ESSSAT-News 10:1-2

March 2000


New treasurer

After six years, Charlotte Methuen has left office as ESSSAT treasurer and membership secretary. ESSSAT is indebted to her for her efforts in creating a good system for handling a variety of accounts, currencies and monetary systems. As new treasurer from January 1, 2000 we welcome Chris Wiltsher, whom many of you will know as the local organiser of ECST VII in Durham 1998. Chris will also take over as membership secretary. We wish both the leaving and the entering treasurer/membership secretary well. The financial situation of ESSSAT has slightly improved during the past years. But still, our economic basis is not as solid as one would wish. An increase in membership and other projects enhancing the intellectual and financial prosperity of the society are very welcome.

The 2000 ESSSAT prize winners

The following prize declaration has been presented by the jury :

The European Society for the Study of Science and Theology (ESSSAT) has pleasure in announcing the winners of the 2000 ESSSAT prizes for studies in Science and Theology. Seven contributions were submitted. The jury, consisting of Wil Derkse (director of the Radboud Foundation in the Netherlands), Antje Jackelén and Jacqui Stewart, has decided to award two ESSSAT prizes for 2000. They go to Dr Dominique Lambert for the book Sciences et théologie: Les figures d’un dialogue, and to Mr Thomas Dixon for the study Theology, Anti-Theology and Atheology: From Christian Passions to Scientific Emotions.

ESSSAT wishes to thank the Radboud Foundation and the Counterbalance Foundation for their generous donation of the prizes.

In the announcement of the prize it was declared that an ESSSAT prize will be awarded to authors of original contributions which exemplify the aims of ESSSAT to “advance open and critical communication between the disciplines of theology and science, to promote their cross- fertilization, and to work on the solution of interdisciplinary problems”. Each prize winning contribution should be an outstanding reflection bearing on the relationship between theology and natural sciences in contemporary culture.

The study of Dominique Lambert, titled Sciences et théologie: Les figures d’un dialogue, represents a creative engagement between the formal natural sciences and theology of creation within the Catholic tradition. The study concentrates on specific philosophical traditions, in which it exposes and avoids conventional models of both conflict and inherent harmony between science and theology. A model of dialogue based on articulation is presented. The subject is treated in depth and with great originality.

The paper by Mr Thomas Dixon, titled Theology, Anti-Theology and Atheology: From Christian Passions to Scientific Emotions, presents an exciting excavation of the theological history behind present understandings of emotion in the behavioural sciences. He includes a sharp analysis of the issues raised by this for the relations between science and theology. His study represents a welcome extension of the range of sciences included in studies of science and theology.

We congratulate the prize winners, and all the entrants, because all submissions were of a good quality.

Leeds, U K, February 2000, Jacqui Stewart – Convenor of the jury

Full references of the prize-winning contributions:

Dominique Lambert, Sciences et théologie. Les figures d’un dialogue. Namur: Presses Universitaires de Namur, 1999. ISBN 2-87037-276-0. 220 pp.

The contribution of Thomas Dixon is an expanded version of the following article: ‘Theology, Anti-Theology, and Atheology: From Christian Passions to Secular Emotions‘, MODERN THEOLOGY 15 (1999), 297-330.

NEWS from Europe

Religion and Science in Ireland: An international symposium on religion and science was held at the University College of Cork, Ireland, 29-30 October 1999. 375 people gathered for a successful two day conference, including a large number of faculty in the natural sciences and mathematics. The symposium was opened by the Minister for Education and Science of the Republic of Ireland. Speakers were Joseph Zycinski, Lublin, Philip Hefner, Chicago, Malcolm Jeeves, Edinburgh, and David Wilkinson, Liverpool.

Nature, religion, worldview — Northern Research Workshop: The Northern Network on Nature, Religion and Worldview which was founded in Copenhagen 1998 arranged a workshop in Uppsala, Sweden, October 22-24, 1999. Participants came from the Scandinavian countries, North West Russia and the Barents region. The workshop theme was discussed from the point of view of science-theology, systematic theology, sociology of religion and environmental ethics and philosophy.

Teilhard de Chardin and environmental ethics: On January 28, 2000 a workshop on Teilhard de Chardin and environmental ethics was held in Asti, Italy. It was organized by: L’ Associazione per lo Sviluppo Scientifico e Tecnologico di Asti and The International School of Evolutionary Sciences at Asti. Main contibutors: Roberto Chiabrando, Facolta di Agraria, Universita degli Studi di Torino; Fabio Mantovani, Associazione Italiana Teilhard de Chardin, Verona; Lodovico Galleni, Facolta di Agraria e Centro Interdipartimentale per lo Studio dei Sistemi Complessi, Universita di Pisa; Lino Conti, Dipartimento di Filosofia, Universita di Perugia; Francesco Scalfari, Asti Studi Superiori; Elisabeth Green, Facolta Valdese di Teologia, Rome; Mario Zunino, Facolta di Scienze ambientali, Universita di Urbino.

NEWS from elsewhere

Oskar Gruenwald from the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research in Pasadena, CA, USA wishes to inform ESSSAT members that the Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies (JIS) is now on the Web at: JIS XI 1999 deals with “The Restoration of Philosophy: Interdisciplinary Perspectives”, lead essay by Stephen C. Meyer, “The Return of the God Hypothesis”. JIS XII 2000 will be about “Ethics and Faith: The Reality of Absolutes”.


Robert John Russell, Nancey Murphy, Theo C. Meyering, Michael A. Arbib (eds.), Neuroscience and the Person: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action. Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory Publications, and Berkeley: Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, 1999. ISBN 0268014906 (pbk). Distributed in Italy and Vatican City by Libreria Editrice Vaticana; elsewhere by University of Notre Dame Press (via University of Chicago Press). xxxv + 496 pp. USD 26.95. With subject and name index.

This is the fourth volume of a series of books on “scientific perspectives on divine action”, developed by CTNS in Berkeley and the Vatican Observatory. Earlier volumes focused on cosmology, chaos and complexity, and evolutionary biology; a volume on quantum physics is still to come. This volume begins with a substantial introduction by Nancey Murphy, including an extensive overview of the contributions in this volume. The volume continues with two essays on religious resources. Joel B. Green argues that the New Testament allows well for an embodied, holistic and social anthropology. Fergus Kerr, in a paper adapted from Kerr’s book Theology after Wittgenstein, shows the pervasive influence of Cartesian dualism in modern theology, and the fatal consequences of this in attitudes towards embodiment, emotion and the like. In this way, these two essays, in line with Murphy’s introduction, set the common framework for this volume: the rejection of Cartesian dualism. The next seven essays introduce neuroscientific perspectives on emotions (Joseph E. LeDoux, 2x), capacity for language (Peter Hagoort), cognition and action (Marc Jeannerond), and sociality (Leslie A. Brothers), incorporated in a larger synthesis in essays by Michael A. Arbib on a “neuroscience of the person” and Jeannerond on the question whether there are any limits to the naturalization of mental states. To summarize briefly these fine essays, the answer is: No, there are no such limits, in principle. Then come philosophers with a sustained criticism of too strong versions of non-reductionism. William R. Stoeger, Nancey Murphy and Theo Meyering all argue for qualified forms of the scientific self-understanding, summarized in the label “nonreductive physicalism”. This line of argument is continued with a more explicit acknowledgment of theological interests in the next section by Philip Clayton (emergentist monism), Arthur Peacocke (idem), Ian Barbour (process metaphysics), Stephen Happel (Thomism, Husserl), Ted Peters (on resurrection, inspired by Pannenberg). Two essays follow on religious experience, one by Fraser Watts on multi-level cognitive theory and a very ambitious classification of experiences of ultimacy by Wesley Wildman and Leslie Brothers (60 pages, whereas the other contributions are of the order of 20-30 pages). The final section consists of two essays. They reveal that, as a famous line from the poet Elliot says, in the end we come to the place where we have started, or rather, we return to the places we have started, in plural. Michael A. Arbib started as a non-believer, and ends repeating his view (found earlier in the book with Mary Hesse, The Construction of Reality, CUP 1986) that God is more like embarrassment than like gravitation — that is, that the god-scheme is a social construct without an external, non-social referent. The responses from other participants interwoven through this contribution not only make Arbib’s essay one of the liveliest of the whole volume, but also evoke a sense of controversy — if not defensiveness on the side of the religiously minded participants. The Christian cosmologist George Ellis receives the final word for his claim that a view of divine revelation, as divine action mediated by the human brain, is consistent with contemporary neuroscience (474). It is to be hoped that the next line of Elliot’s poem, that we know the place for the first time, may be true for the authors as well as for the readers, at least in the sense that the long road through these essays is rewarded by a better understanding of the possibilities for and the challenges to one’s own position.

A few comments on this dense (in print and rich in content) book. Murphy claims in the introduction convergence of insights from the neurosciences and from Christian theology. However, the agreement seems to be mainly that there is a common enemy, namely Cartesian dualism as the straw man they are all happy to defeat. Whereas the authors may agree on the importance of embodiment, emotions, action, social life etc., for understanding human nature, there remain major disagreements on the nature and implications of a non-dualistic view, and especially on the theological consequences. Murphy notes (xxiv) that the participants were not only disagreeing on “reductionism”, but also on the point of advocating either reductionism or anti-reductionism. Thus, when claiming convergence, she adds “(the issue of reductionism being one important exception)” (xxxiiif.). This is a core issue; rather than the joint victory over the dead horse of Cartesian dualism, these disagreements seem to be the basis for further work in this area. Since the ambition of these books is to reflect constructively on theological issues in the context of science as practiced by first rate main stream scientists, it is embarrassing to observe that the main objective of most of the theologically minded contributors is to defuse the threat perceived. Most contributors take reductionism as the enemy to be argued against, in favor of a different metaphysics. The zeal with which anti-reductionism is defended, indicates that this is more than an anthropological issue; via non-reductionism in anthropology they seem to hope to argue for a theological non-reductionism — which, however, can be decoupled: If this world is God’s creation, it does not make a difference whether this world has one, two, three or ninety-six types of basic types of entities; in a theological scheme, scientific reductionism may be understood as revealing some of the integrity of the created order. Peacocke, using the provocative title “the sound of sheer silence” (referring to God’s communication to Elijah on Horeb), seems less defensive than various others, and thereby closer to the insights from the scientific contributors. Peacocke writes “the only ontological dualism to which they [theists] are committed is that between God and the world — that is, to the absolute difference between the infinite and necessary being and the contingency of the created order” (234f.). Not only conveys this book the impression that there continues to be tension between the positions of the neuroscientists and those of the religiously minded philosophers, scientists and theologians. There seems to be genuine diversity among the Christian thinkers as well. Thus, while Ellis concludes saying that “we should take a strong realist position on religion” (474), this is not easily reconciled with the tone set in one of the earlier essays in this volume by the Wittgensteinian Fergus Kerr.

It is always hazardous to criticize a book for what it does not do, but nonetheless, let me make the observation that anthropological studies of religion seem almost absent in these contributions — though the issues I have in mind do arise in the essay by Wildman and Brothers and in Arbib’s final contribution (and the responses integrated into it). Given the topic, one might expect more articles on cognitive and non-cognitive roles of religious beliefs and practices, or even references to such studies by, among others, E.T. Lawson, R.N. McCauley (Rethinking Religion: Cognition and Culture, Cambridge UP, 1990) or Stewart Guthrie (Faces in the Clouds, Oxford UP, 1993). Studies regarding the origins and functions of religious practices and beliefs might have been attractive mediators between the neuroscientific participants and the realm of religious studies. However, at the same time, such studies would have underlined even more that the scientific results and the philosophical arguments about nonreductive physicalism with respect to human behavior are as much a threat as comfort to the theologically minded of the realist, cognitive program that has shaped this volume.

 Willem B. Drees

Hans Schwarz (ed.), Glaube und Denken. Jahrbuch der Karl-Heim-Gesellschaft. 12. Jahrgang 1999. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang. ISBN 3-631-35597-1. 213 pp.

This Yearbook of the German Karl Heim Society presents contributions by scholars from Europe, the USA, and Korea who raise significant questions concerning the relationship between theology and science and try to outline an Christian orientation in the dialogue between these disciplines. Four essays (by Wolfgang Schoberth, Jürgen Schneider, Niels Henrik Gregersen and Ulrich Beuttler) focus on the relationship between creation and autopoiesis. Another four essays (by Wolfgang Gebhardt, Jürgen Hübner, Willem B. Drees and Jürgen Moltmann are devoted to the phenomenon of time viewed from different perspectives such as physics, astronomy, philosophy, biology, psychology and theology. The concluding three essays deal with historical perspectives on the dialogue between science and theology (Ulrich Kropac), on evolution and the doctrine of the fall (Craig L. Nessan) and on the thought of Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker (Deuk-Chil Kwon). All essays but one are written in German and have extensive summaries in English. The contributions represent a certain plurality in their approaches and methods. It is a characteristic feature, though, that most of them try not to blur the differences between science and theology, while at the same time trying to articulate specific theological topics in relation to scientific theories thus reaching beyond the limits of a purely theoretical theism.

 Sigurd Bergmann, Geist, der Natur befreit. Die trinitarische Kosmologie Gregors von Nazianz im Horizont einer ökologischen Theologie der Befreiung (Spirit, liberating nature. The trinitarian cosmology of Gregory of Nazianz in the horizon of an ecological theology of liberation) originally: Grünewald: Mainz 1995, ISBN 3-7867-1893-8. 522 pp. Has appeared in Russian translation with Arkhangelsk University Press 1999. A revised English edition is forthcoming in the series “Sacra Doctrina” by Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, USA.

In view of the destruction of the sources of life, ecology is no longer a marginal issue. Rather it calls for a rethinking of many disciplines – including theology. How could we come to terms with the ambiguous, i.e. the destructive and constructive potential of a theological view of nature? The primary material consists of both the texts by the Christian theologian Gregory of Nazianz (b. 329) and those monographs published between 1972 and 1994 which are responding theologically to the ecological challenge. The author takes the triple task of inquiring into a) the correspondence between the concept of God and the concept of nature with special regard to soteriology, b) the relationship between the expressions of this correspondence in two different historical contexts, and c) the methodological implications of a) and b). The author applies mainly a historical-systematic method, further refined hermeneutically and correlationally. The disposition is as follows: (1) a characteristics of the present discourse on ecology, (2) the main elements of “tradition” in Gregory’s theology, and (3) practical and theoretical “Möglichkeitsbedingungen” for a correlation between our present situation and Gregory’s tradition. The following insights are offered to the reader. Both scientific ecology and popular movements are influenced by the dialectics of modernity’s view of nature. Since 1972 christians of the first world have been developing an ecological theology of life. In thecontext of late antiquity Gregory structures the view of God as well as of the world by applying the idea of the sociality of God. Gregory is the first christian theologian who transforming Aristotle’s and Plotin’s systems considers motion as a predicate of God. He develops this predicate as a correspondence between the Trinity’s motion and creation’s liberation movement. The experiences of divine, human and biological suffering are reflected by him in trinitarian, christo-, anthropo-, cosmo-, soterio-, eschatological and ethical connections. These reflections ammount to an universal soteriology. Gregory’s understanding of liberation is shaped by his framework of cosmic spirituality and pneumatology which should be interpreted in the three perspectives of the holy Spirit’s incarnation in created beings, in the process of socialisation, and in the ongoing lifegiving on earth. The four issues of sociality, motion, suffering, and the Spirit do even occur as main problems in our present ecological discourse and ecological theologies. These four chapters of analysis are followed by two normative-constructive chapters. The criteria of liberation theology from the third world are ecologically qualified. In connection to the paradigm of contextual theology an ecological theology of liberation is proposed which focusses on the trinitarian view, a new thought of motion, the cross of nature, women and man, and a – topologically shaped – spirituality and pneumatology. This proposal is constrained by the intercultural needs of agents in the spheres of environmental science, the churches and the popular movements in the rich and poor parts of the world. An evaluation of the method of correlation shows how this method can contribute to a critical-constructive theoretical discourse and to the vitalisation of the ongoing tradition, even though the method itself can not offer evidence for the continuity and truth of “Tradition”. The notion of tradition should be understood as “the memory of a series of local theologies”. In an unexpected way Gregory’s classical apophatic principle of gaining knowledge is finally applied to the late modern dilemma of ontology and epistemology.

K. Helmut Reich, Fritz K. Oser, W. George Scarlett (eds.), Psychological Studies on Spiritual and Religious Development. Being Human: The Case of Religion, Vol. 2. Lengerich et al: Pabst Science, 1999. ISBN 3-933151-96-1. 183 pp. With name and topic index.

In postmodernity, the concept of spiritual development has often come to mean something different than religious development. Yet, these two concepts share a common history, and, for many, remain for ever linked. This book wants to provide a theoretical and an empirical base for understanding how spiritual and religious development from childhood to old age both define and create personal identity and pathways toward maturity. Beside good indexes, plenty of references — a gold mine for those interested in theories and empirical investigations concerning the psychological side of religious development.

Books in brief:

Robert A. Hinde, Why Gods persist. A Scientific Approach to Religion. Routledge 1999. ISBN 0-415-20826-2. – A primatologist’s attempt to naturalize and neutralize religion from scientific perspectives.

John F. Haught, God After Darwin: A Theology of Evolution. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press 1999. ISBN 0-8133-6723-9. 221 pp. $ 25. – Haught speaks of a need for theological thought to break through an obsessive and restrictive association of God with cosmic and other forms of order. Theological “habits of identifying God with cramped notions of order and design” hamper constructive reflection on evolutionary theory. Once the idea of divine creativity is tempered by accounts of God’s vulnerability, and once nature itself is understood as promise rather than in terms of design and order, the evidence of evolutionary biology appears not only consonant with faith, but lends new depth to it as well, according to the author.

F. LeRon Shults, The Postfoundationalist Task of Theology. Wolfhart Pannenberg and the New Theological Rationality. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, ISBN 0-8028-4686-6. 286 pp. $ 25. – Shults criticizes the common understanding of Pannenberg as not taking seriously the postmodern challenge to traditional conceptions of truth and rationality. He argues that the “foundationalist” reading of Pannenberg is a misinterpretation of his method. Shults wants to show that Pannenberg’s method implies significant resources for the postfoundationalist task of theology within a postmodern culture.