Love of Neighbor in Classical Judaism
Jacob Neusner will be presenting this paper at the Metanexus 2007 Conference as part of a special public evening plenary at Irvine Auditorium, University of Pennsylvania on Monday, June 4, 2007. Also included on the panel are Stephen Post, Mahmoud Ayoub, Martin Seligman, and Bruce Chilton. The program is entitled Prospects for Our Common Humanity: Love of Neighbor in the Monotheistic Traditions. For more information on Metanexus 2007, visit the conference website.
Classical Judaism is set forth by the Hebrew Scriptures of ancient Israel, a.k.a., the Old Testament, as interpreted by the Rabbinic sages of late antiquity ó the first six centuries of the Common Era ó in the Talmud and related writings. That Judaism maintains that the biblical commandment, ìYou shall love your neighbor as yourselfî (Lev. 19:18), defines the heart of the Torah, which is to say, what we should call the essence of Judaism. That judgment is set forth in the Talmud, the extension and amplification of the Torah, in a famous story about the sage, Hillel:
A. There was another case of a gentile who came before Shammai. He said to him, ìConvert me on the stipulation that you teach me the entire Torah while I am standing on one foot.î He drove him off with the building cubit that he had in his hand.
B. He came before Hillel: ìConvert me.î
C. He said to him, ìëWhat is hateful to you, to your fellow donít do.í Thatís the entirety of the Torah; everything else is elaboration. So go, study.î
Bavli Shabbat 31a
The concluding counsel, ìGo, study,î points to the task of elaborating the Golden Rule to cover a variety of specific cases. Notice how the formulation shifts from the positive, love, to the negative, what is hateful to you to your fellow donít do. But in both positive and negative formulations, the focus is on your fellow, and that superficially at least excludes the stranger.
Why do people limit the definition of neighbor to the fellow believer?
That minimalist reading of Lev. 19:18 is sustained by a dispute on the encompassing principle of the Torah:
A. Öbut you shall love your neighbor as yourself: [I am the Lord]:
B. R. Aqiba says, This is the encompassing principle of the Torah.
C. Ben Azzai says, ‘This is the book of the generations of Adam’ (Gen. 5:1) is a still more encompassing principle.
So who is my neighbor? The dispute between Aqiba and Ben Azzai makes clear that by ìmy neighborî not everyone is meant. Aqiba, like Hillel before him, identifies the commandment to love oneís neighbor as oneself as the encompassing principle of the Torah. But Ben Azzai chooses a still more compendious principle, ìThis is the book of the generations of Adam,î which encompasses not only ìyour neighborî but all humanity. For the ìbook of the generations o Adamî covers all the peoples known at that time and by showing how all nations derive genealogically from Adam and Eve establishes that humanity forms a common family. In the context of Genesis, which sets forth the theory that ìIsraelî is constituted by the extended family of Abraham and Sarah, the metaphor of a family covering all of the nations of the world carries a weighty message.
So at issue is the governing metaphor. Ben Azzai sees humanity as united in genealogy, cousins all, and it is in that context that Ben Azzaiís reading of ìLove your neighbor as yourselfî rejects the Golden Rule as too limited in application. For Ben Azzai implies that loving oneís neighbor limits the commandment of love to oneís own group. This he does when he selects a statement that transcends the limits of a particular group.
Lev. 19:17-18 establishes a context for his criticism. For it states: You shall not hate your brother in your heart, [but reasoning, you shall reason with your neighbor, lest you bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord] (Lev. 19:17-18). The clear intent is to frame matters in terms of your brother and your own people. No wonder, then, that Ben Azzai has chosen a verse that refers to all humanity.
But that is not the end of the story. Leviticus 19:31-32 explicitly extends the rule of love to the stranger or outsider:
A. [When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God (Lev. 19:31-32).]
A. Öyou shall not do him wrong:
B. You should not say to him, Yesterday you were worshipping idols and now you have come under the wings of the Presence of God.
A. Öas a native among you:
B. Just as a native is one who has accepted responsibility for all the teachings of the Torah, so a proselyte is to be one who has accepted responsibility for all the words of the Torah.
A. Ö shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself:
B. Just as it is said to Israel, You will love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18),
C. so it is said with regard to proselytes, You shall love him as yourself.
A. Öfor you were strangers in the land of Egypt:
B. Know the soul of strangers, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Here is an explicit definition of the commandment to love the outsider, and Lev. 19:18 is cited to apply to the stranger.
How is love conceptualized and encouraged?
Rabbinic Judaism depicts God in human terms. The human emotion of love is therefore imputed to God. The proclamation of Judaic faith, the Shema, says, ìYou will love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mightî (Dt. 6:4), and that implies God craves humanityís love. Rabbinic Judaism sees God and man as consubstantial, sharing in particular the same emotional traits. God has three major character traits, power, love, and justice. Power pertains to Godís creation, control of history, and imposition of morality on human kind (Muffs 1992, 4). Love invokes the imagery of family. Justice means God metes out justice measure for measure (M. Sot. 1:7). What happens to human beings responds to the actions of the person who is subject to judgment, and fairness governs. All relationships come to their final resolution in the resurrection of the dead and the judgment of humanity for eternal life or eternal death.
The relationship of love defines the interplay of God and Israel (the holy community), man and man, man and himself. Love of God and love of the neighbor set the norms of right action. God is the model throughout, since he is conceived in personal terms. Godís love for Israel is expressed in such language as, ìYou have given us the Sabbath as a gift of love, given willingly.î Godís relationship to Israel then is one of pure love, balanced by justice. ìLoveî is given spontaneously, not under coercion, thus ìwho chooses his people Israel in loveî means, ìspontaneously, without reservationî (Muffs 1992, 187). The gift of the Torah is the most important manifestation of Godís love for humanity and Israel, and the fact that God has informed humanity and Israel of his love for them is still greater evidence:
A. R. Aqiba would say, ìPrecious is the human being, who was created in the image [of God].
B. ìIt was an act of still greater love that it was made known to him that he was created in the image [of God],
C. ìas it is said, ëFor in the image of God he made maní (Gen. 9:6).
D. ìPrecious are Israelites, who are called children to the Omnipresent.
E. ìIt was an act of still greater love that they were called children to the Omnipresent,
F ìas it is said, ëYou are the children of the Lord your Godí (Dt. 14:1).
G. ìPrecious are Israelites, to whom was given the precious thing [the Torah].
H. ìIt was an act of still greater love that it was made known to them that to them was given that precious thing with which the world was made,
I. ìas it is said, ëFor I give you a good doctrine. Do not forsake my Torahí (Prov. 4:2).î
Tractate Abot 3:14
The commandments are marks of Godís love and concern for Israel. They express Godís love for Israel, by showing that God concerns himself for Israelite conduct and character:
A. R. Hananiah b. Aqashia says, The Holy One, blessed be he, wanted to give merit to Israel.
B. Therefore he gave them abundant Torah and numerous commandments,
C. as it is said, ëIt pleased the Lord for his righteousness’ sake to magnify the Torah and give honor to it (Is. 42:21).
Mishnah-tractate Makkot 3:`16
Just as God loves Israel, so Israel loves God. Acts of loving kindness are valued by God. These cannot be coerced by only prompted by the actorís generous heart. When the Temple was destroyed, acts of loving kindness replaced the animal sacrifices as media of atonement. Yohanan ben Zakkai, surviving authority after the destruction of the Temple in 70, is portrayed in a late Midrash-compilation as saying to his disciple, distressed at the loss of Temple sacrifice as a medium of atonement, ìWe have another mode of atonement, which is like [atonement through sacrifice], and what is that? It is deeds of loving kindnessî (The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan IV:V.2). Accordingly, in the aftermath of the loss of the sacrificial cult in 70, love formed the principal relationship between Israel and God.
A. One time [after the destruction of the Temple] Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai was going forth from Jerusalem, with R. Joshua following after him. He saw the house of the sanctuary lying in ruins.
B. R. Joshua said, ìWoe is us for this place which lies in ruins, the place in which the sins of Israel used to come to atonement.î
C. He said to him, ìMy son, do not be distressed. We have another mode of atonement, which is like [atonement through sacrifice], and what is that? It is deeds of loving kindness.
D. ìFor so it is said, ëFor I desire mercy and not sacrifice, [and the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings] (Hos. 6:6).íî
The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan IV:V.2
Love in these contexts is commanded, but not coerced; God yearns for Israelís love. But love can only be freely given, not forced, and the commandment to love bears the paradox that God can only beseech, not coerce, love. God can command Israel to love him, but cannot force Israel to obey his commandment. Love in the end is an emotion that is freely given or withheld as an act of will. Oneís attitude determines the weight of an action, and an act can be one of love or one of mere submission, depending on the feeling of the person who performs the action.
The exposition of the commandment to love God in the Talmud of Babylonia stresses the universality of the commandment to love God. It speaks of acts of love that are material and those that are intangible. Martyrdom means voluntarily giving oneís life for the love of God and the sanctification of his name. That is done in public and sets an example for Israelites to follow:
A. ìYou shall love the Lord your Godî [M. 9:5B]:
B. It has been taught on Tannaite authority:
C. R. Eliezer says, ìIf it is said, ëWith all your soul,í why is it also said, ëWith all your mightí? And if it is said, ëWith all your might,í why is it also said, ëWith all your soulí?
D. ìBut if there is someone who places greater value on his body than on his possessions, for such a one it is said, ëWith all your soul.í
E. ìAnd if there is someone who places greater value on his possessions than on his life, for such a one it is said, ëWith all your might.íî
F. R. Aqiba says, ìëWith all your soulí ó even if he takes your soul.íî
Bavli Berakhot 9:5 61b
The highest expression of love of God is to give oneís life in martyrdom:
A. Our rabbis have taught on Tannaite authority:
B. The wicked government once made a decree that the Israelites should not take up the study of Torah. Pappos b. Judah came and found R. Aqiba gathering crowds in public and taking up the study of Torah.
C. He said to him, ìAqiba, arenít you afraid of the government?î
D. He said to him, ìI shall show you a parable. What is the matter like? It is like the case of a fox who was going along the river and saw fish running in swarms place to place.î
E. He said to them, ìWhy are you running away?î
F. They said to him, ëBecause of the nets people cast over us.í
G. ìHe said to him, ëWhy donít you come up on dry land, and you and I can live in peace as my ancestors lived in peace with yours?í
H. ìThey said to him, ëAre you the one they call the cleverest of all wild beasts? You are not clever, youíre a fool. Now if in the place in which we can live, we are afraid, in a place in which we perish, how much the more so [should we fear]!í
I. ìNow we too, if when we are in session and taking up the study of Torah, in which it is written, ëFor it is your life and the length of your daysí (Deut. 30:20), things are as they are, if we should go and abandon it, how much the more so [shall we be in trouble]!î
J. They say that only a few days passed before they arrested and imprisoned R. Aqiba. They arrested and imprisoned Pappos b. Judah nearby. He said to him, ìPappos, who brought you here?î
K. He said to him, ìHappy are you, Aqiba, because you were arrested on account of teachings of Torah. Woe is Pappos, who was arrested on account of nonsense.î
L. The hour at which they brought R. Aqiba out to be put to death was the time for reciting the Shema. They were combing his flesh with iron combs while he was accepting upon himself [in the recitation of the Shema] the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven.
M. His disciples said to him, ìOur master, to such an extent?î
N. He said to them, ìFor my whole life I have been troubled about this verse, ëWith all your soulí [meaning] even though he takes your soul. I wondered when I shall have the privilege of carrying out this commandment. Now that it has come to hand, should I not carry it out?î
O. He held on to the word, ìOne,î until his soul expired [as he said the word] ìone.î An echo came forth and said, ìHappy are you, Rabbi Aqiba, that your soul expired with the word ëone.íî
P. The serving angels said before the Holy One, blessed be he, ìIs this Torah and that the reward? ëFrom them that die by your hand, O Lordí (Ps. 17:14) [ought to have been his lot].î
Q. He said to them, ìëTheir portion is in lifeí (Ps. 17:14).î
R. An echo went forth and proclaimed, ìHappy are you, R. Aqiba, for you are selected for the life of the world to come.î
Bavli Berakhot 9:5 61b
The ultimate gift of love fulfills the commandment of love. But love involves not only Israelís love for God but Godís love for Israel.
In the relationship of love that binds the Israelite to God, God takes the part of the suitor, Israel, the besought: ìI will betroth you to me for ever, I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lordî (Hos. 2:19-20) ó these words, recited every weekday morning in prayer, capture the relationship to which we of holy Israel aspire to form with God who loves Israel.
How Rabbinic Judaism portrays the metaphor of love between God and Israel comes to full expression in Song of Songs Rabbah, a Rabbinic commentary to the Song of Songs, which turns the Song of Songs (a.k.a., the Song of Solomon) into a series of love-songs that celebrate Godís love for Israel and Israelís love for God. In reading the Song of Songs as a statement of the relationship of God and Israel, Israel is identified as the female-beloved, God as the male-lover. The relationship of Israel to God is the same as the relationship of a wife to the husband, and this is explicit in Song of Songs Rabbah to Song 7:10: The yearning of Israel is only for their Father who is in heaven, as it is said, ìI am my belovedís, and his desire is for me.î To be ìIsraelî is to accept Godís love.
Romantic love found no place in Rabbinic Judaism. Yet the following story captures the full meaning of love embodied in that religious system:
Song of Songs Rabbah IV:v.2
B. If one has married a woman and lived with her for ten years and not produced offspring, he has not got the right to stop trying.
C. Said R. Idi, There was the case of a woman in Sidon, who lived with her husband for ten years and did not produce offspring.
D. They came before R. Simeon b. Yohai and wanted to be parted from one another.
E. He said to them, By your lives! Just as you were joined to one another with eating and drinking, so you will separate from one another only with eating and drinking.
F. They followed his counsel and made themselves a festival and made a great banquet and drank too much.
G. When his mind was at ease, he said to her, My daughter, see anything good that I have in the house! Take it and go to your father’s house!
H. What did she do? After he fell asleep, she made gestures to her servants and serving women and said to them, Take him in the bed and pick him up and bring him to my father’s house.
I. Around midnight he woke up from his sleep. When the wine wore off, he said to her, My daughter, where am I now?
J. She said to him, In my father’s house.
K. He said to her, What am I doing in your father’s house?
L. She said to him, Did you not say to me last night, ‘See anything good that I have in the house! Take it and go to your father’s house!’ But I have nothing in the world so good as you!
M. They went to R. Simeon b. Yohai, and he stood and prayed for them, and they were answered [and given offspring].
That combination of yearning, commitment, affection, and devotion defines love in Rabbinic Judaism, beginning with the love of God, extending to the neighbor, and pertaining also to the self, as Hillel said (Mishnah-tractate Abot 1:14): ìIf I am not for myself, who is for me? And when I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?î
How we can make progress toward a common humanity
Ben Azzai thinks that the conception of a common humanity begins in the metaphor of a family, the metaphor of Israel as formed by the children of Israel forming a concrete example. How would such a mode of thought do its work? A single example suffices. The Rabbis of late antiquity had to explain the paramount status of Rome and its power over Israel, Godís people. To do so, they imputed common ancestry to Israel and to Rome. They made a place for Rome in the history of Israel. This they did in conformity to their larger theory of who is Israel, an extended family related to common ancestors, specifically by assigning to Rome a place in the family. Rome as an autonomous actor, as an entity with a point of origin (just as Israel has a point of origin) and a tradition of wisdom (just as Israel has such a tradition). So as Rome is Esau, so Esau is part of the family and therefore plays a role in history. And ó yet another point of considerable importance ó since Rome does play a role in history, Rome also finds a position in the eschatological drama.
This sense of poised opposites, Israel and Rome, comes to expression in two ways. First, Israelís own history calls into being its counterpoint, the anti-history of Rome. Without Israel, there would be no Rome ó a wonderful consolation to the defeated nation. For if Israelís sin created Romeís power, then Israelís repentance would bring Romeís downfall. Israel and Rome ó these two contend for the world. Still, Isaac plays his part in the matter. Rome does have a legitimate claim, and that claim demands recognition ó an amazing, if grudging ó concession on the part of sages that Christian Rome at least is Esau.
A. When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry [and said to his father, ëBless me, even me also, O my father!í]î (Gen. 27:34):
B. Said R. Hanina, ìWhoever says that the Holy One, blessed be he, is lax, may his intestines become lax. While he is patient, he does collect what is coming to you.
C. ìJacob made Esau cry out one cry, and where was he penalized? It was in the castle of Shushan: ëAnd he cried with a loud and bitter cryí (Est. 4:1).î
Genesis Rabbah LXVII:IV
So Rome really is Israelís brother. No pagan empire ever enjoyed an equivalent place; no pagan era ever found identification with an event in Israelís family history. The passage presents a stunning concession and an astounding claim. The history of the two brothers forms a set of counterpoints, the rise of one standing for the decline of the other. I cannot imagine a more powerful claim for Israel: the ultimate end, Israelís final glory, will permanently mark the subjugation of Esau. Israel then will follow, the fifth and final monarchy. The point of No. 1 is to link the present passage to the history of Israelís redemption later on. In this case, however, the matter concerns Israelís paying recompense for causing anguish to Esau.
How the agent of love benefits from loving others
Let me close by dealing with more general questions. How does the agent of love benefit from loving others? Love defines a relationship of responsiveness to the other. ìLove your neighbor as yourselfî extends to the other the affirmation of self that sustains life.
The chief impediments to love for a common humanity
The dispute between Aqiba and Ben Azzai captures the challenge: to love the one like oneself presents no challenge. To love the outsider requires effort. And the source of love for a common humanity is the narrative that we are able to formulate, the governing metaphor.
Borowitz, 1971: Eugene B. Borowitz, ìLove,î Encyclopaedia Judaica, Jerusalem, 1971: Keter Publishing Co., 11:523-530,
Buechler, 1928: A. Buechler, Studies in Sin and Atonement in the Rabbinic Literature of the First Century, pp. 119-176.
Feldman, 1975: David M. Feldman, The Jewish Family Relationship, N.Y., 1975: United Synagogue of America.
Glueck, 1967: Nelson Glueck, Hesed in the Bible. Translated by Alfred Gottschalk. Cincinnati, 1967: Hebrew Union College Press.
Gordis, 1978: Robert Gordis, Love and Sex: A Modern Jewish Perspective. N.Y., 1978: Farrar Straus Giroux.
Muffs, 1992: Yochanan Muffs. Love & Joy. Law, Language and Religion in Ancient Israel. NY and Jerusalem, 1992: The Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
Neusner, 1997: Jacob Neusner, The Components of the Rabbinic Documents: From the Whole to the Parts. V. Song of Songs Rabbah. Atlanta, 1997: Scholars Press for USF Academic Commentary Series. Now: Lanham, MD: University Press of America. Part i. Introduction. And Parashiyyot One through Four Part ii. Parashiyyot Five through Eight. And a Topical and Methodical Outline of Song of Songs Rabbah
Neusner, 2003: Jacob Neusner, Androgynous Judaism. Masculine and Feminine in the Dual Torah. Macon, 1993: Mercer University Press. Jewish Book Club Selection. Reprint, Eugene, OR, 2003: Wipf and Stock
That Judaism maintains that the biblical commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (Lev. 19:18), defines the heart of the Torah, which is to say, what we should call the essence of Judaism. 3/22/2007 03/22/2007 9854 Useless Arithmetic and Inconvenient Truths
A Review of Useless Arithmetic: Why Environmental Scientists Can’t Predict the Future by Orrin H. Pilkey and Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, Columbia University Press, 2007.
My story begins with the intriguing title of a new book — Useless Arithmetic: Why Environmental Scientists Can’t Predict the Future (Pilkey 2007). The authors are a father and daughter team. The father is Orrin H. Pilkey, an emeritus professor of geology at Duke University’s Nicolas School of the Environment. He lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina. The father is a prolific author and expert in shoreline developments. The daughter, Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, is also a geologist. She hails from McCleary, Washington, working in Washington State’s Department of Ecology, managing the state’s oil spill programs.
The book is a delight to read. The Pilkeys recount dozens of scientific vignettes, unfolding like detective stories, of scientists gone astray, lost following their predictive models to unexpected consequences and tragic failures. As the Pilkeys make clear, science has not been very successful in predicting or managing environmental changes. The problems, they argue, are inherent in any attempt to model complex natural and human systems. Predictions from any computer simulations of any complex reiterative dynamic processes are not worth the binary code they were written in, nor the supercomputers they were run on. The book reads like a series of parables, each illustrates what Whitehead meant by “the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness.” The problem is endemic to all modeling of any complex environmental or human process.
Chapter Four alone should be required reading for anyone concerned with the debate over climate change. To address the larger question, the authors begin by pulling on the string of sea level change. Readers get a brief tutorial on eustatic and isostatic changes in sea level. Eustatic variations are changes in the volume of liquid water in the Earth’s oceans, more or less depending on the amount of glaciated ice, atmospheric water, and geologically bounded water captured in aquifers, lakes, soil, and rock. Isostatic changes in sea levels are dramatic geological changes in the contours of Earth’s ocean basin, increasing or decreasing the volume of the ocean containers. When the ocean basin is smaller, global sea levels rise everywhere. The ocean cup runneth over unto all of the continents. Or as the case may be in the reverse, sea levels can also drop dramatically.
These dynamics and others have been at work on the Earth since its beginning. Major climate changes in the past have been caused by wobbles in the Earth’s axis of rotation. Indeed, the magnetic poles have even flipped – south becomes north and north becomes south. Our orbit around the sun is also ever so slightly out of kilter. Our sun too is dynamic, sometimes overly exuberant in bathing the Earth with excess solar energy, and sometimes too little. In addition, there are disruptions caused by volcanic activity and terrestrial impacts. And life itself is also an important part of the story, like the invention of photosynthesis or the formation of large hydrocarbon deposits hundreds of millions of years ago. All of these can dramatically impact global climate and maybe even your vacation plans this summer.
Climate change is hardly front-page news for geologists; climate change is the whole story from beginning to end. Geologists read this story from the text of rock, mud, water, ice, and air, in the half-lives of radioactive isotopes, in the orientation of magnetic sediments, in geological deposits, in the traces of ancient glaciers, mountain ranges, canyons, fossils, bygone oceans, and tectonic plates. The 4.5 billion year old Earth story is one of continuous and dramatic metamorphoses on a time scale difficult to imagine; unless, of course, you happen be a geologist – or in this case, two geologists.
This is the backdrop to the Pilkeys’ exploration of useless arithmetic in the current debate on anthropogenic global climate change. Their message undermines everyone and every position in the current global debate about global climate change. The book came out before the release of the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report, but we do get a careful analysis of the 2001 IPCC Report. Perhaps this section can be updated in future releases of the book, even though there is no problem in extrapolating from 2001 to 2007, unlike some of the other extrapolations discussed in their book.
There are about fifteen major climate models used by scientists around the world. Favored are bottom-up models, involving a long chain of events and very complicated computer simulations running on supercomputers. This approach uses a great aggregation of models, and models of models, all the way up. In other words, it is models all the way down too. The assumption here is that the more variables included in the meta-model, the better the meta-model. Another approach, the minority view, favors top-down models, focusing only on larger systems – simplify, averaging, estimating, testing, but not presuming to include every potentially relevant variable. Predicting future sea-levels, of course, is only one piece of the climate puzzle. Up or down, the Pilkeys profess:
What a daunting task faces those who choose to predict the futures of the sea-level rise! We have seen that the factors affecting the rate are numerous and not well understood. Even if our understanding improves, the global system simply defies accurate and quantitative prediction because of its complexity. (76)
Their argument is not whether our climate cup is half full or half empty. Geologists have a different perspective on time. Their earthy timescale is some 4.5 billion years. All rock is ultimately metamorphic rock. And this includes the concrete, steel, and glass monuments of human engineering and architecture built in cities around the world. Imagine my beloved New York City, and every other at some point in the future, crushed under mile-thick glacier ice, or perhaps absorbed back into the molten core of the Earth through normal plate tectonics, or perhaps someday under the ocean. A geologist knows, it is only a matter of time — hot and cold, sea levels up and down, round and round the sun — before there are dramatic changes on our restless and creative planet. Maybe this will happen soon, maybe suddenly, and maybe not for a long time, at least relative to the scale of human life, but it will happen, if the past is any guide.
The American Petroleum Institute and Dick Cheney should take no pleasure in the Pilkeys’ thorough challenge to the global climate-change prediction industry. Anthropogenic climate change may be a real concern. And furthermore, the same types of modeling errors and unknowns presumably also call into question industry models of global petroleum reserves. The Pilkeys’ real argument is that no scientist can offer cogent predictions of the Earth’s climate – too hot, too cold, or just right. No matter how much data is collected, no matter how sophisticated the computer program, no matter how powerful the supercomputer employed to run the simulation. Complex natural systems cannot be modeled in a way that generates useful predictions. There are too many variables, too many feedback loops between variables, and the system is dynamic in ways that we do not understand and cannot represent mathematically.
In the case of climate change, a short list of variables and feedback loops might begin:
- the absorption of CO2 by the ocean,
- the heat exchange between the oceans and the atmosphere,
- the effect of cloud cover,
- variations in the Earth’s albedo,
- ocean current circulation,
- local climate perturbations,
- long-term climate cycles
- arctic ice melt,
- release of methane from melting artic tundra,
- health of phyloplankton,
- variations in amounts and types of precipitation, and
- many more confounders large and small.
Any of these variables could accentuate or ameliorate climate change and could do so with runaway dynamics. The authors are leaning agnostic to pessimistic on the prospects for near-term climate change (resulting from anthropogenic causes). It may not be all that bad. It may even be worse. We have no way of knowing, in spite of the $2 billion-per-year industry funded by the United States government to studying climate change. The Pilkeys use strong words to criticize these expenditures:
Assumption upon assumption, uncertainty upon uncertainty, and simplification upon simplification are combined to give an ultimate and inevitably shaky answer, which is then scaled up beyond the persistence time to make long-term predictions of the future of sea-level rise. Aside from the frailty of the assumptions, there remains ordering complexity: the lack of understanding of the timing and intensity of each variable. (82)
The authors advocate instead a qualitative methodology that settles with tendencies, directions, and magnitudes of change. A supercomputer is not required to document actual glacial declines around the world over the last few decades. Before-and-after photographs from a tourist camera of Muir Lake, Alaska from 1941 and 2004 provide compelling evidence for major changes (83). Over twenty years of space telemetry and ground observations in Antarctic give us disturbing short-term trends. Over a three-year period, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet lost 36 cubic miles of ice per year. The complete melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet alone would produce a 13-foot global sea level rise (78). Maybe you should rebook that summer vacation after all.
The Pilkeys certainly seem to think that global climate change is a serious problem. It is just that “A serious societal debate about ‘solutions’ can never occur so long as modelers hold out the probability, just around the corner, of accurate projections of future climates and sea-levels” (86). There will be no accurate projections.
Along with their scathing critique, the authors do manage a backhanded compliment to climate change modelers, at least by way of a negative comparison to their own guild in applied geology. They write:
The publications of this diverse international group (IPCC) are filled with painfully long discussions about error, uncertainties, and missing data. The objectivity of these global change modelers stands in stark contrast to the arrogance of the coastal engineers or the overconfidence of ground water modelers (79).
It is not that mathematical predictions are always impossible. Far from it. At one point, the authors quote reassuringly the New York Times for June 7, 2004:
In New York City sunrise will be at 5:25 am. Eastern time on Tuesday, and Venus is to begin leaving the solar disc at 7:06 am, when the sun is 17 degrees above the horizon. The planet’s final contact with the sun’s edge should occur about 7:26 am when the sun is 20 degrees high. There will be another transit on June 6, 2012…” (34)
It is comforting that some things can be known with certainty. I can plan on another transit of Venus in 2012. Predictive success is thought to be the sine qua non in most science, technology, and engineering fields. Regularity and reproducibility have traditionally been seen as one of the hallmarks of science. I count on it every time I log onto this computer, get on an airplane, or take an elevator to the 40th floor. In some domains, however, science is going to need to let go of prediction. Two things have changed:
1) the rise of complexity and
2) the rise of computation.
Environmental and human processes have always been complex. This is not new. It is just that now we have a lot more insights and background information. We know a lot more of the details, so we are compelled by the known facts at every turn to ask more and more complex questions. This is true in many disciplines, but for the Pilkeys, it is the key to understanding our human power in affecting major environment changes by our actions. For instance, they launch the first chapter showing how industrial fishing wiped out the North Atlantic cod fisheries, in spite of mathematical models predicting levels for maximum sustainable yields.
The complexity challenge also arises because of the availability of the computer. Every scientific discipline has been dramatically changed over the last twenty years by the availability of computers. Scientists can now collect enormous datasets, query the datasets, and run computer simulations. Without computers, there would be an epistemic bias towards asking simpler questions and ignoring questions that were thought to be beyond the capabilities of science.
Climate change is only one of two-dozen different kinds of quantitative modeling projects that the Pilkeys discuss in their book. Each example demonstrates failures of quantitative modeling, including:
- maximum sustainable yield and the Atlantic cod fishery,
- plans for storing highly radioactive nuclear waste in Yuka Mountain,
- invasive weed species,
- 1972 Club of Rome Report, Limits to Growth,
- McNamara’s management of the Vietnam War,
- abandoned pit mines water toxicity,
- forecasting on Wall Street,
- Enron collapse,
- EPA second-hand smoke studies
- Lord Kelvin and the age of the Earth
- soil erosion on sandy coasts
- engineered beaches
- salt-marsh grass
- Brown Tree Snakes on the Island of Guam
We also get a thorough introduction to Orrin Pilkey’s specialty — developed shorelines, treated in two chapters and the appendix. These should be required reading for anyone living in the coastal communities on any of the seven seas.
Already in the second chapter, the Pilkeys begin to develop a typology for modeling. This comes with a long list of common modeling errors. This genealogy of models – mathematical, applied, quantitative, qualitative, statistical, epidemiology, simulations, analytic, numerical, static, dynamic, conceptual – are all discussed with an eye to how the model employed can distort our understanding of reality. Other sources of reality distortion result from computer coding, uncertain debugging and quality assurance in computer programming, algorithmic biases based on important assumptions, situational bias, model-tweaking, pessimist and optimist biases, advocacy and politically correct biases. All of this, compounded and confounded by increasing complexity, causes us to often ask the wrong questions. We don’t look back. I will refer to these as tragic errors, distortions that arise because we are always imperfect humans being. We are finite and mortal. We make mistakes.
There are other sets of modeling distortion. Let’s call these complexity errors, becausethese errors result from the nature of complexity itself. Our models necessarily make assumptions about partially known and unknown relationships, expressed in ordering complexity with different valences, intensities, and vectors. There are negative and positive feedback, linear and nonlinear systems, deterministic or probabilistic strategies. So too I might add exponentially more data sets, but also exponentially more models. It’s models all the way down.
Complex models often exhibit sensitivity. This means that when some small variable is changed, the system changes dramatically. Complex models can exhibit sensitivity to initial conditions, variations in guiding assumptions, and minor modifications in ordering the parameters. The Pilkeys remind us that “the sensitivity of the parameters in the equation is what is being determined, not the sensitivity of the parameters of nature.”(25) The italics is theirs, so let me restate and interpret.
There are two problems that need to be solved in every model of complexity. First, what is the ordering of complexity in the system, the timing and intensity of different parameters? And second, how does one best “re-represent” this ordering of these parameters and complexities mathematically on a computer? Algorithms need to be imagined. Relationships defined. Data collected. Data analyzed. Values assumed. Code written. Models tested. Simulations run. And all of this — the algorithms, the lines of code, sets of data, computer storage and processing — have all been growing exponentially over the last three decades. But, and this is what the Pilkeys are emphasizing, as a simulation leading to predictions, the computer model is only simulating and testing itself. The computer re-representation is not “run” on the actual complex natural phenomena.
The Pilkeys show that substituting mathematics for nature is itself a source of errors in modeling nature. What is most illuminating are the varied ways that models are corrupted and misguided. What is the impact of substituting laboratory measurements for nature? What happens when we scale up short-term predictions into long-term predictions? What happens when one chooses and omits different parameters in a model of nature? What we do not know about initial conditions in a model of nature? What happens with the intrusion of forces from outside of a particular model of nature?
The Pilkeys are advocates of qualitative modeling, which at best can be used only to predict general directions of change and possible magnitudes. Qualitative modeling will not presume to offer a numerical answer with a range of error. The approach asks why, how, and what if. Qualitative modeling can also use large datasets, computer simulations, and lots of arithmetic, but they used to explore different scenarios, contingencies, and normative relationships. At the end, there is also humility and uncertainty, multiple scenarios, and no hard and fast predictions. The authors offer the following chart, in other words, a model of modeling (200).
Strategic Planning or Mathematical Modeling
Planning for the future
Predicting the future
The bad news about complex predictions is that we don’t know anything and we can’t know anything — not about future climate change, not about storing radioactive waste over eons, not about managing declining fisheries or invasive weed species. Science is butting its head against more and more complexity horizons, my term, not theirs. Science discovers complexity horizon that it cannot cross, but cannot yet accept. This is not a problem that can be solved with bigger datasets, more code, more powerful supercomputers, and less flawed and politicized science.
We cannot look over this horizon of complexity, in part, because we are mortal humans with normal human problems. We do not have a God’s eye view of the world and ourselves. This means that science will always be distorted by political and economic interests, the culture and personalities of the scientists at that time. Even if we could minimize all of these “externalities”, science is still confronted with the problem of complexity itself. When the phenomenon is networked, reiterative, nonlinear, creative; then prediction will not work.
The Pilkeys focus on environmental changes, but I suspect that many scientists are on similar wild-goose chases when it comes to hope for understanding and controlling complex genetic systems, developmental biology, cognitive neurosciences, and a whole slough of other phenomena. Complexity is not just more; it is something new. There are known limits to computational complexity (Harel 2000). There are known limits to science (Barrow 1999). And the really creative processes in nature and by humans in nature tend to be complex distributed systems, not amenable to deterministic modeling (Kelly 1994) This is the greatest challenge for science today. It is also a challenge to any applied bioethics or environmental ethics, because the consequences of actions cannot be known in advance.
Again science produces lots of useful and reliable predictions. Mathematical modeling works well enough with simpler systems, like plotting the motion of the stars and planets in the evening sky or designing a modern bridge with stress-engineering of concrete and steel under variable loads and conditions. Multiply the variables, however, add a lot feedback loops, grow the complexity of a system, and suddenly predictive modeling becomes an exercise in futility. Predictive modeling cannot yield valid predictions for any complex natural and human related processes. This is truly the Earth shattering story, which really should be on the front page of the New York Times, not to mention Fox News. This story is about the approaching limits of science, at least a certain kind of science.
After goring so many sacred cows, it is perhaps understandable that the Pilkeys resist the temptation to move into metaphysics, philosophy, and applied ethics. These iconoclasts have already gotten themselves into a lot of hot water with their colleagues. One conclusion to be drawn is that humanity is now thrust willy-nilly into the role of managing the Earth, not that we really know what we are doing. The Pilkeys advocate a qualitative modeling approach, which aspires to predict mere tendencies, directions, and magnitudes of changing systems. After all of the qualifications and caveats though, I am not sure qualitative modeling has much more to offer in the way of certainty, comfort, or a clear plan of action. The future will always be shrouded in a cloud of uncertainty.
And that is the bad news enumerated in Useless Arithmetic. Humans will never have the complete know-how, even though we certainly have increasing can-do. Humans have themselves become an important variable in the future evolution of the planet. This book offers no comfort or consolation. The Pilkeys offer no hard and fast predictions.
The good news is that we live and think in a networked universe. Our environment is networked, as are our networked bodies with our networked brains in our networked culture. Let’s call it a metanexus. You and I are surrounded by, constituted by, and are also ourselves dynamic components within all kinds of complex distributed systems. These systems transcend us and form us, even as we also participate in their transformation. The universe is metanexus all the way down. These complex distributed systems exhibit creative intelligence, even elegance, though not unfailingly to our benefit. Still some amazement and gratitude are evoked. This seems like a promising point of departure for a new theology of nature based on a rather different understanding of nature (and science). I also find it hopeful that science has known theoretical and practical limits. Do not get me wrong. Push the mechanistic, reductionist, and predictive envelope as far as possible. Without the skeptics like the Pilkeys, however, there would be no way of escaping from “misplaced concreteness”.
Science must now recognize that there are non-reducible emergent, transcendent systems, which seem to constitute many of the most interesting and creative phenomena in our contextual universe – ecosystems, genomics, brains, and culture. No amount of mathematical modeling, computer simulations, reiterative databases, and paradigm filtering will get us beyond this horizon of complexity. We may hope that an “Invisible Hand”, reputably at play in free economic markets to the maximum benefit of all, is also at play in the free evolution of technology, culture, and the planet. We won’t know for certain, but the very hope itself now becomes a variable in our future modeling and doings.
None of this relieves us of the risks and responsibilities of taking action. We have to make choices. We have to project desirable outcomes. Let us try to model, design, and build for sustainable and better futures. Expect adaptation. Think geology.
How should governments, business, and citizens respond to the real and/or perceived threat of global climate change? The Pilkeys don’t really say. Perhaps the question is as perplexing as asking how one would plan for and respond to a dramatic non-anthropogenic climate change? Still I wish they had been more explicit in their recommendations for the stray business leaders, elected leaders, and eclectic citizens who might pick up this book.
For my part, we need to deemphasize climate change and look at other variables. There are many compelling arguments for radically reducing fossil fuel consumptions. These reasons do not depend on prognostications of climate models. Reducing fossil fuel consumption will improve local environmental air and water quality. It will increase health, safety and quality of life. It will slow resource depletion. Reducing fossil fuel consumption can improve the bottom-line for individuals, corporations, and entire economies. There are also important national security interests at risk, if we do not dramatically reduce fossil fuel consumption. We don’t need a global climate change scare, in order to justify, rationalize, or motivate, what should already be obvious and sound public and private policy. It is in the best interest of the United States and the world to dramatically reduce fossil fuel consumption, especially through increased efficiency, while also developing alternative energy sources. I wonder whether the Pilkeys would agree. After reading their chapter on nuclear waste storage, I doubt they would be enthusiastic about increasing nuclear power production as one of those alternative strategies. Again, the authors leave us hanging, perhaps intentionally.
Useless Arthmetic is a book that should be adopted widely in college courses because professors and students both need to read it. It is directly relevant in departments of engineering, environmental science, economics, public policy, medicine, sociology, psychology, history of science, law schools, computer science, and applied mathematics. I would also add departments of philosophy, religion, and theology, who have a vested interest in understanding the content, practices, limits, and interpretations of science.
In the end, the qualitative modeling advocated by the Pilkeys will also fail to make useful predictions. Perhaps their approach offers more understanding with less explanation. When they do fail, they will do so humbly and with multiple scenarios in their back pocket. This may not be very satisfying. Remember that humans are being asked to make major political and economic decisions in response to an unknown threat of anthropogenic climate change. And that is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, of the many and varied complex ways that humans and nature interact.
The Pilkeys call for an adaptive management. To this we might add adaptive epistemology. This strategy is the most potentially transformative take-home from the book, but very few examples are offered. It would be nice if they developed adaptive management and adaptive epistemology with lots of specific examples. How do corporations, governments, and people actually implement an adaptive management strategy? How would scientists practice adaptive epistemology? Perhaps their next book will offer stories of successful case studies, the lessons learned, the successes counted, and the adaptations made. We need a lot more examples of successful case studies in the world today.
Barrow, John D. (1999). Impossibility: The Limits of Science and the Science of Limits. New York, Oxford University Press.
Harel, David (2000). Computers Ltd.: What They Really Can’t Do. New York, Oxford University Press.
Kelly, Kevin (1994). Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World. New York, Addison-Wesley.
Pilkey, Orrin H. and Linda Plkey-Jarvis (2007). Useless Arithmetic: Why Environmental Scientists Can’t Predict the Future. New York, Columbia University Press.
“Science must now recognize that there are non-reducible emergent, transcendent systems, which seem to constitute many of the most interesting and creative phenomena in our contextual universe – ecosystems, genomics, brains, and culture. No amount of mathematical modeling, computer simulations, reiterative databases, and paradigm filtering will get us beyond this horizon of complexity. We may hope that an “Invisible Hand”, reputably at play in free economic markets to the maximum benefit of all, is also at play in the free evolution of technology, culture, and the planet. We won’t know for certain, but the very hope itself now becomes a variable in our future modeling and doings. None of this relieves us of the risks and responsibilities of taking action. We have to make choices. We have to project desirable outcomes. Let us try to model, design, and build for sustainable and better futures. Expect adaptation. Think geology.” 3/26/2007 03/26/2007 9855 Genesis according to Hindu visions
The Rig Veda, which is said to date back to more than five millennia, has visions of cosmic origins. The best known of these is the Nâsadîya or Creation Hymn which appears in the tenth book of the work. Here one speaks of a pre-creation stage in which there was nothing in the universe, a poetic vision of the pre-Big Bang phase, as it were.
Not even nothing existed then
No air yet, and no heaven.
Who encased and kept it where?
Was water in the darkness there?
Neither deathlessness nor decay
No, nor the rhythm of night and day:
The self-existent, with breath sans air:
That, and that alone was there.
Darkness was in darkness found
Like light-less water all around.
One emerged, with nothing on
It was from heat that this was born.
In it did Desire, its way did find:
The primordial seed born of mind.
Sages do know deep in the heart:
What exists is kin to what does not.
Across the void the cord was thrown,
The place of every thing was known.
Seed-sowers and powers now came by,
Impulse below and force on high.
Who really knows, and who can swear,
How creation arose, when or where!
Even gods came after creation’s day,
Who really knows, who can truly say
When and how did creation start?
Did He do it? Or did He not?
Only He up there knows, maybe;
Or perhaps, not even He.
In a truly anthroposensitive way, the verse says that desire found its way into that void, suggesting the primordial seed was born of a cosmic Mind. This vision affirms a spiritual under-grounding to the world at large. Note the statement here: “Even gods came after creation’s day.” In this reflection on Genesis, we find a disarming modesty, for the sage-poet also exclaims, “Who really knows, and who can swear!” It is simplistic to imagine that a religious worldview will necessarily have to be dogmatic.
Hinduism is unique in offering more than one interpretation for cosmogenesis. Given that all life seems to arise from an egg, ancient Hindu thinkers pictured the world too as sprouting out from an egg. For so magnificent an entity as the world the origin had to be grand and glorious and golden. Thus, it all emerged from Hiranyagarbha or the Golden Womb “which floated upon the surface of the primeval waters.” This is the Cosmic Intelligence, the Designing Mind which came to be called Brahmâ. It is interesting that in the twentieth century L’Abbé Lemaître, a proponent of the Big Bang theory used a similar imagery when he spoke of the universe arising from the explosion of the cosmic egg.
Beyond all the mythologies and the mathematics, beyond all the poetry of physics and the tales of tradition, Brahmâ stands for the supreme abstraction of that unfathomable mystery of Creation from which has sprung this magnificent universe we experience.
The Rig Veda, which is said to date back to more than five millennia, has visions of cosmic origins. The best known of these is the Nâsadîya or Creation Hymn which appears in the tenth book of the work. Here one speaks of a pre-creation stage in which there was nothing in the universe, a poetic vision of the pre-Big Bang phase. 3/26/2007 03/26/2007 9856 R.O.S.C.O. (Right On Schedule, Chill Out): Global warming as inevitable
I burnt my feet very badly once, spilling ignited gasoline on them by mistake. I went up in flames. For a while I felt no pain. I got to experience the way the body sets upper limits on excruciation in the short term. I take comfort from knowing that some sudden physical shocks donít feel as bad as they look.
I learn about global warming. It worries me the way nuclear war used to. Well, not really the same way. Nuclear war is the heart attack of global disasters. It would be a sudden shock, jumping us as though from behind. Global warming is more like cancer. It approaches you slowly, and at first abstractly from the front. The doctors inform you that itís coming to get you.
The news these days–really just in the last few years–informs us weíve got the cancer. Itís malignant.
Anyone who has witnessed someone struggling with severe cancer knows that the complications compound and cascade. Global warming has that in common with cancer.
Still, thereís a limit on how much pain the news causes me. Next to every article about global warming, thereís an article about something with milder implications–the Oscars, local politics. In a way itís absurd. If the bigger-news-means-bigger-font headline format were applied to whole newspapers, global warming stories should saturate the paper in ink. Still, we read, heave a deep but short sigh, and move on to other news.
When we look into the future and see something coming, we call it inevitable. When we look into the past and say, ìHad we known then what we know now,î weíre also tempted to call it inevitable, even if it wasnít. Hindsight is always 20-20.
I suspect that global warming was inevitable, as was our inability to predict it, and as is our limited response to it. Indeed, I suspect that if intelligent–that is, symbol- and tool-using–life were to evolve anywhere else in the universe, it too would deal with a climate crisis like ours, and deal with it as ambivalently as we do.
In the mid-1700s we discovered fossil fuels. By 1800 we had found ways to use them to do work. By the late 1900s, having become dependent on fossil fuels, we began to recognize global warming, the perilous side effect of using fossil fuels. By the early 2000s, though the evidence is quite clear, many still deny it, and far more donít do much about it.
Inevitable? Really, what are the odds of such a turn of events? If you ran thousands of planets through the process of evolving life, and eventually intelligent life, how likely is it that they would end up dealing with a cancer like global warming?
Unbeknownst to our ancestors, say 15,000 years ago, pooled beneath their feet was the accumulated biomass of roughly 300 million years of life. Whatís the likelihood that such an enormous accumulation of concentrated energy from the past would be pooled within a planet occupied by an intelligent life form–one well on the way to complex tool and symbol use?
Given that it would take a very long time for intelligent life to evolve anywhere in the universe, then anywhere intelligent life evolved, there would likely have been many prior life forms. By their nature, life forms concentrate potential energy. By its nature, evolution depends upon cycles of life and death. So an intelligent life form standing (crawling, slithering, hoverboarding, or whatever) atop a concentration of prior biomass? Intelligent life forms arenít that likely, but were they to emerge, their chances of sitting on a goldmine of concentrated energy would actually be pretty high.
Whatís the likelihood that this intelligent life form would learn how to tap and use its planetís biomass reserve to do work? Also very high, if it got far enough to make complex tools. Tool use is an inevitable evolutionary adaptation. Using oneís body to fashion tools that in effect extend the body would be the inevitable outcome for any creature capable of complex mental modeling and subtle manipulation of the physical world.
Whatís the likelihood of a substantial delay before this intelligent life form noticed the unintended and undesirable consequences of consuming in a very short time the potential energy that had accumulated over a very long time? Well, how likely is it that an intelligent life form would learn tool use before learning to predict subtle, complex long-term consequences?
Very likely. Indeed, for us it was burning through the fossil fuels that made the industrial revolution possible, which made the institutions of continual scientific progress possible, which gave us the ability to predict subtle, complex long-term consequences. We couldnít have known about global warming without having caused it–and not just because by causing it we gave ourselves something to know about. It was in the process of causing it that we became perceptive enough to detect something as complex as a long-term trend in climate change.
Well, even without predicting global warming, couldnít we have guessed that using the fossil fuel would have drastic consequences? Whatís the likelihood that an intelligent life form anywhere in the universe would have behaved more responsibly to future generations by resisting the temptation to exploit the concentrated potential energy so quickly?
Low. What precedent is there for any beings to collectively resist exploiting ready resources? All species consume whatever resources they can exploit. Weíre not greedier than other organisms, weíre just far better than most at finding new ways to exploit resources. Intelligence makes us much better than other creatures at resisting temptation, and we were never more intelligent than we are now. That intelligence provides us with greater capacity to exploit resources and greater capacity to resist temptation, but the latter is unlikely to outpace the former in any intelligent life form. Our intelligence arises from our powers of exploitation, which would always tend to get ahead of our capacity for foresight-motivated self-restraint.
Itís hard to imagine a creature that would gain the capacity for collective self-restraint in the service of very long-term goals before gaining the capacity to tap into accumulated biomass. But thatís what it would have taken to even retard the blaze that has consumed roughly half of our oil reserves in the last fifty years.
The ìPolitically Incorrect Guide (PIG) to Global Warmingî is number 55 on Amazonís best-seller list this week. Written by a senior fellow at the ExxonMobil-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute, its inside cover text reads: ìFor decades, environmentalism has been the Leftís best excuse for increasing government control over our actions in ways both large and small. Itís for Mother Earth! Itís for the children! Itís for the whales! But until now, the doomsday-scenario environmental scares theyíve trumped up havenít been large enough to justify the lifestyle restrictions they want to impose. With global warming, however, greenhouse gasbags can argue that auto emissions in Ohio threaten people in Paris. . . . î
Last week, House ranking Republican member Jim McCrery argued against measures to curb global warming, saying that he doubts whether hurting the nationís economy and losing jobs to China and India is worth preventing ìa mere one degree rise in global temperature.î
George Bush hasnít seen ìInconvenient Truth.î
This too is entirely predictable. Human symbolic capacity has given us, among other things, an extraordinary power for ambiguity. Symbols are useful largely because they are so flexible. With our symbolic capacity, we gain the ability to infer, to find possible meanings in things. This helps us find clues to reality, inferring from ice core measurements a realistic assessment of carbon dioxide levels millennia ago. It also gives us the ability to infer unrealistically optimistic interpretations that sidestep reality. Language is intrinsically slippery. Language without the potential for rhetoric would not be language.
So of course we would have people reading the signs on global warming differently. And of course a substantial number of us would ease the abstract pain of a global cancer diagnosis with the rhetoric of denial.
Iím fifty and I realize now that I blew it. Iíve wasted my whole life learning things I now already know. Not only that, Iíve been imprudent. Like the guy who eats all his french fries and dessert before his broccoli, I used up all my best years first rather than spreading my adolescent vitality evenly across the entire length of my life.
I take some comfort from recognizing that itís not just me. We all do that. We couldnít help but do it. Weíre right on schedule, doing what any late-blooming intelligent life form would have done, exploiting the rich stuff first before realizing that there might be costs, and then denying the costs as long as slippery language would let us.
R.O.S.C.O.: Right on schedule, chill out. We are probably one of several intelligent life forms in the universe that have gotten this far, to the brink of a puzzle our native wit may or may not have the wherewithal to solve. At the very macro-evolutionary scale, intelligence is being vetted for viability, probably not just here but on several planets throughout the universe dealing with similar problems.
At the rate diseases are becoming treatable, a lot of illnesses these days impose a bitter irony. If you die of an illness today that becomes treatable within the next two hundred years, think about your haplessness. Four billion years of life on earth and just your luck to be born two hundred measly years before life figured out how to cure what youíve got. With global warming, it could be that way for all of us, afflicted with a cancer just shy of the collective native wit and wherewithal necessary to treat it.
One of the slipperiest aspects of language is the way it slips between levels of analysis. Notice how the rhetoric from the book jacket implies that itís addressing global warming but really itís an analysis one level up–an analysis of how the Left addresses global warming.
R.O.S.C.O. is a handy concept, but one that can easily be construed as an argument for complacency. Yes, at one level the conflict between forces for denial and alertness to global warming within and between us are right on schedule and in perfect harmony with each other. But thatís no reason to stop fighting. Chill out about the fact that thereís a fight, and keep fighting the forces of denial.
R.O.S.C.O. is a handy concept, but one that can easily be construed as an argument for complacency. Yes, at one level the conflict between forces for denial and alertness to global warming within and between us are right on schedule and in perfect harmony with each other. But thatís no reason to stop fighting. Chill out about the fact that thereís a fight, and keep fighting the forces of denial. Originally published on Mind Readers Dictionary; www.mindreadersdictionary.org. 3/26/2007 03/26/2007 9857 John Haught Explores Contemporart Science and Christian Faith
PHILADELPHIA, PA…Georgetown theologian John Haught, 2006-07 Metanexus Fellow, will give a series of thought-provoking talks entitled Science and Christian Faith beginning December 6 and continuing into 2007. The five-part series will take place at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, co-sponsor of the events with Metanexus Institute. The talks will begin at 7:30 pm and are free and open to the public. Sessions will include respondents from other religious traditions and offer opportunities for the audience to participate in the dialogue.
A prominent theologian, Haught specializes in systematic theology, with a particular interest in issues pertaining to science, cosmology, ecology, and religion. This series of talks constitutes some of the content that Haught is developing into a new book. In his own words, Haught describes his subject matter,
Developments in geology, evolutionary biology and cosmology have left no doubt that the whole of nature, and not just our planet and human history, have an essentially narrative character. Formerly the heavens seemed steady enough to frame all the stories unfolding on earth. The firmament was a place of refuge to which worldlings could flee, at least in contemplation, from the flow of events here below. But during the last century the heavens too got swallowed up by a story, one that now seems almost too large for the telling.
What is Christian theology going to make of this larger story, one that infinitely outstrips in time and space the brief span of human flourishing and the even more fleeting moments of Hebrew and Christian religious history? Science has discovered a world that moves on a scale unimaginable to the prophets and evangelists. Is it possible that the universe has outgrown the biblical God who is said to be its Creator? Many thoughtful people today have concluded that this is exactly what has happened.
The very substance of Christian faith seems irreversibly intertwined with the outworn imagery of an unmoving planet nested in an unchanging cosmos. Can Christianity and its theological interpretations find a fresh foothold in the immense and mobile universe of contemporary science, or will science itself replace our inherited spiritualities altogether, as many now see happening? The Jesuit geologist Teilhard de Chardin asks: “Is the Christ of the Gospels, imagined and loved within the dimensions of a Mediterranean world, capable of still embracing and still forming the centre of our prodigiously expanded universe?”
The individual talks and dates are:
- Wednesday, December 6: “Einstein, Religion and Christian Theology”
- Wednesday, January 10: “What’s Going on in the Universe?: A Christian Perspective”
- Monday, February 19: “Scientific Truth and Christian Faith”
- Wednesday, April 25: “Darwin and Christ: Toward a Theology of
- Wednesday, May 23: “Science, Death and Resurrection”
John F. Haught is Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Theology at Georgetown University. His area of specialization is systematic theology, with a particular interest in issues pertaining to science, cosmology, ecology, and religion. He is the author of Deeper Than Darwin: Evolution and the Question of God (Westview, 2003); Responses to 101 Questions on God and Evolution (Paulist Press, 2001); God After Darwin: A Theology of Evolution (Westview Press, 2000); Science and Religion: From Conflict to Conversation (Paulist Press, 1995); The Promise of Nature: Ecology and Cosmic Purpose (Paulist Press, 1993); Mystery and Promise: A Theology of Revelation (Liturgical Press, 1993); and many others, as well as numerous articles and reviews. He lectures often on topics related to religion and science, cosmology, theology, and ecology. Haught serves as chairman of the Academic Advisory Board of Metanexus Institute.
The Metanexus Institute advances scientific research, education and outreach on the constructive engagement of science and religion. Metanexus is a leader in a growing network of individuals and groups exploring the dynamic interface between cosmos, nature, and culture in communities and on campuses throughout the world. Metanexus sponsors dialogue groups, lectures, workshops, research, courses, grants, and publications. Metanexus leads and facilitates over 300 projects in 43 countries. Projects include the Local Societies Initiative, the Templeton Research Lectures, and topical interdisciplinary research projects such as the Spiritual Transformation Scientific Research Project, Spiritual Capital, Templeton Advanced Research Program, and other endeavors. A membership organization, Metanexus hosts an online journal with over 370,000 monthly page views and 9,000 subscribers in 57 countries.
Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church is located at 625 Montgomery Avenue in Bryn Mawr, PA, 610-525-2821. The church has a 133-year history and, with more than 3000 members, is one of the larger congregations of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Priorities include excellence in worship music and preaching, commitment to outreach and worldwide ministries, Christian education for all ages, connecting faith with the culture in which we live, and a spirit of inclusivity. For directions, go to www.bmpc.org/Directions.html.
10/23/2006 03/26/2007 9858 Local Societies Initiative Final Round Awards Ten Science and Religion Dialogue Groups
PHILADELPHIA, PA…Ten international science and religion dialogue groups were awarded $15,000 three-year grants in the final round of the highly successful Local Societies Initiative of the Metanexus Institute. They will join 230 other groups in 40 countries who are doing outstanding work advancing the constructive engagement of science and religion and to promote transdisciplinary approaches to foundational questions. The new groups are in Australia, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, and the USA. The LSI network brings multiple perspectives to the worldwide dialogue on nature, culture, and cosmos.
The LSI grant program, made possible by the generous funding of the John Templeton Foundation of Conshohocken, PA, and supported by participating educational and religious institutions around the world, has provided organizational and programming support for dynamic associations of scientists, theologians, clergy, philosophers, and other engaged citizens interested in exploring issues arising at the intersection of science and religion. With the new grantees, the LSI network is comprised of more than 240 dialogue societies in 42 nations on six continents. LSI societies are found on the campuses of major research universities, both national and international; elite liberal arts colleges; seminaries; state universities; private religious schools; graduate academies; and faith communities. As LSI enters its sixth year, the program to date has driven over $6.5 million in mutual support for the science and religion dialogue, resulting in an LSI network that has become what may be the most diverse, broadly competent, and dynamic association of academics, clergy, and intellectuals anywhere in the world, committed both to the rigorous exploration of the most fundamental questions of the cosmos and human existence and to the search for creative solutions to the most profound challenges the contemporary world presents.
Metanexus Institute is a leader in a growing network of individuals and groups exploring the dynamic interface between cosmos, nature, and culture in communities and on campuses throughout the world. Metanexus sponsors dialogue groups, lectures, workshops, research, courses, grants, and publications. Metanexus leads and facilitates over 300 projects in 43 countries. Projects include the Local Societies Initiative, the Templeton Research Lectures, and topical interdisciplinary research projects such as the Spiritual Transformation Scientific Research Project, Spiritual Capital, Templeton Advanced Research Program, and other endeavors. A membership organization, Metanexus hosts an online journal with over 370,000 monthly page views and 9,000 subscribers in 57 countries.
For further information on the 240 Local Societies and their extraordinary work, please go to www.metanexus.net/lsi.
Local Societies Initiative July 2006 Grantees
UWS Psychology and Spirituality Society
Department of Psychology, University of Western Sydney Penrith, Australia Chair: Maureen H. Miner, Ph.D.
Science & Spirituality Society
Fundaci—n SOLES Santiago, Chile Chair: Daniela Cecilia Thumala, M.Sc.
Oklahoma Society for Science and Faith
Southern Nazarene University Bethany, Oklahoma, USA Chairs: Brint A. Montgomery, Ph.D. and Mark Winslow, Ph.D.
The Stetson Center for Science, Nature, and the Sacred
Department of Religious Studies, Stetson University Deland, Florida, USA Chair: Donald W. Musser, Ph.D.
Foro de Di‡logo Ciencia y Fe (Dialogue Forum on Science and Faith)
Sociedad Educativa Champagnat, A.C.
Universidad Marista de San Luis Potos’
San Luis Potos’, Mexico
Chair: José Ignacio Algara Coss’o, M.Sc., M. Phil.
Working Group on Religion, Ethics and Nature
Ohio Northern University Ada, Ohio, USA Chairs: Forrest Clingerman, Ph.D. and Mark Dixon, Ph.D.
Theology and the Natural Sciences in Aotearoa Auckland (TANSAA)
Tyndale-Carey Graduate School, Bible College of New Zealand Henderson, Waitakere City, New Zealand Chair: Nicola Hoggard Creegan, Ph.D.
Baltimore Society for Science/Religion Understanding
Physics Department, Loyola College Maryland Baltimore, Maryland, USA Chair: Gregory N. Derry, Ph.D.
10/17/2006 03/26/2007 9859 Eric Weislogel Named New Executive Director of Metanexus
PHILADELPHIA…Metanexus Institute, headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, announced today that organization founder and executive director Dr. William Grassie has stepped aside as executive director, but will retain important responsibilities with the organization. Dr. Eric Weislogel, who has been with the organization for five years as director of the Institute’s highly successful Local Societies Initiative, will become the new executive director effective October 1. The announcement was made by Dr. Kathleen Duffy, S.S.J., president of the Metanexus Board of Directors.
William Grassie will continue to serve as executive editor of Metanexus Institute’s online magazine, as Metanexus launches a new publication called The Global Spiral in the coming months. Grassie will also continue to travel and speak on behalf of the Institute, and he will oversee several initiatives, including the Templeton Research Lectures project. Grassie serves on the Institute’s governing and academic boards.
“We are enormously grateful to William Grassie for his extraordinary vision and boundless energy and for a leadership style that has enabled the Metanexus Institute to develop so rapidly into a dynamic worldwide organization,” said Duffy. “At the same time, we have every confidence in Eric Weislogel’s leadership and creativity. His experience in shaping Metanexus’ powerful global network of dialogue groups provides a strong platform upon which to build future programs.”
“Change in leadership is healthy,” noted Grassie. “By giving up the day-to-day responsibilities of managing this remarkable organization, I hope to be able to better serve the institution and its partners in more focused ways—writing and speaking, teaching and networking, publishing and fundraising.”
William Grassie began the organization in 1997 with the creation of the “Meta-List,” a small-moderated listserv providing scholarly articles and dialogue on religion and science. From an initial list of 600 subscribers, the forum quickly grew to nearly 9,000 subscribers. The publication has evolved into a rich collection of thousands of essays from many of the leading scholars of our time. It receives hundreds of thousands of page views every month and has become a primary resource in the science and religion dialogue. The organization has grown into a worldwide network of some 300 partners in 43 countries.
Grassie received his doctorate in religion from Temple University in 1994, where he specialized in the philosophy of religion and science. In 1995, while teaching in Temple’s Intellectual Heritage Program, Grassie applied for and received a grant from the Templeton Science and Religion Course Program. He taught “Science and the Sacred” at the University of Pennsylvania to general acclaim in the spring of 1996. With the success of the Meta-List in 1997, Grassie and four professors at the University of Pennsylvania incorporated in 1998 as the Philadelphia Center for Religion and Science (PCRS). In 2000, the Meta-List became a website, www.metanexus.net.
In 2001, PCRS changed its name to the Metanexus Institute on Religion and Science to reflect the organization’s growing international profile and to capitalize on the successful website publication. Grassie led the Institute through a period of rapid growth, managing a staff of 17 and many consultants. The organization has developed and administered several hundred projects through strategic alliances, including many university-based projects funded by the Templeton Foundation. This past spring, Grassie led an delegation to Iran for dialogue on science and religion. This fall, Grassie will lecture in China, Thailand, India, and Indonesia as part of Metanexus’ Local Societies Initiative.
Incoming executive director Dr. Eric Weislogel initiated and developed Metanexus’ growing network of Local Societies from its inception in 2001. He brings to the Institute unique skills, developed in both higher education and industry. Before coming to Metanexus, Weislogel served as the manager of business process consulting for UEC Technologies, a unit of U.S. Steel, and was assistant professor of philosophy at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania from 1990 to1997. Weislogel received his masters in philosophy from Villanova University in 1987 and his doctorate in philosophy from the Pennsylvania State University in 1995. He has published a number of philosophical essays and reviews in such journals as Philosophy Today, Idealistic Studies, Philosophy in Review, Science and Theology News, and the Journal of the American Academy of Religion. Weislogel’s main philosophical interest consists in the interplay of postmodernism, religion, science, and politics.
Weislogel commented, “This is a very exciting time in the evolution of Metanexus and the worldwide movement to promote transdisciplinary and intercultural dialogue on the great questions of our time. The Metanexus Institute is poised to strengthen existing projects and resources as it pursues a variety of exciting new ideas. I look forward to this leadership opportunity to help Metanexus make a significant contribution to education and to global intellectual and cultural life in general.”
The Metanexus Institute advances scientific research, education and outreach on the constructive engagement of science and religion. Metanexus is a leader in a growing network of individuals and groups exploring the dynamic interface between cosmos, nature, and culture in communities and on campuses throughout the world. Metanexus sponsors dialogue groups, lectures, workshops, research, courses, grants, and publications. Metanexus leads and facilitates over 300 projects in 43 countries. Projects include the Local Societies Initiative, the Templeton Research Lectures, and topical interdisciplinary research projects such as the Spiritual Transformation Scientific Research Project, Spiritual Capital, Templeton Advanced Research Program, and other endeavors. A membership organization, Metanexus hosts an online journal with over 370,000 monthly page views and 9,000 subscribers in 57 countries.
9/30/2006 03/26/2007 9860 $160,000 Awarded to Societies Around the World Fostering Science and Religion Dialogue
Philadelphia, PA (June 6, 2006) In support of an ongoing effort to advance the constructive engagement of science and religion and to promote transdisciplinary approaches to foundational questions, grant prizes of $10,000 each were awarded on June 6, 2005, to sixteen (16) outstanding religion and science dialogue societies from around the world by the Local Societies Initiative (LSI), a project of the Philadelphia-based Metanexus Institute.
The LSI grant program, made possible by the generous funding of the John Templeton Foundation of Conshohocken, PA, and supported by participating educational and religious institutions around the world, provides organizational and programming support for dynamic associations of scientists, theologians, clergy, philosophers, and other engaged citizens interested in exploring issues arising at the intersection of science and religion. The LSI network is comprised of more than 230 dialogue societies in 40 nations on six continents. LSI societies are found on the campuses of major research universities, both national and international; elite liberal arts colleges; for-profit educational institutions; seminaries; state universities; private religious schools; graduate academies; and faith communities. As LSI enters its sixth year, the program to date has driven over $6.5 million in mutual support for the science and religion dialogue, resulting in an LSI network that has become what may be the most diverse, broadly competent, and dynamic association of academics, clergy, and intellectuals anywhere in the world, committed both to the rigorous exploration of the most fundamental questions of the cosmos and human existence and to the search for creative solutions to the most profound challenges the contemporary world presents.
The 2006 LSI Grant Prizes, supplemental to the basic program grants every society is awarded, were presented by Dr. Eric Weislogel, Director of the Local Societies Initiative, accompanied by Dr. John M. Templeton, Jr., MD, President of the John Templeton Foundation, to selected LSI societies in recognition of organizational excellence, creative programming for their communities, and significant contributions to the larger science and religion movement. This year’s winning societies come from China, England, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, the Philippines, Russia, Spain, Thailand, and Turkey.
According to Dr. Weislogel, “Metanexus and the LSI global network aim to integrate the best of religion and the best of science in the service of humanity and our world in a practical and effective way. The imperative for constructive engagements between scientific and religious communities, and for undertaking the kinds of diverse and creative projects in which the LSI societies around the world engage, has never been more pressing. We hope to promote a more integral or holistic understanding of ourselves and our world in order to forge new and healing relationships in a troubled world.”
“LSI brings together visionary and creative thinkers, researchers, and teachers in support of our mutual efforts to come to understand ourselves and our world, the cosmos and the divine,” said Dr. Weislogel.
- The $10,000 LSI Grants Prizes were awarded to:
Bursa Local Society Initiative
University of Uludag
Chair: Bülent Şenay, Ph.D.
- Nature, Intentionality, and Finality – Oxford Group
Ian Ramsey Centre, Theology Faculty
University of Oxford
Chair: Margaret Yee, Ph.D.
- Center for the Study of Science and Human Spirituality
Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST)
Chair: Ouyang Kang, Ph.D.
- Etruscan Local Group
Universit‡ Degli Studi di Perugia
Universit‡ di Pisa
Chair: Lodovico Galleni, Ph.D.
- Salatiga Circle for In-dept Study of Science and Religion Relation (SCISOSSAR)
Yasa Luhur Foundation
Chair: Liek Wilardjo, Ph.D., D.Sc.
- Fundaci—n Xavier Zubiri LSI
Fundaci—n Xavier Zubiri
Chair: Diego Gracia, Ph.D.
- Local Society of the Studio Filosofico Interprovinciale “San Tommaso d’Aquino”
Chair: Fernando di Mieri, Ph.D.
- The Thousand Stars Buddhism and Science Group
The Thousand Stars Foundation
Chair: Soraj Hongladarom, Ph.D.
- GeoChris Institute for Ecozoic Spirituality
Marikina City, Philippines
Chair: Fr. Georg Ziselsberger, SVD
- TRIESTE-NIF (Nature, Intentionality and Finality Research Group)
Departimento di Filosofia, Universit‡ degli Studi di Trieste
Chair: Antonio Russo, Ph.D.
- Seminari de Teologia i Ciéncias (STIC) of Barcelona
Institut de Teologia Fonamental
Chair: Fr. Manuel G. Doncel, Ph.D.
- St. Petersburg Educational Centre for Religion and Science (SPECRS)
St. Petersburg School of Religion and Philosophy
St. Petersburg, Russia
Chair: Alexey Chernyakov, Ph.D.
- Centro de Estudios de Ciencia y Religion (CECIR)
Universidad Popular Aut—noma del Estado de Puebla
Chair: Eugenio Urrutia
- Science – Human Being – Religion
Evangelische Akademie Arnoldshain
Chair: Hermann Düringer, D. Theol.
- C‡tedra Ciencia Tecnolog’a y Religi—n LSI
Universidad Pontificia Comillas Madrid
Chair: Javier Leach, Ph.D., Javier Monserrat, Ph.D.
- The Pari Dialogues on Religion and Science
Pari Center for New Learning
Chair: F. David Peat, Ph.D.
In addition to the $10,000 prize, the recipients each received a beautiful plaque featuring original artwork in honor of their efforts.
Representatives from all the LSI societies held their annual meeting in conjunction with the Metanexus Institutes’ Continuity and Change: Perspectives on Science and Religion conference, June 3 through June 7, 2006, on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania . The awards were presented on the evening of June 6 during the closing banquet.
The LSI program, inaugurated in July 2001, now funds more than 230 local societies around the world as part of a global collaborative educational network. All societies funded by LSI receive three-year challenge grants of $5,000 per year and have the opportunity to compete for the supplemental Grant Prizes for additional funding. Applications for LSI grants are being accepted; program deadline is July 1, 2006.
This unique international interfaith-interdisciplinary program has helped participating societies to hold lecture series, conferences, workshops, and study groups; to produce scholarly journals, CD-ROMs, videos, and radio and television programs; and to design course materials and study guides.
The Metanexus Institute advances scientific research, education and outreach on the constructive engagement of science and religion. Metanexus is a leader in a growing network of individuals and groups exploring the dynamic interface between cosmos, nature, and culture in communities and on campuses throughout the world. Metanexus sponsors dialogue groups, lectures, workshops, research, courses, grants, and publications. Metanexus leads and facilitates over 300 projects in 40 countries. Projects include the Local Societies Initiative, the Templeton Research Lectures, and topical interdisciplinary research projects such as the Spiritual Transformation Scientific Research Project, Spiritual Capital, Religion and Health, Religion and Human Flourishing, Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology, and other endeavors. A membership organization, Metanexus hosts an online journal with over 180,000 monthly page views and 8,000 subscribers in 57 countries .
The mission of the John Templeton Foundation is to pursue new insights at the boundary between theology and science through a rigorous, open-minded and empirically focused methodology, drawing together talented representatives from a wide spectrum of fields of expertise. .
For more information about the Local Societies Initiative and its member societies, see www.metanexus.net/lsi.
6/6/2006 03/26/2007 9861 Institute Awards $4.6 Million to Further Scientific Research on Religion
PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia-based Metanexus Institute announced today the awarding of $4.6 million to fund eleven research teams seeking to further the scientific understanding of religion and spirituality. Grants in the Templeton Advanced Research Project (TARP), funded by the John Templeton Foundation as part of its mission to advance religion and science, were made by competitive application from over 400 qualified proposals.
Most scientific studies of religion focus on specific faith communities and utilize a single social scientific paradigm,” noted William Grassie, Executive Director of the Metanexus Institute. “What is unique about this project, and the Templeton Foundation in general, is the attempt to do broad comparative studies of religion and spirituality using multiple methods spanning disciplines as diverse as economics and the neurosciences.” Grassie worked with a team of twelve distinguished judges and over sixty external peer reviewers to make the difficult selections of which projects will utilize the most innovative methodologies and promise the most significant results.
The Templeton Advanced Research Project is broken down into three topical areas with different levels of funding—
Two awards of $1 million each were made on the theme of “Religion, Spirituality, Healing and Health Outcomes.” The funded projects are:
- Michael Boivin, Principal Investigator, at Michigan State University will lead a three-year study of Breast Cancer Disease and Treatment: Modeling the Relationships Among Spiritual and Emotional Well-Being, Quality of Life, Neuropsychological Function and Immunological Resilience.
- Brenda Cole, Principal Investigator at the University of Pittsburgh, will lead a three-year study of The Health Effects of Spiritually-focused Meditation for People with Acute Leukemia.
Two awards of $1 million each were made on the theme of “Religion, Spirituality and Human Flourishing”. The funded projects are:
- Dacher Keltner, Principal Investigator at University of California, Berkeley, will lead a three-year study of Spiritual Experience, Pro-Social Emotion, and Human Flourishing.
- Petr Janata, Principal Investigator at University of California, Davis, will lead a three-year study of Music, Spirituality, Religion, and the Human Brain.
Seven awards varying from $50,000 to $150,000 were made on the theme of “Competitive Dynamics and Cultural Evolution of Religions and God Concepts”. The funded projects are:
- Pascal Boyer, Principal Investigator at Washington University, St. Louis, will lead a two-year study of Ritual Behavior and the Dynamics of Religious Commitment.
- Adam Cohen, Principal Investigator at Arizona State University, will lead a two-year a two-year study of Effects of Faith, Nature of God, and Community on Health and Well-Being: A Multi-Method, Multicultural Study.
- Virginia Garrard-Burnett, Principal Investigator at the University of Texas at Austin, will lead a two-year study of Faces of God in Latin America.
- Scott Garrels, Principal Investigator at Fuller Graduate School of Psychology, Pasadena, California, will lead a two-year study of Imitation, Mimetic Theory, and Religious and Cultural Evolution.
- Michael Graves, Principal Investigator at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, will lead a two-year study of The Ecological Evolutionary Dynamics of Hawaiian Ritual and Social Complexity.
- Tom Smith, Principal Investigator at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, will lead a two-year study of Basic Theories and Models of Religious Change.
- David Sloan Wilson, Binghamton University, and William Scott Green, University of Miami, Co-Investigators, will lead a two-year study of Religious Conceptions of the Afterlife from a Cultural Evolutionary Perspective and a General Field of Evolutionary Religious Studies.
For more information on the Templeton Advanced Research Project including detail on the funded projects, bios of the principal investigators, lists of the judges and reviewers, selection criteria, and field analyses, go to: https://www.metanexus.net/tarp .
Quotes from Principal Investigators
Never before have the fields of neuropsychology, immunology, fMRI brain imaging, psychological and emotional well-being, and spirituality within a theology of personhood been brought together by such an accomplished team of experts. – Michael Boivin.
My colleagues and I are trying to understand why most religious traditions have rituals. They study the brain processes at work when people perform rituals and consider how these processes create or strengthen religious commitment – Pascal Boyer
This research builds on work in cultural psychology, personality psychology, and psychology of religion in a number of ways. First, it uses multiple methods, as opposed to asking people to tell us about their conscious views of God. We use a sophisticated computer program to analyze the meaning of people¡¯s descriptions of God. We will also use computer software to time how long it takes people to answer questions about their views of God, to gain insight into the structure of their unconscious attitudes. Second, we are examining views of God in different religious groups and countries, to gain insight into how views of God and broad cultural syndromes build upon each other. – Adam B. Cohen
This project is significant because it will allow for the initiation of cross-fertilization between imitation researchers and mimetic scholars who, up to this point, have more or less been working independently from one another, yet at the same time have been calling for a dramatic shift in thought and research based on the rediscovery of imitation as an incredibly dynamic and foundational force in human development and cultural evolution. -Scott Garrels
We will study the co-evolution of traditional Hawaiian religious practices with social strategies and natural environmental variability from AD 1300-1825. This work is innovative in its integration of archaeological and historical materials within an explicity evolutionary framework that includes the development of social simulations based on agent based models. – Michael Graves
This is the first large-scale scientific research project that critically examines what seems to be a universal link between music and spirituality. We hope to understand the interaction of these core human experiences and how they facilitate human social and emotional well-being. -Petr Janata
Our program of research is based on the assumption that spiritual experiences of different kinds amplify the central of pro-social emotions like compassion, gratitude, awe, and love of humanity in the individual¡¯s life. Our work will begin to characterize how spiritual transformation: (1) activates central nervous system structures involved in compassion and awe; (2) creates a pro-social orientation that leads to the contagion of cooperation; and (3) plays a role in the lives of women in their seventies, and traces back to certain life histories and predicts long term life outcomes. -Dacher Keltner
This project will be the most comprehensive review to date on what people believe about God and other transcendental matters and how those beliefs have changed across time and countries. Major data sources such as the General Social Surveys and the International Social Survey Program studies will be analyzed to examine people¡¯s view across cohorts, time, and nations.- Tom Smith
This project will study the diversity of conceptions of the afterlife in the same way that evolutionists study the diversity of biological life forms. In addition, the project is designed to accelerate the establishment of evolutionary religious studies as a general field of inquiry. – David Sloan Wilson
5/30/2006 03/26/2007 9862 International Conference Presents Big Ideas from Big Thinkers on Science and Religion
PHILADELPHIA, USA… A new curriculum proposal for more effective science education and current perspectives on the evolution/intelligent design controversy highlight the Metanexus Institute’s annual international conference on science and religion, June 3-7 on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The conference, Continuity + Change: Perspectives on Science and Religion, presents leading international scholars whose work delves into important new and emerging ideas at the intersection of science and religion scholarship and research. Complete details are posted at www.metanexus.net/conference2006. Registration is available for a single session, an entire day, or the full conference.
The tension between continuity and change is not simply philosophical conundrum; it is also at the root of the most pressing questions of our time. We wrestle with the tensions of tradition vs. innovation in the law, religious thought, and political life. The pace of change in scientific discovery, technological advancement, environmental transformation, and globalized culture is accelerating at such a dizzying rate that our abilities to cope are tested to the limits. The key to surviving and flourishing as human beings depends on how we find continuity and make the right choices in the midst of such rapid change.
Featured public sessions, co-sponsored by the Academy of Natural Sciences (Philadelphia), include Beyond Intelligent Design, Science Debates, and Culture Wars: A Teach-In on Evolution, , Sunday, June 4. This day-long series of talks will investigate the question of the origins and evolution of life, taking into account scientific, theological, philosophical, historical, and political considerations, many of which impact education and public policy. Distinguished presenters and respondents for these sessions include Ian Barbour (Carleton College), John Haught (Georgetown University, the only theologian to testify in the Dover trial), George Ellis (University of Cape Town), and Nancey Murphy (Fuller Theological Seminary.
Teaching the History of Nature: Towards an Integrated Science Curriculum is the topic for discussion on Monday evening, June 5. As the world becomes ever more scientific and technological, Americans demonstrate not only declining scientific knowledge, but also the inability to effectively address philosophical, religious, and moral issues. To participate in a meaningful way in our democratic society, to make informed policy decisions that will affect not only our lives but also the world’s future generations, we must transform our ways of educating and of learning. Our curriculum reform discussion will propose an integrated science curriculum organized around teaching of the history of nature as an effective framework that will enable students to better understand science, as well as important philosophical, religious, moral, and practical issues at the interface of science and society. Featured speakers are Ursula Goodenough (Washington University of St. Louis), George Ellis (University of Cape Town), and Dennis Cheek (Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation).
Spiritual Capital: Global Perspectives on Economics and Religion, Saturday evening, June 3. This opening plenary session will explore the influences that religion and spirituality have on economic and societal realities—locally and globally. While capitalism certainly has spread far beyond the Protestant countries in the last century, the hypothesis that capitalism’s advance— along with other aspects of the modern world—would necessarily lead to religion’s demise is clearly false. This interdisciplinary forum will explore the economic and societal consequences of religion and spirituality as part of the emerging social science of “spiritual capital.” Featured speakers include Theodore Malloch (the Roosevelt Group), Timur Kuran, (University of Southern California), and Robert Putnam (Harvard University; the author of Bowling Alone).
“We live at an extraordinary moment in the natural history of our planet and the cultural evolution of our species,” said William Grassie, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Metanexus Institute. “The domains of science and the domains of religion, however understood, stand at the center of our hopes for a healthier and safer future. This is a moment for integrating the best of religion and the best of science in service of humanity and the world. This conference is an important opportunity to pursue this multifaceted, multidisciplinary, and multifaith challenge.”
Other conference sessions include
- Indic Religions in an Age of Science
- Positive Psychology and Character Strengths
- The Emergent Mind
- Worldviews in Mathematics, Physics & Cosmology
- Pentecostalism and Science
Metanexus Institute is an international organization based in Philadelphia that advances research, education, and outreach on the constructive engagement of science and religion through a variety of projects and opportunities for dialogue. Metanexus supports nearly 300 projects in 37 countries. The annual conference is, in part, a gathering of representatives of Metanexus’ Local Societies Initiative (LSI) members, who have established science-and-religion dialogues in their communities, networked with the global programs.
5/2/2006 03/26/2007 9863 Grant Recipients Announced for 2006 Templeton Research Lectures
PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia-based Metanexus Institute announced today that Stony Brook University in New York, and Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, were the 2006 recipients of the Templeton Research Lectures grants. The three-to-four year project grants provide up to $500,000 to promote important conversations at the forefront of the field of science and religion through interdisciplinary study groups and an annual distinguished lectureship. The projects were selected through an international competition.
“As the pace of scientific discovery and innovation accelerates, there is an urgent cultural need toreflect thoughtfully about these epic changes and challenges” notes William Grassie, Executive Director of the Metanexus Institute, who manages this international grant competition. “The challenges of the 21st century require new interdisciplinary collaborations, which place questionsof meanings and values on the agenda. We need to put questions about the universe and the universal back at the heart of the university.”
The Stony Brook University project is headed by Dr. Robert P. Crease, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy. The project is entitled “Trust: Prospects for Science and Religion” and will explore how issues of trust play out similarly and differently in both religious and scientific enterprises. In addition to the Principal Investigator, the project involves sixteen faculty from a variety of academic disciplines at Stony Brook University, and from nearby academic, religious, and scientific institutions.
“Trust is central to the practice of both science and religion on many levels – personal, public, and institutional,” says Crease. “Without trust, the scientific process would grind to a halt like a machine drained of oil. Trust is also central to religion – among members of a congregation, between individuals and leaders, and between individuals and God. Moreover, recent controversies have shaken confidence in both scientific and religious institutions. What fosters trust? What erodes it? How it can be restored once lost? At Stony Brook, we aim to create an interdisciplinary dialogue about a rarely discussed subject that is at the core of both fields – and about which each field has much to say to the other.”
The Arizona State University initiative, based at the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, is headed by Dr. Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, Professor of History. The project, entitled “Facing the Challenge of Transhumanism: Religion, Science, and Technology,” will examine the development and convergence of genomics, stem-cell research, robotics, nanotechnology, and neuropharmacology in the transforming and enhancing of human nature, posing difficult religious and philosophical questions in what some refer to as our “posthuman” future. In addition to the Principal Investigator, the project involves nine faculty from a variety of academic disciplines at ASU as well as a number of research centers and institutes within ASU.
“ASU is committed to addressing the most pertinent issues of our times,” notes the historian Dr. Tirosh-Samuelson. “In this project we will examine and evaluate the claims of transhumanism, focusing on philosophical issues; social, legal, and political questions; environmental issues; and the religious aspects of transhumanism. This multi-faceted investigation will take into consideration the entire scope of human evolution and culturally specific conceptions of humanity. It will illustrate how the humanities can and should interface with the social and natural sciences, and how scientific discourses are culturally bound and historically situated.”
The judges in this year’s selection were:
- George Ellis, Physics, University of Cape Town, South Africa
- Scott Gilbert, Biology, Swarthmore College.
- Antje Jackelén, Theology, Zygon Center and Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago
- James Proctor, Environmental Studies, Lewis and Clark College
- V.V. Raman, Physics and Humanities, Rochester Institute of Technology
- W. Mark Richardson, General Theological Seminary, New York City
The Metanexus Institute advances research, education and outreach on the constructive engagement of science and religion. Metanexus is a leader in a growing network of individuals and groups exploring the dynamic interface between cosmos, nature, and culture in communities and on campuses throughout the world. Metanexus sponsors dialogue groups, lectures, workshops, research, courses, grants, and publications. Metanexus leads and facilitates over 300 projects in 37 countries. Projects include the Local Societies Initiative, the Templeton Research Lectures, and topical interdisciplinary research projects such as the Spiritual Transformation Scientific Research Project, Spiritual Capital, Religion and Health, Religion and Human Flourishing, Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology, and other endeavors. A membership organization, Metanexus hosts an online journal with over 180,000 monthly page views and 8,000 subscribers in 57 countries.
Past winners of the Templeton Research Lectures grants are the University of Frankfurt, the University of Pennsylvania, Vanderbilt University, the University of Arizona, the University of Southern California, UCLA, University of Montréal, Stanford University, Bar Ilan University, Columbia University, and University of California at Santa Barbara. The deadline for the 2007 applications is January 1, 2007.
The Templeton Research Lectures are made possible by a generous grant from the JohnTempleton Foundation. The mission of the John Templeton Foundation is to pursue new insightsat the boundary between theology and science through a rigorous, open-minded and empirically focused methodology, drawing together talented representatives from a wide spectrum of fields of expertise. Using “the humble approach,” the Foundation typically seeks to focus the methods andresources of scientific inquiry on topical areas that have spiritual and theological significance ranging across the disciplines from cosmology to healthcare. For more information about the Templeton Foundation, go to <www.templeton.org>.
3/2/2006 03/26/2007 9872 Society for Pentecostal Studies and the Wesleyan Theological Society, “Sighs, Signs, and Significance,” 13-15 March
The Society for Pentecostal Studies and the Wesleyan Theological Society are issuing a call for papers for their third joint meeting, titled:
“Sighs, Signs, and Significance: Pentecostal & Wesleyan Explorations of Science & Creation”
13-15 March 2008
Duke University Divinity School
Saturday, 30 June 2007
Proposals for the meeting should be 250-300 words. Authors should send their proposals and brief biographical information to WTS session chairs (see websit) no later than 30 June 2007.
Pentecostals and Wesleyans have affirmed that God is Creator and that in God we live, and move, and have our being. The two theological traditions have also acknowledged that science provides significant hypotheses and data with which Christians must work to understand their experiences and to articulate well their affirmations about the world that God has created. Yet there has been little sustained engagement between either tradition with the theological questions raised by modern science.
For more information, visit:
In the third joint meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies and the Wesleyan Theological Society, we invite paper proposals that explore facets of the theology-and-science dialogue and of Pentecostal and Wesleyan approaches to theology of creation. Here is a sampling of topics that society members might address:
- Biblical perspectives on theology of creation
- Major figures (e.g., Augustine, Aquinas, Wesley, G. T. Haywood) in the Christian tradition as they responded to the opportunities and challenges of science;
- Christian anthropology, the mind-body relation, and the nature of the human spirit;
- The Cognitive sciences, mind, and spirit;
- Pastoral practice in light of the psychological and sociological sciences;
- Spiritual gifts and the charisms in light of modern science;
- Christian discernment, including discernment of spirits, in the context of a theology of creation;
- Divine action and the work of the Holy Spirit in light of modern cosmology;
- Pentecostal and Wesleyan perspectives on the doctrines of creation out of nothing, continuing creation, evolution, and intelligent design;
- Ecological and environmental issues in scientific, theological, and pneumatological perspectives;
- Indigenous and cultural perspectives on creation, nature, and the sciences;
- Theological and relational perspectives on the nature of time and of the future;
- Methodological issues in the theology and science dialogue;
3/29/2007 03/29/2007 9873 Radio Broadcast: ‘Fresh Air from WHYY,’ NPR, 28 & 29 March 2007 Fresh Air from WHYY on NPR has recently interviewed two important people involved in debates about science and religion, Richard Dawkins and Francis Collins, as a two-part discussion. This discussion ran on the 28th and 29th of March.
To listen to the interviews, visit:
In his most recent book, British scientist Richard Dawkins writes about the irrationality of a belief in God, examines God in all his forms and sets down his arguments for atheism. The book is The God Delusion.
Dawkins is a professor of “the public understanding of science” at Oxford University.
The New York Times Book Review has hailed him as a writer who “understands the issues so clearly that he forces his reader to understand them too.”
Geneticist Francis Collins is director of the National Human Genome Research Project. He is also an evangelical Christian, and author of the book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.
Fresh Air with Terry Gross, the Peabody Award-winning weekday magazine of contemporary arts and issues, is one of public radio’s most popular programs. Each week, nearly 4.5 million people listen to the show’s intimate conversations broadcast on more than 450 National Public Radio (NPR) stations across the country, as well as in Europe on the World Radio Network.
Though Fresh Air has been categorized as a “talk show,” it hardly fits the mold. Its 1994 Peabody Award citation credits Fresh Air with “probing questions, revelatory interviews and unusual insights.” And a variety of top publications count Gross among the country’s leading interviewers. The show gives interviews as much time as needed, and complements them with comments from well-known critics and commentators.
Fresh Air is produced at WHYY-FM in Philadelphia and broadcast nationally by NPR.
3/30/2007 03/30/2007 9874 Discussion Series: Wilma Theater, The Galileo Project, 16 April – 7 May 2007, Philadelphia, PA 19111
“Knowledge Is Only Won Through Doubt”: Science and Culture from Galileo to the 21st Century
How have “scientific revolutions” of the past such as Galileo, Darwin, relativity, and genomics affected society and our understanding of humanity? What role does skepticism play in scientific progress?
Moderator:Paul Grobstein, Biology, Bryn Mawr College
Panelists include:M. Susan Lindee, History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania
- Joel R. Primack, Physics, University of California at Santa Cruz, and co-author of ————————————
Monday, 23 April 2007 at 7:00pm: Arthur L. Caplan, Bioethics, University of Pennsylvania
- Daniel Kevles, History of Science, Yale University
- Michael Yudell, Public Health, Drexel University
Monday, 30 April 2007 at 7:00pm: Walter Bilderback, Dramaturg and Literary Manager, Wilma Theater
- In Gods We Trust
- The Scientist as Rebel
- Gino Segre, Physics, University of Pennsylvania
Monday, 7 May 2007 at 7:00pm: John Timpane, Commentary Page Editor, Edward B. Davis, History of Science, Messiah College
- God’s Universe
- Moral Minds
Additional panelists to be announced. Program subject to change. For updates, go to www.wilmatheater.org
The Galileo Project Panel Discussion Series is sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation and the Pennsylvania Humanities Council.
3/30/2007 03/30/2007 9875 Urizen Struggling in the Waters of Materialism
(Click for a full size image)
©2007, Deborah Cornell
Nothing exists in isolation. This work connects the precision of scientific investigation with the complex flowing patterns of temporal change. Intricate natural interrelationships can produce unexpected outcomes, such as the subtle filtering of altered organisms throughout environments, and their effect on humans and other species. The digital print “Wind Map” is from the suite Species Boundaries, and uses a geoanalytical chart of the wind directions of the northern hemisphere to suggest the migration of physical matter (including genetic escapes) worldwide.
3/30/2007 03/30/2007 9877 In Saturn’s Shadow
While the first buds of spring break through the hardened earth and deliver us in the northern hemisphere from the bleakness of winter, Pesach and Pascha—or the Jewish Passover and the Christian Easter—come into view. Despite intimate linkages between the two feasts, deriving from the Christian tradition’s beginnings in the Hebrew one, Passover and Easter are as different from each other as are the religious systems they are a part of. And yet a responsible synthesis, one that respects and preserves the integrity of these distinct traditions, can entertain a truth that seems to transcend their particulars: At the heart of both Pesach and Pascha is a timeless story of redemption and renewal.
Passover and Easter fall together this year during this first week of April. At candlelit Passover Seders earlier this week, the tale of the Hebrews’ deliverance from slavery and exodus from Egypt was recounted so that its message of freedom and hope could live on in the minds and hearts of future generations. And multitudes of Christians of all denominations are gathering formally and informally this week to reenact and relive the central mystery of their faith: That by dying and resurrecting, Christ delivered the world from the tyranny of death.
Historians, anthropologists, and scholars of religion have taken pains to point out that we should understand the central stories of Pesach and Pascha as part of a broader tradition of Ancient Near Eastern agrarian myth. This insight in no way diminishes our observance of these feasts but rather accomplishes what good scholarship ought to. It enriches our worldview by adding layers of depth to our understanding. In the case of Passover and Easter, we are connected not only to the cycles of nature, but also through a continuity of culture and shared systems of meaning that have lived on while nations, races, and creeds have risen and fallen. Pesach and Pascha connect us to the eternal.
The goal of Metanexus Institute and the Global Spiral is to foster transdisciplinary dialogue, research and education into humanity’s most profound and enduring questions and challenges. In this effort, we bring together scholars representing diverse disciplines, scientists, clergy, and citizens alike as well as their various philosophical and spiritual views and religious practices. All are encouraged to bring all of themselves. It is our hope that this publication and your participation will contribute positively to these aims.
To our Jewish friends, we wish a blessed Passover. To our Christian friends, a joyous Easter. And to all, a springtide resplendent with purpose, joy, and hope.
Image courtesy of Andy Ilachinski
4/4/2007 04/04/2007 9882 Religious and Scientific Views of Cosmogenesis
The fundamental thesis of the religious view, as implied in Vedic utterances, as stated in the Book of Genesis and as amplified in the opening to the Holy Qur’an, Man plays a central role as a purported end-product (indeed intended goal) of Creation. The will and guidance of an omnipotent and omniscient Creator are implicit in all religious cosmologies.
It was difficult to reconcile this after the scientific revolution of the 15th/16th centuries, which erected a framework in which inexorable, and mathematically precise laws operate without pause or exception to keep the universe rolling in time. This instigated a new vision of God as an omnipotent Creator of physical laws, who left the vast machine tick away like a well constructed clock: smoothly, precisely, and interminably. Some were prepared to admit that if and when the mechanism needed fixing, this Creator of the cosmic clock would intervene to set it right again. Its two advantages were this: It prevented science from sliding into atheistic materialism, and it made God more rational than whimsical, more respectful of rules than of arbitrary behavior. But its serious disadvantage was that it made God no more than a First Cause, who, after the first and only act (Creation) receded into eternal inaction, becoming what the French called le dieu fainéant (the do-nothing god). More seriously, it was only one more step to dispense with even this God.
Indeed, in the current scientific framework, the universe stumbled into existence on its own, because of some mishap in a silent and latent symmetry, intelligible only to the initiated (in group theory and high energy physics), blowing away as matter every which way, creating space and time in the process. As a result of the co-nascent laws of nature which included a few fundamental interactions, matter and radiant energy such as we know came to be, stars and planets were slowly formed by gravitational enticements, heavy elements were synthesized in the crushed core of super-hot supernovas.
After eons of mute and mechanical routine, mindless matter in elliptical orbits, rugged rocks and slime and sand and things like that, there occurred in this tiny speck in a cosmic corner we call the earth, and quite by accident too, a most remarkable event: the bonding of the first self-replicating molecules igniting biogenesis. This started the unpredictable slide down the giddying path of biological evolution. One thing led to another, and before we knew it, Homo sapiens emerged from apes, and began roaming around in the wilds of Africa. Then there was thought and language and agriculture and culture, and what do you know, thinkers were arguing about how it all began.
This picture was not painted overnight. Nor did it arise from the meditation of a serene sage, the proclamation of the wise man of a clan, or revelations from an archangel. Rather, it has developed from the search and struggle of countless people doing experiments, gathering data, formulating and weighing possibilities, mutually critiquing, revising, reviewing, verifying, rejecting, and finally accepting those ideas that seem most plausible. What matters here is not the correctness of the picture painted, or the sanctity in the source, but the reasons and routes by which one arrived at conclusions.
Some people find this account to be at least as interesting as what our distant ancestors came up with. They also find it persuasive because it is fortified by charts and data and mathematical theories to boot. It is more conjectural conclusion than solemn declaration. Those who are inclined to scientific cosmology grant that there is, as there always will be, something tentative in the scientific vision, but the reasonable coherence in it makes it more appealing to them. After all, if explain you must, then you better pay attention to detail and the deductive mode.
On the other hand, to those who are conditioned to scriptural authority and revealed truths, scientific cosmology is one drab and dismal story in which human beings are mere byproducts, accidents or worse, like some inconsequential mushrooms that sprout in the wilderness and perish. All the grandeur of a magnificent universe with splendid stars in the firmament is reduced in the scientific picture to tenuous hydrogen gas pervading all over and concentrating here and there, to dying stars with nuclear fire at the core, galaxies running amuck every which way like swarms of frightened fowl, sea salts cooking into animalcules. And then, one gives the cold shoulder to God Almighty, there is no room for reverence, no one to laud, sing hymns or be thankful to. All this, from the perspective of traditional religion, is not so much poverty of thought, as mischievous materialism, haughty in its cocksureness, lacking in humility, ignorant of the Divine, and pale when compared to the power and poetry of a glorious God-engendered Creation sanctified by meaning and morality and purpose. Cosmologists, like Laplace, may not need a God-hypothesis, but, like Lagrange, many find it to be beautiful and soothing too.
To those who are conditioned to scriptural authority and revealed truths, scientific cosmology is one drab and dismal story in which human beings are mere byproducts, accidents or worse, like some inconsequential mushrooms that sprout in the wilderness and perish. All the grandeur of a magnificent universe with splendid stars in the firmament is reduced in the scientific picture to tenuous hydrogen gas pervading all over and concentrating here and there, to dying stars with nuclear fire at the core, galaxies running amuck every which way like swarms of frightened fowl, sea salts cooking into animalcules… All this, from the perspective of traditional religion, is not so much poverty of thought, as mischievous materialism, haughty in its cocksureness, lacking in humility, ignorant of the Divine, and pale when compared to the power and poetry of a glorious God-engendered Creation sanctified by meaning and morality and purpose. 4/10/2007 04/10/2007 9883 Multi-Level-Headed: The ins and outs of humor
Last week I wrote about insider and outsider status within popular songs. I ended by extending that theme into humor. There is a lot of humor in which we watch to see whether the insider or the outsider prevails in status. Who’s in first place? Who’s in second? In picaresque humor like Beverly Hills Cop for example, Eddie Murphy, the outsider is clearly cooler than the insiders. A street-savvy outsider dropped into Beverly Hills, wins first place status among a bunch of second place insiders.
Of course, not all humor speaks to whether it’s cooler to be inside our outside. Still, an amazing amount plays with shifts between insider and outsider perspectives. We’re fascinated by the relationship between inside and outside because it plays off the most amazing commonplace we ever ignore: We act levelheaded but we’re really multi-level-headed. (See Going Meta, Upleveling, Four I’s. )
At its simplest, multi-level-headedness plays out on two planes: We’re either participating as insiders or observing from the outside. When things are going smoothly we’re just in it, doing what we’re supposed to be doing. When we encounter resistance, ambiguity, strangeness, or ambivalence, our perspective shifts from being in it to being outside observing it. When a relationship starts to feel less like a groove and more like a rut, we start to think about it rather than merely being in it. A lot of humor plays with the jumps we make between being within it and about it–up out of it.
Multi-level-headed humor starts early. Peek-a-boo is a teasing bounce between in and out. “I’m in here with you. No I’m not. Yes I am.”
Are you laughing at me or with me? If you’re laughing with me, we’re in it together. If you’re laughing at me, you’re outside, observing and parodying me.
A lot of puns are built on this inside/outside tension:
What do you get when you cross an elephant with a rhino?
Is “elephino” an answer within the context of the question or is it about the question’s unanswerability? It sits unsteadily on the ridge between inside and out.
Abbot and Costello’s “who’s on first; what’s on second” is the same game: Is “who” a reiteration of the question or an answer within the context of the question. The skit is thoroughly implausible–really, whose name sounds anything like “who’s”?–and yet it remains a classic. We’re as enchanted as babies watching the reference point shuttle between in and out.
Parody plays with the jump from inside to outside. You know what it’s like to accommodate someone’s eccentricities up to a point beyond which they feel like parodies of themselves. That is, you’re in it with them until their eccentricity pops you out, and you laugh a little, “sorry, you lost me there,” laugh. Parody takes that outsider perspective to its logical extreme. The characters are all the way inside, and you’re outside observing and laughing.
Austin Powers has no capacity for self-exploration. He never doubts himself, but we do throughout. He’s drawn so eccentrically, with all the features of a secret agent distorted by exaggeration, that the audience is completely outside observing him. Never while watching an Austin Powers movie are we on the edge of our seats rooting for or identifying with him.
If life were all lived at one level it wouldn’t be funny. Cows live at one level. Cows can be funny, of course, but only in the context of our multiple levels. Gender aside, cows are straight men. Cow-tipping, for example, wouldn’t amuse us if the cows were multi-level-headed and saw the humor in it. It’s only funny (to those who think it is) because the cows are so oblivious.
Wallace and Gromit offer an interesting division of labor on multi-level-headedness. Like Austin Powers or a cow, Wallace, the cheese- and invention-loving middle-class British gent, thinks at one level. Though he’s very bouncy, he never bounces out of the action to observe himself. Gromit, the mute (and in fact mouthless) dog, is the sophisticated and multi-level-headed character. He’s often put in compromising situations and we see through his eyes as he bounces from inside his relationship with Wallace to outside observing it. So who is the straight man? By lack of expression it’s Gromit; by lack of self-observation, it’s Wallace.
And if it weren’t tickle enough popping in and out between two levels, there’s the uber-tickle of multiple or infinite levels. The classic is Monty Python’s “Argument Clinic .” A guy goes to the clinic to buy an argument and falls into argument with the service provider about whether they’re having an argument, and then about whether they’re having an argument about having an argument. Abouts about abouts, pushing us ever further up and out.
But mostly, bouncing between a couple of levels is tickle enough. The deadpan delivery of the last word that pops us out of the mainstream game reveals our unedited perspective, as with Oscar Wilde’s line, “Nature is a dark damp place where birds fly about uncooked.”
But seriously (inside), I’m only joking (outside). . . no, but seriously (inside), I’m reminded of Eeyore’s birthday in Winnie the Pooh, a story that I always thought ended very strangely, very uncharacteristically, but now seems to make cosmic sense.
Eeyore the donkey is a beast of burden, a straight man in a state of permanent disappointment. MOGIBO: Me Out. Good In. Bad Out. Because nothing ever goes right for him, he’s always in a rut, and therefore always stuck between levels. He tries to stand outside his circumstances, calmly observing his own misery. When his friends forget his birthday, he says, “After all, what are birthdays? Here today and gone tomorrow.” But really, he’s neither resigned nor grieving, with no signs of shifting reliably to accepting his fate or fighting against it. His standard greeting is “Good morning, if it is a good morning which I doubt.” It’s right on the edge between hoping it’s a good morning and giving up on its being good.
Piglet and Pooh remember Eeyore’s birthday at the last minute. They run home to get him presents. Pooh gets him a pot of honey, but on the way to Eeyore’s house, he forgets that it’s a gift. He eats all the honey and at the last bite suddenly remembers. He decides to just bring the empty honey pot anyway.
Piglet gets Eeyore a leftover balloon from someone else’s birthday party, but on the way to Eeyore’s he trips and the balloon bursts. Piglet decides to bring the balloon shrapnel anyway.
We see what’s coming, another Eeyore disappointment and disaffirmation, another reason for him to half-resignedly bemoan an unjust world.
Pooh and Piglet try desperately to persuade Eeyore that they really meant well but Eeyore is uncharacteristically oblivious. For the first and only time in the book, he is really at peace, joyful in fact. He has discovered a new game.
“Why!” he said. “I believe my Balloon will just go into that Pot!”
“Oh, no, Eeyore,” said Pooh. “Balloons are much too big to go into Pots. What you do with a balloon is, you hold the balloon.”
“Not mine,” said Eeyore proudly. “Look, Piglet!” And as Piglet looked sorrowfully round, Eeyore picked the balloon up with his teeth, and placed it carefully in the pot; picked it out and put it on the ground; and then picked it up again and put it carefully back.
“So it does!” said Pooh. “It goes in!”
“So it does!” said Piglet. “And it comes out!”
“Doesn’t it?” said Eeyore. “It goes in and out like anything.”
“I’m very glad,” said Pooh happily, “that I thought of giving you a Useful Pot to put things in.”
“I’m very glad,” said Piglet happily, “that I thought of giving you something to put in a Useful Pot.”
But Eeyore wasn’t listening. He was taking the balloon out, and putting it back again, as happy as could be. . . .
Eeyore is mesmerized. It goes in and out like anything. Like us wondering who’s on first and what’s on second.
At its simplest, multi-level-headedness plays out on two planes: We’re either participating as insiders or observing from the outside. When things are going smoothly we’re just in it, doing what we’re supposed to be doing. When we encounter resistance, ambiguity, strangeness, or ambivalence, our perspective shifts from being in it to being outside observing it. When a relationship starts to feel less like a groove and more like a rut, we start to think about it rather than merely being in it. A lot of humor plays with the jumps we make between being within it and about it–up out of it. Originally published on Mind Readers Dictionary; www.mindreadersdictionary.org. 4/10/2007 04/10/2007 9884 Lecture: Dr. Christopher Stoughton, Augustine of Hippo and the Cosmologists, 16 April 2007, Villanova, PA, USA
“St. Augustine of Hippo and the Cosmologists”
This lecture will be given by:
Dr. Christopher Stoughton of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory
Monday, 16 April 2007
Connelly Center Cinema
For further information, call (610) 519-4780 or visit the Augustinian Institute web site at http://www.3.villanova.edu/augustinianinstitute.
Jones, who sits on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, ruled in 2005 that the Dover School Board improperly introduced religion into the classroom when it required science teachers to read a statement to 9th grade biology students stating that evolution is “just a theory,” and that there were alternative theories to consider. Since the only alternative theory offered was intelligent design, Jones ruled that the school board was, in essence, incorporating God into the public classroom.
“To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect,” Jones wrote. “However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom to misrepresent well-established scientific proportions.”
Jones’ presentation follows intelligent design supporter Dr. Michael Behe, professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University and author of “Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution.”
Jones was named one of the “10 Sexiest Geeks of 2005” by the Website Wired News, and was one of Time magazine’s “100 most influential people of the year” in 2006.
“It’s very important that these open dialogues regarding religion and science take place in an environment that promotes both intellectual and spiritual development,” said Dr. Antoinette Iadarola, president of Cabrini. “One does not need to choose between religion and science, and may find a balance between the two.”
4/12/2007 04/12/2007 9897 Announcement: Prof. J. Wentzel van Huyssteen is the first recipient of the Andrew Murray-Desmond Tutu Prize for the Best Christian Theological Book by a South African
The Alone in the World?,published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company in the USA.
Human Uniqueness in Science and Theology, is an edited version of Van Huyssteen’s Gifford lectures, given in Edinburgh, Scotland, during 2004. Van Huyssteen discusses at length the extremely important issue of the relationship between science and religion. The judges describe it as a “complete book in a way that you rarely see.” Van Huyssteen is at home in theology as well as philosophy, and here he deals with human origins in paleoanthropology in relation to theological anthropology. One could say that the very notion of interdisciplinarity requires specialized skills in more than one field, and professor Van Huyssteen has demonstrated those skills in an exemplary way. What we have in this book is nothing less than a text, which will move the whole issue of the relationship of science and religion a long step forward. Gone are the days, it seems, when the one (leaning towards scientism) tried to make do without the other (leaning towards fundamentalism). Van Huyssteen explored the interdisciplinary dialogue between theology and paleoanthropology, and specifically questions of human uniqueness, by focussing on the meaning of prehistoric European cave paintings as some of the oldest surviving expressions of human symbolic activity. His conclusion is that theology and paleoanthropology converge on the fact that humans, with Die Burger).
Van Huyssteen studied at Stellenboch and the Free University of Amsterdam, was minister of the Dutch Reformed Congregation Noorder-Paarl, and lectured at the University of Port Elizabeth, before he became the James I. McCord Professor of Theology and Science at Princeton Theological Seminary, USA, in 1992. Some of his other publications are Duet or Duel? Theology and Science in a Postmodern World (1998), and
(Click each for information and full size image)
©2007 Tom Block
Shalom/Salaam: The Untold Story of a Mystical Entanglement is an interdisciplinary project predicated on the belief that contemporary art, at its best, can move outside of the narrow confines of the art world, approaching the general public through genuinely creative thought and a gentle activism.
Specifically, my Shalom/Salaam Project highlights the strong Sufi influence on the development of Jewish mysticism, following this unfamiliar tale from 11 th century Spain and Egypt, through the Kabbalah and into the Baal Shem Tov’s Hasidism in the 18th century. I believe that the popularization of this positive story can help facilitate the peace dialogue between Jews and Arabs, becoming part of the healing process of that fractured relationship.
Based in my own original research about Jewish and Muslim mystics that studied together, read each other’s texts and openly borrowed ideas from the other religion’s mystical masters, Shalom/Salaam is a unique mixture of art, writing, scholarship and activism. Through a series of art shows, written pieces, forums and other activities, the Shalom/Salaam project introduces this tale of spiritual entanglement to a diverse audience.
Read more about Shalom/Salaam, and see more images in the series, on the artist’s website.
4/23/2007 04/23/2007 9902 Lecture: Dr. Scott Hegrenes, Understanding Evolution: From ‘Missing Links’ to Modern Science, 2 May 2007, Kenosha, WI
The Science and Religion Colloquium at Carthage with support from the Metanexus Institute’s Local Societies Initiative presents a lecture by Dr. Scott Hegrenes of the Carthage Biology Department, titled:
“Understanding Evolution: From ‘Missing Links’ to Modern Science”
Wednesday, 2 May 2007
Niemann Media Theater
For more information, contact:
4/24/2007 04/24/2007 9903 Website: Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health, Launched a New Website, 15 April 2007 The Center for Spirtuality, Theology and Health’s new website just became live within the past week. They have been working to update the form and content on the website for 6 months. It is now an unparalleled source of information about spirituality and health.
Information on the following topics is available there:
(1) spirituality and health grants
(2) workshops and lectures
(4) spirituality & health membership society
(5) post-doc fellowships
(6) past research on spirituality and health
(7) latest research at Duke and throughout the world from 2000-2007
(9) national and international speakers schedule
(10) links to other spirituality and health organizations
Please visit the website at www.dukespiritualityandhealth.org.
Bear with STH since there may be a few kinks that still need to be worked out.
NOTE: There are still a few slots left for the summer research workshops. The July 16-20 workshop is almost full, although the August 13-17 workshop has about 10 slots available. The August 4 clinical practice workshop also has slots available. Information about these workshops and how to register for them can be found on the website above.
In about a week, STH will announce a Request for Research Proposals (RFP) on spirituality and health (seven $200,000 grants), so be alert for that.
4/24/2007 04/24/2007 9904 Call for Papers: SophiaEuropa Project, European Identity: Culture, Technology and Religion,ù 2-4 July 2007, Cracow, Poland Sophia Europa is hosting its 2nd International Conference, titled:
“European Identity: Culture, Technology and Religion”
2-4 July 2007
Notification to authors:
Monday, 14 May 2007
The accepted papers will be published in the conference post-proceedings volume.
– RELIGION & CULTURE
– VALUES & EUROPE
– TECHNOLOGY, SCIENCE & VALUES
– CULTURE & VALUES
For a more detailed Conference thematic description, please visit:Program Committee
– Eoin Devereux (University of Limerick, Ireland)
– Zbigniew Kotulski (Polish Academy of Sciences, Instit. of Fund. Technol. Res., Poland)
– Chris Russell (University of Wales Institute, Great Britain)
The full cost of the conference is 360 Euro and covers participation at the conference, coffee breaks during the Conference, 3 nights at the hotel 2/3, 3/4, 4/5 with breakfast, lunches at 3.07 and 4.07, dinners at 2.07 and 4.07, Conference dinner at 3.07.
For details, contact the Conference Office, at:
– 1st International Conference on Culture, Technology and Religion Topic (SophiaEurope Project) – Limerick, May 11-13, 2006 – (http://www.mic.ul.ie/theology/researchcentres.htm).
The speaker will be Marco Bersanelli, Full Professor of Astrophysics in the State University of Milan and Chairman of the National Euresis Society.
Main Lecture Hall
Dept. of Physics and Astronomy
University of Catania
Via S. Sofia, 64
For more information, please contact:
Prof. Raffaele Bonomo at email@example.com
Prof. Franco Riggi at firstname.lastname@example.org
Marco Bersanelli will speak about the relationship between human reason and physical reality from the viewpoint of an astrophysicist engaged in research in the field of cosmology at the forefront of contemporary science.
This conference is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Metanexus Institute through the LSI grant project, and the University of Catania.
4/24/2007 04/24/2007 9906 Lecture: Michael Ruse, ìThe Evolution-Creation Struggle: An American Story,î 9 May 2007, Madison, WI
The Isthmus Society Presents:
“The Evolution-Creation Struggle: An American Story”
A public lecture by Michael Ruse, Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy at FSU
Wednesday, 9 May 2007
325/326 Pyle Center
702 Langdon Street
This event is FREE and OPEN to the PUBLIC.
Dr. Andrew Newberg, Program Director of the newly formed multidisciplinary center, the University of Pennsylvania Center for Spirituality and the Mind is pleased to announce the 10th Annual Spirituality Research Symposium.
——————————————————— This symposium will also consider the more global role of spirituality in health care service delivery.
Jean Kristeller, Ph.D., received her doctorate in clinical and health psychology from Yale University in 1983. Previous appointments have been at Harvard University Medical School and the Univ. of Massachusetts Medical School.
At Penn he has taught courses in spiritual belief and in alternative healing traditions since 1979.Rev. Paul Derrickson is an ordained Presbyterian minister who has served at the Hershey Medical Center since 1981 as the Associate and as Coordinator since 1995. Paul’s primary focus has been developing and articulating the new role for chaplaincy in the changing health care environment.Gail Morrison, MD, is Vice Dean for Education and Director of the Office of Academic Programs at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. She developed and implemented Curriculum 2000® and Virtual Curriculum 2000® — an innovative, integrated and modular four-year curriculum for students of the 21st century. She was one of the five founding members of the Clerkship Directors of Internal Medicine, and was recently appointed Chair of the AAMC Medical Student Performance Evaluation Advisory Committee. She interned in Internal Medicine at Beth Israel in Boston and completed her residency at Georgetown Hospital.
She currently teaches courses on humanistic medicine, holistic healthcare and therapeutic writing. As a research assistant professor in the Division of Geriatric Medicine, she was the principal investigator of a study on spirituality and mental health. She is the co-editor of Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Older Adults a compendium of articles on holistic approaches to healthy aging.Andrew Newberg, M.D. is an Associate Professor of Radiology at the University of Pennsylvania and is director of the Center for Spirituality and the Mind.
4/24/2007 04/24/2007 9908 Lecture: Dwight Hopkins, Ecological Justice/Environmental Racism, 25 April 2007, Chicago, IL, USA The Zygon Center for Religion and Science is hosting an Earth Week Lecture, titled:
“Ecological Justice/ Environmental Racism.”
Dwight Hopkins, Professor of Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School
Wednesday, 25 April 2007
7:00 to 8:30 p.m.
Hopkins is Professor of Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School. He researches and writes on contemporary models of theology, black theology, and liberation theologies. The book is titled:
“Neuroscience and Philosophy: Maxwell Bennett, Daniel Dennett, Peter Hacker, and John Searle with an introduction and conclusion by Daniel N. Robinson
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Introduction, by Daniel Robinson – The Argument, Selections from Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience – Neuroscience and Philosophy, by Maxwell R. Bennett – The Rebuttals – –
“If you can get two sworn and unrestrained philosophical enemies such as Daniel Dennett and John Searle to join forces against you, you must at the very least be described as the controversialists of our time.”
—Akeel Bilgrami, Johnsonian Professor of Philosophy and director, Heyman Centre for the Humanities, Columbia University
Neuroscience and Philosophy presents the thought-provoking intellectual exchange on the conceptual presuppositions of cognitive neuroscience that took place at the 2005 meeting of the American Philosophical Association in New York. It aroused widespread interest and was chosen for an “authors and critics” debate at the APA. In the impassioned debate that ensued, fundamentally different conceptions of philosophical method, cognitive-neuroscientific explanation, and human nature clashed.
The themes discussed in this engaging and highly readable confrontation have a wide range. It is left to the reader, as it was left to the audience of the original debate, to decide which conception is appropriate.
In his conclusion, Daniel Robinson (Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Georgetown University) summarizes the arguments and makes clear why the debate is so crucial for the understanding of neuroscientific research.
About the Authors
This way of thinking is always concrete, local, and contextual, but at the same time reaches beyond local contexts to transdisciplinary concerns. The overriding concern here is as follows: while we always come to our interpersonal and cross-disciplinary conversations with strong personal beliefs, commitments and even prejudices, a postfoundationalist approach enables us to realize that, in spite of our radically different reasoning strategies, there is also much that we share in terms of our rational resources. An interdisciplinary approach, carefully thought through, can help us to identify these shared resources in different modes of knowledge so as to reach beyond the boundaries of our own traditional disciplines in cross-contextual, cross-disciplinary conversation. It can also enable us to identify possible shared conceptual problems as we negotiate the porous boundaries of our different disciplines.
One such shared interdisciplinary problem is the concern for human uniqueness, and how that may, or may not, relate to human origins and the evolution of religious awareness. It is, therefore, precisely in the problem of ‘human uniqueness’ that theology and the sciences may find a shared research trajectory. Our very human capacity (or mania?) for self-definition can most probably be seen as one of the ‘crowning achievements’ of our species. As we all know today, however, no one trait or accomplishment should ever be taken as the single defining characteristic of what it means to be human. Morever, what we see as our humanness, or even our distinct human ‘uniqueness’, ultimately implies a deeply moral choice: we are not just biological creatures, but as cultural creatures we have the remarkable but dangerous ability to determine whom we are going to include, or not, as part of ‘us’(cf. Proctor 2003:228f.). Talking about human uniqueness in reasoning strategies as different as theology and the sciences, therefore, will always have a crucially important moral dimension. We do seem to have a profound moral responsibility when defining ourselves, for naming ourselves always assumes a specific kind of reality that gives shape to the worlds we create and experience. It is also important to ask, however, how reasonable (or not) it might be for a theologian, after immersing him/herself in the challenging contemporary debates in paleoanthropology and archeology, to expect scientists to provide a starting point, or important links, for an interdisciplinary discussion of issues like human origins, human nature, human uniqueness, and even human destiny. And last but not least: how realistic is it for a Christian theologian to expect scientists to take theological contributions to these crucially important topics seriously?
An interesting part of our self-perception is that it is often the less material aspects of the history of our species that fascinates us most in the evolution of modern humans. We seem to grasp at an intuitive level that issues like language, self-awareness, consciousness, moral awareness, symbolic behavior and mythology, are probably the defining elements that really make us human (cf. Lewin 1993:4). Yet exactly these elements that most suggest humanness are often the least visible in the prehistoric record. For this reason paleoanthropologists correctly have focused on more indirect, but equally plausible material pointers to the presence of the symbolic human mind in early human prehistory. Arguably the most spectacular of the earliest evidences of symbolic behaviour in humans are the paleolithic cave paintings in South West France and the Basque Country, painted toward the end of the last Ice Age. The haunting beauty of these prehistoric images, and the creative cultural explosion that they represent, should indeed fascinate any theologian interested in human origins.
At first blush there does in fact seem to be a rather remarkable convergence between the evolutionary emergence of Homo sapiens, and Christian beliefs in the origins of the human creature (cf. García-Rivera 2003:9). In a sense the famous ‘cultural explosion’ of the Upper-Paleolithic, although in no sense the ‘beginning of a new species’, does exemplify the most distinctive traits of our species much as the creation myths of the Abrahamic religions refer to the arrival of a new species, created in the ‘image of God’3.
Against this background it is already clear that certain themes naturally emerge as seminal for the interdisciplinary dialogue between paleoanthropology and theology. It is in these scientific discussions that theologians need to find transversal connections to their own discipline(s). Scholars like Steven Mithen (1996), Ian Tattersall (1998), Merlin Donald (1991; 2001) and Paul Mellars (1990) have all argued that knowing the prehistory of the human mind will provide us with a more profound understanding of what it means to be uniquely human. It certainly helps us to understand a little better the origins of art, technology, and of religion, and how these cultural domains are inescapably linked to the ability of the cognitively fluid human mind to develop creatively powerful metaphors by crossing the boundaries of different domains of knowledge. Iain Davidson has argued that early humans worked out their relationship with their environment and with each other precisely through paleolithic ‘art’, and he sees the burst of image making after 40,000 BP as reflecting the way that these ancestors of ours explored the limits and possibilities of the power of their recently discovered symbolically based communication. Because of this, most scholars in the field would take the Upper Paleolithic as the standard for recognizing symbolism (cf. Davidson 1997:125; cf. also Diamond 1998), although powerful and convincing arguments have now been made by Christopher Henshilwood and his team for a more gradual emergence of modern human behavior in Africa, most notably by the discovery of personal ornaments from around 75 thousand years ago at the Blombos Cave in South Africa (cf. Henshilwood, C., d’Erico, F., Vanhaeren, M., van Niekerk, K., Jacobs, Z., 2004:404f.). For Iain Davidson any kind of symboling power is tied directly to the origins of language: it would have been impossible for creatures without language to create symbolic artifacts, or to hold opinions about the making or marking of surfaces that would eventually turn them into imagery or ‘art’. For this reason Davidson argues that it is precisely the exceptional artistic artifacts from the Upper Paleolithic that give us unique insights into evolutionary processes, into the evolution of human behavior, and into the very nature of what it might have meant to become a modern human.
The important question now is, what does the origin of language mean for our understanding of prehistoric imagery? For Davidson one of the most distinctive features of language is the arbitrariness of symbols, and how that necessarily results in inherent ambiguity, especially when compared to pre-linguistic communication systems (cf. the complex calls of Vervet monkeys) which have no possibility of ambiguity because they have been honed by natural selection. One way to cope with the proliferation of this kind of ambiguous creativity was to produce emblems or signs which we, even today, can recognize as in some sense iconic (cf. Davidson 1997:126f.). I believe that successful communication, therefore, requires means of identification that the utterances or images are trustworthy, and in some sense represent a recognizable continuity. We should, therefore, not be surprised to find these kinds of emblems among early language users. We should also not be surprised, I think, that we too are still fascinated by the enigmatic character of these symbolic images and signs, especially since they still appeal to our own aesthetic and symbolic capacities.
This argument that paleolithic imagery or ‘art’ is symbolic, and not just decorative, is considerably strengthened by Margaret Conkey’s persuasive arguments against trying to capture the generic ‘meaning’ of paleolithic art as a single, inclusive metatheory, and for a more contextual understanding of the ‘meaning’ of this art as enmeshed in the social context of its time. On this view, the original meaning can only be said to have existed through the contexts in which it was first produced as individual paintings or parts of paintings (cf. Davidson 1997:128). ‘Meaning’, therefore, is not a timeless property of paleolithic imagery in itself, but, as in the case of religious texts, is the result of the interaction, then and now, between the human agents and the material. We also, in our own relational, interactive interpretations of this imagery, discover and produce meaning. Therefore, the symbolism or ‘meaning’ we find in the earliest ‘art’ produced by people like us clearly is a product of our own interpretative interaction with this stunning imagery. What emerges here is an important convergence between theological and paleoanthropological methodology, a postfoundationalist argument for the fact that we relate to our world(s) through highly contextualized, interpreted experience only.
For theology, the most important lesson learnt is that, from a paleoanthropological point of view, all talk of symbolism should be seen as part and parcel of turning communication into language, but the use of symbols separate from language could only have been a product of language (cf. Davidson 1997:153). What this implies is that the prehistoric cave paintings in southwestern France and in the Basque Country of Northern Spain could only have had whatever symbolic, expressive quality they did because of the linguistic, symbolic context in which they must have been created. Hence the imagination, productivity and creativity we associate with humans are very much a product of language, which, in both theology and the sciences, make language and expressive symbolic abilities central to a definition of embodied human uniqueness.
Throughout the history of paleoanthropological research, one of the primary questions has always been, when did humans begin to think, feel, and act like humans? Central to this question has always been the issue of cognition or creative self-awareness, and how it might be recognized in its initial stages (cf. Donald 1991; 2001). Steven Mithen’s answer to this question is an evolutionary approach to the origins of the human mind, and the development of a three stage typology of cognition that follows the evolution of domains of intelligence from the earliest members of the genus Homo through to their final integration in modern humans. Only in the final phase, in Homo sapiens, do we find a dramatic behavioral break, a ‘big bang’ of cognitive, technical and social innovation with the rise of cognitive fluidity as the final phase of mind development (cf. Mithen 1996). William Noble and Iain Davidson, in a slightly different approach, see one development, namely language, as pivotal in the evolution of human cognition. Here social context is seen as a primary selective force, and language, symbolization and mind are integrated into an explanatory framework for the evolution of human cognition, centered on the human ability to give meaning to perceptions in a variety of ways. Ultimately Noble and Davidson see language as emerging out of socially defined contexts of communication, encouraged as a more efficient form of gesture, with the selection of language occurring because of its efficiency and flexibility (cf. Noble and Davidson 1996; also, Simek 1998:444f.).
For Terence Deacon, arguing from a neuroscientific point of view, early symbolic communication would not have been just a simpler form of language; it would have been different in many respects as a result of the state of vocal abilities. Deacon argues that our prehistoric ancestors used languages that we will never hear and communicated with symbols that have not survived the selective sieve of fossilization. And as far as specific Upper-Paleolithic imagery goes, Deacon seems to be in complete agreement with Iain Davidson: it is almost certainly a reliable expectation that a society which constructed complex tools and spectacular artistic imagery also had a correspondingly sophisticated symbolic infrastructure (cf. Deacon 1997:365). Deacon’s argument confirms the transversal impact of paleoanthropology on the interdisciplinary dialogue with theology: a society that leaves behind evidence of permanent external symbolization in the form of paintings, carvings, and sculpture, most likely also included a social, iconic function for this activity. As far as paleolithic imagery goes, then, the first cave paintings and carvings that emerged from this period may not be the first direct expression of a symbolizing mind, but it certainly emerged as one of the most spectacular expressions of the symbolic human mind..
What has emerged from the work of Mithen, Noble and Davidson, Donald, Tattersall and Deacon, and should be of primary interest to theologians working on anthropology, is that human mental life includes biologically unprecedented ways of experiencing and understanding the world, from aesthetic experiences to spiritual contemplation. In a recent article, Terence Deacon makes the important point that the spectacular paleolithic imagery and the burial of the dead, though not final guarantees of shamanistic or religious activities, do suggest strongly the existence of sophisticated symbolic reasoning and a religious disposition of the human mind (cf. Deacon 2003:504ff.). The symbolic nature of Homo sapiens also explains why mystical or religious inclinations can even be regarded as an essentially universal attribute of human culture (cf. Deacon 1997:436), and opens up an important space for David Lewis-William’s persuasive argument for a shamanistic interpretation of some of the most famous of the paleolithic imagery (cf. Lewis-Williams 1997; 2002; Clottes and Lewis-Williams 1996).
In trying to find an adequate explanation for modern human behavior during the Upper-Paleolithic, Lewis-Williams has been highly critical of any over-emphasis on intelligence, and the evolution of intelligence, that might marginalize the importance of the full range of human consciousness in human behavior. This reveals a one-sided focus on ‘the consciousness of rationality’, and has marginalized the fuller spectrum of human consciousness by suppressing certain forms of consciousness as irrational, marginal, aberrant, or even pathological. This is especially true in the case of altered states of consciousness, which in science and even within mainstream religion often has been eliminated from investigations of the deep past (cf. Lewis-Williams 2002:121).
In a move closely resonating with Antonio Damasio’s recent work, Lewis-Williams suggests that we think of consciousness not as a state, but as a continuum, or spectrum of mental states that includes a trajectory from shifting wakefulness to sleeping (cf. Lewis-Williams 2002:122). In addition to this spectrum of consciousness from shifting wakefulness to sleep, Lewis-Williams also suggests another trajectory that passes through the same spectrum but with different effects. He calls this an intensified trajectory, and it is more profoundly concerned with inward-direction and fantasy. Lewis-Williams argues that dream-like autistic states may be induced by a wide variety of means other than normal drifting into sleep: fatigue, pain, fasting, and the ingestion of psychotropic substances are all means of shifting consciousness along the intensified trajectory towards the release of inwardly generated imagery. At the end of this trajectory there emerges pathological states, such as schizophrenia and temporal lobe epilepsy, that take consciousness along the intensified trajectory. Hallucinations may thus be deliberately sought, or may emerge unsought (cf. Lewis-Williams 2002:124).
For Lewis-Williams this second trajectory has much in common with the one that takes us into sleep and dreaming, but there are also important differences. Dreaming gives us an idea what hallucinations are like, but the states toward the far end of the intensified trajectory – visions and hallucinations that may occur in any of the five senses – are generally called altered states of consciousness (cf. Lewis-Williams 2002:125). Lewis-Williams argues that this phrase can equally be applied to dreaming and to ‘inward’ states on the normal trajectory, even if some prefer to restrict its use to extreme hallucinations and trance states. Importantly, all the mental states described here are generated by the neurology of the human nervous system, and they are thus part and parcel of what it is to be fully human. In this sense they are literally ‘wired into the brain’, although we have to remember the mental imagery humans experience in altered states are overwhelmingly, although not entirely, derived from memory and thus culture specific. This is the reason why Inuits will see polar bears in their visions, the San see eland, and Hildegard from Bingen experienced the Christian God (cf. Lewis-Williams 2002:126). The spectrum of consciousness, therefore, is indeed wired, but its content is mostly cultural.
For Lewis-Williams the concept of a spectrum of consciousness will indeed help us to explain many specific features of Upper-Paleolithic imagery. In fact, it provides us with a neurological bridge that leads back directly to the Upper-Paleolithic, especially if we take a careful look at the visual imagery of the intensified spectrum and see what kinds of percepts (the representation of what is perceived) are experienced as one passes along it. Lewis-Williams identifies three stages on the intensified spectrum of consciousness, each of which is characterized by particular kinds of imagery and experiences (cf. Lewis-Williams 2002:126):
– in the first or ‘lightest’ stage people may experience geometric visual percepts that include dots, grids, zigzags, and meandering lines. Moreover, because these percepts are wired into the human nervous system, all humans, no matter what their cultural background, have the potential to experience them. They flicker, scintillate, expand, contract, and combine with one another, and importantly, they are independent of an exterior light source. Lewis-Williams also argues that such percepts cannot be consciously controlled: they seem to have a life of their own. These entopic phenomena (from the Greek ‘within vision’) may originate anywhere between the eye itself and the cortex of the brain. Entopic phenomena should be distinguished from hallucinations, the forms of which have no foundation in the actual structure of the optic system. Unlike neurologically ‘wired’ entopic phenomena, hallucinations include iconic imagery of culturally controlled items such as animals, as well as somatic (bodily), aural (hearing), gustatory (taste), and olfactory (smell) experiences (cf. Lewis-Williams 2002:126f.).
– in stage two of the intensified trajectory, subjects try to make sense of entopic phenomena by elaborating them into iconic forms, i.e., into objects that are familiar to them from their daily life. In addition, in altered states of consciousness, the nervous system itself becomes a ‘sixth sense’ that produces a variety of images, including entopic phenomena (cf. Lewis-Williams 2002:128).
– as subjects move into stage three, marked changes in imagery may occur: at this point many people experience a swirling vortex or rotating tunnel that seems to surround them and to draw them into its depths. In fact, there is a progressive exclusion of information from the outside as the subject moves into a more and more autistic state. This tunnel hallucination is often associated with near-death experiences, and sometimes a bright light in the center of the field of vision creates this tunnel-like perspective. In non-Western cultures shamans typically speak of reaching the spirit world via this kind of vortex of hole in the ground. From this Lewis-Williams can then plausibly conclude that the vortex, and the ways in which its imagery is perceived, are clearly universal human experiences (cf. Lewis-Williams 2002:129). Furthermore, in this third and final stage iconic images derive from memory and are often associated with powerful emotional experiences. In this stage subjects may also enter and participate in their own imagery, and it is in this sense that people sometimes feel themselves to be turning into animals and undergoing frightening or exalting transformations.
All anatomically modern people, not only from the Upper-Paleolithic but also from our own time, had, or still have the same nervous system and, therefore, cannot avoid experiencing the full spectrum of human consciousness, refrain from dreaming, or escape the potential to hallucinate. And exactly because our Paleolithic ancestors were fully human, we can confidently expect that their consciousness were as shifting and fragmented as ours, though the ways in which they regarded and valued various states would have been largely culturally determined1. In December 2004, J. Wentzel van Huyssteen delivered the Olaus Petri Lectures at the University of Uppsala, Sweden. This article reflects in summarized version the heart of the argument developed in that series of lectures.
3. Tattersall also argues that, ironically, it is precisely in our notions of God that we see our human condition most compactly reflected. Human beings, despite their unique associative mental abilities, are incapable of envisioning entities that lie outside their own experience, or that cannot be construed from what they know of the material world. For Tattersall the notion of God is just such an entity. And even with our dramatic increase in knowledge about the unimaginably vast expanse of our universe, our concepts of God – even when expanded commensurately – remain resolutely anthropomorphic (cf. 1998:202). We continue to imagine God in our own image simply because, no matter how much we may pride ourselves on our capacity for abstract thought, we are unable to do otherwise.
Importantly, from a theological point of view, however, this does not imply the illusory character or the non-existence of God, but in fact might actually reveal the only intellectually satisfying way of believing in the kind of God with whom we might have a humanly comprehensible personal relationship at all.
This leads to consideration of yet another theodicy, Manicheanism, in which the universe is the site of the titanic struggle of roughly equal forces of good and evil. For Manicheans there is no necessary reason why the transhumanist development of human capacities could not contribute to the struggle for good. As with arms races in temporal reality, if the forces of good refuse to avail themselves of all the means at their disposal the forces of evil will be guaranteed to use those powers to gain advantage. A Manichean bioconservative may believe that all enhancement technologies are poisoned pills which will doom the user, and that the only armaments necessary in the battle are spiritual. But many contemporary Manichean evangelical Christians – those who inveigh against the wiles of Satan as if he was God’s co-equal – have no problem using television, medicine, computers and so on in their battle for the Lord. So presumably some will also soon see the spiritual necessity for Christians to be as smart, wired and long-lived as the agents of Beelzebub.
The transhumanist philosopher Mark Walker is probably the leading writer on reconciling transhumanism with Christian theology. In his essay “Becoming Gods: A neo-Irenaean Theodicy” (Walker, 2002c) he argued that the theodical position of a Polkinghorne (2000) or Hick (1977, 1981) – that God gave us free will in order to give us the opportunity to struggle for self-improvement – can be applied to a transhumanist theodicy:
it is not the mere possession of free will that guarantees the production of evil, rather it is free will in conjunction with our finite nature that leads to the production of moral evil. Thus, it is our duty to attempt to move beyond our merely finite selves, to become gods. When, and only when, we have discharged this duty will evil be expunged, only then will the problem of evil be fully answered. (Walker, 2002c)
Walker notes that since we are considered God’s children rather than God’s pets that the expectation should be that we are being nurtured and encouraged to become adults and not to remain in perpetual pet-itude.
If God is an ideal parent His mission must be to allow us to develop to become type identical with Him. (Walker, 2002c)
Walker goes on to argue that the transhumanist project, applied to the moral improvement of humanity as well as to the usual goals of longevity, super-intelligence, post-biology and emotional regulation, would be the fulfillment of such a Christian theodicy. Peters makes a similar point about humanity being in Imago Dei, the image of God; doesn’t this imply that we are enjoined to also be god-like in all our attributes, instead of only our spiritual virtues? Philippians 3:21 says He “will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory.” Couldn’t transhumanist technologies be part of the working out of the divine plan that we become godlike as well?
While some Christians insist that humanity was created as we are today, and that no evolution has taken place or should take place so that we remain in Imago Dei as intended, many other Christians have no problem imagining that Creation was simply a prima causa of the Big Bang, or a sparking of life on Earth. Christians who accept that humanity has evolved since Creation should also have no problem believing that we can remain in Imago Dei as posthumans. For instance Robert Schneider notes in “Evolution and the Image of God”:
If this is the biblical understanding of what it means to be created in “the image of God,” then does it require a separate creation for human beings, that is, for H. sapiens, to be made in this image? …”That God created human beings (Gen. 1:27; Ps. 100:3) does not imply instantaneous action. God’s creation of humanity encompasses past primate history, the present, and whatever is to come. The sweep of human evolution illustrates how God’s work of creation is a continuing relationship of dependence between the world and God, a continuing act of God’s will, an eternal covenant relationship”…Genesis itself implies that humanity and all the other living beings are made of the same stuff and given the same breath of life (Gen. 2:7, 9, 19, cf. Eccl. 3:19-21; Miller 1993), and modern science has shown that we share the same DNA and other molecules with virtually all living things…It does not denigrate either God or humanity to hold that God’s creative evolutionary processes brought humanity to a point where it would be capable of expressing those qualities that both Scripture and theology have associated with the “image of God.” (Schneider, 2007).
In summary, in theodicies as in metaphysics, there is no inconsistency between most religious views and transhumanist aspirations. In the next section I will consider some of the soteriological positions on virtue and transcendence that are similarly consistent with a transhumanist project of radical human enhancement.
Virtue, Happiness and Soteriology
Patrick Hopkins (2005) argues that both religion and transhumanism are soteriological efforts to transcend animality. Most transhumanists are libertarian in respect to life goals. While they may personally aspire to enlightenment, salvation, moksha or a life of virtue, they have little evangelical or authoritarian impulse to guide others away from vice or self-indulgence. But there is an implicit conception of the good personality in transhumanist thought, from the evolving Extropian Principles, which urged transhumanists to be more rational and dynamically optimistic, to the writings of Bostrom, Walker and myself which have dealt with issues of eudemonia and the benevolent obligation to restrict others from self-harm. A positive moral and political agenda for transhumanism is riskier than strict liberal neutrality about life ends, since bioconservatives already suspect transhumanists of totalitarian ambitions. But given the types of moral and psychological harms people could cause themselves and society with future neurotechnologies a pro-active theory of the good posthuman personality is inescapable.
The idea of linking transhumanism with moral improvement and soteriology has developed rapidly in the last couple of years in reaction to the growing body of evolutionary psychology and behavioral genetic explanations for religion (Boyer, 2001, 2003, 2004), and the emerging fields of positive psychology, neurophilosophy and neurotheology (Seligman, 2004; Alper, 2006; Hamer, 2004; Newberg, 2002). If our impulses for virtue, vice and religiosity are in some part determined by genetic, hormonal or neurological predispositions why then shouldn’t we redesign ourselves to have better impulses, superior moral reasoning and more frequent experiences of meditative or prayerful transcendence.
In Walker’s essay “Genetic Virtue” (2003d) he argues that there is a growing body of evidence to support genetic predispositions for friendliness, which has been generally considered a virtue. The literature he cites is based on the “five factor” personality model, which shows that everyone’s personality can be described as a mix of five basic characteristics, all of which are substantially set at birth and stable across one’s life: Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. Kerry Jang at the University of British Columbia has found that the agreeableness or sociability trait is especially strongly influenced by genes (Jang, 1998). People who score high on sociability are more compassionate, trusting and helpful while people low in sociability are uncooperative, unsympathetic and easily irritated. Genetic enhancement to make people more compassionate, trusting and helpful, Walker argues, will therefore be both ethical and commendable.
One drug that has been shown to increase our capacity for trust and cooperation is the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is released during breast feeding, orgasm and the infatuation period of romance, contributing to bonding. In experiments in Switzerland Ernst Fehr and colleagues have found that subjects covertly dosed with oxytocin were more cooperative and trusting in laboratory experiments (Kosfeld, 2005).
Similarly applying psychopharmaceutical, genetic or cybernetic control to our vices would also be commendable. Substantial research suggests that our predispositions for addictions, anger, self-absorption, gluttony and sexual promiscuity have a neurochemical basis which can be treated with drugs and potentially gene therapies (Medina, 2000).
Most religious critics of transhumanism assume however that no such biomedical enhancement of human virtue is possible. For instance Christopher Hook wrote in Christianity Today that:
Transhumanist philosophy claims that technology can correct the fundamental problems of humankind. As Christians, we know that our elemental problems arise from the corruption of the human heart (Mark 7:21-23). Sin is real, observable, and unexplained by empirical tools. All technological innovations will not only fail to produce true happiness but also will be corrupted intrinsically by sin. (Hook, 2004)
Nonetheless, the recent controversy over the proposal by Baptist theologian Albert Mohler that Christian parents would be obliged to fix their gay embryos’ sexual orientation in utero shows that the idea of genetic or cybernetic moral enhancement will be compelling for even those religious who are otherwise bioconservative:
Research into the sexual orientation of sheep and other animals, as well as human studies, points to some level of biological causation for sexual orientation in at least some individuals. Given the consequences of the Fall and the effects of human sin, we should not be surprised that such a causation or link is found. After all, the human genetic structure, along with every other aspect of creation, shows the pernicious effects of the Fall and of God’s judgment….If a biological basis is found, and if a prenatal test is then developed, and if a successful treatment to reverse the sexual orientation to heterosexual is ever developed, we would support its use as we should unapologetically support the use of any appropriate means to avoid sexual temptation and the inevitable effects of sin. (Mohler, 2007)
If sinful genetic predispositions are the mark of the Fall of Man in the genome, why stop with the correction of just the impulse to same sex relationships and not include predispositions to greed, anger, lust, gluttony, sloth and pride? Since Adam’s loss of longevity was his gravest punishment in the Fall, wouldn’t correcting genes for aging be a means to redress genetic sin?
General cognitive enhancement of intelligence will lead to improvement in some virtues, such as more sophisticated moral reasoning (Colby, 1983) and our ability to predict the consequences of our behavior for others. But enhancing our capacities for empathy, compassion and cooperation will require different interventions. “Emotional intelligence,” our understanding of our own and other’s feelings, is not correlated with IQ tests (Gardner, 1993). Autistics can display high levels of intellectual ability, while being completely incapable of understanding or empathizing with the emotions of others, and we are coming to understand that damage to specific “mirror neurons” are the cause of autists’ disabled empathy (Oberman, 2005). Similarly our ability to perform moral decision-making, our capacity to experience outrage at lying and injustice, and our feelings of love and shame, appear to depend on specific brain structures (Allman et al., 2001). Developing drugs, gene therapies or devices which enhance the functions of these structures would have profound effects on our moral sense, potentially making us more ethical and compassionate people.
The growing field of positive psychology has developed a meta-cultural model of the six basic, pancultural virtues, and is working on the balance of congenital and environmental factors that determine your virtue orientation on each one. In turn one’s level of each virtue, like several of the congenitally set personality traits and one’s basic happiness set point, all influence one’s level of happiness. People who are congenitally set to be friendly, trusting, energetic and not neurotic are happier than they would otherwise be given their happiness set point. Happily, virtue – energy, diligence, friendliness and so on – leads to happiness (Seligman, 2004). As yet, the positive psychologists have focused on behavioral and cognitive interventions to modify individual virtues, but their work also provides a model for a complementary neurotechnological approach.
If enhancement technologies could suppress our vices and enhance our virtues, is there any reason to believe they would interfere with salvation, grace or enlightenment, the other component in most soteriology? In his 2005 essay “Trans-Spirit: Religion, Spirituality and Transhumanism” Zen priest Mike LaTorra argues that the emerging investigations of neurotheology (Alper, 2006; Newberg, 2002) – the genetic and neuron-physiological bases of meditation, rapture, awe, sudden insight and contentment – should be the basis for new neurotechnologies to enhance these capacities. David Pearce and the “abolitionist” school of transhumanism are researching neurotechnologies that provide a consistently high level of contentment, and other desirable altered states of consciousness. The Council on Spiritual Experiences (Forte, 1997), and a growing network of “entheological” researchers (Hoffman, 2000; Smith, 2000; McGraw, 2004; Economist, 2004), are documenting the effects of “entheogens,” traditional psychedelics and novel psychopharmaceuticals that appear to induce spiritual experiences. In Michael Persinger’s (2001) research on transcranial magnetic stimulation to temporarily suppress activity in specific parts of the brain he has been able to generate the feeling that a spiritual being was in the room with the subject, and brain lesions have been linked to out of body experiences and “religious reverie.”
There is a frequent religious objection to the notion of “push-button Zen” that I think is cogent, and it goes to the transhumanist rejection of the myth of authenticity. Kass et al.’s Beyond Therapy, Fukuyama’s Our Posthuman Future and Sandel’s The Case Against Perfection all argue that enhancement technologies will rob us of a sense of accomplishment, an argument that often bleeds over into the idea of learning through suffering. While I do not think this complaint is an argument for sickness, aging and death, or poverty and injustice for that matter, I do think some people will feel differently about their spiritual health if they overcome their licentiousness or drug addiction with a pill rather than through arduous self-examination. The person who has spent twenty years meditating to achieve a satori experience of oneness with the universe will feel differently, and get different benefits, than the person who is able to induce such an experience with a brainjack. Spending years in community with fellow seekers, talking about your life, your struggles, and sitting on a cushion to master the drunken monkey of mind is not reducible to transient, inducible experience.
Perhaps some of us will still choose to forego engineered virtue and push-button enlightenment, and persist with the spiritual slog, just as people still like to ride horses even though they have cars, or climb mountains when they could take a helicopter. Nonetheless many mountain climbers appreciate having the latest camping gear, GPS locators, climbing boots and a cell phone to call in a helicopter just in case they need one. Similarly, when we have neurotechnologically enabled virtue, grace and transcendence I believe it will be up to each seeker to decide their own combination of technological and pre-technological methods.
Perhaps the ability to use neurotech to occasionally taste contentment and transcendence will provide a little motivation for those who prefer mostly non-technological methods. Those who don’t feel the need to slog slowly up the mountain, generosity, patience, self-control, energy and even enligthenment will be easily available.
Reflecting on the likely capacities of emergent superintelligence in this century and in the far future has led a number of secular transhumanist thinkers to develop eschatologies. These eschatologies are structurally and psycho-culturally isomorphic with religious eschatologies, reflecting the recurrent logic of questions of origins, interruptions and endings. As the religious come to see these similarities they will understand them as a scientific secular validation of their prophesies and visions, with superintelligent humans and machines, and the rest of the transhumanist project, cast as prophecied parts of the eschatological narrative.
The Singularity as Techno-Millennialism
Joel Garreau’s (2005) psycho-history of accelerating change, Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies-and What It Means to Be Human, is structured in three parts: Heaven, Hell and Prevail. In the Heaven scenario he focuses on the predictions of a coming Singularity of transhumanist inventor Ray Kurzweil, summarized in Kurzweil’s 2005 book, The Singularity is Near. The idea of a techno-millennial “Singularity” is usually associated with a 1993 paper by mathematician and science fiction author Vernor Vinge. Vinge projected the millennial/apocalyptic consequences of the emergence of self-willed artificial intelligence, which he projected would emerge within the next couple of decades. In physics “singularities” are black holes, within which we can’t predict how physical laws will work. In the same way, Vinge said, greater-than-human machine intelligence, multiplying exponentially, would make everything about our world unpredictable.
Since 1993 a “Singularitarian” subculture has emerged within the transhumanist movement predicated on anticipation of the dramatic abruption of history by technological acceleration. Most Singularitarians, like Vinge and Kurzweil, have focused on the emergence of super-human machine intelligence. But the even more fundamental concept is of exponential technological progress, with the multiplier quickly leading to point of either catastrophe or a transition to a new phase of history.
The most famous accelerating trend is “Moore’s Law,” articulated by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965, which is the observation that the number of transistors that can be fit on a computer chip has doubled about every eighteen months since their invention. Kurzweil goes to great lengths in The Singularity is Near to document that these trends of accelerating change also occur in genetics, mechanical miniaturization, and telecommunications, not just transistors. Kurzweil projects that the “law of accelerating returns” from technological change is “so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history.” For instance Kurzweil predicts that we will soon be able to distribute trillions of nanorobots in our brains, and thereby extend our minds, and eventually upload our minds into machines. Since lucky humans will at that point merge with or become superintelligence, some refer to the Singularity as the “Techno-Rapture” or “the Rapture of the Nerds” pointing out the similarity of narrative to the Christian Rapture; those foresighted enough to be early adopters of life extension and cybernetics will live long enough to be uploaded and “vastened” after the Singularity. The rest of humanity may however be “left behind.”
This secular “left behind” narrative is very explicit in the Singularitarian writings of computer scientist Hans Moravec (1988, 1998). For Moravec the human race will be superceded by our robot children, among whom some of us may be ale to expand to the stars. In Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind, Moravec says “Our artificial progeny will grow away from and beyond us, both in physical distance and structure, and similarity of thought and motive. In time their activities may become incompatible with the old Earth’s continued existence…An entity that fails to keep up with its neighbors is likely to be eaten, its space, materials, energy, and useful thoughts reorganized to serve another’s goals. Such a fate may be routine for humans who dally too long on slow Earth before going Ex.” (Moravec, 1988) Here we have the Tribulations and damnation, in addition to the millennial utopian outcome. Rather than consigning the late adopters to eternal damnation, however, as in the Christian Rapture narrative, Moravec argues for the far gentler institution of a universal welfare state to provide comfortably, even splendidly, for the ur-humans, revealing less a vengeful damnation of the unbelievers and more of a Universalist embrace of salvation, heaven on earth for the stubborn humans while the posthumans become gods.
While Kurzweil acknowledges hypothetical apocalyptic potentials inherent in these technologies, such as the “Terminator” scenario of malevolent AI and robots intent on wiping out humanity, he is nonetheless recognizably millennialist about the utopian promise of the Singularity. Hence Garreau’s label that Kurzweil’s is a “Heaven” scenario of the human future. Kurzweil acknowledges his continuity with millennialists by, for instance, specifying the date 2029 as the specific year in which he expects the Singularity, and including a picture in The Singularity is Near of himself holding a sign with that slogan, referencing the classic cartoon image of the EndTimes street prophet.
For most Singularitarians, as with most millennialists before them, the processes that lead to the millennium are seen as autonomous of human agency (Baumgartner, 1999), and little attention is given to ways that war, regulation, energy crises or human incompetence might slow or stop the trajectory. Kurzweil is quite explicit on this point, referencing the continuous curves of technological acceleration that appear to have been unperturbed by wars and recessions in the 20th century. In this sense Singularitarians are more similar to the most familiar Christian millennialism, the “pre-millenialists” who also see the EndTimes coming on God’s pre-ordained timing, not hastened or slowed by human agency. Singularitarians share the premillennialist fatalist optimism that the deus ex machina does not depend on human collective action. Many Singularitarians are apolitical or libertarian; believing that public policy can contribute little to hastening or improving the Millennium, although Luddite regulations may slow it down.
On the other hand, Singularitarianism is also similar to Christian “post-millenialism,” which believes that human agency is required to establish the Kingdom on Earth, to “immanetize the Eschaton” and bring about the EndTimes. For Singularitarians the millennial event comes at the apogee of accelerating progress, rather than after intense Tribulations, similar to the “post-millennialist” eschatologies. Some Singularitarians are focused on the fact that continued human economic and social progress is required to create artificial intelligence, and are dismayed at the slow progress of cybernetic science and the prospects for setbacks to technological civilization. Others are more focused on the possibility of a Manichean conflict between good AI and bad AI, and the importance of human agents in ensuring the success of the former.
An example of such concerns is found in the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence (SIAI). SIAI is perhaps the leading exponent of Singularitarianism, centered on the writings and ideas of the autodidact cyber-philosopher Eliezer Yudkowsky. Yudkowsky and the SIAI hold that the first machine mind to emerge will likely take over the entire world, and therefore it is extremely important that it be “friendly” to humanity. If it emerges spontaneously, without pro-human friendliness having been woven into it’s fabric from the beginning, it will probably either ignore humanity or see us as a competitor for resources, and we could be wiped out. Drawing on films about a future dominated by hostile AIs, some call this the “Terminator scenario.” Therefore for the SIAI it is extremely important that the very few programmers who take seriously the need for friendliness, principally Mr. Yudkowsky and his followers, be the first to produce a machine mind. The SIAI has attracted some support from Silicon Valley philanthropists who share their desire to promote friendliness engineering among AI designers. Like an order of secret warrior-monks performing vital rituals necessary to ensure the incarnation of a divine avatar in order to defend humanity from the forces of evil, the SIAI sees itself as all that stands between humanity and destruction. If the first emergent AI is friendly it will be transcendently benevolent, and only it will have the capacity to solve human problems, from war and hunger to eternal life. The SIAI worldview is a form of messianism, albeit a more loosely organized, nerdily diffident and nonviolent messianism than its religious cousins.
The SIAI researchers have nothing but contempt for any suggestion of a parallel between their own eschatological beliefs and those of religious believers, and they make a cogent point in response; for medieval apocalyptics there was no danger of fire actually falling from the sky, while today we have nuclear weapons. Fear of an noon-negligible empirical threat, and expectation of a scientifically plausible utopia, is empirically entirely different from fear of fictional supernatural threats and expectations of supernatural salvation. The point is important, but it does not change the psycho-cultural similarities between scientistic seculars and religious with similar millennialist expectations; neither see any reason to plow their fields much less stop climate change. If only the deus ex machina can solve human problems, then all energies must be turned to ensuring its appearance on the stage. Any expectation that we might control or regulate the deus ex machina are absurd.
Other Singularitarians are more explicitly millennial in their thinking. John Smart, founder and director of the California-based Acceleration Studies Foundation, often notes the similarity between his own “Global Brain” scenario and the eschatological writings of the Jesuit mystic Teilhard de Chardin (1959). In the Global Brain scenario propounded by Smart (2005), Stock (1993) and Bloom (2000), collective intelligence will emerge as all human beings are be linked to one another and to machine intelligence in the emerging global telecommunications web. Again, this scenario is more similar to the “post-millenialist” form of Christianity since the Global Brain will include all or most of humanity, and come as a culmination of social progress. Smart and a growing group of more mystically inclined Singularitarians believe this scenario is similar to Chardin’s idea that humanity would evolve into the global “noosphere,” or info-sphere, leading to a postmillennial “Omega Point” of union with God.
Possible Posthuman Telos in a Natural Universe
The most common transhumanist cosmology is that the universe is impersonal and purposeless. The emergence of intelligence is a chance occurrence, with no inevitability or pre-ordained end. Given our existence and the immensity of time and the universe, however, intelligence must have emerged in many places and is presumably out there now. All intelligence presumably has the capacity to evolve into superintelligence, go star-faring and engage in galactic engineering of some kind. We should be able to perceive the ubiquity of superintelligence in galactic anomalies.
Thus the Fermi Paradox – the puzzling lack of visible evidence of superintelligence in the universe – provides transhumanists with both a mystery and a moral warning. The mystery is that the telos of evolved extraterrestrial superintelligence may be so ineffable that our expectation that they would be building giant neon signs out of stars, or blasting out radio messages of mathematical formulae in order announce themselves to us may be akin to our intestinal bacteria despairing that we advanced multicellular organisms have not sent an intracellular chemical semaphore to announce our presence to our intestines. We might be swimming in evidence of superintelligent beings who have no interest in communicating with us and not even know it.
The moral warning of the Fermi Paradox is that there are many pitfalls on the path from the chance emergence of life to superintelligence, many “filters” (Hanson, 1998) the passage through which most species never survive. Some astro-biologists suggest that the universe is full of bacteria, but that complex creatures and intelligent species rarely evolve (Ward and Brownlee, 2000). Intelligence may be a rare and not terribly successful evolutionary path. Intelligence may lead inevitably to the creation and use of self-negating technologies and weapons. Superintelligence may tend toward static self-absorption and decline, transforming themselves into inert ecosystems calmly contemplating eternity on their home planets.
We are thus enjoined to take seriously that our posthuman future faces such enormous odds (Rees, 2004) and thoroughly consider all the “existential risks” (Bostrom, 2002) that intelligent species have had to face, and that we ourselves face. Those risks include natural phenomena such as asteroid impacts, supervolcanoes, plagues, and gamma ray bursts (Æirkoviæ, 2003), as well the capricious randomness of evolution, which could run even an intelligent species back into cul-de-sacs and devolution.
In Bostrom’s canonical existential risks paper (2002) he outlines four types of risks:
Bangs – Earth-originating intelligent life goes extinct in relatively sudden disaster resulting from either an accident or a deliberate act of destruction.
Crunches – The potential of humankind to develop into posthumanity is permanently thwarted although human life continues in some form.
Shrieks – Some form of posthumanity is attained but it is an extremely narrow band of what is possible and desirable.
Whimpers – A posthuman civilization arises but evolves in a direction that leads gradually but irrevocably to either the complete disappearance of the things we value or to a state where those things are realized to only a minuscule degree of what could have been achieved.
A “crunch,” the permanent unattainability of posthumanity, is posed by various natural or man-made catastrophes that could permanently end human technological progress, sending us back into a pre-technological state. Bostrom describes several “shriek” risk scenarios involving totalitarian superintelligences, with some narrow, unattractive flaw that eliminates all other evolutionary possibilities. The Terminator scenario is one such “shriek” assuming that the Terminator civilization becomes static and does not go on to develop the dynamic capacities of human intelligence. Another possibility is that a hegemonic superintelligence has a very narrow goal set – to make all living things as efficient as possible for instance – leading it to engineer all the diversity and autonomy out of all inferior beings in order to serve its ends. In the novel Accelerando by Charles Stross (2005), for instance, post-Singularity superintelligences tend to evolve out of computerized trading systems, and devolve into static communicators of buy and sell orders.
The risk that intelligence might willy-nilly end in an evolutionary cul-de-sac, without the imposition of totalitarianism but simply through the results of aggregate free choices, is the final “whimper” risk. This is the island of the lotus eaters, or the Eloi and Morlocks of Wells’ The Time Machine, or any number of other static u/dystopian far futures.
In order to avoid these risks we need not only foresight and posthuman technological mastery over nature, argues Bostrom (2002, 2005b), but also the capacity for collective action through posthuman, hegemonic global governance (a “singleton”). Given the risks of too tight or too loose governance, the global governance system must permit individual and subcultural diversity for the continual evolution of the creative, diverse and dynamic intelligence.
If we can anticipate and navigate these risks we – we as in all intelligences in the universe, and we human beings, and perhaps we personally – may be able to evolve to superintelligence and to spread out to manipulate and become one with everything within this universe or even multiverse. No matter how powerful and sublime it becomes, however, intelligence will still be constrained by the impersonal laws of the multiverse. Superintelligence – singular or plural, sublime or autistic – will either face its end with the heat death of this universe, or achieve some kind of immortality by writing itself into the structure of the universe before the heat death (Kurzweil, 2007) or by building a new and more congenial universe to migrate to as proposed by physicist Michio Kaku (Kaku, 2005; Holt, 2004).
Transhumanist Affinities in Buddhist Eschatology
Buddhist cosmology and eschatology is similar in some respects to Singularitarianism and the standard transhumanist cosmology described above. Buddhism rejects the idea of a created or designed universe, and all beings are subject to the natural laws of cause and effect, impermanence and insubstantiality. After the emergence of this universe, and the first emergence of intelligent beings in the heavens, earth realms and hells, all sentient beings develop dukkha or suffering. In the effort to escape from the cycle of sickness, aging and death, and transcend dukkha, a few rare people begin to discover the path of enlightenment that leads to freedom from causality, Buddhahood. Rebirth into the human realm is especially propitious for working on the path to enlightenment, since the suffering of the hells and hungry ghost realms, and the pleasures of the heavens, are so distracting. Even the way to enlightenment has many pitfalls however, including millennia-long absorption into meditative dead-ends and spiritual cul-de-sacs. Having navigated all these challenges the Buddha is in a unique position to point them out.
Each Buddha then establishes a lineage of instruction which gradually loses its soteriological potency until no one can achieve enlightenment through it. Then another Buddha appears and the cycle starts again. We are currently thought to be in the period between the last Buddha, Gautama Shakyamuni, and the coming Buddha, Maitreya.
The Buddhist text The Lion Roar of the Wheel-Turning Monarch describes the events that lead to the coming of Maitreya, the next Buddha, a mythos that has been an inspiration for Buddhist millenarian rebellion from Burma to China (Hughes, 1993). First humanity is nearly destroyed by a seven-day war, engulfing the whole world and destroying civilization. The war is followed by a seven-month plague, spread by non-human beings, and an eight-year drought and famine, all resonant with other apocalyptic narratives and projections of the potential consequences of the use of nuclear and biological weapons. The survivors unite and establish a peaceful, united world.
Humans will evolve into a new species. After many generations these new humans will live 80,000 years. Age of first marriage will be 500 years. The climate will always be good and mild. The earth will be thickly populated, and the scripture comments that we might think such a world to be like the hell of the “Waveless Deep”, crushed by these billions of humans like being at the bottom of the ocean. But rather than an overpopulated, urban sprawl of polluted mega-cities, in this future humanity will pervade the world “as a jungle is by reeds and rushes,” and the countryside will be like “an adorned garden.”
The people will be tranquil, safe, and free from danger. They will be happy and joyful, enjoying festivals. They will have plenty to eat and drink… In squares at the gates of the city, there will be shining wishing trees: one blue, one yellow, one red, and one white. Divine adornments and ornaments as well as all sorts of wealth and possessions will be hanging on the trees.
The world is ruled by a righteous, nonviolent king, Sankha. The next Buddha, Maitreya, is born into this utopia. Like previous Buddhas he will have 32 distinctive physical characteristics, such as a long tongue, webbed fingers and toes, spoked wheels on his hands and feet, a spiral lump on his head, his penis hidden in a sheath, arms longer than his knees, unblinking eyes, and 40 even, white teeth. He will be considered beautiful by all.
When Maitreya reaches the age of 8,000 he leaves the householder life to become a monk, but this time accompanied by hundreds of thousands of male and female followers in his flying palace. After a short, intense period of meditation he achieves full enlightenment and becomes the next Buddha. He then travels the world spreading enlightenment. “Seeing people who are ready to be Awakened, he will go 100,000 leagues in a moment to cause them to be Awakened.” On his return to the capital his ministry brings about the final, peaceful “withering of the state.”
The Maitreyan millennial period will also then come to an end, leading to many more historical cycles before the destruction of the universe, which is not described in the official canon. The fifth century Sri Lankan monk Buddhaghosa systematized Theravadan Buddhist apocrypha and monastic commentaries on the canon in his work Visuddhimaggha (The Path of Purity), including a story of the end of the universe. In Buddhaghosa’s account as this universe comes to an end humanity is warned by heavenly beings “who have seen the end of the universe and the new one being born.” We are told to prepare for the end by meditating ourselves into immaterial states that can survive the destruction of all matter. After the emergence of the new universe, all the immaterial spirits that have survived may re-enter the cycle of samsara as gods, humans, animals and ghosts, continuing their cycles of rebirth until they achieve enlightenment.
A universal human desire to transcend the limitations of human life. The risk of absorption into psychic dead-ends on the road to superintelligence. Radical longevity. A utopian world with eco-friendly wish-fulfilling technology. Flying palaces and teleportation. A superintelligent posthuman avatar of salvation spreading mind vastening. Uploading into hyperspace to escape the death of the universe aided by benevolent aliens. While secular transhumanists are uninterested in prophecy, those who believe in or are inspired by these ancient myths and stories may find their parallels and correspondences to the transhumanist worldview exciting, validating a creative trans-spiritual eschatology.
Posthuman Teleology in a Created Universe
Another, more theistic, correspondence between Buddhism and transhumanism can be found in the mythos of the supernatural bodhisattva of Mahayana Buddhism. Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who decide to remain in samsara after their enlightenment in order to save all beings from suffering. Their salvific mission is focused on human beings since the gods are too besotted with pleasure and power to engage with spiritual growth, and the animals, ghosts and hell-dwellers are too stupid, hungry and miserable. A human rebirth is therefore a rare precious opportunity between much longer periods of spiritual stasis in the other realms.
The supernatural bodhisattva has the power however to make “Buddha lands” which provide a utopian existence with peace, plenty and long lives, but in which these are provided to support and encourage spiritual growth instead of frivolous entertainment and indulgence. The Buddha land is not a terminal paradise, but a kind of Extropian utopia providing the material preconditions for maximum spiritual dynamism until you transcend it and move to the next level of reality. The Pure Land sects of Chinese and Japanese Buddhism are based on worship of Amitabha, the bodhisattva who presides over the Western Paradise. Amitabha ensures that those who call his name are reborn in his realm in which they are assured to achieve enlightenment.
As discussed in relation to theories of theodicy, the idea of superpowerful superintelligences opens the possibility that this universe could be created, perhaps even with benevolent teleological goals for humanity. One very influential transhumanist text that argued for a version of a created universe teleology was the physicist Frank Tipler in his 1995 book The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead. Tipler attempted to reconcile the then dominant scientific cosmological theory of an eventual Big Crunch, with transhumanism and the Christian belief in the resurrection of the dead. He argued that when the universe began to crush back down in on itself, that it would form an enormous black hole, the “Omega Point.” On the edge of a black hole the laws of time and space twist so that we would theoretically experience an eternity in our fall further down into final annihilation, with a theoretically infinite amount of matter and energy with which work. Tipler further argued that by the time the universe reached this end they would have gathered and recorded information about all the creatures that had ever existed in this universe. With infinite computing resources they would then be able to create infinitely detailed recreations of all the beings to populate the endless stretches of the End Time black hole. Thus, there could be bodily resurrection for all dead at the End of Time.
The subsequent discovery that the universe is accelerating in its expansion without sufficient arresting gravitational mass, leading eventually to a heat death and not a crunch, has not changed Tipler’s convictions; by his current calculations we can still arrest the expansion to heat death, and bring on the Big Crunch, if we can migrate our consciousness into dark matter/energy and destroy all baryonic matter in the universe (Tipler, 2005).
Somewhat more proximate, plausible, and far more disturbing, is Nick Bostrom’s (2003) “simulation hypothesis.” Bostrom calculates that if superintelligences emerge and spread with any frequency in the universe, with 50 billion years before the heat death of the universe, during which time the intelligences will be able to convert all matter and energy into information processing capacity, one of the things that will likely occur to them to do to do will be to play a god-like version of SimCity. Except that these future virtual worlds could be simulated down to the behavior of subatomic particles, back to the beginning of time, and out to reaches of visible light. Or at least the virtual creatures within them would never be quick enough to catch the gaps in the simulation, which could produce a star up for every astronomer and a quark for every atom smasher consistent with the illusion of a material universe.
Not only would such detailed simulations be possible, but uncounted numbers of such simulations could be run in parallel, testing every possible evolutionary trajectory for intelligence, exploring every possible war, art form, philosophy and scientific paradigm. Perhaps the superintelligences will compete in an inter-galactic tournament, with the winners being the simulations whose species succeed in destroying all their virtual baryonic matter and creating their own simulated eternal paradises. Perhaps it is pointless to speculate on the mind and aims of God, and simply to posit that a large number of such simulations are likely before the end of the universe. If so, it is not very likely that we are in an original, authentically material universe, and much more likely that we are in a simulation, merely dreams in the minds of gods.
Bostrom’s simulation hypothesis was then further complicated by Stephen Wolfram’s hypothesis that the material universe itself is a computation, whether simulated or not (Wolfram, 2002). In his book A New Kind of Science, Wolfram proposes that from the quantum level on up the universe builds itself through algorithmic computation. Although he does not propose that the universe was designed, or is intended to compute anything in particular, he does discuss the “scientific pantheistic” implications of his theory in the book, and his ideas have been seized upon by intelligent design theorists and other religionists to argue that the universe is intelligent in its very substance.
In his latest book Ray Kurzweil also finds himself entertaining the possibility of a created universe which may also be intelligent, partly from the observation that the cosmological constants for our universe are set in the very unlikely narrow range which permit intelligent life, and partly as a consequence of his musings on the possibility that superintelligence may upload itself into the quantum flux of all things (Kurzweil, 2007).
So materialist transhumanism can, through certain logical steps, come full circle to the idea that we live in a created universe, perhaps a natural universe infused with the quantum mind of God, perhaps because we are a simulation being run in the mind of gods, or a resurrection of ourselves at the End of Time. None of these materialist ideas of a created or intelligent universe necessarily argue that God is unitary, benevolent or even aware of our existence. As discussed above in theodicy, we may be intended to evolve towards a posthuman apotheosis, or we may choose to become gods ourselves in order to challenge the Creator(s) for dominion. But for those inclined toward a theistic trans-spirituality these cosmologies provide yet another bridge to trans-spirituality.
One such extant manifestation of the religious seeing transhumanist ideas about the Singularity and a posthuman apothesosis as a fulfillment of their religious prophecies is the Mormon Transhumanist Association (MTA). They note in a 2007 document:
Mormon teachings of the Millennium and immortality parallel Transhumanist ideas regarding the Singularity and transhumans in at least the following ways:
First, a period of dramatic and unexpected change is imminent. Although some ridicule and few have recognized its signs, the Millennium approaches, and we should prepare ourselves for the Day of Transfiguration and its attending changes. Likewise, although critics scoff and despite the intuitive linear view of change, the Singularity is nearer than we anticipate, and we should review and mitigate associated risks.
Second, minds and bodies may be changed diversely. In the twinkling of an eye, we and other animals may be transfigured or resurrected to bodies of varying types and degrees of glory. Similarly, information technology may enable genetics, nanotech and robotics to enhance the minds and bodies of humans and other animals.
Third, anatomical changes may extend lives indefinitely. From one transfiguration to another, exchanging blood for spirit, we may attain immortality. Analogously, as transhumans, we may extend or exchange our biological substrate with another to ensure persistence of our identity.
Fourth, our work may contribute to these changes. Transfiguration and resurrection may be ordinances for us to perform for each other. Comparatively, our science may provide technology that enables us to enhance ourselves and attain indefinite longevity.
Others see transhumanism as a fulfillment of the prophecy of a rise of demonic powers, apocalyptic trials and false prophets in the End Times:
A terrifying future thunders toward mankind, an impending fate embodied by monstrous, blasphemous combinations of human and animal genetic materials, of man/machine cyborgs, and of beings not only with increased capacities and extended life-spans, but also with re-engineered morality void of compassion. This future is so abhorrent as to almost defy the imagination. These new beings, and the transhumanists looking forward to their arrival, will not be benevolent. (Quayle, 2003)
In summary, posthumans and other aspects of the transhumanist project are likely to be woven into the eschatological beliefs of the world’s faiths, sometimes as a fulfillment of the promise of a millennial future and sometimes as agents of evil.
Improving the human condition is not a criticism of a Creator’s work left undone; it is rather using His free will, and His gifts of the intellect, in fulfillment of our destiny. (Rich, 2003)
While many religious today are skeptical of materialist, atheist transhumanists, and see transhumanism as contrary to the teachings of their faiths, there are already many transhumanists with religious faith who attest to the compatibility of religion and transhumanism. As transhuman possibilities increasingly develop, the compatibilities of metaphysics, theodicy, soteriology and eschatology between the transhumanist and religious worldviews will be built upon to create new “trans-spiritualities.” In this future religious landscape there will be bioconservative and transhumanist wings within all the world’s faiths, and probably new religious traditions inspired by the transhumanist project. We will create new religious rituals and meanings around biotechnological and cybernetic capabilities, just as we did around fire, the wheel, healing plants, and the book. Human creativity will manifest itself not only in technological mastery, but in the ongoing quest to imbue life and the universe with mytho-poetic meaning. I look forward to seeing the results.
“’I’m not afraid to die, I’ll go to heaven’:
5/7/2007 05/07/2007 9952 Test title 4 Test Abstract Test Quote 5 5/7/2007 05/07/2007 9953 3 6 4 5
5/7/2007 05/07/2007 9954 3 6 4 5 7 5/7/2007 05/07/2007 9955 3 67 4 5 7 5/7/2007 05/07/2007 9958 test test 5/7/2007 05/07/2007 9963 Lecture Series: Shanghai Normal University, “Dialogues among Science, Philosophy and Religion,” April – June 2007, Shanghai, China The LSI Shanghai Workshop of Science and Religious Dialogue at Shanghai Normal University is hosting a lecture series, titled:
“Dialogues among Sciences, Philosophy and Religion”
The series will run from April to June 2007.
All events will be held at:
1002 Lecture Hall
Building Wen Yuan
Shanghai Normal University
All events are free and open to the public.
For more detailed information, please kindly contact the coordinators of Shanghai Workshop for Dialogue between Science and Religion in the Urban Society:
Prof. Gao Huizhu at
Prof. Wang Jianping at
The following are details about the different lectures in the series:
Title: Sciences and Greek Philosophy in Islam
Speaker: Wang Jianping, Professor of Religious studies, Dept. of Philosophy, Faculty of Law and Politics, Shanghai Normal University.
Date: 6:30 pm. May 9, Wednesday, 2007
Title: World Civilizations and World Religions
Speaker: Zhuo Xinping, Professor of Religious studies, Institute of World Religions, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing, China.
Date: 6:30 pm. May 10, Thursday, 2007
Title: Taoism and Lifestyle
Speaker: Xu Xiaoyue, Professor of Religious studies, Dept. of Philosophy, Faculty of Humanity Sciences, Nanjing University, Nanjing, China.
Date: 6:30 pm. May 14, Monday, 2007
Title: Confucianism in China
Speaker: Li Shen, Professor of Religious studies, Dept. of Philosophy, Faculty of Law and Politics, Shanghai Normal University.
Date: 6:30 pm. May 16, Wednesday, 2007
Title: Dialogue between Man and God in the Renaissance
Speaker: Zhou Chunsheng, Professor of History, Dept. of History, Faculty of Humanity Sciences, Shanghai Normal University.
Date: 6:30 pm. May 17, Thursday, 2007
Title: The Common Source and Diversity between Tao and Sophia
Speaker: Zhao Dunhua, Professor of Religious studies, Dept. of Philosophy, Faculty of Humanity Sciences, Beijing University, Beijing.
Date: 6:30 pm. May 22, Tuesday, 2007
Title: Sages and Mystical Monks in Buddhist History of China and Japan
Speaker: Ma Delin, Professor of Philosophy, Dept. of Philosophy, Faculty of Law and Politics, Shanghai Normal University.
Date: 6:30 pm. May 24, Thursday, 2007
Title: The Correlation and Interaction between Religions and Contemporary Metropolitan Cultures in the Context of Chinese Culture.
Speaker: Gao Huizhu, Professor of Marxism Philosophy, Dept. of Philosophy, Faculty of Law and Politics, Shanghai Normal University.
Date: 6:30 pm. May 28, Monday, 2007
Title: The New Religions in Contemporary World
Speaker: Ye Luhua, Research Fellow of Religious studies, Institute of Religious Studies, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, Shanghai.
Date: 6:30 pm. May 30, Wednesday, 2007
Title: Religion and Sino-American Relation Today
Speaker: Xu Yihua, Professor of Politic Science, Center of American Studies, Faculty of International Relational Studies, Fudan University, Shanghai.
Date: 6:30 pm. May 31, Thursday, 2007
Title: Buddhism and Sciences
Speaker: Master Juexing, Monk of Jude Buddha Temple, Chairman of Shanghai Buddhism Association, Shanghai
Date: 2:00 pm. June 5, Tuesday, 2007
Title: Faith and Religious Behaviors: on Religious Phenomenology of Max Scheler
Speaker: Zhang Zhiping, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dept. of Philosophy, Faculty of Law and Politics, Shanghai Normal University.
Date: 6:30 pm. June 5, Tuesday, 2007
The Series Lectures of Dialogue among Science, Philosophy and Religion are partly supported by the Local Society Initiative program of the Metanexus Institute, Philadelphia, U.S.A.
5/7/2007 05/07/2007 9964 Conference: University of Copenhagen, “Religion in the 21st Century: Transformations, Significance, Challenges,” 19-23 September 2007, Copenhagen, Denmark The University of Copenhagen is hosting a conference, titled:
“Religion in the 21st Century: Transformations, Significance, Challenges”
19-23 September 2007
Ceremonial Hall, Frue Plads,
University of Copenhagen, Denmark
For more information, contact the conference secretary, Niels Valdemar Vinding, at:
Over the past quarter of a century it has become increasingly clear that religion is and will continue to be a decisive factor in many areas of life in the modern society. Therefore, there is a need for an overall look at the transformations, significance and challenges of religion in the 21st century. The Copenhagen Conference provides an interdisciplinary effort to come to terms with the primary question of the conference: How does religion matter?
Conference Planning Committee:
Ass. Prof. Hans Raun Iversen, Chairperson
Ass. Prof., Dr. Lisbet Christoffersen, Research Coordinator
Dr. Jonas Adelin Jørgensen, Papers Secretary
Niels Valdemar Vinding, Conference Secretary
5/7/2007 05/07/2007 9965 Lecture Series: LSI group at Innsbruck, “Human Soul,” 10 May – 14 June 2007, Innsbruck, Austria The LSI Group at Innsbruck, “Research group on the Soul and the Naturalistic Challenge” is happy to announce the next talks of the
colloquia series on the Human Soul:
Thursday, 10 May 2007
Prof. Dr. Brigitte Falkenburg of the Institut für Philosophie, Universität Dortmund
“Was heißt es determiniert zu sein? Grenzen der naturwissenschaftlichen
Erklärung.” (What does it mean to be determined? Limits of scientific explanations)
Karl Rahner Platz 3, 1
Stock, um 18.00 s.t.
Thursday, 31 May 2007
Prof. Dr. Uwe Meixner – Philosophisches Institut, Universität des Saarlandes
“Was ist Dualismus? Das Verhältnis von Dualismus zu Wissenschaft und christlicher Religion.” (What is dualism? The relationship of Dualism to science and Christian Religion)
Karl Rahner Platz 3
Parterre, um 18.00 s.t.
Thursday, 14 June 2007
Univ. Prof. Dr. Brüntrup Godehard – Hochschule für Philosophie, München
“Brauchen wir die Seele? Die Kohärenz des christlichen Materialismus.” (Do we need the Soul? The coherence of Christian Materialism)
Karl Rahner Platz 3
Parterre, um 18.00 s.t.
For further information about the LSI group Innsbruck, past and present activities and abstracts of the talks please visit the homepage of the LSI group Innsbruck:
5/7/2007 05/07/2007 9966 Conference: Lancaster University, “Science & Religion: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives,” 23-26 July 2007, Lancaster, UK
23-26 July 2007
This international and interdisciplinary conference is being held to mark the retirement of Professor John Hedley Brooke, Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford. It will bring together historians, philosophers, scientists, and theologians from around the world to debate the latest research into science-religion relationships. The topics to be discussed range from “Intelligent Design” to scientific naturalism, and from new understandings of the “Scientific Revolution” to the role of teleology in contemporary evolutionary biology. Speakers will include Simon Conway Morris, Frank Turner, Peter Lipton, Nancey Murphy, Wentzel van Huyssteen, and John Hedley Brooke.
The cost of registration for this major international conference will increase after 1 May.
5/7/2007 05/07/2007 9967 Book Announcement: Bill Kramer, “Unexpected Grace: Stories of Faith, Science and Altruism,” Templeton Foundation Press, June 2007 The Templeton Foundation Press is releasing a new publication in June 2007, titled:
“Unexpected Grace: Stories of Faith, Science, and Altruism”
By: Bill Kramer
Templeton Foundation Press
Price: $22.95, paperback
Publication: June 2007
For more information, contact Diane Glynn Publicity at:
About the author:
Bill Kramer is a freelance writer who has written for magazines, nonprofits, corporations, theater, and film. Several of his plays have been produced, and two of his screenplays have won independent film festival awards. He has traveled extensively in America and throughout the world, including multiple trips to India. For nearly thirty years, he has practiced meditation, and, as a result, is deeply interested in the way individuals attempt to integrate spiritual beliefs with the challenging circumstances of real world social agendas. Unexpected Grace, his first book, reflects this interest. Kramer lives with his wife and son in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
“Bill Kramer has given us all a wonderful gift, a visionary, moving, and transfixing guide to the human heart. Unexpected Grace is itself unexpected grace: a surprisingly gripping exploration of the keystones of social harmony, empathy, and compassionate actions.”
Daniel Goleman, author Social Intelligence
What makes scientists undertake a study? What are the personal histories they bring to their research? Who are the participants who volunteer to become statistics in the studies? And how do the studies impact the lives of those involved with it?
In Unexpected Grace: Stories of Faith, Science, and Altruism (Templeton Foundation Press, $22.95), Bill Kramer explores the human side of scientific research. He goes behind the scenes of four scientific investigations on diverse aspects of the study of unlimited love and eloquently shares the personal stories behind the research.
First is the heartrending and inspiring story of Courtney Cowart, who was a part of a group of theologians who met at Trinity Place in lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001, not knowing her experience would become the subject of a study. The group’s struggle to survive led to the formation of a practical, effective altruistic community.
Students from a University of California Santa Cruz psychology department study embarked on a study of the formation of friendship. Focusing on the dynamics of prejudice and stereotypes, with the goal of learning how intergroup friendship might reduce prejudice, they found their own perceptions changed radically in the course of their research.
The third study, from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, focused on the benefits of religion on mental and physical health, which led its researcher to a fuller understanding of forgiveness, humility, and grace.
The final powerful story is about a physiology of love study conducted in Iowa City. Here, a functional MRI is the vehicle for measuring empathy and brings the researcher to wonder, “Is there a point at which empathy shuts down and we turn away?” Ultimately she comes to recognize that past experiences influence our ability to respond empathetically.
Each story candidly unveils the transformations the researchers and their subjects experienced in the course of their work. This unique behind-the-scenes view of the research process is a powerful testament both to those who do the research and those who participate in the studies.
5/7/2007 05/07/2007 9978 Symposium & Workshop: University of California-Davis, “Music and the Brain: From Real World Experience through Laboratory Experiment,” 11 May 2007, Davis, CA, USA
The Center for the Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis is hosting a symposium and workshop, titled:
“Music and the Brain: From Real World Experience through Laboratory Experiment”
Friday, 11 May 2007
8:30AM – 8:00PM
UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain
267 Cousteau Place
Davis, CA 95618
Registration is free but required.
Information regarding the program and registration is available online at http://tarp.ucdavis.edu/symposium.
Contact Dr. Petr Janata at email@example.com.
The event is sponsored in part by the Metanexus Institute as part of a Templeton Advanced Research Program project titled, “Music, Spirituality, Religion, and the Human Brain.”
The program is highly interdisciplinary and targeted toward an educated lay-audience. It features talks by prominent scholars from the fields of religious studies, musicology, psychology, and neuroscience as well as workshops and discussions delving into research linking music, emotion and spiritual experience.
8:30–9:00 – Registration & Coffee
9:00 – 9:10 – Welcome and Introduction
9:10–10:00 – “Music and Spiritual/Religious Experience” – Robin Sylvan, The Sacred Center
10:00–10:30 – Coffee
10:30–11:15 – “Synchronization in piano duos” – Peter Keller, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences
11:15–12:00 – “Analyzing temporal dynamics in the experience of music: Differential Calculus, Physics, and Functional Data Analysis Techniques” – Bradley Vines, UC Davis
Noon–1:30 – Lunch
1:30–1:50 – Orientation to workshops – Petr Janata, UC Davis
2:00–4:00 – Workshops – Music, Flow, and the Groove
4:00–5:00 – “Music and the Brain” – Petr Janata, UC Davis
* PLEASE NOTE: Dr. Ed Large who was originally scheduled to give a talk titled, “Musical Experience and Musical Universals,” had to cancel due to unforseen circumstances.
5:00-8:00 – Discussion/Reception/Center for Mind and Brain BBQ, with generative music by Custom Mixes
5/9/2007 05/09/2007 9979 Television Production: PBS, “A Brief History of Disbelief,” Premiered May 4th A new three-part documentary on public television will explore the hidden story of atheism and broaden the belief vs. disbelief debate. This documentary is hosted by Jonathan Miller and titled:
“A Brief History of Disbelief”
Premiers on Friday, 4 May 2007
Please check the broadcast calendar at http://www.abriefhistoryofdisbelief.org/NewFiles/Disbelief%20Calendar.pdf .
This website lists when the documentary will be aired on different television stations around the country.
For more information, visit:
This documentary features Dr. Pascal Boyer an anthropologist and a grantee of Metanexus’ TARP program. To learn more about Boyer’s work, visit:
This spring the debate over belief-disbelief-atheism intensifies with the national airing of A Brief History of Disbelief on public television stations, premiering May 4. Hosted by Jonathan Miller, the three-part series comes in the midst of the upcoming release of two provocative books on atheism: Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and Joan Konner’s The Atheist’s Bible.
God has rarely been such a contentious issue. Best-selling books The God Delusion, The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation and Breaking the Spell have forcefully challenged the sacred cows, doctrines and dogmas of conventional religious belief.
A Brief History of Disbelief is a deeply intelligent and rational journey through the highly divisive topic. A Brief History of Disbelief premiers in the U.S. on most public television stations on Friday, May 4, 2007 (check local listings). The series is presented by the Independent Production Fund, executive director Alvin Perlmutter.
Written and narrated by acclaimed British intellectual Jonathan Miller — author, lecturer, TV producer/host, director of theater, opera and film, and neurologist — A Brief History of Disbelief originally aired on the BBC in the U.K. It was the first-ever historical look at the controversial topic on television. It is only during the last few years in the U.S. that atheism can be fully and widely discussed. Many leaders and celebrities are “coming out of the closet.” Just this week, U.S. Congressman Pete Stark publicly declared that he does not believe in a supreme being.
“This series is about the disappearance of something: religious faith,” Miller says in the opening. “It’s the story of what is often referred to as ‘atheism,’ the history of the growing conviction that God doesn’t exist.”
A Brief History of Disbelief combines an exploration of the origins of Miller’s own lack of belief with historical perspective and interviews with leading authorities, including biologist Richard Dawkins, philosopher Daniel Dennett, recently deceased playwright Arthur Miller, and physicist Steven Weinberg.
“In making this series I have inevitably discovered that the history of faith and doubt is a great deal more complicated that it might seem,” Jonathan Miller declares. Among the program’s surprising revelations is that philosophy, not science as often assumed, played a larger role in the gradual erosion of belief. And contrary to what many Christian fundamentalists today consider America’s founding principles, the first presidents were actually skeptical of religion. A Brief History of Disbelief traces the history of the first “unbelievers” in ancient Greece through the role of disbelief in America’s founding to its flourishing today.
Part I: Shadows of Doubt
Miller visits the site of the absent Twin Towers to consider the religious implications of 9/11 and meets Arthur Miller and the philosopher Colin McGinn. He searches for evidence of the first “unbelievers” in ancient Greece and examines some of the modern theories around why people have always tended to believe in mythology and magic.
Part II: Noughts and Crosses
With the domination of Christianity from 500 AD, Miller wonders how disbelief began to re-emerge in the 15th and 16th centuries. He discovers that division within the Church played a more powerful role than the scientific discoveries of the period. He also visits Paris, the home of the 18th century atheist Baron D’Holbach, and shows how politically dangerous it was to undermine the religious faith of the masses.
The Final Hour
The history of disbelief continues with the ideas of self-taught philosopher Thomas Paine, the revolutionary studies of geology, and the evolutionary theories of Darwin. Miller looks at the Freudian view that religion is a “thought disorder.” He also examines his motivation behind making the series touching on the issues of death and the religious fanaticism of the 21st century.
A Brief History of Disbelief is presented by the Independent Production Fund, which has produced highly acclaimed information programming for over thirty years. The company and its producers have used television to educate, engage and challenge viewers to consider issues, ideas and public figures from new perspectives.
Major funding for A Brief History of Disbelief is provided by The Center for Inquiry, with additional funding from American Ethical Union, American Humanist Association, Institute for Humanist Studies, and HKH Foundation. 5/9/2007 05/09/2007 9980 Lecture Series: The Warsaw Research Group Philosophy of Fundamentals of Science, “Science & Theology,” 10 May 2007 and 6 July 2007, Warsaw, Poland The Warsaw Research Group Philosophy of Fundamentals of Science, supported by the Metanexus Institute on Science and Religion,
in cooperation with the Academic Ministry at Campus Crusade for Christ, is pleased to announce and invite you to attend the lectures on Science and Theology given by Guest Lecturers:
“Modernism and Postmodernism in Crisis” – Dr. Thomas Woodward (Trinity College of Florida, USA)
Thursday, 10 May 2007
Polish Academy of Sciences
Institute of Fundamental Technological Research
Swietokrzyska 21 str., lecture room 108.
Intelligent Design Movement and Theology Modernism and Postmodernism in Crisis – Dr. Stefano Visintin (Pontifical Athenaeum Sant Anselm, Italy)
Friday 6 July 2007
Polish Academy of Sciences
Institute of Fundamental Technological Research
Swietokrzyska 21 str., lecture room 108
For further information, contact:
visit the Warsaw Research Group home page:
Abstracts of lectures:
Modernism and Postmodernism in Crisis – Dr. Thomas Woodward (Trinity College of Florida, USA)
Shows the powerful role of modernism and postmodernism in taking over the flow of thought in universities, and spotlights the revolution that is now building against these two philosophical systems as they start to collapse.
Intelligent Design Movement and Theology Modernism and Postmodernism in Crisis – Dr. Stefano Visintin (Pontifical Athenaeum Sant Anselm, Italy)
The Intelligent Design Movement is trying to explain phenomena of the physical and biological world postulating the existence of an Intelligent Being; and this, it is claimed, following a purely scientific way of thinking. In so doing it wants to give an explanation of our universe and of the origin of life that natural sciences can not explain in a satisfactory way. It also wants to build a bridge between modern natural sciences and theology, reintroducing the concept of a world seen as the plan of an Intelligent Being that has been the main link between these two disciplines from the beginning of modern science.
But is this a correct approach to this kind of problems? Is it really doing a good service to theology? And to what extent? Answering these questions will require clarifying the relation of theology with natural sciences. But this will give also the opportunity to see how theology deals with causality and motivation.
5/9/2007 05/09/2007 9984 Book Announcement: Stephen Post, Ph.D. and Jill Neimark, “Why Good Things Happen to Good People,” Broadway Books, 2007 Broadway Books is publishing a new book, titled:
“Why Good Things Happen to Good People: The Exciting New Research that Proves the Link Between Doing Good and Living a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life”
By: Stephen Post, Ph.D. and Jill Neimark
With a forward by Reverend Otis Moss, Jr.
On sale Tuesday, 8 May 2007
“In my entire lifetime I have never read a book on the subject of giving and love that presents the truth of its benefits to the giver as a powerful science as well as this book does.”
-Robert H. Schuller, Founder, The Crystal Cathedral
Altruism and charitable giving is a popular new trend among billionaires (think Bill Gates, George Soros and Warren Buffet among others) and regular folks alike. Dr. Stephen Post is at the helm of the new breakthrough science connecting being good and doing well. As the President of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, his research on the life-enhancing benefits of caring, compassion, kindness and altruism has been making headlines since the institutes’ founding in 2001. WHY GOOD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE: The Exciting New Research that Proves the Link Between Doing Good and Living a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life reports the latest findings from neuro-imaging, psychological measures, and major longitudinal studies that show how loving interactions and acts of altruism in our lives add up to big gains in health, quality of life and life expectancy.
WHY GOOD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE is about a love that each and every one of us has at our fingertips: the ability to give, to be generous, to be generative. It is that part of love, new research is discovering, that is the key to health, happiness and a long life. Dr. Post shows us that there is more than one way to give, and none requires you to write a check. In fact, there are ten ways to give, in four domains of life (family, friends, community & humanity), all proven by science to improve your health, and even add to your life expectancy. They include:
– Generativity (helping the next generation)
– And more…
Dr. Post has taken the research and distilled it into a much-needed inspirational message. WHY GOOD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE movingly tells the stories of lives transformed by giving. What’s more, his unique “love and longevity scale” allows readers to test their own habits of giving, and a chapter by chapter plan teaches readers how to use the ten ways to change their own lives. The connection between generosity and health is so convincing that it will inspire readers to change their lives in ways big and small. This is a groundbreaking book on the new science of “goodness” that reveals how acts of giving add up to big gains in health, quality of life and life expectancy for the giver.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Stephen Post, Ph.D., is Professor, Department of Bioethics, at the School of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, as well as Senior Research Scholar in the Becket Institute at St. Hughs’ College, Oxford University. He is President of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, founded in 2001 with a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The Institute focuses on the scientific study of altruism, compassion and service.
Jill Neimark collaborated with Dr. Post on the writing of Why Good Things Happen to Good People. Her novel, Bloodsong, was a BOMC selection, published in hardcover and paperback, and in five foreign countries. She is a columnist for Spirituality & Health, has published three children’s books and is a former features editor for Psychology Today. Her journalism credits include The New York Times, Readers’ Digest, Discover and many others. 5/9/2007 05/09/2007 9985 Poetry as Revelation of Human Nature
Whether it is the joy or the despair of love, the celebration of life or the gloom of grief, whether it is anger or anguish or mirth or moaning, every state of the human heart and every mode of the human condition has been brought to words by the poet’s pen. When we read the lines thus constructed, the nature and pattern of our passions seem unveiled, for the poetic vision exposes the hidden facets of tears and aches, the unreckoned recesses of laughter and love. These are as real as any substantial thing, for they too exist, however subtly, in the universe in which the human mind dwells.
Thus poetic vision creates a worldview which impresses on our very being experiences without material instruments. It incites feelings and emotions from totally intangible entities and happenings. It can also inspire action and activity for no apparent physical reason at all. The poeticic vision is at the root of much of human culture and civilization. It is certainly one of the most pristine manifestations of the human spirit. Its impact is inescapable, even on the least poetic among us, because its ancient vestiges are still powerful in human societies, and also because it resonates with our innermost being, etched, as it were, in the human psyche through some subtle genetic code.
In many ancient cultures poets narrated long stories, cladding them in the colorful costumes of words that was their gift to conceive and concoct. It was thus that the great epics of the human family came to be created. The epics narrated momentous sagas in majestic meters, and the rhythmic lines with descriptions of the world around. They influenced people’s perception of the world, as when the Illiad speaks so often of rhododactynos Eos: rosy-fingered Dawn. But in the process they also infused the listeners with a sense of action and participation, sometimes inspiring them to lofty ideals. Thus, when the heroic Hector declares in the Illiad,
Let me at least not die without a struggle, inglorious,
but do some big thing first, that men to come shall know of it,
a value is imprinted in our minds: that we should aspire to do something of significance during our lifetime. Which is what prompted Oliver Taplin to remark that “The Illiad is not so much concerned with what people do, as with the way they do it, above all the way they face suffering and death.”
More importantly, the events and heroes of the epics, to all appearances emerging for the most part from poetic imagination around surviving anecdotal scarps of ancient beliefs and happenings, infused the characters and episodes with historical authenticity by the sheer power of words and rhythms. In the minds of the listeners, the grand narration and vivid descriptions on the lofty canvass of epic poetry were transformed into historical reports of things that once did transpire. The charming stanzas of Homer paint a myriad facets of that ancient age, but more significantly, through them the gods of pre-Christian Greece acquired a flesh of reality. The great god Zeus was prolific in progeny, both divine and mortal. Through his wife Hera he sired Ares, but he fathered many more through an array of other females also, though for Athena he needed no mate. Artemis and Apollo came to be because Zeus made love to Leto, and Maia was mother to Hermes, another daughter of Zeus. The poet speaks in solemn tones of Helen as born of Zeus too: but now, it was as a swan that he seduced King Tyndareus’ wife Leda who thus conceived Helen, the fairest of the ancient. The gods of Greece play their roles in these narrations, engaging in quarrels and conflicts, rivalries and tricks. Though few, if any, in this day and age take these as anything but stories, once in the faded past, Apollo and Hercules were real beings who lived and lasted, the Greek gods fought and prevailed. But in due course, even as phlogiston of eighteenth century chemistry gave way to newer recognitions of heat and fire, other more persuasive visions of the Divine dethroned Zeus and Ouranos, Apollo and Aphrodite, and all the rest of the gods of the ages from their pedestal of reality, and reduced them to lively beings in the imaginary mythological realm.
Whether it is the joy or the despair of love, the celebration of life or the gloom of grief, whether it is anger or anguish or mirth or moaning, every state of the human heart and every mode of the human condition has been brought to words by the poet’s pen. 5/10/2007 05/10/2007 9986 Careful Caring: We can’t always care, so why feel guilty when called uncaring?
“Don’t say I don’t care. I do care.”
Like many words, care means different kinds of things. It has its descriptive meaning–its denotation: Caring is a certain kind of behavior. But it also has its prescriptive meaning–its connotation: Caring is good. You should care. Being uncaring is bad.
Combining denotation and connotation you get a rule: if caring , then good ; if uncaring , then bad . Someone who calls you uncaring speaks with the authority of simple description–but smuggled into the description is an accusation that can make you feel guilty.
When you stop to think about the implied rule that caring is always good, it’s obviously absurd. If caring is always good, you should never stop caring about anything and anyone. You should always care about everything and everyone.
Since that’s impossible, we bend either the word’s denotation or its connotation. That is, we redefine caring behavior (“I do care; I just don’t feel like being with or helping you”), or we challenge the assumption that caring is always good (“It’s true, I don’t care anymore; I’ve chosen to move on”). The former is kinder, the latter more honest.
It would be nice if the rule for caring were as simple as always just do it . Realistically, what to care about is about the most important question in your life. And not just your life, but all of life. From evolution to the serenity prayer, it’s all about investing attention and effort in those things that pay off and not in things that don’t. For us humans, that includes caring for people who will care back. Perhaps it also means being careful how we define care, neither accepting nor imposing the absurd rule that caring is always good.
It would be nice if the rule for caring were as simple as always just do it . Realistically, what to care about is about the most important question in your life. And not just your life, but all of life. From evolution to the serenity prayer, it’s all about investing attention and effort in those things that pay off and not in things that don’t. Originally published on Mind Readers Dictionary; www.mindreadersdictionary.org. 5/10/2007 05/10/2007 9987 Poetry Transmission and Vision of Reality
Poetic visions often passed on from age to age through rote repetition. In our own times, not many learn to recite by rote a verse of even a dozen lines. But all the lines of the Iliad and the Odyssey were once transmitted from generation to generation through their imprints on human memory. Hundreds of humans served the cause of cultural continuity in a many societies. Thousands of lines of the Üligers of Mongolia, lengthy narratives of ancient deeds of glory, used to be recited from memory by native rhapsodists. Here may be found historical personages like Genghis Khan , but also manggus, the polycephalous monster. Then there were the Chansons de Geste of the medieval French tongue which raised Charlemagne to lofty heights and spoke of happy days of yore when in the mornings birds would sing sweetly in Latin, and joy inflamed the universe at large:
Et les oiseaux en leur latin
Doucement chantent au matin,
La joie enflamme l’univers.
But equally, in these and in other epics, the themes of the rise and fall and the re-emergence of things occur. For, often the reality exposed by the poetic vision is not so much the scenes or episodes presented, but an underlying pattern or motif in the scheme of things. The particular may be exciting and interesting as we read or listen to the story, but the general principles relating to the human condition are what make the epics insightful and everlasting.
The Anglo-Saxon Beowulf, presumably born in England, speaks of a hero of another land. Though Grendel, the dragon who kidnapped and devoured warriors from King Hrothgar’s realm, may be sheer imagination for us of this age, medieval times when the work was composed, many common folk believed in their actual existence, with at least as much conviction as some in our own times who swear that the Lochness monster and UFOs do exist.
The dragon represents in some way the halfway world between scientific and poetic reality. For, its origins are in the serpents of the world, creatures that inherited the earth long before humans descended to the ground, but whose horizontal alacrity, subterranean habitat and venomous fangs spelled terror in the hearts of many ancient peoples. Poetic imagination, basing itself on stray instances of deaths from snake-bites, drew the image of a fearsome beast, out to wreak havoc on human life. So the Egyptian Ra fells Apophis who ruled a lightless realm, and Hebrews imagined the snake to be the cause of sin. The Gorgons and Hydra of ancient Greece were fearsome no less. But some, like the Romans, tried to appease the serpents in temples like Aesculapius, as was done in Hesperides and in India also, while Adisesha, the primordial serpent served as seat for the great Vishnu himself. In China, the snake evolved to wingless dragons of mammoth proportions ruling the air and duly worshiped by gentle Taoists. But from Homeric times to much of the Middle Ages, dragons were by and large evil creatures to be overcome by heroes, monsters to be subdued by the righteous and the mighty. Siergmund and Sigurd, Tristram and Lancelot, and a great many more of classic chivalry slew a dragon and won a name.
Today eager children listen the stories with eyes wide open, tasting to the full every moment of the thrill, but there was a time when dragons were no mere beasts of poetic conception. They were as real as the rhinoceros, not mere monsters made by the mind’s eye. As late as in the 16th century, Konrad Gesner’s monumental Historia animalium listed dragons among the variety of species inhabiting the planet.
Then there are the great sagas of Iceland telling of rival Norse knights and magic potions, where Brunhild in the Volsungasaga has her errant husband Sigurd killed, only to give up her own life on his funeral pyre, not unlike some wailing widows in the Hindu world .
Deeds of bravery and revenge, acts of glory and heroism; beings strange and powerful, often superhuman; gods and godlings, the recall of events of a distant past: such are the ingredients of the great epics of humankind. The world they created, the personages they fashioned, the beings they conceived, all with the poetic clay, lived on for ages, and some live to this day, as part of what many thinking and feeling mortals regarded and regard as aspects of reality.
Deeds of bravery and revenge, acts of glory and heroism; beings strange and powerful, often superhuman; gods and godlings, the recall of events of a distant past: such are the ingredients of the great epics of humankind. The world they created, the personages they fashioned, the beings they conceived, all with the poetic clay, lived on for ages, and some live to this day, as part of what many thinking and feeling mortals regarded and regard as aspects of reality. 5/22/2007 05/22/2007 9988 Sweating the Petty vs. Petting the Sweaty: Two ways to play the game of life
“Life is a game.”
People interpret the parallel between life and games in two ways. The most common implies that like a game, life is no big deal, so you should just relax. This notion can be a comfort when you’re feeling stressed—stressed, in fact by the other way to take the statement: that in the game of life, you’re really trying figure out how to win, live right, make the world work better for you and others. And sometimes it’s not easy.
The first interpretation counsels looking beyond the game of life, as though the real action were elsewhere. The second interpretation counsels focusing on the game of life as if to say it’s no dress rehearsal.
This week I noticed that, simplifying a bit, the first interpretation reflects Plato’s contribution to philosophy and the second, Aristotle’s. Platonists, including most religious people, turn away from earthly matters to focus on the transcendental perfection of some other realm. Aristotelians, including most scientists, focus on earthly matters—seeing the potential for real action, progress, and improved understanding right here.
Which counts more, life or the afterlife? If religious doctrine is right that earthly life is merely a grubby boot camp test that will decide whether you will spend eternity (eternity!) in heaven or hell, then of course it pays to keep your eyes on the prize, which is elsewhere. Throughout much of history, widespread suffering, stress, and lack of earthly progress have dominated people’s experience. Think of how many people have been whipsawed from disease to torture, oppression to calamity without any prospect of an earthly explanation as to why. It’s no wonder the Platonic idea that life is a simulation in the service of some higher, fairer realm has had a lot of appeal.
As with any of your life’s particulars—job, relationship, career—there’s no use flogging a dead horse. You shift your attention away from long shots so you can focus on the investments most likely to pay out. In a way, then, Plato and Aristotle squared off over this everyday question applied to life as a whole. If the chances of finding happiness here are vanishingly low, your mind naturally shifts to the potential elsewhere.
It’s also not surprising that the more stressful life is, the more attractive Platonic transcendentalism becomes. This worries me. In the years ahead, facing global warming and other large-scale discouragements, we may flock in ever greater numbers to Platonism, shifting attention away from the potential for earthly improvement just when we need it most. And towards what alternative? To Aristotelians like me, the battles between Shiites and Sunnis, Protestants and Catholics, Jews and Arabs are founded on ridiculously petty theological differences. All these violent conflicts over imaginary afterlives and which rituals will gain you God’s grace—God isn’t dead, he’s deadly.
By 390 AD most of Aristotle’s writings were lost to the West. Christian leaders, campaigning to stamp out paganism, had burned many books, including Aristotle’s. Plato, commingled with Christianity, prevailed here through the dark ages (476-1000 AD) while Aristotle prevailed in the Muslim centers of learning such as Bagdad. The West rediscovered Aristotle during the Crusades (1095-1291). Aquinas (1225-1274) finessed an integration of Aristotle into Christianity, and the central power of the Papacy helped spread the new Aristotelian Scholasticism that resulted. In the 1600s the Aristotelian vision of continued earthly progress and innovation broke free from the Church’s insistence on a fixed, infallible dogma, and the rest is modern history.
To Aristotelians, Platonists seem obsessed with trivialities. With all the real-world challenges we face, why fuss over the details of some magically perfect, unseen metaphysical realm? To Platonists, Aristotelians seem too content to embrace this flawed earthly existence.
So take your pick: sweat the petty or pet the sweaty. I’d pet the sweaty any day. But then my days aren’t so stressful. I get to experience the extraordinary progress we’re making in the game of life. Good things happen for me every day. So, of course, I don’t sweat the petty details about how I can improve my chances of spending eternity in some alleged other world where good things supposedly happen. I’m Aristotelian because I can afford to pet the sweaty.
People interpret the parallel between life and games in two ways. The most common implies that like a game, life is no big deal, so you should just relax. This notion can be a comfort when you’re feeling stressed—stressed, in fact by the other way to take the statement: that in the game of life, you’re really trying figure out how to win, live right, make the world work better for you and others. And sometimes it’s not easy. Originally published on Mind Readers Dictionary; www.mindreadersdictionary.org. 5/22/2007 05/22/2007 9991 Book Announcement: Paul Davies, “The Cosmic Blueprint: New Discoveries in Nature’s Creative Ability to Order the Universe,” Templeton Foundation Press, 1988 Templeton Foundation Press has just re-released a book first published in 1988 for the first time in paperback.
The Cosmic Blueprint: New Discoveries in Nature’s Creative Ability to Order the Universe
By: Paul Davies
In this critically acclaimed book, first published in 1988 and now reprinted in paperback, scientist and author Paul Davies explains how recent scientific advances are transforming our understanding of the emergence of complexity and organization in the universe.
To read more about this book or to purchase, visit:
About the Author
Paul Davies is professor of natural philosophy in the Australian Centre for Astrobiology at Macquarie University. His research has spanned the fields of cosmology, gravitation, and quantum field theory, with particular emphasis on black holes and the origin of the universe. He is currently working on the problem of the origin of life and the search for life on Mars. He is a well-known author, broadcaster, and public lecturer and has written over twenty-five books. Among his better-known works are God and the New Physics, The Mind of God, About Time, The Fifth Miracle, and How to Build a Time Machine. In recognition of his work as an author, he was elected as Fellow of The Royal Society of Literature in 1999.
His contributions to science have been recognized by numerous awards, including the 2002 Michael Faraday Prize by the Royal Society and the 2001 Kelvin Medal and Prize from the UK Institute of Physics. In April 1999 the asteroid 1992 OG was officially named (6870)Pauldavies in his honor. His most significant award was the 1995 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, the world’s largest prize for intellectual endeavor.
About the Book
Melding a variety of ideas and disciplines from biology, fundamental physics, computer science, mathematics, genetics, and neurology, Davies presents his provocative theory on the source of the universe’s creative potency. He explores the new paradigm (replacing the centuries-old Newtonian view of the universe) that recognizes the collective and holistic properties of physical systems and the power of self-organization. He casts the laws in physics in the role of a “blueprint,” embodying a grand cosmic scheme that progressively unfolds as the universe develops.
Challenging the viewpoint that the physical universe is a meaningless collection of particles, he finds overwhelming evidence for an underlying purpose: “Science may explain all the processes whereby the universe evolves its own destiny, but that still leaves room for there to be a meaning behind existence.”
“ A provocative book that should be widely read.”—Library Journal
“ Unquestionably, Paul Davies has established himself as one of the most felicitous writers on physics at the frontier.” —Abdus Salam, Nobel Laureate in Physics, Nature
* An origin-of-the-universe classic, back in print
* Insightful theories clarified for both lay readers and scientists
* Perfect for classroom use
5/23/2007 05/23/2007 9992 Book Announcement: Nicolaas A. Rupke, “Eminent Lives in Twentieth-Century Science and Religion,” Peter Lang GMBH, 2007 The Peter Lang Publishing Group has recently published a new book, titled:
Eminent Lives in Twentieth-Century Science and Religion
By: Nicolaas A. Rupke (ed.)
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2007.
€ 38 / $ 49.95 / £23.10
For more information or to purchase the book, visit:
Can science and religion coexist peacefully, even symbiotically? Or is conflict inevitable and are the enterprises mutually exclusive? In this volume an international team of distinguished scholars address these enduring yet urgent questions by examining the lives of eminent twentieth-century biologists, chemists and physicists whose careers were marked by the interaction of science and religion: Charles Coulson, Theodosius Dobzhansky, R.A. Fisher, Julian Huxley, Pascual Jordan, Ivan Pavlov, Michael Pupin, and E.O. Wilson. The team’s rich empirical studies show a diversity of creative engagements between science and religion that defy efforts to set the two at odds.
Contents: Nicolaas A. Rupke: Introduction: Telling Lives in Science and Religion – Arie Leegwater: Charles Alfred Coulson: Mixing Methodism and Quantum Chemistry – Jitse M. van der Meer: Theodosius Dobzhansky: Nothing in Evolution Makes Sense Except in the Light of Religion – James Moore: Ronald Aylmer Fisher: A Faith Fit for Eugenics – Peter J. Bowler: Julian Huxley: Religion without Revelation – Richard H. Beyler: Pascual Jordan: Freedom vs Materialism – Torsten Rüting: Ivan Petrovich Pavlov: From Russian Orthodox Monastery to Big Science Laboratory – Edward B. Davis: Michael Idvorsky Pupin: Cosmic Beauty, Created Order, and the Divine Word – Mark Stoll: Edward Osborne Wilson: The Gospel According to Sociobiology – Ronald L. Numbers: Epilogue: Science, Secularization, and Privatization.
About the Editor
Nicolaas A. Rupke is professor of the history of science and director of the Institute for the History of Science at Göttingen University. With a doctorate from Princeton, he has held research positions at Oxford and the Institute of Advanced Studies at the Australian National University. His latest study of scientific biography is Alexander von Humboldt: a Metabiography (2005). Rupke is a fellow of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and the Göttingen Academy of Sciences. 5/23/2007 05/23/2007 9994 Conference Call for Papers: St. Andrew’s Biblical Theological Institute, “Epistemological Paradigms of Science & Theology,” 14-18 November 2007, Moscow, Russia St. Andrew’s Biblical Theological Institute is issuing an invitation and a call for papers for an international conference, titled:
Epistemological Paradigms of Science and Theology: Historical Dynamics and Universal Foundations
14-18 November 2007
Abstract are due:
Saturday, 1 September 2007
For more information, visit:
This international conference is supported by The John Templeton Foundation.
Since 2000 St. Andrew’s Biblical Theological Institute with the support of the John Templeton Foundation has organized four International Conferences on the theme of religion and science dialogue: “Science and Theology” (2000), “Theology and Science: An Anthropological Perspective” (2003), “Responsibility of Religion and Science: Technology, Environment, Bioethics” (2005), “Ultimate Purposes of Theological and Scientific Understandings as Explored in Cosmology, Creation, Eschatology” (2006). Our next conference is devoted to epistemological paradigms of science and theology.
The Conference will take place in Moscow from 14 to 18 November 2007. Leading theologians, philosophers and scientists, who made important contributions into the development of religion and science dialogue are invited. The conference will include plenary and sectional lectures, discussions and cultural events.
THEME OF THE CONFERENCE
Epistemological issues have always been of great importance for the Christian thought. The problem of correlation between faith and reason, of connection between the divine revelation, rational discourse and empirical experience was a subject of constant discussion for theologians and philosophers. In the new time, one aspect of this problem, namely the question of relationship between science and religion, came to the fore. After Kant’s destructive criticism of metaphysics and rational theology, the Ockham model, separating the sphere of rational and empirical knowledge from that of divine revelation, seemed to be the best option. Science became an autonomous area with its own epistemological principles, independent of theological and metaphysical conceptions. Thus the ways of science and theology completely diverged. Science was considered a sphere of objective description of the observable spatial-temporal reality, whereas theology pretended to explicate the eternal divine truth. However, they had one thing in common. Both science and theology pretended to some pure knowledge, whose content is taken from an immutable source and does not (or, at least, should not) depend of particular circumstances of human existence. For science such a source was the world, for theology the divine revelation. Epistemological strategies of science were supposed to represent universal principles of knowledge, remaining the same for all epochs, cultures and societies. Theology did not develop its own epistemological principles, but it also claimed that its doctrines had universal character. At least its methods of argumentation, as well as formulated theological opinions (especially dogmas) were supposed to be independent of language and culture.
Modern philosophy of science does not allow holding this ideal of knowledge any more. Relatively short history of science demonstrates a quick change of world pictures and epistemological paradigms. Together with changes in culture, style of communication and social practices, epistemological principles and patterns of research change too. Methods of scientific research and criteria of plausibility turn out to be tightly connected with values and norms shared by the scientific society. In producing its results, science rests also on extra-scientific ideas. Therefore, even if we agree that there exists only one truth about the world, we must acknowledge that explication of this truth depends on the character of an epistemological paradigm shared by the scientific society.
To what extent does this situation apply also to theology? Is not theology dependent, like science, on cultural preconditions, communicative norms and social values? Many 20th century theologians addressed this issue and today it is clear that theology not only explicates divine truth but also expresses human attitude to it, which cannot be formed outside of a certain social and cultural context. In this sense it would be interesting to draw a parallel between changes of epistemological paradigms in science and theology, e.g. as these changes are described by Thomas Kuhn (for science) and Hans Küng (for theology). The most important question is how to explicate universal and immutable aspects of science and theology, acknowledging at the same time historical dynamics of scientific and theological paradigms.
Within the framework of the conference, a wide-ranging discussion will take up issues connected with paradigm approach to science and theology. In particular, the following questions will be addressed:
· Are there universal principles and norms of scientific and/or theological investigation?
· Is it true that different cultures predefine the character of scientific and theological paradigms?
· How does language influence the character of scientific knowledge and theological argumentation?
· To what extent does the content of theological doctrines depend on cultural peculiarities of the epoch when they were formulated?
· What is the role of the personal factor in scientific and theological investigation?
· How important is the aesthetical criterion in building scientific theories and theological constructions?
· How does contemporary science influence the character of theological argumentation?
· Do theological preconditions influence epistemological strategies of science?
The given list does not exhaust all the aspects of the topic announced in the title of the conference but provides a focus for the expected discussion.
Adrian Lemeni, Ph.D
Professor of Dogmatic and Fundamental Theology at the University of Bucharest. Secretary of state in the Romanian Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs
Nancey Murphy, Ph.D., Th.D.
Professor of Christian Philosophy at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California. Ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren. Member of John Templeton Foundation Board of Advisors.
Rev. Canon Keith Ward, D.D., FBA
Gresham Professor of Divinity, Gresham College, London, Regius Professor of Divinity Emeritus at the University of Oxford. Member of John Templeton Foundation Board of Advisors.
Michael Welker, Ph.D.
Chair for Systematic Theology at the University of Heidelberg, Germany. Director of the Internationales Wissenschaftsforum der Universitat Heidelberg, a center for international and interdisciplinary research. Member of John Templeton Foundation Board of Advisors.
Grigoriy Goutner, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow of the Institute of Philosophy of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Chair of Philosophy at St. Philaret’s Orthodox Christian Institute, Moscow. Professor of St. Andrew’s Biblical Theological Institute. Author of a number of publications.
Alexei Nesteruk, Ph.D.
Researcher in cosmology and quantum physics in the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, University of Portsmouth, England, and a research associate in the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge, England. Visiting Professor of St. Andrew’s Biblical Theological Institute, Moscow.
Vladimir Porus, Ph.D., D.Habil.
Professor, Chair of Ontology, Logic and Epistemology at Moscow Higher School of Economics. Author of numerous books and articles. Chairman of St. Andrew’s Biblical Theological College monthly academic seminar “Theology, Philosophy and Science”.
PAPERS AND PUBLICATION
Those who wish to present a paper should send a summary (1000 words at most) by e?mail to St. Andrew’s by 1 September 2007. The Organizing Committee selects papers for the Conference and sends invitations to the speakers. The full text of all the papers selected will have to be submitted by 1 October 2007. However, it will be possible to participate without a paper (some priests, teachers, and students are expected to be present). The working languages of the conference will be Russian and English.
Upon arrival at the conference every participant will receive summaries of all the papers presented and the conference programme. Plenary and sectional papers are scheduled for 30 minutes each. Some papers will be published in St. Andrew’s quarterly Pages: Theology, Culture, Education and we will publish a collection of papers in a separate volume. Summaries and papers should be sent to:
St. Andrew’s Biblical Theological Institute
Jerusalem St. 3, Moscow, 109316, Russia
Tel/Fax: +7 495 6702200; +7 495 6707644
ORGANIZATION AND ACCOMMODATIONS
The Conference will assemble on Wednesday, 14 November for a reception and opening ceremony in the evening. Participants will depart after breakfast on Sunday, 18 November. The price of a single room and full board will be approximately €70 per day.
Numbers are limited and early registration is strongly advised. Registration will become effective when the registration form and the full conference fee have been received and acknowledged by the registration officer. The conference fee covers registration, accommodation, meals, participation in all conference activities, excursion, conference dinner and entitles the participant to receive summaries of all conference papers.
Early conference fee (before 1 July 2007):
– accommodation in single room €395
– accommodation in double room €305
Late conference fee (after 1 July 2007):
– accommodation in single room €435
– accommodation in double room €345
A limited number of scholarships will be provided – mainly for speakers from Eastern European countries. Should you cancel your registration before 1 October, €30 will be deducted and the remainder of your conference fee will be refunded. No refund is possible after 1 October. Payment of conference fees may be made by bank transfer or by check in US$, EURO or UK pounds. Please write to the registration officer for advice.
All registration forms must be sent to the registration officer:
Ms. Olga Bogoslovskaya
St. Andrew’s Biblical Theological Institute
Jerusalem St. 3, Moscow, 109316 Russia
Тel./Fax: +7 495 6702200; +7 495 6707644
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org 5/23/2007 05/23/2007 9995 Lecture, “Society for the Integration of Science and Human Values (SISHVa), “Organ Transplantation, Ethics & Religion,” 1 June 2007, Peradeniya, Sri Lanka The Society for the Integration of Science and Human Values (SISHVa) is hosting a lecture, titled:
Organ Transplantation, Ethics & Religion
By: Arjuna Aluwihare – Emeritus Professor
Friday, 1 June 2007
11 AM – 12:30 PM
Arts Faculty Seminar Room
University of Peradeniya
Peradeniya, Sri Lanka 5/23/2007 05/23/2007 9996 Workshop: University of Lincoln, “The Religious Roots in Information Systems (RRIS),” 24-26 May 2007, Lincoln, UK The University of Lincoln is hosting a three-day workshop funded by the Metanexus Institute, titled:
The Religious Roots in Information Systems (RRIS)
24-26 May 2007
This event is free and open to the public.
For more information, pleas contact the Editorial Team at:
The main activity of RRIS is exploratory discussions aimed at developing a new approach to insight into the tensions in the field of IS that arise from religious presuppositions. Such questions include the issue of artificial intelligence; diversity of information and communication technology (ICT); development of systems and artefacts; problems in methodological development of IS in relation to historical and contemporary shifts in determinism to freedom in cultural, religious, and scientific endeavour; the difficulty in predicting and ensuring the benefits of technology; and ICT, technological determinism and society.
This group joins together scholars of philosophy, information systems, gender studies, Christianity and contemporary culture, critical theory, biology, and ethics in technology to collaborate in understanding information systems (IS) through the lens of philosophical and theological thought.
This workshop intends to open up and explore the general area of faith influences within IS and organisational practice. The workshop aims to explore the religious roots of information systems and the link to the tensions that emerge as a result of religious motivations.
We welcome attendees from all backgrounds who are interested in these debates and would also like to extend an invitation to individuals interested in submitting papers or hosting discussion groups.
Timetable of the Workshop
– Introduction to the workshop by Carole Brooke and Andrew Basden
– Group Discussions
– Dinner at ‘The Bowlful’ restaurant 6:30 for a 7:00pm start
9:30 – 12:30 Presentations and discussions
12:30 – 13:30 Lunch (Will be provided by the University)
13:30 – 16:30 Presentations and discussion
Dinner at ‘Café Zoot’ restaurant 6:30 for a 7:00pm start
9:30 – 11:00 Presentations and discussions
11:00 – 12:30 Round-up and summary of the workshops (report to be produced)
12:30 Lunch (Will be provided by the University) and depart
5/23/2007 05/23/2007 9997 Book Announcement: Beverly Lanzetta, “Emerging Heart: Global Spirituality and the Sacred,” Fortress Press, 2007 Fortress Press recently published a book, titled:
Emerging Heart: Global Spirituality and the Sacred
By Beverly J. Lanzetta
Item Number: 978-0-8006-3893-1
Price: $18.00 / CAN $21.50 / UK £9.99
Specs: 5.5” x 8.5”, paperback, 176 pages
To order, call Fortress Press at 1-800-328-4648 or visit the Web site at www.fortresspress.com.
To request review copies (for media) or to inquire about speaking opportunities and interviews with the author, please call 1-800-426-0115 ext. 234 or e-mail email@example.com.
To request exam copies for classroom use, (professors) go to www.fortresspress.com/examcopy.
“Beverly Lanzetta is a powerful voice for those who find truth and beauty in a global spirituality. Emerging Heart presents us with her journey toward spiritual nonviolence and engages the reader with the core ideas of such spiritual teachers as Ewert Cousins, Raimon Panikkar, Mohandas Gandhi, Thomas Merton, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and the Dalai Lama. Readers should be put on notice that this book may well change the way they see the world.”
—Harold Kasimow, George Drake Professor of Religious Studies, Grinnell College
Beverly J. Lanzetta is Research Associate at the Southwest Institute for Research on Women at the University of Arizona in Tucson. She is the author of Radical Wisdom: A Feminist Mystical Theology (2005, 978-0-8006-3698-2).
Millions of Americans have adopted and adapted spiritual practices and virtues from a variety of traditions. What are they looking for? Theologian and retreat leader Beverly Lanzetta believes that our contemporary world desperately seeks a shared spiritual foundation adequate to meet our most pressing moral, religious, economic, and social issues. We need, she argues, a spiritual vocabulary to describe the unspoken, to interpret our common humanity, and to articulate our earthly concerns in a way respectful and inclusive of all. In her latest book, Emerging Heart: Global Spirituality and the Sacred, Lanzetta provides readers with a powerful exploration of an emerging global spirituality with justice at its core.
Highlighting pioneers of global spirituality such as Thomas Merton, Thich Nhat Hanh, Abraham Heschel, Mohandas Gandhi, Howard Thurman, Bede Griffiths, and Dorothy Day, Emerging Heart shows how a variety of religious traditions emerge from and converge on a divine nature and mystic quality that creates a loving heart. Lanzetta first describes this phenomenon in her own experience and then elaborates on that mystical core, the notion of the divine, the new shape of interreligious dialogue, pioneers of this new global spirituality, and the personal, spiritual, and ethical challenges that it poses to us.
This is a book of breathtaking insight and high moral ambition to restore our sense of human possibility and high purpose.
“Emerging Heart is an immensely moving account of Lanzetta’s own spiritual experience combined with probing reflections on the mystical heart of world faiths, the significance of interreligious dialogue, and the reality of a newly emerging global spirituality. An inspiring vision inviting to daring ventures.”
—Ursula King, Professor Emerita of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Bristol,
Professorial Research Fellow, University of London
“Emerging Heart is Lanzetta’s most personal and most profound book. She weaves together a tapestry of personal narrative, interreligious reflection, and spiritual insight with eloquence and force. This book heralds—and helps to catalyze—the emergence of a global spiritual wisdom grounded on interfaith exchange, contemplative practice, and creative participation in Mystery.”
—Jorge N. Ferrer, Associate Professor, California Institute of Integral Studies
5/23/2007 05/23/2007 9998 Publication Announcement: Basarab Nicolescu (Director) and Magda Stavinschi (Editor), “Science and Religion: Transdisciplinary Studies,” Curtea Veche The Curtea Veche editing house in Bucharest, Romania is publishing a new transdisciplinary review, titled:
Science and Religion: Transdisciplinary Studies (SRTDS)
Editorial Board consists of:
– Basarab Nicolescu (Director)
– Magda Stavinschi (Editor)
– Philip Clayton
– Thierry Magnin
– Ioan Chirila
– Radu Constantinescu
– Adrian Lemeni
Our magazine is peer-reviewed. We have the ambition to gradually introduce high standards in the acceptation of contributions. However, at the same time, we wish to keep an accessible level for any cultivated reader and for students from different specialties.
SRTDS comports four sections: Studies, Research Works, Book Reviews and Events. The magazine has the form a book and therefore has not a given periodicity. However, our aim is to publish at least two issues per year.
Contributions can be presented in three languages: English, French and Romanian. English is, beyond doubt, the dominant language today. French is very important in the context of Europe and francophone areas of the world. We accept also contributions in Romanian, in order to encourage the development of the science and religion dialogue in a country still marked by the memory of a totalitarian system which had forbid such a dialogue for a long period of time.
We would be happy if you can contribute to the issue No 2 of Science and Religion: Transdisciplinary Studies (SRTDS). The texts must not to exceed 10 pages in Times 12 (single space) and they have to be sent in electronic form to Basarab Nicolescu at firstname.lastname@example.org or to Magda Stavinschi at email@example.com.
Contributions are due:
Saturday, 1 September 2007
Of course, there are several transdisciplinary magazines in the world, but this is the first one completely dedicated to the dialogue between science and religion. Also, in comparison with the multi- and interdisciplinary magazines in the same field, the present one is focused on the transdisciplinary methodology of the dialogue: identification of levels of Reality, use of the logic of the included middle and full consideration of complexity.
Homo religiosus probably existed from the beginnings of the human species, at the moment when the human being tried to understand the meaning of his life. The sacred is his natural realm. Homo economicus is a creation of modernity. He believes only in what is seen, observed, measured. The profane is his natural realm. The transdisciplinary hermeneutics, natural outcome of the transdisciplinary methodology, is able to identify the common germ of homo religiosus and of homo economicus and to engage them in a constructive dialogue.
The transdisciplinary dialogue between science and religion can not be conceived in isolation from other fields of knowledge, like arts, poetry, architecture, mass-media, economics, social life and politics, so crucial in the science/religion debate. This is the reason why our magazine will be also open to contributions concerning other fields of knowledge.
We acknowledge support, in making possible such a magazine, from the Templeton Foundation (USA), the Association for the Dialogue between Science and Theology in Romania (ADSTR), the Institute for Advanced Studies in Science and Orthodoxy (IASSO) and the editing house Curtea Veche.
5/24/2007 05/24/2007 9999 Seminar: AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships Seminar, “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief,” 30 May 2007, Washington, DC, USA This years AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships Seminar is titled:
The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief
Francis S. Collins, MD, Ph.D.
The Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute
Wednesday, 30 May 2007
Beginning at 6 PM
With a book signing and reception to follow
1200 New York Avenue, NW
Please RSVP by Friday, 25 May 2007 at:
Please contact Emily MacGillivray at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need further information.
Dr. Collins is recognized for his landmark discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the Human Genome Project (HGP), a multi-institutional, international effort to map and sequence all human DNA. His accomplishments have been recognized by numerous awards and honors, including election to the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences. He is the author of the book “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief”, and he is invited to many settings to discuss his views on Christianity in debates about the existence of God and evolution.
5/24/2007 05/24/2007 10000 Conference: SophiaEuropa, “Human Persons and the God of Nature,” 3-6 September 2007 SophiaEuropa in association with the Ian Ramsey Centre, Theology Faculty, University of Oxford, UK is hosting a conference, titled:
Human Persons and the God of Nature
3-6 September 2007
Supported by Metanexus Institute and The John Templeton Foundation.
Further details (including the draft programme) and for booking details consult: www.ianramseycentre.org/
or email email@example.com (Conference Director)
Early booking discounts apply before July 1st
Speakers and Participants
Prof. John Brooke Dr. Collete Moloney
Prof. Ronald Cole-Turner Prof. Nancey Murphy
Prof. Eamonn Conway Prof. John Ozolins
Ms. Fiona Dowling Prof. Roberto Poli
Prof. Jürgen Ehlers Dr. John Polkinghorne
Ms. Amanda Hayes Dr. Patricia Rehm
Prof. Edward Henderson Prof. Antonio Russo
Prof. Michael Howlett Mr. Colin Tudge
Ms. Angeliki Kerasidou Prof. Stephan Schaede
Prof. Burkhard Liebsch Dr. Eric Weislogel
Prof. Thomas Moellenbeck Dr. Margaret Yee
5/24/2007 05/24/2007 10002 Conference: Metanexus Granada, “El Conflicto de Racionalidades” or “Struggle of Rationalities,” 20-23 September 2007, Granada, Spain
LSI METANEXUS GRANADA, FACULTY OF THEOLOGY
Leandro Sequeiros, Director of the LSI Metanexus Granada invite you to participate in the meeting about
Struggle of Rationalities
El conflicto de racionalidades
Organized by A S I N J A
c/ Alberto Aguilera, 23 – 28015 Madrid
Tel. 91 542 28 00 – E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org
P R E S E N T A C I Ó N
El tema que queremos analizar en estas Jornadas es el “Conflicto de racionalidades”, un tema básico para cualquier debate interdisciplinar y, probablemente, una clave de comprensión de buena parte de los conflictos de nuestro tiempo y de las dificultades del entendimiento entre individuos y culturas. Se trata de analizar el conflicto que se puede plantear entre diferentes racionalidades, modos de pensamiento, presupuestos epistemológicos, ideologías (científicas, técnicas, éticas, políticas y religiosas). Nos interesan los temas de controversia, pero, sobre todo, y principalmente, el porqué de dichos conflictos. Cuáles son los elementos que obligan a mantener una postura, unos presupuestos innegociables o una ideología incontrovertible, y cómo ello imposibilita o complica una discusión y hace imposible el entendimiento. Cómo la inmersión en un cierto paradigma condiciona y determina las posiciones. Por qué hay tanta dificultad para flexibilizar las posiciones y escuchar comprehensivamente al interlocutor.
P R O G R A M A
Jueves 20 de Septiembre
19.00h. Actividad cultural preparatoria: Proyección de película
22.00h. Actividad cultural: Coloquio sobre la película.
Viernes 21 de Septiembre
9.30h. Primera ponencia: “Conflictos de racionalidades en el pensamiento. Perspectiva desde la filosofía”
Ponente: Mercedes Torrevejano. Profesora de Filosofía. Universidad de Valencia
16.30h. Segunda ponencia: “Conflictos de racionalidades en el mundo actual. Perspectiva sociológica “
Ponente: Juan Luís Pintos. Profesor de Sociología. Universidad de Santiago de Compostela
Sábado 22 de Septiembre
9.30h. Tercera ponencia-debate: “Bioética: autonomía y gestión del cuerpo”
Ponentes: Javier Sádaba. Profesor de Filosofía. Universidad Autónoma de Madrid
Juan Carlos Álvarez. Profesor de Bioética. Universidad Pontificia Comillas. Madrid
9.30h. Exposición ponente 1: “Identidad humana e Ingeniería Genética”
10h. Exposición ponente 2: “Bioética: autonomía y gestión del cuerpo”
16.30h. Película para debate: “¿Y tú qué sabes?” (What The Bleep Do We Know? 2004)
Presentador: Leandro Sequeiros. Profesor de Antropología filosófica y de Teoría del Conocimiento.
Facultad de Teología de Granada
19.00h. Asamblea General de ASINJA
Domingo 23 de Septiembre
9.30h. Cuarta ponencia-debate: “Cosmología y teología: sentido o sinsentido de la creación”
Ponentes: Luís Joaquín Boya. Catedrático de Física Teórica jubilado. Universidad de Zaragoza.
Manuel García Doncel. Profesor emérito de Física Teórica, Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona. Director del
Seminario de Teología y Ciencias de Barcelona (STICB)
9.30h. Exposición ponente 1: “Cosmología científica: exposición y presentación de puntos de vista de científicos actuales”
10h. Exposición ponente 2: “Sentido teológico de la creación en evolución”
13.00h. Reunión conclusiva: Evaluación y cierre de las Jornadas. Propuestas para el año próximo
1. Leandro Sequeiros y Cándido M. García Cruz: “Conflictos de racionalidades en las Ciencias de la Tierra, El caso del conflicto de Louis Agassiz (1807-1873) con las ideas darwinistas”
2. Antonio Blanch: “Conflicto de interpretaciones desde una misma fe cristiana”
3. José Luís San Miguel: “Tradiciones culturales, paradigmas e intolerancias”
4. José Ramón García-Murga: “Teología trinitaria, racionalidad, conflicto, empiría”
5. Lydia Feito: “Cerebros de mujeres y cerebros de hombres: ¿conflicto de racionalidades?”
6. José Miró Nicolau: “Una causa racional de los conflictos entre racionalidades”
for further information: Leandro Sequeiros email@example.com
5/24/2007 05/24/2007 10003 Human Evolution from an Anthropic Universe (Report of the Iberia-Network of LSI)
This paper concerns some specific aspects of the combined research promoted by the Iberia-Network of LSI. A general scheme of the combined research was already presented in Metanexus Conference, June 2006: “Human Evolution – Script for Research Project to be carried out by the LSI and the Iberia-Network in Spain.” This is a restricted research project, carried out in parallel to the Sophia-Iberia in Europe Project by a team of approximately thirty university researchers and professors. It will deal with “Human Evolution” using the same general approach as the Sophia-Iberia in Europe Project. This research project will be enriched by the same course of reflections begun by Sophia-Iberia in Europe.
The study of human evolution enables us to obtain a scientific knowledge of the processes and causes which lead to the appearance in time and the constitution of human reality. This knowledge has two aspects: 1) knowing how nature has formed human nature through evolution as a biological system which has a number of psychic faculties and processes (sensation, perception, conscience, attention, memory, knowledge…) which permit specifically human action; 2) the specific products of human action which have constituted and continue to constitute history: the human being uses faculties to produce emotions, perceptions, knowledge, organizing a memory which accesses history, language, etc., and forms culture. This process, as a whole, constitutes human evolution: and this can be expressed very specifically in computational terms as the fact that human evolution occurs in the formation of the “hardware” of the biological system and in the production of the specific “software” with which each individual and each culture has filled his own history with content.
Evidently the theology of any religion always refers to the real man: it is the real man who, using his psychic powers, constructs in his mind, let us say, the “software” of a determined religion in response to the stimulus of his own nature in the universe. Moreover, in the Christian religion, the comprehension of the supposed Revelation in the history of Israel and in Christ is always made by constructing a theology founded on certain idea of the human being (conditioned by the circumstances of a time in the history of culture). Consequently, if the image of human evolution in modern science helps us to draft an image of the real man, this must be considered to be a basic presupposition for a Christian theology which “understands” Revelation from the parameters of modern culture. This new “explanation” (or hermeneutics) of Christianity would be a candidate to substitute the “explanation” generally presented, at least, in the Catholic Church, from within the parameters of Greek Philosophy and its image of man.
Research on human evolution in the Iberia-Network of LSI is oriented towards theology. Therefore, the study of human evolution is a means to present and discuss the type of theology the new image of man in science leads us to. However, in this communication for the 2007 Philadelphia meeting, we are not going to deal with theological conclusions, but with another more specific aspect, which is also related to our research o the human evolution: the roots of human evolution in an anthropic universe. Thus, we limit ourselves to this methodological question.
We use the term “anthropic” in the “weak” sense. We mean that, if man has been produced in the evolutionary process of the universe (and this is the presupposition for the principle of science), thus, the supposition should be established that only an anthropic universe can provide sufficient explanation of the real presence of man in its interior, where “anthropic universe ” is understood to be a universe which includes the necessary, or at least the appropriate, ontological properties so that the evolutionary emergence of man might be possible. Another case would not be justified in science. This is really a question of the classical Scholastic axiom “ab esse ad posse valet illatio” (from the factual being it is possible to correctly infer the possibility of its beginning).
Thus, we say that the universe is “anthropic” but not in the sense that the universe which produces man is a universe which responds to the “design” of a superior intelligence. We address this problem in our research, but not in this communication in which by “anthropic principle” we only understand the initial “weak” presupposition that from the fact (man) it is possible to infer his possibility (in the ontological conditions of the universe).
Human Evolution from an anthropic Universe begins from the ontological conditions of the universe in evolution until the appearance of man with his own psychic faculties and the exercise of these faculties in history. The evolutionary universe constitutes man and man constitutes history as he appropriates himself of objective possibilities. Of especial interest among the past, present and future possibilities opened up by history are the appearance and meaning of religion (theology) within the framework of human evolution.
Consequently, a basic aspect of the study of human evolution must consist of the ontological properties of the universe which have made this possible. In fact, the roots of human evolution in all its aspects must be found in the germinal properties of the universe. This must be “anthropic” in the weak sense. If it were not so, or, and this is not the same, if science were not capable of describing an anthropic universe to us, then, human knowledge would fall into a dramatic state of confusion: or “reduce” the explanation of man without assuming aspects which are essential to our human experience (reductionism), or “postulate” that man is not explained by the universe and is “something else” (dualism). In fact, reductionism and dualism radical adversaries in the theory of man in recent years. This dispute has today been transformed into the struggle between a non-humanistic idea of man (computational reductionism) and another humanistic idea (represented by emergentism).
In any case, the study of human evolution cannot be done properly without taking into account its cosmic roots. These must be analyzed with “anthropic” correction in order to avoid both reductionism and dualism. However, what is the method for studying the anthropic properties of the universe? Evidently there must be a “heuristic” method for searching for anthropic properties.
The objective or finality of Human Evolution from an anthropic Universe is not to make a complete, in depth study of the whole process of human evolution.
Its first objective is selective. First, the selection of evolutionary states: the selection of some important states which contain the keys to the process which makes human evolution possible and enable us to understand its nature. Second, the selection of relevant evolutionary profiles: at each of these evolutionary states and the selection of certain properties, states and processes which, in fact, contribute to the constitution of evolutionary lines which will make man possible. These will be the anthropic profiles, principles, content or properties which make man possible.
Its second objective is synthetic. That is to say, to relate these with each other, coordinating the evolutionary states and the relevant evolutionary profiles in a unit with sense in order to understand how and why and how human evolution makes religion (theology) possible or not possible.
In order to achieve these two objectives, selective and synthetic, we need an epistemological criteria: that is to say, previous principles which make it possible to construct arguments to select the evolutionary states and the relevant evolutionary profiles. This criteria must be epistemological because epistemology is the discipline which tells us which productive method we must follow (methodology) in order to achieve a certain type of knowledge (intention of knowledge). For us, the intention is to scientifically know human evolution and the methodology is the form of the cognitive process which leads us to this knowledge.
The basic criteria is offered by epistemology in the general form of all scientific explanations.
A) In the first place, this always supposes the selection of a natural phenomenon, termed explicandum (what must e explained). It is not possible to explain something if we do not know what we want to explain. Therefore, the explicandum must be first delimited with precision: this task is called “phenomenology” (the objective description of the phenomenon). Science must explain what has made it possible for us to be where we are and where we cannot doubt that we are. Thus, anthropic research of the universe will consist of seeking those properties of the universe which make the “phenomenological man” who constitutes our personal and social experience possible. Which phenomenological characteristics does our human experience present? For the study of human evolution it is essential to formulate these precisely as they constitute the obvious point of arrival: what currently constitutes our personal and social human experience. In a way, these are the “explicandum” of a scientific reconstruction of human evolution: namely the knowledge of the causes which have made it possible to reach here. We will stress four contents which are considered to be essential in our phenomenological experience.
B) However, in the second place, the scientific explanation also supposes knowing the causes (or “reasons”) which make it possible to understand why this phenomenon (explicandum) has been produced in nature: the set of explanatory causes are termed scientific explicans (that which carries out the explanatory function).
Therefore, all scientific explanations consist of referring a phenomenon or explicandum to a system of causes or explicans. The explicandum always carries out a control function in the knowledge process (science) which makes it possible to reach the causes. First control the search for the causes aiming at where they are probably located. Second, once a certain proposal of the causal system is reached, a check must be made whether it effectively enables an “explanation” of all the content and nuances in the phenomenological description of the explicandum. The “facts to be explained” (or explicandum) are thus the appeal court in which to judge the pertinence of the scientific explanations (or explicans) proposed.
However, returning to the objectives of the workshop, we can now specify and order them better, in the light of the epistemological criteria of how a scientific explanation is constructed.
a) For us, human evolution is the explicandum. Therefore, it is not possible to move forward unless we start from a phenomenological description of the fact whose scientific explanation we are trying to construct. Human evolution, or man as the terminal result of his evolutionary process, is the terminal phenomenological experience of a process which leads to man for us. It is a question of proposing the phenomenological description of its content in such a way that its serves as a control to orientate the search for its explicans (the causal system which produces the human phenomenon): both for controlling the search and for controlling the explanatory proposals.
b) The evolutionary states and the relevant evolutionary profiles are the explicans. In fact, the selection of evolutionary states must be made depending on their importance for human evolution. However, the selection of relevant evolutionary profiles, within each one of these states, must be made with the same criteria: its contribution to causing human evolution. Both aspects (states and profiles) must be explained (explicans): what causes have made man, what we see phenomenologically today, and why religion (theology) finally appeared in his mind.
We now refer, first, to human evolution as the phenomenological explicandum where we must start from. Then, in the second place, we refer to both aspects, evolutionary states and relevant evolutionary profiles, as the explicans selected to propose a causal system of human evolution.
Human evolution as the phenomenological explicandum
The human sciences normally understand phenomenological as “reality as it is presented in ordinary experience”. It is not a question of establishing what reality is like in itself, but how it appears before us objectively. That it appears as we verify it cannot be doubted: what must be sought are explanations that it appears as such. These explanations can also lead, perhaps, we do not know, to constructing explanations on what reality is like in itself (ontologically) to a greater or lesser degree.
Therefore, we then make a selection of the phenomenological content or features present in our human experience. We live these as the terminal result of an evolutionary process which finally makes us human. In synthesis they respond to an experience already described at the dawn of Western Philosophy in Greece: the experience of unity and difference.
a) A time-space world of differentiated objects. Each man as a living being has an individual condition (his body), differentiated from other objects, living beings and men, which permits him to occupy a determined place and time in time-space. Thanks to this construction of the universe, known phenomenologically, man can move among things and live his life adapting to physical and social environment.
b) A world of stable, determined events. Both the psychobiophysical constitution and human action are possible because the universe is stable and the changing processes are determined by a number of regularities and laws. Thus, man knows that his body is “reliable”. Moreover, the interactions are firm and man can design his life knowing that the world will behave regularly and his actions will be possible. Furthermore, the human reality as a species which transmits the same human condition by inheritance would not be possible without a world of determinations which functions with stable, genetic regularities.
c) A world which produces holistic states. Human phenomenology shows the evidence that the world produces holistic environments: that is to say, environments in which differentiation seems to disappear and unified wholes are formed. Holism already appears at different levels (a body, although it is differentiated and located in time and space, it is holistic). However, it is in psychic experience that a more stunning type of holistic experience appears: the experience constituted from the systems of sensation-perception-consciousness, principally in self-perception and in vision (as described in the phenomenology of the American Psychologist, James J. Gibson).
d) An open world of indetermination and freedom. The experience of what it means to be a man goes together with the experience of being in an open universe where human freedom can plan several vital routes: all are possible and dependent on being taken, that is to say, assumed by human freedom. Thus, the phenomenological experience situates us in an open universe which creates its own future through choices, therefore, it is partly absolutely indeterminate (indetermination compatible with the part of determination mentioned above). This flexible oscillation regarding the choice of the future by “creative self-determination” is known intuitively by extension throughout all of nature, especially in the animal world.
e) A world open to the emergence of reason. In the human experience of the phenomenological exercise of reason, can be seen the unity of the four phenomenological contents mentioned (points a-d). Reason would not be possible without a stable and determined world which forms the solid ground on which reason may walk. However, reason is in itself the experience that this world of stable determinations has generated in reason itself as the power to weigh up, criticize and choose a future through free, responsible options. This is the synthesis of creative determination and indetermination.
In conclusion, we can say that the phenomenological experience unifies and lives the contents we have just summed up: differentiation, determination, holism, indetermination-freedom and reason, as simultaneously possible and factually non-contradictory. The phenomenology of human self-experience is not only an isolated psychic experience of the “world”, but is rather the unitary experience of a physical body among objects in a differentiated world of fields of time-space interactions, energy, stability, in which psychism occupies a congruent place and makes existence possible. It is a personal and social experience, agreed to inter-subjectively; This consensus gives meaning to society and culture.
Man is conscious of his phenomenological self-experience in this way (explicandum) and this means that human evolution has been the process which makes this possible. Therefore, the scientific explanation of human evolution must know the system of causes (explicans) which have produced this. If the universe was produced from primordial matter which derived towards its organisation as universe and as life, it is not possible to doubt that we are factually obliged to admit that the real matter-universe-life system has anthropic properties: that is to say, they make life possible as this would not have occurred with something else. These anthropic causes are essential to know the nature of human evolution.
If the expectations of science is that all that has been produced in the universe is explained from the same dynamic properties of matter in evolution, then, undoubtedly science also has the interdisciplinary expectation that all that man sees in his psychobiophysical constitution (by phenomenology) has been produced from the germinal properties of the matter whose organization has given rise to the universe.
Therefore, it is evident that physics as disciplinary scientific knowledge can methodologically dispense with biology, psychology, philosophy and anthropology. However, from an interdisciplinary perspective which seeks the unity of knowledge (an eminently scientific pretension), physics cannot dispense with being firstly “bio-pic” and, in the end, “anthro-pic”. That is to say, must first make life intelligible and, then, man. Otherwise, it would not be an acceptable science.
If physics does not achieve this “living” and “human” intelligibility, it would place the interdisciplinary project of science in a serious position: having to accept a view which is non-congruent with cosmic facticity (life and man), and would have to retreat towards reductionism or dualism. However, science, correctly understood, must flee from this radicalism in order to adapt its image of matter and the universe and provide them with congruence with the facts and explanatory capacity regarding life and man. That is to say, when the physical image of matter and the universe becomes interdisciplinary science, it must become an “anthropic” image.
Thus, the heuristic approach of our research on human evolution assumes that understanding the evolutionary emergence of the human being cannot be achieved without reference to the ontological roots of this evolution in the ontology of matter and in the construction of the universe –world as the human habitat. Consequently, the study of human evolution logically commences by “anthropic” physics: the physics which endeavors to collect the properties of the matter-universe which make man possible and explain essential aspects of human ontology and its psycho-bio-physico functioning.
The phenomenological aspects mentioned connect with properties which are recognized in the ontology of matter-universe: intense holism from quantum mechanics, the differentiation of matter and genesis of the classical macroscopic world, the persistence of intense or holistic environments in the classical macroscopic world, determination and legality, indetermination, either by the classical, chaotic, probabilistic, statistic way, etc. Drafting the “anthropic” profiles of the physical image of matter-universe in this way is the first step in a study of the human evolution which can, as we have said, form the basis of the subsequent argumentation of a theology of science.
Evolutionary states and relevant evolutionary profiles as explicans of human evolution
Where is this system of evolutionary causes which lead to the constitution of humans found? The control of where to search and the pertinence of the causes found depend on human phenomenology, and these must lead to where we are now. The project has made a selection of evolutionary states where the relevant evolutionary profiles can be sought and these will make it possible to explain human evolution. In a way, human evolution has been possible because our universe was formed in accordance with certain anthropic conditions (which made man possible). The explanation and evaluation of human evolution and the nature of man cannot be achieved without understanding these anthropic conditions at the different evolutionary states.
These are the following:
a) Matter. This is the first evolutionary state from which everything is produced. A certain type of matter would not have made human evolution possible. What are the properties of matter which lead to the production of life and man?
b) Universe. The organisation of mater is produced in the form of the universe. What are the anthropic conditions of the universe which make man possible?
c) Life. Life arises from the physical universe. It represents a first evolutionary step towards the remote anthropic properties of matter/universe. Life emerges really and proximately within the universe in an intermediate stag which in turn generates new anthropic properties, more proximate to the emergence of humans.
d) Man/Neurology. The evolutionary appearance of man through the formation of his mind by his neuronal system becoming more complex is the result of anthropic evolution of matter/life/universe. What evolutionary possibilities does the human mind lead to?
e) Formal Sciences. Formalisation is one of the most relevant products of the human mind. The formalising capacity of the mind makes it possible to probe the hyper-complex profiles of future human evolution.
f) Religion/theology. Another of the historically more relevant products of human evolution is the metaphysical, religion, theology. Why did the human mind create theology? Will current scientific knowledge of human evolution permit the human mind to be occupied in the construction of theology? What type of theology does the image of human evolution in science lead to?
Each one of these six points responds to a part of the project. The first five evolutionary states will make it possible to discuss the relevant profiles which constitute the evolutionary appearance of man as described phenomenologically. In the sixth state, the way in which human evolution enables access to the evolutionary state in which the human mind opens up to the metaphysical can be studied within the framework of religious and theological speculation.
This paper concerns some specific aspects of the combined research promoted by the Iberia-Network of LSI. It deals with “Human Evolution” using the same general approach as the Sophia-Iberia in Europe Project.
The study of human evolution enables us to obtain a scientific knowledge of the processes and causes which lead to the appearance in time and the constitution of human reality. This knowledge has two aspects: 1) knowing how nature has formed the human being through evolution as a biological system which has a number of psychic faculties and processes (sensation, perception, conscience, attention, memory, knowledge…) which permit specifically human action; 2) the specific products of human action which have constituted and continue to constitute history: the human being uses faculties to produce emotions, perceptions, knowledge, organizing a memory which accesses history, language, etc., and forms culture.
The theology of any religion always refers to the real man. Research on human evolution in the Iberia-Network of LSI is oriented towards theology. Therefore, the study of human evolution is a means to present and discuss the type of theology the new image of man in science leads us to. However in this communication we are not going to deal with theological conclusions, but with another more specific aspect, which is also related to our research o the human evolution: the roots of human evolution in an anthropic universe. Thus, we limit ourselves to this methodological question.
We use the term “anthropic” in the “weak” sense. We mean that the supposition should be established that only an anthropic universe can provide sufficient explanation of the real presence of man in its interior, where “anthropic universe ” is understood to be which includes the necessary, or at least the appropriate,The anthropic research of the universe will consist of seeking those properties of the universe which make Human evolution as the phenomenological explicandum: a) a time-space world of differentiated objects. b) A world of stable, determined events. c) a world which produces holistic states. d) an open world of indetermination and freedom. e) a world open to the emergence of reason.
The project has made a selection of evolutionary states where the relevant evolutionary profiles can be sought that make it possible to explain human evolution. These are the following: a) matter. b) universe. c) life. d) man/neurology. e) formal sciences. f) religion/theology.
5/24/2007 05/24/2007 10004 From Quarks to Human Communities, Towards the Triune God. A Transdisciplinary Integral Approach of the Evolutionary Creation
There are solid evidences of the way the Universe evolved from the initial Big Bang to human beings ruled by different physical laws and by natural selection of random mutations. Atheists are convinced that natural laws and chance are enough to explain our existence. On the contrary, believers are convinced that the Universe was created by God in an act of love, although there are different theological theories about the action of God after that initial moment. There is the question whether the Creator made an unique initial divine act, and after that the Universe is evolving by its own physical laws, as defended by deists, or, on the contrary, there is a continuous divine influence on it. Even more, Creationists will defend that not only there is a continuous influence, but also a direct interventions with definite purpose, but we scientist believe that the physical laws of nature are not violated by the Creator.
This question is difficult to explain and it is easy to fall into many difficulties. For instance, if God does not exert His action, there is no room for Divine Providence, and if we can not interact with Him, there is no way to express the reciprocal love between Creator and creatures.
On the other hand, if we accept a direct Divine intervention, the problem of evil arises. For example, if God is driving evolution through gene mutations, why He selected an eye with myopia instead of selecting a better one not needing glasses? or why He designed a genetic code prone to mutations that can cause cancer?
In this paper we will review different alternatives to these questions specially by three different authors (Karl Rahner, Karl Schmitz-Moormann, and Denis Edwards) always keeping in mind that God does not ordinarily violate the laws of the nature, and that evolution is perfectly compatible with creation. But first we will take a look at the way our cosmo-bio-evolution is happening.
2.- Scientific view of cosmo-bio-evolution
Only 50 years ago, it would be impossible to even pose fundamental questions that we are trying to answer now. Our knowledge about how are beings able of thinking in the universe is based on a limited amount of observational data, together with accurate enough theories, trying to explain them.
An enormous amount of work has been done in many different areas, as quantum and gravitational physics, biochemistry, biology, and mathematics, and new theories have been proposed. Different discoveries, as the inhomogeneities in the cosmic microwave background radiation or the DNA structure, are corroborating our theories. Also the development of mathematics and the use of powerful computing simulation programs are helping in obtaining models for the evolution from big-bang to humans. Nevertheless, there are still huge gaps that we can not explain. Of course, scientists are not still, and newer concepts have been developed, as chaos theory and emergence. Despite our ignorance in many aspects, there is also large consensus in a lot of them.
It is widely accepted that initially it was something like a big explosion and only pure energy existed. We do not know what happened in the initial point, we can not even ask about that moment, as there are no physical theories describing it. We can only explain from an initial time tp, called Plank’s time that is in the order of 5´10-44 seconds.
After this initial moment, different structures began to appear. It is important to point out that in each step of evolution a higher degree of complexity emerged. In principle these complex states are not inferred from the elementary constituents. From the point of view of information, each new state can accommodate more information than the single constituents by themselves. Also, each state of complexity implements new ways of communication among the different elements, and again, this new ways of communication are not inferred from the single parts.
In short, the cosmo-bio-evolution is based in the standard Big Bang theory and in the Darwinian evolution theory, and we can distinguish the following steps:
1) Physics domain
Universe emerged from an extremely dense and hot singularity 1.37×1010 years ago. We do not have information about what was before Planck’s time. From that moment space and time appeared and the universe started expanding at the speed of light. Only energy existed at the beginning, but soon quarks, that is, matter was originated from energy. Also gravitational force is differentiated from the rest of forces.
Later, at about 10-36 seconds, strong force is also decoupled. From 10-36 to 10-32 an extremely fast expansion, called inflation occurs, like a universe phase transition. At this moment it was only energy —that is, photons— quarks and antiquarks, and the exchange particles, named gluons. Due to the high energy density, quarks can not bind to form larger particles (baryons) and form what has been named quark-gluon plasma. Later, at about 10-12 seconds, weak and electromanectic forces are also separated, yielding to the final four forces, as we observe now.
As the universe continued growing in size, the temperature dropped, and quarks can combine to form protons and neutrons (baryons) at 10-5 seconds. All the different types of particles that are a part of the present universe were in existence, even though the temperature was still too much high for the formation of nuclei. At this point a not well understood symmetry breakdown occurs, and the equality between matter and antimatter is unbalanced. As a result of this process, a small excess of ordinary matter over antimatter remains, and it is the matter we are made of and we observe nowadays.
As the universe becomes colder, below 109 K, elements start to be formed. Initially only deuterium and helium in a process called primordial nucleosynthesis. Around 200,000 years, gravitation starts having importance, gas clouds, galaxies, stars, planets are formed. Later, heavier elements are formed inside stars: C, O, N, … At 380,000 years, matter becomes neutral atoms and radiation is decoupled from matter, the Universe becomes transparent, leaving behind the cosmic microwave background radiation.
In summary, at this physics level, the only basic building blocks we can observe are the elementary particles. The information is identified with the support, and the only information is the particle itself.
A preliminary way of information exchange or interrelation can be identified in the four forces of the nature: gravitational, strong, weak and electromagnetic. These forces act by means of virtual boson exchange between particles. Table 1 shows the complete set of elementary particles and forces. There is also a complementary set of anti-particles, not present in nature, only observable in laboratories.
ve (electron neutrino)
nm (muon neutrino)
nt (tau neutrino)
W+, W-, Z0
Table 1: types of elementary particles and forces
2) Chemistry domain
After the explosions of supernova, with the formation of secondary stars, with planets rich in bio-elements already formed and the temperature low enough it is possible to form complex entities by combining atoms. The earth was formed 4,600 million years ago. Then, during a phase of slow cooling of planets, with high pressures, and moderate temperatures, simple inorganic molecules, as silicates or carbonates appear by means of chemical bonds that are mediated by interchange of photons, electrons or protons (Hydrogen nucleus forming a hydrogen bridge). These primary molecules were necessary for the next evolutionary step, the formation of complex molecules.
At this level, there is a new source of information as in addition to the chemical formula, the spatial arrangement of atoms, driven by chemical bonds in molecular orbitals which is key for the chemical activity.
3) Biochemistry domain
Biomolecules are complex molecules composed primarily of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen along with nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur. Other elements also form part of biomolecules, but in very small proportions. This biomolecules are the chemical compounds that naturally occurs in living organisms The main classes are carbohydrates, amino acids and proteins, polysaccharides, lipids, and nucleic acids, as shown in Table 2, and they are often long chains,
Table 2: Types of biomolecules
The particular series of amino acids that form a protein is known as that protein’s primary structure. Proteins have several, well-classified, elements of local structure and these are termed secondary structure. The overall 3D structure of a protein is termed its tertiary structure. Proteins often aggregate into macromolecular structures, or quaternary structure.
At this stage of complexity we can identify a new source of information in the folding of the macromolecules. For instance, in the case of proteins, the particular linear series of amino acids that form the proteins configures its primary structure. There is a secondary structures made by local amino acid arrangements (in helices or sheets). The overall 3D structure of a protein is the tertiary structure. And often there is a quaternary structure when proteins aggregate into macromolecular compounds.
This macromolecules interact and eventually replicate in adequate environments by means of chemical reactions.
4) Biology domain.
Biomolecules combine, and the structure of surface membrane is developed. From it, between 3,900 to 4,100 million years ago, a new structure appears: the cell with the genes. It has a very high complexity level, and has the capability of growth and self-reproduction. We can say that for the first time in the cosmo-bio-evolution history living organisms, with the capacity of reproduction, exist. Initially cells were simple prokaryotes, without nucleus.
In a simplistic way, a unicellular organism is a series of complex chemical reactions, nevertheless, to reduce life to mere chemistry is an error. It is the entire organism, as a whole that determine their adaptation to the environment and their survival.
Organisms are semi-closed chemical systems. Although they are individual units of life they are not closed to the environment around them. Each cell interact with to its neighbors by chemical interchange, and a new degree of relationship and complexity emerged.
1,400 million years ago, more sophisticated cells with a nucleus (eukaryotes) appear. And later, 700 million years ago, multi-cellular organisms emerged on the earth, starting cell specialization. A group of specialized cells form a tissue. Several types of tissue work together to form an organ to produce a particular function. Several organs functioning jointly conform an organ system. Finally, many organisms are composed of several organ systems which coordinate to allow for life.
Eukaryota (divided in four Kingdoms)
Table 3: Domains and Kingdoms of living organisms
The organism information is stored in DNA molecules located in cell nucleus, constituting the genome. This information is also transferred to descendents. The DNA information can mutate by influence of external media: temperature, chemicals or radiation, in a random process.
The information is written in an alphabet based on four different letters, that are nucleotide bases named: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C) and thymine (T). In RNA, thymine (T) is replaced by uracil (U).
A typical cell has about 10,000 different proteins, and it has about 1 million molecules of each kind in average (it can range from 10,000 to 10 millions), this means 1010 protein molecules.
The genetic information written in the DNA molecules of the cell genome is translated into proteins by means of a genetic code. Every set of three nucleotide bases (named codon) determines one of the 20 different amino acids that in long sequences form proteins. This genetic code is shown in table 4.
Amino acid code
Amino acid name
GCU, GCC, GCA, GCG
CGU, CGC, CGA, CGG, AGA, AGG
GGU, GGC, GGA, GGG
AUU, AUC, AUA
UUA, UUG, CUU, CUC, CUA, CUG
CCU, CCC, CCA, CCG
UCU, UCC, UCA, UCG, AGU, AGC
ACU, ACC, ACA, ACG
GUU, GUC, GUA, GUG
UAG, UGA, UAA
Table 4: The genetic code
All living organisms share the same cellular structure and genetic code, so there is a solid evidence that all living organisms share a common ancestor, from which all of them evolve.
5) Zoology domain
In further evolution steps, from chordates to vertebrates, animals with a true neural system and a brain appeared. Having a new complexity level, new ways of information appear, vertebrates manipulate information using neurotransmitters and electrical pulses inside the nervous central system. There is also communication between individuals by chemical compounds as pheromones.
6) Ethology domain
Primates. They have superior brain functions that are unveiled for example in their ability of self-recognition. For the first time in evolution there are entities that feel themselves as individuals. There are some polemics if other mammals as elephants or dauphins also can recognize themselves, but to fix from which degree of brain development this is true is not relevant. Primitive forms of culture also appear in apes, teaching and learning can be observed, that is, there are primitive ways of transmitting information between individuals. There are also primitive languages based on gestures.
7) Psychology domain
At the top of the evolution, the humans appear. The most relevant aspect is self-consciousness: for the first time the creation is thinking about itself. In terms of information, language means a breakthrough. Information is stored outside the living organisms in books or other physical supports, and information reaches a planetary scale.
8) Sociology domain
Humans are not fully developed unless they live in relationships with other people. Humans are social animals, and it is in communities where we reach the highest degree of development by means of interpersonal love. Civilizations are a higher degree of evolution. Humans are a symbiosis of genes and culture. But humans are something more. Already in very primitive humans (Homo neanderthalensis) we discover burials that denote an idea of transcendence and religious sense. We can say that humans are capable of God and are able to respond the initiative of the Creator.
9) Information domain
From the point of view of human development, certainly the previous step is the last one. Nevertheless, from the point of view of information maybe we can consider a new one in computers and Internet, although in my opinion this is arguable.
Even though it is not yet fully developed, Internet introduces ubiquity and immediacy. It is not difficult to imagine, in a not so distant future all the people, on Earth interconnected all the time and having access to huge amounts of information. But it is important to point out that the information has been created by humans. Computer can help humans, but not develop its own conscious.
Information in general, in contraposition as its support, has to be considered non material. In the history of evolution, we observe that information is step after step less material, more effective, more spiritual. With humans, new concepts as beauty, mysticism and religious beliefs appear.
3.- Scientific theories
The previously described cosmo-bio-evolution is based on well established theories, the main of them are:
1) Gravitation or general relativity
It describes the geometrical structure of space and time. With current physical instruments, the accuracy of the theory has been proven up to one part in 1014, which is really amazing. This theory is used to calculate gravitational attraction and trajectories of bodies for example. In principle it is a deterministic theory, but if a systems offers chaotic behavior it is impossible in practice to predict the evolution of it. Simplifying, chaotic systems are systems very sensitive to initial conditions and small changes on them yield big differences in the final state.
2) Quantum theory
It describes the behavior of elementary particles or very small bodies. The most relevant point is that it introduces the notions of uncertainty and probability. Instead of corpuscles with their observable physical magnitudes we consider systems with their states that are represented by a wave function. The wave function does not correspond to definite values for each of the observables, but to a probability distribution of them.
This uncertainty is ontic, and not due to our ignorance of the state of the system. When quantum systems interact in a way that a magnitude should be fixed, in a process called measure, one possible states is randomly fixed. We call this process wave function collapse.
The interpretation of this theory is not yet clear. Some scientists think that it is an incomplete theory, but all the experiments point in the direction that there is no a hidden mechanism, but pure randomness. The main consequence is that it is not possible to predict the future of quantum systems as they are randomness in the evolution of them.
Although these theories are able to describe with very high precision many aspects of the world, they still have many unknowns. Gravitation and quantum are not compatible among them, and there are no satisfactory ways to mix both in a unified Quantum Gravity.
For complex organisms it is not possible to apply quantum theory directly. If they are many different bodies the wave function is not useful as the total uncertainty is too big. Then we have to appeal to statistics. We can mention two theories based on statistics.
On top of these two physical theories we also have a statistical theory named statistical mechanics that reinterprets thermodynamics. Is does not introduce new natural laws, but offers a mathematical description of the behavior of systems with an extremely large number of elements. The main prediction is that entropy, interpreted as improbability or disorder, always increases in closed systems (those that do not exchange energy, matter and entropy with the exterior). To increase the order (or decrease entropy) we have to expend some energy and also expulse some entropy to another place.
Usually statistical mechanics is limited to closed systems in equilibrium, but living organisms are open systems not in equilibrium, and therefore it can not be used to describe them. Nevertheless, there are attempts to extend the theory. Ilya Prigogine (1917-2003) proposed the dissipative system as an attempt to address the behavior of systems far from equilibrium. A dissipative system is an open system which is operating far from thermodynamic equilibrium. A dissipative system is characterized by the spontaneous appearance of symmetry breaking and the formation of complex, sometimes chaotic, effects.
Darwinian evolution theory
Is a biological theory proposed by Charles Darwin (1809-1882) in 1859, which tries to explain how living organisms evolve from one species to another. It is based in species evolution by means of natural selection and random mutations through self-replication (inheritance). Evolution does not act in a linear direction towards a pre-defined target, it only responds to various types of adaptive changes.
Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900-1975), in 1937 proposed the Synthetic evolution theory or neo-Darwinism, that is a combination of Darwin’s concept of natural selection, Mendel’s basic genetics, along with the facts and theories of population genetics. It was later modified with the discovery of DNA double helix and the ulterior studies of molecular biology and genetic code.
Nevertheless, it is a controversial theory, as it has several unclear points. Many people questions if only chance can produce the continuous progress in the speciation, as nature shows a clear but never explained tendency towards complexity. Also there is the problem of lack of continuous intermediate species.
Dobzhansky, in his book The Biological Basis of Human Freedom (p.68) in 1956 proposed the “genetically controlled adaptive plasticity of the phenotype” as a complement to Darwin’s theory applicable to the evolution of superior primates to humans.
Another step towards the knowledge of speciation was the publishing of the theory of Punctuated Equilibrium en 1992 by the biologist Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) that is a theoretical model of evolution in which species remain unchanged for long periods of time and then at times rapidly change as a result of major alterations in the environment and, subsequently, in natural selection.
Emergence and self-organization theories
Emergence is the appearance of new properties in complex system that can not be traceable to their components. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And we call self-organization this increases in complexity produced without any guidance by an outside source, but as a result of internal properties of the complex system. The motivation is well explained by Anderson:
“The ability to reduce everything to simple fundamental laws does not imply the ability to start from those laws and reconstruct the universe. The constructionist hypothesis breaks down when confronted with the twin difficulties of scale and complexity. At each level of complexity entirely new properties appear. Psychology is not applied biology, nor is biology applied chemistry. We can now see that the whole becomes not merely more, but very different from the sum of its parts.”(Anderson 1972)
For the biologist and complex system researcher, Stuart Kauffman (1939- ), it is necessary something more than natural selection to explain biological evolution. He looks for a previous organizative order previous to selection. This leads him to the study of life as global phenomenon of complex systems in regions of order close to deterministic chaos and to the search of general purely statistical laws of self-organization that show the characteristics of life. As an example, he describes cellular life as a collective self-catalysis. Cellular life is studied with simplified mathematical models of graphs in which the points represents the different proteins (in some cells more than 10,000 different), linked by chemical reactions (synthesis and division) controlled by catalytic enzymes, that are, in turn, proteins of the system (the cell). It is a complex system of molecules whose presence or absence depends on the presence or absence of others, leading to chaotic systems, with their attractors.
The physicist Per Bak (1984-2002) introduced a theory to explain the non-continuous rhythm (as the Darwin’s model predicts) of speciation and extinction of species that corresponds to avalanches that follows a classical statistical law (Frequency = k/Intensity) that could explain the Punctuated Equilibrium of Stephen Jay Gould.
Self-Organized Criticality (SOC): it is known that in artificially imposed critical situations, order is created (phase transitions), but Bak proposes that there are other natural criticalities that are self-organized. A typical example are sand piles formed by a sequential fall of sand grains in random locations. Avalanches are produced when the last grain fall in a critical location, but it is produced naturally by the previous grains fallen. The magnitude of avalanches is governed by a reverse law with the probability of occurrence. A similar law is found in many other natural phenomena.
4.- Metaphysical perspective
We can observe from the evolutionary history that each time a more complex entity appears, it is more than the sum of its parts. Karl Schmitz-Moormann (1928-1996) in his book Theology of Creation in an Evolutionary World, chapter 2, with a brave philosophical view, changes our traditional metaphysics of being in a metaphysics of becoming through union. It is inspired in the Union Metaphysics by Teilhard de Chardin:
Plus esse = plus a pluribus uniri
That is, being more means being more united from more elements.
This explains the continuous growing of the evolutionary progress previously presented. He points out that, in this continuous growing, there are evolutionary steady states, as the landings in a stair, that are the states of successive “uni-totalities” (an English neologism translating German Ein-Ganzheit) or “united totalities”.
This metaphysics fits our knowledge of the evolutionary science. The elements are richer and richer, and the unions more and more perfect. Going back to our scientific cosmo-bio-evolution, we can present the list of “united totalities” in table 5.
elementary particles, atoms
boson (gluons, photon) exchange
complex chemical interchange
Table 5: “United totalities” along cosmo-bio-evolution
5.- Theological perspective
In our classical theological view, creation is an act from God. God creates everything:
“We believe in one God, the Father the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen”
And, in consequence, all that has been created has to be good as it proceeds from an act of God. This view contrasts with our knowledge of the Universe originated in a Big-Bang and continuously evolving.
God could have chosen to create a finished world, but instead he choose to given existence to an universe that creates by itself, developing even human beings. In this way, humans have total freedom and are capable of loving other humans and God or to reject Him.
In order to allow the human freedom, God should avoid presenting Himself in an epiphanic way. Believing in God is not the result of a formal logic deduction, it is a matter of faith. Nevertheless, I believe that we can find the lovely call of God in the creation from the evolution.
Karl Rahner (1904-1984), the German catholic theologian, proposed a new view of the causality for explaining evolution inspired in his Transcendental Metaphysics. Aristotle had proposed a transient causality based on four different causes: material, formal, efficient and final. This view was dominant over many centuries. All these causes are external, coming from outside of the effect.
Aristotle could not see anything about evolution, he could perhaps observe the larva transforming in a chrysalis and finally in a butterfly, but this ontogenetic example can not help to understand the evolution of species.
The scholastic tradition, based in the Genesis description and this philosophical Aristotelian view of causality, could not consider a creation with evolution. Creation is an initial making of things followed by their conservation. A process of progressing evolution or a sense of spontaneous improvement or overcoming is not easily considered.
Rahner (The Problem of Hominisation, 1961) therefore, in his philosophical and theological reflections on evolutionary vision, considered an immanent causality, acting on the same agent or efficient cause. And this immanent causality enriches the agent itself. As an example, if a person has an idea, the idea originates from inside the person, and remains inside himself (the idea could be later separated from him and even publish, but this is not relevant now). The human being with the idea is more that the human being alone. It has been a process of growth.
We can now question what is it needed for this growth. Where is the origin of the enrichment? And the answer from Rahner is God’s action. But not a “categorical” action of God, that is, a direct production of this growth by an irruption of God in our world that directly produces the effect. It is not God who places the idea inside the person’s brain. If so it would be a God’s idea, not a person’s idea. It is enough a “transcendental” action of God. This Transcendental action of God is an action that sustains the created agent and its capability of causing, and is common on all creatures because of their contingency.
This is the Rahner’s explanation of why it can be something new:
person + idea > person
The origin of this growth is the support of God. But for the person, the growth is a “self-overcoming”, a “dynamical self-transcendence”, sustained by the transcendental action of God.
This self-overcoming operates in the becoming of every “united totality” of the universe, from the initial Big-bang. It operates from quarks interacting by means of gluons to form protons to persons expressing the interpersonal love in human communities, passing through all the stages in our evolution. The transcendental action of God operates even in the case of catastrophes or when somebody is sinning, but this is the cost of world autonomy and human freedom.
The crucial thesis of Rahner concerning this paper is that the dynamical self-transcendence sustained by the transcendental action of God is enough to explain all the cosmo-bio-evolution, including hominization. Other theologians claim for categorical actions of God, at least in the hominization, but following Rahner, these actions are no needed.
The others say that in the evolutionary context the hominization is just the emergence of spirit from matter. But following Rahner, although spirit is clearly different from matter, this emergence can be defended because of the existing “kinship” between them. This kinship is proven by philosophical and theological reasons (the latter grounded in the common becoming of matter and spirit in the creation, Incarnation and eschatology). To express this kinship, he even calls the matter “frozen spirit”.
Rahner, nevertheless, explains from his point of view the traditional doctrine of “the immediate creation of the human soul”, both in the evolutionary hominization and in present procreation of human beings. This creation can not mean a categorical action of God, independent from the action of the parents, but it means the transcendental action that sustains it. We could analogously speak on the creation of life, but we refer only to the mentioned traditional doctrine of the human soul because of its theological relevance: the emergence of a human being capax Dei, a being able of entering in communication with God.
Karl Schmitz-Moormann, as we have seen, presents his theology of creation in the context of the evolution and in the metaphysics of union inherited from Teilhard de Chardin. He does not distinguish a primordial creation and further conservation, but he explains it as a unique and eternal continuous creation of God unfolded in time. He also mentions Rahner’s concept of dynamical self-transcendence, widely spread in the theological literature. But he vividly presents his own concept of continuous creation under three different aspects in the chapter 6 of his cited book.
Continuous creation is a “creatio appellata“, a “called creation”, in which God pronounces His creative call. This, more than a fiat lux (“let there be light”, Gn 1, 3) is a “come!, approach to Me!” not locally, but ontically understood: “approach to My richness of being”. In this way He invites both the not-yet-being and the evolving beings to constitute “united totalities” more and more perfect, and more and more alike to the “Supreme United Totality” that constitutes our Trinitarian and Creator God. Trinity, which we conceive as Persons united by interpersonal love (using analogically these concepts of person, totality and love).
In this view, each emerging “united totality” in the evolutionary process constitutes a trace or footprint of the Creator, and the interpersonal totalities united by love bonds constitute a true image of the Creator (“God created man in His image; in the divine image He created him; male and female He created them”, Gn 1, 27).
Continuous creation is also “creatio informata“, a progressive creation of information, which means a continuous spiritualization of the world making it more similar to the “Supreme Information” that is God. This allows the Creator to transmit his information to the world by means of “top-down causality” (also conceived as “whole-part causation”).
Downward causation is the way a process at higher levels of complexity influences those at lower levels, (for example, the mind that can move the arm). Schmitz-Moormann proposes an analogous mechanism for the exercise of God’s Providence in the world: God transmits only information, and does not violate any of the laws of nature, in particular, the energy is conserved.
Continuous creation is finally a “creatio libera“, a creation that respects the autonomy of the world and the human freedom. This freedom emerges at the expense of wastefulness and physical evil. But the Creator wants it because only free beings are responsible and capable of love. And, as stated in the Christian Anthropic Principle of George Ellis, the purpose of the creation is that love can exists beyond the eternal interpersonal relations of the Trinity, in the human persons among them and in relation to Divine Persons.
We present finally the proposal of the Australian catholic theologian Denis Edwards (1943- ), that has strongly influenced the science and religion dialogue, specially by instilling the Trinitarian concept of God as “persons in communion” instead of the philosophical concept of actus purus (pure actuality).
Inspired by Rahner and his concept of dynamical self-transcendence to explain the evolutionary process, he develops a theology of the Holy Spirit as Creator in his recent book Breath of Life. The book is based in two building blocks: the view of modern cosmo-bio-evolution and the doctrine about the Holy Spirit by Saint Basil from Caesarea (c. 330-379). Although Saint Basil died two years before the council of Constatinople (381), his work had a great influence in the formulation of our Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.
We have traditionally conceived the Holy Spirit as the Koinonía or Communion both in the Trinitarian relations and in Christian human assemblies. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit is also the Divine Breath of Life which is immanent in all creatures, at the bottom of their hearts, and is the Giver of life (Zoopoiuntos, maker of life).
Edwards reasons that we can conceive the Holy Spirit today as the support of the creation in his existence and his capability of progressive evolution (presented by Teilhard and Schmitz-Moormann as the enrichment of the successive totalities by union), and formulates his central thesis: “The Spirit of God is the Source of the new in an emergent universe“. This corresponds to the same transcendental action of God, from Rahner, but presented in a theological Trinitarian view.
6.- Final considerations
The former Theological reflections do not fix clearly the combination with natural laws. There is the question of how it can be combined the Divine Call and the Holy Spirit action with the laws, without violating them.
We think that the Universe is open in the sense that not everything is defined in it since the beginning. Quantum uncertainty, and probably also chaos theory, opens the door to new information creation. That is, the Universe admits new information entering on it without violating any law. And this new information could come from God. This uncertainty is also the key point for human freedom. We are not pre-destined, we have some control on our acts, and we also have the freedom to approach God by means of love or not.
We do not know the physical mechanism of this Divine action, and we will not speculate with anyone in this paper. Some authors propose different options, as for instance wave function collapse induced by God. There is also an open question on energy balance. The input of new information from God has to be done without any energy consumption, or there would be a violation of energy conservation principle. The Universe would allow that input through quantum probabilities, for example. It is compatible as long as there is not a categorical intervention, but just an invitation.
This Call of the Holy Spirit could also explain Divine Inspiration through an action in the brain. The way the brain creates thoughts is a mystery, but we want to point out that some authors, as the physicist and mathematician Roger Penrose (1931- ), sustains that brain thought is based on quantum behavior of neurons. If this was true, the brain would also be open to input of information, and we could feel the Divine invitation to join Him.
It is also missing in this theological view of Rahner, Schmitz-Moormann and Edwards to distinguish when the divine action is purely the transcendental action that supports the creation and its growing and when it is an action of the Holy Spirit, that, as Rahner’s “Non-created Grace”, truly raises the human creatures to a supernatural order. It would be necessary to define the transition from one kind of action in the whole world to the other one proper of human beings.
Anderson, P.W. “More is Different: Broken Symmetry and the Nature of the Hierarchical Structure of Science”, Science 1972 (177) 393-396.
Dobzhansky, Theodosius. The Biological Basis of Human Freedom. Columbia Univ. Press, New York, 1956.
Edwards, Denis, “Breath of Life”, Orbis Books, New York, 2004.
Edwards, Denis, “The Discovery of Chaos and the Retrieval of the Trinity” in Russell, R. J., Murphy, N. and Peacocke, A. R. Eds. Chaos and Complexity: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, Vatican Observatory and Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, 1995.
Heffner, Philip. The Human Factor: Evolution Culture and Religion” Fortress Press Minneapolis, 1993 (especially chapter 7).
Overhage, Paul & Rahner, Karl, “Das Problem der Hominization”, Quaestiones Disputatae, 12/13, Herder, Freiburg, 1961. English translation: “Hominisation”, Herder and Herder, 1965.
Schmitz-Moormann, Karl, “Theology of Creation in an Evolutionary World”, Pilgrim Press, 1997.
There is solid evidence of the way the universe evolved from the initial Big Bang to human beings ruled by different physical laws and by natural selection of random mutations. Atheists are convinced that natural laws and chance are enough to explain our existence. On the contrary, believers are convinced that the universe was created by God in an act of love.
In this paper first we take a look at the scientific cosmo-bio-evolution. Initially it was something like a big explosion and only pure energy existed. After this initial moment, different structures began to appear. In each step of evolution a higher degree of complexity emerged. We classify these steps as 1) the physics domain, 2) the chemistry domain, 3) the biochemistry domain, 4) the biology domain, 5) the zoology domain, 6) the ethology domain, 7) the psychology domain, 8) the sociology domain, and 9) the information domain.
Next we review the main nature laws or scientific theories: Gravitation or general relativity, quantum theory, statistical mechanics, Darwinian evolutionary theory, and the new emergence and self-organization theories that are trying to explain how very complex systems, as living organisms, can appear from nature. Then we present a short metaphysical perspective following Karl Schmitz-Moormann concept of united totalities, and we show a list of them corresponding to the different evolutionary steps.
Later we study different theological perspectives to explain the influence of God in the evolution by three different authors (Karl Rahner, Karl Schmitz-Moormann, and Denis Edwards). First, the crucial thesis of Rahner concerning this paper is that the dynamical self-transcendence sustained by the transcendental action of God is enough to explain all the cosmo-bio-evolution, including hominization. Second, we present the theology of creation from Karl Schmitz-Moormann framed in the context of the evolution; he explains the process of creation as a unique and eternal continuous creation of God unfolded in time, and presents his own concept of continuous creation under three different aspects: “creatio appellata”, “creatio informata”, and “creatio libera.”
We present finally the proposal of Denis Edwards, based on the Trinitarian concept of God as “persons in communion” instead of the philosophical concept of