Talk about religion and science these days and chances are that youll come across what journalists are calling The New Atheism. They refer to an avalanche of books, articles, interviews—a media blitz, by a number of leading scientists and others who are influenced by science—all to the effect that religion is intellectually confused and dangerous, with some calls to eradicate religion altogether.
Daniel Dennett begins his book Breaking the Spell (2006) by comparing religion to a lancet fluke, a small parasite that enters the brain of ants, causing them to climb to the top of stalks of grass so that they may be eaten by cows or sheep. While this does not end so well for the ant, it works out great for the lancet fluke, which is able to complete its reproductive cycle in the mammals gut and then spread its progeny with the expelled feces. Perhaps, Dennett suggests, the human mind is enslaved by ideas in a similar manner, and goes on to remind us (in case we didnt get the connection) that islam in translation means submission.
Gregory R. Peterson is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion at South Dakota State University and Program Coordinator of the Philosophy and Religion Department, Box 504 Scobey 336, SDSU, Brookings, SD 57007; e-mail: greg.peterson @ sdstate.edu.
The Agenda for Religion and Science: Guest Editorials
Does Primacy Belong to the Human Sciences? by Fraser N. Watts
The dialogue between theology and science often has focused mainly on the natural sciences. In this brief editorial I argue that the dialogue with the human sciences is potentially richer and has some interesting distinctive features. I make three main points: that the methodology of the human sciences is closer to that of theology, giving rise to a richer and more fruitful interface; that the human sciences interface with a broader range of topics in Christian doctrine, which they help to elucidate; and that the study of religion in the human sciences gives rise to an interesting reflexivity in their dialogue with theology.
The Methodologies of the Natural and Human Sciences
It often is claimed that there are different methodologies in the natural and human sciences. The distinctive methodology of the human sciences, as Peter Winch argued a half century ago in The Idea of a Social Science (1958), is that they recognize that human beings are agents and take a first-person approach rather than using the objectifying third-person approach of the natural sciences. As he claimed, they look for reasons, not causes. Others, such as E. O. Wilson in Consilience (1998), have argued in the opposite direction, wanting to assimilate the human sciences to biology. …
Fraser Watts is Reader in Theology and Science, University of Cambridge, Faculty of Divinity, West Rd, Cambridge, CB3 9BS, U.K.; e-mail: fnw1001 @ cam.ac.uk.
Persons and Dreams of Possibility in Religion and Science by Edwin C. Laurenson
As we ponder the intellectual landscape of the last one hundred fifty years, we are struck by the fragmentation of the concept of the person. Indeed, we wonder if such a thing exists. And yet we live and interact as social, political, religious, and legal beings, acting as if we know who and what we are. Despite continuing horrors, in many societies we worship human rights. Self-expression, self-development, and self-aggrandizement through possessions and accomplishment rule our days. And where the individualism of the enlightened West and those who have adopted its values does not rule, the embedded understanding remains of a personal essence that may survive death.
The efflorescence of the individual and its accompanying destruction of the shackles of superstition have thrown the individual into the most radical doubt. But for all our perceptions of determinism, manipulation and manipulability, brain scans that would betray our ability to conceal our intentions and lies, cultural contexts that create us and allow us to think the thoughts that render our cultures truths relative and contingent, as yet we can see no way to shed our perceptions of separateness. Nor can we avoid the brute facts of individual desire, suffering, and death. …
Edwin C. Laurenson is a corporate and securities lawyer at McDermott Will & Emery LLP, 340 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10173; e-mail: elaurenson @ mwe.com.
Theology at the Forefront of Discovery? by James W. Haag
The task set before me is to address whether the religion-and-science dialogue is in need of reassessment in light of todays experience and sensibilities. In short, yes. However, this quick response is attributable to any field of research that aspires to be relevant. It says something positive about the field that the task is not whether religion and science should be related but how this relation should be measured.
As a young theologian who has observed the religion-and-science discussion for approximately ten years, I want to mention an issue that I believe will continue to demand attention from my generation of scholars. How committed should theologians should be to new or rogue scientific discoveries? For some, attaching ones theology to unestablished science comes with potential devastation. After all, what happens when the science is altered or rejected? While potentially risky, it is a risk that is not only worth taking but essential. A word of admission: I am aware that many of the diverse readers of Zygon do not consider themselves theologians. While congenial with these scholars, as a Lutheran theologian I will speak from my context and anticipate that our objectives will coincide. …
James W. Haag recently completed his Ph.D. in Systematic and Philosophical Theology at the Graduate Theological Union, 5824 College Ave. #4, Oakland, CA 94618; e-mail: jameshaag @ hotmail.com.
The Thickness of Experience, Religion, and the Varieties of Science by Don Browning
Philip Hefner has placed a very provocative editorial before the readers of Zygon (Broad Experience? Great Audience? March 2007). From almost every angle of vision, particularly when viewed from the perspective of the success of Zygon itself, the science-and-religion discussion is strong and vital. Yet, as Hefner points out, it could have a wider impact and grab the hearts and minds of the general public even more profoundly.
I agree with him that the key to a deeper dialogue is locating it on a broad base of contemporary experience and engaging a larger audience of both academics and nonacademics. Both of these are important, but the first point may be the more profound. In order to engage a wider audience, the science-and-religion discussion must address a more inclusive range of human experience. People must recognize the vital challenges of their lived experience in the conversation and tensions between science and religion. Recent proposals by both Hefner and guest editorialists have been suggestive for broadening the experiential base of the science-religion dialogue. Anchoring it in the signals of the sacred in contemporary culture, or in the context of practical moral issues, or in understanding the role of myth in both science and religion, are all good suggestions. …
Don Browning is Alexander Campbell Professor of Religious Ethics and the Social Sciences Emeritus, Divinity School, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637; e-mail: dsbrowni @ midway.uchicago.edu.
Saving Experience in an Age of Science by Karl E. Peters
In his March 2007 Zygon editorial Philip Hefner challenges us to reflect on the experience that underlies our work in religion and science and the audience for which we do that work. He calls us to consider the breadth of the experience and the greatness of the audience. In responding to this challenge I begin with the name of one of the organizations that is responsible for Zygon, the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science (IRAS).¹ I note the prepositions in the name, which reveal that the focus is on religion, and this focus takes place in an age of science, or, we might say, in the scientifically informed cultural context in which we now live.
What does the focus on religion tell us about the experience and the audience? If we look at what religions do, we can say that the experiences may be the experiences of lifes problems, and also experiences of the sacred in relation to which people respond to lifes problems. Historian of religion John Fenton describes a primary task of religion as follows: religion offers sacred satisfaction of fundamental human needs (Fenton et al. 1993, 4). Using this description, Fenton and his colleagues are able to review the variety of the worlds religious traditions with a general model that asks: What fundamental human needs are being addressed, and what is the understanding of the sacred in relation to which the needs are being satisfied? With this model they bring to the fore a variety of experienced needs: physical needs such as hunger and thirst in times of drought, social needs such as the anomie resulting from the disruption or decay of society or the feelings of oppression associated with injustice, and psychological needs experienced as anxiety, depression, guilt, and meaninglessness. …
¹ In 1966 IRAS and the Center for Advanced Study in Theology and the Sciences (CASTS), which is now the Center for Advanced Study in Religion and Science (CASIRAS), established the journal. IRAS and CASIRAS continue to undergird Zygon through a Joint Publication Board with representatives from each organization.
Karl E. Peters is professor emeritus of philosophy and religion, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida, and adjunct professor of religion and science at Meadville Lombard Theological School, Chicago, Illinois. He is coeditor of Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science and president of the Center for Advanced Study in Religion and Science. His mailing address is 30 Barn Door Hills Road, Granby, CT 06035; e-mail: kpeters396 @ cox.net.
A basic survey of the issues that arise in discussing emergence is presented, together with suggestions on how the concept should be approached. Emergence is an alternative to reductionism. The emergence story invites us to see that nothing transcends nature like nature itself; it is a radically new way to think about the natural order, and it reshapes our ideas of matter. Special attention is given to the idea of meaning in life. Three options are discussed for thinking about the meaning of life: that it is fundamental to the nature of things, that it is an illusion, and that it is an emergent property of matter. The third option is favored—that the universe has no telos, and yet makes possible the spontaneous emergence of purpose. Caution is advised against exploiting the idea of emergence. The most important task is to understand the science of emergence and only then to move into interpretations from the humanities and theology.
emergence • humanities • meaning • reductionism • science • telos • transcendence
Loyal Rue is Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Luther College, 700 College Drive, Decorah, IA 52101; e-mail: rueloyal @ luther.edu.
Discussions of the origin of life usually assume that there is a specific event, however improbable, by which dead matter became a living entity. Naturalistic accounts, although in seeming opposition to theistic explanations of the apparent design of even the simplest cells, often share the assumption that there is a specific line to be crossed. If the problem is recast as one of a process of emergence of biochemistry from protobiochemistry, which in turn emerged from the organic chemistry and geochemistry of primitive earth, the resources of the new sciences of complex systems dynamics can provide a more robust conceptual framework within which to explore the possible pathways of chemical complexification leading to life. In such a view the emergence of life is the result of deep natural laws (the outlines of which we are only beginning to perceive) and reflects a degree of holism in those systems that led to life. Further, there is the possibility of developing a more general theory of biology and of natural organization from such an approach. The emergence of life may thus be seen as an instance of the broader innate creativity of nature and consistent with a possible natural teleology.
biogenesis • complexity • emergence • natural organization • natural teleology • origin of life • process
Bruce H. Weber is Professor of Biochemistry Emeritus, California State University Fullerton, and Robert H. Woodworth Chair in Science and Natural Philosophy Emeritus, Bennington College. His address is Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, California State University Fullerton, Fullerton, CA 92835-6866; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Biological traits, the foci of natural selection, are by definition emergent from the genes, proteins, and other nothing-buts that constitute them. Moreover, and with the exception of recently emergent spandrels, each can be accorded a teleological dimension—each is for some purpose conducive to an organisms continuation. Sex, which is for the generation of recombinant genomes, may be one of the most ancient and ubiquitous traits in biology. In the course of its evolution, many additional traits, such as gender and nurture, have emerged. Patterns of sexual exchange are the basis for patterns of biological evolution and are central to the process of eukaryotic speciation. Human sexuality is central to our selves.
death • evolution • gender •recombination • sex • sexuality • speciation
Ursula Goodenough is Professor of Biology in the Department of Biology, Box 1137, Washington University, St. Louis, MO 63130; e-mail: ursula @ biology2.wustl.edu.
Teleology for the Perplexed: How Matter Began to Matter by Jeremy Sherman and Terrence W. Deacon
Lacking a plausible model for the emergence of telos (purposive, representational, and evaluative relationships, as in life and consciousness) from simple material and energetic processes, the sciences operate as though all teleological relationships are physically epiphenomenal. Alternatively, in religion and the humanities it is assumed either that telos influences the material world from an outside or transcendental source or that it is a fundamental and ineffable property of things. We argue that a scientifically sound and intuitively plausible model for the physical emergence of teleological dynamics is now realizable. A methodology for formulating such a model and an exemplar case—the autocell—are presented. An autocell is an autocatalytic set of molecules that produce one another and also produce molecules that spontaneously accrete to form a hollow container, analogous to the way virus capsules form. The molecular capsules that result will spontaneously enclose some of the nearby molecules of the autocatalytic set, keeping them together so that when the autocell is broken open autocatalysis will resume. Autocells are thus self-reconstituting, self-reproducing, and minimally evolvable. They are not living and yet have necessary precursor attributes to telos, including individuality, functional interdependence of parts, end-directedness, a minimal form of representation, and a normative (evaluational) relationship to different environmental properties. The autocell thus serves as a missing link between inanimate (nonlife) and animate (living) phenomena. We conclude by discussing the challenges that a natural origin for telos poses for religious thought.
apophatic • autocell • emergence • evolvability • meaning • morphodynamics • origins of life • purpose • self-organization • supernatural • teleodynamics • teleology • telos • theology • thermodynamics
Jeremy Sherman is a professor of social science at Expression College of the Digital Arts, 1830 Sonoma Ave., Berkeley, CA 94707; e-mail: js @ jeremysherman.com. Terrence W. Deacon is a professor of biological anthropology, Department of Anthropology and Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720; e-mail: deacon @ berkeley.edu.
Beyond Reductionism: Reinventing the Sacred by Stuart Kauffman
We have lived under the hegemony of the reductionistic scientific worldview since Galileo, Newton, and Laplace. In this view, the universe is meaningless, as Stephen Weinberg famously said, and organisms and a court of law are nothing but particles in morion. This scientific view is inadequate. Physicists are beginning to abandon reductionism in favor of emergence. Emergence, both epistemological and ontological, embraces the emergence of life and of agency. With agency comes meaning, value, and doing, beyond mere happenings. More organisms are conscious. None of this violates any laws of physics, but it cannot be reduced to physics. Emergence is real, and the tiger chasing the gazelle are real parts of the real universe.
We live, therefore, in an emergent universe. This emergence often is entirely unpredictable beforehand, from the evolution of novel functionalities in organisms to the evolution of the economy and human history. We are surrounded on all sides by a creativity that cannot even be prestated. Thus we have the first glimmerings of a new scientific worldview, beyond reductionism. In our universe emergence is real, and there is ceaseless, stunning creativity that has given rise to our biosphere, our humanity, and our history. We are partial co-creators of this emergent creativity.
It is our choice whether we use the God word. I believe it is wise to do so. God can be our shared name for the true creativity in the natural universe. Such a view invites a new sense of the sacred, as those aspects of the creativity in the universe that we deem worthy of holding sacred. We are not logically forced to this view. Yet a global civilization, hopefully persistently diverse and creative, is emerging. I believe we need a shared view of God, a fully natural God, to orient our lives. We need a shared view of the sacred that is open to slow evolution, because rigidity in our view of the sacred violates how our most precious values evolve and invites ethical hegemony. We need a shared global ethic beyond our materialism. I believe a sense of God as the natural, awesome creativity in the universe can help us construct the sacred and a global ethic to help shape the global civilization toward what we choose with the best of our limited wisdom.
Darwinian preadaptations • emergence • God as the creative universe • reductionism
Stuart Kauffman is Founding Director of the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics at the University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta T2N 1N4, Canada.
A Religious Interpretation of Emergence: Creativity as God by Gordon D. Kaufman
Thinking of God today as creativity (instead of as The Creator) enables us to bring theological values and meanings into significant connection with modern cosmological and evolutionary thinking. This conception connects our understanding of God with todays ideas of the Big Bang; cosmic and biological evolution; the evolutionary emergence of novel complex realities from simpler realities, and the irreducibility of these complex realities to their simpler origins; and so on. It eliminates anthropomorphism and anthropocentrism from the conception of God, thus overcoming one of the major reasons for the implausibility of God-talk in todays world—here viewed as a highly dynamic reality (not an essentially stable structure), with God regarded as the ongoing creativity in this world. This mystery of creativity—God—manifest throughout the universe is quite awe-inspiring, calling forth emotions of gratitude, love, peace, fear, and hope, and a sense of the profound meaningfulness of human existence in the world—issues with which faith in God usually has been associated. It is appropriate, therefore, to think of God today as precisely this magnificent panorama of creativity with which our universe and our lives confront us.
anthropocentric • anthropomorphic • Big Bang • complexity theory • create/creativity • creativity1 • creativity2 • creativity3 • Creator • emergence • emergence theory • evolution • faith • God • imagination • imaginative construction • mystery • new/novel • religious • science • serendipitous creativity • symbol • symbol system • universe
Gordon D. Kaufman is Mallinckrodt Professor of Divinity Emeritus at Harvard University Divinity School, 45 Francis Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138; e-mail: gordon_kaufman @ harvard.edu.
Science, Religious Naturalism, and Biblical Theology: Ground for the Emergence of Sustainable Living by George W. Fisher and Gretchen van Utt
During this century, humans must learn to live in ways that are sustainable, both ecologically and morally. The global community already consumes more ecological resources than Earth can generate; population growth and increasing development are widening that gap. We suggest that paths to sustainability can be found by mindful reflection on meanings discerned in the convergence of a scientific understanding of nature, religious naturalism, and biblical understandings of creation. The patterns of ecological sustainability observed in natural systems and the wise ways of relating to the land discerned in the Hebrew Bible suggest that sustainability must be grounded in social and ecological justice and that just ways of living can emerge from a deep sense of the ways in which nature and all of humanity are interdependent. We conclude that the twentieth-century emphasis on individual control of our future must make room for the emergence of a new understanding of mutuality. There can be no flourishing apart from mutual flourishing.
biblical theology • community • ecology • emergence • mutuality • religious naturalism • sustainability
George W. Fisher is Emeritus Professor of Geology at Johns Hopkins University, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Baltimore, MD 21218; e-mail: gfisher @ jhu.edu. Gretchen van Utt is a pastor in the Presbytery of Baltimore, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A).
The prevailing common assumptions about how nature behaves have their origins in the early Enlightenment. The notion of emergence does not sit comfortably within this framework. Emergence appears virtually impossible within a world determined by ineluctable and unwavering natural laws. But the variety and combinations inherent in living systems render physical laws indeterminate. The study of ecological dynamics suggests that processes rather than laws are what accounts for most order seen in the living realm. As a consequence, there are aspects of ecological dynamics that violate each of the Newtonian postulates. The dynamics of ecosystems suggest a smaller set of rational assumptions through which to view nature—an ecological metaphysic. Emergence appears as a rare but wholly natural phenomenon within the new rational platform. In addition, several apparent conflicts between science and theism that arose under the Newtonian framework simply vanish under the new perspective.
causality • chance • Darwinism • determinism • dialectic • ecology • emergence • evolution • free will • indeterminacy • materialism • metaphysics • naturalism • Newtonianism
Robert E. Ulanowicz is Professor of Theoretical Ecology at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, 1 Williams Street, Solomons, MD 20688-0038; e-mail: ulan @ cbl.umces.edu.
Robots and the Sacred in Science and Science Fiction: Theological Implications of Artificial Intelligence by Robert M. Geraci
In science-fiction literature and film, human beings simultaneously feel fear and allure in the presence of intelligent machines, an experience that approximates the numinous experience as described in 1917 by Rudolph Otto. Otto believed that two chief elements characterize the numinous experience: the mysterium tremendum and the fascinans. Briefly, the mysterium tremendum is the fear of Gods wholly other nature and the fascinans is the allure of Gods saving grace. Science-fiction representations of robots and artificially intelligent computers follow this logic of threatening otherness and soteriological promise. Science fiction offers empirical support for Anne Foersts claim that human beings experience fear and fascination in the presence of advanced robots from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AI Lab. The human reaction to intelligent machines shows that human beings in many respects have elevated those machines to divine status. This machine apotheosis, an interesting cultural event for the history of religions, may—despite Foersts rosy interpretation—threaten traditional Christian theologies.
artificial intelligence • Isaac Asimov • Philip K. Dick • film • Anne Foerst • William Gibson • literature • movies • religion • robotics • science fiction • theology
Robert M. Geraci is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Manhattan College, Riverdale, NY 10471; e-mail: robert.geraci @ manhattan.edu.
Plumbing the Depths: A Recovery of Natural Law and Natural Wisdom in the Context of Debates about Evolutionary Purpose by Celia Deane-Drummond
I argue that the theological traditions of natural law and wisdom offer helpful meeting points in discussions about evolutionary purpose and contingency in relation to theological purpose, and serve to form the basis for a theology of nature. Natural law offers a way of describing the ordered action of God toward complexity in a contingent world without using the language of either design or progress. The theological tradition of wisdom as implicit in the natural world, learned in the human community, and received as gift of grace offers a further means of interconnecting biological reality with spiritual experience, while retaining distinctions. Wisdom and natural law intersect inasmuch as natural law is participation in Eternal Wisdom, although the latter makes sense only from the prior perspective of faith.
Thomas Aquinas • contingency • design • evolution • natural law • purpose • wisdom
Celia Deane-Drummond is Professor of Theology and the Biosciences in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Chester, Parkgate Road, Chester, CH1 4BJ, United Kingdom; e-mail: c.deane-drummond @ chester.ac.uk. She is founder and director of the Centre for Religion and the Biosciences.
Book Discussion—Radical Evolution by Joel Garreau
Odysseans of the Twenty-First Century by James T. Bradley
In his book Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies—and What It Means to Be Human (2005), author-journalist Joel Garreau identifies four technologies whose synergistic activity may transform humankind into a state transcending present human nature: genetic, robotic, information, and nano (GRIN) technologies. If the GRIN technologies follow Moores Law, as information technology has done for the past four decades, Homo sapiens and human society may be unimaginably different before the middle of this century. But among scientists, futurists, and other pundits there is no agreement on the nature and ramifications of this transformation. Based on dozens of interviews, Garreau sees three possible scenarios for our species. The Heaven Scenario foresees enhanced bodies and minds in a disease-free world, perhaps even immortality; the Hell Scenario warns of losing our identity as a biological entity and perhaps the demise of liberal democracy; the Prevail Scenario predicts that we will muddle through the GRIN technology revolution basically intact, as we have prevailed during past technological upheavals. In this review, these scenarios are examined in the context of Kuhns normal versus extraordinary science and in the context of current understanding about gene function.
biotechnology • extraordinary science • Francis Fukuyama • Joel Garreau • genes • GRIN technologies • Heaven Scenario • Hell Scenario • human evolution • human nature • human values • Thomas Kuhn • Ray Kurzweil • Jaron Lanier • metaphors in science • Moores Law • nanotechnology • normal science • Prevail Scenario • religion • spirituality • Gregory Stock • transcendence
James T. Bradley is Mosley Professor of Science and Humanities in the Department of Biological Sciences, 331 Funchess Hall, Auburn University, Auburn, AL 36849; e-mail: bradljt @ auburn.edu.
A Prophetic Seer Potentiating Us in the Present by Curtis L. Thompson
In his book Radical Evolution Joel Garreau functions as a prophet and a seer. In presenting a narrative of the future that includes an optimistic view of human nature, he warns that because of the GRIN technologies (genetics, robotics, information technology, and nanotechnology) the quickening evolution of The Curve is upon us and could well soon culminate in the mind-boggling social change of The Singularity. Garreau considers three scenarios of the technological future: the Heaven Scenario, the Hell Scenario, and the Prevail Scenario. The third wins favor because the heavenly envisionment with its evolution of a superintelligent human who could engineer a species with a greatly extended lifespan is too blissful and the hellish prognostication with its destruction of the human species within the next quarter century is too pernicious. Just right is the middle-of-the-road perspective of the Prevail-Transcend depiction of the future. This third view is indeed more appropriate than the first two scenarios, but a more nuanced form of the third perspective—emphasizing similarly the role of human freedom and responsibility in continuing to reshape human nature but drinking less deeply of the transhumanist elixir and more deeply of a pantransentheistic potion—would constitute a more suitable vision of the future.
The Curve • evolution • genetics • human nature • nanotechnology • possibilizing • robotics • scenarios of the future • The Singularity • transhumanist
Curtis L. Thompson is Professor of Religion, Thiel College, 75 College Avenue, Greenville, PA 16125; e-mail: cthompson @ thiel.edu.
Christopher Southgate is Research Fellow in Theology at the University of Exeter, Amory Building, Exeter EX4 4RJ, U.K.; e-mail: c.c.b.southgate @ ex.ac.uk. This poem appears in Easing the Gravity Field: Poems of Science and Love (Nottingham: Shoestring, 2006).