ESSSAT-News 9:3-4

December 1999

Science and Religion in Poland – by Zbigniew Liana, Cracow

The science and faith/theology dialogue has a rather long history in Poland. Of great influence on it is to be considered the introduction after the Second World War of the official communist ideology into the academic curricula, school teaching and mass media – the so-called scientific “Weltanschauung” based on dialectical materialism. This propaganda was directed mainly against religious faith, trying to discredit it with the biased interpretations of scientific achievements. Such a situation provoked a strong philosophical counter reaction from the part of the catholic academic centers in Lublin, Warsaw and Cracow, which after the Stalinist era could enjoy a relative academic freedom. Philosophy of nature and philosophy of science became an important instrument in the ideological battle against Marxism. It is not my intention to present the whole history of this discussion, which is still to be written in Poland, but rather to give an introduction to it.

The main centers of this dialogue are still the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies at the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Cracow (OBI PAT), the Catholic University of Lublin (KUL) and the Catholic Academy of Theology in Warsaw (ATK). There are also many individual scholars in other academic centers who pay attention to this dialogue. However, this dialogue being not institutionalized on the level of the whole country, the information about the people working in this area and their programs is hardly available for the general public. Because of this, it is impossible to show exhaustively the present state of the science and theology dialogue in Poland and consequently my presentation is limited mainly to our Center in Cracow, with some information concerning the two other centers, one in Warsaw and one in Lublin.

Characteristic to the science – faith dialogue in Poland is the fact that those actively involved in it are mostly philosophers, with some being and only a few theologians engaging this dialogue. This is also the case in Cracow. The main field of research in our Center is philosophy of nature and science. Our interest in the science-faith relationship plays an important but not a major role in our work and the way we approach it is a consequence of our philosophical orientation, the stress being put on the epistemological, methodological and historical aspects of this relationship.

Since the late 1970’s Michel Heller and Joseph Zycinski, together with their students and invited scholars, have conducted several research programs in this field, concerning especially modern cosmology and the problem of creation, evolution theory, and various historical problems: the Galileo affair, the problem of Neopositivism and its negation of the religious knowledge, the acceptance of the theory of evolution in Poland, the methodological and historical aspects of the influence of theological ideas on the process of emerging and evolution of modern science, and others. These research programs have resulted in the organisation of four international and a few national conferences, the publication of a number of books (including several translations), and articles, and the succesfull completion of master theses and PhD dissertations on these topics by student-researchers.

Several courses on science and faith were held at the philosophical faculty, organised by faculty staff. Foreign scholars were invited to present a series of lectures on science and theology: the Coyne Lectures. The name of the lectures is related to the famous letter of John Paul II to George Coyne, director of the Vatican Observatory, a letter dealing with science-faith relationships. In the near future we intend to continue these activities as well as introduce some new propositions. It is our intention this year to publish the first volume (the result of our research program) on the science-faith relationship from an historical perspective and to propose a course based on it for graduated theology students. Within a few years we hope to create a new chair for science-faith dialogue at the philosophical faculty. We hope also to continue our cooperation with the Jagielonian University of Cracow in offering the Templeton courses. The first was presented last year.

In 1998, a chair of science and theology dialogue was created at the philosophical faculty of the Catholic University of Lublin (KUL), directed by Joseph Zycinski, the archbishop of Lublin, who previously worked in Cracow. A special course is given every year, and students are preparing master theses and Ph.D. dissertations. In the near future they intend to organize a conference. In Warsaw at the ATK some of the philosophers of nature and science are organizing conferences on theological and scientific worldviews every year since 1997, as a kind of continuation of the Sixth ESSSAT Conference, which was held in Cracow in 1996.

Some of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Cracow (OBI) publications on science and faith dialogue:

M. Heller, Encountering the Universe, Krakow 1970 (in Polish); Tucson 1982, Pachart Publishing House (in English).

M. Heller, The World and the Word – Between Science and Religion, Krakow 1981 (in Polish), Tucson 1986 (in English)

M. Heller, Usprawiedliwienie Wszechswiata, (The Justification of the Universe), Krakow 1984 (in Polish)

M. Heller, The New Physics and New Theology, Tarnow 1992 (in Polish), Vatican Observatory Publications, 1996 (in English)

M. Heller, J. Zycinski, Drogi myslacych (The Roads of the Thinkers), Krakow 1983

M. Heller, J. Zycinski, Dylematy Ewolucji (The Dilemmas of the Evolution), Krakow 1990 (in Polish)

J. Zycinski, W kregu nauki wiary (On Science and Faith), Krakow 1989 (in Polish)

J. Zycinski, Ulaskawianie natury (Gracing Through the Nature), Krakow 1992 (in Polish)

J. Zycinski ed., Sprawa Galileusza (The Galileo Affair), Krakow 1991

W. R. Stoeger, The Laws of Nature, The Range of Human Knowledge and Divine Action, Tarnow 1996 (the fourth Coyne Lectures)

O. Pedersen, The Book of Nature, Vatican Observatory Publications 1992 (the first Coyne Lectures)

Obrazy swiata w teologii i naukach przyrodniczych (The Worldviews in Theology and Science), Tarnow 1996.

A. Adamski, Galileusz, kopernikanizm, Bilblia (Galileo, Copernicanism and the Bible), Poznan 1995 (Ph.D., in Polish)

Z. Liana, Koncepcja Logosu i natury w Szkole w Chartres (The Notions of Logos and Nature in the School of Chartres), Krakow 1996 (Ph.D., in Polish)

Report: God, Humanity and Evolution in Aachen

From 14-17 October 1999, the Foundation “Theologie und Natur”, the Technical University Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle), and the Bishop of Aachen’s Catholic Academy jointly organized a meeting (in German) on “The Relationship between Humanity and ‘God’ from an Evolutionary Perspective”.

One afternoon and all evening sessions were public. Speakers and their perspectives were as follows: Jürgen Schnakenberg (physics), Henning Stieve (biology), Volker Sommer (sociobiology), Walter Burkert (classical philology), Helmut Reich (psychology), Reinhold Bernhardt (religious studies), Sigurd Daecke (theology). The model of combining public events with a scholarly meeting proved effective. Presentations and discussions in the meeting permitted the speakers to review, refine and possibly recentre their contributions for the public lectures.

Central questions addressed included the following “Are religion and God images in the last analysis results of biological and cultural evolution?”; “If so, how does such a view square with the claim of divine revelation proclaimed, for instance, by Christianity?”; “If attention is paid to natural and social science, what does that mean for theology?”. A publication of the presentations and corresponding comments is in preparation.

(Helmut Reich)

 News from elsewhere

 Winners of the Prize for Outstanding Books Announced

The 1999 winners of the prize for outstanding books in theology and the natural sciences have been announced. They are:

  • Warren S. Brown, Nancey Murphy, and H. Newton Malony, eds. Whatever Happened to the Soul? Scientific and Theological Portraits of Human Nature. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998. ISBN: 0-800-63141-2.
  • Ronald Numbers, Darwinism Comes to America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998. ISBN: 0-674-19311-3.
  • John C. Polkinghorne, Belief in God in an Age of Science. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998. ISBN: 0-300-07294-5.

The Prize for Outstanding Books in Theology and the Natural Sciences recognizes exceptional scholarship in this interdisciplinary area. It is funded by the John Templeton Foundation and administered by the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences.

Name change – 
The Center for Faith and Science Exchange has changed its name into the “New England Center for Faith and Science Exchange”, thaus indicating its geographical location. The acronym F&SE is maintained. In October, the Center celebrated its 10th anniversary.


David Ray Griffin, Unsnarling the World-Knot: Consciousness, Freedom and the Mind-Body Problem. Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998. ISBN 0520209443. Xv + 266 pp.

The Mind-Body problem is one of the classic philosophical issues that surfaces again and again in science-and-religion discussions. Some authors are impressed by the “reductionist” achievements of the natural sciences, and seek to understand how mental phenomena arise in natural systems such as brains or bodies. Others hold, for humanistic or metaphysical reasons, that such a “reductionist” view is unable to do adequate justice to mental or personal characteristics of human experience. Some see possibilities for a more satisfactory view with the help of the categorial scheme developed by Alfred N. Whitehead. One advocate of process philosophy and theology, David R. Griffin, has now developed this view of the mind-body problem in substantial detail in his book Unsnarling the World-Knot. Griffin is professor of philosophy of religion at Claremont School of Theology in California and one of the editors of the corrected edition of Whitehead’s Process and Reality (1978).

Griffin builds up his argument in chapters of increasing length: 2, 4, 7, 11, 13, 31, 40, 46, and 55 pages, with 35 pages for the final chapter. The ambition is to find a position which is neither dualistic (which he considers unable to clarify the relationship between thoughts and actions) nor materialistic (which is, in his view, unable to deal with intentions and the like). The basic assumption of materialism is that somehow experience emerges out of non-experiencing entities and processes. Griffin considers this a misleading start, which leads too often the discussion into an impasse. He then turns to the data, of which “hard core common sense” is the first one. There are many beliefs which are part of common sense (about solidity, the sun rising and setting, etc.) which have been discredited by science, and rightly so. However, there are certain assumptions that may be rejected verbally, but that are nonetheless assumed all along in observing, thinking and testing. We would be self-contradictory if our theory were to deny their reality. Such notions belong to our hard core common sense. They are criteria by which we judge the adequacy of our theories. Among them are the reality of the external world, of bodily influence on experience and vice versa, and freedom understood as self-determination. Griffin lists further “data”, such as the apparent capacity of the mind for mathematics and logic, moral and aesthetic experience, choice, memory, religious experience. He even considers in this context telepathy and clairvoyance. He does this deliberately, as he criticises materialistic views of the mind for loading the dice by excluding data that seem too embarrassing. We need, Griffin goes on to argue, to consider the neglected alternative of pan-experientialism, that is, the view that everything has an experiential pole as well as a physical pole. This is a way of fully naturalising the mind, as consciousness is not an exception or anomaly. Developing the panexperientialist view further, Griffin dedicates a substantial chapter to our understanding of matter and of consciousness. We tend to take our abstract notions for concrete realities, the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness”. It is due to this mistake that we have a notion of matter as devoid of experiential elements. To understand what matter is in itself, we need to generalise from our own, human experiences, while distinguishing carefully experience from sensory perception and from conscious experience. Panpsychism should not be misunderstood as ascribing consciousness to aggregates such as rocks or chair. The almost final chapter deals with compound individuals and freedom. Freedom is equally central to the whole complex as is the relationship between mental and material aspects. Compound individuals are those whose behaviour seems to require a central agent with an element of spontaneity or self-determination (186). The final chapter is fairly technical too, dealing with “supervenience” of mental on material properties (rather than with “emergence” of mental out of material processes) as the currently dominant approach in the philosophy of mind. According to Griffin, the supervenience view will always fail to account for “mental causation”, as the mental remains epiphenomenal.

Though I am not convinced (yet), I recommend the book for two reasons: (a) as a very stimulating, well documented and well written, articulation of a panexperientialist view of the mind, and thus as a challenge to reckon with, and (b) as an entry into the conceptual world of Whiteheadian process thought.

(Reviewed by Willem B. Drees, Amsterdam, Netherlands)