June 2000


Conference Review, Lyon 18.4.2000

Dear friends and colleagues,

Some of you might already know the story about this little monastery on an island far away from Church officials (and theologians). Yet, those in power learned about this monastery. The monks seemed to live very holy lives there, but they were alas also very ignorant. They did not know any theology, they certainly did not know anything about autopoetic systems or the weak anthropic princple. What is worse, they could not read or even say the Lord’s Prayer by heart. So a Church official was sent to the monks to teach them. It took him some exhausting weeks, but at long last all of the monks could recite the Our Father. After having blessed them he returned to his ship. Just as the ship set sail one of the monks came swiftly walking over the waters and shouted: “Please come back, your Eminence, we already forgot half of the prayer!” “It appears to me that you are not really needing further instruction”, the Church official responded.

I feel a bit like this monk, of course only in so far as my ignorance is concerned. Here in Lyon we were taught by these five eminent scholars who were our key-note lecturers, in splendidly clear presentations. And in the workshops another group of masters tried to instruct this ignorant monk. But however much they did their best, already I am afraid to have lost many important points they made. It is a consolation that these will be presented in the two books that will result from this conference. I will wait patiently, and will not attempt to give a summary in this conference review.

Nevertheless I will definitely take a number of new ideas with me from this conference, as well as a number of questions which are in need of further reflection.

But to begin with I will recollect some little matters I (and also some of you who attended) have learned or will remember:

  • that Florence Nightingale was a keen student of statistics;
  • that the words ‘scientist’ and ‘dinosaur’ (no synonyms, presumably) were both coined by inhabitants of the city of Lancaster;
  • Ted Peter‘s story about the balloonist and the hiker illustrating the relation between a theologian and a scientist (a summary for those who were absent: a balloonist has an orientation problem when hovering above a field and spotting a hiker asks: “where am I?” Answer: “you are in a stationary position about thirty meters above a corn-field”. Reaction: “you must be a scientist”. “Why?” “Your answer is correct but not of any use”. “And you must be a theologian”. “Why?” “You do not have your feet on the ground and are asking directions from a scientist”.
  • Ludovico Galleni‘s exclamation in the debate with Ted Peters: “We cannot give Prozac to the biosphere!”
  • the way the rather limited and modest web site of the North Pole Centre for Science and Religion (NPCSR), with Adrian Wyard as a webmaster, dramatically changed into a very professional and extended web site when linked to the Meta-library (one of the links of – the Counterbalance-sites will no doubt have had some 200 extra hits after this Lyon conference;
  • Niels Henrik Gregersen blessing the overhead projector this morning – and it started working! (I tried this myself later on, but in vain. Should I become a Lutheran?)
  • Seeing my friends Antje Jackelén, Botond Gaál and Charlotte Methuen officiating in morning liturgy – suddenly being more than Antje, Botond and Charlotte. They reminded me of a remark I read in Éduouard Boné’s very readable Dieu: Hypothèse inutile? (Brussels 1999), a remark by the Cardinal Baronius (late 16th century): the bible contains sacred history, but is no history book, and certainly not a book of natural history; it does not tell us how the heavens turn (that’s for astronomy), but how to enter there; not how the earth was formed (that’s for geology) but how we should live there; not where man comes from (that’s for embryology) but what is his destiny.
  • Bernard Michollet’s smile when as a conference officer he was being confronted once again with yet another impossibility to be solved – and solved it.

Of course I will also take with me a number of vivid recollections of the content of this conference.

This was a highly philosophical conference – and it could not have been otherwise, as any conversation between the sciences and theology will be of a philosophical nature. But there were other reasons as well. One reason being the central notion of review, which turned up again and again. The opening remarks by ESSSAT President Ulf Görman setting the tonality, stressing the importance of a re-examination of received views on design and (dis)order: a signal of the growing maturity of the field of science and theology. ‘A re-examination of received views’: since Plato’s Cave a definition of doing philosophy. Also in our field we need to review and re-examine our standard explanatory schemes and basic convictions. This is a difficult and sometimes painful affair. Just remember how many conference questions and interventions started with statements like: “I am a physicist” or “I am a biologist” (I heard nobody start with “I am a theologian”), as if this opening statement meant that one side of the coin (the scientific side) was already settled and warranted to be 100% true. It is indeed difficult to leave your settled and comfortable position in the Cave and allow yourself this unsettling thought: the other may be right; my own position may be too constrained and limited. A process that traditionally is called conversion.

Christoph Theobald in his lecture invoked this capacity of mutual interrogation and of critical review of your own position. This notion of review was present in every plenary lecture. John Barrow reviewed this “received idea that order and chaos are alternatives”. He convincingly demonstrated that “both co-exist in a complex interplay”. Christoph Theobald presented a review of “too easy alliances between faith in Creation and a supposedly anthropic cosmology”. In Theobald’s lecture Immanuel Kant was very present; Kant being a very critical investigator of limitations himself. John Brooke‘s lecture was titled: ‘Revisiting Darwin on order and design’ – and Brooke’s second look on received ideas on Darwin did not allow for any simplifications. We were confronted with many ‘Darwins’, and with the fluctuations of his (or their?) beliefs. Isabelle Stengers presented a review of the concept of evolution: still Darwinian, but more complex. Evolution is not only a matter of causal explanation, connecting things present with things past, but has also to do with the existential domain, connecting the present situation with a possible world yet to come. Niels Henrik Gregersen presented “Elements for a review of the Standard Paradigm of Neo-Darwinism” – a ‘standard paradigm’ from my philosopher’s point of view should almost be defined as ‘a paradigm which needs revision’.

I now turn to some eye-openers which gave me food for thought – a personal selection, of course.

  • John Barrow defined science as “the search for compression”. Laws result from the compression of outcomes, and are written in the shorthand of mathematics. Barrow pointed out that there are qualitative differences between laws and outcomes: we ‘see’ outcomes, not laws; outcomes are more complicated than laws; laws are symmetrical, outcomes are unsymmetrical.
  • Henk Geertsema, my conference-neighbour, pointed out an interesting paradox in connection with this latter qualitative difference between laws and outcomes. Symmetry is introduced by compressing outcomes; symmetry is broken when we go from laws to outcomes. How can this happen when it would all be a matter of compressing and decompressing? I also have two questions of my own. Are all laws symmetrical? And are all laws the result of compression? I allow myself a little comment on this second question. Some of the more important and more principal theories of physics appear more to be an expression of an idea or a basic principle than a compression of facts. I do not mean that any physical theory could be a priori: there will always be an epagogical connection with the world of experience, as Aristotle brilliantly demonstrates in his Posterior Analytics. But there is much more to a theory than a compression of outcomes. Newton did not compress a lot of outcomes into his law of gravitation, but developed a brilliant principal idea. Einstein did not study a great many light deviations during solar eclipses before developing his general theory of relativity, neither did he use a wealth of experimental evidence in writing his famous 1905 papers on special relativity. In both cases brilliant ideas were a starting point, not outcomes. I think we should differentiate between ‘theories of compression’ and ‘theories of expression’.
  • What was an eye-opener to me in John Brooke’s lecture was the complex interplay between content and context in the development of Darwin’s ideas. He stressed the important role of personal, existential and other extra-scientific factors in this development. In Christoph Theobald’s lecture several points stuck out to me: the mobility of the science and religion interface, the concept of the world as “a trace of a gift” (“la trace d’un don”) – note the secondary character in this relation of God and the world – and the stressing of the “Messianic openness” of the world, connected with the concepts of hope, change and sanctification. As hope, change and sanctification are in a way ‘formal’ concepts, now of course the question of content should be crucial: hope for what? change in which direction? sanctification: how?
  • Niels Henrik Gregersen gave us a nice quotable aphorism: “This seems to be a designed world in which life lives beyond design”. Another original thought which might be important for the science and theology conversation was his thesis that God is rather less to be connected with the ‘edges’ than with the middle of Creation. The question of design (which has to do with such an edge) is than of less religious importance than the fact of autopoesis happening here and now. I think this insight is especially important where human beings are concerned. The concept of autopoesis could be connected with the almost unlimited human capacity for spiritual growth. I mean this enormous potential in every human being for growing in attentiveness, cognitive activity, reasonableness, responsibility and commitment of the heart. Some of our American friends might recognize here the domains which have been carefully investigated by the Canadian philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan s.j. (1904-1984). It is a pity that his brilliant insights are virtually unknown among most Continental scholars.
  • Commitment of the heart was at the core of Isabelle Stengers’ paper. Gregersen’s concluding sentence about “what the world should be like and is not” was very much in tune with that. Stengers dwelled extensively on questions of value and evaluation. Where are we? – remember the balloonist – is not only a cognitive question, but also a question of evaluation. This can lead to an even more basic question: what can we contribute? What, for instance, could be the social and political benefits of the conversation between science and theology? Or would we be content if this conversation is just a closed system of interesting but cosy interactions in secluded conferences of specialists in this field? Stengers stressed that the values which light up in for instance a conference on design and (dis)order could play a part in transforming the world.

To a sensitive ear an ethical dimension was present in all plenary conference lectures. So it is quite fitting and appropriate that the 2002 conference will especially focus on the ethical dimensions of the science and theology conversation. In his workshop paper Willem B. Drees, unaware of the Council ideas concerning the content of the 2002 conference, in a way already sketched what could be on the agenda then. I just quote some of the theses of his paper:

“The appreciation of reality is at least as important a topic when we reflect on religion in relation to our scientific world view as debates about explanation.”

“The emphasis on design in science-and-religion neglects the ambivalence of reality and the importance of the religious dimension of transformation.”

“We need an ‘anti-natural theology’ with a clear sense of discontinuity between the natural (which ‘is’) and that which should be”. (This thesis is almost verbatim Einstein’s position concerning the interaction of science and religion.)

“To carve the field of discussions up in science-and-religion and, separately, ethics-and-technology, misses the theological dimensions of technological activity as contribution to the transformation of reality.”

This last thesis presents the next conference theme already in a nutshell.

So here we are, at the closing of this rich Lyon conference. I feel a bit like what a Dutch Minister of Education, Prof I.A. Diepenhorst, once exclaimed at the end of a conference: “I am as confused as I was before, but at a higher level.” In the philosophical tradition we call this insight docta ignorantia. Thank you lecturers, colleagues and friends for your contributions to the ‘docta’ part, and excuse this confused monk for his ‘ignorantia’ part. I most certainly am in need of further enlightenment. So see you, Tuesday 19 March 2002, at the Catholic University of Nijmegen.

Wil Derkse, ESSSAT council member and vice-president for ECST IX

Minutes of the ESSSAT General Assembly 2000 held on April 17, 2000 at the Catholic University, Lyon, France

Members present: 51 – Non-members present: 10

Chair: the president of the society, Ulf Görman

Minutes by: the secretary of the society, Antje Jackelén

1. Acceptance of minutes – The minutes of the last general assembly in Durham, England, April 2, 1998 were accepted unanimously.

2. Acceptance of agenda – The present agenda was accepted unanimously.

3. President’s report – The following report was distributed as handout:

ESSSAT Publications
At our last conference in Durham we were behind with publications. During the two years since that we have caught up. We have produced not less than five volumes. Studies in Science and Theology (SSTh) number 4 appeared in summer 1998, soon after the Durham conference. SSTh 5 and 6, with material from the Cracow conference, were sent out to our members during 1999, and at this conference we have the pleasure to distribute the two volumes with texts connected to the Durham conference.

These two publications constitute the start of a new publications policy. Beginning with these two volumes ESSSAT will have two publication series. One of these will be titled Issues in Science and Theology and consist of thematically coherent volumes for the commercial market. These volumes will be published by T & T Clark, Scotland, in co-operation with William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company for the USA. On the other hand the series Studies in Science and Theology (SSTh) will contain contributions in a wider scope of issues. It will be an in-house publication, to be purchased through ESSSAT, and it will be a biennial production.

The new publication policy was decided by the council and has been implemented by an editorial group headed by Niels Henrik Gregersen. Niels will continue his responsibility for ESSSAT publications for another two year period.

ESSSAT-News, the information letter to ESSSAT members, appearing three to four times a year, was started in 1991 by the initiative of Wim Drees. He made it clear that he wanted to leave this task and hand it over to other persons by the end of 1998. Since 1999 Antje Jackelén is the new editor of ESSSAT-News.

We want to thank Wim for all the effort, skill, and enthusiasm he has put into ESSSAT-News during the first years of its existence.

ESSSAT archives
An ESSSAT archive has been set up at the Theological faculty of Lund University. Papers from the very beginning of ESSSAT up to now have been collected there, mainly papers from our former president, secretary and treasurers. The archive is kept under fireproof conditions, and it is accessible by the agency of the library at the Theological Faculty in Lund.

Cooperation with other activities in Europe
The Templeton foundation has given a grant to CTNS in Berkeley to implement the Science and Religion Course Program all over the world. This involves, among else, Europe. It is carried through partly in co-operation with ESSSAT.

Changes in council and officers
At our last meeting in Durham four council members left office. Instead the following were elected and have taken part in the work of the council during the two years since then: Wil Derkse, The Netherlands, Lodovico Galleni, Italy, Zbigniew Liana, Poland, and Bernard Michollet, France. This year there is only one council member who leaves the council after eight years: Jürgen Hübner from Germany. His knowledge and experience has been of great value for the council in these years, and we want to thank him for his work. There are more changes taking place. Charlotte Methuen has been working as ESSSAT treasurer six years. You all know about the energy and devotion she has put into taking care of ESSSAT economy. She has developed the accounts into a very precise system to take care of the more and more complicated money flow with a large number of currencies. Charlotte has finished her task by the end of 1999. We want to give her our deep thanks for her work and for her devotion. In her place the ESSSAT council has elected Chris Wiltsher, known to many ESSSAT members, as the new treasurer from the beginning of this year. Finally Antje Jackelén, who was elected secretary of the society at our meeting in Munich in 1994, has decided to leave her office after six years, by the end of this conference. I have been working closely with Antje since I became president in 1996, and I have often been overwhelmed by her faithfulness to her task as well as her efficiency. For many persons inside and outside ESSSAT, she has been the first person to contact. Antje is well worth all the thanks she can get for her important work. We can be happy that she is willing to continue to make ESSSAT-News even in the future. In addition the president reported on the work of a committe consisting of council members Wil Derkse, Ludovico Galleni, Jacqui Stewart and the president. The committee has discussed possibilities in connection with the European Union Sixth Framework Programme for Research from 2003. More information on recommendations to ESSSAT members will be given in ESSSAT-News.

4. Presentation of the ESSSAT-prizes 2000

The ESSSAT-prizes 2000 for Studies in Science and Theology were awarded to Thomas Dixon for the study Theology, Anti-Theology and Atheology: From Christian Passions to Scientific Emotions, and to Dominique Lambert for the book Sciences et théologie: Les figures d’un dialogue.

The jury consited of Wil Derkse, Antje Jackelén and Jacqui Stewart. The prize declaration was read by the convenor of the jury, J. Stewart. The prizes were made possible by donations from the Radboud Foundation and the Counterbalance Foundation. The founder of Counterbalance, Adrian Wyard, gave a short presentation of the work of the foundation.

5. Treasurer’s report

The report from the treasurer, Charlotte Methuen, (accounts for 1998 and 1999) was presented. The income 1997 was higher than reported to the general assembly 1998. The accounts have been corrected accordingly. Written summaries concerning income and expenditures of ESSSAT and ECST were handed out. C. Methuen was thanked by the president for her last report as treasurer.

6. Auditors’ report and discharge

The auditors, Helmut Reich and Hermann Hafner, proposed “the acceptance of the said accounts and a vote of thanks to the treasurer for the years 1998/1999”. Accordingly the treasurer was granted discharge (one abstention, none opposed). For the future, the auditors suggested to have one balance sheet drawn December 31 each year for all bank accounts and to provide a standard type of budget.

7. Report on membership

175 persons had paid their membership fees up to 1998. For 2000 up to date 72 full membership fees have been received. Money transfer is still a problem due to bank fees. The possibility of payment by credit card is desired. Membership secretary Chris Wiltsher will send out reminders to those who are behind on paying their fees. He will also look into ways of facilitating payments especially for members outside Europe.

8. Membership fees

Concerning membership fees the council proposed that membership fees for personal members be raised from 45 to 50 Euro. Reduced fees remain 25 Euro for students and 10 Euro minimum – with the addition that those who can afford pay more – for members from Central and Eastern Europe. Fees for voluntary societies (120 Euro) and for public or international institutions (240 Euro) to be kept unchanged. This proposal was accepted unanimously.

9. Elections

The council members at the end of their second 4-year-term were Jürgen Hübner (Germany) and Ulf Görman (Sweden). Jürgen Hübner was thanked for his work in the council. As president Ulf Görman will be council member for two more years. Ion-Olimpiu Stamatescu (Germany/Romania), Charlotte Methuen (Germany/UK) and Antje Jackelén (Sweden/Germany) were elected new council members for a term of four years (no objections).

10. ECST IX (2002)

The council has decided to work for Nijmegen, Netherlands, as the venue for ECST IX in 2002. Wil Derkse presented the Catholic University and the Heyendaal Institute for Interdisciplinary Research which will host the conference on March 19-24, 2002. Dr. Palmyre Oomen from the Heyendaal Center for Theology and Science has agreed to assume the responsibility of registration officer. ECST IX will focus on ethics and values. The final decision concerning the theme will be taken by the organising committee after discussion in the council.

11. ECST X (2004)

Proposals for the venue of ECST X in 2004 were invited. They should be directed in writing to the president or secretary before June 1, 2001. The council aims at taking a decision on time and venue during its meeting in summer 2001.

Lund, May 2, 2000

Ulf Görman, President
Antje Jackelén, Secretary

ESSSAT and the European Community

Currently plans are being made for the future Sixth framework programme for research within the European Union, A draft, “Towards a European research area” has been sent out as a basis for discussions. These discussions are going on at different levels: universities, parliaments and governments, as well as the community itself.

Research supported by the European Union is supposed to strengthen the union internationally. This goal can be and has been understood in different ways. In an earlier and narrow interpretation, EU research and its results should lead to applications that have direct economic effects. In later framework programmes this goal has been understood in a wider sense. This has meant openness for research that supports these goals indirectly as well as in a long time perspective.

The ESSSAT council has elected a working group with the task to look into questions in connection with research matters of interest for ESSSAT. This working group has found reason to call the attention of ESSSAT members to the fact that the Sixth framework program is now being under construction. We suggest that members approach their universities, members of parliament, and governments with the following message:

Research on European culture and European cultural heritage
The idea of a common Europe is not only or primarily focused on the idea of creating a yet non-existing unity. It is to a great extent based on the vision of a future Europe that will realise a community, whose basis is already existing. The success of this idea depends to a certain extent on a common vision among its inhabitants, a vision connected with its history and local traditions, that contains cultural manifoldness and can integrate immigrants as well as refugees.

Research is needed to discover and investigate unity and multiplicity, contacts and influences concerning history, philosophy, art, literature, language, religion, views of life and other cultural patterns.

Questions that may be investigated are, among else: What is the common cultural heritage of Europe? Which are its roots? Which are the links between different cultural manifestations within Europe? What are the relations between cultural unity on the one hand, and multiplicity and cultural differences between different countries, populations, languages, etc? How can a vision for a future cultural European identity be supported?

This theme is suggested as an addition to the current draft list for the Sixth framework programme, defining “A European research area”.

Ulf Görman, ESSSAT president

New Secretary and New Council Members
Eva-Lotta Grantén has been elected new secretary of ESSSAT for a period of four years. Eva-Lotta is living in Sweden. She is currently working as a parish pastor and writing a doctoral thesis in biology-and-ethics. You find her address at the back. New council members for the next four-year-period are Ion-Olimpiu Stamatescu (Heidelberg, Germany), Charlotte Methuen (Bochum, Germany), and Antje Jackelén (Lund, Sweden).