persjohn: Science & Religion Discussion Group,
We don’t have a regular meeting in December. Tom and Anna Fay Williams are again hosting a dinner, this year on Dec. 8. Contact them to RSVP.
Our next meeting is November 10 at 7:00 pm, NOT
the usual the 3rd Friday, but still in our usual 2nd floor Council Room of
Daniel Johnson will present the topic, on Emergence. Steve Long will bring snacks and sodas.
Emergence is the theme of the
Emergence: A Better Vision of Nature, Science, and Religion?
Scientists discuss it, philosophers define and evaluate it, and theologians get excited about it. The term emergence keeps popping up almost everywhere. For some, it seems to be the magic wand that explains (almost) everything. Others understand emergence to furnish the ultimate justification of ontological naturalism, thus leading to a non-theistic or anti-theistic worldview. Others again invoke emergence as a rational way of bringing immanence and transcendence together, thus arguing for the plausibility of theistic worldviews. For some, emergence is all about hierarchies and levels of order. Their guiding metaphor is the ladder. Others view emergence as a feast of interconnectedness in and between systems of systems. Their guiding metaphor is dance. Is one view more right than another? Are we asking the right questions about emergence? What answers are available? What questions should be asked in further research?
I will summarize what I learned at this conference, as well as related material. One of the speakers was Leo Kadanoff, who talked about the development of complexity in physical systems and the example of a “square dance” of particles simulating turbulent flow in a fluid. Wikipedia has an article on Emergence that provides a good introduction. It says (in part):
Emergence is the process of complex pattern formation from more basic constituent parts or behaviors, and manifests itself as an emergent property of the relationships between those elements. ,,, For a phenomenon to be termed emergent it should generally be unpredictable from a lower level description. At the very lowest level, the phenomenon usually does not exist at all or exists only in trace amounts: it is irreducible. ,,, Like intelligence in AI, or agents in DAI, emergence is a central concept in complex systems yet is hard to define and very controversial. There is no scientific consensus about what weak and strong forms of emergence are, or about how much emergence should be relied upon as an explanation in general. It seems impossible to unambiguously decide whether a phenomenon should be considered emergent. … Further, "emergent" is not always a deeply explanatory label even when it is agreed on: the more complex the phenomenon is, the more intricate are the underlying processes, and the less effective the word emergence is alone. In fact, calling a phenomenon emergent is sometimes used in lieu of a more meaningful explanation.
To prepare for the topic, I wrote a short essay on my thoughts on Emergence, The Smoke and Mirrors Theory of Reality, which I'm including below.
I hope some interesting discussion will emerge on Nov. 10.
Emergence is the phenomenon of complex systems emerging from the interaction of simpler parts. For example, chemistry emerges from the interactions of atoms bonding with each other to form molecules with properties quite distinct from the elements themselves. So it is often said that chemistry is reduced to physics. Extending this idea to the life sciences and humanities leads to radical reductionism, the claim that we and all around us is merely material. People are generally uncomfortable with such a bald assertion, and emergentism has developed as an alternative to reductionism, a way to get "something more from nothing but," in the favorite summary phrase of some advocates. Their hope is for a significant human reality emerging from nature.
This short essay is to organize my thoughts on emergence, to
prepare for a meeting of the Science & Religion Discussion Group that I
For those new to the topic of emergence, I will review some
of the material from the
Many people writers propose different ways to categorize emergence, and a common distinction that seems clearest to me is just two categories, weak and strong. The Wikipedia entry on Weak_emergence is straightforward: "Weak Emergence is a type of emergence in which the emergent property is reducible to its individual constituents. This is opposed to strong emergence, in which the emergent property is irreducible to its individual constituents." Weak emergence is also called reductive or mundane emergence, and it's hard to find philosophical objections to it. Strong emergence is associated with ontological emergence, the more controversial claim that qualitatively distinct, significant new entities emerge at a higher level of existence. Emergence promises an escape from the nihilistic implications of reductionist materialism. It offers a kinder, gentler approach, not atheism but non-theistic religious naturalism. Advocates often discuss wonderful examples of (weakly) emergent phenomena, from mathematics through physics and chemistry to biology and psychology, with the suggestion if not the outright claim that our conscious mind emerges in this way, but that nevertheless we can take ourselves seriously and have compelling reasons to act morally and be hopeful.
At the Zygon conference, physicist Leo Kadanoff presented a very nice example of emergence of turbulence in the flow of a computationally simulated gas, described as a "square dance." An earlier published version of his talk is online at http://www.uchicago.edu/docs/education/record/pdfs/35-4.pdf. The basic rules of the kinetic theory of gases, the conservation of mass and momentum, were embodied as simulated particles on a hexagonal grid, with two moves, "promenade" (move forward one step) and "swing your partner" (two or three particles at one location make one sixth of a full-circle turn, but only if their momenta add to zero). Computers are a powerful tool for exploring complex phenomena, and provide impressive illustrations of chaotic and complex interaction. But he didn't want to comment on the significance of this sort of emergence for philosophy and religion.
A physicist more eager to interpret the meaning of physical emergence was Heinz Pagels, who died in a mountain climbing accident eerily like one he described dreaming about in his 1982 book The Cosmic Code: Quantum Physics as the Language of Nature. In chapter 13 of Part I he imagines a Reality Marketplace where representatives of different interpretations of quantum mechanics sell their stories. He concludes with a smoky vision of emergence: "We feel excited by his [Bohr's imagined] remarks, though the old uneasiness has not left us. Yet listing to him is certainly better than that marketplace. After a long silence our old friend gives us his final words. 'What quantum reality is, is the reality marketplace. The house of a God that plays dice has many rooms. We can live in only one room at a time, but it is the whole house that is reality.' He gets up and leaves us. Only the smoke from his pipe remains, and then, like the smile of the Cheshire cat, that too disappears."
This was the title of a presentation at the Zygon conference by Anne Foerst, a professor of computer science. She talked mostly about her work at MIT on people's interactions with a humanoid robot called Kismet (see http://www.ai.mit.edu/projects/humanoid-robotics-group/kismet/kismet.html), but she began by talking about the book that got her excited about AI as a student: Douglas R. Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, a book that I too had eagerly read when it was first published in 1979. The theme of the book is self reference and the complexities that emerge from it. Hofstadter uses metaphorical dialogs to portray his ideas, and I think my "smoke and mirrors" characterization of emergence grew out of some of his imagery, like this :
Achilles: Well, it seems to me that this stuff with screens within screens is
interesting, but I'd like to get a picture of the TV camera AND the
screen, ON the screen. Only then would I really have made the system
engulf itself. For the screen is only PART of the total system.
Crab: I see what you mean. Perhaps with this mirror, you can achieve the
effect you want.
(The Crab hands him a mirror, and Achilles maneuvers the mirror and
camera in such a way that the camera and the screen are both pictured on
Achilles: There! I've created a TOTAL self-engulfing!
Crab: It seems to me you only have the front of the mirror-what about
its back? If it weren't for the back of the mirror, it wouldn't be
reflective-and you wouldn't have the camera in the picture.
Achilles: You're right. But to show both the front and back of this mirror,
I need a second mirror.
Crab: But then you'll need to show the back of that mirror, too. And what
about including the back of the television, as well as its front? And then
there's the electric cord, and the inside of the television, and-
Achilles: Whoa, whoa! My head's beginning to spin! I can see that this
"total self-engulfing project" is going to pose a wee bit of a problem.
I'm feeling a little dizzy.
Crab: I know exactly how you feel. Why don't you sit down here and take
your mind off all this self-engulfing? Relax! Look at my paintings, and
you'll calm down.
(Achilles lies down, and sighs.)
Oh-perhaps my pipe smoke is bothering you? Here, I'll put my pipe
away. (Takes the pipe from his mouth, and carefully places it above some
written words in another Magritte painting.) There! Feeling any better?
Achilles: I'm still a little woozy. (Points at the Magritte.) That's an interesting
painting. I like the way it's framed, especially the shiny inlay inside the
Crab: Thank you. I had it specially done-it's a gold lining.
Achilles: A gold lining? What next? What are those words below the pipe?
They aren't in English, are they?
Crab: No, they are in French. They say, "Ceci n'est pas une pipe." That
means, "This is not a pipe". Which is perfectly true.
Achilles: But it IS a pipe! You were just smoking it!
Crab: Oh, you misunderstand the phrase, I believe. The word "ceci" refers
to the painting, not to the pipe. Of course the pipe is a pipe. But a
painting is not a pipe.
Achilles: I wonder if that "ceci" inside the painting refers to the WHOLE
painting, or just to the pipe inside the painting. Oh, my gracious! That
would be ANOTHER self-engulfing! I'm not feeling at all well, Mr. Crab.
I think I'm going to be sick . . .
Hofstadter builds these ideas toward the emergent "Crux of Consciousness:" 
What might such [intrinsically] high-level concepts be? It has been proposed for eons, by various holistically or "soulistically" inclined scientists and humanists, that consciousness is a phenomenon that escapes explanation in terms of brain-components; so here is a candidate, at least. There is also the ever-puzzling notion of free will. So perhaps these qualities could be "emergent" in the sense of requiring explanations which cannot be furnished by the physiology alone. But it is important to realize that if we are being guided by Gödel's proof in making such a bold hypotheses, we must carry the analogy through thoroughly. In particular, it is vital to recall that G's nontheormhood does have an explanation -- it is not a total mystery! The explanation hinges on understanding not just one level at a time, but the way in which one level mirrors its metalevel, and the consequences of this mirroring. If our analogy is to hold, then, "emergent" phenomena would become explicable in terms of a relationship between different levels in mental systems.
. . .
My belief is that the explanations of "emergent" phenomena in our brains -- for instance, ideas, hopes, images, analogies, and finally consciousness and free will -- are based on a kind of Strange Loop, an interaction between levels in which the top level reaches back down towards the bottom level and influences it, while at the same time being itself determined by the bottom level.
. . .
This should not be taken as an antireductionist position. It just implies that a reductionist explanation of a mind, in order to be comprehensible, must bring in "soft" concepts such as levels, mappings, and meanings. In particular, I have no doubt that a totally reductionist but incomprehensible explanation of the brain exists; the problem is how to translate it into a language we ourselves can fathom.
Relating this to weak or strong emergence, I think Hofstadter is saying that there is only weak emergence, but it is incomprehensibly complex. To comprehend ourselves, we must work with "soft" concepts which appear as "strong" emergence. But this seems paradoxical to me -- if the weakly emergent theory of our mind is true, then we are merely a complex arrangement of particles and no one is really there to bring in concepts or to comprehend anything. Strong emergence seems to be necessary to even discuss such a theory of mind, but where does it come from? How can it emerge from the reductionist straitjacket of weak emergence? Hofstadter's use of smoke and mirrors imagery suggests that whatever reality we have emerges by a partially obscure (smoky) process of compounded self-reference (mirroring).
Emergence as an explanation of our minds and ourselves relates to classic issues of philosophy. Realism is practically necessary for science, although actual scientists usually prefer not to dwell on philosophy and get on with their work. But realism carried through to a reductionist theory of mind as described by Hofstadter doesn't include the reality of ourselves. Idealism and dualism are philosophical problematic as well. Emergence seems to offer a plausible way to get from fundamental physics to higher level phenomena like brains and minds while remaining grounded in reality.
Philosopher Carl Gillett of
and Phil Hefner gave the concluding presentations at the Zygon
conference, on emergence and theology. Jackelén
succeeded Hefner as Director of the
Emergence is a prominent topic in science and
religion. It is widely seen as a hopeful path to rescue significance from
the jaws of reductionism, especially by advocates of religious naturalism, both
nontheistic and theistic. Nontheistic
thinkers see emergence as a way to get "something more from nothing
but." I am skeptical of nothing butters, and see more smoke and
mirrors than enlightenment. But I think those within Christian and Jewish
faiths should not reject emergence, but affirm it as a way to understand the
revelation of God. And I don't just intend smoke and mirrors as a
pejorative, recalling the words of
1. Douglas R. Hofstadter, Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, 1979, Basic Books. The dialog between Achilles and the Crab is from the section in Chapter XV on Edifying Thoughts of a Tobacco Smoker. Only the last few paragraphs. Only the last few paragraphs are quoted here, in my original edition on pp. 493-494.
2. ibid, from Chapter XX, the sections on "Consciousness as an Intrinsically High-Level Phenomenon" and "Strange Loops as the Crux of Consciousness", in my original edition on pp. 708-709.
3. 1 Corinthians 13:9-13, Holy Bible RSV.
Our next meeting is October 20 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd
Friday, and in our usual 2nd floor Council Room of
Karl Menninger (1893-1990) posited that human behavior is determined by the conflict between two internal forces: the death wish (thanatos) and life wish (eros). "Man Against Himself" treats behaviors ranging from suicide to recurring common diseases, showing that the death wish is progressively neutralized by the life wish. "Love Against Hate" describes how the death wish is neutralized and life wish strengthened through work, play, faith, hope, and love. Finally, "The Courage to Create" (Rollo May) discusses the state in which the life force is predominent in the person's behavior.
Our next meeting is September 16 at 7:00 pm, as usual the
3rd Friday, and in our usual 2nd floor Council Room of
I’m including a short review of the book below. It looks like an interesting topic.
The American Scientific Affiliation “Science in Christian Perspective Since 1941” Reviews for September 2005
THE SCIENCE OF GOD: An Introduction to Scientific Theology
by Alister E. McGrath.
The Science of God is a concise overview of McGrath’s seminal formulation of scientific theology. The work is a true distillation of key ideas from the more expansive three- volume work, A Scientific Theology, which explores how science informs theology. McGrath has written extensively in the area of science and theology and is eminently qualified, with Ph.D.’s in biochemistry and theology, in developing this new theological endeavor.
Scientific theology seeks to “explore the interface between Christian theology and the natural sciences, on the assumption that this engagement is necessary, proper, legitimate, and productive” (p. ix).
The book clearly and thoroughly argues key concepts without over-simplification and is prefaced by an excellent introduction. It explains McGrath’s development as a scientist and theologian which lead to his vision for a scientific theology. As expected, the book is partitioned into three distinct sections that parallel those of the three volume work: nature, reality, and the theory of scientific theology. The style is relatively relaxed, providing a background to some of the general assumptions of the scientific theology while avoiding detailed discussions.
Scientific theology is developed through a linear progression of ideas beginning with the conception of nature. After summarizing the different historical understandings of nature, McGrath specifically focuses on the Christian doctrine of creation, engaging theology by appealing to “the intrinsic resonance between the structures of the world and human reasoning” (p. 60). The “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” and the regularity and intelligibility within nature, form a prelude to a detailed discussion of natural theology. McGrath specifically aims to take natural theology in a new direction. His goal is not to prove the existence of God, but to ask: ”What should we expect the natural world to be like if it has indeed been created by such a God? The search for order in nature is therefore intended not to demonstrate that God exists, but to reinforce the plausibility of an already existing belief” (p. 81).
Part 2, “Reality,” compares and contrasts knowledge in theology with that of the natural sciences. The approach is reminiscent of Polyani in that “knowledge arises through a sustained and passionate attempt to engage with a reality that is encountered or made known” (p. 94). McGrath builds on the ideas of Alisdair MacIntyre to ask how effectively can scientific theology provide insight into the existence and ideas of rival philosophies? Airplanes fly and medicines work, underpinning most scientists’ position as realists, and yet the pursuit of science is replete with competing theories which leads McGrath to adopt a stratified view of reality. The key issue is that ”natural sciences investigate the stratified structures of contingent existence at every level open to human enquiry, while a theological science addresses itself to God their creator who is revealed through them” (p. 151).
The last section of the book, “Theory,” requires considerable fortitude from the reader as competing theories are introduced, analyzed, and contrasted with the approach taken in scientific theology. The section begins by arguing for the legitimacy of theory within scientific theology and moves to examine how reality and revelation are represented.
Scientific theology has unleashed a new perspective that is reenergizing the interface between science and theology. McGrath’s concise Science of God introduces the main issues to a larger audience than his comprehensive trilogy, although the book is still an intellectually demanding read. Given the impact that McGrath’s project has unleashed, this book provides an accessible place to begin following what is likely to become one of the most influential areas in the science-religion dialogue.
Reviewed by Fraser F. Fleming, Associate Professor of
Our next meeting is August 18 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd
Friday, and in our usual 2nd floor Council Room of
Daniel Johnson will present the topic, on the Enigma of Time. A brief excerpt from my online essay is below. I've been eager about this topic for more than a year, and hope others will find it interesting too.
We count time, and we can count on time to bring perplexity when we ask what it is -- it is an enigma. From ancient times people have pondered time and its nature, and the emergence of the modern concept of time is at the root of our culture. The narrative flow of history is in the context of time as a connecting force and forward impetus, essential for progress toward modern science with the formalization of time in physics and mathematics.
Physics tightens our everyday notions of time, and separates
the intricacies of human life from the simplifying idealization of forces,
energy, and particles in motion. From Zeno's paradoxes to the
For 100 years now, Einstein's relativity has made time both more warped and more universal. The framework of spacetime takes cosmology beyond old confines of speculation to a new frontier of scientific investigation. Time is not what it used to be -- physics has transformed time, from the classical philosophical narrative to everyday digital synchronization enabled by esoteric theory.
The abstraction of time in physics makes explicit the connection between ultimate reality, God, and the unique events of our human experience, history.
Our next meeting is July 21 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd
Friday, and in our usual 2nd floor Council Room of
Wilson Windle will present the topic, based on Victor Stenger’s book Has Science Found God. The author’s website has information on the book, and I’m including some excerpts below. Roy Meinke will bring sodas and Daniel Johnson snacks. This should be good counterbalance to last month’s topic, and I hope to see you there.
Excerpts from http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/vstenger/god.html:
Stenger critically reviews the attempts of many contemporary theologians and some scientists to resurrect failed natural theologies in new guises. Whether these involve updated arguments from design, "anthropic" coincidences, or modern forms of deism, Stenger clearly shows that nothing in modern science requires supernatural explanation. He offers naturalistic explanations for empirical observations that are frequently given theistic interpretations: for example information in the universe implies an intelligent designer, that a universe with a beginning requires a Creator, and that the elegant laws of physics suggest a transcendent realm. He also shows that alleged spiritual, nonmaterial phenomena do no lie beyond the experimental reach of science.
Several new arguments are presented that are not found elsewhere.
o The claim that information cannot be created naturally but requires intelligent design is shown to be provably wrong.
o The kaläm cosmological argument, which claims that the universe had a beginning and so must have been created, is refuted by modern cosmology.
o The most important laws of physics are shown to be properties of the void and thus consistent with the universe appearing uncreated out of the void.
o A critique of the claimed scientific evidence for spiritual or non-material phenomena is provided from an experimental physicist's perspective.
o A unique critique is given of the new theologies that claim consistency with the message of science that the universe and humankind happened by accident.
Our next meeting is June 16 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd
Friday, and in our usual 2nd floor Council Room of
Wilson Windle will bring snacks and sodas. Daniel Johnson will present the topic, reviewing Alister McGrath's book The Twilight of Atheism. A thorough but negative review by Ronald Aronson, a real live atheist, can be found online at http://www.bookforum.com/archive/fall_05/aronson.html. After reading this review, I knew this was a book I had to buy and read, and I wasn't disappointed.
I'm including McGrath's Introduction below. I hope the group will also find this interesting, and I hope to see you there.
The Twilight of Atheism:
The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World
Introduction (p xi-xiii)
"THE EMPIRES OF THE FUTURE WILL BE EMPIRES OF THE
mind." In speaking these words
to a wartime audience at
The greatest such "empire of the modem mind" is atheism. It has been estimated that in 1960 half the population of the world was nominally atheist. At its height, this was a vast and diverse empire embracing many kingdoms, each with its distinct identity, yet united by a common rejection of any divinities, supernatural powers, or transcendent realities limiting the development and achievements of humanity. Atheism comes in various forms, its spectrum of possibilities extending from a rather mild absence of belief in God or any supernatural beings to a decidedly more strident and rigorous rejection of any religious belief as manipulative, false, and enslaving.
Atheism, in its modern sense, has come to mean the explicit denial of all spiritual powers and supernatural beings, or the demand for the elimination of the transcendent as an illusion. For some, it was felt, the mirage of religion might comfort. Christianity, after all, inculcated a soothing possibility of consolation in the face of life's sorrows. But increasingly it was argued that this illusion imprisoned, trapped, and deceived. By any index of its capacities, Christianity, like all religions, was held to be deficient. Intellectually, its central ideas were ridiculous and untenable; socially, it was reactionary and oppressive. The time had come to break free of its clutches, once and for all.
The idea that there is no God captured human minds and imaginations, offering intellectual liberation and spiritual inspiration to generations that saw themselves as imprisoned, mentally and often (it must be said) physically, by the religious past. It is impossible to understand the development of Western culture without coming to terms with this remarkable movement. Although some such idea has always been around, it assumed a new importance in the modem era, propelling humanity toward new visions of its power and destiny.
Yet the sun has begun to set on another empire. It is far from clear what the future of atheism will be, or what will replace it. Yet its fascinating story casts light not simply on the forces that have shaped the modern world but on the deepest longings and aspirations of humanity. It is one of the most important episodes in recent cultural and intellectual history, studded with significance for all who think about the meaning of life or the future of humanity. This book sets out to tell something of the story of the rise and fall of a great empire of the mind, and what may be learned from it. What brought it into existence? What gave it such credibility and attractiveness for so long? And why does it seem to have lost so much of its potency in recent years? Why has it faltered? What is its permanent significance?
This book is an expanded form of a speech I gave at the
landmark debate on atheism in February 2002 at the Oxford Union, the world's
most famous debating society. The great Debating Chamber was packed to capacity
to hear four speakers argue passionately with each other -- and with the huge
audience -- on whether it is possible to "rid the mind of God." I am
immensely grateful to my three fellow speakers -- Professor Peter Atkins, Dr.
Susan Blackmore, and Dr. David Cook -- for their
partnership in a highly stimulating exchange, and their
camaraderie over a memorable dinner beforehand.
Our next meeting is NOT the 3rd Friday, but a week later on
May 26, the 4th Friday, at 7:00 pm and in our usual 2nd floor Council Room of
This change in our usual schedule is to accommodate a visit
From: Len Teich [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Sunday, April 16, 2006 2:23 PM
On April 21, Susan and I will be doing the topic and the snack and both promise to be interesting. The topic will be God and Nature, or I suppose for the Calvinists among us, God or Nature.
With the aid of two recent books, I will explore the question, "Just how completely does humanity have to be a part of nature before one can say, as Tillich does, "Either both man and nature are sacred, or neither is"?"
The books are 1) "Being and Earth - Paul Tillich's Theology of Nature" by Michael F Drummy, published in 2000; and 2) "Deep Simplicity" by John Gribben, published in 2004.
Drummy, a relatively new voice in "ecological theology", at least new to me, talks about Tillich's analysis of how we in the West got to the point at mid 20th century where we almost brutally disregarded nature, and he points the finger directly at Protestants. Not Christianity in general, but Protestantism. Tough stuff if one is Protestant, as I am. He doesn't offer an easy way out, but I think, with the passage of 40 more years since his death in 1965, we may be able to see the lines of an answer, and Protestants may yet be part of the solution.
Gribben, an astrophysist
Our next meeting is March 17 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd
Friday, and in our usual 2nd floor Council Room of
Eugene Khutoryansky will lead the topic, on Animal Rights. He has a website on the topic, at http://ar.vegnews.org/.
I hope to see you there.
Our next meeting is February 17 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd
Friday, and in our usual 2nd floor Council Room of
Tom Williams will present the topic, on the work of Helge Kragh (e.g. http://www.nd.edu/~histast4/exhibits/papers/kragh.html), and Steve Long and Roy Meinke will bring snacks and sodas respectively.
Our next meeting is January 20 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd
Friday, and in our usual 2nd floor Council Room of
Steve Long will present the topic, on World Religions and Health. Harry Stille will bring snacks and sodas.
We don’t have a regular meeting in December, but on Dec. 16, our usual the 3rd Friday, Tom and Anna Fay Williams have again invited the group for dinner. Invitation with specifics will be emailed to regular members.
Our next meeting is November 18 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd
John McGee will present the topic, on the concept of the
John will take this where he wants, but here a link I found
searching on "
Our next meeting is October 21 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd
Roy Meinke will present the topic on the Dead Sea Scrolls. John McGee will bring snacks and Steve Wentland will bring sodas.
The DSS were initially discovered in a cave by the Bedouin
on the NW shore of the
I hope to see you there.
Our next meeting is September 16 at 7:00 pm, as usual the
3rd Friday, in
Steve Wentland will present the topic, regarding The Disappearance, a book by Philip Wylie. This 1951 work of speculative fiction is about a splitting of the universe that separates males and females, and what follows as their fates diverge. We often think of the "Two Cultures" of science and the humanities, and this book explores the related cultures of the sexes. For more, see e.g. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0803298412/002-2566572-5068858?v=glance.
Daniel Johnson will bring snacks and sodas. I hope to see you there.
Our next meeting is August 19 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd Friday,
Dick Steele will present the topic, regarding George Ellis, winner of the 2004 Templeton Prize, see http://www.templetonprize.org/news_templetonprize_2004.html.
Our next meeting is July 15 at , as usual the 3rd Friday, in
Daniel Johnson will present the topic, based on the PBS series "The Question of God" which first aired in Sept., 2004. PBS has a website for the series, and a description of the program, at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/questionofgod/program/index.html, which says in part: "Based on a popular Harvard course taught by Dr. Armand Nicholi, author of The Question of God, the series illustrates the lives and insights of Sigmund Freud, a life-long critic of religious belief, and C.S. Lewis, a celebrated Oxford don, literary critic, and perhaps this century's most influential and popular proponent of faith based on reason." I bought the DVD and the book, and found both very interesting. Professor Nicholi has developed a very effective way to explore this question, and has obviously refined his material through many years of presenting it to university students. I hope our discussion group will also find it worthwhile. I'm including some more material about the program below.
From PBS website:
"It may be that Freud and Lewis represent conflicting parts of ourselves," Dr. Nicholi notes. "Part of us yearns for a relationship with the source of all joy, hope and happiness, as described by Lewis, and yet, there is another part that raises its fist in defiance and says with Freud, 'I will not surrender.' Whatever part we choose to express will determine our purpose, our identity, and our whole philosophy of life." Through dramatic storytelling and compelling visual re-creations, as well as interviews with biographers and historians, and lively discussion, Freud and Lewis are brought together in a great debate. "The series presents a unique dialogue between Freud, the atheist, and Lewis, the believer," says Catherine Tatge, director of The Question of God. "Through it we come to understand two very different ideas of human existence, and where each of us, as individuals, falls as believers and unbelievers."
The important moments and emotional turning points in the lives of Freud and Lewis — which gave rise to such starkly different ideas — fuel an intelligent and moving contemporary examination of the ultimate question of human existence: Does God really exist?
As part of the documentary, Dr. Francis Collins, director of
the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of
. . .
In Freud's secular worldview, God is merely a form of
"wish fulfillment," or the regressive longing for a parent's
protection, says Dr. Harold Blum, executive director of the Sigmund Freud
Nicholi has taught the seminar without interruption for the past 35 years
and still hasn't tired of it. Nor have the students. The course regularly
receives accolades in the CUE Guide and attracts far more applicants than can
be accommodated during a given semester.
For the past 11 years, Nicholi has also
offered the seminar to students at the
Our next meeting is June 17 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd
Wilson Windle will present the topic, a review of Karen Armstrong's book The Battle for God. I've put some links and comments about it below, for anyone who wants a taste of the topic ahead of the meeting. Marian Hillar will bring sodas and Tom and Anna Fay Williams will bring snacks. This should be an interesting meeting.
[excerpt from the Introduction] . . . There have always been people, in every age and in each tradition, who have fought the modernity of their day. But the fundamentalism that we shall be considering is an essentially twentieth-century movement. It is a reaction against the scientific and secular culture that first appeared in the West, but which has since taken root in other parts of the world. The West has developed an entirely unprecedented and wholly different type of civilization, so the religious response to it has been unique. The fundamentalist movements that have evolved in our own day have a symbiotic relationship with modernity. They may reject the scientific rationalism of the West, but they cannot escape it. Western civilization has changed the world. Nothing -- including religion -- can ever be the same again. All over the globe, people have been struggling with these new conditions and have been forced to reassess their religious traditions, which were designed for an entirely different type of society. . . .
The central theme of this book is that Fundamentalism is an historically recent historic religious movement that is a response to modern secular culture. As Karen Armstrong says in the preface:
For almost a century, Christians, Jews, and Muslims have been developing a militant form of piety whose objective is to drag God and religion from the sidelines, to which they have been relegated in modern secular culture, and bring them back to center stage. These “fundamentalists,” as they are called, are convinced that they are fighting for the survival of their faith in a world that is inherently hostile to religion. They are conducting a war against secular modernity, and in the course of their struggle, they have achieved notable results.
Our next meeting is May 20 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd
Marian Hillar will present the
discussion topic, a review of the book THE MORAL ANIMAL: The New Science of
Evolutionary Psychology, by Robert Wright.
I found an online review of the book at http://cogweb.ucla.edu/Abstracts/Pinker_on_Wright_94.html,
which says in part "It lucidly explains our understanding of the evolution
of human moral sentiments and draws out provocative implications for sexual,
family, office and societal politics. But Mr. Wright's main lesson comes from
the very fact that morality is an adaptation designed to maximize genetic
self-interest, a function that is entirely hidden from our conscious experience.
Our intuitive moral principles, he says, have no claim to inherent truth and
should be distrusted. In
Roy Meinke will bring sodas and Wilson Windle will bring snacks. This sounds like an interesting topic, and I hope to see you on Friday.
Our next meeting is April 15 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd
Bruce Booher will present the
topic, on Mystery, Awe and Wonder in Faith and Science -- see his website, http://www.mysteryandawe.com/. He is also presenting a related program on
Saturday for the Melanchthon Institute, including a
visit to the
This should be an interesting topic, and I hope for a good discussion.
Our next meeting is March 18 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd
Tom Williams will host Carl Pearson to present the topic; here is the abstract he sent:
Natural Philosophy and Christianity in the Fifth and Sixth Centuries
The fifth and sixth centuries represent the final age of an
autonomous "pagan" (i.e. Hellenistic) philosophy. An ever-decreasing minority in the
increasingly Christianized Mediterranean basin, pagan philosophers nonetheless
flourished in this period, primarily in the Neoplatonic
This should be an interesting topic, and I hope for a good discussion.
Our next meeting is February 18 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd
John McGee will present the topic, based on a taped presentation he found interesting.
Our next meeting is January 21 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd
Steve Wendtland sent this introduction to the topic he will present:
Regarding Michael Behe and his book,
This should be an interesting topic, and I hope to see you there.
Our next meeting is November 19 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd
Ray Mack will lead the topic discussion, based on the book Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, by Barbara Forrest and Paul R. Gross. There's a related article by Paul Gross online at http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=90, and a milder one by Evan Ratliff at http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/evolution_pr.html. To see what prominent ID proponent William Dembski has to say for himself, have a look at http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft9810/articles/dembski.html.
This should be an interesting topic, and I hope to see you there.
Our next meeting is October 15 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd
This month will be an open discussion, no prepared topic presentation. If the past is any indication, we'll have lots to talk about.
I hope to see you there.
Our next meeting is September 17 at 7:00 pm, as usual the
3rd Friday, in
For a topic, we will again have a visiting presenter – Dr.
Joe Barnhart, professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies at
Dr. Barnhart’s published works cover many contemporary issues as well as religious history and philosophies. He has delivered and published over 200 papers (See www.phil.unt.edu/faculty/vjeb.html). Recently he has published In Search of First-Century Christianity and “Dostoevsky on Evil and Atonement: The Ontology of Personalism” in His Major Fiction, both co-authored with Dr. Linda Kraeger,. He has authored other books: The Billy Graham Religion, Religion and the Challenge of Philosophy and The Study of Religion and Its Meaning: New Explorations in Light of Karl Popper and Emile Durkheim.
His writing interests are also broad. A forthcoming novel covers Roger William’s struggle for freedom of conscience in early 17th century society, Before Washington and Jefferson (Smyth and Helwys Publishing). Works in progress include Russian Blood, Texas Soil with Dr. Kraeger, (a sequel to Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov), and Trust and Treachery, a historical-philosophical novel on Roger Williams, John Milton and John Winthrop.
Among his major studies: Dostoevsky’s Ontology and Boston Personalism, Church-State Relations (First amendment), Karl
Popper’s Evolutionary Epistemology and Process Metaphysics, Philosophy of
Social Science and Skinner’s Behaviorism, and the Philosophy of Religion. Other
projects include studies on Kant’s Categorical Imperative and
He has served on the Editorial Advisory Board for The
Encyclopedia of Secular Thought, president of the New Mexico/West Texas
Philosophical Society, and president of the
This should be an interesting topic, and I hope to see you there.
Our next meeting is August 20 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd
For a topic, we will have a visiting presenter – Leon E.
Long, 2nd Mr./Mrs. Charles Yager Professor of Geological Sciences at the
God's vision, as revealed in Genesis and throughout the
Bible, states that the world (including humans) was created
"good." Then humans sinned,
and were banished from the Garden.
However, the future holds the promise of redemption. The pattern is
This should be an interesting topic, and I hope to see you there.
Our next meeting is July 16 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd
I took the following from Knuth’s website, http://www-cs-faculty.stanford.edu/~knuth/things.html:
Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About
Donald E. Knuth (
(CSLI Lecture Notes, no. 136.)
In the fall of 1999, computer scientist Donald E. Knuth was invited to give six public lectures at MIT on the general subject of relations between faith and science. The lectures were broadcast live on the Internet and watched regularly by tens of thousands of people around the world, and they have remained popular many months after the event. This book contains transcripts of those lectures, edited and annotated by the author.
After an introductory first session, the second lecture focusses on the interaction of randomization and religion, since randomization has become a key area of scientific interest during the past few decades. The third lecture considers questions of language translation, with many examples drawn from the author's experiments in which random verses of the Bible were analyzed in depth. The fourth one deals with art and aesthetics; it illustrates several ways in which beautiful presentations can greatly deepen our perception of difficult concepts. The fifth lecture discusses what the author learned from the "3:16 project," a personal exploration of Biblical literature which he regards as a turning point in his own life.
The sixth and final lecture, "God and Computer Science," is largely independent of the other five. It deals with several new perspectives by which concepts of computer science help to shed light on many ancient and difficult questions previously addressed by scientists in other fields.
A significant part of each lecture is devoted to spontaneous questions from the audience and the speaker's impromptu responses, transcribed from videotapes of the original sessions.
The book concludes with a transcript of a panel
discussion in which Knuth joins several other prominent computer specialists to
discuss "Creativity, Spirituality, and Computer Science." The other
panelists are Guy L. Steele Jr. of Sun Microsystems, Manuela Veloso of
The author has contributed additional notes and a comprehensive index. More than 100 illustrations accompany the text.
There is much more about this book on Knuth’s website, as well as about his other books and activities.
Our next meeting is June 18 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd
Our next meeting is May 21 at , as usual the 3rd Friday, in
Our next meeting is Apr. 16 at , as usual the 3rd Friday, in
REVIEW OF RICHARD P. FEYNMAN ‘ S BOOK THE MEANING OF IT ALL ---Thoughts of a Citizen-Scientist
Feynman’s book is comprised of three lectures he gave in
1963 at the
First Lecture: The Uncertainty of Science
What is science? He says it is three things:
1. Things you can do with the things you found out --- technology.
2. A body of knowledge resulting from what is found out.
3. A special method of finding out,
He discusses technology, saying that applied science has a power to do things, but “this power to do things carries with it no instructions on how to use it, whether to use it for good or for evil”. He gives some examples: We like medicine, but worry about the growing aged population; we like airplanes and air travel, but also have the horrors of air warfare.
Of the next thing science is --- a body of knowledge --- he says “ This is the yield. This is the gold. This is the excitement, the pay you get for all the disciplined thinking and hard work. The work is not done for the sake of an application. It is done for the excitement of what is found out”.
Then science as a special method of finding out. He starts with the statement “This (method of finding out) is based on the principle that observation is the judge of whether something is so or not. Observation is the ultimate and final judge of the truth of an idea”. But to “prove” used in this way really means to “test”. The exception tests the rule. Or put another way, the exception proves the rule is wrong”.
He continues to discuss various aspects of science and paints a picture of the environment in which science operates. He says the principle that observation is judge imposes severe limitations as to the kind of questions that can be answered. They are put this way: “if I do this what will happen?”. Questions like “should I do this?” or “what is the value of this?” are not the same kind”.
Then there are the technical aspects. Observations cannot be rough. You have to be very careful. He points out you never have complete control in experiments and observations. Another important characteristic of science is objectivity. Still another technical point is that the more specific a rule is, the more interesting it is. The more specific a rule is, the more powerful it is, the more liable it is to exceptions, and the more interesting and valuable it is to check.
He makes the following point declaring it to be important. “The old laws may be wrong. How can an observation be incorrect? If it has been carefully checked, how can it be wrong? The answer is, first, that the laws are not the observations and, second, the experiments are always inaccurate. The laws are guessed laws, extrapolations, not something that the observations insist upon. They are just good guesses that have gone through the sieve so far. And it turns out later that the sieve now has smaller holes than the sieves that were used before, and this time the law is caught. So the laws are guessed; they are extrapolations into the unknown. You do not know what is going to happen, so you take a guess”.
Second Lecture: The Uncertainty of Values
He starts saying “We are all sad when we think of the wondrous potentialities that human beings seem to have and when we contrast these potentialities with the small accomplishments that we have”. He goes on to point out that once it was thought that mass education could bring out human potential, but evil can be taught as well as good. Communications between people and nations was a hope, but lies can be communicated as well as truth. The applied sciences was a hope but today (I963) scientists are working in secret laboratories to develop the very diseases they once sought carefully to control. Even peace, if we ever get rid of war, Feynman thinks is questionable --- will it be for good or for evil?
So he says “Why is this? Why can’t be conquer ourselves? Because we find that even the greatest forces and abilities don’t seem to carry with them any clear instructions on how to use them. As an example, the great accumulation of understanding as to how the physical world behaves only convinces one that this behavior has a kind of meaninglessness about it. The sciences do not directly teach good and bad”. Then he finally asks “ What, then, is the meaning of it all? “ “... I think that we must frankly admit that we do not know. But I think that in admitting this we have probably found the open channel”. He makes the point that the worst of times were those when people believed in something with absolute faith and absolute dogmatism.
Feynman asserts that in the field of values as in the field of science, it is the admission of ignorance and the admission of uncertainty that there is hope for progress. He says “I say that we do not know what is the meaning of life and what are the right moral values, that we have no way to choose them ...”. At this point he discusses what he sees as a conflict between religion and science. He defines religion for his discussion as “the everyday, ordinary, church-going kind of religion, not the elegant theology that belongs to it, but the way ordinary people believe, in a more or less conventional way, about their religious beliefs”.
He gives the example of a young man from a religious background going to the university to study science and as a result begins to doubt as is necessary in his science studies. So first he doubts, and then disbelieves perhaps in his father’s God. By “God” Feynman means “the kind of personal God, to which one prays, who has something to do with creation, as one prays for moral values, perhaps”. He goes on to say that most scientists do not believe in their father’s God, or God in a conventional sense. He asks why the young man has these troubles and suggests there are three possibilities.
First he suggests that the young man is taught be scientists and they are all atheists so their evil is spread from teacher to student perpetually....he then says (to his audience) “thank you for the laughter, and if you take this point of view, it shows you know less of science than I know of religion”. Obviously he was joking.
The second possibility is that the young man gets a little knowledge and it is dangerous. But Feynman says no, it is the exact reverse --- he suddenly realizes that he doesn’t know it all.
The third possibility causing the young man to disbelieve in his father’s God is that it is difficult to hold a conventional belief consistent with science although Feynman says he knows many scientists that do. Their beliefs are consistent but it is difficult. One source of difficulty is that the young man learns to doubt. “...that it is necessary to doubt, that it is valuable to doubt”. So the young man applies that new tool to everything and questions everything. “The question that might have been before, “Is there a God or isn’t there a God” changes to the question “How sure am I that there is a God?. He now has a new and subtle problem that is different than it was before”.
Another difficulty is that when the young man gets an understanding of the universe through science he has a new experience. Feynman states “When his objective view is finally attained, and the mystery and majesty of matter are fully appreciated, to then turn the objective eye back on man viewed as matter, to view life as part of this universal mystery of greatest depth, is to sense an experience which is very rare, and very exciting. It usually ends in laughter and a delight in the futility of trying to understand what this atom in the universe is, this thing --- atoms with curiosity--- that looks at itself and wonders why it wonders. Well, these scientific views end in awe and mystery, lost at the edge in uncertainty, but they appear to be so deep and so impressive that the theory that it is all arranged as a stage for God to watch man’s struggle for good and evil seems inadequate.
Some will tell me that I have just described a religious experience. Very well, you may call it what you will. Then, in that language I would say that the young man’s religious experience is of such a kind that he finds the religion of his church inadequate to describe, to encompass that kind of experience. The God of the church isn’t big enough”.
Feynman continues saying that he wants to emphasize three aspects of religion. The metaphysical he defines as religion’s telling what things are, where they came from, what man is, what God is, God’s properties and so on. Then there’s the ethical and the inspirational. It is with the metaphysical that science sometimes conflicts. He cites the case where science discovered that the earth goes around the sun and the case that man likely descended from the animals. Here religion retreated from its original positions. But Feynman notes it didn’t affect the ethical or moral viewpoints so he thinks science has no effect on morals. He acknowledges that science can have some effect on the inspirational if belief in the existence of God is weakened. He says that when there are conflicts between science and the metaphysical aspects of religion, not only are there conflicts with the facts, but the spirits conflict. “The uncertainty that is necessary in order to appreciate nature is not easily correlated with the feeling of certainty in faith associated with deep religious belief. I do not know that the scientist can have that same certainty of faith that very deeply religious people have”.
Third Lecture: This Unscientific Age
Feynman said that he got all he wanted to say in the first two lectures so in the third lecture he allows himself to ramble about things that bother him in the world. In spite of the influence of science through technology, he feels the attitudes of the general public are very unscientific.
Some Proposed Questions for Discussion
1. Feynman says that there is a conflict between science and the “everyday, ordinary, church-going kind of religion”. Do we agree?
2. Can everyone participate in the elegant theology that Feynman says belongs to the everyday religion and which apparently he feels does not conflict with science?
3. Feynman says that there is an uncertainty of values, yet many people believe that there is no uncertainty when it comes to moral values. Morals are not supposed to be relative. Where do we come down on that?
4. Feynman says that after the young man at college sees and understands somewhat the scientific view of the world, it ends in awe and mystery and the young man finds that “The God of the church isn’t big enough”. What comments do we have on that?
The above outline prepared by Wilson Windle for the Science and Religion Discussion Group’s meeting of April 16, 2004
Our next meeting is Mar. 19 at , as usual the 3rd Friday, in
At the last meeting when I announced this topic, I agreed to send out information early on these books, in case someone wants to read from or about them. I will concentrate on Rodney Stark's 2003 book For the Glory of God: How Monotheism led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery. Specifically, I will focus on chapter 2, God's Handiwork: The Religious Origins of Science. I will also discuss the first book of this two-volume work, One True God: Historical Consequences of Monotheism (2001).
Rodney Stark has a rather different view than the general story of the Renaissance West building on Greek wisdom. Stark says more specifically that "Christian theology was essential for the rise of science." (p. 123), and that this was deeply rooted in Scholasticism well before the Protestant Reformation. He presents research on the "Scientific Stars: 1543-1680" to demonstrate proportionate Catholic participation (Table 2.1, p. 162, and related discussion), and disavows being Catholic himself ("am not and never have been").
Further, Stark says "In contrast with the dominant
religious and philosophical doctrines in the non-Christian world, Christians
developed science because they BELIEVED it COULD be done, and SHOULD be
done." (p. 147). He follows with a whole section on "The Negative
Cases" where science might have developed but didn't:
Stark also disputes a primary Puritan role in the rise of
science, but does find that the English were over-represented, and has plenty
to say about Newton, Darwin, Natural Theology, and the religiousness of modern
scientists. His 77-page chapter concludes "Despite its length, this
chapter consists of only two major points. First, science arose only once in
history -- in medieval
I greatly enjoyed reading Rodney Stark's For the Glory of God. If I've piqued your interest with this, you can find a couple excerpts on the Internet, from Stark's Introduction at http://pup.princeton.edu/chapters/i7501.html, and from his Postscript at http://chronicle.com/free/v49/i39/39b00701.htm. An article drawn from his chapter 2 is also at http://www.findarticles.com/cf_0/m2185/7_14/109668527/p1/article.jhtml.
Here are more Stark links:
Baylor snares noted sociologist - News; Rodney Stark,
For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts,
and the End of Slavery - Book Review / Christian Century,
The Civilizing God.("For the Glory of God: How
Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch- Hunts, and the End of
Slavery")(Book Review) / National Review,
http://www.findarticles.com/cf_0/m0SOR/4_63/96254901/p1/article.jhtml One True God: Historical Consequences of Monotheism. .(Book Review) / Sociology of Religion, Winter, 2002, by Nancy T. Ammerman
False conflict: Christianity is not only compatible
with Science--it created it. / American
http://www.contendingforthefaith.com/summary/experts/stark.html THE EXPERTS SPEAK / Chapter Five / The Testimony of Rodney Stark, Ph.D.
http://www.touchstonemag.com/docs/issues/13.1docs/13-1pg44.html Stark was interviewed by Michael Aquilina originally for Our Sunday Visitor.
http://www.rickross.org/reference/apologist/apologist29.html . . .A significant amount of cult money, he wrote, has gone to scholars–in support of research, publication, conference participation, and other services. . . .
http://www.anglicanmedia.com.au/old/cul/TheRiseofChristianity.htm . . . You won't agree with all you read in Stark's book, but it will certainly give you something to think about. One thing is crystal clear. . . .
An interview with Rodney Stark, author of For the
Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-hunts, and the
End of Slavery. / By David Neff | posted
Our next meeting is Feb. 20 at , as usual the 3rd Friday, in
Len sent this abstract: For this Friday night's program we will return to the discussion of religion and nature which we have visited in the past. This time we will look at it from the point of view of theologians as opposed to scientists, particularly Meister Eckhart, the famous German mystic who lived in the thirteenth century. We consider the view of Eckhart set out by Mathew Fox in a recently reissued book ; "Passion for Creation: The Earth Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart". We will also look briefly at Phil Hefner's ideas. We will be looking for the roots of environmentalism in the Judeo-Christian tradition in order to see if Christianity is part of the solution or, as E O Wilson has charged so eloquently, it is part of the problem. Wilson the scientist has made the charge. Let us see how theologians such as Fox, Hefner and others answer it.
At the meeting, we decided it would be good to establish a bibliography, so Len later sent this:
Passion for Creation: The
Earth-honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart
by Matthew Fox
Technology and Human Becoming
by Philip Hefner
The Psyche in Antiquity, Book Two, Gnosticism anfd Early Christianity
by Edward Edinger
Martin Luther: A Penguin Life (Penguin
by Martin E. Marty
The Future of Life
by Edward O. Wilson
Our next meeting is Jan. 16 at , as usual the 3rd Friday, in
I hope to see you there this Friday evening.
We don’t have a regular meeting in December, but again this year, Anna Fay and Tom Williams are graciously inviting the group to their home for a social evening on our usual 3rd Friday, Dec. 19. I hope those of you at the most recent meetings already have this in your calendars, for Anna Fay will provide snacks and all. This is especially a social event for the holiday season, and spouses are welcome. To help with planning, Anna Fay would appreciate an RSVP.
I hope to see you there this Friday evening.
Our next meeting is Nov. 21 at , as usual the 3rd Friday, in
Marian Hillar will lead the topic
discussion on The Legacy of Michael Servetus:
Humanism and the Change in the Social Paradigm. It is now over 450 years since
Michael Servetus was burned at the stake in
1. Borrowing from the science we define the social paradigm.
2. Three social paradigms are presented: the Hebrew one, the Greco-Roman, and the ecclesiastical.
3. Who was Michael Servetus and what did he accomplish?
4. One of the legacies of Servetus - setting in motion the change from the ecclesiastical paradigm and recovery of the humanistic paradigm.
Marian is the author of Michael Servetus: Intellectual Giant, Humanist, and Martyr, with Claire Allen (2002, University Press of America), and The Case of Michael Servetus (1511-1553) – The Turning Point in the Struggle for Freedom of Conscience (1997, The Edwin Mellen Press). More about Servetus is available on the web; http://www.servetus.org/ is a good place to start.
Our next meeting is Oct. 17 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd
Our next meeting is Sep. 19 at , as usual the 3rd Friday, in
Here is Len’s introduction to the topic:
I am sending this to each of you directly instead of thru Daniel Johnson, as usual, because I have been a bit tardy about getting my thinking together on the topic to be discussed Friday night (tomorrow) at Science & Religion. But now I believe we should take the bull by the horns and launch nothing less than the second attempt since Thomas Aquinas and the Scholastics to actually reconcile Religion and Science. The first attempt, as you know, occurred during the Enlightenment, and didn't last long. Why will we be successful, when such luminaries of the Enlightenment as Alexander Pope and even our own Thomas Jefferson failed? Why, we have computers, of course! That should make everything much clearer!
I am only kidding, obviously. But in fact, high speed computers allow vastly more complex models to be made of natural systems, which allows the study of "emergence", the new science of complex adaptive systems in our cosmos. We will consider emergence by reviewing the new book "The Emergence of Everything" by Harold Morowitz. Morowitz is a scientist partly responsible for the development of emergence and a board member of the Santa Fe Institute. Morowitz himself is a believer, although certainly not in a traditional sense. Speaking of the Trinity, he writes in chapter 2, "If we identify the immanent God ( the mysterious laws of nature) with God the Father, then emergence will be the efficient operation of that God, which Christianity views as the Holy Spirit". (p 24). This is both heavy and novel. Morowitz believes that emergence, assumed to be operating at the highest level we can currently imagine , can be used to illuminate our thinking in philosophy and religion, and that we are on the cusp of understanding our role in the cosmos in a whole new way. You can't say he's thinking too small, can you?
Come join Susan and me on Friday and let's see if we can make some progress on this.
Our next meeting is Aug. 15 at , as usual the 3rd Friday, in
See http://www.iras.org/pastconf.html for conference overview, including my presentation abstract, which I’m including below:
Oil companies are often regarded as enemies of ecomorality.
Corporate efforts to adopt a green agenda seem paradoxical
and face public skepticism. Since oil companies clearly
have special interests and profit motives, what kind of
ecomorality should we expect of them?
The major multinational oil companies have adopted
different approaches to environmental issues, especially
global warming. European oil majors BP and Shell have
significant green initiatives, but an American company,
ExxonMobil, is the world's largest public oil company and
the one "greens love to hate," according to a recent
Financial Times headline.
My own career trajectory as a geophysicist with BP
traversed the poles of these approaches, from Chicago-based
Amoco with an Exxon style in the 90's through the merger
into an already greening London-based BP four years ago,
where environmental leadership is taken seriously, and I
think, believably. What is most persuasive for me is the
honest expectation of corporate leaders for profit, that
investing in green programs will win in the end, and gain
value even today by winning the loyalty of employees,
especially attracting and retaining talented recruits. Whether
this risk pays off depends on the response of the general
public, especially well-informed people likely to attend an
Ecomorality conference. The goal of this session is to
advance understanding of the ecomorality of oil and gas,
especially corporate social responsibility in green issues.
Daniel Johnson grew up in a Lutheran parsonage in western
exploitation in the mining and oil industries since 1969,
presently with the Exploration & Production Technology
Group of BP America in
specializes in 4D seismic monitoring of oil and gas fields.
Daniel leads a local Science and Religion discussion group
to Star first in 1999.
Our next meeting is Jul. 18 at , as usual the 3rd Friday, in
Ayn Rand, and I'm including his summary below. I look forward to seeing you there.
Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand
The creed of objectivism is simple: to celebrate one's ego (i.e. one's
accomplishments) to the fullest extent. One's only obligation is one's
own self-gratification and fulfillment without limiting the gratification
and fulfillment of others. Altruism and loyalty are evils that place an
other's interests before one's own, and are to be avoided. While
objectivism is unabashedly self-centered, it is not "If it feels good, do
it". She uses logic rather than emotion to determine one's best
She develops her philosophy in her two most major works, the Fountainhead
and Atlas Shrugged. In the first, she shows how objectivism enables a
young, innovative architect to overcome the resistance generated by powerful
people wed to the status quo, in the second how a group of productive
people opposes people (rich and middle-class) who would live off the
efforts of others.
In these contexts she makes a compelling case. But she intends for her
philosophy to apply to the entire gambit of life. The group will explore
the relevance of objectivism to marriage, family, feminism, charity,
In this last respect, objectivism is a religion in itself. As such it
will be compared to Pauline doctrine of Grace vs. Works, and to Luther’s
Theology of the Cross. A diametric opposition? Obviously yes—but on
The next meeting is June 20 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd
“The frontiers of physics have gradually expanded to incorporate ever more abstract concepts such as a round Earth, invisible electromagnetic fields, time slow down at high speeds, quantum superpositions, curved space, and black holes.
Is there a copy of you reading this article? Are there many copies of you, one for each alternative that you do not choose - an infinite number of copies? Strange and maybe true. At least supported by cosmological observations and the fact that the concept makes the math work. The math that explains things that can be measured.
In infinite space, even the most unlikely events must take place somewhere.
Your other self(s) resides in a galaxy about to the 28th meters from here. Our observable universe is about 4 times 10 to the 26th in size. Meaning that you will never see any of your twins. And there are an infinite number of these alternative universes – A Multiverse.
And this is only the Level I Multiverse. In Level I the observers experience the same laws of physics as we do but with different initial conditions. There are three more Multiverses and it gets stranger from this point on.
Level II Multiverse is an infinite set of distinct Level l Multiverses, some with different space-time dimensionality, different physical constants, and different particles. Level II is predicted by the theory of chaotic eternal inflation - a rapid stretching of space long ago. A wide class of theories of elementary particles predicts this stretching and all available evidence bears it out.
Level III Multiverse is right around you. It arises from the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. The idea that random quantum processes cause the universe to branch into multiple copies, one for each possible outcome. Level III adds nothing new beyond Level I and II, just more indistinguishable copies of the same universes.
Level IV Multiverse – the initial conditions and physical constraints of Levels I through III can vary; but the physical laws remain unchanged. In Level IV the physical laws vary. Level IV hypothesis makes testable predictions of mathematical structures.”
The next meeting is May 16 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd
Friday but NOT AT THE USUAL PLACE.
Roy Meinke and Tom Williams will
present the topic, on the book God at the Ritz. I'm including the review
A BOOK REVIEW OF
God at the Ritz - Attraction to Infinity
Fr. Lorenzo Albacete
Here is addressed the question: “Is it possible to reconcile religious faith,
as expressed and portrayed in the life and works of the current pope, and
fidelity to life as experienced and understood as we enter the 21st century?
The questions that arose as a TV series was produced concentrated on the
developed responses to questions on: a.) life after death, b.) good and evil,
c.) science and faith, d.) religion and politics, and e.) other “ultimate
issues.” So the sections of this book are: a.) Is religion a lot of bull?, b.)
Science and the mystery, c.) The Great Cry: Why suffering?, d.) The Big Three:
Sex, Money, and Politics, and finally e.) Beyond religion.
An attempt was made to have the responses reflect a: a.) love for life, b.)
desire for happiness, c.) passion for freedom, and d.) respect for the demands
It is the intent of the book to affirm the value of human life in spite of our
Fr. Albacete, a columnist for the New York Times, is a physicist by training.
He holds a degree in Space Science and Applied Physics as well as a master’s
degree in Sacred Theology and a doctorate in Sacred Theology.
The next meeting is Apr. 25 at 7:00 pm,, not the usual the
3rd Friday but delayed a week because of the Good Friday holiday, in
I will not be reviewing Stark's book directly, but instead I
want to compare two presentations of his work, which I first found out about
just a couple weeks ago in a sermon by
The next meeting is Mar. 21, as usual the 3rd Friday at 7:00
======== Steve Wentland's topic introduction =======
This Friday's presentation will be a discussion of a book by Howard J.
Van Till et al., "Science Held Hostage-What's Wrong with Creation Science
and Evolution". The authors claim that creation scientists, in using
accounts which support their premise, have ignored subsequent accounts
which discredit the initial ones. They also claim that evolutionary
scientists have overstepped their domain and made statements which cannot
be supported by observation and logic. Examples of each distortion will
Presentation will also include an update of the ramifications of Miller
and Urey's experiment (amino acids formed from an electrical discharge in
an atmosphere of methane, ammonia, hydrogen, and water) and an
evolutionist's (P.W. Atkins) view of the meaning of life.
See you on Fri.,
2003 February The Ecomorality of Oil and Gas
The next meeting is Feb. 21, as
usual the 3rd Friday at 7:00 pm, and not in our old home in Melanchthon
House but instead across the street, in
I will lead the topic discussion on "The Ecomorality of Oil and Gas." Harry Stille will bring snacks and sodas. Unofortunately the end of January's meeting was a little confused with the parking excitement at the Vet's lot across the street -- I think this has been cleared up, but it's probably best to avoid this spot and park in the Baylor clinic lot just south of the church.
The topic this month builds on
Len Teich's presentation last month on the
intersection of environmentalism and religion, and the websites he referenced
remain relevant. I want to aim especially at issues related to petroleum, in
anticipation of this summer's
As the January discussion
noted, environmentalism doesn't necessarily involve religion, and moral
arguments are often made on utilitarian grounds from a secular materialist
perspective. And then there's the question of how these moral issues relate to
religion and specific religions. Regarding oil and gas, our use of these
nonrenewable resources is a flash in the pan of geologic time, and depletion
threatens within our lifetime. A popular book hiliting
this is Hubbert's Peak by Kenneth S. Deffeyes, and the website http://www.hubbertpeak.com/
explores related ideas. We in
I look forward to seeing you on Friday.
http://home.houston.rr.com/persjohn my personal website
http://home.houston.rr.com/persjohn/SR site I maintain for our group
http://www.hubbertpeak.com/ mentioned above, on depleting oil
Len's links from last month:
Houston Science & Religion Discussion Group members and friends,
Our first meeting of 2003 is Jan. 17, as usual the 3rd Friday
at 7:00 pm, but not quite in our usual home in Melanchthon
Len and Susan Teich will host both for snacks/sodas and the topic on the intersection of environmentalism and religion -- I'm including Len's introduction below, with links to more background. I'll look forward to seeing you there.
This month's Science & Religion meeting will explore the intersection of environmentalism and religion. A few minutes of research on Google yields a rich mix of web sites dedicated to ecology from a religious point of view. I have copied three below; i) the "what would Jesus drive?" campaign website put up by a Christian evangelical group, ii) the Jews & Christians to save the forests website; and iii) the Harvard Environmental Center website on religions of the world relative to ecology. All of this begs the question - do the world's religions actually have anything intelligent to say on the non - human environment? E O Wilson thinks not. In his book "The Future of Life" for example, he argues that the Abrahamic tradition of man being given dominion over all God's creation is precisely the problem with the whole Judeo-Christian religion and the Western Civilization that grew out of it. We will debate the issue and decide whether the world's great religions (Christianity in particular) are part of the problem or part of the solution. And all of that in only two hours!
See you on Friday.
Our next meeting is Nov. 15, as
usual the 3rd Friday, at 7:00 pm at Melanchthon House
Our next meeting is Oct 18, as
usual the 3rd Friday, at 7:00 pm at Melanchthon House
Our next meeting is Sep. 20, as
usual the 3rd Friday, at 7:00 pm at Melanchthon House
I will bring snacks, and Alan Dieter has volunteered for drinks. I hope to see you there.
Prof. Phil Hefner delivered the
Rockwell Lectures, Oct. 7-9 at
Our next meeting is Aug. 16, as
usual the 3rd Friday at 7:00 pm at Melanchthon House
Promo for Science and Religion Meeting 8/16/02
Discussion will be based on a book by Newberg, D'Aquili, and Rause, Why God
Won't Go Away. The authors show that brain operation during meditative
and religious experience is not abnormal, but rather, the brain is designed
to promote such experience. The authors start with a description of the
parts of the brain involved in these experiences, then describe the
formation of myths, transcendental experience, and finally religious
experience. Interesting digressions are procedures for attaining the
mystical state and a contrast with the hallucinatory state. The authors'
conclude with the question : who/what designed the brain in this way
-evolution or a Higher Power? The authors only flirt with the answer,
leaving us 2 hours and 45 minutes to complete it. Are we up to it?
The Science & Religion
Discussion group will meet July 19, as usual the third Friday of the month,
7:00 pm at Melanchthon House (
I recall some months ago in our free-ranging discussion talking about artificial intelligence (AI), and its implications for religion, and I remember offering to revive my material on the Turing Test, and Turing's arguments for and against the possibility of an intelligent computer in a landmark 1950 paper. I'm still impressed by how much he anticipated back then.
Turing's classic paper is available online, at http://www.abelard.org/turpap/turpap.htm, and there's more on Turing at http://www.turing.org.uk/turing/index.html. Turing raises and rejects nine objections to the possibility of AI, which he names as theological, heads-in-the-sand, mathematical, consciousness, disabilities, Lovelace, continuity, informality, and ESP. His proposed test for machine intelligence, an imitation game by teletype, is often misunderstood so I think our group will enjoy a look at these issues -- I hope I've dangled just enough bait to be intriguing.
This is to remind everyone that Science and Religion is indeed alive and well and coming up the third Friday of the month - that would be this Friday, June 21, at 7:00 PM as usual in the Melanchthon House. Susan and Len Teich will be responsible for the snacks and drinks. The discussion will be a continuation of the discussion of Bishop Spong's talk in May. Several of the Science and Religion regulars were present at that and can comment on the main points he made. For those of you who were not there and may not be familiar with Bishop Spong, I have copied his Web address below. It contains a good summary of his thinking. For those who want to see why he is considered controversial, simply type bishop spong into the Google search engine and the first 10 items listed include a number of web pages devoted to rebuttal of Spong's main ideas. See you there!
Len and Susan Teich
The Science & Religion Discussion Group will be doing something different in May. We decided at the April meeting to attend a lecture by Episcopal Bishop John Spong, "Beyond Theism to God," sponsored by the Foundation for Contemporary Theology on our usual meeting night the 3rd Friday of the month. Susan Teich tracked down information from FCT, and I'm including some of her note in plain text below (I'll also forward her note with word-processor-formatted versions). Len and Susan Teich are inviting our group members for discussion afterward at their home.
logistics. FCT has a registration fee for the event, $15 early (by May
13) or $20 at the door. The lecture is 7:30 pm, May 17, at
The February Science &
Religion Discussion Group meeting will be the 15th, as usual the third Friday
of the month, 7:00 p.m. at Melanchthon House (
The January Science &
Religion Discussion Group meeting will be the 18th, as usual the third Friday
of the month, 7:00 p.m. at Melanchthon House (
Steve Wendtland's topic introduction:
Discussion will be based on a Scientific American article, "Rise of the
Robots" by Hans Moravec. He contends that given the rate at which the
speed and applicability of computers is increasing, it is a virtual
certainty that computers will match the intelligence of humans, and robots
will be able to match any manual operations that humans perform. In the
future, humans will not need to work, and all their days will be filled
with leisurely pursuits. Discussion will center on the validity of
Moravec's assumptions and the significance of any unconsidered factors,
Of course, the group will come up with a conclusion which will completely
settle the issue.
November Science & Religion
Discussion Group meeting will be the 16th, as usual the third Friday of the
month, 7:00 p.m. at Melanchthon House (
The October Science &
Religion Discussion Group meeting will be the 19th, as usual the third Friday
of the month, 7:00 p.m. at Melanchthon House (
Topic: Bob Oliver (e-mail, Oct. 16)
. . . My topic is the relationship between interest in nature and the mainstream traditions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. My argument, such as it is, is that whereas you can find a great deal of fascination with and respect for nature in at least some mainstream versions of Christianity and Judaism, in Islam this is not the case. That is, in Islam fascination for nature has been largely confined to the Sufi movements, which are not part of the main body of Islamic development and which, in fact, exist in a rather ambivalent relationship with the rest of Islamic thought. This may help explain some historical questions (such as why Islamic science, once so promising, never progressed in the way Christian - i.e. Western - science did) as well as helping to understand lasting and baffling differences between the Islamic and Western worlds.
Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology
The September Science &
Religion Discussion Group meeting will be the 21st, as usual the third Friday
of the month, 7:00 p.m. at Melanchthon House (
Topic: Len Teich
Background: Responsibility for the attack on the World Trade Center has not been fixed as of the time of this Email [Sep. 21], but the top of everyone's list contains adherents to a particular branch of militant Islam; the "zealots", if we can borrow a term originally coined for militant Hebrews two millennia ago. These zealots are only a small fraction of militant Islam which is only a small fraction of conservative Islam which is, in turn, a fraction of all Islam. Nevertheless, we may find answers to our agony if we examine the role of religion in the part of the world which originated this attack, as well as religion, or the lack thereof, in the Western world which these militants so bitterly hate.
Hypothesis: Many of the parts of the world which have
massive religious unrest, e.g., the
Proposition: At the risk of appearing to wade in where some of the great thinkers of the Twentieth Century have been and haven't made much progress, let me propose that what we need in the West is not a new religion, but a new understanding of the ancient truth in our current religion(s). We in the West are the first ones into this mess - let us be the first ones to see our way out of it. That will involve bringing new perspectives to bear and may be opposed in the traditional churches, but we've got to bring science and religion, or bring the material world and the spiritual world, closer together.
Question: As a discussion topic for Science and Religion this session, what must be done, if anything, to rethink Christianity to make it relevant to a larger number of the "materialists" who have lost faith and are now suffering? Is this likely to have any relevance for Islam? Besides organizing us to kick the stuffing out of the terrorists, is there anything our leaders should be doing on the spiritual front?
The August Science &
Religion Discussion Group meeting will be the 17th, as usual the third Friday
of the month, 7:00 p.m. at Melanchthon House (
The Case for Separatism: Evidence from the History of Science
Since the time of Galileo, theology and science have at various times been
at odds or in an awkward embrace that served neither well. In this
discussion I will present, briefly, three cases drawn from the history of
science that I hope will illustrate the perils of embrace. The cases will be
drawn from the 17th century (Galileo and his admonition against embrace),
the 18th century (Newtonian mechanics as evidence for design), and the 19th
and early 20th century (debates over Nebular hypothesis in galactic
astronomy). I will close with a critique of a late 20th century theological
attempts to embrace Darwinian Evolution and Big Bang Cosmology.
July 20, 2001
The July meeting will be the
20th, as usual the third Friday of the month, 7:00 p.m. at Melanchthon
meeting will be the 15th, as usual the third Friday of the month, at Melanchthon House (
Steve Wentland will see that refreshments happen, and Angela Tobias will see that we have access to meeting space (nuanced wording since construction is causing shuffles).
Sent: Tuesday, May 22, 2001 3:14 AM
Subject: Re: June 15?
Thanks for your concern! I'm sorry I missed the meeting. I had a spell of
indigestion, just before time to leave for the long trip downtown, which
knocked me off my schedule and kept me from getting in touch with you.
All's well now, and I do hope to be there in June.
As for my planned presentation, I'm working on it. I intended to review a
new book, "A Different Approach to Cosmology -- from a Static Universe
the Big Bang towards Reality", by Fred Hoyle et al (
2000). Hoyle, of course, is an old, old hand at this subject, who has been
somewhat silent in recent years (he's going on 86 this June!). His
viewpoint is that we've allowed ourselves to swallow the idea of a Big Bang
origin of the universe with insufficient evidence. This seems to be
contrary to the views of younger, more modern Cosmologists, including the
professor with whom I audited a class last Fall. Hoyle goes over the
evidence we think we have, and suggests alternatives. I hoped that this
might be interesting to our group, if only to show some of the chinks in the
vaunted Scientific Method, and might re-awaken the awareness that we don't
now, and probably never will, have the last word -- only the best view
available, which could be replaced at any time by better-substantiated
However, I confess that Hoyle is far more sophisticated than I in his
profession, which is Cosmology and Astronomy; and, as I become more and more
aware, so are many of our members! My MS is in Mechanical Engineering, not
Astronomy or even Theoretical Physics! I intend to simply lay out the
framework of Hoyle's thesis and leave the details open to discussion.
I'm open to suggestion and guidance! If you think something else would be
more suitable, I'm willing to listen; or, if you have something you feel is
more suitable, I could be persuaded to relinquish the floor. If not, I'll
do the best I can.
For the record, here's May's announcement:
The May meeting will be the
18th, as usual the third Friday of the month, 7:00 p.m. at Melanchthon
The April meeting
was the 20th, as usual the third Friday of the month, at Melanchthon House (
Steve sent the following introduction to the topic:
This meeting will focus on two topics: The first, a review of the Nature
Nature Conference held at
conference was designed to consider whether the universe is self-contained
or whether something outside science is necessary to explain its deepest
and most difficult problems. In other words, does nature point to
something outside itself? The presenters had awesome credentials, and
included 2 Nobel Prize winners and many authors. The most prominent
sessions consisted of 2 or 3 people, representing both points of view,
starting with a lecture and concluding with a debate. This conference
drew from a very wide range of disciplines, including pure mathematics,
astrophysics, symbolic logic, history, psychology, philosophy, theology,
and of course, molecular biology.
The most notable and approachable topic presented centered around Michael
which was not possible at the time of
the cell has been scrutinized to reveal stages or gaps in development
which challenge the ability of natural selection to bridge. To explain
these gaps Behe suggests that "Intelligent Design" guides development
across these gaps. A non-technical example: In a bicycle factory random
errors might produce a larger wheel, a stronger frame, handlebars with
more curvature, all which may work to produce a better bicycle, but it
will never produce a motorcycle. The development of the motorcycle must
be crafted by an outside "intelligent" source.
Starting questions for discussion might be:
Does natural selection have a limit on the complexity of the objects it
If a "bridge" in development is necessary, where will this bridge come
from and what form will it take?
Stephen H. Wentland
Professor and Chair
(281) 649-3000 x 2371
FAX (281) 649-3140
The March, 2001, meeting will
be the 16th, as usual the third Friday of the month, 7:00 p.m. at Melanchthon House (
Bruce e-mailed the following, to introduce the topic:
My topic for the March 16 discussion is The Role of Mystery and Awe in Faith
and Science. Mystery is not a riddle to be solved, but truth bigger than us.
Modern science has shown that our universe is one filled with mystery. As
we learn more, the mystery does not shrink, but expands. Albert Einstein
puts it so powerfully - "The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can
have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of
religion as well as of all serious endeavor in art and in science ... He who
never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind. The
sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that
our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only
indirectly and as feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I
am religious. To me it suffices to wonder at these secrets and to attempt
humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all that
there is." Albert Einstein, "My Credo" 1932.
We will seek to share experiences of awe and wonder and not just talk about
abstract concepts. We'll have a chance to hold a piece of a comet, and to
examine the majesty of swirling galaxies.
Jan. 19, 2001, by Loyd Swenson (and con't Feb. 16)
The January, 2001, meeting will
be the 19th, as usual the third Friday of the month, 7:00 p.m. at Melanchthon House (
Since this is the first meeting of 2001 after a break in December, I want to give some attention to planning for the year ahead. If we're happy with the third Friday time and format of rotating topic leaders and snack organizers, then I would like people to sign up for the months ahead as far as we can. Also, I think it's time to update our membership list. Many of the people on my e-mail list have only come once or twice, and not lately, so I propose editing the list to only those we've seen in the last six months or who tell me explicitly that they want to continue. I feel that our group should be open to everyone interested, and that we all should invite new people as we think appropriate. Our group website is a good resource to point people to.
Now as promised, more on Brian Swimme. His website at http://www.brianswimme.org/index.html gives this brief bio:
Dr. Brian Swimme
is a mathematical cosmologist on the graduate faculty of the California
Institute of Integral Studies in
Even more information about Swimme is on a page announcing a recent conference at which he was featured,
Nov. 17, 2000 (by Daniel Johnson)
Here's the report I sent to LDG-NET following the meeting:
This posting is to report on the Nov. 17 meeting of the Houston LDG,
discussing an essay by Steven Weinberg, based on a talk given in
April 1999 at the Conference on Cosmic Design of the American
Association for the Advancement
of Science in
available online at http://www.physlink.com/essay_weinberg.cfm. He
says "The question that seems to me to be worth answering, and
perhaps not impossible to answer, is whether the universe shows signs
of having been designed by a deity more or less like those of
traditional monotheistic religions," and argues the evidence is
against it, based on the problems of theodicy (if God is good, why
are so many things bad?) and the historic record of religion. He
concludes with a combative statement on the relation of religion and
science: "I am all in favor of a dialogue between science and
religion, but not a constructive dialogue. One of the great
achievements of science has been, if not to make it impossible for
intelligent people to be religious, then at least to make it possible
for them not to be religious. We should not retreat from this
Our meeting last week was small, the smallest I've attended, with
only 5 people present, 2 of them new. This wasn't a reflection of the
topic, since at our October meeting everyone present but me said
they'd be away in November, including the people who'd originally
planned to present a different topic in November, so I was left to
substitute. One of our regular members did RSVP to the November
announcement with this:
"I am sorry I will be away
on Nov. 17 in
the meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. I have a
talk on Sunday about the Greek source for Justin Martyr's
theology, especially his Logos doctrine. My long-term
project involves debunking Christianity as a special
religion, which it is not obviously, it is a compilation of
various religions and philosophical views.
I would like to be present at this discussion, I think
Weinberg is one of the most rational and reasonable guys on
As you might surmise from the above, he's probably our most
articulate spokesman for an out-with-the-old view of religion, and
sadly without his end of the spectrum represented at the meeting,
Weinberg was in for a drubbing. I've certainly picked on him before,
and brought along the news article I saved last year when his AAAS
talk earned him the "Emperor Has No Clothes Award" from the Freedom
from Religion Foundation, featuring the quote "Religion is an insult
to human dignity. ...for good people to do evil things, it takes
The pre-meeting discussion on LDG-NET was a big help to the meeting,
read some excerpts. I keep trying to interest the other
folks to get on LDG-NET, but so far no takers that I'm aware of.
Michael Cavanagh's suggestion to discuss whether Weinberg means the
same thing by "religion" as we do got a little discussion, with
general agreement that Weinberg's view of religion is too narrow.
John Swanson's note about Weinberg's holocaust God-died-at-Auschwitz
background got a lot of sympathy. This really resonates with people,
but it serves as a universal excuse, allowing Weinberg's statements
to be dismissed with a psychological explanation, rather than
engaging his arguments. The consensus of the group, so far as my
biased view captures it, agrees with Steve Petermann's observation
that Weinberg sounds "sophomoric" when he deals with religion, and
this is a disappointment from a great physicist, but can be excused
by his holocaust legacy. This is pretty much my view too, except for
the excuse: I think irrational and unreasonable pronouncements about
religion should be rebutted on their merits. And I wish our member
who sees Weinberg as "rational and reasonable" had been there.
Thanks again to the LDG-NET'ers who contributed to the
discussion, and I hope we can strengthen the links among the local
groups through the Internet.
Oct. 20, 2000 (by Daniel Johnson):
The October meeting will be Friday,
Oct. 20, as usual at 7:00 p.m. in Melanchthon House (
Sep. 15, 2000 (by Roy Meinke):
Hi Friends, I do have a video tape on a John Campbell program that we
can spend a little time looking at should you like to continue our
discussions of last time. Additionally, I have run across this little
known essay of Albert Einstein that I thought might be a good
follow-on. Look particularly at the questions he raises in this
article. Roy W. Meinke
The Laws of Science and the Laws of Ethics
Science searches for relations which are thought to exist independently
of the searching individual. This includes the case where man himself
is the subject; or the subject of scientific statements may be concepts
created by ourselves, as in mathematics. Such concepts are not
necessarily supposed to correspond to any objects in the outside world.
However, all scientific statements and laws have one characteristic in
common, the are "true" or "false" (adequate or inadequate). Roughly
speaking, our reaction to them is "yes" or "no."
The scientific way of thinking has a further characteristic. The
concepts which it uses to build up its coherent systems do not express
emotions. For the scientist, there is only "being," but no wishing, no
valuing, no good, no evil - in short, no goal. As long as we remain
within the realm of science proper, we can never encounter a sentence of
the type: "Thou shalt no lie." There is something like a Puritan's
restraint in the scientist who seeks truth: he keeps away from
everything voluntaristic or emotional. Incidentally, this trait is the
result of a slow development, peculiar to modern Western thought.
>From this it might seem as if logical thinking were irrelevant for
ethics. Scientific statements of facts and relations, indeed, cannot
produce ethical directives. However, ethical directives can be made
rational and coherent by logical thinking and empirical knowledge. If
we can agree on some fundamental ethical propositions, then other
ethical propositions can be derived from them, provided that the
original premises are stated with sufficient precision. Such ethical
premises play a similar role in ethics to that played by axioms in
This is why we do not feel at all that it is meaningless to ask such
questions as: "Why should we not lie?" We feel that such questions are
meaningful because in all discussions of this kind some ethical premises
are tacitly taken for granted. We then feel satisfied when we succeed
in tracing back the ethical directive in question to these basic
premises. In the case of lying, this might perhaps be done I some way
such as this: Lying destroys confidence in the statements of other
people. Without such confidence, social co-operation is made impossible
or at least difficult. Such co-operation, however is essential in order
to make human life possible and tolerable. This means that the rule
"Thou shalt not lie" has been traced back to the demands: "Human life
shall be preserved" and "Pain and sorrow shall be lessened as much as
But what is the origin of such ethical axioms? Are they arbitrary? Are
they based on mere authority? Do they stem from experiences of men and
are they conditioned indirectly by such experiences?
For pure logic all axioms are arbitrary, including the axioms of
ethics. But they are by no means arbitrary, from a psychological and
genetic point of view. They are derived from our inborn tendencies to
avoid pain and annihilation, and from the accumulated emotional reaction
of individuals to the behavior of their neighbors.
It is the privilege of man's moral genius, expressed by inspired
individuals, to advance ethical axioms which are so comprehensive and so
well founded that men will accept them as grounded in the vast mass of
their individual emotional experiences. Ethical axioms are found and
tested not very differently from the axioms of science. Truth is what
stands the test of experience.
Aug. 18, 2000 (by Len Teich):
Memo to the Science and Religion Discussion Group for the August 18, 2000, meeting:
Here is the background material
for our discussion on August 18. It is the first chapter from Joseph Campbell's
book Myths To Live By, first published in 1972.
This first chapter actually was written in 1961, and it contains a number of
"scientific facts" that were updated subsequently by further
The question that Susan and I
would like to pose to the group for debate on August 18th is the one posed by
If the answer is "yes," that science can help build a new understanding of religion, then how? Answering this modest question is merely the central task facing our technological society in the 21st Century; so, I suspect we will have some serious disagreement, and, possibly, even confusion at our session. At least, I hope so! See you there.
The Impact of Science on Myth
I was sitting the other day at a lunch counter that I particularly enjoy, when a youngster about twelve years old, arriving with his school satchel, took the place at my left. Beside him came a younger little man, holding the hand of his mother, and those two took the next seats. All gave their orders, and, while waiting, the boy at my side said, turning his head slightly to the mother, "Jimmy wrote a paper today on the evolution of man, and Teacher said he was wrong, that Adam and Eve were our first parents."
My Lord! I thought. What a teacher!
The lady three seats away then said, "Well, Teacher was right. Our first parents were Adam and Eve."
What a mother for a twentieth-century child!
The youngster responded, "Yes, I know, but this was a scientific paper." And for that, I was ready to recommend him for a distinguished-service medal from the Smithsonian Institution.
The mother, however, came back with another. "Oli, those scientists!" she said angrily.,"Those are only theories."
And he was up to that one too. "Yes, I know," was his cool and calm reply; "but they have been factualized: they found the bones."
The milk and the sandwiches came, and that was that.
So let us now reflect for a moment on the sanctified cosmic image that has been destroyed by the facts and findings of irrepressible young truth-seekers of this kind.
At the height of the Middle Ages, say in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, there were current two very different concepts of the earth. The more popular was of the earth as flat, like a dish surrounded by, and floating upon, a boundless cosmic sea, in which there were all kinds of monsters dangerous to man. This was an infinitely old notion, going back to the early Bronze Age. It appears in Sumerian cuneiform texts of about 2000 B.C. and is the image authorized in the Bible.
The more seriously considered medieval concept, however, was that of the ancient Greeks, according to whom the earth was not flat, but a solid stationary sphere in the center of a kind of Chinese box of seven transparent revolving spheres, in each of which there was a visible planet: the moon, Mercury, Venus, and the sun, Mars, Juipiter, and Saturn, the same seven after which our days of the week are named. The sounding tones of these seven, moreover, made a music, the "music of the spheres," to which the notes of our diatonic scale correspond. There was also a metal associated with each: silver, mercury, copper, gold, iron, tin, and lead, in that order. And the soul descending from heaven to be born on earth picked up, as it came down, the qualities of those metals; so that our souls and bodies are compounds of the very elements of the universe and sing, so to say, the same song. Music and the arts, according to this early view, were to put us in mind of those harmonies, from which the general thoughts and affairs of this earth distract us. And in the Middle Ages the seven branches of learning were accordingly associated with those spheres: grammar, logic, and rhetoric (known as the trivium), arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy (the quadrivium). The crystalline spheres themselves, furthermore, were not, like glass, . . . [and 15 more pages in Chapter 1]