July / August 2010
Religion and science essays recognize Polkinghorne legacy
The International Society for Science and Religion, based in the United Kingdom, awarded £18,000 to a total of four scholars for essays focused on the work of John Polkinghorne, who was the founding president of the organization.
Polkinghorne is a well known author and a winner of the Templeton Prize for Science and Religion and is a Fellow of the Royal Society. A reverend, Polkinghorne earned a Ph.D. at Trinity College Cambridge and studied under Paul Dirac with a focus on particle physics in the 1950s. Becoming a priest in the Church of England, he later returned to academia and was president of Queens' College in Cambridge and authored a number of books on religion and science.
Sharing the first prize and wining £6,000 each in the ISSR contest are Jungheyung Kim for his article, "Christian Hope in Dialogue With Natural Theology: Polkinghorne's Incorporation of Bottom-Up Thinking Into Eschatology" and Daniel Darg for his work on
"Cosmic If Statements."
A joint third prize of £3,000 each went to Russell Manning for "On Revising Natural Theology: John Polkinghorne and the False Modesty of Liberal Theology" and James Watkins for his work on
"John Polkinghorne's Kenotic Theology of Creation and Its
Implications for a Theory of Human Creativity."
An honorable mention was given to a fifth essay by Pat Bennett and her work on
"Subtle and Supple: John Polkinghorne's Engagement With Reality." She was not awarded a prize but was nevertheless awarded a special commendation by the judges.
ISSR was formed in 2002 and its central aim is the facilitation of dialogue between the two academic disciplines of science and religion, which it views as one of the most important current areas of debate in terms of understanding the nature of humanity.
By the book: Authors highlight the science and religion divide
Two recent book releases share differing views on debates swirling over the beliefs of scientists and how they mesh with those with a religious mindset.
Elaine Ecklund in her book Science vs. Religion surveyed nearly 1,700 scientists and interviewed 275 of them. She found that nearly 50% of scientists are indeed religious and others she calls
"spiritual entrepreneurs who seek to work with the tensions between science and faith outside the constraints of traditional religion." The book features profiles of men and women working in the natural and social scientists at top American research universities.
A second release is from a renowned fiction writer and Pulitzer Prize winner Herman Wouk and is called The Language God Talks. Wouk, who is known for fiction including The Caine Mutiny, The Winds of War, and War and Remembrance, looks at the key events of the 20th century to draw out a discussion of why we are here, the purpose of faith and how scientific fact fits with faith. The focuses on conversations that 94 year old Wouk has had with Richard Feynman, Murray Gell-Mann, Freeman Dyson and Steven Weinberg.
Emergence addresses spiritual experience, according to noted philospher/theologian
Philip Clayton has been educating audiences nationally about the concept of emergence and how it plays a role in religion and more specifically addressing the issues surrounding religion and science.
The Ingraham Professor of Theology at the Claremont School of Theology and philosopher and theologian participated in a series of lectures this spring including at the two-day Goshen Religion and Science Conference at Goshen College in Indiana and as part of a series of lectures in Chicago on
"What Makes Us Human?" this spring.
In a series of lectures, Clayton discussed the scientific idea of emergence and what it says about humanity, ethical dilemmas and spirituality. Emergence can be defined as the idea that the natural world is more complex than the sum of its parts. Meaning the the whole is the more than just the sum of its parts. It is the creation of complex phenomena out of simple building blocks.
Beyond a scientific theory relating to the biological or physical sciences, emergence can also offer a way to view spirituality, which is a fascinating emergent quality of humanity, according to Clayton. Religious traditions can help highlight what is unique about the human species. Religious traditions can also come up with the core capacities of humanity.
He says: "It is part of being human is to ask questions of ultimacy. Even if we don't get answers to these questions, it makes us better humans. So for [Richard] Dawkins to ask questions only science can answer is futile." In Goshen, he ended his series of talks challenging the audience to think how religion and science can approach ethical dilemmas that our biology never prepared us for
— bioengineering and prosthetics, merging of neurons and computers, technology and warfare, and robotics and transhumanism.
Biology professor wins Templeton Prize
Francisco Ayala, UC Irvine professor of ecology and evolutionary biology who has vigorously opposed the entanglement of science and religion while also calling for mutual respect between the two, one the 2010 Templeton Prize.
Valued at more than $1 million, the prize honors a living person who has made exceptional contributions to affirming life's spiritual dimension. HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, awarded the prize in a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace on May 5.
Ayala's groundbreaking research into parasitic protozoa may lead to cures for malaria and other diseases, and he has devoted more than 30 years to asserting that both science and faith are damaged when either invades the proper domain of the other.
In 1981, he served as an expert witness in a pivotal U.S. Federal Court challenge that led to the overturning of an Arkansas law that mandated the teaching of creationism alongside evolution. In 2001, George W. Bush awarded Ayala, a former Dominican priest, the National Medal of Science.
In a statement, following the presentation of the Templeton Prize, Ayala forcefully denied that science contradicts religion.
"If they are properly understood, they cannot be in contradiction because science and religion concern different matters, and each is essential to human understanding," he said.
Stephen Hawking promotes science/religion conflict
In a recent interview with ABC News' Diane Sawyer, legendary physicist Stephen Hawking concluded that science will win out against religion because
Hawking told Sawyer, "What could define God [is thinking of God] as the embodiment of the laws of nature. However, this is not what most people would think of that God.... When you look at the vast size of the universe and how insignificant an accidental human life is in it, that seems most impossible."
According to ABC News, when asked if there was a way to reconcile religion and science, Hawking said, "There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works."
In response, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights said that Hawking posits a false conflict and that nothing is gained by alleging a
"victory" of science over religion. The group pointed out that any rational person belittling the pivotal role that human life plays in the universe is a wonder, but it is just as silly to say that all religions are marked by the absence of reason.
Wiseman to lead AAAS dialogue
Jennifer Wiseman is the new director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion.
The program was set up in 1995 to foster communication between scientific and religious communities. The post builds on the AAAS' long standing commitment to relate scientific knowledge and technological development to the purposes and concerns of society at large. In June, Wiseman moderated a panel discussion at the AAAS Auditorium in Washington, DC, on
"Re-Envisioning the Science and Religion Dialogue".
Wiseman currently also heads the Laboratory for Exoplanets and Stellar Astrophysics at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. She is also the incoming senior project scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope.
In her scientific work, Wiseman studies the formation of stars and planetary systems using radio, optical and infared telescopes. As an undergraduate research assistant, she discovered comet Wiseman-Skiff in 1987. She earned her doctorate in astronomy from Harvard University and continued her research as a Jansky Fellow at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and a Hubble Fellow at the John Hopkins University.
Wiseman says she has had leaders of seminaries ask for help in incorporating more science courses and information into their curricula for clergy in training.
"With continuing battles over the teaching of evolutions in the schools and new fundamentalist attacks on the reliability of climate science, there is a need more than ever for a constructive conversation between scientists and religious groups," said Alan Leshner, chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher of Science.