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Philosophy and Religion

Click here for recent, interesting ideas that I've had or come across recently, including some regarding natural morality.

Evolutionary psychology uses the theory of evolution to explain the origin of human characteristics and the means by which each can vary across individuals. One of these characteristics is morality. Biology as well as culture root morality. Our biology and our culture dictate—and their forces insure—that if we behave in such-and-such a way, so-and-so will usually happen to us. What are these such-and-such's and so-and-so's? Social psychology helps us to isolate them. Together, these biologically-induced patterns of behavior form a natural morality.

A book I have recently completed, Natural Morality: Reaping Our Innate Rewards, draws on research in social psychology to show how science approaches the ideas expressed in several life principles, ones that John Templeton suggests are "Laws of Life." My work describes conditions under which the laws hold. It also reformulates the laws as Templeton states them, if the research suggests the necessity of this. Some laws start as anecdotes and, with scientific refinement, emerge as generally germane and therefore liable to work with every one of us.

Currently, I seek to enlarge this exploration by building it more explicitly into a system of spiritual thought (a theology); these behaviors I refer to above are, after all, central to how humans live and, therefore, central to how we spiritually understand our place in reality. The work in which I am initially exploring this is Divinely Happy.

The following are several recent works of mine that address a natural basis for morality:

Belief in a Just World: An Implicit Religion (with Jonathan Walgate). To appear in Implicit Religion 4(1) May 2001.

The Laws of Life: Grounding Spiritual Truth in Science (with Brent Waters). Science & Spirit 10(3) September 1999: 10-11.

The Persuasive Power of Goal Setting. Science & Spirit 8 (3) (Fall 1997): 10-11.

Prior to this work, and closely related to it, I explored the relationship between evolutionary psychology (or sociobiology, as it used to be called) and altruism: how might evolution produce the moral tendency to show altruism? Several works addressed this theme:

Sociobiology and Evil: Ultimate Reality and Meaning through Biology. Ultimate Reality and Meaning 19 (September 1996): 240-250.

Religion and Morality Intersect Biology: Sociobiology and Altruism. In Altruismus: aus der Sicht von Evolutionsbiologie, Philosophie und Theologie, Loccum Protocols 30/92, ed. Hans May (Rehburg-Loccum, Germany: Evangelische Akademie, Loccum, 1996), pp.262-300.

Concluding Re../Word/.htmmarks. In Altruismus: aus der Sicht von Evolutionsbiologie, Philosophie und Theologie, Loccum Protocols 30/92, ed. Hans May (Rehburg-Loccum, Germany: Evangelische Akademie, Loccum, 1996), pp.257-260.

Theodicy and Sociobiology. In Origins, Time and Complexity, Part II, ed. George V. Coyne, Karl Schmitz-Moorman, and Christoph Wassermann (Geneva: Labor et Fides, 1994), pp.61-65.

Biology Intersects Religion and Morality. Biology and Philosophy 7 (1992): 77-88.

Religion and Morality Intersect Biology: Sociobiology and Altruism. Public Presentation Sponsored by the Center For Faith and Science Exchange and the Boston Theological Institute, Cambridge, MA, 7 May 1991.

Science and Religion: From Warfare to a Working Alliance. Current Contents 23 (24 June 1991): 5-13.

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Theological Method

Click here for recent, interesting ideas that I've had or come across recently, including some regarding theological method.

The scientific method is the paradigm in our modern western culture for producing truthful, useful, and perhaps meaningful knowledge—whether we like it or not. Theology dare not drift too far from that cultural placement of truth (even while fulfilling its task of criticizing society), else it (and its critique) will lose in meaning, worth to the community at large, and any relevant message or cutting edge it might have. Theology should not side step this challenge, but meet it head on, and adopt the scientific method. To do this would give weight and vibrancy to the theological enterprise and help theology face more openly the divide between fact and value. Our theology must be scientific to act as an effective moral force and means for directing and unifying our lives.

An argument like the above seeks to justify the application of scientific method to theology. What does the scientific method mean for the doing of theology? I pursue several outcomes and implications of the move. I think, for instance, that an empirical method for theology assumes the existence of God and then asks what is the nature of God using scientific techniques on proposed answers to the question.

How theology ought to go about its business has interested me since the 1970s. This isn't surprising because I was a student of Gordon Kaufman at Harvard and claim him as my theological mentor. Theological method especially engaged him at that time. That theology ought to abide by the scientific method leaves many questions for me to ponder.

Most of my writings from my early career that address theological method remain unpublished. I recently dusted off some of them to present in the paper, "Theology Can Use the Scientific Method and Still Be Theology."   A more recent article, "Murphy and Law," also explores the issues, this time especially with regard to the 1990s champion of the topic, Nancey Murphy. 

Some of the ideas about theological method that I carry with me include:

  • theology is about model making;
  • "God" is the lens through which theology looks at reality;
  • theology is subject to experience¾the experience it is based on  is public and repeatable;
  • everything is potential data for theology.

I still feel that I need to say more about theological method and that I haven't yet fully explored or presented my ideas. Of late, I've been pondering the following train of thought.

What is theology really about? What is its subject? Really, it’s about human life and making sense of living. Its object, what it centrally talks about, is God, the reality called “God.” “God” is the lens, the hard core theory, through which theology peers at and tries to make sense of existence.

If I say, “God is happiness,” what sort of statement am I making? Am I really talking about God being happy or the source of happiness? No. It’s really a shorthand for the universe having evolved us [entailed in the phrase “God exists”] and that a main evolved thrust of ours is to be happy [i.e., “God is happiness and wants us to be happy.”]

Many factors¾external, competing drives, etc.¾inhibit our happiness, so theology’s “God is happiness” is also saying HOW we might increase our happiness. This is a scientific matter that may draw upon spiritual wisdom in helping to develop our wisdom about happiness. Theology needs science.

Theological terms need translating.

I am writing, Divinely Happy, a book on happiness that includes my notions on theological method as a  sub-theme. Method will be a deliberate, but not overly explicit, subject of the book. I am also working on Theological Methods: Adopting the Scientific Method in Theology, an updated version of my original book on theological method, and a paper, "Theological Method and Scientific Method."

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A System of Spiritual Thought

Click here for recent, interesting ideas that I've had or come across recently, including some regarding developing a system spiritual thought.

I set myself a task: to reconstruct the word "Divine" so it attains the significance for a modern person that I think it should have. This is difficult to do. I can't salvage the word with an instant system of spiritual ideas. Many thinkers, myself included, have wrestled long and hard with this problem – and most of the proposed solutions, I believe, remain sterile. So I start again from two points.

First, I follow a rule in trying to understand the Divine: the Divine is real. I want to picture the Divine this way because, to start with, this is a basic property of the Divine, of any properly functioning divinity. Only a dishonest dealer would sell a car "in good working order" when it didn't have an engine. "The Divine" needs at least the "engine" of realness. Believers accept the realness of their divinity and I follow this to make realness a must for what I concoct. I shy away from fantasy.

The Divine exists. But secularization and the rise of modern science have gradually changed the way people think and feel. The changes have eroded the belief systems of medieval and earlier Christendom, including people’s feelings of realness about that divinity. When a person asks me if I believe in the Divine, I reply "Yes," without hesitation. I then add, "What divinity?" I have yet in our conversation to endow the word with content. My belief in the Divine's realness leaves open what I mean by "the Divine"; it stops short of explaining what the Divine is. To crave an image that portrays a real divinity assumes nothing further about the Divine.

The second starting point for the new picture of the Divine focuses on the word "secular."

We live in the modern western world with all its corruption, inhumanity, but idealism and hope. And many of us relish it – the universe, our society, and our lives feel good. Most westerners place the centers of their realities here. We live as secular people; our spiritual ideas must build from here. "Here" is exciting and challenging. The answer to inhumanity and modernity's problems arises from here, we believe, from the secular here, and not from elsewhere. I therefore resist focusing on another world, spiritual or otherwise. The roots of the Divine extend deep into the secular.

Whatever picture I come up with for the Divine, then, the divinity it depicts must appear real to modern, secularized humanity.

 

The above quest is a life-time's engagement, the life-times of many people besides myself. I can only hope to contribute a little to this ongoing social enterprise of reconstruction  – what I would call a building of an adequate "mythology."

Publications-wise, my book, From Science to an Adequate Mythology (Auckland: Interface Press, 1984), presents the challenge as I saw it early in my career. It also provisionally maps out my life's work. Another milestone was the publication in 2000 by Fortress Press of my book Sleuthing the Divine: The Nexus of Science and Spirit.

Many of my other writing areas feed into my attempts to build an adequate system of spiritual thought. For instance, at present I am working on two books I hope will start a popular series to explore key issues for modern life and develop my particular spiritual vision for and approach to spiritual thought (for the latter, see the page on theological method). One of the books, provisionally titled Divinely Happy, explores the different understandings of happiness and points us toward a deeper and longer type: this is what we really want. The second, provisionally The God Hole, shows from evolution and psychology that we naturally need a god, that we must have one, and that we can choose which one. The question is, what is this god to be like?

The following are several other recent works of mine that develop my system of spiritual thought:

Patterns of the Real: Quantum Nonlocality (with Jonathan Walgate). Science & Spirit 10 (1) March 1999.

Supernatural Toasters. Science & Spirit 8(2) Summer 1997: 8-9.

A Holomovement Metaphysics and Theology. Bridges 4 (Spring/Summer 1997): 125-144.

Freedom and Freewill, or Tyranny? Part Two. Science & Spirit 7 (4) (Winter 1996-1997): 10-11.

Freedom and Freewill, or Tyranny? Science & Spirit 7 (Fall 1996): 9.

Is the Divine But a Heap of Mechanisms? Science & Spirit 7 (Summer 1996): 8-9.

God the World-as-a-Whole. In The Concept of Nature in Science and Theology, Part I, Studies in Science and Theology, Vol. 3, ed. Niels H. Gregersen, Michael W. S. Parsons, and Christoph Wassermann (Geneva: Labor et Fides, 1995), pp. 153-157.

Cots and the Cosmic Commencement. Science & Spirit 6 (Winter 1995): 8-9.

Strength from Separation in Connection. Science & Religion News 6 (Fall 1995): 8.

Traveler's Aid at JFK. Science & Religion News 6 (Summer 1995): 9.

A Divine Nonlocal Universe. Science & Religion News 5 (Winter 1994): 7.

Holomovement Metaphysics and Theology. Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 28 (March 1993): 47-60.

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Holistic Explanations

Click here for recent, interesting ideas that I've had or come across recently, including some regarding holistic explanations.

Cells within organs cohere, acting in unison to produce a macroscopic effect like the beating of our hearts. We best understand this behavior at an organic, rather than at a cellular level. Whether or not we can describe a beating heart in terms of the motions and interaction of its countless constituent atoms, to understand the phenomenon is to appreciate it at its simplest¾not necessarily lowest¾level. However, that simplicity emerges, some say mysteriously, from the complexity beneath.

Emergent properties such as heart beating refute the reductionism that infected science during its classical "golden age." The term "downward causation" comes into vogue. Downward causation occurs when whole systems act down upon their parts, like a heart "causing" its cells to contract and pump in rhythm.

Theologians appreciate the importance of emergence as a phenomenon that encompasses wholes. Arthur Peacocke, Nancey Murphy, and others advocate downward causation as a means of understanding the action of the Divine on and in the universe.

Is this really enough, though? Emergent phenomena are unquestionably real, and their explanations don't exist at the lower levels of reality. But do such phenomena "act" in any meaningful sense upon their parts? Despite the incredible emergent phenomenon of life, we understand the physics of carbon atoms well without reference to higher scales. We need to consider what we mean by causation and what makes sense in the light of our physics.

In a classical framework, the universe lies within our reach. It might be infinite in size and it might contain an infinite number of things, but it still functionally equals its subsets¾it is "the sum of its parts." The metaphysics of our time is changing, however. The substitution of quantum physics for a classical picture has consequences far beyond the subatomic realm. The central implication is that, at its heart, reality is holistic. A holistic universe is quite other than its parts and far greater than their sum.

Quantum theory is a scientific step toward an intuitively spiritual metaphysics. The Divine acts down on every part of creation through the whole quantum universe¾and every corner of reality contains an echo of the whole.

I want to understand emergence, downward causation, and holistic explanations. Do these phenomena actually exist? Does any scientific understanding incorporate them? Are they rightfully useful in spiritual explanations? In particular, is quantum nonlocality rightfully useful as a spiritual explanation for divine action?

The following are several of my recent works that develop my ideas about holistic explanations:

Approaching the Unapproachable: Quantum Perspectives on an Infinite God (with Jonathan Walgate). In preparation.

Sleuthing the Divine: The Nexus of Science and Spirit. To be published by Fortress Press (Spring 2000).

Patterns of the Real: Quantum Nonlocality (with Jonathan Walgate). Science & Spirit 10 (1) March 1999: 10-12.

Theology and Science as Different Levels of a Hierarchy: A Caution. To appear in a Festschrift in honor of Arthur Peacocke.

A Divine Nonlocal Universe. Science & Religion News 5 (Winter 1994): 7.

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Science and Religion

Click here for recent, interesting ideas that I've had or come across recently, including some regarding science and religion.

Various aspects of the relationship between science and religion have interested me from childhood. some of my more recent interests in this area include:

The thought of David Bohm:

This unconventional physicist held spiritual beliefs derived from Hinduism and which appear to have been symbiotically related to his physical theories. See, for instance:

David Bohm's World: New Physics and New Religion (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1993).

Holomovement Metaphysics and Theology. Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 28 (March 1993): 47-60.

Misusing Quantum Physics. In The Science and Theology of Information: Proceedings of the Third European Conference on Science and Theology, Geneva, March 29 to April 1, 1990, ed. Christoph Wassermann, Richard Kirby, and Bernard Rordorf (Geneva: Labor et Fides, 1992), pp.137-141.

Relating the Physics and Religion of David Bohm. Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 25 (March 1990): 105-122.

The development of the field, for instance the involvement of women in it:

Wake Up, Science and Religion. Science & Religion News 6 (Spring 1995): 8.

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Behavioral Genetics, Neurochemistry, and Spiritual Thought: 

Click here for recent, interesting ideas that I've had or come across recently, including some regarding behavioral genetics, neurochemistry, and spiritual thought.

Purpose, Love, and Happiness

Purposes, according to recent scientific thought, are genetically rooted. They originate with human biology and motivate us to act. Yet God also acts according to purposes, theologians and believers insist. Divine purposes motivate God to create and sustain, to consummate and redeem. Does this mean, then, that God, like us, possesses a biology? Do divine purposes originate in divine genes? Theologians protest. Of course God doesn’t possess genes – any more than God possesses bones, lungs, kidneys, or neural circuitry. God, after all, is spiritual, not physical. Our attempts at describing divine hopes, motives, and actions amount to no more than analogies. In a bid to understand, we project human qualities onto God.

Yet the problem remains. The Judeo-Christian tradition rests on the notion of a personal god who loves and so desires the best for creation, acting in accordance with that desire.

If we claim that God entertains and acts on purposes in a way similar to humans, we need to justify that claim, not just assume it without question. And we must take on board new scientific proposals and use them to modify our claims.

How should we react theologically to the scientific proposal? The connection of purposes with genes might lead us to drop the idea that God possesses purposes (in the human sense) at all. In this case, we must ask what it really means to say that God acts according to purposes. Perhaps we can produce a more adequate, less anthropocentric characterization. Or we might hold on to the notion that divine purposes in some way correspond to human purposes, in which case we must confront the genetic disposition issue. Ought we, for instance, recast God in a naturalistic rather than a spiritual light? What might the divine equivalent of a genetic predisposition look like?

So far, I have looked in this area of research, not only at the implications of investigations on purpose, but also on love and on happiness. The conclusions are similar in each case. The next step involves radical reconstruction of the idea of God – how divine properties relate to human properties – that I started in my forthcoming book, Sleuthing the Divine: The Nexus of Science and Spirit (Fortress Press, Spring 2000), but need to explore further.

Genetics and neurochemistry raise another set of issues for spiritual thought as well: determinism. What place does free will play in our lives if our genes and neurochemistry root so much of our behavior? I show that a substantial place exists for it. See:

Predestination by Genes (with Rebecca Bryant). To appear in Science & Spirit.

Flipping from Genetics. Network: Issues and Ideas 16(1) Fall 1999: 32-34.

The Laws of Life: Grounding Spiritual Truth in Science (with Brent Waters). Science & Spirit 10(3) September 1999: 10-11.

The following are several recent works of mine that address purpose, love, and happiness as biological phenomena and the implications of this for spiritual thought:

Purpose:

God’s Purpose: A Contradiction in Terms? (with Rebecca Bryant). To appear in Science & Spirit 10(2) July 1999: 10-11.

Providence, Purpose, and the Psychobiology of Fundamental Motivation (with Rebecca Bryant). To appear in the European Society for the Study of Science and Theology 1998, Studies in Science and Theology.

Human Behavioral Genetics and Theology (with Rebecca Bryant). Submitted for publication.

A Presumptuous Proposal for Purpose. Science & Spirit 8(1) Spring 1997: 10.

Love:

Oxytocin Is a Many Splendid Thing: Biochemicals Usurp the Divine. In The Interplay Between Scientific and Theological Worldviews, Part I, Studies in Science and Theology, Vol. 5 (1997), ed. Niels H. Gregersen, Ulf Görman, and Christoph Wassermann (Geneva: Labor et Fides, 1999), pp. 205-214.

Oxytocin Makes the World Go Round: Love Affronts the Divine. Science & Spirit 7 (Spring 1996): 10-11.

All You Need Is...Oxytocin: Biochemicals Usurp the Divine. Presented to the 1996 Sixth European Conference on Science and Theology, Craccow, Poland.

Happiness:

Implicit Religion and Inter Faith Dialogue: A Scientific Perspective (with Rebecca Bryant). Implicit Religion 2 (1) May 1999: 5-15.

The Sense of Happiness: Biological Explanations and Ultimate Reality and Meaning. Ultimate Reality and Meaning 21 (4) December 1998: 301-314.

Behavioral Genetics: The New Reductionism? (with Rebecca Bryant). To appear in the proceedings of the Silver Anniversary Conference of the Center for Process Studies, Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate School, Claremont, USA, 4-9 August 1998.

Camellias and Happiness: An Integration of Science and Religion (with Rebecca Bryant). To appear in the proceedings of the C. S. Lewis Summer Institute, Oxford, England, 1998.

Human Behavior, Genetics, and Theology (with Rebecca Bryant). Presented to the Ian Ramsey Centre Seminar, University of Oxford, England, April 1998.

Is There a Place for God in Genetics? (with Rebecca Bryant). Catholic Herald (10 July 1998): 5.


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