Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science
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Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science
34 (1), March 1999

Table of Contents


March 1999 Editorial by Philip Hefner

Umberto Eco (of The Name of the Rose fame) has said that the subject of all books is other books. What we write is one way or another commentary on the writings of others. The field of religion-and-science could well qualify under Eco’s rubric. It is true that research scientists respond to the phenomena they are observing, and religious persons do experience the spirituality and ecstasy of the Holy. They also respond to what others have told them about the phenomena and about the Holy. Consequently, it is often impossible to extricate firsthand experience from the overlay of what learning has decreed for that experience. For many within scientific fields and religious communities, as well as for those who count themselves in neither, what we know about science and religion rests chiefly on what others have written.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9744.1999.00187.x

What Shall We Make of the Human Brain?

What Shall We Make of the Human Brain? by Philip Hefner

President George Bush’s decree that the 1990s be the Decade of the Brain is fulfilling itself right before our eyes. The neurosciences are making themselves known in the wider circles beyond the sciences. Even our popular culture has embraced the new knowledge about the brain. There is little consensus, however, on what the sciences of the brain actually mean for our lives, except at the most utilitarian level—such as brain manipulation and brain repair.

Lack of consensus means disagreement, and the five articles that follow in this symposium reveal that disagreement, even among serious thinkers who are deeply concerned about how the sciences impact our lives. If we view these five articles as books on a shelf, we find the two ends marked by sharply divergent interpretations of the neurosciences and their significance for our lives. At one end stands the excerpt from the recent book, The Humanizing Brain, by James Ashbrook† and Carol Rausch Albright. Sharing the conclusions of many years of reflecting on the neurosciences, the authors present an eloquent hypothesis that is predicated on the firm conviction that the structure and processes of the brain reflect the nature and work of God. At the other end, with equal expertise and passion, Jeffrey Kurland insists that evolutionary perspectives on the brain are incommensurable with Western religious interpretations. …
Philip Hefner is Professor of Systematic Theology at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and coeditor of Zygon, 1100 East 55th Street, Chicago, IL 60615-5199.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.1881999188

The Humanizing Brain: An Introduction by James B. Ashbrooke† and Carol Rausch Albright

The rediscovery of the sacred needs to take into account the neural underpinnings of faith and meaning and also draw on the insights of the emerging discipline of complexity studies, which explore a tendency toward adaptive self-organization that seemingly is inherent in the universe. Both neuroscience and complexity studies contribute to our understanding of the brain’s activity as it transforms raw stimuli into recognizable patterns, and thus “humanizes” all our perceptions and understandings. The brain is our physical anchor in the natural environment—and its human capacities orbit us into the emerging world of culture (including religion), which provides a template for the brain’s function of making sense of an ambiguous reality. The humanizing brain holds together scientific causality and religious meaning, working both bottom-up (linking the physical and the experiential) and top-down (beginning with the whole of things, or God). These processes we know as “mind” (experienced as intentionality, subjective consciousness, empathy, imagination, memory, adaptability). We maintain that such processes are not only subjective but built into “the way things really are.” Thus, they carry the most privileged information about the nature of reality to which we human beings have access. For not only are we humans observers and logicians, but we are embedded in the larger reality; and as we strive to make sense of it all, we become both Homo sapiens and Homo religiosus.
brain-mind • complexity theory • God • meaning • neurobiology • religious faith
James B. Ashbrook† was Professor Emeritus of Religion and Personality at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Illinois. He died on January 2, 1999. Carol Rausch Albright, a scholar and writer, is Co-Director of the Southern Region of the John Templeton Foundation Science and Religion Course Program; her mailing address is 5415 S. Hyde Park Avenue, Chicago, IL 60615; e-mail: Albright1 @ aol.com.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.1881999189

The Human Meaning of the Brain by James S. Nelson

This study attempts to show that brain research brings to light religious meanings. There is a physical basis of religion in that the way the brain has evolved makes possible the religious meanings of human experience. The brain grows out of and reflects the universe. The brain is an icon of God. In the analysis of the brain’s various parts and functions the relational dimensions of reality are uncovered in their physical basis. This points to ultimate reality as social and to a social God. As such, the structures of reality, experienced through the brain, reflect the reality of God.
brain • empathy • limbic system • meaning • neuroscience • other • relationality • religious experience • social God • symbol
James S. Nelson is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies and Theology, North Park University, 3225 West Foster Avenue, Chicago, IL 60625.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.1901999190

The Humanizing Brain: A Clinician/Pastor Response by Mary Lynn Dell

The Humanizing Brain is an effort by theological scholars to integrate neuroscience and theological constructs into a cohesive evolutionary and developmental scheme. The primary strength is a developing dialogue between neurodevelopmental theory and process theology. The book’s widest appeal should be to theologians exploring religious and spiritual manifestations in the brain and neurosciences. The relatively simplistic science may limit significant usefulness to broad neuroscientific and medical communities, although neuroscientists and sophisticated lay readers with interests and backgrounds in theology may find The Humanizing Brain quite informative and interesting.
behavior • brain • creation • development • process theology • psychiatry • neuroscience
Mary Lynn Dell is Director of Medical Psychiatry Services, Department of Psychiatry, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, The University of Pennsylvania. She is also an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Her mailing address is 411 Holly Lane, Wynnewood, PA 19096; e-mail: dellma @ email.chop.edu.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.1901999191

The Image of God of Neurotheology: Reflections of Culturally Based Religious Commitments or Evolutionarily Based Neuroscientific Theories? by William A. Rottschaefer

In Augustinian fashion, James B. Ashbrook and Carol Rausch Albright develop a neurotheology that finds evolutionarily based correlations between the functions of the human mind-brain and the roles God plays in human life. I argue that their assumptions of anthropomorphism, that the human mind-brain must conceptualize its environment in human terms, and realism, that anthropomorphism is correct, are evolutionarily unlikely. I conclude that the image of God (imago dei) the authors find reflected in the human mind-brain appears to derive from their Christian religious commitments rather than from evolutionary theory.
anthropomorphism • Augustinianism • epistemic realism • evolutionary theory • image of God • mind-brain • neurotheology • religion • science
William A. Rottschaefer is Professor of Philosophy at Lewis and Clark College, 0615 SE Palatine Hill Road, Portland, OR 97219.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.1901999192

Toward an Evolution of Mind: Implications for the Faithful? by Jeffrey A. Kurland

Ever since its inception, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection has challenged assumptions about the nature of humankind and human institutions. It did not escape the notice of Darwin, sympathetic allies, or hostile contemporaries that his theory had profound implications for ethics and theology. In this paper I review some current sociobiological hypotheses about the mind that are based on the theory that the human mind is primarily a social tool. Many researchers now believe that both complex human within-group cooperation and between-group competition are the anvils that may have shaped the modules of the mind. Given this evolutionary theory of the mind, the Darwinian challenge to theism, ethics, and faith is now being relaunched with a vengeance. However, I suggest that modern physics, evolutionary biology, and cognitive science all seem to fit nicely into the atheistic and phenomenological niche defined by Buddhism.
Buddhism • Darwinism • evolution • group conflict • mind • modularity • religion • sociality
Jeffrey A. Kurland is Associate Professor of Anthropology at The Pennsylvania State University, where his mailing address is 416 Carpenter Building, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802; e-mail: jak @ psu.edu.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.1901999193

What Shall We Make of Complexity Science? Responses to Niels Gregersen

Does God Play Dice? A Response to Niels H. Gregersen, “The Idea of Creation and the Theory of Autopoietic Processes” by Rudolf B. Brun

The idea that the Creator has a plan for creation is deeply rooted in the Christian notion of Providence. This notion seems to suggest that the history of creation must be the execution of the providential plan of God. Such an understanding of divine providence expects science to confirm that cosmic history is under supernatural guidance, that evolution is therefore oriented toward a goal—to bring forth human beings, for example. The problem is, however, that science finds evidence for neither supernatural guidance nor teleology in nature. To address this problem, I understand Niels H. Gregersen to suggest that God is involved in the creative process. The reason science cannot demonstrate God’s supernatural guidance of evolution is that the Creator structures the process from within. Gregersen argues that God is involved in the process of creation by changing the overall probability pattern of evolving systems.

In my view, such a model of how God interacts with creation is supported neither by orthodox Christianity nor by modern science. After a critique of Gregersen’s argument and a brief history of the relationship between Christianity and science, I shall suggest an alternative. It is that the freedom of creation to create itself is implicit in the fundamental dogma of Christianity that God is love.
Christian doctrine of Creation • Christianity • evolution • Orthodoxy • process theology • religion • science • tradition
Rudolf B. Brun is Professor in the Biology Department of Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, TX 76129; e-mail: r.brun @ tcu.edu.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.1901999194

Creation, Co-operation and Causality: A Reply to Gregersen by Richard T. McClelland and Robert J. Deltete

Niels H. Gregersen seeks to illuminate the nature of continuing divine action in the world and to show that the classical theistic doctrine of continuous creation is consonant with some recent scientific theories of self-productive (“autopoietic”) systems. Central to these theories is the concept of co-operation; central to Gregersen’s theological appropriation of these theories is also the notion of structuring causality developed by philosopher Fred Dretske. While supportive of Gregersen’s overall aims and emphases, we find significant disanalogies between co-operation as a theological construct and as an evolutionary strategy. We also doubt the utility of Dretske’s notion for his project.
autopoietic systems • causality • co-operation • creation • divine action • religion and science • structuring causes
Richard T. McClelland and Robert J. Deltete are members of the Department of Philosophy at Seattle University, Broadway and Madison, Seattle, WA 98122-4460; McClelland’s e-mail: richmcc @ seattleu.edu; Deltete’s e-mail: rdeltete @ seattleu.edu.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.1901999195

Gregersen’s Vision of a Theonomous Universe by Langdon Gilkey

In his article, “The Idea of Creation and the Theory of Autopoietic Processes,” Niels H. Gregersen has proposed an important thesis: God supports and sustains autopoietic processes in nature. This contribution underscores what Paul Tillich called theonomy, a conception of the divine presence or action as one which undergirds, makes possible, and brings to perfection the creature’s autonomy and creativity. The concept of theonomy is represented not only in contemporary Christian theology, but also in the work of Alfred North Whitehead and the Japanese Buddhist thinker, Tanabe Hajime. Gregersen shows that this concept extends not only to existential realities, but also to science and the processes of nature. There are connections, as well as differences, to be noted between Gregersen and Whitehead. This train of thought would be further enhanced if it included a discussion of the concept of God as the power to be—a connection that certainly is implied in Gregersen’s argument.
Tanabe Hajime • power to be • Providence • theonomy • Alfred North Whitehead
Langdon Gilkey is emeritus Professor of Theology, the Divinity School, University of Chicago, and Visiting Professor, University of Virginia. His address is 123 Cameron Lane, Charlottesville, VA 22903.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.1901999196

Autopoiesis: Less than Self-Constitution, More than Self-Organization: Reply to Gilkey, McClelland and Deltete, and Brun by Niels Henrik Gregersen

Replying to the variegated responses by theologian Langdon Gilkey, philosophers Richard McClelland and Robert Deltete, and biologist Rudolf B. Brun, I emphasize three elements of my theological use of autopoietic theory: (1) Autopoietic systems are less than self-constitutive, since they do not create themselves from scratch, but more than self-organizing, since they are capable of producing new elements inside the local system. Correspondingly, the theological importance of autopoietic theory is not found within the doctrine of a creation out of nothing but within the doctrine of nonuniform continuous creation. (2) Locating the concept of autopoiesis within third-generation systems theory, I underline the pluriform character of type-different systems; the possibility of giving a full causal account from the purview of any privileged single systems (including physics) is thus denied. (3) I distinguish between two complementary roles of theology in the dialogue between science and religion: whereas theology1 offers a participatory second-order description of the internal meaning of particular traditions of faith, theology2 provides a third-order inquiry into the external coherence between religious and nonreligious worlds of meaning. Theology2, however, always presupposes the internal descriptions of theology1. On this basis, my use of autopoietic theory is related to the theologies of creation and providence of Paul Tillich and Langdon Gilkey; likewise, I discuss various theological strategies for relating a theology of creation to standard interpretations of evolution.
autopoiesis • Christian doctrine of creation • divine causality • evolution • general and particular providence • Langdon Gilkey • Niklas Luhmann • Paul Tillich • structuring causality • Alfred North Whitehead
Niels Henrik Gregersen is Associate Professor of Theology at the University of Aarhus, DK-8000 Aarhus C, Denmark, and Vice-President of The European Society for the Study of Science and Theology (ESSSAT); e-mail: ngh @ teologi.au.dk.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.1901999197

What Shall We Make of Wolfhart Pannenberg? A Symposium on Beginning with the End: God, Science, and Wolfhart Pannenberg (eds., Carol Rausch Albright and Joel Haugen)

Where Do We Go from Here? by Gregory R. Peterson

Beginning with the End represents an excellent collection of articles devoted to the thought of Wolfhart Pannenberg. This volume includes many of the most important thinkers in the science-religion dialogue and shows as well the importance and impact of Pannenberg’s theology. This response addresses themes that surface in several of the articles: What is religion? What is science? What is theology? What is God? On some of these themes there is agreement, on others sharp disagreement. The conclusion also considers what this volume suggests about the future of Pannenberg’s theology.
definition of God • definition of religion • definition of science • field • Wolfhart Pannenberg • research program • spirit
Gregory R. Peterson is Assistant Professor of Religion, Thiel College, Greenville, PA 16125; e-mail: gpeterso @ thiel.edu.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.1901999198

Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Engagement with the Natural Sciences by John Polkinghorne

Wolfhart Pannenberg’s engagement with the natural sciences is surveyed. A critique is given of his treatment of these themes: the concept of a field; contingency; the role of the future.
contingency • field • metaquestions • Wolfhart Pannenberg • role of the future • Frank Tipler
The Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne is Fellow and Past President of Queen’s College, Cambridge, CB3 9ET, United Kingdom.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.1901999199

“Scientific” Theology/“Theological” Science: Pannenberg and the Dialogue between Theology and Science by Stanley J. Grenz

Throughout his distinguished career, Wolfhart Pannenberg has sought to show that the Christian understanding of God is crucial to the pursuit of knowledge. As the essays in Beginning with the End indicate, Pannenberg has attempted to construct a bridge between theology and science via the idea of contingency and the concept of field. His interest in dialogue, however, arises out of a deeper theological foundation, which views theology as a public discipline and sees the human quest for truth as the quest for God. Although susceptible to criticisms that all objectivist approaches attract, this focus on “reasonable faith” provides a helpful point of departure for dialogue.
apologetics • cosmology • faith and reason • theology and science • truth
Stanley J. Grenz is Pioneer McDonald Professor of Theology and Ethics at Carey/Regent College, 5920 Iona Drive, Vancouver, BC V6T1J6, Canada, and Affiliate Professor of Theology and Ethics at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, 660 East Butterfield Road, Lombard, IL 60148.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.2001999200

What Shall We Make of Henry Margenau? A Religion-and-Science Pioneer of the Twentieth Century

Negotiating the Boundaries of Science and Religion: The Case of Henry Margenau by William A. Durbin

The life of Henry Margenau (1901-1997) offers a case study in the complexity of the science-religion relation. As a physicist-philosopher at Yale University, he pursued a public program of “amalgamating religion with science.” He drew upon his authority as a physicist and a tradition of philosophical idealism to advocate a “reciprocity” between the two spheres. He argued that a “new modesty” and “metaphysical attitude” among scientists created new opportunities for collaboration. At the same time, his view of faith and his sense of the religiousness of science created troubling ambiguities. In the end, Margenau embodied the ambivalent relation between science and religion while revealing the limits of renegotiating the boundaries.
authority • boundaries • faith • humility • idealism • integration • metaphysical attitude • physicist-philosopher • probability • reciprocity • sage • seeker • social role
William A. Durbin is Assistant Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Washington Theological Union. His address is 6896 Laurel Street NW, Washington, DC 20012; e-mail: durbin @ wtu.edu.
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.2001999201


The Symbolic Species: The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain by Terrence Deacon, reviewed by Michael Cavanaugh

Michael Cavanaugh, Lawyer and Independent Investor, 744 Dubois, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70808
DOI: 10.1111/0591-2385.2001999202

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