In this Issue
Sacred Parks combines ecology and faith
Duke study considers religion and changes in the brain
Research unveils how U.S. college students perceive
religion and science
Is religion lost in translation for mathematicians?
The work of Paul Busekist can be summed up in a blissful stroll along the biking trails in the DuPage County Forest Preserve surrounding The Argonne National Laboratory in Darien, Illinois.
Leading a group of Lutherans through brush and clouds of mosquitoes may seem like an unlikely place to encounter God, but for Paul it is one of the best ways to rethink our relationship to the world and to God. On this day, a group of moms, dads, pastors, teens and friends focused on water and its role in reviving people’s bodies and souls.
Busekist, who heads up Sacred Parks and is a Pastor who will serve in a Lutheran congregation in Traverse City, Michigan, describes his life-changing experience found at Zion National Park in Utah.
"Zion is where I was inspired to care and advocate for God’s earth, and perhaps most importantly, it was God (not merely being in Zion itself) that taught me through relationship," he writes on the group’s website.
In forming The Sacred Parks Project, Busekist is able to introduce parishioners to the basics of creation care and its biblical roots. At Waterfall Glen in suburban Chicago, day hikers paused for Bible passages that were connected particularly to water. They also spent a moment learning about how the Civil Conservation Corp of the 1930s built a stunning waterfall in the midst of a forest preserve at a time when most were just struggling to survive the Great Depression from day to day.
Matthew 10:41-42 puts this simple message in perspective: "Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple
— truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward." The reading of this passage was followed by a simple activity that included the passing and
"conserving" of water from person to person in small cups within a time frame or in a certain series of steps to show how humanity needs to share and realize the precious gift of clean water.
The mission of The Sacred Parks Project is to inspire and equip people of faith to see the earth ("and the fullness thereof"
— Psalms 24:1) as God’s earth — and the human home — so that we together care for it faithfully and responsibly. The mission priority is to preserve, conserve and honor the gift of this planet, the resources it contains and our neighbors in creation. Over the last year, Busekist traveled to parks across the
United States with this simple message of faith, nature and sustainability.
This is actually my paraphrase, so not a direct quote Roger, "Outdoor places we
already find sacred and these are places where God can teach us knowledge like
no other," Busekist said in his sermon at Luther Memorial in Chicago the day after the Waterfall Glen hike.
More information on the group can be found at www.sacredparks.org.
Researchers at Duke University Medical Center say they have found an apparent correlation between religious practice and changes in the brains of older adults.
In their study, scientists measured the changes in the volume of the area of the brain called the hippocampus. This area of the brain is known to be involved in learning and memory, and tends to shrink with age. It also has been linked with depression and Alzheimer’s disease.
Changes in the volume of the hippocampus were tracked using MRI scans over a period of two to eight years. Researchers found that Protestants who did not identify themselves as
"born-again" had less atrophy in the hippocampus region than did born-again Protestants, Catholics or those having no religious affiliation.
Participants in the study reported having a religious experience that changed their life were also found to have more atrophy in the hippocampus than those who did not. Other religious factors (such as prayer, meditation or Bible study) did not predict changes in the volume of the hippocampus in this study.
In the interviews, 268 people aged 58 to 84 asked about their religious group, spiritual practices and life-changing religious experiences. The results were published in the Public Library of Science ONE, an open-access science journal.
Authors Amy Owen and David Hayward, research associates at Duke University Medical Center, said the findings were not explained by other factors related to hippocampal atrophy, such as age, education, social support from friends and family, being depressed, or brain size. The authors did speculate that stress might play a role in their findings.
"One interpretation of our finding — that members of majority religious groups seem to have less atrophy compared with minority religious groups
— is that when you feel your beliefs and values are somewhat at odds with those of society as a whole, it may contribute to long-term stress that could have implications for the brain," said Owen as lead author of the study that was funded by the National Institutes for Health and The John Templeton Foundation.
The authors caution that not enough detail is known about the mechanics of how stress affects brain atrophy to draw even tentative conclusions.
The study is notable because it is among the first to examine religious and spiritual links to changes in volume of specific areas in the brain, and is the first to explore religious factors such as life-changing religious experiences. Rather than suggesting that particular religious experiences should be avoided or promoted, the emphasis of this study was to help clarify possible relationships between religion and the brain.
In studying the thoughts of U.S. undergraduate students on religion and science, sociologist Christopher Scheitle of Pennsylvania State University found that most do not see conflict between faith and scientific findings.
The study, entitled U.S. College Students’ Perception of Religion and Science: Conflict, Collaboration, or Independence? A Research Note
, was recently published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. The analysis of the perceptions of undergraduates found that despite a seeming predominance of a conflict-oriented narrative in public discourse, the majority of undergraduates do not view the relationship between these two arenas as one of conflict. According to Scheitle, college students are also more likely to move away from a conflict perspective than to adopt one during their college years.
There are differences, though, depending on fields of study and levels of religiosity. Students in education and business fields, for example, are most likely to adopt a pro-religion conflict stance during college. Further research might examine the mechanisms that lead students in some fields towards or away from a conflict perspective. Scheitle suggests that regardless of individuals’ personal religiosity or scientific knowledge, how students approach the relationship between religion and science could have important consequences in schoolrooms, courthouses and legislatures.
Scientists and engineers are among the students most likely to have a pro-science conflict perspective. He suggests this fact could mean that some of the most influential voices in public debates might be more likely to fuel the debates than attenuate them. Future educators, on the other hand, are among the most likely to hold a pro-religion conflict perspective. Scheitle observes that these findings do not bode well for the reduction of the conflict in classrooms and school boards regarding religion and science.
It may sound like the beginning of a joke — A logician, physicist,
mathematician, theologian and a philosopher sit down to discuss a sentence....
According to a new book from Javier Leach entitled Mathematics and Religion: Our Languages of Sign and Symbol, the outcome of the discussion is the discovery of a variety of languages used in capturing reality whether it be from a mathematical, scientific or theological viewpoint. While a theologian says that the meaning of the sentence may not be found in formal analysis or empirical verification, the mathematician finds that they could find a myriad of meanings that would make a logician’s formula made up of letters and numbers true.
Leach has been director of the chair of science, technology and religion since its creation in 2003 at the Comillas University in Madrid, Spain. He approaches the topic of mathematics and religion as a Jesuit priest and a teacher of logic and mathematics at the School of computer Science at the Complutense University of Madrid, which is one of the main public universities in Spain.
The book provides a basic history of mathematics, a discussion of logic and then brings together a discussion of metaphysics, religion, science and math. While mathematics is often ignored in general religion and science discussions, the thought process behind the language and symbols of math can be illustrative of the tension of many forms of knowledge.
One of the key discussions of the book centers on the idea that there is not always agreement in mathematics and there is a plurality of systems. Mathematics show us that there are certainties, including a kind of logic that makes our languages possible. It also shows, according to Leach, that there is incompleteness and openness.
For Leach, personally, there is no separation of mathematics from theology, but there is no separation of theology from mathematics. He says that mathematics and the empirical sciences are independent of religious beliefs, but theological reflections cannot do without empirical science and mathematics.
"In general, science makes no claims over the symbolic kind of language used in metaphysics or religion," concludes Leach.
"The symbols of religion in turn, cannot be reduced to quantitative signs. This is a healthy distinction between science and religion." THIS WORKS FOR ME!
Covalence, June, 2011