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VII. Our Earthuman Moment: A Major Evolutionary Transition in Individuality

6. Contrasts of Religion and Science

Fabel, Arthur and Donald St. John, eds. Teilhard in the 21st Century: The Emerging Spirit of Earth. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2003. A select collection of the Teilhard Studies published for over 25 years by the American Teilhard Association. Its four sections are Teilhard: His Life and Thought, An Ecology for the 21st Century, Cosmogenesis and Theological and Social Dimensions. Among the authors are Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, Mary Evelyn Tucker, John Grim, John Haught, Eulalio Baltazar, Eleanor Rae and Ursula King. In general, the essays explore a dawning sense of ordained sacredness for planet earth, its human phenomenon and all flora and fauna in a spiritually oriented evolutionary genesis. The book received the best paperback spirituality book award for 2003 from the Catholic Press Association.

Giberson, Karl and Donald Yerxa. Species of Origins. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002. With a subtitle “America’s Search for a Creation Story,” the work exemplifies the standoff between religion and science. A physicist and a historian at Eastern Nazarene College review the dichotomy between a purposeless Darwinian evolution and a scientific creationism or intelligent design which invokes Divine intervention. The only positive cosmology of notice is “The Universe Story” of Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme. As a result little evidence or hope is seen for convergence. But the authors (and the public acrimonious debate) hold to a God-centered religion largely unaware of a numinous, self-organizing, developmental universe just being found by humankind.

Gilbert, Scott. Wonder and the Necessary Alliances of Science and Religion. Euresis Journal. Volume 4, 2013. In this online edition from the Euresis Foundation at www.euresisjournal.org, the Swarthmore College embryologist expresses the themes of his 2102 article with Jan Sapp and Alfred Tauber “A Symbiotic View of Life: We Have Never Been Individuals” (search) that organisms, and people, are actually mutualities of semi-autonomous microbial, cellular, and organelle components. Indeed evolution, in its nested ascendant transitions, sees fit at each stage to combine prior wholes into new complementary communities. This natural synthesis is seen as a reciprocal interaction, developmental regulation, and beneficial symbiosis of me competition and We cooperation. By this view entities are much as a mobile ecosystem. In regard, Gilbert sees these latest advances as a continuation of the lifework contribution of their founder Lynn Margulis.

The article goes on to illume a religious and environmental significance of these insights. Gilbert, who muses we are akin to lichens, shows how this “holobiont” unity in diversity graces the essential writings of wisdom traditions from Judaism and Islam to Greece, Rome and across Asia. By this latest science we can gain novel appreciations of the Buddhist sage Nagarjuna, whose “middle way” advised a world of salutary co-interactions. Beings thus derive their sustaining essence from “mutual dependences, conditioned genesis, or interdependent arising.” In Christianity, St. Augustine’s “substance and relation” gains veracity as “the undivided primordial mode of reality.” If better understandings of both science and of religion can be gleaned this way, this recognition of a harmonious affinity can guide local neighborhoods and bioregion civilizations to engage, enjoin, and mediate environmental and climatic and imperatives.

Apropos, I heard Scott Gilbert speak in an Organismic and Evolutionary Biology seminar at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, on October 18, 2013 about “We Were Never Individuals.” This department was Lynn Margulis’ home for years and Scott said his task was to state “a new biological and symbiotic paradigm” to carry forth her vital revolution. Real people are “human holobionts” as evolved ecocommunities of all sorts of helpful, and deleterious, microbes. Again the prime addition is an internal and external “relational” dimension to our anatomical and physiological selves. Gilbert suggested the word “team” as a good way to appreciate this. And in a week of government shutdown politics, might a me + We = US accord be availed as a 21st century “symbiotic democracy.”

Both science and religion claim descent from wonder. In the first part of this essay, I analyze these paths of descent and use this common origin from wonder to model how science and religion could creatively act in concert. In the second portion, I try to show how new concepts of evolution coming from developmental biology and symbiosis research strengthen the links between science and religion. These concepts place the competitive model of evolution within a larger non-competitive, and even cooperative, framework. I use embryological models to discuss how new things are generated by interactions between prior entities that are different from one another yet sharing underlying similarity. In the third portion of the essay, I document the need for concerted action of science with religion in the conflicts and alliances between three great centers of social power: science, religion, and corporate interest. (Abstract)

Euresis Journal is a multidisciplinary, online, open-access journal edited by the Euresis Association under the auspices of the Nova Universitas and CEUR Foundation, whose main scope is to promote, at an academic level, an understanding of science as a fully human pursuit, rooted into the universal human quest for beauty and meaning. This novel journal stems from the wish to provide an opportunity to share with the largest number of people the experience of the conferences and workshops that are part of the activities of the Euresis Association. Furthermore, we look forward to producing thematic issues of Euresis Journal open to contributions from scholars and scientists at large.

Gingerich, Owen. God’s Universe. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006. The emeritus Harvard astronomer and author finds the appearance of conscience and responsibility within an evolutionary cosmos to imply its comprehensibility and purpose. A thoughtful work but as is the case, more concerned with Creator than this earthly creation itself. Noted more in Current Vistas.

Gould, Stephen Jay. Rocks of Ages. New York: Ballantine, 1999. The late Harvard paleontologist argues that science and religion address such different subject areas they are basically incompatible. “Non-Overlapping Magisteria” is his term for this division. But the view has been severely faulted since both approaches obviously have to engage and reflect the same reality.

Grassie, William. The New Sciences of Religion: Exploring Spirituality from the Outside In and Bottom Up. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. The author does not fit neatly into a career category. With a 1994 doctorate in religion from Temple University, Grassie has taught at several colleges and universities. Prior to graduate studies, he worked in international relations and conflict resolution with postings in Washington, Israel and Berlin. In 1998 he founded the Metanexus Institute, with a rich website, to “promote scientifically rigorous and philosophically open-ended explorations of foundational questions.” This subject book is a good summary of Dr. Grassie’s integrative thought, with two main Parts. Religion from the Outside In considers the Comparison, Old Sciences, Economics, Evolution, Neurosciences and Medicine of Religion. Religion from the Bottom Up then explores Narratives of Religion, But a Ptolemaic physics due to material reductions burdens us with a mechanical nature bereft of drive, direction or destiny. In response, a vital contrast of old and new, waning and waxing scientific models, much as a cosmic Copernican Revolution, is then laid out.

Gregersen, Neils. The Complexification of Nature: Supplementing the Neo-Darwinian Paradigm? Theology and Science. 4/1, 2006. The writer is Chair of Systematic Theology at Copenhagen University, and a leading thinker of his younger generation with regard to resituating Christianity within a self-organizing natural universe. But at the outset, a position is aligned and preset within a prevailing academic mentality or paradigm – since such postmodernism concludes that reality is so plural as to be unknowable, only a dappled patchwork, via Nancy Cartwright, is all we can hope for. Not to worry says Gregersen, for after coursing through Charles Darwin, Stephen Jay Gould, Stuart Kauffman, Simon Conway-Morris, and others, what is then revealed is an opening for Divine grace to actively guide and assist.

To reflect, the paper seems a microcosm of the tangle of thought today, cherry-picking theories and beliefs to fit agendas, still taking place within an alien universe. Surely philosophy and science cannot proceed from preemptory views into whose constraints theory and evidence must accord. For these reasons, seemingly unbeknownst to its purveyors, little or no progress is being made. An alternative would not preclude a common, universal pattern or metanarrative, but via our concerted humankind seek to learn where, how, who, and why we are. If not possible or even there, we have a problem. Much sorting out remains in a race between discovery and disaster.

Gregersen, Niels. Beyond the Balance: Theology in a Self-Organizing World. Gregersen, Niels and Ulf Gorman, eds. Design and Disorder. London: T & T Clark, 2002. The author wonders how might we conceive a Divine presence and activity by way of critically poised complex adaptive autopoietic systems? Rather than preordained design, the Danish theologian finds this new perception of a self-developing universe open to a Divine influence as creative Logos. By these incarnate dynamics may be generated the emergent Kingdom. Gregersen’s recent edited work From Complexity to Life is cited in Current Vistas.

Haag, James, et al, eds. Routledge Companion to Religion and Science. New York: Routledge, 2011. A compendium with 56 essays in three topical areas of Epistemology and History; Scientific and Religious Models of the World; and Religion and Science, Values, and Public Policy. Some subsections are Cosmologies and Cosmogonies; Quantum Theoretical Approaches and Causality; Complexity, Emergence, and Eliminativism; Ecology and the Integrity of Nature; Biotechnology and Justice; Aging and Life Extension. For sample chapters Cosmology (Joel Primack and Nancy Abrams), Astronomy: From Star Gazing To Astrobiology (Grace Wolf-Chase), Hindu Cosmogony/Cosmology (Gerald James Larson), Modern Cosmology and Religious Naturalism (Donald M. Braxton), Buddhism, Emergence, and Anti-Substantialism (Charles Goodman), Judaism and the Science of Ecology (Hava Tirosh-Samuelson), Asian Religions, Ecology and the Integrity of Nature (Christopher Chapple), and Toward and Ecotonal Theology (Whitney Bauman). Philosopher Brian Yazzie Burkhart’s luminous chapter “The Physics of Spirit” is noted in Native Wisdom. A major volume, but as our late friend Thomas Berry would say, “a collection of objects,” (book of nature or theistic evolution not in Index) without a unifying theme, project, or message.

Hamlin, Christopher and David Lodge, eds. Religion and the New Ecology. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press,, 2006. Ecological theory has shifted from an environment seeking balance to a nonequilibrium chaotic flux, but through a postmodern lens nature becomes unknowable, and not amenable to sensitive human management. The volume is an example of how theologians and scientists who grapple with these issues are undercut by assuming certain worldviews and mindsets. The best chapter I would offer is Theology and Ecology in an Unfinished Universe by John Haught, who writes of a sacramental ‘cosmic promise.’

Haught, John. Deeper Than Darwin: The Prospect For Religion In The Age Of Evolution. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2003. In this follow up work, Haught contends that the Darwinian view of evolution is incomplete and cannot explain the essence and aim of emergent life. For deeper, more valid, truth, we may still profitably consult the religions of the world.

Haught, John. God After Darwin. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1999. The Georgetown University theologian conceives an evolutionary dimension rooted in Whitehead and Teilhard which can then find purpose in an unfinished cosmos with a Divine future. Its emergent, defining quality is seen as the sequential rise of a spiritual information.

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