Proposed Institute of Religion in an Age of Science Star Island Conference Topic



"If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing.

If nature were not worth knowing, life would not be worth living." Henri Poincare

"Beauty is the internal conformation of the various items of experience with each other, for the production of maximum effectiveness…. Thus the parts contribute to the massive feeling of the whole, and the whole contributes to the intensity of feeling of the parts…. The teleology of the Universe is directed to the production of beauty.

Creation is the intensification of beauty"

Whitehead, "Adventure of Ideas." (pgs. 341, 324)


Paul H. Carr and Michael Ruse Conference Co-Chairs ,


Beauty and cosmic design are important for science and religion. Beauty in religious art and in sacred spaces can be seen from the pyramids to cathedrals. Beauty and design can be seen in the complex geometry of Steven Wolfram’s best selling "A New Kind of Science" as well as in Mandelbrot’s "Fractal Geometry of Nature." Early prototypes of the fractal or Sierpinski triangle appear in the 12th century art of the Ravello Cathedral. Could Paul Klee's painting "Insects (Plan of Creation)" in 1919, presenting a helices-like design, be a premonition of Watson and Crick's discovery of the structure of DNA three decades later? Physicist Heisenberg said: "Quantum theory is convincing because of its completeness and abstract beauty."

Is the beauty we see in nature the result of design, or is evolution an adequate explanation? Is evolution a design process?

Does design emerge as variations occur and some organisms get naturally selected over others?

Did cosmic design lead to the emergence of consciousness though the fine-tuning of the physical constants from the "big bang" on? (i.e. Anthropic Principle)

"Is wildness the preservation of the world?" (Thoreau)

Why do we yearn for beauty? Is beauty in the eye of the beholder?

Answering these questions could help to mediate the intelligent design controversy for us as well as our educational institutions.

Einstein once said: "God does not play dice." Houston Smith has said: "I do not see how God could have made us in His Image by the random mutations of the genes." These old metaphors are not consistent with the new findings of chaos and complexity theory, which show how the beauty of nature can be expressed by fractal geometry. We will demonstrate beautiful fractals generated by algorithms having both a random element (symbolized by dice) and a global law (which loads the dice.) These are similar to the evolutionary process. Evolution and emergence are nonlinear and hence are NOT zero sum processes. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Garbage in is not garbage out. We shall see how old metaphors are being replaced by the new: "God plays dice, but the dice are loaded." (Chaos theorist Joseph Ford.)

We will invite physicists, astronomers, biologists, musicians, artists, theologians, philosophers, and historians to discover new ways of interpreting design and beauty in a manner acceptable to both the scientific and religious communities.


"Scientific Truth Mediated Through Art."

by Eric Heller, Physics Department, Harvard University.

I met Prof. Heller after giving this fascinating talk which forms the background for his scientific art on display at the Science Museum in Boston, MA, Chicago, IL, Berkeley, CA. His web site is well worth the visit:

"Religious Truth Mediated Through Art."

Potential speakers:

Carl Smith composer or Tom Rockwell, artist, who gave a similar talk at the IRAS Conference, Star Island.

Carol Berry, art educator and pastor's wife, Congregational Church, Manchester, VT.

"From Art to Science: Power Management and the Moral History of Civilization"

Albert Levis, Psychiatrist, Wilburton Inn, Manchester, VT,

Whitehead's process pertains to the Aristotelian organization of ideas in a drama showing the distinct moral direction of thoughts. This is defined as a series of formal transformations guiding the natural thought process, as a well structured conflict resolution dialectic leading to catharsis as the upgrading of energy, endelechy or increase of negative entropy. Humankind has evolved explanations for this moral mechanism, from attributing this order to magic through myth and religions, to theories of psychology and biology, and finally to understanding the unconscious design as a simple mental heartbeat resolving conflict, the scientific foundation of spirituality. The presenter will share samples of art exhibits from the Museum of the Creative Process illustrating this obligatory and universal pattern of thought structuring. The exhibits demonstrate that this pattern is a predictable and measurable structure of associations identified by examining art holistically.

"Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty"

Nancy Etcoff, psychologist, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital

The appreciation of beauty is not learned, but rather is a biological adaptation. Beauty is not in the "eye of the beholder" but is an instinct shaped by natural selection.


"Does God Play Dice? Insights from the Fractal Geometry of Nature"

Paul H. Carr

This talk will expand upon the paper I presented at the Templeton Science and Religion Workshop, Montreal, Canada, June 2001 and have submitted from publication in ZYGON. It describes (1) how the beauty of nature can be expressed by the geometry of fractals and of complexity and (2) an algorithm for generating beautiful fractal figures that consists of a random element and a global law, which are similar to the evolutionary process. The paper summarizes contemporary theologies compatible with evolution.

"Darwin and Design: Science, Philosophy, & Religion"

Michael Ruse

This talk would be based on Michael Ruse's book, which explores criticisms of the design metaphor and ultimately concludes that it is a beneficial term. Darwinian evolution does not have design built in as a premise, but the design emerges as variations occur and some organisms get naturally selected over others. This is an argument to design as contrasted with from design. Ruse quotes naturalist and priest Charles Raven:

"Here is beauty - whatever the philosophers and art critics who have never looked at a moth may say - beauty that rejoices and humbles, beauty remote from all that is meant by words like random or purposeless, utilitarian or materialistic, beauty in its impact and effects akin to the authentic encounter with God."

"NATURE ISN'T WHAT IT USED TO BE: Reflections on Evolution and Design"

Philip Hefner

"NONZERO: The Logic of Human Destiny"

Robert Wright

Robert Wright gave an excellent talk at our Epic of Evolution Conference in 1996, which he attended with his family. His talk would be an update of his book, which explains how emergence and evolution are NOT zero sum games. In emergent phenomena, the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. Garbage in is not garbage out. Could this be a new agenda for science and religion?

"Intelligent Design as Neocreationism"

Matt Young

Adjunct Professor of Physics, Colorado School of Mines

Retired Physicist, National Institute of Standards and Technology

William Dembski, Michael Behe, and the intelligent designauts are the new creationists: Behe takes the old, discredited "What is half an eye?" argument, ratchets it down one level, and asks, in effect, "What is half a flagellum?" Dembski, in turn, takes the old "tornado in a junkyard" argument, ratchets it up one level, and (in a miasma of complex terminology) turns it into a fourth law of thermodynamics. Like the young-earth creationists, or yeckies, both seem convinced in advance that evolution has been guided by an intelligence, and both seek evidence that their proposition is true, rather than evidence whether it is true.

Whether there is an intelligent designer, it seems to me, is a legitimate question and can be investigated by scientific methods; the religious motivation for asking the question is not relevant, as long as we do not presume the answer. I will show how the intelligent designauts nevertheless skirt the line between science and pseudoscience. Specifically, they are a small minority that has little or no support from mainstream scientists and do not publish in refereed journals. They elevate biochemistry to a position of privilege among all other sciences. They give short shrift to self-organizing systems. Like yeckies, they draw a false dichotomy between the modern synthesis and their form of creationism, as if there can be no other possibilities. Like pseudoscientists, they subscribe to a conspiracy theory: scientists are so wedded to their wrong theories that they will not even consider a brilliant innovation like intelligent design. Finally, the argument of the intelligent designauts boils down not to the argument from design, but rather to a God-of-the-gaps argument; such arguments show only failure of imagination and are often discredited by subsequent scientific discoveries.


Frank J. Tipler, Tulane University

Author of "The Anthropic Cosmological Principle" and

"The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection o the Dead"

Did cosmic design lead to the emergence of consciousness though the fine-tuning of the physical constants from the "big bang" on? (i.e. Anthropic Principle)


What is the status of scientific account of the emergence of life through the evolutionary process? Is there any validity to Behe's claim that life is so irreducibly complex that it could only have come about by the intervention of an Intelligent Designer?

( Potential Speakers: Terry Deacon, Stuart Kaufman, Gordon Kaufman, Ursula Goodenough. Cliff Matthews told me at our 2002 conference that he would be willing to talk on this subject. I showed Terry Deacon this summary and he said he approved!)

How are we to interpret Teilhard de Chardin's vision of the universe as evolving towards perfection and fulfillment in the Omega Point?

(Potential Speakers: John Haught, Thomas P. Sheaken, ( Ursula King, James Skehan, S. J. Boston College, Barbara Smith-Moran, founder New England Faith and Science Exchange. Both Barbara and Jim were guest lecturers for my Templeton-supported philosophy course at Univ. of MA Lowell, "Science and Religion: Cosmos to Consiousness.")

Does Paul Tillich's ontological polarity of "dynamics" and "form" rule out intelligent design?

(Potential Speakers: Theologians Anne Foerst, Ted Peters, and Ronald MacLennan. All three spoke at the Science and Religion Session I organized At the International Paul Tillich Conference THE RELIGIOUS SITUATION AT THE DAWN OF THE MILLENNIUM, New Harmony, Indiana, 16-20 June 1999, which was published in the June 2001 Issue of ZYGON. Ted Peters and Ronald MacLennan have attended earlier IRAS Conferences. )

 Does process theology enable us to understand design and beauty a manner compatible with science and religion?

(Potential Speakers: David Griffin, John Cobb, Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki

Claremont School of Theology, CA or Thomas Oord, Northwest Nazarine Univ. I had some good discussions with John Haught at our 2002 IRAS conference. I know Thomas Oord, who received his Ph.D. from Claremont and is now teaches at Northwest Nazarene University. He is an excellent speaker.)