Seoul or “Everything Goes Together”

Seoul or “Everything Goes Together”

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Metanexus:Views 2002.01.22 2193 words

The following is a short synopsis of a conference titled Science, Theology,and Asian Religions: An Encounter of Three Stories that I was privileged toattend this past week (January 18-22, 2002) in Seoul, Korea.

An introductory workshop for the CTNS Science and Religion Course Program,it boasted speakers and participants from around the globe. Theconference/workshop was sponsored by Kangnam University, CTNS (The Centerfor Theology and the Natural Sciences), and the John Templeton Foundation.The conference/workshop was organized by Heup Young Kim of KangnamUniversity and hosted by Kangnam University at the Seoul Education andCulture Center (TEMF) Hotel.

Please read on to do a little exploring of your own.

And to our Korean colleagues and hosts, what more can be said butKamsahamnida.

Thank you.

–Stacey E. Ake


Subject: Dateline: Seoul or Everything Goes TogetherFrom: Stacey E. AkeEmail: <>

An anecdote is related by Bruce Olson, an independent Christian missionaryto the Motilone tribe of South American, about his showdown with the localshaman. An outbreak of conjunctivitis or pink-eye had occurred, and theshaman promised to rid the village of the demons that caused the pink-eye.Seeing and seizing his opportunity, Olson infected himself withconjunctivitis, showed the shaman the demon microbes in a microscope, andthen proceeded to have the shaman cure him with some antibiotic ointment,specifically terramycin. Needless to say, this curative power of theChristian missionary and, by association, of the Christian god went a longway to help convert the Motilone to Christianity<>. But what was it precisely that converted them:the power of the Holy Spirit or the power of antibiotic medicine? Which isthe greater miracle of healing? And is the validity of the Motilone’ssubsequent Christian religious experience somehow subverted or supported,depending upon how they were converted? Moreover, isn’t it also true thatby these kinds of fits and starts religions have been disseminatedeverywhere throughout the world?

These are tricky questions to answer. Some might reply that science, andhence medicine, as we know it today is an outcome of the Christianworldview. Thus, Alexander Fleming’s progeny reflect a Christian god’spermission and exhortation to explore, admire, and subdue his creation.Others might contend that historically science has been used as a tool ofboth imperialism (economic domination) and evangelism (ideologicaldomination). Yet others would point out that figuring who’s to blame is nota relevant enterprise; one needs to go with that which is here now, and dealwith what current problems we have.


This past weekend, approximately 60 scholars from around the world convergedon Seoul, Korea, in anticipation not of World Cup Football but of discussingjust such aspects of the science-religion debate. The conference/workshop,titled Science, Theology, and Asian Religions: An Encounter of Three Storieswas sponsored by Kangnam University, Korea, The Center for Theology & theNatural Sciences, Berkeley, California <>, and the JohnTempleton Foundation <> and hosted by Heup YoungKIM and Kangnam University of Seoul <>.

A qualifying workshop for the CTNS science and religion course program(SRCP), the intent of the conference was to bring together scholars fromSouth East Asia and beyond whose various experience and expertise in scienceas well as in Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, andindigenous religions might advance and enrich the science and religiondialogue not merely in South East Asia, but also throughout the world.Moreover, the conference’s organizer, Heup Young KIM, observed that, unlikethe revealed or Abrahamic religions such as Christianity, Islam, and Judaismor the mystical religions of the Indian subcontinent, such as Hinduism,Jainism, and to certain extent Buddhism, the non-theistic, sapiential orwisdom religions of South East Asia, such as Confucianism and Taoism havesomething quite new and unique to add to the science and religion dialogue.

It is easy to fall into the habit not merely of believing that the sciencereligion dialogue is solely of interest to a certain kind of westerner oreven only to a certain type of Anglo-American mindset; furthermore, it isalso easy to believe that it must be carried out in particular andcircumscribed ways. But if you are a Buddhist, is creation (ex nihilo) evenan issue? If you are a Hindu, could the notion of Brahman prevent a personalcrisis of the Steven Hawking kind concerning what happened in the nothingbefore there was something? And if part of the cultural bias underlying thescience religion dialogue is the western assumption that logic, and hencescience and existence, are either-or propositions, then what are thedialogue partners saying about science and religion in a region of the worldwhere the notion of logic, and hence of existence, as a both/and enterpriseabounds? Where someone might consider themselves a Confucian Christian? AShinto and a Buddhist? An evolutionary biologist and a Pentecostal?

It is also easy to believe that the only interesting and worthwhile (read:headline grabbing) science today is being done in Europe and the UnitedStates. This, despite the evidence of thousands of students working in thesciences in Western graduate schools who hail from China, Korea, India, andother countries of the world, the very countries that are currentlyunder-represented in the science religion debate. If nothing else, theconference field trip to the lab of Prof. Dr. Woo-Suk HWANG set thatmisconstruction to rest. Donning disposable lab suits and plasticglad-bag-like booties, the conference participants trundled into Dr. HWANG’slaboratory, a lab which, in 1999, cloned the first cow, or supercalf, bysomatic cell nuclear transfer. In this method, the nucleus of an oocyte orovum is removed and the full complement of DNA from a somatic or body cellis then inserted into the empty egg cell. The fusion of host cell anddonor DNA is achieved using an electrical stimulus. Previous cows and otheranimals cloned, such as Dolly the sheep, were cloned using differentmethods, including cell starvation to induce fusion.

For more information about SCNT, please go to<


Korea has also made headlines on another cloning front: namely, that ofhuman cloning. On November 25, 2001, Michael West of Advanced CellTechnologies, Worcester, MA, announced successful human cloning. The cloninghad been undertaken, not as an end in itself, but in order to isolate stemcells for medical research or, in other words, for the treatment of disease.However, in December 1998, scientists at the Infertility Clinic at KyeongheeUniversity in South Korea announced they had cloned the world’s first humanembryo. The embryo was allowed to divide itself into four cells. At thisstage when, in IVF treatments, the embryo is usually placed back into theuterus, this particular embryo was destroyed. Apparently, the team atKyeonghee (or KyungHee) University hopes to clone genetically identicalorgans for human transplant. According to Korea conference participant, Dr.Kyoon HUH, a research team at Mary Hospital, Seoul, led by a Dr. Pak, hasalso been involved in human cloning. Unfortunately, though, it seems thatthese experiments have not been published in English language scientificjournals, and are thus more or less unavailable outside of Korea. And, ofcourse, we should remember, that since it is always better in the Bahamas,that Clonaid, first human cloning company, has promised us the firstcloned human being in the late spring or early summer of this year. For moreinformation about the current state of human cloning around the world,please consult the following articles:

Human embryo created through cloning<>

Human embryo clone created<>

Human Cloning Announcement Sparks Alarm<>

Human Cloning<>

Human cloning research proceeds in South Korea(scroll down the page to find the article in question)<>

South Korea Bans Funding For Human Cloning Research(N.B.–This is an undated byline)<>

Along with the illuminating field trip to Dr. Hwang’s lab, the conferenceconsisted of three primary sections: Creation & Cosmology, Genes & Justice,and Natural Sciences & Asian Religions. The first section was comprised ofthree paper sessions: Science & Theology: Toward Consonance presented byTed Peters (CTNS), In the Beginning, There was Hydrogen presented byHie-Joon KIM (Seoul National University), and Robert J. Russell’s (CTNS)paper Physical Cosmology & The Doctrine of Creation. And it became readilyapparent from the discussion session that followed that the race was on, forquestions of all sorts were raised. Is it possible that, since all thingsare as they are, that there is no conflict, and thus no need to more towardconsonance where science and religion are concerned? If, as Dr. KIM pointedout in his lecture that science must be based on what is observable, thenwhy isn’t religion as scientific as science, since the perception of atomsis as indirect to human observation as the presence of enlightenment? And ifall things are and are not, how is it that creation as an event is evennecessary or desired?

The next section featured Karen Lebacqz (Pacific School of Religion,Berkeley) speaking on Stem Cells and Justice, Jae Cheon CHOE (SeoulNational University), a student of E. O. Wilson, speaking on A New Ethicsfor the Brave New World: A Gene’s Eye View of Life, and Nancy R. Howell(St. Paul School of Theology, Kansas City, Missouri) speaking on Science &
the Religions: Designing Integrative & Dialogical Courses. It wasinteresting to observe how a common strand running through these three talkswas, in fact, the problem of differences in cultural perceptions. Prof.Lebacqz prefaced her talk about a Hmong girl in Merced, California, whoseepilepsy was poorly treated, resulting in her brain death, due to thecultural, language, and epistemological barriers between the girls parentsand her treating physicians.

The story is re-told in the book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Downby Anne Fadiman <>and <>.

Prof. Lebacqz also spoke about how this sort of inequality will be reflectedand writ large in the access to such technologies as stem cell therapies.Moreover, is this a justified expenditure in lieu of the inadequate healthcare of the majority of people across the globe? Prof. CHOE asked us tothink about the social possibilities of our future neighbors: the clonedcouple. And what precisely will a person’s genetic heritage have to do withwho they are as an individual? Nancy Howell’s presentation brought to thefore the many possibilities for interdisciplinary teaching in amulti-cultural and multi-religious society where it seems that the anglesfor interaction are almost infinite.

The final and climactic section of the conference, on Science and AsianReligions, consisted of three paper presentations: Michael C. Kalton’s(University of Washington, Tacoma) paper Asian Religious Traditions &
Natural Science: Potentials, Present, Future, Hyung-Jin YANG’s (DonggukUniversity) presentation Understanding the Central Philosophy of Buddhismbased on Science, and Varadaraja V. Raman’s (Rochester Institute ofTechnology) presentation Science & Spiritual Vision: A Hindu Perspective.And here was where the rubber met the road. What is one to make of aworldview where animate and inanimate are not the major divisions of allthings? Where Brahman precedes and exceeds all? Or where chi and li, energyand system, which is not at all form and matter, comprise the world?Furthermore, and here’s the kicker, how does one discuss these issues in aplace where the fundamental categories are not those handed down byAristotle via Aquinas?

Other issues arose as well. As Prof. Kalton observed, in the end the mostsuccessful religion in the world is economic development. And that is truenot merely is Southeast Asia, but in Africa and America as well. It’s notfor nothing that that assumption runs under the guise of the gospel ofabundance, and prosperity. Some might even go so far as to call itblessing, and historically, it has been neither religion nor science thathas brought such blessing, such prosperity; it has been technology. It hasbeen Bruce Olson’s terramycin. But technology can be abused in another wayas well. As Prof. Pan-chiu LAI of the Chinese University of Hong Kongobserved, people often use science and technology as an apologetic tool tosupport the superiority of Christianity. Here science and technology areessentially proof-texted as the need arises. One almost envisions a modernversion of the childhood rhyme: My shaman and your physician were outhanging clothes…. What color was success? And, of course, what kind ofsuccess is it really?

The organizer of the workshop and conference, Prof. Heup Young KIM,observed, that Korea will be a kind of place from which contemporarytheology and natural science can go forward, and not just the dialoguebetween Christianity and the natural sciences. But rather we can contributea new kind of understanding. In the science and religion dialogue, Buddhism,Confucianism, and Taoism have been neglected for some time. The science andreligion dialogue has been limited to the same categories, modal categories.But the addition of the wisdom or sapiential religions, Hans Kung’s meaning,will bring up a new way of understanding science and religion from an EastAsian perspective. Because, here, everything goes together.

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