Science, Religion,and the Search for Human Integrity
Syracuse University, 10 - 14 August, 1997,
Dr. George Koch, Lutheran Campus Ministry
 Summary by Paul Henry Carr

I. Rediscovering Cosmos: Faith & Science in Relationship

I. Faith and Science in Relationship

 Prof. Philip Hefner, Lutheran Divinity School, and Prof. John Haught, Georgetown University, related theology and science though story (mythos) and structure (logos) respectively. In this, they exemplified Paul Tillichís Protestant Principle and Roman Catholic Substance.
"Telling Godís Stories about the Cosmos: The Gift and the Challenge" Philip Hefner

Prof Hefner noted that the vast increase of scientific knowledge has created a need for religious meaningfulness and wisdom. The causal explanations and models of science have contributed to our alienation from nature. Against this counterpoint, we need to rediscover the melody of creation as Godís greatest project. The creation stories of Genesis were similar to those of ancient Babylon. Yet the Hebrews put their own "spin" on it. The nature of creation is characterized by Godís goodness and love. This story caries the meaning that the physical universe matters, is good, and worth studying. These fundamental presuppositions motivated the development of modern science. This faith can enable us to embrace nature as "created co-creators" in what may be a "second axial age." Science and religion complement each other like the "warp" and the "weft" of weaving. Together they can weave a new fabric or meaning for our time.

"Science and the Question of Cosmic Purpose" Jack Haught

Woody Allen was once asked if there is purpose in the universe. He replied:
"Yes, except for certain parts of New Jersey."

The structure or "logos" of the universe can be expressed by the hierarchy of "PERENNIAL PHILOSOPHY:"

Ultimate Reality and God
Human consciousness

This hierarchy is characterized by:
ONTOLOGICAL DISCONTINUITY: the higher level is irreducible to the lower level

HIERACHIAL PRINCIPLE: The higher comprehends the lower, but
The lower can not comprehend the higher.

ADAEQUATIO: Cognitive competence at the lower level may not qualify at the higher.

Challenges to this hierarchy have come from atomism (Democritus 460-370 BC), evolution, molecular biology, neuroscience, sociobiology, scientism, materialism, and reductionism. Recent defense comes from Seyyed Nasr , (1933 - ), M. Polanyi (1891 - 1976), and A.N. Whitehead (1861 - 1947).

Seyyed Nasr, a Moslem, is critical of modernity. He asserts that the ecological crisis is rooted in a collapse of this hierarchy. He notes the transcendental order and unity of religions, which have a common origin. We need to rediscover a sacramental view of nature. The hierarchy is essential for a sense of lifeís meaning and as a basis for ethics.

M. Polanyi raises the following questions:
Can science ever eliminate the personal dimension of knowing?
"We know more than we can tell."

"Can life be fully specified in chemical terms?"
DNA embodies an organizational or informational sequence. This information can not be discovered by chemical analysis.Whitehead emphasizes process and relationality. We should seek simplicity. The real is the beautiful. Where is evolution going? God is more present in the future (omega) than the past.


"Cosmology from Alpha to Omega"
Robert John Russell, Center for Theology and Natural Science, Berkeley, CA

The alpha, or beginning of the universe about 15 billion years ago by a cosmic explosion, known as the big bang, is gaining more acceptance than the Christian doctrine Creation "ex nihilo," (from nothing previously existing.) Yet both are based on the bedrock of contingency i.e. dependence and non-necessity. For science, this means that God cannot be an explicit "part of the equation," as it were, since this would introduce an entirely necessary element into what should be a contingent argument. For Christian theology, this means that nature is not to be equated with the divine, thereby protecting theology from the "heresy of idolatry." Russell believes that God is both immanent in nature as well as transcendent. This is known as panentheism. The "Big Bang" explosion at t = 0 lends credibility but doesnít prove the idea of Godís design. Design and contingency are dialectical.

The physical constants of our universe must be very precise for life and our present universe to evolved in its present form. If the rate of expansion of the "big bang" had been slower, the universe would have recollapsed due to gravitational attraction. If it had been faster, the primordial mater would have expanded without allowing the galaxies, stars, and planets to condense. For many, this is "fine tuning" is evidence of "design." Those who do not accept this, hypothesize the existence of "multiple universes," which may have had different constants. The Anthropic Principle expresses the fact that we live in a universe in which life has emerged.

 The end or "omega" of the universe is open to question. Most cosmologists believe that the universe will continue expanding for forever, leading to the end of life as we know it. Others believe that enough "dark matter" will be discovered to reverse the present expansion and cause the universe to collapse into a "big crunch." Russell believes: "The goal of life is not unending life but eternal life, and since I think that eternity does not mean timelessness but the full reality of divine time without separations and divisions, weeping and death."

In a workshop on cosmology and theology, George Murphy, (Ph.D. in physics and pastor of St. Marks Lutheran, Tallmadge, Ohio,) listed the four ways of relating:

  1. Acquinas: Natural theology: cosmology is a stepping-stone to theology.
  2. F. Tippler, P. Davies: Natural theology: cosmology is all we need.
  3. Bart: "NEIN" Theology comes from revelation alone.
  4. Bartís student T. Torrance modified "NEIN" to include some dependence of theology on cosmology.
"Chance and Necessity: Natural Selection and the Teleology of Nature." Francisco Ayala, Univ of California, Irvine.

 Ayala believes with Darwin that life can be explained by natural law, with no external agent needed for human emergence. Yet science is not the only way of knowing and is insufficient for purpose, value, and meaning.

He illustrated the power of natural selection by the following example from the laboratory. One can grow about one billion, 109 , bacteria in a small drop of water. If one introduces antibiotic A into the drop, all the bacteria die except 10. These are produced by mutations, with a probability of 10-8 . The bacteria, immune to antibiotic A, have been produced by the process of natural selection. In a few hours these bacteria will multiply to about 109 . If one now introduces a second antibiotic B, there will be about 10 bacterial which survive and can multiply to bacteria immune to both antibiotics A and B. This process shows the power of natural selection. The probability of finding bacteria immune to both antibiotics A and B is 10-8 x 10-8 = 10-16 without natural selection.

Yet, science is not sufficient for value and meaning. A scientific analysis of Leonardo di Vinciís "Mona Lisa" can not reveal why it is a great painting.


"The Human Genome Project: The Interface of Technology, Faith, and Family." Paula Gregory, National Center for Human Genome Research, N.I.H., Bethesda, MD.

 The mapping of the human genome, consisting of about 100,000 genes, started in 1990 and will be completed in about 10 years. The determination of how genes function will take about 50 to 100 years.

Our increasing knowledge of genetically transmitted diseases may someday decrease suffering. In the meantime, we are confronted with new moral and social decisions beyond the ability of science to answer. Some people have guilt feeling for either passing on bad genes or for have been spared the suffering of a sibling. A father can transmit the defective gene responsible for genetically transmitted breast cancer. Huntingtonís gene mutation has no effect on a child, but everyone who caries it will begin to lose their ability to think and move, usually between the ages of 35 and 50. Do individuals want to know if they are carrying these genes? What about discrimination with regards to jobs and insurance? Do employers and insurers have the right to know? Such questions challenge our religions, our courts, and our government.

"Ethical and Social Issues in Genetics." Adrienne Asch, Wellesley College

Andrienne Asch, who considers herself an ethical humanist, raised the following questions about the human genome project.
Why do we want this knowledge?
Do the risks outweigh the benefits?
Do I want to know the date of my death?
In her academic circles, abortions for genetic diseases are generally regarded as good. The question remains: "Who will decide?" Being blind herself, she is concerned about unwarranted discrimination. People with disabilities should have an equal opportunity to live their lives.
Asch is against the cloning of humans. The purpose of reproduction is to create a new human being, not to copy an existing one.
Social problems require social solutions. The possibility of a gene for violent behavior does not eliminate social, cultural, and economic factors. Human behavior can not be reduced to genetic determinism.


"A Neurophychological Analysis of Religion: Attempting to Determine Why God Wonít Go Away." Andrew Newberg and Angela Hegarty."

 Andrew Newberg presented a neuropsychological analysis of the mystic religious experience. These are consistent with relatively modern definitions of religion:
Schleiermacher: Religion is a feeling of absolute dependence on God.
Otto: Religion is the sensation of numinous awe, fear, and fascination.

 Mystic experiences are cross cultural. They express oneness, unification, loss of space-time limitations, and ineffable and sublime joy. Pleasure is processed in the frontal lobes of the brain. The mystical experience of absolute unitary being, (AUB), is an overall brain function. This experience also involves the automatic nervous system as well as the limbic system. Newberg said that dreams and hallucinations are real to us when we experience them. However, after they occur, we evaluate them as not being real. Mystical religious experiences, on the other hand, are evaluated as being very real, in fact as transcending the reality of our ordinary experience.

Angela Heggarty noted that when we see the image of , for example, a vase, the memory part of our brain is excited before the visual processing center. This presumably enables us to correlate a new image with previous images and thereby the simplify and expedite the entire process. Overall, our brain is comfortable with experiences that are similar to those we have had before. When something new occurs, we get a danger or warning signal. It is amazing that we can learn anything new!

 Workshop leader, Prof. Nancy Murphy, emphasized that the findings of neuroscience call into question traditional dualist i.e. separation of body and mind, accounts of the person. These findings support the Old Testament view of a person as an integrated whole. She interprets the resurrection as hope for a future life, rather than the life of the soul. I interpret resurrection our transformation into new dimensions which are beyond our present space-time limited experience.

Author Kitty Ferguson, in her after banquet speech: "The Longing of Johannes Kepler," spoke of Keplerís longing to discover the God within himself. She noted the problem of the "God of the Gaps" is that the gap can later be closed by the naturalistic descriptions of science. We should, like Kepler, learn to sense Godís unrelenting search of us as described in Psalm 8:
"When I look at the heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou has established, what is man that thou art mindful of him?"

 Rev. Dr. Richard Phillips, Dean, Hendricks, Chapel, Syracuse University, in the final morning worship, reminded us that we need to allocate time for worship. Astronaut Story Musgrave had earlier shared his experience of seeing the stars from his spaceship. To see them, however, he had to budget time for turning off the lights. Astronauts, who do not do this, spend all their time with their work and never get the chance to see the stars.