Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science

Zygon Journal IRAS 2006 Lecture Series Podcasts


The following podcasts are recordings of the annual Star Island summer conference (August 2006) of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science (IRAS). The 2006 and 2007 conferences’ theme, “Emergence: Nature’s Mode of Creativity,” was discussed by a group of stellar scientists, philosophers, and theologians. This conference focused principally on pre-human manifestations of emergence; the summer 2007 conference will extend that discussion to the realm of humans and culture. More information on the 2007 conference is available at www.iras.org. IRAS is one of this journal’s two co-owners (the other, the Center for the Advanced Study in Religion and Science [CASIRAS]). The podcasts are introduced by Donald Braxton, professor of religious studies, Juniata College, who produced them. We are pleased to feature this cooperation between IRAS, professor Braxton, and Zygon. The papers from the conference will appear in this journal later in 2007.


Lecture 1: Introduction to the Themes of Emergence

Star Island, July 29, 2006

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Loyal Rue is professor of Religion and Philosophy at Luther College in Decorah, IA. His area of research is in the naturalistic theory of religion.

Rue introduces the annual gathering of IRAS, Institute on Religion in an Age of Science, to the theme of the 2006 conference - Emergence: Nature’s Mode of Creativity.



Lecture 2: The Creativity of the Biosphere

Star Island, July 30, 2006

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Stuart Kauffman is a theoretical biologist interested in genetic regulatory networks, the origin of life, evolution, and the character of molecular autonomous agents.

Kauffman discusses creativity in the biosphere using the concepts of self-organizing propagation, autocatalysis, invasion of the adjacent possible, Darwinian preadaptations, and autonomous agents. He closes with comments on the close association of meaning with life itself. He suggests a novel sustaining mythology is birthing which is not built on the fears of religious fundamentalism and their ideas of Intelligent Design.



Lecture 3: From the Quantum to the Classical by Michael Silberstein

Star Island, July 30, 2006

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Michael Silberstein is an associate professor of philosophy at Elizabethtown College His work is in the philosophy of physics and cognitive neuroscience.

Silberstein outlines several possible explanations for the emergence of classical mechanics from quantum mechanics. Using examples from condensed matter theory, he speculates on his own theory of the transition and then suggests analogies for other critical transitions including the emergence of life from physical systems. A powerpoint presentation accompanies this talk.



Lecture 4: Emergence of Planetary Structures by Michael Wysession

Star Island, July 31, 2006

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Michael Wysession is an associate professor at Washington University in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.

Wysession discusses the 4 billion year evolution of our planet. He takes us through the sequence of developments from homogeneous ball of dust to the creation of hospitable womb for life.



Lecture 5: Emergence of Life by Bruce Weber

Star Island, July 31, 2006

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Bruce Weber is a biochemist from California State University at Fullerton and Bennington College.

Weber explores various accounts of the emergence of life centered on notions of living systems, replication, metabolism, tapping energy gradients, enclosure. motility, and agency. He situates these considerations in the context of complex systems dynamics. He suggests this context allows us to avoid the quest for a specific history of the emergence of life and instead think about the interplay of selective and self-organizational principles.



Lecture 6: A Religious Interpretation of Emergence: God as Creativity by Gordon Kaufman

Star Island, August 1, 2006

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Gordon Kaufman is a professor of theology at the Divinity School of Harvard University.

Kaufman argues that we think of God as creativity rather than “the Creator”. He contends this formulation allows greater connection with modern cosmologies and evolutionary theory. Specifically, this idea removes anthropomorphism and anthropocentrism from the equation. Additionally, it resonates with modern ideas of the Big Bang, evolution, and emergence. Finally, it links to the awe-inspiring experience of the mystery of creativity in the Universe.



Lecture 7: The Emergence of Embryos and Death by Ursula Goodenough

Star Island, August 1, 2006

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Ursula Goodenough is a professor of biology at Washington University of St. Louis.

Goodenough addresses the transition from unicellular to multicellular organisms. Once sex showed up, Ursula says, the way was paved for multicellularity to evolve. Her talk is situated within the recent field of the evolution of animal development or “evo-devo” where emergent properties build on emergent properties. Embryos literally construct themselves from the bottom up. This picture is integrated into an understanding of death since “immortality” is entrusted to a separate germ line.



Lecture 8: Absence Lets the Heart Grow Complex: Emergent Evolution from a Darwinian Hiatus by Terry Deacon

Star Island, August 2, 2006

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Terry Deacon is a professor of anthropology at the University of California Berkeley.

Deacon argues that our understanding of evolution is rapidly changing. One of the most surprising realizations in human evolution is that the emergence of language abilities do not require the evolution of novel brain structures but rather unprecedented synergistic interaction between brain systems which in other species are unrelated. Recent understandings in “evo-devo” emphasize the complex nature of variation and selection processes. Deacon suggests that a nested relationship between self-organization and Darwinian processes is likely a general feature of all teleodynamic emergent relationships, including brain function and cognition.



Lecture 9: Animal Societies and the Emergence of Friendships by Barbara Smuts

Star Island, August 2, 2006

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Barbara Smuts is professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.

Smuts argues that animal societies emerge through bottom-up interactions among individuals and that these structures are best understood through multi-directional feedback loops and self-organization. In this talk, Smuts considers one such emergent novelty in gregarious vertebrates: animal friendships. From there Smuts moves to consider human-animal friendships.



Lecture 10: Structural Emergence in Ecosystems and Evosystems by Guy Hoelzer

Star Island, August 3, 2006

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Guy Hoelzer is an associate professor in the department of biology at the University of Nevada at Reno.

Hoelzer addresses the emergence of of dynamic entities in the realm of ecology and evolution. Specifically, he makes an argument for coherent ecosystems and links them to processes of speciation. His model suggests that all species “heave toward parapatric speciation” in the absence of any divisive influence from the environment.



Lecture 11: Emerging Planetary Civilization by Mary Evelyn Tucker and Brian Swimme

Star Island, August 3, 2006

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Mary Evelyn Tucker is the co-director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology.

Brian Swimme is a faculty member at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco.


Drawing on ideas from emergence theory, Tucker and Swimme suggest that a viable way to understand the current state of humans is that a multiform planetary civilization is coming forth. Examples include the European Union and the Earth Charter.