Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science
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Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science
33 (4), December 1998

Table of Contents


December 1998 Editorial by Philip Hefner

Zygon has established a track record over these thirty-three years of giving substantial attention to the implications of scientific research that focuses on human beings. It is consistent with this tradition that the concluding issue of the journal’s thirty-third volume presents seven articles that deal with human nature from the perspectives of science, philosophy, and theology. The substance of these pieces testifies to the increasing sophistication with which the scientific research is interpreted by the community of humanities scholars.

The first four contributions emanate from the Epic of Evolution conference convened by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History in November 1997. Biologist Francisco Ayala, philosopher Loyal Rue, theologian Philip Hefner, and theological ethicist Stephen Pope move from a consideration of morality and human culture to more comprehensive interpretations of human nature.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9744.1998.00169.x

Human Nature

Biology Precedes, Culture Transcends: An Evolutionist’s View of Human Nature by Francisco J. Ayala

I will, first, outline what we currently know about the last 4 million years of human evolutionary history, from bipedal but small-brained Australopithecus to modern Homo sapiens, our species, through the prolific toolmaker Homo habilis and the continent wanderer Homo erectus. I shall then identify anatomical traits that distinguish us from other animals and point out our two kinds of heredity, the biological and the cultural.

Biological inheritance is based on the transmission of genetic information, in humans very much the same as in other sexually reproducing organisms. But cultural inheritance is distinctively human, based on transmission of information by a teaching and learning process that is in principle independent of biological parentage. Cultural inheritance makes possible the cumulative transmission of experience from generation to generation. Cultural heredity is a swifter and more effective (because it can be designed) mode of adaptation to the environment than the biological mode. The advent of cultural heredity ushered in cultural evolution, which transcends biological evolution.

I will, finally, explore ethical behavior as a model case of a distinctive human trait, and seek to ascertain the causal connections between human ethics and human biology. My conclusions are that (1) moral reasoning—that is, the proclivity to make ethical judgments by evaluating actions as either good or evil—is rooted in our biological nature; it is a necessary outcome of our exalted intelligence, but (2) the moral codes that guide our decisions as to which actions are good and which ones are evil are products of culture, including social and religious traditions. This second conclusion contradicts those evolutionists and sociobiologists who claim that the morally good is simply that which is promoted by the process of biological evolution.
biological versus cultural evolution • human biological nature • human uniqueness • moral norms • moral sense
Francisco J. Ayala is the Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, and a member of the President’s Committee of Advisors for Science and Technology.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.00170

Sociobiology and Moral Discourse by Loyal Rue

In the intellectual lineage of sociobiology (understood as evolutionary social science), this article considers the place of moral discourse in the evolution of emergent systems for mediating behavior. Given that humans share molecular systems, reflex systems, drive systems, emotional systems, and cognitive systems with chimpanzees, why is it that human behavior is so radically different from chimpanzee behavior? The answer is that, unlike chimps, humans possess symbolic systems, empowering them to override chimplike default morality in favor of symbolically mediated moral codes. The article concludes with a brief discussion of the power of religious symbols to influence moral behavior by reprogramming emotional systems.
behavior mediation systems • default morality • genetic determinism • Carl Linnaeus • moral discourse • override morality • social determinism • sociobiology
Loyal Rue is Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Luther College, Decorah, IA 52101.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.00171

The Spiritual Task of Religion in Culture: An Evolutionary Perspective by Philip Hefner

It is quite impossible to consider human nature within an evolutionary perspective if we leapfrog over culture and establish some direct relation between cosmic and human evolution without taking culture into consideration. Culture holds a significant place within the structures of nature, as the “epic” of evolution portrays nature—cosmic, physical, and biological. Religion emerges within culture, and it plays a role in organizing the human consciousness and in generating the stories, rituals, and morality that constitute the organization of consciousness. Since organization of consciousness determines how culture is conducted, and since we face a global crisis today because of the ways we are conducting our culture, religion’s role is critical for the future of culture. Wherever it is attempted, whether in terms of traditional or posttraditional modes, the fashioning of adequate worldviews, rituals, and morality is an essentially religious activity. For both traditional and posttraditional modes, the task is to weave structures of meaning with the sciences of evolution so as to effect the most suitable organization of consciousness.
culture • epic of evolution • organization of consciousness • religion • stories
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, 1100 East Fifty-fifth Street, Chicago, IL 60615-5199.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.00172

The Evolutionary Roots of Morality in Theological Perspective by Stephen J. Pope

Theological ethics can interpret the relation between evolution and morality in at least three ways. The reductionist approach holds that morality emerges because it is adaptive. The independent approach maintains that morality develops without registering the influence of evolution. Finally, the interdependence position holds that morality reflects the influence of evolution to the extent that the latter shapes human emotional capacities and predispositions, for example, those regarding reciprocity and kin preference. The third approach is more suitable for theological ethics, which attends to ways in which natural desires can be ordered to serve morality, for example, to be habituated to virtue, and to ways in which we must strive to curb or minimize their disruptive effects on human communities.
evolutionary theory • morality • reductionism • theological ethics • theology
Stephen J. Pope is Associate Professor of Theology at Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA 02167.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.00173

Evolution, Sociobiology, and the Atonement by Patricia A. Williams

This essay views Christian doctrines of the atonement in the light of evolution and sociobiology. It argues that most of the doctrines are false because they use a false premise, the historicity of Adam and the Fall. However, two doctrines are not false on those grounds: Abelard’s idea that Jesus’ life is an example and Athanasius’ concept that the atonement changes human nature. Employing evolution’s and sociobiology’s concepts of the egocentric and ethnocentric nature of humanity and the synergy between genes and environments to produce a “nature,” this essay shows that these two doctrines can be amalgamated to make sense of the atonement in the late twentieth century.
Abelard • Athanasius • atonement • evolution • human nature • sociobiology
Patricia A. Williams is a retired professor of philosophy whose mailing address is P. O. Box 69, Covesville, VA 22931.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.00174

A Theological Challenge: Coordinating Biological, Social, and Religious Visions of Humanity by Wesley J. Wildman

This paper attempts two tasks. First, it sketches how the natural sciences (including especially the biological sciences), the social sciences, and the scientific study of religion can be understood to furnish complementary, consonant perspectives on human beings and human groups. This suggests that it is possible to speak of a modern secular interpretation of humanity (MSIH) to which these perspectives contribute (though not without tensions). MSIH is not a comprehensive interpretation of human beings, if only because it adopts a posture of neutrality with regard to the reality of religious objects and the truth of theological claims about them. MSIH is certainly an impressively forceful interpretation, however, and it needs to be reckoned with by any perspective on human life that seeks to insert its truth claims into the arena of public debate. Second, the paper considers two challenges that MSIH poses to specifically theological interpretations of human beings. On the one hand, in spite of its posture of religious neutrality, MSIH is a key element in a class of wider, seemingly antireligious interpretations of humanity, including especially projectionist and illusionist critiques of religion. It is consonance with MSIH that makes these critiques such formidable competitors for traditional theological interpretations of human beings. On the other hand, and taking the religiously neutral posture of MSIH at face value, theological accounts of humanity that seek to coordinate the insights of MSIH with positive religious visions of human life must find ways to overcome or manage such dissonance as arises. The goal of synthesis is defended as important, and strategies for managing these challenges, especially in light of the pluralism of extant philosophical and theological interpretations of human beings, are advocated.
atheism • biological sciences • critiques of religion • evolutionary biology • evolutionary psychology • metaphysical ambiguity • metaphysics • neurosciences • pluralism • religious anthropology • religious studies • social sciences • sociobiology • theological anthropology • theology
Wesley J. Wildman is Assistant Professor of Theology at Boston University, School of Theology, 745 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.00175

Between Addition and Difference: A Place for Religious Understanding in a World of Science by Edward L. Schoen

Among contemporary religious believers, some follow in the footsteps of Newton, allowing their religious understanding to fill in gaps left by the sciences. Others take a more Wittgensteinian approach, discretely separating religious from scientific ways of thinking. Because neither of these relatively irenic positions captures the important element of cultural reform that is prevalent in so much of the religious life of the past, George Lakoff ’s recent work in cognitive studies is used to suggest ways that religious ideas may be used to challenge and enrich scientific thought. A scrutiny of Richard Dawkins’s biological analyses of human behavior reveals the distorting limitations of exclusively scientific understanding, thereby clearing conceptual space for genuinely religious values, actions, responsibilities, and forms of human life.
AIDS • cognitive models • cultural critique • Richard Dawkins • human behavior • image schema • George Lakoff • Pierre-Simon Laplace • metaphor • Sir Isaac Newton • science and religion • time • Ludwig Wittgenstein
Edward L. Schoen is Professor of Philosophy at Western Kentucky University, WKU Box 8329, Bowling Green, KY 42101.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.00176


Should Religious Naturalists Promote a Naturalistic Religion? by Willem B. Drees

Religious naturalism refers here to a view of reality, and it will be contrasted with versions of supernaturalism and of atheistic naturalism. Naturalistic religion refers to certain varieties of religion, especially some inspired by the universality of science and the need for a global ethics. In this essay I explicate why a religious naturalist need not advocate a naturalistic religion. Rather, a religious naturalist can build upon the heritage of religious traditions and be open to, but at the same time be agnostic about, the idea of a nonnatural ground of reality. The religious naturalism I defend has been criticized from various directions: one reviewer in this journal considered it too much indebted to the traditions, and hence “reactionary” and supernaturalistic; another considered it too minimalist in its religion (“virtually nonexistent”) as a consequence of the preference for a too sober version of naturalism. My distinction between religious naturalism and naturalistic religion may answer some of these objections.
Earth Charter • evolutionary epic • David R. Griffin • Philip Hefner • Gordon Kaufman • naturalistic religion • ontology • pluralism • reductionism • religious naturalism • Wesley Robbins • ultimate questions • Bas Van Fraassen
Willem B.Drees holds the Nicolette Bruining chair in philosophy of nature and of technology from a liberal Protestant perspective at the University of Twente, Enschede, the Netherlands, and works for the Bezinningscentrum of the Vrije Universiteit, De Boelelaan 1105, 1081 HV Amsterdam, the Netherlands; e-mail: WB.Drees @ dienst.vu.nl.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.00177

The Teachers’ File

The Epic of Evolution: A Course Development Project by Russell Merle Genet

The Epic of Evolution is a course taught at Northern Arizona University. It engages the task of formulating a new epic myth that is based on the physical, natural, social, and cultural sciences. It aims to serve the need of providing meaning for human living in the vast and complex universe that the sciences now depict for us. It is an interdisciplinary effort in an academic setting that is often divided by specializations; it focuses on values in a climate of relativism; and it concentrates on an enterprise for which there are few textbooks at hand. The course is presented in three segments: the cosmos before humans appeared, the human phenomenon, and scenarios for the future of evolution.
epic of evolution • myth • story
Russell Merle Genet may be reached at The Fairborn Institute, 1109 South Plaza Way #210, Flagstaff, AZ 86001. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce this article for class use, with this note: Reprinted from Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.00178

Human Nature: What We Need to Know about Ourselves in the Twenty-First Century by Mary E. Clark

The Western worldview that now dominates the planet embodies beliefs about human nature that are inconsistent with our evolutionarily evolved natures. Its “logic” at best ignores and at worst creates the symptoms of the modern world, which if uncorrected predict severe crises in coming centuries: population growth, environmental destruction, economic collapse, and increasing social violence. In contrast, there are numerous communities today creating alternative solutions based on different understandings of human nature and human needs: cooperation rather than competition; meaningful social identity; and respect for and trust in the autonomous behavior of all persons. There exist optimistic future models.
alternative solutions • bonding • future crises • human nature • social identity • Western worldview
Mary E. Clark is retired Professor of Biology (San Diego State University) and of Conflict Resolution (George Mason University). She now lives at 780 Girard Court, Cottage Grove, OR 97424. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce this article for class use, with this note: Reprinted from Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.00179

Endmatter: Remembering Ralph Wendell Burhoe

Symbioses Can Transcend Particularisms: A Memoir of Friendship with Ralph Wendell Burhoe by Robert B. Glassman

Ralph Burhoe’s paradigmatic scientific innovation is the extension of the concept of symbiosis to coadapted human genotypes and “culturetypes,” centered on religion. Civilization also requires a coexistent secular arena, where religion’s nearness may help prevent our natural synergistic instrumentalizations of each other from degrading to losses of respect for one another as responsible free agents. The mixed messages in the Bible’s diverse stories help to preserve a richness of choices in memory as we navigate history. We science-and-religion theorists should expand our academic base to include economics, politics, literature, and other areas, while emulating Ralph’s wise and good-humored ways of drawing us together and affecting our lives.
agency • altruism • Ralph Wendell Burhoe • Christian theology • civilization • coadaptation • culturetype • economics • freedom • genotype • God of history • hostility • instrumentalize • Jewish theology • nature/nurture • neuroscience • psychology • reductionism • secularism • selfishness • symbiosis • synergy • values
Robert B. Glassman is Professor of Psychology at Lake Forest College, Lake Forest, IL 60045; e-mail: glassman @ lfc.edu.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.00180


Tribute to Carol Rausch Albright by Philip Hefner and Karl E. Peters

Carol Albright is leaving her position as executive editor of Zygon, to take up full-time duties as co-director of the John Templeton Foundation’s south regional program of developing courses in science and religion.

Her name first appeared on our masthead in the September 1989 issue, more than nine years ago. She managed the production process for nine and one-half volumes of the thirty-three volumes the journal has issued since its inception in 1966. This constitutes a contribution to Zygon that ranks with that of our founding editor, Ralph Wendell Burhoe (1966-79), and his successor, Karl E. Peters (editor-in-chief, 1979-1990, and co-editor since then). …
Philip Hefner and Karl E. Peters are Coeditors of Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science.

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