rationality and tolerance tend to counteract polarization effects.
Ernest Becker • developmental psychology • Freudianism • imitation • positivism • repression • scapegoating • sociology of knowledge • Terror-Management Theory • worldview
Eugene Webb is Professor of Comparative Religion and Comparative Literature at the University of Washington. His address is Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, Box 353650, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.1241998127

An Ernest Becker Bibliography by Daniel Liechty

Daniel Liechty is the Psychosocial Coordinator at the Montgomery Hospital Hospice Program, 334 Sagamore Road, Havertown, PA 19083.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.1241998128


Cog, a Humanoid Robot, and the Question of the Image of God by Anne Foerst

The general typology for the dialogue between religion and science is built on the assumption that there is an objective world, one reality that can be described. In this paper, I present an alternative epistemological framework for the dialogue that understands all descriptions of reality as symbolic. Therefore, this understanding creates a new possibility for mutual enrichment between the two dialogue partners. I demonstrate the usefulness of this framework by applying it to the dialogue between artificial intelligence (AI) and theology. I discuss an advanced AI project: Cog, a humanoid robot. After briefly describing this project, its assumptions, and the emotions it creates (mainly hope and fear), I show how the project can be enriched by theological insight. The concept of imago Dei—the understanding of humans created in the image of God—can be applied to the Cog project especially when it is presented in a way that takes the metaphorical character of both theological and scientific theories seriously.
artificial intelligence • Cog • image of God • performative • robotics • symbol • theology
Anne Foerst is a postdoctoral fellow at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She also is affiliated with the Center for the Studies of Values in Public Life of Harvard Divinity School. Her mailing address is 545 Technology Square, NE 43-812, Cambridge, MA 02139; e-mail: annef @ ai.mit.edu.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.1291998129

The Teachers’ File

Psychology of Religion: What One Needs to Know by K. Helmut Reich

This essay is an introduction to systematic nonsectarian psychology of religion—its nature and scope, and its history. Among major issues, the study of motivation for being religious and stages of religious development are discussed, as well as counseling and psychotherapy. I summarize current trends.
counseling • history of psychology of religion • motivation • psychology of religion • psychotherapy • religion • religious development • transcendence
K.Helmut Reich is Professor at the School of Religious Studies and Sacred Values of the nonresidential Senior University, headquartered at Evanston, Wyoming, and Richmond, British Columbia. He is also a Senior Research Fellow at the School of Education, University of Fribourg. His mailing address is Pädagogisches Institut, Rue Faucigny 2, CH-1700 Fribourg, Switzerland; e-mail: Helmut.Reich @ unifr.ch. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce this article for class use, with this note: Reprinted from Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.1301998130

What Every Teacher of Science and Religion Needs to Know about Pedagogy by Philip Clayton and Mark S. Railey

This essay provides practical tips for effective teaching in science-and-religion courses. It offers suggestions for dealing with difficult questions and creating a climate of shared learning. Along with pedagogical advice, it covers fundamental principles for teaching broadly integrative religion-and-science courses. Instructors are encouraged to reflect on their purpose(s) in offering their course and to formulate specific objectives using the techniques and resources outlined here.
instructional innovation • interdisciplinary courses • learning communities • objective-based teaching • pedagogy • religion and science • teaching • web resources
Philip Clayton is Associate Professor of Philosophy at California State University, Rohnert Park, CA 94928; e-mail: claytonp @ sonoma.edu. Mark S. Railey is Director of the Science and Religion Division of the Heart of America Foundation and an educator in the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, SBTS 1085, Louisville, KY 40280; e-mail: mrailey @ sbts.edu. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce this article for class use, with this note: Reprinted from Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.1301998131

Book Symposium: Redeeming Culture: American Religion in an Age of Science, 1925-1962 by James Gilbert

Religion and Science in America: Populism versus Elitism by Richard Busse

Historian James Gilbert argues that the dialogue between science and religion is an important dynamic in the creation of contemporary American culture. He traces the dialogue not only in the confines of the academic world but also in popular culture. The science-religion dialogue reveals a basic tension between the material and the spiritual that helps define the core of the American psyche: fascination with material progress yet commitment to traditional religious beliefs. Gilbert’s cultural narrative traces the dialogue in a unique way because of the attention given to popular renditions of science and religion in evangelical films used by the military, in televised science programs, in science-fiction literature, and at the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962. Gilbert suggests that the discussion between science and religion is significant because it is part of the process of creating new cultural structures necessitated by social, scientific, and technological developments. The tensions between religiously informed commonsense science and professional science work to create new cultural forms in a democratic society. Religion and science in dialogue are part of the process of cultural creation. Dogmatism on the part of either scientists or religionists is countered by the democratic process itself.
atomic science • commonsense culture • democracy • design (in nature) • dispensation • elite • evolution • film • fundamentalism • humanism • mass media • observation • popular science • professional
Richard Busse is Visiting Lecturer in Theology and Ethics at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, a law student at Valparaiso University School of Law, and owner-operator of Dr. Vegetable, Inc. His mailing address is 1706 Calumet Avenue, Valparaiso, IN 46383.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.1301998132

Religion and Science in America: Struggling for Coherence by James B. Miller

James Gilbert has provided fascinating and valuable historical sketches of the interactions of science and religion in American culture in this century, especially those taking place between 1945 and 1962. Yet, taken together, it is unclear what conclusion is to be drawn from these interactions. Ambiguity about the variety of forms of the science-and-religion relationship and about the referent of the term religion make the task of apprehending a coherent pattern among these sketches very difficult.
American Association for the Advancement of Science • American culture • American Scientific Affiliation • William Jennings Bryan • Ralph Wendell Burhoe • Institute on Religion in an Age of Science • military chaplaincy • Moody Institute of Science • science and religion • science fiction • Society for the Scientific Study of Religion • Velikovsky
James B. Miller is Senior Program Associate in the Program of Dialogue between Science and Religion, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1200 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20005.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.1301998133


The Essence of Phenomenology and Its Meaning for the Scientific Study of Religion by Thomas Ryba, reviewed by Ursula King

Ursula King; Professor of Theology and Religious Studies; University of Bristol; 36 Tyndalls Park Road; Bristol BS8 1PL; United Kingdom
DOI: 10.1111/1467-9744.t01-1-1341998134

Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life by Daniel C. Dennett, reviewed by Gregory R. Peterson

Gregory R. Peterson; Assistant Professor of Religion; Thiel College; Greenville, PA 16125
DOI: 10.1111/1467-9744.t01-1-1341998134

Cosmic Beginnings and Human Ends: Where Science and Religion Meet edited by Clifford N. Matthews and Roy A. Varghese, reviewed by Alan G. Padgett

Alan G. Padgett; Professor of Theology and Philosophy of Science; Azusa Pacific University; Azusa, CA 91702
DOI: 10.1111/1467-9744.t01-1-1341998134

Endmatter: Remembering Ralph Wendell Burhoe

Ralph Burhoe’s Evolutionary Theory of Religion by Philip Hefner

Ralph Wendell Burhoe’s legacy rests on a series of interrelated theories that deal with (1) the emergence of life within physical nature; (2) the symbiosis of genes and cultures in human evolution; (3) the central importance of the brain in this symbiosis; and (4) the function of religion within this evolutionary process to carry the traditions of trans-kin altruism that make human civilization possible. These theories give rise to a number of issues that are of current importance. Burhoe’s stature is enhanced when one considers that these theories were first articulated by him in the 1970s, in reliance upon the work of J. Bronowski, Alfred E. Emerson, and Donald T. Campbell.
altruism • J. Bronowski • Ralph Wendell Burhoe • Donald T. Campbell • civilization • Alfred E. Emerson • genes and culture • symbiosis
Philip Hefner is Professor of Systematic Theology at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and Director of the Chicago Center for Religion and Science. His address is 1100 East Fifty-fifth Street, Chicago, IL 60615; e-mail: philhef @ mcs.com.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.1351998135

The Heritage of Ralph Wendell Burhoe for the Dialogue between Science and Theology: A German Perspective by Hubert Meisinger

This paper begins with some reflections on my personal experiences with Ralph Wendell Burhoe during visits to the Chicago Center for Religion and Science. I learned to know Burhoe as an interested and kind person with enormous intellectual power. In this paper I argue that integration of different concepts was the chief focus of his thinking, expressing both an ethical and a dogmatic concern. If his theory of altruism contributes to the scientific investigations into the problem of trans-kin altruism, then his vision of a scientific theology gains credibility. Such an integration is made plausible through the interpretation of altruism in light of Christian love. In fact, Burhoe’s neonaturalistic approach may be a fertile resource for the dialogue between science and theology in Germany, and serve as an exemplar of Burhoe’s important impact on this dialogue in general.
altruism • Ralph Wendell Burhoe • Christian love • Philip Hefner • integration • neonaturalism • one world
Hubert Meisinger is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Church of Hessen and Nassau, Germany. His address is Freystr 11, D-64291 Darmstadt-Wixhausen, Germany.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.1351998136

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