persjohn: Science & Religion Discussion Group, Houston, TX

hosted by the Melanchthon Institute and
affiliated with IRAS (Institute on Religion in an Age of Science)
updated 2007Dec07

Announcement and News

Ø     Third Fridays monthly, 7:00 p.m.

Ø     2353 Rice Blvd.
Houston, Texas

Ø     Everyone invited, just show up.


Daniel Johnson has organized this group since January, 2000, but I will not continue in this role after 2007.  The group plans to continue, but will no longer be using this website.  I will still participate, and can steer anyone who contacts me by email ( to the new leaders.



2007 December


We don’t have a regular meeting in December, but I am hosting a dinner for the group at my home on Dec21.  RSVP to me for details.


Note the News above that this will complete my eight years as organizer of this group. 


Daniel Johnson



2007 November


Our next meeting is November 16 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd Friday, in the 2nd floor Council Room of Christ the King Lutheran Church's facility at 2353 Rice Blvd., Houston. The only door which will be open is the west door facing the parking lot. Also regarding parking, do NOT use the Animal Clinic lot across the street -- cars have been  towed in the evening.


Wilson Windle will present the topic, on his essay “Has Mankind Been Served or Harmed by Religion?” included below.  Daniel Johnson will bring snacks and sodas. 




                        In preparing this essay, the book titled The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant was borrowed from the Houston Public Library.   At the beginning of Chapter VII, Religion and History, a previous borrower had written “The question of the existence of the Deity is totally outside the sphere of historical investigation”.  For this person the question posed here would probably be considered “outside the sphere” and offend.  No offense is meant yet even asking the question reveals something of the person.  It is not likely to be asked by someone deeply rooted in a Christian fundamentalist belief.  But neither must it come from an agnostic or an atheist. 


            Is there any possibility of an objective or neutral point of view, or is it inevitably polarized into believers and non-believers?  An argument can be made of a zone in the middle comes from noting that historical scholars such as Will and Ariel Durant and Arnold Toynbee have examined religion.  Such scholarship bears with it some credible claim to detachment and objectivity.  Having now asserted that it is a fair question and can be handled fairly, is there any hope of answering it?  Obviously it will not be answered to the satisfaction of everyone and the problem of measuring subjective material may be insurmountable.  However the question is interesting and worth the effort.  It may be helpful to remind ourselves of what is meant by religion by reviewing a simple dictionary definition as follows: “1.a. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power recognized as the creator and governor of the universe. b. A particular integrated system of this expression: the Hindu religion.”  The preliminaries out of the way, what are the pluses and minuses of religion?


                        How Religion May Have Served Mankind.  Most people seem to acknowledge some of the claims of benefit to mankind of religion, even if they are not active participants in a religious faith.  The historians, Will and Ariel Durant, identified some of religion’s benefits by starting their “protested” Chapter VII referred to above thusly:


Even the skeptical historian develops a humble respect for religion, since he sees it functioning, and seemingly indispensable, in every land and age.  To the unhappy, the suffering, the bereaved, the old, it has brought supernatural comforts valued by millions of souls as more precious than any natural aid.  It has helped parents and teachers to discipline the young.  It has conferred meaning and dignity upon the lowliest existence, . . . . “[1]   



          A listing of some the benefits of religion claimed at various times and by various persons could be as follows: Religion has (a) provided support for many people as they endured the hardships and vicissitudes of life, ( b) enabled some people to act benevolently towards others, (c) helped preserve social order for society and aided in discipline for families rearing their young, (d) given an explanation of the meaning of life to the lives of many, (e) saved souls for an eternal life of happiness after death or released souls from an unending reincarnation of life on earth, (f) provided special intercession or assistance from the gods or deities in the lives of the petitioner.  To even a hostile atheist, this should be an impressive list.  Could he or she claim none of it is true?  Except for the saving of souls and special intercessions, it seems the opponent of religion would have to allow that it has had the effects of (a) through (d), even if based on “false beliefs”. 


                        How Religion May Have Harmed Mankind. Of course the opponent of religion would point out that for whatever positive effects it may have had, it has had offsetting negative effects.  These may be listed as follows: Religion has (a) been responsible for religious wars, (b) been responsible for religious persecution, (c) been the cause of conflict between individuals and within families, (d) denied happiness to individuals because of the severe moral strictures imposed by repressive religion, (e) stood in the way of true enlightenment of man because of the false intellectual baggage and diversionary rituals it carries with it.  This is a troublesome list and even the faithful defender of religion may have some secret misgivings before flatly denying all the charges. 


                        The Difficulties of Measurement. There is no known way to “really” measure or quantify subjective material.  Yet people do it every day as they “weigh”  their various courses of action and make decisions.  If the above listings of pluses and minuses serve as sufficient categories for an assessment, how does one measure and quantify?  For example, in attempting to measure religion’s supporting role we must note that even the individual’s testimony can be unreliable.  Is she or he really feeling a presence of the Deity or Absolute and being supported or just saying so, even to oneself, because that is the way one is supposed to feel? What is interesting is whether or not such support will always hold up to the stresses and circumstances that enter one’s life. The support religion gives to individuals can vary throughout their life time.  For example it does seem for some, new circumstances such as unemployment, or widowhood, or the slow decline of life in a nursing home, places stress on the individual that it not supported by their faith. They find they held their faith perfunctorily and accepted it without question resulting in a failure when they needed it.


                        As regards the support religion gives to society and families in preserving social order and enforcing the moral code, how much is it the force and power of the law or the desire to be accepted by the community for purposes of economic gain and position versus the influence of religion?  Will and Ariel Durant seem to feel that there is an inverse relationship between the state and religion in enforcing the “moral” code and preserving the social order.  When the state is strong, the need for religion to do the job lessens, and when the state is weak, the need increases[2] .   Napoleon somewhat cynically gave credit to religion for preserving social order.  He said “It has kept the poor from murdering the rich”[3]


                        That religion has caused some to act benevolently towards others is commonly recognized, yet is every act of benevolence to be credited toward religion?  Could not man act benevolently without religion? 


                        When religion is used to give an explanation of life, how is the benefit to be measured if the explanation is not correct?  For example, today we do not feel that the explanation of what life was all about was correct for the populations of ancient Egypt or for the Mayan.  Does religion get a plus or a minus for those times?  John Hick, in his book, An Interpretation of Religion , points out that until mankind had a naturalistic interpretation through the findings of science, religion was the only explanation available to the average person[4].  Religion once gave explanations as to how the physical world works.  That the earth went around the sun was a matter of religious dogma and Galileo had to withdraw his support of the Copernican notion that it was otherwise or suffer the punishments of the Church.  Today we more and more turn to science to tell ourselves how the universe works.  So when religion gets it wrong, do we count it positive or negative --- even when it was most often accepted as sufficient by the believer?


                       The matter of eternal life as a benefit of religion does seem polarized into believers and non-believers.   There is some “data” in the form of “eye witness accounts” that life after death exists, but the measurement has not been sufficiently repeatable to convince a skeptical mind.  If religion is to be given credit for yielding eternal life and happiness, then there seems no question as to how to measure it.  We are dealing with infinite units because salvation or liberation is considered to be of infinite worth.


                        The last benefit listed above was that of special intercession of the deity on behalf of the believer and petitioner (the rewards from prayer).  Richard Cavendish, in his book, The Great Religions, states that “To keep a hold on any substantial following a god must have power --- power to act on his worshippers’ behalf --- . . . .”[5]   He then goes on to say that “ . . . . and for many people today God is either unreal or powerless to intervene in a world controlled by other forces”.  Yet there are those who credit as answers to their prayers the most ordinary good thing that happens in their lives.  Are these ordinary “good things”  to be counted as answers to prayers?


                        In attempting to measure the negative aspects, History has identified certain wars as religious wars and certain historical periods as periods of religious persecution.  Even so, all religious conflicts could not be completely charged towards religion.  The current conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina is in good part ethnic and political, although religion plays a certain insidious role as when Muslim women are raped by the enemy because it causes them to be degraded by virtue of their religion.  Religion as a cause of conflict within families is probably a small percentage of the population at any one time because most societies are relatively homogeneous.  It takes a pluralistic society such as the United States to provide the opportunity for different views to find their way into families and between individuals and become available for conflict. Still religious conflicts have devastated some households.  Religious prejudice between different religions and the various groups of the same religion as between Catholics and Protestants is another form of this negative aspect.


                        A more subtle negative for religion is the denial of happiness to individuals because of the severe moral strictures imposed by a repressive religion.  Christianity had its puritanical period, starting in the 1600s, with elements of it remaining still.  For many a miserable soul, their most human of impulses were taken to be evidence of their sinfulness and cause of God’s personal displeasure.  Of course a counter argument can be made that their misery on this earth might possibly have saved their eternal souls.  But today, even the most conservative of Christian churches do not live under the harsh atmosphere of that historical Puritanism.  A somewhat related example of religion responsible for the negative self-image of a certain group of people is the caste system of Hinduism.  Although it may not cause the pain the Western mind thinks it does, it would seem if one is an untouchable, there must be pain no matter how resigned to life one is.


                        The last charge made against religion in the listing above may be obscure to some: that religion has stood in the way of true enlightenment of man because of the “false intellectual baggage” it carries with it.   Reference is made to the dictionary’s definition above in which religion is defined first as a belief and secondly as an integrated system as in :The Hindu religion.  It is the trappings of the integrated systems that concern many.  Arnold Toynbee, in his book An Historian’s Approach To Religion, has a chapter titled The Task Of Disengaging The Essence From The Non-Essentials In Mankind’s Religious Heritage[6].  Besides being a long title, his concern is obvious.  Toynbee notes that in order for religion to be promulgated, it developed institutions.  These institutions have developed “historical accretions” that they must shed for the “higher” religions to preach their essential truths and counsels.  William James discusses this issue in the Conclusions of his book, Varieties of Religious Experience saying:


The theories which Religion generates, being thus variable, are secondary; and if you wish to grasp her essence, you must look to the feelings and the conduct as being the more constant elements.  - - - ,while the ideas and symbols and other institutions form loop-lines which may be perfections and improvements, and may even some day all be united into one harmonious system, but which are not to be regarded as organs with an indispensable function, necessary at all times for religious life to go on[7].


          This complaint about religion almost faults religion for being herself.  It presumes that the integrated systems of religion and the beliefs can be separated from the aspect of reverence and feelings, apparently on the basis that the latter is the essence.  John Hick, in his book An Interpretation of Religion,  focuses on belief in the transcendent[8].  What religion can do, according to John Hick, is put the individual in contact with the “Real”.  The concern here then is that the integrated systems or forms which religion takes can get in the way of an individuals contact with the “Real”. What impresses Hick is the ability of the various religious systems is their ability to produce saints, those who have notably contacted the “Real”.  This is one way Hick measures religions and he finds that both the eastern and western religious systems have been equally effective.         


                        There seems sufficient evidence that the ideas of religion have changed over time.  Pre-historic religion was full of animal-like spirits, only later to evolve to polytheism, then monotheism.  Mr. Hick identifies an axial age in his book ( 800 BC - 300 BC), before which man accepted his life as he found it with little thought about life after death.  Then after the axial age man became dissatisfied with this world and started to believe in an immensely better life after death.  As new ideas enter the consciousness of mankind, do the old forms of religion stand in the way of many individuals achieving the new insight and better life?  For example, Frank J. Tipler, in his book,  The Physics of Immortality,  has asserted “. . . , that theology is a branch of physics, that physicists can infer by calculation the existence of God and the likelihood of the resurrection of the dead to eternal life in exactly the same way as physicists calculate the properties of the electron”[9].  Just in case he is right, which seems unlikely, how would we judge the inertia that present day religion would present to this new “Real”? 


                        Having examined briefly the difficulties in measurement, how does the question now stand?


                        Measurement Never-The-Less.  While not wishing to display the brashness of Frank Tipler, it is thought some conclusions can be tentatively reached.  Everyone will  not agree or be satisfied of course, but it would seem a lack of courage not to try. 


                        It appears that the “societal” aspects or “external” categories of religion such as enforcing a moral code and religious persecution could in some manner be measured by examining those historical periods where those societal or external things were evident.  Without trying to put actual numbers to it, it appears that religion would measure up positively in this category.  This is because religion has played some part, more or less constantly, in preserving the social order while the periods of religious wars and persecutions have not been constant.  However it may be that religion as the enforcer of the moral code and preserver of social order is diminishing.   Westernization, secularization, rising standards of living and increased communication all seem to lessen religion’s hold on the world’s societies.  Richard Cavendish, in his book The Great Religions, states that “ . . . the idea that religious unity is vital to the cohesion of a society is considered out of date”[10]   The Durants, while also documenting the loosening grip on society of religion, never-the-less caution that “There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion”[11].  They end their Chapter VII, Religion and History, by saying “As long as there is poverty there will be gods”[12].   And in spite of technology, at least half of the world’s population seems destined for poverty for a long time.


                        Religion’s detractors may hotly contest the matter of eternal life as a benefit of religion, but the problem of measurement seems greatly simplified.  If we count it, we are dealing in units of infinity because life eternal or salvation/liberation is considered an infinite gain.  All of the previous parameters discussed, no matter how large, are still all finite units.  But whether the results are infinitely positive or infinitely negative, will depend on what scenario is considered.  If it is true that there is life eternal and unlimited happiness available through religion, but only one religion has it, say religion X, and further that there is only one chance of obtaining life eternal and that is on this earth, then considering all religions, the result would be infinitely negative.  This is because no one single religion promising salvation or liberation has possessed a majority of the earth’s inhabitants.  However if there is a second scenario, where after life on this earth, there is the opportunity of living on and ultimately finding religion X and it assumed most souls will eventually do so, then the result would be an infinite positive value.  These scenarios have the strange prospect of adding or subtracting multiple units of infinity, a concept not frequently encountered.


                        It is in the “personal” aspects or categories of religion that is the most difficult, if not impossible, to measure.  Most scholars and influential thinkers of the past have identified what appears to be a personal need for religion --- a religious instinct.  Some have not been complementary of this instinct.  Lucretius, the First Century Roman writer, said religion sprang from fear of death and the unknown --- and then added that it was exploited by unscrupulous priests to give themselves power[13].  But that most people feel the need for the answer to the question “what’s it all about?” seems clear. 


                        Much comment is made these days about people struggling for an answer to the meaning of life and that further the existing traditions are not meeting that need.  Yet even here there are conflicting statements.  A recent Houston Chronicle article said that the percentage of Houston area residents who said that religion was a very important part of their lives rose from 52% in 1983 to 66% in 1996.  Still in reading the article, the tensions in modern day life are evident.  William Martin, the Rice University professor who directed the survey, is quoted saying “In a multicultural world, it becomes much harder to claim that any one way of looking at the world is absolute.  But that can be very unsettling.  One response is to become completely secular and say there are no absolutes.  But a common response is to say ‘let’s get back to the way it was’ “[14].


                        Today religion is playing all of its historic roles.  In the developed countries, with its educated middle classes, the role of providing meaning to life and presenting a world view is the battlefield.  It is not possible to “get back to the way it was”.  Religion will continue to have to accommodate the findings of science.  Not that science has it all right.  In a recent article in Time Magazine on computers and artificial intelligence, the problem of consciousness was shown to still remain[15].  But if the mind-body problem some day gets resolved in favor of the materialists, religion will have to accommodate that finding.  Or will it?


                        One of the problems of religion is that the philosophic aspects of a given religion have always been beyond the understanding of the average follower.  Even the discipline and effort required of a Philosophy of Religion course taught at a university is beyond the tolerance of many.  So while there may be eventually a blending of the insights of religion, philosophy and science, it is unlikely that the average man or woman will be able to share in it intellectually.  Of course it may be that religion is not to be viewed as an intellectual understanding but as a personal experience and that this whole essay misses the point.


                       What then is a tentative measurement of religion on the personal scale?  Lapsing into the first person, for this cannot pretend to be an “objective” finding coming from the previous comments, it looks like religion will remain helpful to those who remain in poverty and become increasingly unhelpful to those who have risen above it.  Religious views of the educated will become increasingly more secular and philosophical (and less satisfying emotionally).  Religion will have to accommodate herself to the facts presented by science, whatever they may be.  But science  may have to accommodate some understanding of the Real not currently contemplated by science.



2007 October


Our next meeting is October 19 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd Friday, in the 2nd floor Council Room of Christ the King Lutheran Church's facility at 2353 Rice Blvd., Houston. The only door which will be open is the west door facing the parking lot. Also regarding parking, do NOT use the Animal Clinic lot across the street -- cars have been  towed in the evening.


Daniel Johnson will present the topic (see below) and bring snacks and sodas.  We will spend more time than usual talking about the future, since I will not continue to organize the group beyond the end of 2007, as discussed at the September meeting and in my subsequent email to the group. 


I hope to see you on Friday.


Daniel Johnson


This I Believe


At the June meeting I presented a summary of the topics of our last 7 years of discussion, and noted that we've come to do mostly book reviews as opposed to sharing our own points of view.  As organizer, I have tried to keep the group open to diverse participants so have tried not to push my own beliefs.  But now that my role is changing, and inspired by the series "This I Believe" on National Public Radio, I'll come out of the closet.  And I'll throw in something of a book review as well, or at least use a recent book as a foil for what I believe.


Those who have participated regularly know I hold core Christian beliefs, summarized in the traditional ecumenical creeds, particularly as explained by Martin Luther is his Small Catechism.  I acknowledge this has a lot to do with my ethnic and cultural heritage, but I reject mere multiculturalism as the whole explanation.  And while I affirm orthodox church doctrine, I also recognize that my scientific orientation distinguishes me from generic Christian theology and links me with particular varieties of interpretation, more in line with John Polkinghorne or Phil Hefner than Joseph Campbell or John Spong.  In particular I identify with Polkinghorne's book The Faith of a Physicist, based on his 1993-94 Gifford Lectures where he used the Nicene Creed as an outline for presenting the issues.


The Nicene Creed begins "We believe in one God," and everything hinges on this.  How to prove that God exists?  Outline of a proof by contradiction:  1. assume God does not exist; 2. deduce that if God does not exist then I don't exist either; 3. but this is absurd, so the starting assumption must be rejected, QED.


Simple to state, but filling in the details requires some work.  A new book by Douglas Hofstadter does most of the work for me.  I Am a Strange Loop (2007, Basic Books) is written from a naturalistic perspective and Hofstadter definitely isn't trying to prove God's existence, but he does thoroughly deconstruct the "I" and delivers step 2. and half of 3. of my outline.


Anyone who promotes a "proof" of God is suspect, so let me say that I don't believe I've discovered the clincher in this age-old debate.  Every "proof" of God has been critiqued if not dismissed outright, and "proofs" often beg more questions than they answer.  But the more robust ones have an important place in the reasoning of apologists for faith, and have some power to win converts and especially to answer the doubts of believers.  I often ponder such doubts when I encounter bright and accomplished people who hold a nontheistic worldview, especially some prominent scientists and popular writers.  I ask myself again if the world can make sense without God, or with God, and reconsider the arguments.  Seldom have I found an argument for a naturalistic explanation of human consciousness so paradoxically self defeating as Hofstadter's.


So this I believe:  God created us and all that exists, and calls us to discover the truth through science, enlightened by faith and the revelations of salvation history.




Previous meetings (not yet moved to Past page)




2007 September


Our next meeting is September 21 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd Friday, in the 2nd floor Council Room of Christ the King Lutheran Church's facility at 2353 Rice Blvd., Houston. The only door which will be open is the west door facing the parking lot. Also regarding parking, do NOT use the Animal Clinic lot across the street -- cars have been  towed in the evening.


The expected topic is the scientification of music, by Anna Fay Williams.



2007 August


Our next meeting is August 17 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd Friday, in the 2nd floor Council Room of Christ the King Lutheran Church's facility at 2353 Rice Blvd., Houston. The only door which will be open is the west door facing the parking lot. Also regarding parking, do NOT use the Animal Clinic lot across the street -- cars have been  towed in the evening.


Len Teich will present the topic, and I'm including his introduction to it below.  Susan Teich will bring/send snacks and sodas.


Daniel Johnson


======= from Len's email: ============

This month's session will be about a topic which is currently getting alot of attention in the physics community; namely, quantum computing. The concept and its mind bending consequences will be explored via discussion of three recent books that are current scientific best sellers; 1) "The Singularity is Near - When Humans Transcend Biology" - 2005 - by Ray Kurtzweil, 2) "Programing the Universe" - 2006 - by Seth Lloyd, and, 3) "The Intelligent Universe" - 2007 - by James Gardner. The basic idea is that the universe is computing itself by means of quantum computing and humans are the current state of complexity in that computation, but that the universe - with us in some sort of central role - is on an exponential curve of increasing complexity. We will soon undergo a breakthrough which will render humans either irrelevant, or, depending on your perspective, masters of the universe. Also, God either becomes known to us thru our expanding conciousness, or we discover that we ourslves are God. If quantum computing is weird, its consequences are really weird. I'm not making this stuff up, as Dave Berry might say. Join us on friday at the usual time and place. As preparation, Kurzweil's website is

See you there!



2007 July


Our next meeting is July 20 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd Friday, in the 2nd floor Council Room of Christ the King Lutheran Church's facility at 2353 Rice Blvd., Houston. The only door which will be open is the west door facing the parking lot. Also regarding parking, do NOT use the Animal Clinic lot across the street -- cars have been  towed in the evening.


Juliette Kahle will present the topic, on genetics, and her introduction to the topic is below.  Daniel Johnson will bring snacks and sodas.


Note the change to the URL for our group webpages.  I hope to see you on Friday, July 20.


Daniel Johnson


--------------- Introduction to the topic, from Juliette Kahle ---------------------------



I am in my third year of my doctoral studies in Molecular and Human Genetics at Baylor College of Medicine.  Specifically, my research focuses on a subset of adult onset neurodegenerative diseases.  Previously, I attended the University of Guelph, in Ontario, Canada and received a Bachelors of Science (Honours) in Biological Sciences in 2004.

My interest in the life of the church has led me to be a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s task force on Genetics.  For the ELCA Social Statements essentially are policy that has been worked on for a number of years by a committee and approved at the Churchwide Assembly by 2/3 vote.  Work on the ELCA Genetics Statement has just begun and task force members have been asked to ascertain feedback from thinkers, scientists, farmers, Lutherans, physicians, and anyone else with an opinion. 





            A Social Statement on Genetics

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is preparing a social statement that addresses issues in genetics and biotechnology which was authorized by the 2005 Churchwide Assembly. The 2011 Churchwide Assembly, it is anticipated, will consider the proposed social statement. This is the place to learn about its development and to find resources for thinking about the issues. Remain informed about the work of the task force by regular visits to this Web site.


On the website are links to a study guide on genetics that was put together a few years ago, some papers by theologians and a social policy statement about genetically modified food.




            Genetics is a broad term, one that is not generally fully understood in terms of the medical, environmental, personal and theological questions that can arise from scientific advances.  As a community of thinkers, with a wide range of special interests and background, I hope that we can discuss these questions with attention given to areas that we find to be of particular importance for the task force to consider while studying and drafting the initial statement on genetics.  To this end, I will first present some basic science and genetics background and jargon, that for some, will likely be a review.  I will then present on a number of areas that raise questions for discussion.  Finally, I hope to facilitate a conversation about the topics that I have introduced, as well as any others that arise from our individual backgrounds and concerns, and what role a dialogue between scientists, theologians and other thinkers can offer to the broad topic of genetics.



2007 June


Our next meeting is June 15 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd Friday, in the 2nd floor Council Room of Christ the King Lutheran Church's facility at 2353 Rice Blvd., Houston. The only door which will be open is the west door facing the parking lot. Also regarding parking, do NOT use the Animal Clinic lot across the street -- cars have been  towed in the evening.


Daniel Johnson will present the topic, on "What's Emerged from Seven Years of Science & Religion Discussion". Steve Long will bring snacks. 


I developed this topic in preparation for this year's IRAS conference the end of July, where the theme will be the human dimension of Emergence (see  I offered to present a one hour workshop on Star Island based on the experience of our discussion group, and I'm including my IRAS abstract below.  I have also compiled the sign in sheets from all the meetings, finding 101 people who have attended, some only once but also interesting statistics on many of the usual suspects.  I'll also try to find some patterns in the topics over the years (see our group website, URL below).  I hope to see you all on Friday.


Daniel Johnson


What's Emerged from Seven Years of Science and Religion Discussion in Houston, Texas


I organized an IRAS-affiliated local Science and Religion Discussion Group in Houston, Texas after attending my first Star Island conference in 1999.  The group has met the 3rd Friday evening of each month since January, 2000.  At the outset, interested participants were reached by contacting IRAS members in southeast Texas, by public service notices in the Houston Chronicle, by a webpage, and by publications of my church congregation which also provides meeting space.  Over time, a core group of regular attendees emerged, and the meeting format has developed with one volunteer preparing a topic to present, often a book review, with lively discussion among the 10 or so people present.  There's a standing public invitation on the webpage, so new people occasionally show up, and some become regulars.  I've kept a record of meeting topics and attendees, and I will present a summary of what's emerged from the seven years of group meetings -- a little like a Star Island conference sliced thin.



2007 May


Our next meeting is May 18 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd Friday, and in our usual 2nd floor Council Room of Christ the King Lutheran Church’s facility at 2353 Rice Blvd., Houston. The only door which will be open is the west door facing the parking lot. Also regarding parking, do NOT use the Animal Clinic lot across the street -- cars have been towed in the evening. 


John McGee will present the topic, based on John Haught’s book Is Nature Enough?.  A related article by Haught is online at, and book reviews can be found online at and 


Daniel Johnson



2007 April


Our next meeting is April 20 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd Friday, and in our usual 2nd floor Council Room of Christ the King Lutheran Church’s facility at 2353 Rice Blvd., Houston. The only door which will be open is the west door facing the parking lot. Also regarding parking, do NOT use the Animal Clinic lot across the street -- cars have been towed in the evening.  Tom Williams will present the topic, on the Carl Sagan book The Varieties of Scientific Experience.  Steve Wentland will bring sodas and Wilson Windle snacks. 


The following is from the Barnes & Noble page for the book, 

The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God by Carl Sagan, Steven Soter, Ann Druyan (Editor)

In 1985, Carl Sagan (1934-1996) delivered the Centennial Gifford Lecture in Natural Theology. He honored this grand occasion by offering a frank, far-ranging discussion of his views on science, religion, and the mysteries of life. With the informality and candor that helped earn him his fame, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author describes the evolution of his own ideas about God and explains his concept of science as "informed worship." Published on the tenth anniversary of the astrophysicist's death, The Varieties of Scientific Experience seems even more relevant now than it did to its original audience. . . . The Varieties of Scientific Experience, edited, updated and with an introduction by Ann Druyan, is a bit like eavesdropping on a delightfully intimate conversation with the late great astronomer and astrophysicist.


Many review and comments can easily be found online.  One I found interesting contrasts this Sagan book with the Dawkins book we looked at in February, at


Daniel Johnson



2007 March


Our next meeting is March 16 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd Friday, and in our usual 2nd floor Council Room of Christ the King Lutheran Church’s facility at 2353 Rice Blvd., Houston. The only door which will be open is the west door facing the parking lot. Also regarding parking, do NOT use the Animal Clinic lot across the street -- cars have been towed in the evening.  Roy Meinke will present the topic, on The Evolution Dialogues.  John McGee will bring snacks and sodas.


The American Association for the Advancement of Science, publisher of The Evolution Dialogues: Science, Christianity, and the Quest for Understanding, describes it on their website as follows:

This unique and extraordinary resource presents in plain language and in under 200 pages a new conversation on evolution and Chrisitianity:

·         a description of the development of evolutionary theory from before Darwin to the present.

·         the rich and complex historical interaction of evolution and Christianity.

·         accounts of the nature of science and of Christian approaches to understanding.

·         the history of life as revealed through the evolutionary sciences.

As an introduction to each chapter, the book features a narrative about the personal dilemma of a fictional college student, Angela Rawlett, as she struggles to reconcile her traditional Christian upbringing with her keen interest in biology.


I look forward to this interesting topic, and hope to see you there.


Daniel Johnson



2007 February


Our next meeting is February 16 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd Friday, and in our usual 2nd floor Council Room of Christ the King Lutheran Church’s facility at 2353 Rice Blvd., Houston. The only door which will be open is the west door facing the parking lot. Also regarding parking, do NOT use the Animal Clinic lot across the street -- cars have been towed in the evening.  Marian Hillar will present the topic, on Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion.  Tom and Anna Fay Williams will bring snacks and sodas.


Wikipedia has articles on Dawkins and his book.  I look forward to this interesting topic, and hope to see you there.


Daniel Johnson



2007 January


Our next meeting is January 19 at 7:00 pm, as usual the 3rd Friday, and in our usual 2nd floor Council Room of Christ the King Lutheran Church’s facility at 2353 Rice Blvd., Houston. The only door which will be open is the west door facing the parking lot. Also regarding parking, do NOT use the Animal Clinic lot across the street -- cars have been towed in the evening

.  We won’t have a new topic presentation since we planned at the November meeting to continue discussion on emergence.



Past Meetings


2006 and before

Purpose and plans

The first meeting was Jan. 21, 2000.


The plan is to model this Houston, TX, group on existing groups affiliated with IRAS in other cities, as described on the IRAS Discussion website.  The best groups bring together people from different religious traditions, and this group seeks to do that.  Anyone interested in the topic is invited, and hopefully all will feel welcome regardless of religious affiliation.  The purpose is to bring together a group of people with different backgrounds and training in both religion and science, and who find they have something to say to each other on an ongoing basis.


The effort to organize this group is being led by Daniel Johnson, and this webpage is part of my personal website, from where you can check out my background and follow my Science & Religion links.  I would like to hear from anyone interested in this group, by phone at 713-785-2736, or by e-mail at [obsolete address].  The Melanchthon Institute is sponsored by Christ the King Lutheran Church, which is my church home.  Melanchthon House is a former residence, converted for classroom and meeting use, and the facility should be a good fit with the needs of a group like this.


I'm also using a PowerPoint poster to announce the group's meetings [obsolete material removed'.


The pilot program was four monthly meetings, January through April of 2000, in the evening, about two hours each.  The ongoing schedule will depend on participants, but so far continuing the to meet the third Friday of each month at 7:00 pm


The pilot program used the following video, from the IRAS LDG collection; here's their brief description:

THE QUESTION IS---A professional video produced by the BBC for the Templeton foundation. Four twenty minute sections on Creation, the origins of life, miracles, and science. Cameo appearances by leading scientists and theologians. Especially good for beginners.


Interested in connecting with other Science & Religion discussion groups around the country by e-mail?  You can browse the Local Discussion Group Network messages on Yahoo Groups LDG-NET.  Here's the description of the group:


LDG-NET is a place for a serious discussion about the relationship between science and religion. The old days of warfare between the two have ended. Today it is no longer necessary to make a choice between them, for both are an integral part of our world view. A religious tradition is more than a set of intellectual beliefs or abstract ideas. It is rather a way of life for its members. It embraces and unites both the WHAT and the WHY of existence. If the values of religion are to have any objective meaning in the real world, they must be consistent with our understanding of that world as science has discovered it to be. LDG-NET is part of the on-going local discussion group network coordinated by IRAS, the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science. Any subject concerning the interface between science and religion is welcome, but courtesy and respect for the beliefs of others is demanded. We may disagree passionately, but we must do so politely. Feel free to respond to others, or to introduce new topics for discussion. From the Bible to process theology, or from the Enlightenment to quantum physics, LDG-NET will examine how religion and science interact.

Original Proposal, 1999

I am a member of Christ the King Lutheran Church, which operates the Melanchthon Institute and owns the Melanchthon House.  This is the proposal made in August, 1999, to establish the group in relation to the Church:


I am planning to organize a Science and Religion Discussion Group, and I would like this to be endorsed by Christ the King ELC, and hopefully be connected with the Melanchthon Institute program. I'm not sure of the protocol for approving this, so I'm sending this proposal to Pr. Moore and Ashley Hall (c/o the church office), after discussing the concept at the Adult Education Committee meeting on Aug. 17 and gaining its approval. I'm also cc'ing it to Tom Wilson, who's interested in participating, and to John Swanson of IRAS.


The group would meet one evening a month in Melanchthon House, and would seek a diverse and balanced membership from the community at large as well as our own congregation. This group would also be affiliated with the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science (IRAS), which facilitates a national network of local discussion groups ( The model reported to work well is to aim for about 8 to 15 people attending monthly meetings, and a mailing list about twice that number. Several existing groups have a host organization, but more than half the members should be from outside. The group would be launched with an open invitation for a series of topics, likely using videos, and then letting participants decide if they want to continue as regular members of the group. On an ongoing basis, monthly topics would be chosen by the group and announced in advance, with likely a rotating facilitator.


Launch of the group would likely be in January, so plans and appropriate announcements can be made. I attended the annual IRAS conference in August, and met several people involved in such groups in other cities. While I didn't meet anyone from the immediate Houston area, IRAS does have some members here, and I'd plan to contact them about participating. The IRAS local discussion network is coordinated by John Swanson, who leads a group in the Dallas area, and has resources like videos to share. IRAS also sponsors publication of the science and religion journal Zygon, edited by Prof. Phil Hefner of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, who also attended the conference and who hopefully will be returning to teach at the Melanchthon Institute.


This group needs the participation of people like you, who've found this site and scrolled to the bottom of this page.  Contact Daniel Johnson by email at, call me at 713-785-2736, link to my personal homepage at Or just show up at the next meeting.

[1] Durant, Will and Ariel, The Lessons of History, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1968, Pages 43 -44.

[2] Ibid, Page 42.

[3] Ibid,Page 43.

[4] Hick, John, An Interpretation of Religion,

[5] Cavendish, Richard, The Great Religions, Arco Publishing, Inc., New York, Page 241

[6] Toynbee, Arnold, An Historian’s Approach To Religion, Second Edition, Oxford University Press, 1979, Chapter 19, Page 261

[7] James, William, The Varieties of Religious Experience, The Modern Library, New York, Page 494-495

[8] Hick, John, An Interpretation of Religion, Yale University Press, New Haven, Page 6.

[9] Tipler, Frank J., The Physics of Immortality, Doubleday, New York, Preface, First Page.

[10] Cavendish, Richard, Page 241

[11] Durant, The Lessons of History, Page 51.

[12] Ibid, Page 51.

[13] Cavendish, Page 242.

[14] Houston Chronicle, April 2, 1996,  Page 15A.

[15] Time Magazine, Can Machines Think?, Pages 50 - 55, March 25, 1996