There is a common perception that our behaviours are genetically determined and that we cannot do anything about them. The following article that appeared in today's Calgary Herald suggests the contrary. We can change our behaviour patterns to alter the inherited traits and transform them into better ones that can be inherited by the future generations. Of course our tradition always maintains the possibility of transformation of the soul....even the greatest sinner can be made a saint.
Geneticists find sons inherit sins of fathers
CanWest News Service
Saturday, August 26, 2006
Arturas Petronis and Moshe Szyf know a little something about the fads of science. As pioneers in the budding field of study known as epigenetics, they took their share of abuse for supporting scientific theories that, for many years, were considered heresy among most scientists.
Petronis, head of epigenetics at the University of Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, once applied for a research grant, and received the following anonymous written comment: "This is crap."
Szyf, a professor of pharmacology at McGill University in Montreal, had a proposed research article of his described as "a misguided attempt at scientific humour."
What a difference a few years makes.
Petronis and Szyf are now both mini-celebrities in the increasingly accepted field of epigenetics, which postulates that there is a "second code" of programming on top of our DNA, a code that -- unlike DNA -- can change during our lifetimes. In the past half decade, epigenetics researchers have theorized that our diet, the chemicals we are exposed to and even our behaviour towards one another can cause changes in the way that our genes are expressed and some of those changes may even be passed on to future generations.
That, in turn, has caused many scientists to rethink almost everything we know about how genetic information is passed on from parent to child. The traditional view of genetics has been almost deterministic: We are born with a code that dictates everything we are, physiologically. Our genes work the same way from the day we are born to the day we die. Our destiny, geneticists said, was written in our DNA.
But now, scientists are beginning to think that people aren't just shells to carry on DNA, but rather the "caretakers" of our genetic code. How we live, epigenetics researchers say, changes the way our genes function, and some of those changes can be passed on to future generations.
The idea of epigenetics was meant to answer some fundamental questions that genetics could not. One of those was the problem of identical twins. Even though twins carry the exact same DNA, it has been known for decades that one twin can develop hereditary diseases the other one does not.
This was the problem Petronis set off to explore about eight years ago. He noticed that in about half of the cases of schizophrenia found in twins, only one twin developed the condition, even though schizophrenia is widely considered to be genetic.
By studying sets of twins where one twin had a psychiatric disorder and the other didn't, Petronis found the psychiatric patients had more in common with each other, epigenetically, than they did with their own twins.
"Any two random people share 99.7 per cent of their DNA, but at the epigenetic level, people are very, very different," Petronis says.
But the more eyebrow-raising aspect of epigenetics has to do with heredity. Evidence is beginning to mount that the epigenetic code, or at least parts of it, can be passed down from parents to their children.
Marcus Pembrey, a geneticist at University College London, England, studied the unusually detailed historical medical records of the isolated northern Swedish city of Overkalix. What Pembrey and his colleagues found was astonishing: The grandsons of men who experienced famine during mid-childhood went through puberty earlier and had longer lifespans, while the grandsons of men who were well fed in early childhood had an increased likelihood of diabetes. For females, the effect was similar, but tied to the grandmother.
"This is not a 'trickle-through' (of genetic material), this is clearly an evolved response," Pembrey says.
Pembrey then looked at a contemporary study of two generations of families living in Bristol, England. He found fathers who had started smoking before age 11 had sons who were significantly fatter than average. There was no similar effect on daughters.
For the first time, it seemed there was a scientific basis for that old adage that the sins of the father are visited upon the son.
'God spot' in brain disputed
Scientist says it doesn't exist
CanWest News Service
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Is there a God spot in the brain? Having had his share of spiritual experiences, neuroscientist Mario Beauregard decided it would be useful to investigate the theory.
The University of Montreal professor went on to use functional MRI imaging techniques to test for physiological changes in 15 cloistered Carmelite nuns who were asked to relive mystical experiences. The tests monitor the level of oxygen associated with blood flow in the brain.
The results -- which have no bearing on the issue of God's existence -- is that there is no single God spot in the human brain.
Beauregard's research appears to debunk the work of a group of neuroscientists at the University of California at San Diego who identified the temporal lobe of the brain as linked to thoughts of spiritual matters and prayer.
Beauregard, however, found evidence of a dozen different regions of the brain that are activated during mystical experiences.
The study was financed by a $100,000 US grant from the John Templeton Foundation and its Vision for Science & Religion fund. The results are published in the current issue of Neuroscience Letters.
Beauregard said he was motivated by personal spiritual experiences growing up as a Roman Catholic in the Quebec village of St-Alphonse de Granby.
The subjects who agreed to participate were age 23 to 64 and came from several Carmelite convents in Quebec and Ontario. Beauregard said he chose the order because it is dedicated to mysticism and contemplation.
Since the nuns said "God can't be summoned at will," they were asked to relive, with eyes closed, their most intense mystical experience as Carmelites.
Some things remain beyond the realm of science, and that's comforting to know.
Researchers who did MRI scans on the brains of cloistered Carmelite nuns report that they couldn't locate any "God" spot. Faith, it seems, is a whole-brain experience.
The University of Montreal researchers asked the nuns to relive mystical experiences they'd had while undergoing the MRIs. Changes in areas of the nuns' brains relating to bodily awareness and consciousness were noted, The researchers could only conclude that something "profound" was going on.
Indeed. By highlighting science's shortcomings, the researchers unwittingly showed the beauty of true faith. What could be more profound?
THE TIMES SATURDAY JULY 14 1984
Science and religion
Marrying mystery and mind
A blind man can enjoy only the music of an opera, a deaf man only the spectacle; for the full enjoyment of the work both sight and hearing are necessary.
Science gathers knowledge of the universe into the storehouse of human understanding. Religion is concerned with those mysteries beyond man's comprehension among which he lives and moves and has his being. To affirm, as Lord Morley did and Renan before him, that "the next great task of science will be to create a religion for humanity" is like asserting that we should train the auditory nerve to perceive a sunset.
The function of religion is to add a spiritual dimension to life which science cannot do, and that of science is to develop a rational system of knowledge which religion cannot do. That is in accord with Baynes's comment in her translator's preface to Wilhelm and Jung's The Secret of the Golden Flower where she writes: "We have to see that the spirit must lean on science as its guide in the world of reality and that science must turn to the spirit for the meaning of life."
Fortunate is he who has either scientific knowledge or religious experience, but blessed is the man who has both, for he knows something of the complexity and structure of life, experiences its wonder and sanctity and perceives its underlying harmony, rhythm and divinity.
But the methodology of science is as different from the experience of religion as is hearing from sight. Each faculty apprehends its own aspect of reality and the truths of each remain hidden from the other, as the eye cannot hear nor the ear see.
Science, with the intellect as its tool, is active, searching, ever extending the empire of the mind, establishing order within its frontiers, devising and manipulating complex relationships, and arranging in order observed phenomena. Science examines the data of life's jigsaw and by fitting the pieces together seeks to build up a whole that it can comprehend as a rational Gestalt. In science are manifest the traditional male characteristics of drive, assertiveness, rationality and a certain desire to control and direct.
On the other hand, religion does not approach life primarily through the mind and senses, but rather intuitively as the poets do. Whereas science actively seeks and explores, religion is passive. "Be still and know that I am God". Religion awaits the coming of "the day spring from on high ... to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death and to guide our feet into the way of peace".
The scientist endeavours to comprehend, to bring within the boundary of human understanding his subject matter, while the religious man speaks of being "apprehended of Jesus Christ", taken up into unity with the Divine, not to master, but to serve, not to exercise power by imposing the limitation of definition, but to worship a mystery beyond the measure of man's mind.
If science has certain male characteristics, religion manifests the female qualities of passivity, receptivity and the hidden power of the apparently weak. This concept of science and religion raises the question as to how the two can achieve a mutually beneficial symbolic existence.
It certainly cannot do so by more demytholigizing theology, which in essence seeks to apply to religion the intellectual rational approach so successful in science. That is the equivalent of attempting to explain music in the terminology of vision, and getting nowhere satisfies nobody. Is not a far better way to seek a marriage of science with religion?
A marriage in which both partners maintain their individuality and respect that of the other, finding in their differences not sources of conflict but the fulfilment of their needs.
In that way the rationalism of science can save religion from degenerating into emotional fanaticism and superstition, while religion can lift up the heart of science above intellectual materialism and bring to it the wonder of mystery and the virtues of being able to walk humbly with its God.
A few years ago I had a rare experience for a parish priest. I had a term's sabbatical leave in Oxford. It went too quickly and I was all too soon back at the parochial grindstone.
The highlight of my term in Oxford was the annual series of lectures held at Wolfson College. The subject was the Nature of Matter, and eight eminent physicists, including the Nobel prize winners Abdus Salam and Murray Gell-Mann, contributed.
The intense interest engendered by the lectures, which ranged from particle physics to cosmology, had what I would describe as a quiet religious fervour about it. I reflected that, in a sense, this was today's religion; and far from being disturbed about it I rejoiced that man was moved and motivated by such deep and ineffable mysteries.
Recently I was asked by a small group of clergy to conduct a short conference on science and religion. I explained at the outset that we would do little theology but a lot of science. We tried to think about scientific matters on their own terms. We looked at particle, physics, cosmology and biology, and only at the end did we introduce theological ideas.
I offer these two anecdotes in order to illustrate what I believe to be a matter of fundamental importance, not only to the life of the church today but to society in its wider aspect.
We tend to think of science and theology as two entirely different, disparate subjects: of scientists and theologians almost as members of entirely different species. Certainly at the level of academic study, not least in our universities, ne'er the twain shall meet.
It is my contention not only that science and religion spring from the same human endeavour, which begins with puzzlement about the world and man's place in it (the questions that inspired the Wolfson lectures were at root the same questions that inspired the authors of Genesis); but also that science and religion share common ground at many other points, not least in the area of practical science and practical religion, as opposed to the theoretical (consider the momentous debate concerning nuclear weapons).
However, theologians ought to be able to look at science from within science, as it were,
and not over some theological fence. I would go further and suggest that theology is not an independent study.
I am not referring to biblical studies or to Christian doctrine and the like. By theology I mean the attempt to express and critically appraise the relationship between man and God and man and the world. Theology cannot be done in a vacuum. When the attempt is made the result is ludicrous. Some books of "theology" would make about as much sense if you read them upside down!
Theology must not only relate to the world, but in a sense it must also be derived from the world. Man's cognisance, his understanding and comprehension of the world; for example, the nature of matter, the evolution of the universe, the complexities of biology; deeply affects his theology.
If theology is out of touch with modern man it is not least because the theologian has not bothered to be scientist as well, and to look at the world from within modern natural science.
It is at this level that the church should be expending its energy rather than in tinkering about with organizational structures, and rather than in its preoccupation with internal niceties such as new service books, and the hundred and one other pretty irrelevant items on the agenda of its synods.
The real religious questions that face us today are urgent and disturbing. They concern our failure to speak in any meaningful way about God to our times, and the almost total lack of awareness of Him which characterizes our generation. Blindness to the reality of these issues has made contemporary Christianity inward-looking and visionless; in E. M. Forster's words, "poor, talkative and little."
Of course the church should from time to time sharpen, or refashion the tools of its trade, and the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury must go on their journeys to satisfy the media, but let us not delude ourselves by believing that these are anything but passing fashions. Even the increasing political awareness of some of our church leaders loses its point unless that awareness is founded on and informed by a theology which makes sense and which has honestly faced the challenge presented by twentieth century scepticism.
So I put in a plea for a much more open-minded and liberal, a less self-preoccupied and self-preserved theology; a theology that is not only informed by, but which directly arises from what I described earlier as "the quiet religious fervour'* generated by twentieth century physics and biology.
And why should not this begin in departments of theology at our universities, and in our theological colleges? It can be done. If I could do it with a small group of hard-pressed urban parish priests like myself, then how much better it could be done by' others more competent than me and with greater resources.
If we believe, with Hopkins, that "the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods", our study of this world will help us to discern "the dearest freshness deep down things", and our theology and its religious expression will be informed, enriched and renewed.
It is accepted that "God's grandeur" is discerned through aesthetic appreciation of the creation; should it not equally be mainifested through an intellectual understanding of the nature of matter?
The writer is Rector ofSt Chad, Ladybarn, Manchester
What is light? What is matter? These are questions fundamental to a scientific understanding of the world. Or are they?
Certainly they are questions long known to have no simple answers. Indeed,a recently completed experiment goes so far as to indicate that they might have no answers at all.
If this interpretation is right, science is not what we thought it was; some might argue it has begun to look a little like theology.
Our story begins in the early part of this century. Light was discovered to have a dual nature. Some experiments pointed to it being a wave; others to it being made of particles. But that is odd: How can something be both a spread-out wave - like a succession of ripples on a pond - and at the same time a small solid particle - like a tiny billiard ball? The two descriptions appeared contradictory.
No way out of this dilemma could be found until Niels Bohr, the Danish physicist, came up with a remarkable suggestion. He claimed that science tells us nothing about the world as it is in itself - it does not answer questions of the form: "What is... ?" Instead, it tells us of the way we interact with the world.
Thus, concepts like "wave" and "particle" apply not to objects themselves (light or matter), but to how we interact with them. There are wave-like interactions and particle-like interactions, and that is all. It being physically impossible to perform both types of experiment at the same time, there is never a need to invoke both concepts simultaneously. So provided we stick to interactions, there is no paradox.
Bohr went on to assert that this ability to speak meaningfully only of our interactions was no temporary restriction. This was the frontier of the knowable - a barrier that would never be breached.
This claim did not go unchallenged. Leading the counter-attack was Einsten. As the arguments flowed back and forth, more and more physicists came to side with Bohr, despite the fact that no one relished being in the opposite camp to Einstein!
But enough of the paradoxes of modern physics. What has this to do with theology?
Paradox has been a feature of Christian theology from earliest times. In trying to answer the question "Who, or what, is God?" the Church Fathers came to the conclusion that they had to regard him as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, he was one God, not three. Moreover each of the Persons of this Trinity was not to be thought of as merely a part or aspect, of God; each was fully God. Difficult though it was to see how the apparent contradiction was to be reconciled, they considered any simpler description of God would not do justice to the evidence.
When later they came to consider "Who is Jesus?" they concluded he was both fully God and fully man - another paradox. Thus in Christian theology one deals with paradoxes every bit as puzzling as those that have now surfaced in physics.
It was in response to these paradoxes that Gregory Palamas, the fourteenth-century Archbishop of Thessalonica, decided that God was absolutely unknowable in his "essence", that is to say, as he was in himself. Instead, he was to be regarded as knowable only, through his "energies" - the ways he revealed himself through the three Persons - the ways he interacted with us. This view became official doctrine for the Eastern Church in 1351.
Much the same theme was later taken up by, among others, the Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard. Pondering the same Christian doctrines he concluded there to be two kinds of truth: objective and subjective truth. When the truth appeared from an objective point of view to be paradoxical, it was an indication, he said, that one should be seeking a more subjective truth, one involving one's own participation.
According to this particular stand of theological thought, one finds it necessary, as in modern physics, to take a step back from the objects of one's enquiry - whether they be God and Jesus, or light and matter -and be content to speak only of one's interactions with those objects.
As a postscipt, it is necessary to note that Bohr was an avid reader of Kierkegaard. Could it be that twentieth century physics owes a modest debt to a nineteenth century theologian's contemplation of a fourth century Christian creed?
Professor of Physics, Open University
Can India's Wisdom Supply the Answer?
By Amit Goswami, Ph.D.
Extracts from the book: The Self-Aware Universe
Published in SRF Magazine, Winter 1997
A critical level of confusion permeates the world today. On the one hand, we welcome the benefits derived from a science that assumes the materialist worldview. On the other hand, this prevailing worldview fails to satisfy our intuitions about the meaningfulness of life.
During the past four hundred years, we have gradually adopted the belief that science can be built only on the notion that everything is made of matter—of so-called atoms in the void. We have come to accept materialism dogmatically, despite its failure to account for the most familiar experiences of our daily lives. In short, we have an inconsistent worldview. Our predicament has fueled the demand for a new paradigm—a unifying world-view that will integrate mind and spirit into science. The centerpiece of this new paradigm is the recognition that modern science validates an ancient idea—the idea that consciousness, not matter, is the ground of all being.
Today in physics, we face a great dilemma. In quantum physics—the new physics—we have found a theoretical framework that works; it explains myriad laboratory experiments and more. Quantum physics has led to such tremendously useful technologies as transistors, lasers, and
superconductors. Yet we cannot make sense of the mathematics of quantum physics without suggesting an interpretation of experimental results that many people can only look upon as paradoxical, even impossible. Behold the following quantum properties:
• A quantum object (for example, an electron) can be at more than one place at the same time (the wave property).
• A quantum object cannot be said to manifest in ordinary space-time reality until we observe it as a particle (collapse of the wave).
* A quantum object ceases to exist here and simultaneously appears in existence over there; we cannot say it went through the intervening space (the quantum jump).
• A manifestation of one quantum object, caused by our observation, simultaneously influences its correlated twin object— no matter how far apart they are (quantum action-at-a-distance).
The philosophy that has dominated science for centuries (physical, or material, realism) assumes that only matter — consisting of atoms or, ultimately, elementary particles—is real; all else are secondary phenomena of matter, just a dance of the constituent atoms. This
world-view is called realism because objects are assumed to be real and independent of subjects, us, or of how we observe them.
The negative influence of material realism on the quality of modern human life has been staggering. Material realism poses a universe without any spiritual meaning: mechanical, empty, and lonely. For us—the inhabitants of the cosmos—this is perhaps the more unsettling
because, to a frightening degree, conventional wisdom holds that material realism has prevailed over theologies that propose a spiritual component of reality in addition to the material one.
The facts prove otherwise; science proves the potency of a monistic philosophy over dualism—over spirit separated from matter.
In the idealist philosophy, consciousness is fundamental; thus our spiritual experiences are acknowledged and validated as meaningful. This philosophy accommodates many of the interpretations of human spiritual experience that have sparked the various world religions. From this vantage point we see that some of the concepts of various religious traditions become as logical, elegant, and satisfying as the interpretation of experiments of quantum physics. Know thyself. This has been the advice through the ages of philosophers who were quite aware that our self is what organizes the world and gives it meaning; to know the self
along with nature was their comprehensive objective.
Modern science's embracing of material realism changed all that; instead of being united with nature, consciousness became separate from nature, leading to a psychology separate from physics. As Morris Herman notes, this material realist worldview exiled us from the enchanted world in which we lived in yesteryear and condemned us to an alien world. Now we live like exiles in this alien land; who but an exile would risk destroying this beautiful earth with nuclear war and environmental pollution?
Feeling like exiles undermines our incentive to change our perspective. We are conditioned to believe that we are machines—that all our actions are determined by the stimuli we receive and by our prior conditioning. As exiles, we have no responsibility, no choice; our free will is a mirage.
This is why it has become so important for each of us to examine closely our worldview. Why am I being threatened by nuclear annihilation? Why does warfare continue as the barbaric way to settle the world's disputes? Why is there recurrent famine in Africa when we in the United States alone can grow enough food to feed the world? How did I acquire a world-view (more importantly, am I stuck with it?) that dictates so much separateness between me and my fellow humans, all of us sharing similar genetic, mental, and spiritual endowments? If I disown the outdated worldview that is based on material realism and investigate the new/old
one that quantum physics seems to demand, might the world and I be once more integrated?
We need to know about us; we need to know if we can change our perspectives—if our mental makeup permits it. Can the new physics and the idealist philosophy of consciousness give us new contexts for change?
Several decades ago, the American psychologist Abraham Maslow formulated the idea of a hierarchy of needs. After human beings satisfy their basic survival needs, it becomes possible for them to strive toward the fulfillment of higher-level needs. To Maslow the highest of these needs is the spiritual: the desire for self-actualization, for knowledge of oneself at the deepest possible level.
Since many Americans, in fact many Westerners, have already passed through the lower rungs of Maslow's ladder of needs, we should expect to see Westerners enthusiastically mounting the upper rungs toward self-actualization or spiritual fulfillment. We do not. What is wrong with Maslow's argument? As Mother Teresa observed when she visited the United States in the eighties, Americans are materially blessed but impoverished in spirit. Why should this be so?
Maslow neglected to take into account the consequences of unquestioned materialism, which is dominant in today's Western culture. Most Westerners accept as scientific fact the idea that we live in a materialist world—a world in which everything is made of matter and where matter is the fundamental reality.
In such a world, material needs proliferate, resulting in desire not for spiritual progress but for more, bigger, and better things: bigger cars, better housing, the newest fashions, amazing forms of entertainment, and a dazzling extravaganza of present and future technological goodies. In such a world, our spiritual needs are often unrecognized, denied, or sublimated when they surface. If only matter is real, as materialism has taught us to believe, then material possessions are the only reasonable foundation for happiness and the good life.
Of course, our religions, our spiritual teachers, and our artistic and literary traditions teach that such is not the case. On the contrary, they teach that materialism leads, at best, to a sickening surfeit and, at worst, to crime, disease, and other ills.
Most Westerners hold both of these conflicting beliefs and live with ambivalence, partaking of a ravenously materialistic consumer culture yet secretly despising themselves for it. Those of us who still consider ourselves religious are not altogether able to ignore that, although our words and thoughts adhere to religion, all too often our deeds violate our
intentions; we fail to embody with conviction even the most basic teachings of religions, such as kindness to our fellow humans. Others of us resolve our cognitive dissonance by embracing religious fundamentalism or equally fundamentalist scientism.
In sum, we live in a crisis—not so much a crisis of faith as a crisis of confusion. How did we reach this sorry state? By accepting materialism as the so-called scientific view of the world.
In India, people ingeniously catch monkeys with a jar of chickpeas. The monkey reaches into the jar to grab a fistful of chickpeas. Alas, with its fist closed on the food, it can no longer remove its hand. The mouth of the jar is too small for its fist. The trap works because the monkey's greed prohibits him from letting go of the chick-peas. The axioms of
material realism—materialism, determinism, locality, and so forth—served us well in the past when our knowledge was more limited than it is today, but now they have become our trap. We may have to let go of the chick-peas of certainty in order to embrace the freedom that lies outside the material arena.
If material realism is not an adequate philosophy for physics, what philosophy can deal with all the strangeness of quantum behavior? The new physics is crying out for a new, liberating philosophy—one befitting our current level of knowledge. If monistic idealism fits the need,
for the first time since Descartes, science, the humanities, and the religions can walk arm-in-arm in the search for the whole human truth.
Mysticism offers experiential proof of monistic idealism. Mystics are those people who offer testimony to this fundamental reality of unity in diversity. A sampling of mystical writings from different cultures and spiritual traditions bears witness to the universality of the mystical experience of unity:
The fourteenth-century Kabbal-ist Moses de Leon, probably the author of the Zohar, which is the primary sourcebook for Kabbal-ists, wrote: "God when he has just decided to launch upon his work of creation is called He. God in the complete unfolding of his Being, Bliss and Love, in which he becomes capable of being perceived by the reasons of the heart is called You. But God, in his supreme manifestation, where the fullness of His Being finds its final expression in the last and all-embracing of his attributes, is called I."
The eighth-century mystic Padmasambhava is credited with bringing Tantric Buddhism to Tibet. His consort, the charismatic Yeshe Tso-gyel, expressed her wisdom this way: "But when you finally discover me, the one naked Truth arisen from within, Absolute Awareness permeates
Meister Eckhart, the thirteenth-century Dominican monk, wrote: "In this breaking-through I perceive that God and I are one. Then I am what I was, and then I neither diminish nor increase, for I am then an immovable cause that moves all things."
From the tenth-century Sufi mystic Monsoor al-Halaj came the pronouncement: "I am the Truth!"
The eighth-century Hindu mystic Shankara exuberantly expressed his realization: "I am reality without beginning, without equal. I have no part in the illusion of 'I' and 'you,' 'this' and 'that.' I am Brahman, one without a second, Bliss without end, the eternal unchanging Truth. I dwell within all beings as the soul, the pure consciousness, the ground of all phenomena, internal and external. I am both the enjoyer and that which is enjoyed. In the days of my ignorance, I used to think of these as being separate from myself. Now I know that I am All."
And finally, Jesus of Nazareth declared: "My Father and I are one."
The experience of unity opens the door to a transformation of being that liberates love, universal compassion, and freedom from the bondage of living in acquired separateness and from the compensating attachments to which we cling. For hundreds of years we have bowed to the objectivity of science but have cherished subjectivity and religion in our living. We
have allowed our lives to become a set of dichotomies. Can we now invite science to help integrate our ways of living and revolutionize our religions? Can we insist that our sub jective experiences and spiritual philosophy be allowed to extend our science? Can we realize our full potential—an integrated access to our quantum and classical selves?
Can we let our lives become expressions of the eternal surprise of the Infinite Being? We can.
In a letter to Self-Realization Fellowship, Amit Goswami made the following comments about God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita by Paramahansa Yogananda:
Paramahansa Yogananda's translation of the Bhagavad Gita with commentary is an illuminating addition to the vast literature on the Gita. Yoganandaji was ahead of all of us who today integrate science and spirituality. It is fascinating in the pages of this new translation to glimpse how the master used the science of his day to explicate difficult spiritual
points. His intuition that science and spirituality can be integrated served as inspiration for us all. —Amit Goswami, Ph.D.
Is it reasonable to be religious or is religious commitment an essentially irrational affair? The fashionable tendency to applaud religion as irrational, a matter of "faith" not reason has been explicitly supported by contributors to tnese columns.
It has been maintained that rational argument has no place in religious discourse: that religion is in a sphere beyond reason and is concerned with those mysteries beyond man's comprehension. The contrast is frequently made with science which, it is said, is associated with the intellect and in which we can have certainty, experimental verification and demonstrative proof.
The function of religion, it is claimed, is to add a spiritual dimension to life which science cannot do, and that of science is to develop a rational system of knowleJge which religion cannot do.
Further, it has been maintained, science and rationality are associated with the male characteristics of drive and assertiveness, science is active and exploratory, whereas religion is associated with the feminine characteristics of intuition, passivity and receptivity, with all that is poetic and imaginative. Rationality, it is said, pours cold water on our passion and stifles the voice of the heart.
This assertion that religion is somehow beyond reason and rational argument is dangerous nonsense. It is nonsense because it involves a confused and often contradictory account of reason and rationality and it is dangerous because religion without reason leads as often as not to intolerance and ultimately to violence.
On a wider front, the fasionable cult of irrationalism, closely linked to notions of relativism, is one of the disturbing features in society today, not least because it suggests that there can be no rational discussion of beliefs with respect of objective truth or falisty.
The argument for an all-embracing irrationalism (all truth is relative) is self-defeating. The assertion that there is no truth cannot be a true assertion. It is significant that those intellectuals who are intent on debunking the rationalist tradition resort to a method of argument and presentation which is deeply entrenched in the very tradition they disdain.
Those who emphasize the inexplicable nature of their deep religious experiences can only resort to rational methods of presenting their case. Once you start arguing you are in the rationalist tradition and only within that tradition is there hope for a world that would otherwise be bent on destroying itself.
It is clear, from what has already been said that rationalism is identified with criticism and argument. Sir Karl Popper has been the most tireless and outstanding advocate of this approach.
His characterization of rationalism as an attitude of readiness to listen to critical arguments and to learn from experience is fruitful in all areas of human endeavour, not least in politics, science and religion.
Rationality consists not in justification but in making mistakes and in the elimination of error. When politicians prohibit rational criticism and argument they ultimately resort to policies of mutual destruction; when scientists attempt only to justify their conjectures and findings they prohibit further discoveries and growth of knowledge; and when religious people attempt to protect themselves from criticism by retreating into a realm beyond reason they promote the worst kind of bigotry, intolerance and fanaticism which enslaves rather than frees and ultimately leads to violence and bloodshed.
We need not look beyond our own times for horrendous examples of religious fanaticism which by putting itself beyond criticism leads man to murder his brother in the name of the living God.
The identification of rationality with critical argument is at one and the same time a costly and a liberating admission. It cuts the ground away from under the feet of those who desire to justify their endeavours by claiming proof and certainty.
Such claims made in the name of science can never be realised. All our scientific knowledge is conjectural, tentative, provisional. Only by exposing our most cherished theories to severe criticism do we advance our scientific knowledge.
Scientific knowledge is fallible and the recognition of its fallibility is its strength, for only he who admits the possibility of error will learn by his mistakes and hopefully edge nearer to the truth.
Would that politicians learn this lesson for only by taking the risk of losing face will they begin to solve the problems of society and gain public confidence. Religious people above all should avoid claims to infallible truth.
Put in a nutshell the argument is as follows: if rationality is identified with proof and justification then religion is irrational, but by the same token so is science. But if we characterize rationality as the attempt to expose falsehood and error by criticism, then both science and religion are rational.
The disclosure of religious or scientific insight might defy rational analysis, but such insights, once articulated, must be subjected to critical appraisal.
It is a false dichotomy to separate man's spiritual quest from his intellectual endeavours; they are intertwined. We have been blessed with brains, without them we could know nothing of this marvellous, mysterious, puzzling and at times infuriating world; nor could we begin to apprehend the creative love of God which is at the heart of it all.
Ever since St Paul eulogised the virtue of Christian love in his letter to the Corinthians it has been considered virtually blasphemous to question love as the greatest human virtue.
But this cannot be so, for love as an unregulated passion is an irrational and potentially dangerous force in our lives. Love unregulated by reason can lead, as we have indicated, to an appeal to brute force and violence as the ultimate arbiter in human affairs.
If it be countered that love which leads to violence is not true love, our contention is proven, for only reason can be used to help us judge between true and false love. Love must never be put beyond the critical rational assessment of its consequences.
Man is a rational animal, with a head on his shoulders. He is also a child of God with love in his heart. Let us not put asunder what God has joined together.
The following is a response to the recent statement of the Pope which implied that Islam was unreasonable/irrational. It underscores the importance Islam has always attached to reason in it's approach to theology as well as understanding the external world around us through scientific means.
Islam and Logos.
A Reply to Pope Benedict
By Shaikh Kabir Helminski
I lament the violent and disrespectful actions of a tiny minority of Muslims toward Christians in various parts of the world as a result of the Pope’s recent remarks. Such actions only advertise the ignorance of those engaged in them and, as these images are aired by the media worldwide, contribute to the misconceptions of non-Muslims. These reactive outbursts are, for some reason, more interesting to television viewers than examples of humility and reconciliation. Acts of rage make for dramatic viewing; patience, forbearance, and similar virtues attract far less attention. One is reminded of Oscar Wilde’s words: By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, journalism keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community. But inflammatory remarks by world leaders and the rage and reaction they provoke are part of an especially counter-productive cycle of irrationality and do not lead to the mutual understanding and respect that we must attain in the circumstances of today’s interconnected humanity.
As someone raised in the Catholic tradition, and educated by Jesuits, reading the complete text of the Pope’s remarks in Regensburg, I found myself in sympathy with much of what he had to say. But the remarks regarding Islam are very difficult to accept as being other than a denigration of Islam.
To summarize Pope Benedict’s key points as I understand them:
Reason has a role to play in the dialogue among religions; reason should not be thought to apply only to strictly empirical, i.e. scientific subjects. Christianity, having emerged in the world through Greek texts, is profoundly and organically related to Greek philosophy. The Divine relates to the human realm through Logos, the Word, and by extension, Reason. The function of theology is to show the reasonableness of faith. Therefore reason plays an essential role in the dialogue of civilizations founded upon different religious traditions.
Unfortunately the Pope betrays his own stated principles when he refers to a dialog between a Byzantine Emperor and a Persian Islamic scholar in which it is implied that Islam intrinsically approves of “violent conversion.” This reference stands out, if I may say so, as a nasty digression in an otherwise well-reasoned address. Here is the Pope’s text:
He (the Byzantine Emperor) addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached".
The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably ... is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...".
The Pope’s position, rightfully, is that such religious coercion offends reason and religion. The central error in his thinking is the absolutely false statement: his (Muhammad’s) command to spread by the sword the faith he preached. No such command exists either from the mouth of Muhammad or within the verses of the Qur’an. To anyone who knows anything about Islam and Islamic history, the passages Pope Benedict quotes can only be viewed as malevolent fabrications, polemics that were perhaps more understandable six centuries ago, but hardly excusable in today’s world. How could Pope Benedict, obviously a man of significant erudition, have chosen to propagate this ignorance? If the thoughts of the Byzantine Emperor do not correspond to the Pope’s own beliefs, then why does he refer to them as “the starting point” for a discussion on religion and violence ? Or if it is actually the case that he believes they represent the truth of Muhammad and Islam, then he has chosen to remain fundamentally ignorant of a religion that elicits the devotion of at least 20% of the human race?
As a point of clarification, for those reading this who really do not know the teachings or the history of Islam, it is undeniable that the Islamic dominion did in its early years spread across the Middle East and the Mediterranean region largely, though not exclusively, by military means. It displaced other empires which had also established themselves by military means: notably the Byzantine and Persian empires. What was significant, however, is that the Islamic order brought with it a freedom of religion that did not exist to the same extent under these other empires. Religious communities—Jews, Zoroastrians, and all sects of Christians—were allowed to live under their own religious laws in return for accepting status as protected peoples. They paid a tax, but were exempt from military service and from the charity (zakat) expected of Muslims. As the Qur’an says: Verily, those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ], as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabians – all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds – shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve (Surah 2: 62).
Forced conversion has universally been seen as unacceptable by virtually all major Islamic religious scholars and authorities, which explains why in Jerusalem, a city revered by Muslims, the sacred sites and religious communities of Judaism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Catholicism have survived and flourished over fourteen centuries of mostly Muslim rule.
It is in the Christian world, on the other hand, where the more egregious offenses against religious tolerance and co-existence have been found. And it is also not to be ignored that in the Byzantine Empire, from which the Pope’s “call to reason” is supposedly substantiated, torture and cruelty were virtually institutionalized:
One may be amazed at the assertion that the Byzantine was humane, and refined in feeling, even to the point of sensitiveness. Too many bloody crimes stain the pages of Byzantine history — not as extraordinary occurrences but as regularly established institutions. Blinding, mutilation, and death by torture had their place in the Byzantine penal system. In the Middle Ages such horrors were not, it is true, unknown in Western Europe, and yet the fierce crusaders thought the Byzantines exquisitely cruel. In reading the history of this people, one has to accustom oneself to a Janus-like national character — genuine Christian self-sacrifice, unworldliness, and spirituality, side by side with avarice, cunning, and the refinement of cruelty. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume III
Let me try to explain further why the Pope’s choice of example engenders a reaction among many Muslims. Within recent decades Muslims feel that they have endured not only injustice but humiliation in Palestine, in Bosnia, in Chechnya, in Iraq, and in Lebanon. Furthermore, Muslims suffer a deep wound from 9/11, an act which all but a tiny fanatical, or shall I say criminal element in the Muslim community would repudiate. The emotional pain felt by the vast majority of Muslims over such events is immense.
The Pope's references go right to the primary sources of Islamic faith. It would be one thing to criticize the loss of reason among Islamic extremists, and another to imply that Islam itself is the problem. Here is the crux of the matter: nowhere in the Pope’s address is there an invitation to dialog; instead there is the assertion that Catholics, by virtue of their rootedness in Greek rationality, have a unique claim to being “reasonable” and in accord with Logos.
The point is not to criticize the Pope, or whether he is right or wrong. It is urgent that more people become informed about what Islam intrinsically stands for.
The Pope’s address focused on the reconciliation of reason and faith, and the implied accusation that Islam converts at swordpoint and therefore offends reason. But it is noteworthy that the Qur’an, revealed in the 7th Century, often encourages human beings to use their reason in spiritual matters and proposes no theology that would challenge human reason. The Qur’an in more than seventy verses specifically invites people to reflection (tafakkur), understanding (‘aql), and reason (nuha). It is also widely appreciated that Islam incorporated the metaphysics and vocabulary of the Greeks during its early centuries by being deeply conversant with the Greek classics. In fact, Islamic civilization preserved the knowledge of the classical world until it good be handed off to Europe after Europe’s own Dark Ages.
The most that a reader of the Qur’an is asked to “believe” is that the Divine would have attempted to communicate with human beings over the course of time through various messengers, or prophets, sent to all human communities without exception. Moreover, the way to apprehend the Divine is through a combination of human reason and an open heart. The Qur’an continually points to the natural world and reminds people: In this are signs for people who use their intelligence.
According to Qur’anic teaching the Adam, the primordial human being, is the recipient of the knowledge of the Divine Names (asma), and so has the capacity to perceive the manifestation of Divine Attributes in the theater of material existence, as well as in the human heart, itself. It is this investment of the Divine Word within us that makes us fully human.
The principle of the Logos, rather than being foreign to Islam, is amply conveyed through the word Kalimah, which occurs about fifty times, meaning specifically Divine utterance, inspiration, and principle. Moreover, Jesus Christ is described as a “Word” of God: God gives you good tidings of a Word from Him whose name is Messiah (Surah al Imran, 3:45).
I wish it were possible for Pope Benedict and many Muslims to explore the convergence of Christian and Islamic values: namely that faith in the Divine is not unreasonable, that if we observe what is going on within ourselves and in the empirical world and marvel at the sheer intelligence and creativity of it all, that our hearts and minds might be moved to accept that there is something going on here that suggests an invisible intelligence and, even more importantly, a creative power characterized by Love and Beauty. Or as the Qur’an expresses it:
Verily, in the creation of the heavens and of the earth, and the succession of night and day; and in the ships that speed through the sea with what is useful to man; and in the waters which God sends down from the sky, giving life thereby to the earth after it had been lifeless, and causing all manner of living creatures to multiply thereon; and in the change of the winds, and the clouds that run their appointed courses between sky and earth: [in all this] there are messages indeed for people who use their reason. And yet there are people who choose to believe in beings that allegedly rival God, loving them as [only] God should be loved: whereas those who have attained to faith love God more than all else. (Surah Baqarah, 2:164-165)
The Pope includes an assertion that the God of Islam is purely and extremely transcendent and therefore cannot even be relied upon to act in accordance with his own laws. “But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazm went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practice idolatry.”
Whatever Ibn Hazm, a significantly minor Muslim thinker, might have written or believed, this point of view is not in harmony with either the Qur’an or the teachings of Muhammad. Ibn Hazm’s conjecture is an example of the kind of doctrinal distortion that takes place over time as human beings cover over the original message from the Divine. It is a product of a mind that has lost its organic relationship to the Qur’anic text.
As the Qur’an says: God is closer to him (the human being) than his neck-vein (Surah Qaf, 50:16). Throughout the Qur’an the foremost attribute of the Divine is its Compassion toward creation: God, who has willed upon Himself the law of Compassion and Mercy (Surah Cattle, 6:12). This expression, “God has willed upon Himself the law” (kataba ala nafsihi) occurs in the Qur’an only twice—here and in verse 54 of this same surah – and in both instances with reference to His grace and mercy (rahmah); none of the other divine attributes has been similarly described. This exceptional quality of God’s grace and mercy is further stressed in 7:156— “My Compassion/Mercy overspreads everything.” The Qur’an is replete with examples of Allah’s solicitous nurturing and guidance of humanity. Allah is explicitly considered to be the God of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, etc. and Islam does not claim to bring anything new, but rather to restore the original purity of Divine Revelation. And here are two examples among the many that could be given which affirm the presence of the Divine manifest in the world around us. Wheresoever you look is the Face of God (Surah Baqara, 115). We will show them Our signs on the farthest horizons and within their own selves until it becomes manifest to them that this is the Truth (Surah Fussilat, 53). In other words, the very Being of the Divine will be revealed not only in the natural world, but through sincere self-inquiry, as well.
Not only is Islam not at odds with reason and empirical science, from the very beginning Islam has encouraged science and has understood that the study of the natural world can lead toward knowledge of the Divine. This concept powerfully influenced Thomas Aquinas, who became acquainted with it through his lifelong study of the Arabic commentaries on the Greek classics, and it was Aquinas who first introduced the idea into Christianity that human beings could learn about the Divine from the natural world.
Furthermore, one of the central concepts in Islam is that of “fitrah,” the innate nature of the human being which instinctively knows the good, the true, and the beautiful. Turn your face with purity toward the primordial religion, according to the innate nature (fitrah) with which He has made humankind; do not allow what God has made to be corrupted. That is authentic religion, but most people do not understand (Surah Ar-Rum, 30:30). In other words, not only is there an innate natural law and within man the ability to grasp it (even without a religious hierarchy to interpret it), but authentic religion must itself conform with this innate truth.
The most important point to be grasped in today's world is that the vast majority of Muslims should be viewed as allies in a common struggle for social justice and human dignity. It will be tragic if this polarization proceeds any further on the basis of misunderstanding. The extremists must be confronted for their distortion of traditional Islamic principles--principles which for 14 centuries have recognized religious pluralism and human rights. And, if it can be shown that contemporary or traditional Islamic formulations and teachings contradict basic human rights, then this must be corrected from within Islam itself.
Perhaps it is time for the Pope, if he is sincere, rather than lobbing rhetorical hand-grenades into the Muslim street, to sit down with a few contemporary Muslim men and women of wisdom and explore the common ground that might be found in these notions of faith and reason. The Dalai Lama met with world leaders of Islam in San Francisco in April of 2006, warmed their hearts, acknowledged their good intentions, and in so doing help to form connections of comapssiona nd understanding which will help to marginalize the extremists.
And for Muslims who might be inclined to take to the streets, it might be appropriate to remember the counsel of the Qur’an regarding conveying a message to people of other faiths: Invite to the way of your Sustainer with wisdom and beautiful urging; and discuss with them in the best and most gracious manner for your Sustainer knows best who strays from His Path and who receives guidance (Surah an-Nahl, 16:125).
Kabir Helminski has been a publisher of spiritual literature, a translator of the works of Rumi and others, and a spiritual teacher in the lineage of Jalaluddin Rumi. One recent book which he co-authored is The Belief Net Guide to Islam. His books on spirituality, Living Presence and The Knowing Heart, have been published in at least eight languages. He has toured as Shaikh with the Whirling Dervishes of Turkey, bringing Sufi culture to more than 100,000 people. He is now co-director of an international education project in Islamic education (www.thebook.org).
THE TIMES SATURDAY JANUARY 19 1985
Science and religion
Towards a deeper reality
The two extremes of scientific research, the study of subatomic particles and the probing of the limits of the universe have between them revealed a principle which is of great significance for religion. From the Greek for man, it has been called the anthropic principle.
It is one more example of how modern science in its contemplation of reality is providing strong support for the Christian faith. (Paul Davies. author of God and the New Physics, has even gone so far as to argue that "science offers a surer path to God than religion").
Man, who has for some time been devalued by a false reading of the reductionist approach and reduced to nothing but chemistry, is once more returned to the centre.
The anthropic principle first articulated by Brandon Carter, focuses on the
Apparent coincidence in nature which led ,to the phenomenon of man. It is a much more specific concept than the inspiring vision of the Teilhard de Chafdjn who earlier this century pictured an evolving cosmos converging through man On to God.
For "man-the-observer" to appear-.on the cosmic scene a great many very precise conditions had to be satisfied. Tbey seem; like remarkable coincidences. The values of the fundamental forces that bind the atom or generate solar systems appear to have been finely tuned so as to produce a. universe in which suitable environments may survive long enough for life and intelligence to evolve naturally. Everything is just right.
The mathematics of the big bang seem to have achieved a delicate balance, since the slightest variation would have led to a dead cosmos, either collapsing back in on itself or else exploding outwards with such vigour as to prevent the formation of galaxies.
Or if. for example, the force of gravity were only marginally different there would be no sun-like stars anywhere. This assumes, for well argued reasons that intelligent life can only emerge on planets that orbit stable long-lived stars of the solar type.
These numerical coincidences may be seen as evidence of design though opinions differ as to their significance. A weak form of the anthropic principle for instance can dispense with God altogether. It argues that there are an infinite number of other universes in which all possible mathematical relationships are "explored".
The reason we can speculate about the origins and meaning of this universe in that it is one of the few in which the conditions are just right for the emergence of creatures who ask questions.
If, however, this is the only universe, then there is still a fundamental statistical problem in assessing the significance of probabilities retrospectively with only one example at hand.
Nevertheless the anthropic principle which amounts more perhaps to a hunch than a proof for God is of great importance to theology. It reveals - how intimately man is connected to the universe he inhabits. He is not the result of a bizarre, accident in an alien cosmos but was bound to emerge just as surely as , hydrogen and oxygen make water.
Accordingly, man is not a detached observer peripheral to the science he
studies. The universe itself can be understood in terms of man. Everything
points to him as the-key to the laws of nature, for in him matter realizes in full potential.
Far from being "a rubbish heap scattered at random", the view of the
Greek philosopher Heraclitus, or "ultimately meaningless." as many people today conclude; the universe has a recognisable purpose. It is as though someone had fixed the laws of nature with a the emergence of
man in mind.
In the anthrppic principle, however, we do not simply have a restatement of a medieval anthropocentric, view of creation; The emphasis is, really upon the phenomenon of consciousness.
It argues that the conditions in this universe are such that conscious observers are bound to emerge, they, may well be doing so in thousands of locations in this galaxy atone. Home sapiens is only one
particular variety. We must not be misled by the parochial implications of the word anthropic.
For a Christian the fine focus of the anthropic principle will be upon the historical figure of Jesus Christ.
Pontius Pilate when presenting Jesus to the hostile crowd unwittingly made one of the profoundest of theological statements: "Ecce homo", "behold the man". For more than three centuries the early Christian community wrestled with the problem of how to express their belief that Jesus was both truly man and truly God. The mystery is still with us.
One aspect of the significance of Jesus Christ lies in the discovery that we need no longer look to the heavens for a revelaion of the divine. God is found in the life of a man evolved from the earth.
It is not blasphemy to suggest that Jesus's ancestry could be traced back to primate just as surely as he was descended from King David. The genes we share with other mammals he also shares. (In this genetic solidarity there must be theological implications for environmentalists).
Built from DNA by the laws of chemistry and biology, Jesus was made from the soil and air of Palestine. He was "very man" and had to grow as we do. In him is manifest the meeting point between God and the material universe. In Christ the anthropic principle takes on a new and deeper significance.
A doctrine already present in the New Testament can be restated. Jesus, who shares our ancesoral roots, invited his followers to discover with him a deeper reality. What was revealed in him becomes a possibility for all; an extraordinary unity between God the creator and the human individual.
What science highlights revelation completes. Man is the measure of the universe, in Jesus Christ (the first fruits of the cosmic process) man's true destiny is revealed. Science and religion converge in the proclamation "Ecce Home".
Chaplain, St Paul's GirlsiSchool, London
Among the Aims and Ideals of Self-Realization Fellowship set forth by Paramahansa Yogananda is "To unite science and religion through realization of the unity of their underlying principles." Nobel laureate Charles Townes, inventor of the laser and maser, also sees science and religion on the road to an inevitable reconciliation after centuries of forced separation.
The ever-increasing success of science has posed many challenges and conflicts for religion — conflicts which are resolved in individual lives in a variety of ways. Some accept both religion and science as dealing with quite different matters by different methods, and thus separate them so widely in their thinking that no direct confrontation is possible. Some repair rather completely to the camp of science or of religion and regard the other as ultimately of little importance, if not downright harmful. To me science and religion are both universal, and basically very similar, if we look at the real nature of each. It is perhaps science whose real nature is the less obvious, because of its blinding superficial successes.
The march of science during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries produced enormous confidence in its success and generality. One field after another fell before the objective inquiry, experimental approach, and the logic of science. Scientific laws appeared to take on an absolute quality, and it was very easy to be convinced that science in time would
explain everything. This was the time when Laplace* could say that if he knew the position and velocity of every particle in the universe, and could calculate sufficiently well, he would then predict the entire future.
* Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749—1827), French astronomer and
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, many physical scientists viewed their work as almost complete and needing only some extension and more detailed refinement. But soon after, deep problems began to appear. The world seems relatively unaware of how deep these problems really were, and of the extent to which some of the most fundamental scientific ideas have been overturned by them. Many of the philosophical and conceptual bases of science have in fact been disturbed and revolutionized.
One of the strange aspects of the new quantum mechanics is called the uncertainty principle. This principle shows that if we try to say exactly where a particle (or object) is, we cannot say exactly how fast it is going and in what direction, all at the same time; or, if we determine its velocity, we can never say exactly what its position is. And so, according to this theory, Laplace was wrong from the beginning. If he were alive today, he would probably understand along with other contemporary physicists that it is fundamentally impossible to obtain the information necessary for his precise predictions, even if he were dealing with only one single particle, rather than the entire universe.
The modern laws of science seem, then, to have turned our thinking away from complete materialistic determinism and towards a world where chance plays a major role. It is chance on an atomic scale, but there are situations and times when the random change in position of one atom or one electron can materially affect the large-scale affairs of life and in fact
our entire society. A striking example involves Queen Victoria who, through one such event on an atomic scale, became a mutant and passed on to certain male descendants in Europe's royal families the trait of hemophilia. Thus one unpredictable event on an atomic scale had its effect on both the Spanish royal family and, through an afflicted czarevitch, on the stability of the Russian throne.
We come now to the similarity and near identity of science and religion. The goal of science is to discover the order in the universe, and to understand through it the things we sense around us, and even man himself. This order we express as scientific principles or laws, striving to state them in the simplest and yet most inclusive ways. The goal of religion may be stated, I believe, as an understanding (and hence acceptance) of the purpose and meaning of our universe and how we fit into it. Most religions see a unifying and inclusive origin of meaning, and this supreme purposeful force we call God.
Understanding the order in the universe and understanding the purpose in the universe are not identical, but they are also not very far apart. It is interesting that the Japanese word for physics is butsuri, which translated means simply the reasons for things. Thus we readily and inevitably link closely together the nature and purpose of our universe.
What are the aspects of religion and science which often make them seem almost diametrically opposite? Let us consider some of these aspects.
The essential role of faith in religion is so well known that it is usually taken as characteristic of religion, and as distinguishing religion from science. But faith is essential to science too, although we do not so generally recognize the basic need and nature of faith in science.
Faith is necessary for the scientist to even get started, and deep faith necessary for him to carry out his tougher tasks. Why? Because he must be personally committed to the belief that there is order in the universe and that the human mind — in fact his own mind — has a good chance of understanding this order. Without this belief, there would be little point in
intense effort to try to understand a presumably disorderly or incomprehensible world. Such a world would take us back to the days of superstition, when man thought capricious forces manipulated his universe. In fact, it is just this faith in an orderly universe, understandable to man, which allowed the basic change from an age of superstition to an age of science, and has made possible our scientific progress.
Another aspect of the scientist's faith is the assumption of an objective and unique reality which is shared by everyone. To put it more simply, the scientist assumes, and his experience affirms, that truth exists. The necessity of faith in science is reminiscent of the description of religious faith attributed to Constantine: "I believe so that I may know." But such faith is now so deeply rooted in the scientist that most of us never even
stop to think that it is there at all.
Another common idea about the difference between science and religion is based on their methods of discovery. Religion's discoveries often come by great revelations. Scientific knowledge, in the popular mind, comes by logical deduction, or by the accumulation of data which is analyzed by established methods in order to draw generalizations called laws. But
such a description of scientific discovery is a travesty of the real thing. Most of the important scientific discoveries come about very differently and are much more closely akin to revelation. The term itself is generally not used for scientific discovery, since we are in the habit of reserving revelation for the religious realm. In scientific circles one speaks of intuition, accidental discovery, or says simply that "he had a wonderful idea."
If we compare how great scientific ideas arrive, they look remarkably like religious revelation viewed in a non-mystical way. Think of Moses in the desert, long troubled and wondering about the problem of saving the children of Israel, when suddenly he had a revelation by the burning bush. A similar pattern is seen in many of the revelations of the Old and New Testaments. Think of Gautama the Buddha who traveled and inquired for years in an effort to understand what was good, and then one day sat down quietly under a bo tree where his ideas were revealed. Similarly, the scientist, after hard work and much emotional and intellectual commitment to a troubling problem, sometimes suddenly sees the answer. Such ideas much more often come during off-moments than while confronting data. A striking and well-known example is the discovery of the benzene ring by Kekule,* who while musing at his
fireside was led to the idea by the vision of a snake-like molecule taking its tail in its mouth. We cannot yet describe the human process which leads to the creation of an important and substantially new scientific insight. But it is clear that the great scientific discoveries, the real leaps, do not usually come from the so-called "scientific method," but rather more as did Kekule's— with perhaps less picturesque imagery, but by revelations which are just as real.
*Friedrich August Kekule Von Stradonitz (1829-1896)
Another popular view of the difference between science and religion is based on the notion that religious ideas depend only on faith and revelation while science succeeds in actually proving its points. In this view, proofs give to scientific ideas a certain kind of absolutism and universalism which religious ideas have only in the claims of their
proponents. But the actual nature of scientific "proof" is rather different from what this approach so simply assumes.
Mathematical or logical proof involves choice of some set of postulates, which hopefully are consistent with one another and which apply to a situation of interest. In the case of natural science, they are presumed to apply to the world around us. Next, on the basis of agreed-on laws of logic, which must also be assumed, one can derive or "prove" the
consequences of these postulates. How can we be sure the postulates are satisfactory? The mathematician Godel has shown that in the most generally used mathematics, it is fundamentally impossible to know whether or not the set of postulates chosen are even self-consistent. Only by constructing and using a new set of master postulates can we test the consistency of the first set. But these in turn may be logically inconsistent without the possibility of our knowing it. Thus we never have a real base from which we can reason with surety. Godel doubled our surprises by showing that, in this same mathematical realm, there are always mathematical truths which fundamentally cannot be proved by the approach of normal logic. His important proofs came only about three decades ago, and have profoundly affected our perspective on human logic.
There is another way by which we become convinced that a scientific idea or postulate is valid. In the natural sciences, we "prove" it by making some kind of test of the postulate against experience. We devise experiments to test our working hypotheses, and believe those laws or hypotheses are correct which seem to agree with our experience. Such tests can disprove an hypothesis, or can give us useful confidence in its applicability and correctness, but can never give proof in any absolute sense.
Can religious beliefs also be viewed as working hypotheses, tested and validated by experience? To some this may seem a secular and even an abhorrent view. But I see no reason why acceptance of religion on this basis should be objectionable. The validity of religious ideas must be and has been tested and judged through the ages by societies and by individual experience.
If science and religion are so broadly similar, and not arbitrarily limited in their domains, they should at some time clearly converge. I believe this confluence is inevitable. For they both represent man's efforts to understand his universe and must ultimately be dealing with the same substance. As we understand more in each realm, the two must grow
together, and through this should come new strength for both.
Condensed from a talk given at the Riverside Church in New York City in the 1960's
In 1911 the great experimental physicist Ernest Rutherford conducted an epoch-making experiment that revolutionized our understanding of the structure of matter. He bombarded a sheet of gold foil with alpha particles and was staggered by the extent to which the particles were deflected through wide angles, some of them even doubling back on their course.
Rutherford's astonishment bordered on incredulity when he said it was as if a 16 Inch shell had bounced backwards from a sheet of tissue paper. He deduced that the positive charge instead of being equally distributed throughout the atom was concentrated at one point. Rutherford had discovered the nucleus of the atom and consequently a whole new world of theoretical and experimental physics emerged which to this day challenges the enquiring mind of man and tests his technological wizardry to the limit.
This is but one spectacularly dramatic event amongst many in the unfolding drama of science. The element of surprise, coupled with the awe and respect and wonder it engenders is akin to the religious sense and it moves the philosopher, Karl Popper, to describe science as "one of the greatest spiritual adventures man has yet known". Scientific investigation reveals a world that is utterly different from what we ever imagined. "Subtle is the Lord" was Albert Einstein's aphoristic comment on the surprises nature has in store for us.
Those who subscribe to the view that science presents us with an orderly progression of knowledge about the world which satisfies our expectations need only consider the decade that spanned the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, arguably the most dramatic, abrupt and unanticipated transition in the whole history of science. For coupled with surprise, are problems concerning our ability to grasp and articulate the consequences of revolutionary scientific discovery.
If Einstcinian relativity theory requires of us a fundamental conceptual change in our view of the universe, quantum theory throws all our conceptual apparatus into disarray.. Neils Bohr, one of its founding fathers, commented that "he who is not shocked by quantum theory does not know the first thing about it."
A third characteristic of scientific discovery is identified by Fritjof Capra in his Too of Physics. He is not alone amongst physicists in attesting to the mystical element in the new physics. Many 'Contemporary physicists make a similar submission. It seems that man's relentless interrogation of the natural world has brought him to his knees once again, if not in worship of its creator, then in wonder, awe and humility for the world so revealed.
At yet another level philosophical questions cannot be eliminated from scientific enquiry. We are confronted by puzzles regarding the nature of physical reality, cause and effect, the relationship between subjective experience, or mental constructs, and the alleged objectivity of the world. We are still unclear about the nature of factual evidence and the ever slippery subject of truth.
With such a characterisation of contemporary science in terms of these four elements of surprise, inherent conceptual difficulties, philosophical problems and a deep mystical content, we find ourselves immediately in the realm of religion and theology. Theology has long occupied the same arena and wrestled with the same problems.
The element of surprise is perhaps the most significant. Religion is not primarily concerned with the fulfilment of our expectations or with the precise ordering of events that make up the future concerning our relationship with God and his ordering of the world.
Institutional religion may be tarred with this brush, as is institutional or "normal" science, but for scientific knowledge to grow and for religion to avoid stagnation and decay there must ever be room for the unexpected which at moments in history border on the incredible. Those of us who function from within institutional religion need to be reminded that we have almost certainly got it wrong. Hopefully we have got some things right and we tentatively hold to them but we must ever open our hearts and minds to the God of surprise.
As for the mystical, there are some religious apologists who have been seduced by the anti-metaphysical climate of our age into apologising for the mystical element in religion to the point of eliminating it altogether. But if we following the example of Procrustes and cut man down to fit into a bed of our own devising then we produce a maimed and stunted caricature of man.
At the intellectual level there are some theologians who have been led astray because they have not recognized that the conceptual and philosophical problems which beset us in our attempt to understand and articulate major theological issues are shared by scientists who reflect on their discoveries. The greatest need of theology today is to take the philosophy of science into account.
We could well apply these four observations to the scandal of the resurrection. This central pillar of the Christian faith is a stumbling block at the conceptual and philosophical level; it is nonsense without mystical apprehension: and it is always a surprise to which we react with a degree of incredulity. We may paraphrase Bohr's, reaction to quantum theory: he who is not shocked by the resurrection does not understand the first thing about it. But it has the ring of a truth which shakes us to the very foundations of our being.
BELIEFS Exploring the links between spirituality, mental health
A forum urges professionals to be sensitive to their clients' faiths and experiences.
By K. Connie Kang
Times Staff Writer
November 4, 2006
For decades, religion and psychotherapy — like oil and water — did not mix.
Clinical psychologists kept spirituality and religion out of their practice, while some religious people looked askance at psychotherapy.
Mental health professionals and religious workers are breaking out of their traditional ways to adopt holistic approaches — looking to see what they can learn, unlearn and cull from one another to better serve people who come to them for help. Also evident is mutual respect.
At the third national conference on spirituality and mental health, sponsored by Pasadena-based Pacific Clinics last week in Burbank, 400 people in caring professions and ministries spent a day together to talk about the importance of spirituality and religion in mental health.
Speakers and attendees included psychotherapists, social workers and parish nurses, along with rabbis, Protestant pastors and Catholic nuns and priests.
"Personally, I look upon Jesus as the great healer of our souls and bodies, but I am delighted to see this connection now of psychotherapy and religion," said the Rt. Rev. Alexei Smith, head of Interreligious and Ecumenical Affairs for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. "It's wonderful."
With two plenary speakers and 10 experts conducting separate sessions — topics included the classical Buddhist technique of "mindfulness" and the emerging practice of "positive psychology" — there was something for everyone.
But one theme ran through "Spirituality and Mental Health: New Horizons, New Directions": People with solid spiritual foundations tend to be healthier and recover better when their lives turn for the worse.
"You never see this in textbooks," said plenary speaker and psychologist William R. Miller. He cited substance abuse as one example. Apart from family history, spiritual or religious involvement is one of the most consistently documented "protective factors" guarding against substance abuse or dependence, he said.
Conversely, people entering treatment for drug addiction tend to show alienation from religion, low involvement in spiritual practices or unusually low rates of religious affiliation, he said. Miller is regarded as a pioneer researcher on the use of spirituality in substance abuse treatment and recently retired as a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of New Mexico.
In the context of the conference, spirituality was viewed broadly — encompassing not only religions, belief in God or some other higher power, but also thoughts, feelings, experiences and actions related to a search for the sacred.
In one well-attended session, the Rev. Siang-Yang Tan, a professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, talked about spiritually oriented psychotherapy.
Whatever spiritual intervention that therapists might choose — Scriptures, prayer or silence — must be relevant to the disorder under treatment, said Tan, a clinical psychologist and senior pastor of First Evangelical Church in Glendale.
"We have to be careful, because religious and spiritual interventions can be misused or abused," he said. "You have to use it carefully, ethically, professionally and gently."
Even when a therapist and client come from the same religious background, one cannot assume anything. Suppose a Christian therapist has a charismatic client who wants to pray in tongues, a practice that makes that therapist feel uncomfortable, Tan said.
"The best thing is to refer the client to a Pentecostal counselor," he said.
But Tan said all mental health professionals must be sensitive to spiritual and religious clients and that aspect of their lives.
He also spoke of the new movement called positive psychology, being developed by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania.
Its direction is toward the "positive sides of human experiences," emphasizing virtues, character strengths and learning to be grateful, he said.
For example, its practitioners ask clients to keep a "gratitude journal" and list at least three things they are grateful for each day.
Although not a religious movement, it overlaps with many religious and spiritual experiences, he said, noting that the emphasis on the positive comes straight from a popular hymn, "Count Your Blessings, Name Them One by One."
Regardless of their religious affiliation, or lack of it, therapists must be spiritually sensitive, because an overwhelming majority of Americans believe in God, Tan said.
Surveys show that more than 90% of Americans say they believe in God and about 80% describe themselves as Christians.
For the majority of religious people, he said, their religious and spiritual resources are important coping mechanisms.
A 2002 revised Code of Ethics of the American Psychological Assn. includes religion as an important human diversity factor, Tan said.
"For a long time, we've been talking about being sensitive to cultural issues," he said. "But how can you be culturally sensitive without being religiously sensitive? In almost all cultures, religion is a big part of the culture."
In another session, conducted by Bhante Chao Chu, abbot of the Rosemead Buddhist Monastery, the message was simple: Slow down, meditate, be mindful of each moment with each breath you take.
Slowing down one's reactions doesn't mean being sluggish or lazy, said the Sri Lanka-born monk. Rather, it means being fully aware of "this very moment."
Calm and looking as if on the verge of breaking into a gentle smile, the saffron-robe-clad monk talked about the importance of breathing and walking as meditation techniques.
One of the best ways to meditate is walking, he said. He then proceeded to demonstrate by standing erect, clasping his hands behind him and taking a few steps very slowly.
"When we walk, we walk slowly, keep the head straight. It's very important to keep the head straight," Chu said. "Holding hands behind you helps you walk in balance."
When you reach a barrier during your walk, stop and relax there for 10 to 20 seconds before changing course, he advised.
"The mind is not something we can show you, but [it is] easy to contaminate," he said. "It takes a lot of time and energy to purify. It's like water. We need to take care of our mind."
Before his walking demonstration, Chu had led another exercise, directing members of the overflow audience to put one hand on their abdomen.
"The rising and falling of your abdomen — focus on that," he said, standing still and surveying the group.
During the five-minute segments of this mindfulness training, when all closed their eyes and focused on breathing, it seemed as though time had stopped. Five minutes seemed longer than 300 seconds.
And when the monk called out softly that the five minutes were up, the audience members opened their eyes slowly as if waking from a dream.
We revere faith and scientific progress, hunger for miracles and for MRIs. But are the worldviews compatible? TIME convenes a debate
By DAVID VAN BIEMA
There are two great debates under the broad heading of Science vs. God. The more familiar over the past few years is the narrower of the two: Can Darwinian evolution withstand the criticisms of Christians who believe that it contradicts the creation account in the Book of Genesis? In recent years, creationism took on new currency as the spiritual progenitor of "intelligent design" (I.D.), a scientifically worded attempt to show that blanks in the evolutionary narrative are more meaningful than its very convincing totality. I.D. lost some of its journalistic heat last December when a federal judge dismissed it as pseudoscience unsuitable for teaching in Pennsylvania schools.
But in fact creationism and I.D. are intimately related to a larger unresolved question, in which the aggressor's role is reversed: Can religion stand up to the progress of science? This debate long predates Darwin, but the antireligion position is being promoted with increasing insistence by scientists angered by intelligent design and excited, perhaps intoxicated, by their disciplines' increasing ability to map, quantify and change the nature of human experience. Brain imaging illustrates--in color!--the physical seat of the will and the passions, challenging the religious concept of a soul independent of glands and gristle. Brain chemists track imbalances that could account for the ecstatic states of visionary saints or, some suggest, of Jesus. Like Freudianism before it, the field of evolutionary psychology generates theories of altruism and even of religion that do not include God. Something called the multiverse hypothesis in cosmology speculates that ours may be but one in a cascade of universes, suddenly bettering the odds that life could have cropped up here accidentally, without divine intervention. (If the probabilities were 1 in a billion, and you've got 300 billion universes, why not?)
Roman Catholicism's Christoph Cardinal Schönborn has dubbed the most fervent of faith-challenging scientists followers of "scientism" or "evolutionism," since they hope science, beyond being a measure, can replace religion as a worldview and a touchstone. It is not an epithet that fits everyone wielding a test tube. But a growing proportion of the profession is experiencing what one major researcher calls "unprecedented outrage" at perceived insults to research and rationality, ranging from the alleged influence of the Christian right on Bush Administration science policy to the fanatic faith of the 9/11 terrorists to intelligent design's ongoing claims. Some are radicalized enough to publicly pick an ancient scab: the idea that science and religion, far from being complementary responses to the unknown, are at utter odds--or, as Yale psychologist Paul Bloom has written bluntly, "Religion and science will always clash." The market seems flooded with books by scientists describing a caged death match between science and God--with science winning, or at least chipping away at faith's underlying verities.
Finding a spokesman for this side of the question was not hard, since Richard Dawkins, perhaps its foremost polemicist, has just come out with The God Delusion (Houghton Mifflin), the rare volume whose position is so clear it forgoes a subtitle. The five-week New York Times best seller (now at No. attacks faith philosophically and historically as well as scientifically, but leans heavily on Darwinian theory, which was Dawkins' expertise as a young scientist and more recently as an explicator of evolutionary psychology so lucid that he occupies the Charles Simonyi professorship for the public understanding of science at Oxford University.
Dawkins is riding the crest of an atheist literary wave. In 2004, The End of Faith, a multipronged indictment by neuroscience grad student Sam Harris, was published (over 400,000 copies in print). Harris has written a 96-page follow-up, Letter to a Christian Nation, which is now No. 14 on the Times list. Last February, Tufts University philosopher Daniel Dennett produced Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, which has sold fewer copies but has helped usher the discussion into the public arena.
If Dennett and Harris are almost-scientists (Dennett runs a multidisciplinary scientific-philosophic program), the authors of half a dozen aggressively secular volumes are card carriers: In Moral Minds, Harvard biologist Marc Hauser explores the--nondivine--origins of our sense of right and wrong (September); in Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast (due in January) by self-described "atheist-reductionist-materialist" biologist Lewis Wolpert, religion is one of those impossible things; Victor Stenger, a physicist-astronomer, has a book coming out titled God: The Failed Hypothesis. Meanwhile, Ann Druyan, widow of archskeptical astrophysicist Carl Sagan, has edited Sagan's unpublished lectures on God and his absence into a book, The Varieties of Scientific Experience, out this month.
Dawkins and his army have a swarm of articulate theological opponents, of course. But the most ardent of these don't really care very much about science, and an argument in which one party stands immovable on Scripture and the other immobile on the periodic table doesn't get anyone very far. Most Americans occupy the middle ground: we want it all. We want to cheer on science's strides and still humble ourselves on the Sabbath. We want access to both MRIs and miracles. We want debates about issues like stem cells without conceding that the positions are so intrinsically inimical as to make discussion fruitless. And to balance formidable standard bearers like Dawkins, we seek those who possess religious conviction but also scientific achievements to credibly argue the widespread hope that science and God are in harmony--that, indeed, science is of God.
Informed conciliators have recently become more vocal. Stanford University biologist Joan Roughgarden has just come out with Evolution and Christian Faith, which provides what she calls a "strong Christian defense" of evolutionary biology, illustrating the discipline's major concepts with biblical passages. Entomologist Edward O. Wilson, a famous skeptic of standard faith, has written The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth, urging believers and non-believers to unite over conservation. But foremost of those arguing for common ground is Francis Collins.
Collins' devotion to genetics is, if possible, greater than Dawkins'. Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute since 1993, he headed a multinational 2,400-scientist team that co-mapped the 3 billion biochemical letters of our genetic blueprint, a milestone that then President Bill Clinton honored in a 2000 White House ceremony, comparing the genome chart to Meriwether Lewis' map of his fateful continental exploration. Collins continues to lead his institute in studying the genome and mining it for medical breakthroughs.
He is also a forthright Christian who converted from atheism at age 27 and now finds time to advise young evangelical scientists on how to declare their faith in science's largely agnostic upper reaches. His summer best seller, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (Free Press), laid out some of the arguments he brought to bear in the 90-minute debate TIME arranged between Dawkins and Collins in our offices at the Time & Life Building in New York City on Sept. 30. Some excerpts from their spirited exchange:
TIME: Professor Dawkins, if one truly understands science, is God then a delusion, as your book title suggests?
DAWKINS: The question of whether there exists a supernatural creator, a God, is one of the most important that we have to answer. I think that it is a scientific question. My answer is no.
TIME: Dr. Collins, you believe that science is compatible with Christian faith.
COLLINS: Yes. God's existence is either true or not. But calling it a scientific question implies that the tools of science can provide the answer. From my perspective, God cannot be completely contained within nature, and therefore God's existence is outside of science's ability to really weigh in.
TIME: Stephen Jay Gould, a Harvard paleontologist, famously argued that religion and science can coexist, because they occupy separate, airtight boxes. You both seem to disagree.
COLLINS: Gould sets up an artificial wall between the two worldviews that doesn't exist in my life. Because I do believe in God's creative power in having brought it all into being in the first place, I find that studying the natural world is an opportunity to observe the majesty, the elegance, the intricacy of God's creation.
DAWKINS: I think that Gould's separate compartments was a purely political ploy to win middle-of-the-road religious people to the science camp. But it's a very empty idea. There are plenty of places where religion does not keep off the scientific turf. Any belief in miracles is flat contradictory not just to the facts of science but to the spirit of science.
TIME: Professor Dawkins, you think Darwin's theory of evolution does more than simply contradict the Genesis story.
DAWKINS: Yes. For centuries the most powerful argument for God's existence from the physical world was the so-called argument from design: Living things are so beautiful and elegant and so apparently purposeful, they could only have been made by an intelligent designer. But Darwin provided a simpler explanation. His way is a gradual, incremental improvement starting from very simple beginnings and working up step by tiny incremental step to more complexity, more elegance, more adaptive perfection. Each step is not too improbable for us to countenance, but when you add them up cumulatively over millions of years, you get these monsters of improbability, like the human brain and the rain forest. It should warn us against ever again assuming that because something is complicated, God must have done it.
COLLINS: I don't see that Professor Dawkins' basic account of evolution is incompatible with God's having designed it.
TIME: When would this have occurred?
COLLINS: By being outside of nature, God is also outside of space and time. Hence, at the moment of the creation of the universe, God could also have activated evolution, with full knowledge of how it would turn out, perhaps even including our having this conversation. The idea that he could both foresee the future and also give us spirit and free will to carry out our own desires becomes entirely acceptable.
DAWKINS: I think that's a tremendous cop-out. If God wanted to create life and create humans, it would be slightly odd that he should choose the extraordinarily roundabout way of waiting for 10 billion years before life got started and then waiting for another 4 billion years until you got human beings capable of worshipping and sinning and all the other things religious people are interested in.
COLLINS: Who are we to say that that was an odd way to do it? I don't think that it is God's purpose to make his intention absolutely obvious to us. If it suits him to be a deity that we must seek without being forced to, would it not have been sensible for him to use the mechanism of evolution without posting obvious road signs to reveal his role in creation?
TIME: Both your books suggest that if the universal constants, the six or more characteristics of our universe, had varied at all, it would have made life impossible. Dr. Collins, can you provide an example?
COLLINS: The gravitational constant, if it were off by one part in a hundred million million, then the expansion of the universe after the Big Bang would not have occurred in the fashion that was necessary for life to occur. When you look at that evidence, it is very difficult to adopt the view that this was just chance. But if you are willing to consider the possibility of a designer, this becomes a rather plausible explanation for what is otherwise an exceedingly improbable event--namely, our existence.
DAWKINS: People who believe in God conclude there must have been a divine knob twiddler who twiddled the knobs of these half-dozen constants to get them exactly right. The problem is that this says, because something is vastly improbable, we need a God to explain it. But that God himself would be even more improbable. Physicists have come up with other explanations. One is to say that these six constants are not free to vary. Some unified theory will eventually show that they are as locked in as the circumference and the diameter of a circle. That reduces the odds of them all independently just happening to fit the bill. The other way is the multiverse way. That says that maybe the universe we are in is one of a very large number of universes. The vast majority will not contain life because they have the wrong gravitational constant or the wrong this constant or that constant. But as the number of universes climbs, the odds mount that a tiny minority of universes will have the right fine-tuning.
COLLINS: This is an interesting choice. Barring a theoretical resolution, which I think is unlikely, you either have to say there are zillions of parallel universes out there that we can't observe at present or you have to say there was a plan. I actually find the argument of the existence of a God who did the planning more compelling than the bubbling of all these multiverses. So Occam's razor--Occam says you should choose the explanation that is most simple and straightforward--leads me more to believe in God than in the multiverse, which seems quite a stretch of the imagination.
DAWKINS: I accept that there may be things far grander and more incomprehensible than we can possibly imagine. What I can't understand is why you invoke improbability and yet you will not admit that you're shooting yourself in the foot by postulating something just as improbable, magicking into existence the word God.
COLLINS: My God is not improbable to me. He has no need of a creation story for himself or to be fine-tuned by something else. God is the answer to all of those "How must it have come to be" questions.
DAWKINS: I think that's the mother and father of all cop-outs. It's an honest scientific quest to discover where this apparent improbability comes from. Now Dr. Collins says, "Well, God did it. And God needs no explanation because God is outside all this." Well, what an incredible evasion of the responsibility to explain. Scientists don't do that. Scientists say, "We're working on it. We're struggling to understand."
COLLINS: Certainly science should continue to see whether we can find evidence for multiverses that might explain why our own universe seems to be so finely tuned. But I do object to the assumption that anything that might be outside of nature is ruled out of the conversation. That's an impoverished view of the kinds of questions we humans can ask, such as "Why am I here?", "What happens after we die?", "Is there a God?" If you refuse to acknowledge their appropriateness, you end up with a zero probability of God after examining the natural world because it doesn't convince you on a proof basis. But if your mind is open about whether God might exist, you can point to aspects of the universe that are consistent with that conclusion.
DAWKINS: To me, the right approach is to say we are profoundly ignorant of these matters. We need to work on them. But to suddenly say the answer is God--it's that that seems to me to close off the discussion.
TIME: Could the answer be God?
DAWKINS: There could be something incredibly grand and incomprehensible and beyond our present understanding.
COLLINS: That's God.
DAWKINS: Yes. But it could be any of a billion Gods. It could be God of the Martians or of the inhabitants of Alpha Centauri. The chance of its being a particular God, Yahweh, the God of Jesus, is vanishingly small--at the least, the onus is on you to demonstrate why you think that's the case.
TIME: The Book of Genesis has led many conservative Protestants to oppose evolution and some to insist that the earth is only 6,000 years old.
COLLINS: There are sincere believers who interpret Genesis 1 and 2 in a very literal way that is inconsistent, frankly, with our knowledge of the universe's age or of how living organisms are related to each other. St. Augustine wrote that basically it is not possible to understand what was being described in Genesis. It was not intended as a science textbook. It was intended as a description of who God was, who we are and what our relationship is supposed to be with God. Augustine explicitly warns against a very narrow perspective that will put our faith at risk of looking ridiculous. If you step back from that one narrow interpretation, what the Bible describes is very consistent with the Big Bang.
DAWKINS: Physicists are working on the Big Bang, and one day they may or may not solve it. However, what Dr. Collins has just been--may I call you Francis?
COLLINS: Oh, please, Richard, do so.
DAWKINS: What Francis was just saying about Genesis was, of course, a little private quarrel between him and his Fundamentalist colleagues ...
COLLINS: It's not so private. It's rather public. [Laughs.]
DAWKINS: ... It would be unseemly for me to enter in except to suggest that he'd save himself an awful lot of trouble if he just simply ceased to give them the time of day. Why bother with these clowns?
COLLINS: Richard, I think we don't do a service to dialogue between science and faith to characterize sincere people by calling them names. That inspires an even more dug-in position. Atheists sometimes come across as a bit arrogant in this regard, and characterizing faith as something only an idiot would attach themselves to is not likely to help your case.
TIME: Dr. Collins, the Resurrection is an essential argument of Christian faith, but doesn't it, along with the virgin birth and lesser miracles, fatally undermine the scientific method, which depends on the constancy of natural laws?
COLLINS: If you're willing to answer yes to a God outside of nature, then there's nothing inconsistent with God on rare occasions choosing to invade the natural world in a way that appears miraculous. If God made the natural laws, why could he not violate them when it was a particularly significant moment for him to do so? And if you accept the idea that Christ was also divine, which I do, then his Resurrection is not in itself a great logical leap.
TIME: Doesn't the very notion of miracles throw off science?
COLLINS: Not at all. If you are in the camp I am, one place where science and faith could touch each other is in the investigation of supposedly miraculous events.
DAWKINS: If ever there was a slamming of the door in the face of constructive investigation, it is the word miracle. To a medieval peasant, a radio would have seemed like a miracle. All kinds of things may happen which we by the lights of today's science would classify as a miracle just as medieval science might a Boeing 747. Francis keeps saying things like "From the perspective of a believer." Once you buy into the position of faith, then suddenly you find yourself losing all of your natural skepticism and your scientific--really scientific--credibility. I'm sorry to be so blunt.
COLLINS: Richard, I actually agree with the first part of what you said. But I would challenge the statement that my scientific instincts are any less rigorous than yours. The difference is that my presumption of the possibility of God and therefore the supernatural is not zero, and yours is.
TIME: Dr. Collins, you have described humanity's moral sense not only as a gift from God but as a signpost that he exists.
COLLINS: There is a whole field of inquiry that has come up in the last 30 or 40 years--some call it sociobiology or evolutionary psychology--relating to where we get our moral sense and why we value the idea of altruism, and locating both answers in behavioral adaptations for the preservation of our genes. But if you believe, and Richard has been articulate in this, that natural selection operates on the individual, not on a group, then why would the individual risk his own DNA doing something selfless to help somebody in a way that might diminish his chance of reproducing? Granted, we may try to help our own family members because they share our DNA. Or help someone else in expectation that they will help us later. But when you look at what we admire as the most generous manifestations of altruism, they are not based on kin selection or reciprocity. An extreme example might be Oskar Schindler risking his life to save more than a thousand Jews from the gas chambers. That's the opposite of saving his genes. We see less dramatic versions every day. Many of us think these qualities may come from God--especially since justice and morality are two of the attributes we most readily identify with God.
DAWKINS: Can I begin with an analogy? Most people understand that sexual lust has to do with propagating genes. Copulation in nature tends to lead to reproduction and so to more genetic copies. But in modern society, most copulations involve contraception, designed precisely to avoid reproduction. Altruism probably has origins like those of lust. In our prehistoric past, we would have lived in extended families, surrounded by kin whose interests we might have wanted to promote because they shared our genes. Now we live in big cities. We are not among kin nor people who will ever reciprocate our good deeds. It doesn't matter. Just as people engaged in sex with contraception are not aware of being motivated by a drive to have babies, it doesn't cross our mind that the reason for do-gooding is based in the fact that our primitive ancestors lived in small groups. But that seems to me to be a highly plausible account for where the desire for morality, the desire for goodness, comes from.
COLLINS: For you to argue that our noblest acts are a misfiring of Darwinian behavior does not do justice to the sense we all have about the absolutes that are involved here of good and evil. Evolution may explain some features of the moral law, but it can't explain why it should have any real significance. If it is solely an evolutionary convenience, there is really no such thing as good or evil. But for me, it is much more than that. The moral law is a reason to think of God as plausible--not just a God who sets the universe in motion but a God who cares about human beings, because we seem uniquely amongst creatures on the planet to have this far-developed sense of morality. What you've said implies that outside of the human mind, tuned by evolutionary processes, good and evil have no meaning. Do you agree with that?
DAWKINS: Even the question you're asking has no meaning to me. Good and evil--I don't believe that there is hanging out there, anywhere, something called good and something called evil. I think that there are good things that happen and bad things that happen.
COLLINS: I think that is a fundamental difference between us. I'm glad we identified it.
TIME: Dr. Collins, I know you favor the opening of new stem-cell lines for experimentation. But doesn't the fact that faith has caused some people to rule this out risk creating a perception that religion is preventing science from saving lives?
COLLINS: Let me first say as a disclaimer that I speak as a private citizen and not as a representative of the Executive Branch of the United States government. The impression that people of faith are uniformly opposed to stem-cell research is not documented by surveys. In fact, many people of strong religious conviction think this can be a morally supportable approach.
TIME: But to the extent that a person argues on the basis of faith or Scripture rather than reason, how can scientists respond?
COLLINS: Faith is not the opposite of reason. Faith rests squarely upon reason, but with the added component of revelation. So such discussions between scientists and believers happen quite readily. But neither scientists nor believers always embody the principles precisely. Scientists can have their judgment clouded by their professional aspirations. And the pure truth of faith, which you can think of as this clear spiritual water, is poured into rusty vessels called human beings, and so sometimes the benevolent principles of faith can get distorted as positions are hardened.
DAWKINS: For me, moral questions such as stem-cell research turn upon whether suffering is caused. In this case, clearly none is. The embryos have no nervous system. But that's not an issue discussed publicly. The issue is, Are they human? If you are an absolutist moralist, you say, "These cells are human, and therefore they deserve some kind of special moral treatment." Absolutist morality doesn't have to come from religion but usually does.
We slaughter nonhuman animals in factory farms, and they do have nervous systems and do suffer. People of faith are not very interested in their suffering.
COLLINS: Do humans have a different moral significance than cows in general?
DAWKINS: Humans have more moral responsibility perhaps, because they are capable of reasoning.
TIME: Do the two of you have any concluding thoughts?
COLLINS: I just would like to say that over more than a quarter-century as a scientist and a believer, I find absolutely nothing in conflict between agreeing with Richard in practically all of his conclusions about the natural world, and also saying that I am still able to accept and embrace the possibility that there are answers that science isn't able to provide about the natural world--the questions about why instead of the questions about how. I'm interested in the whys. I find many of those answers in the spiritual realm. That in no way compromises my ability to think rigorously as a scientist.
DAWKINS: My mind is not closed, as you have occasionally suggested, Francis. My mind is open to the most wonderful range of future possibilities, which I cannot even dream about, nor can you, nor can anybody else. What I am skeptical about is the idea that whatever wonderful revelation does come in the science of the future, it will turn out to be one of the particular historical religions that people happen to have dreamed up. When we started out and we were talking about the origins of the universe and the physical constants, I provided what I thought were cogent arguments against a supernatural intelligent designer. But it does seem to me to be a worthy idea. Refutable--but nevertheless grand and big enough to be worthy of respect. I don't see the Olympian gods or Jesus coming down and dying on the Cross as worthy of that grandeur. They strike me as parochial. If there is a God, it's going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed.
With reporting by With reporting by David Bjerklie, Alice Park/New York, Dan Cray/Los Angeles, Jeff Israely/Rome
Who does not sympathize with Philip, the disciple who asked Jesus to show him the Father? Or with Thomas who could not believe in the Resurrection until he had himself seen the risen Jesus? Seeing is believing. And particularly does that seem to be the case today where, under the influence of modern scientific thinking, we do not expect to have to believe in anything until we see the evidence for it.
But is it really true that scientists believe only what can be directly experienced? How about gravity? Release an object, a comb. say. and it falls to the ground. Why does it fall? Gravity. But we cannot see gravity — not gravity itself.
The reason we believe in it is that acceptance of the existence of gravity helps us to explain many of the phenomena that we do see: all falling objects (not just combs), the motions of the planets, and so on.
Pick up the comb and pass it through your hair. It is now capable of attracting and picking up a small piece of paper. How does it do it? Electricity. Can we see electricity? Once more the answer is no. Belief in electricity, like that in gravity, comes about because such an acceptance again allows us to explain a wide variety of phenomena that can be seen, whilst the cause itself, as before, remains unseen.
How about the composition of the comb — what is it made of? Quarks and electrons, the infinitesimally small constituents of atoms. Being so small, they too cannot be seen. Again we find ourselves believing in things that are not accessible to us directly.
This is not to deny that science is fundamentally rooted in careful observation of the world; to this extent seeing is indeed believing. But there is more to science than describing merely what is seen. Science seeks to go beyond appearances and explain what is observed. It is in doing this that it cannot help but make reference to that which, by its very nature, must remain unseen.
Science is not alone in this. Recently, turning over the soil in my garden, I inadvertently cut through a worm. Automatically I thought of it as being in pain. But was it really? Both sections of the unfortunate worm's body were writhing. Was I to conclude that both were in pain, the worm now having two minds? Or does a worm have no mind, no feelings? It is impossible to say. Minds, thoughts, feelings cannot be seen.
Indeed, if I am to be strictly accurate and pedantic. I cannot claim to know for certain that anyone. apart from myself, has mental experiences -and I don't just mean having doubts about the minds of animals. I could in a perfectly consistent manner account for all the behaviour of other human beings using only physical terms such as quark, electron, gravity and electricity.
Of course, in practice I do no such thing. I recognize that such a description, whilst having specialized uses, does not do full justice to what I observe. There are certain contexts in which there is a need to switch to a more appropriate explanatory framework - one dealing in mental concepts such as thoughts, feelings, motivations, and so on. rather than in physical ones. There is a need to speak of a meeting of minds as well as an interaction between physical bodies. Unless we are able to switch naturally and effortlessly from one explanatory framework to the other, as the occasion demands, being prepared to supplement physical explanations with mental ones, much of the significance of what is going on around us would pass us by.
It is with such thoughts in mind we approach the question of religious belief. The religious believer accepts a need for a third explanatory framework - one that deals in spiritual entities, like God. As with the concepts associated with the physical and mental frameworks, those of the spiritual description refer to that which must remain hidden from direct observation.
Just as unseen gravity reveals itself through phenomena such as falling objects, and unseen minds reveal themselves through the physical movements of human bodies, so the unseen God reveals himself through the created world, through the lives of other people, and for Christians, pre-eminently through the life of Christ.
Jesus, in his response to Philip's request to be shown the Father, said: "Anyone who has seen me, has seen the Father". It is as though someone asked me, as a professional physicist, to be shown gravity, and I replied: "Anyone who has seen the comb fall, has seen gravity". Literally speaking, it is not true. But at a deeper level - a level at which one thinks of revelation through some mediating agency, rather than by direct apprehension - it is true.
Finally let me add that this recognition of the spiritual dimension is not simply a matter of gaining a deeper, more satisfying understanding of what is going on. Such a recognition alters one's behaviour, attitude, and quality of life.
Someone sensitively respecting other people's feelings, or those of animals, treats them differently to someone who regards them merely as physical objects.
In the same way, acceptance that we are spiritual beings, and children of the same Heavenly Father, brings about, in its own way, a reorientution of one's life and attitudes as profound and far-reaching.
The author is Professor of Physics at the Open University
I would like to greet everyone Salegrah Mubarak with the following message on the connection between mind and body. In religious traditions, controlling evil instincts and to achieve emotional stability is very important for spirtual progress and wellbeing. For example, in the following verse of the Ginan 'Ava Gur Nar Ne Srevo', Pir Sadardin States:
ejee aavaa pa(n)j bhu vas karee,
chaare jug ni kalaa gur nee joelaa;
karoddee tetrees devataa naa melaa maa(n)he hoelaa...tam su(n)....3
Meaning: By thus subduing the five passions (lust, greed, anger, pride and attraction to illusion) , the Guide's marvellous power that endures through the four ages is seen, and one enters the company of the thirty-three crores of deities.
The following article that appeared in the SRF Magazine explains that controlling the emotional state one also becomes physically healthy. As a corollary, if there is emotional and pyschological instability, the physical health is vulnerable to diseases.
BODY OF EMOTION
By Alice Lesch Kelly
Published in the SRF Magazine Winter 2006 issue (Reprinted by permission of Natural Health magazine, 2005 Welder Publications, Inc.)
How Our Emotions Can Keep Us Healthy — Or Make Us Sick
Call it a clinical study for two: You and your sister attended a family reunion filled with sniffling cousins. Now you have a cold, but your sister's in perfect health. Why? You both eat well, exercise regularly, don't smoke, and it's not like your sister has superior genes. It could be stress. All those budgets and deadlines and seven-year itches you've been dealing with can depress your immune system. In fact, researchers have shown stress can take years off you—and not in the good way. These scientists are now proving in the laboratory what traditional healers have instinctively known: that the mind and body are intricately linked, and when either is weak, the other suffers. In fact, your emotions are so connected to your physical being that they can elicit tangible physical responses.One field in particular has made great strides in understanding the connections between our emotions, well-being, and immune-system function. It's called—take a breath—psychoneuroimmunology (also referred to as PNI).
PNI originated in the 1970s, a time when the Western medical establishment believed the immune system worked autonomously, without much help from the heart or mind. Then Robert Ader, Ph.D., and his colleagues in the department of psychiatry at the University of
Rochester, New York, discovered the immune system could be psychologically conditioned to perform a certain way.
In a laboratory study, Ader fed rats saccharine while simultaneously giving them an immunosuppressive drug that caused an upset stomach. After just one pairing of the sweetener with the medication, the rodents learned to avoid the saccharine, because they associated it with stomach discomfort. And the more of the stomach-upsetting drug they received, the greater their avoidance of the saccharine.
The study was then repeated using only the saccharine, and, much to Ader's surprise, many of the rats died. Then he figured it out: Even when the rats did not receive the drug, their bodies associated the saccharine with the suppression of immune function; in response, their immune systems actually became weaker. In other words, Ader had conditioned an immunosuppressive response—and the more saccharine the rats received, the more likely they were to die. The experiment led to a then-radical conclusion: The mind and the immune system are linked.
"There were lots of responses to our study—and some of them you can't print," Ader says today. "But our results showed you've got to deal with the whole adaptive system of the organism and not just a single element of the system."
Molecules of Emotion
Mind-body medicine took another big step forward in the lab of Candace Pert, Ph.D., a scientist at Johns Hopkins University. Pert made history when she discovered the receptors that allow the body to use natural and synthetic opiates. That led to the discovery of peptides—the short chains of amino acids that act as chemical messengers—and peptide receptors. Pert found that emotions trigger the release of peptides, which then travel to receptors throughout the body.
She calls peptides the molecules of emotion. "A feeling sparked in your mind will translate as a peptide being released somewhere," says Pert, now a neuropharmacologist at Georgetown University School of Medicine. "Peptides regulate every aspect of your body, from whether you're going to digest your food properly to whether you're going to destroy a tumor cell."
Peptide receptors, which are found in the organs, endocrine glands, skin, muscle, and other body tissues, store emotional information received from the peptides. Therefore, emotional memories can be stored not only in the brain, but also in many places in the body. That would explain, for example, why people have "gut feelings" or why memories and emotions
sometimes pop up during massage or acupuncture—because emotional memories "live" in the body's tissues, Pert says.
The discovery of peptides and peptide receptors offered, for the first time, tangible evidence of the actual physical exchange between mind and body and the biochemical basis of emotion—and confirmed what Eastern healers have long known intuitively. Also, while peptides and their receptors are located throughout the body, they're concentrated in the places that correspond to the chakras, the seven areas around the spine where, according to Eastern medicine, energy is gathered and then distributed to organs and tissues. "It blew me away when I realized this," Pert says.
When your body is in balance, peptides and receptors are able to do their jobs correctly, but when the body is thrown out of balance by intense emotions, the system works less effectively. For example, nervousness might cause a peptide miscommunication that would result in too much water being held in the intestines, and thus, diarrhea — a direct physical result of an emotional state.
What does this mean for you? Fighting off and healing from disease requires a strong immune system and balanced emotions. It's never an either-or situation: The immune system works well when your system of peptides and receptors is in balance, and the peptide system is in balance when you are emotionally strong and healthy. Thus, when you're dealing with difficult emotions, both your peptide and immune systems may be compromised. That's why it's important to stay emotionally healthy — not an easy task in this stressful world.
Healing emotional stress can be complicated, but it's worthwhile because of the positive effect this can have on your immune system. Finding a way to let go of deep-seated anger, for example, can boost your immunity. "Anger and blaming others takes a lot of energy away from healing," Pert says. "One of the most powerful emotions that has to be expressed is forgiveness."
In the years since Ader and Pert made their discoveries, researchers have been busy learning more about how the nervous, immune, and endocrine systems work together. Several large-scale epidemiological studies have established that depressive feelings are associated with an
increased incidence of death from all causes, says Neil Schneiderman, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Miami. Other investigations have shown that people who are prone to hostility and anger have an increased risk of developing heart disease.
Here are some of the most recently found links between emotional and physical health:
CHRONIC STRESS AGES HUMAN CELLS. Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, compared the mothers of healthy children with the mothers of chronically ill children. Their report, published last December in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,
found the stress of caring for a sick child causes cellular changes. The stressed women's cells had shorter telomeres, which are bits of DNA found at the end of chromosomes.
Telomeres shorten slightly each time a cell divides; as a result, they're much shorter in older people. The telomeres of the most stressed participants had cells that appeared about 10 years older than the women were chronologically; the cells also had lower levels of an enzyme that repairs damaged telomeres, and higher levels of free radicals, which can damage DNA.
PSYCHOLOGICAL TENSION MAY SPEED THE ONSET OF CANCER.
In a study at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University, mice were exposed to a psychologically stressful situation—the smell of fox urine—along with large amounts of ultraviolet light. The results, published in the December 2004 Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, found that the mice developed skin cancers more than twice as fast as mice exposed to only the UV light. The researchers suggested humans could have a similar response.
DISTURBING EMOTIONS CAN CAUSE PHYSICAL DAMAGE. Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, asked one group of college students to write about an upsetting experience that made them feel bad about themselves, while a second group of students wrote about neutral
The study, published in Psychosomatic Medicine, determined the first group secreted greater amounts of a marker of pro-inflammatory activity than the second group. The more shame and anxiety the participants felt, the more of this inflammatory marker their bodies produced.
PATIENT CONFIDENCE BOOSTS TREATMENT RESULTS. In a recent study published in the journal Prevention & Treatment, Italian researchers administered pain medicine to two sets of people: those who knew they were receiving a potent treatment and those who received the treatment without their knowledge. The same medication ended up being more effective in the aware patients.
These are the kinds of findings Pert has in mind when she says emotions "run every system in our bodies." Stress, anxiety, depression, and other difficult feelings dampen the immune system. So what started as an odd experiment with rats and artificial sweetener has grown into a whole new way of looking at human health. Says Ader: "The field has burgeoned beyond what anyone would have expected."
Emotions are double-edged swords. They allow us to fully experience our humanity, but they also impact our immune systems. That means we need a new definition of wellness. Because the mind and body are essentially one, relieving stress, letting go of anger, and finding productive ways to cope with the difficulties of life may be as important to our health as nutrition, exercise, and all the other steps we take to keep our bodies healthy.
THE TIMES SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 22 1984
Science and religion
Difficulties with dogma
By Dr John Habgood Archbishop of York
It is the adjective, dogmatic, rather than the noun, dogma, that creates the problems.
Many scientists, if pressed, would recognize a sense in which it is proper to speak of scientific dogmas. There are basic forms of scientific understanding which, while not beyond criticism, are so entrenched in the whole scientific enterprise, that to abandon them is not seriously contemplated.
Evolution is a case in point. While there is plenty of room for detailed discussion about the how and the why of particular evolutionary developments, most biologists do not doubt the key concepts of biological interrelatedness and competitive adaptation. These have become the given assumptions, the dogmas from which research begins.
Few, however, would admit to holding such assumptions, or doing their research in a dogmatic spirit. Dogmatism, in the adjectival sense, is held to be, anti-science, and the arrogance, blindness arid intransigence with which it is popularly associated, have spread a blight on the concept itself, and clouded the relationship between science and theology.
Yet there are striking parallels between the use of dogmas in both disciplines.
In a book with the uninviting title Axiomatics and Dogmatics, J. R. Carnes, an American mathematician and philosopher. explores the relationship with some subtlety. His thesis may help to set current debates about theological liberalism and conservatism, in a broader context.
A scientific theorem, according to Carnes, contains two elements, the formal and the empirical. The formal element, the axiomatic system in his terminology, provides the skeleton of the theory. It defines the logical relationships between basic terms in which the theory is expressed. The more this can be stated in mathematical terms, the more consistent the formalism.
But mathematics by itself is not enough. At some point the axiomatic system has to rest on terms which cannot themselves be further defined. Newton's theory of gravity, for example, simply accepts gravity as a datum without attempting to explain it further.
The empirical element in a scientific theory interprets the formalism in relation to actual experience, tests it, and may in the long run lead to its modification or replacement. Without the formal element empiricism would have no ordered data on which to work. Without the empirical element formalism becomes abstract and irrelevant. It is the combination of both which proves to be scientifically fruitful.
In much the same way, argues Carnes, dogmatic and apologetic theology depend on each other for the fruitful exploration of religious reality, the first as representing the essential formalism, and the second as grounding the whole enterprise in actual experience.
Key features of dogmatic theology, are its coherence, its completeness for the task in hand, and its economy in the use of a limited number of concepts to relate a very wide variety of phenomena.
Dogmas form a system. They are not unrelated truths to be discussed, modified, accepted or rejected one by one, as if change in one part of the system made no difference to any other.
Admittedly, the interrelationships are nothing like as logically tight as in a good scientific theory, partly because the concepts are inherently difficult to define, and partly because the basic data in Bible, Church and Creed are diffuse and capable of
Nevertheless dogmatic formalisms exist, however disputable their details, and most Christians know perfectly well what is meant by a reference to "central Christian dogmas".
It is the threat to the formal completeness of such structures which gives rise to cries of pain and charges of heretical unbelief when individual dogmas are questioned. What may seem small and of no consequence to an empirically minded questioner, is experienced as a shock wave through the whole system by those concerned to protect dogmatic coherence.
Revelation, incarnation and salvation, for instance, are not separate items on a list of theological topics, but different facets of a single truth about God's activity. To change the interpretation of one is to change them all.
Apologetic theology, by contrast, proceeds in a more piecemeal fashion. It is not content to assess individual dogmas simply in terms of their plans within the whole tradition, but begins from the other end with the actual data of religious experience.
Its criteria are consistency with the rest of experience, its power to illuminate and explain, and the degree to which its hypotheses can be tested against the evidence. Inevitably some features of a dogmatic system survive better under this treatment than others and in the long term the formalism has to be adjusted to take account of empirical reality.
But this is likely to be a slow and uncertain business, which does not always operate to the disadvantage of the formalism. Good theories are not lightly abandoned in the face of uncomfortable facts if their loss is going to have wide repercussions.
Sometimes it is the facts themselves which turn out to be mistaken, or misinterpreted, or overlooked until theoretical, constraints draw attention to them.
Who would have thought of looking for the planet Pluto had there been no theoretical reason for supposing it ought to exist? And who would worry about the precise mode of the conception of Jesus were there not an elaborate theological framework in which it plays its part as an expression of the new beginning in Christ?
Apologetics and dogmatics should thus be regarded, not as two separate disciplines, but as two movements within a single process. If pursued in isolation they lead inevitably towards theological liberalism and theological conservatism, and one of the sad features of much recent popular theological comment has been precisely this polarization.
To say that both are needed is not to indulge in a desperate attempt at compromise, but to state a vital truth about the character of theological knowledge, a character it shares in some measure with science.
It is both empirical, in that it has to relate to life as it is actually experienced and lived; and it is also dogmatic, in that it is rooted in traditional data and understandings which in turn Shape the way present experience is interpreted.
The book, Axiomatics and Dogmatics, is published by Christian Journals, of Belfast (1982).
The knowledge of the electrical brain has triggered a search for an understanding of the paranormal psychical phenomena. However this search of understanding has widened the gap between the believers and the unbelievers. It has given rational explanation for those who believe in the paranormal and at the same time it has given means to the unbelievers to repudiate the paranormal. Interesting....
December 30, 2006
Ghosts in the Machine
By DEBORAH BLUM
THE human brain is, in surprising part, an appliance powered by electricity. It constantly generates about 12 watts of energy, enough to keep a flashlight glowing. It works by sending out electrical impulses — bursts of power running along the cellular wires of the nervous system — to stimulate muscles into motion or thought into being. We’re mostly aware of this when the machine falters, when it short-circuits into epilepsy or frays into the tremors of Parkinson’s disease.
So when scientists wrote in a recent issue of the journal Nature that they could induce phantom effects — the sensation of being haunted by a shadowy figure — by stimulating the brain with electricity, it made perfect neurological sense. One could even argue that the existence of such sensations explains away the so-called supernatural. In fact, as The Times reported, the researchers promptly concluded that ghosts are mere “bodily delusions,” electrical misfirings and nothing more.
The report does look like a kind of proof — albeit very small proof, as this was a study of two people — if one happens already to believe that ghosts are no more than biological quirks. But what’s fascinating is that it can also look like proof that ghosts are real entities, to those inclined to believe as much. And so the findings also present a case study in two very different perspectives.
The scientific study of the supernatural began in the late 19th century, in synchrony with the age of energy. It’s hardly coincidental that as traditional science began to reveal the hidden potential of nature’s powers — magnetic fields, radiation, radio waves, electrical currents — paranormal researchers began to suggest that the occult operated in similar ways.
A fair number of these occult explorers were scientists who studied nature’s highly charged circuits. Marie Curie, who did some of the first research into radioactive elements like uranium, attended séances to assess the powers of mediums. So did the British physicist J. J. Thomson, who demonstrated the existence of the electron in 1897. And so did Thomson’s colleague, John Strutt, Lord Rayleigh, who won the 1904 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work with atmospheric gases.
Rayleigh would later become president of the British Society for Psychical Research. And he would be joined in that organization by other physicists, including the wireless radio pioneer Sir Oliver Lodge, who proposed that both telepathy and ghostly appearances were achieved through energy transmissions connecting living minds to one another and perhaps even to the dead.
Lodge argued that the human brain could function as a kind of receiver, picking up signals at a subconscious level. These were powered by some undiscovered energy, traveling perhaps in waves, perhaps in currents. Such transmissions lay behind telepathic experiences, including shared thoughts. Along the same lines, he thought it possible that a spirit’s appearance was really just its specific energy signal stimulating a response from the receiver’s brain.
The theories developed by Lodge and his colleagues dovetail rather neatly with the electricity-produced hauntings that Olaf Blanke, a Swiss neuroscientist, reports in Nature. For example, he used an implanted electrode to send a current into a region of the brain called the angular gyrus. The test was focused on language processing. But as a side effect, one of the test subjects nervously reported sensing another person in bed with her, silent and shadowy. Her creepy companion came and went with the ebb and flow of current.
It would be compelling — and more convincing — if the same result could be exhibited in a few more subjects. But Dr. Blanke believes that even this one subject’s experience serves as an example of how we may mistake errant signals in the brain for something more. Humans tend, he points out, to seek explanation, to impose meaning on events that may have none. The pure rationalists among us suggest that our need to add meaning to a basic, biological existence easily accounts for the way we organize religions and find evidence of otherworldly powers in the stuff of everyday life.
The nonpurists suggest a different conclusion: willful scientific blindness. And there’s no reason Dr. Blanke’s study can’t support their theories of the paranormal. Perhaps his experimental electric current simply mimics the work of an equally powerful spirit. Much of the psychical research done today applies similar principles: brain-imaging machines highlight parts of the brain that respond to psychic phenomena, while other devices are used to search for infrared radiation or increased electrical activity in haunted houses.
The American psychologist and philosopher William James, also a leader in the Victorian paranormal research movement, remarked even then on the culture clash: “How often has ‘Science’ killed off all spook philosophy, and laid ghosts and raps and ‘telepathy’ underground as so much popular delusion?” he wrote in 1909. And how often, James wondered rhetorically, had such efforts stopped people from seeing ghosts and believing in supernatural powers? Because in the end, of course, the conclusion has nothing to do with science at all and everything to do with how one sees the world.
I suspect that we’ll dwell forever in the haunted landscape of our beliefs. To many people it’s a world more interesting — bigger, stranger, more mysterious — than the one offered by science. Why choose instead to be creatures of chemical impulse and electrical twitch? We would rather gamble on even a tiny, electrical spark of a chance that we are something more.
Deborah Blum, a professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992, is the author of “Ghost Hunters: William James and the Scientific Search for Life After Death.”
How Thinking Can Change the Brain
Dalai Lama Helps Scientists
Show the Power of the Mind
To Sculpt Our Gray Matter
January 19, 2007; Page B1
Although science and religion are often in conflict, the Dalai Lama
takes a different approach. Every year or so the head of Tibetan
Buddhism invites a group of scientists to his home in Dharamsala, in
Northern India, to discuss their work and how Buddhism might contribute
In 2004 the subject was neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to
change its structure and function in response to experience. The
following are vignettes adapted from "Train Your Mind, Change Your
Brain," which describes this emerging area of science:
> BOOK EXCERPT
> Adapted from "Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain", by Sharon Begley.
Ms. Begley writes the weekly Science column for The Wall Street Journal.
The Dalai Lama, who had watched a brain operation during a visit to an
American medical school over a decade earlier, asked the surgeons a
startling question: Can the mind shape brain matter?
Over the years, he said, neuroscientists had explained to him that
mental experiences reflect chemical and electrical changes in the brain.
When electrical impulses zip through our visual cortex, for instance, we
see; when neurochemicals course through the limbic system we feel.
But something had always bothered him about this explanation, the
Dalai Lama said. Could it work the other way around? That is, in
addition to the brain giving rise to thoughts and hopes and beliefs and
emotions that add up to this thing we call the mind, maybe the mind also
acts back on the brain to cause physical changes in the very matter that
created it. If so, then pure thought would change the brain's activity,
its circuits or even its structure.
One brain surgeon hardly paused. Physical states give rise to mental
states, he asserted; "downward" causation from the mental to the
physical is not possible. The Dalai Lama let the matter drop. This
wasn't the first time a man of science had dismissed the possibility
that the mind can change the brain. But "I thought then and still think
that there is yet no scientific basis for such a categorical claim," he
later explained. "I am interested in the extent to which the mind
itself, and specific subtle thoughts, may have an influence upon the
Sharon Begley with the Dalai Lama at the neuroplasticity meeting in
Dharamsala, India, in 2004 (photoraph)
The Dalai Lama had put his finger on an emerging revolution in brain research. In the last decade of the 20th century, neuroscientists overthrew the dogma that the adult brain can't change. To the contrary, its structure and activity can morph in response to experience, an ability called neuroplasticity. The discovery has led to promising new treatments for children with dyslexia and for stroke patients, among others.
But the brain changes that were discovered in the first rounds of the
neuroplasticity revolution reflected input from the outside world. For
instance, certain synthesized speech can alter the auditory cortex of
dyslexic kids in a way that lets their brains hear previously garbled
syllables; intensely practiced movements can alter the motor cortex of
stroke patients and allow them to move once paralyzed arms or legs.
The kind of change the Dalai Lama asked about was different. It would
come from inside. Something as intangible and insubstantial as a thought
would rewire the brain. To the mandarins of neuroscience, the very idea
seemed as likely as the wings of a butterfly leaving a dent on an
Neuroscientist Helen Mayberg had not endeared herself to the
pharmaceutical industry by discovering, in 2002, that inert pills --
placebos -- work the same way on the brains of depressed people as
antidepressants do. Activity in the frontal cortex, the seat of higher
thought, increased; activity in limbic regions, which specialize in
emotions, fell. She figured that cognitive-behavioral therapy, in which
patients learn to think about their thoughts differently, would act by
the same mechanism.
At the University of Toronto, Dr. Mayberg, Zindel Segal and their
colleagues first used brain imaging to measure activity in the brains of
depressed adults. Some of these volunteers then received paroxetine (the
generic name of the antidepressant Paxil), while others underwent 15 to
20 sessions of cognitive-behavior therapy, learning not to catastrophize. That is, they were taught to break their habit of interpreting every little setback as a calamity, as when they conclude from a lousy date that no one will ever love them.
All the patients' depression lifted, regardless of whether their
brains were infused with a powerful drug or with a different way of
thinking. Yet the only "drugs" that the cognitive-therapy group received
were their own thoughts.
The scientists scanned their patients' brains again, expecting that
the changes would be the same no matter which treatment they received,
as Dr. Mayberg had found in her placebo study. But no. "We were totally
dead wrong," she says. Cognitive-behavior therapy muted overactivity in
the frontal cortex, the seat of reasoning, logic, analysis and higher
thought. The antidepressant raised activity there. Cognitive-behavior
therapy raised activity in the limbic system, the brain's emotion
center. The drug lowered activity there.
With cognitive therapy, says Dr. Mayberg, the brain is rewired "to
adopt different thinking circuits."
Such discoveries of how the mind can change the brain have a
spooky quality that makes you want to cue the "Twilight Zone" theme, but
they rest on a solid foundation of animal studies. Attention, for
instance, seems like one of those ephemeral things that comes and goes
in the mind but has no real physical presence. Yet attention can alter
the layout of the brain as powerfully as a sculptor's knife can alter a
slab of stone.
That was shown dramatically in an experiment with monkeys in 1993.
Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, rigged up a
device that tapped monkeys' fingers 100 minutes a day every day. As this
bizarre dance was playing on their fingers, the monkeys heard sounds
through headphones. Some of the monkeys were taught: Ignore the sounds and pay attention to what you feel on your fingers, because when you tell us it changes we'll reward you with a sip of juice. Other monkeys
were taught: Pay attention to the sound, and if you indicate when it
changes you'll get juice.
Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk, undergoing an EEG during a study of
compassion meditation (photograph)
After six weeks, the scientists compared the monkeys' brains. Usually, when a spot on the skin receives unusual amounts of stimulation, the amount of cortex that processes touch expands. That was what the scientists found in the monkeys that paid attention to the taps: The somatosensory region that processes information from the fingers doubled or tripled. But when the monkeys paid attention to the sounds, there was no such expansion. Instead, the region of their auditory cortex that processes the frequency they heard increased.
Through attention, UCSF's Michael Merzenich and a colleague wrote, "We
choose and sculpt how our ever-changing minds will work, we choose who
we will be the next moment in a very real sense, and these choices are
left embossed in physical form on our material selves."
The discovery that neuroplasticity cannot occur without attention has
important implications. If a skill becomes so routine you can do it on
autopilot, practicing it will no longer change the brain. And if you
take up mental exercises to keep your brain young, they will not be as
effective if you become able to do them without paying much attention.
Since the 1990s, the Dalai Lama had been lending monks and lamas
to neuroscientists for studies of how meditation alters activity in the
brain. The idea was not to document brain changes during meditation but
to see whether such mental training produces enduring changes in the
All the Buddhist "adepts" -- experienced meditators -- who lent their
brains to science had practiced meditation for at least 10,000 hours.
One by one, they made their way to the basement lab of Richard Davidson
at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He and his colleagues wired
them up like latter-day Medusas, a tangle of wires snaking from their
scalps to the electroencephalograph that would record their brain waves.
Eight Buddhist adepts and 10 volunteers who had had a crash course in
meditation engaged in the form of meditation called nonreferential
compassion. In this state, the meditator focuses on unlimited compassion
and loving kindness toward all living beings.
As the volunteers began meditating, one kind of brain wave grew
exceptionally strong: gamma waves. These, scientists believe, are a
signature of neuronal activity that knits together far-flung circuits --
consciousness, in a sense. Gamma waves appear when the brain brings
together different features of an object, such as look, feel, sound and
other attributes that lead the brain to its aha moment of, yup, that's
Some of the novices "showed a slight but significant increase in the
gamma signal," Prof. Davidson explained to the Dalai Lama. But at the
moment the monks switched on compassion meditation, the gamma signal
began rising and kept rising. On its own, that is hardly astounding:
Everything the mind does has a physical correlate, so the gamma waves
(much more intense than in the novice meditators) might just have been
the mark of compassion meditation.
Except for one thing. In between meditations, the gamma signal in the
monks never died down. Even when they were not meditating, their brains
were different from the novices' brains, marked by waves associated with
perception, problem solving and consciousness. Moreover, the more hours
of meditation training a monk had had, the stronger and more enduring
the gamma signal.
It was something Prof. Davidson had been seeking since he trekked into
the hills above Dharamsala to study lamas and monks: evidence that
mental training can create an enduring brain trait.
Prof. Davidson then used fMRI imaging to detect which regions of the
monks' and novices' brains became active during compassion meditation.
The brains of all the subjects showed activity in regions that monitor
one's emotions, plan movements, and generate positive feelings such as
happiness. Regions that keep track of what is self and what is other
became quieter, as if during compassion meditation the subjects opened
their minds and hearts to others.
More interesting were the differences between the monks and the
novices. The monks had much greater activation in brain regions called
the right insula and caudate, a network that underlies empathy and
maternal love. They also had stronger connections from the frontal
regions to the emotion regions, which is the pathway by which higher
thought can control emotions.
In each case, monks with the most hours of meditation showed the most
dramatic brain changes. That was a strong hint that mental training
makes it easier for the brain to turn on circuits that underlie
compassion and empathy.
"This positive state is a skill that can be trained," Prof. Davidson
says. "Our findings clearly indicate that meditation can change the
function of the brain in an enduring way."
"You see only the gross material products coming from God's hidden factory behind creation; but if you went into the factory itself, you would behold in what marvelous manner everything in this world has been brought into manifestation.... What tremendous intelligence is manifested in creation! The Infinite is working in everything. All the different eddies of motion called life are controlled by that Cosmic Intelligence." —Paramahansa Yogananda
If we look up from our television sets, our video games, our work desks, our computer terminals, from all the occupations and preoccupations that take up so much of our time in today's complex technological lifestyle, and consider for a moment this beautiful, fascinating world we live in—
If we look out into space, and observe the balance of forces that keeps trillions of stars and planets whirling together in their cosmic waltz—
And if we take a more intimate look around us here on earth, at the plants and animals, at some of their intricate dramas and interdependent relationships—
We cannot help but marvel at the awesome intelligence that is working "behind the scenes," within them all and within us, to produce the "grand pageant of the ages."
Many scientists have been doing just that, and with the sophisticated technological equipment available to them today, they have been able to measure more exactly and penetrate more deeply than ever before into the complex mysteries of nature. They are finding, in the words of Walt Whitman, that "every cubic inch of space is a miracle." Their discoveries have revealed countless examples of precise order and harmony — a breathtaking display of power, beauty, and intelligence demonstrated at every level of evolution.
On the macrocosmic level, consider our solar system, and the perfect balance that exists between centrifugal force, produced by the revolution of the planets around the sun, and the counteracting force of the sun's gravitational pull. These two forces must always be precisely matched; if they were the slightest bit out of balance, the brother- and sister-planets of our solar system would either lose their respectful distances and be drawn into the sun—where they would be vaporized—or they would part company and be flung out into the farthest reaches of space.
But there is much more to it than that. The farther a planet is from the sun, the less the gravitational pull will be, so the more distant planets must travel more slowly to create the appropriate counterbalancing centrifugal force. To mako it more intriguing, the planets' orbits are elliptical, not circular — meaning that at certain points of the orbit a planet will be closer to the sun than at other times. Consequently, each planet has to speed up and slow down at different stages of its orbit, in order to compensate for the varying influence of the sun's gravitational pull. Imagine the chaos that would exist were it not for the Cosmic Traffic Regulator!
The same exacting Intelligence that guides the motion of the stars and planets is also reflected in the individual organisms that constitute life on earth. In a recent (and rather unusual) experiment, biophysicists from Japan and the United States took complete measurements of a particular species of tree—the height, the angles and size of their branches, the number of their leaves. All this data was entered into a computer that they had programmed to design the ideal branching pattern for optimal use of sunlight. The detailed arrangement it produced was not only similar, but nearly identical, to the trees' own pattern.
Biologists have found that the same intelligence that works within individual organisms such as trees also unites different species in intricate and sometimes amusing relationships that enhance the life of each one involved, and are often necessary for their continued existence. These alliances are examples of what scientists call symbiosis, which means literally, "living together."
One fascinating example of symbiotic association exists between the mimosa tree and a certain beetle called the mimosa girdler. When it comes time for the female beetle to lay her eggs, she finds an appropriate spot at the end of one of the tree's branches, gnaws a groove, and lays her eggs there. On her way back down the limb, the beetle stops about halfway and cuts another groove—this time completely around the branch—just deep enough to prevent water and nutrients from reaching the upper half. Eventually the upper part of the limb dies and falls off, dispersing the mimosa girdler's eggs. The eggs hatch and the cycle begins again; the young beetles are drawn to the tree by its attractive fragrance.
Why wouldn't the mimosa exude a scent that repels the beetle and thus avoid the damage to its limbs? The tree thrives on this natural method of pruning. Because of the beetle's actions, the mimosa lives twice as long as it does when it is not pruned—and twice as many generations of mimosa girdlers can be assured of a home.
Certain other species of insects and plants also have an interesting relationship of mutual cooperation. For instance, one type of ant nests in the hollow thorns of the bull-horn acacia, protecting it not only from herbivorous insects and mammals, but also from vines and other plants competing for growing space. Because of this protection, the bull-horn acacia no longer needs the chemical defenses that other acacias emit to ward off herbivores. In return for defense, the acacia produces specialized "food" cells that its guests can detach from the plant and eat. These cells have no apparent function other than to feed the guardian ants.
Algae and fungi also do quite well by one another. Together, their symbiotic association is called "lichen," and the success of their mutual alliance can be seen on trees and rocks from the tropics to Antarctica. In this coalition, the algae produce food by photosynthesis, which the fungi ingest through feeding tubes that they send into the individual algae cells. In exchange, the fungi supply the moisture essential for the algae's survival. Working together in this way, they are able to exist in extremely harsh environments where neither could survive alone.
Cooperation between species can also be observed in the undersea world. Certain species of small fish clean larger predatory fish by feeding on parasites and clearing away dead tissue and bacteria—not only on the surface of the fish but sometimes within their mouths as well! The predatory fish prize this service so highly that they seek out these cleaning-fish; thus, the smaller fish receive home-delivered meals and the protective company of their "big brothers" simultaneously.
Nature even takes into consideration the potential harm that could come to a species if its symbiotic partner becomes unable to fulfill its half of the "deal." The scarlet gilia, a plant growing in the mountains of Arizona, sets out brilliant red blooms to attract its pollinators — hummingbirds, which feed during the day time. But in mid-August, many (though not all) hummingbirds leave for lower, warmer elevations. Many of the plants respond to this by changing the color of their blossoms to white or light pink. Why? The lighter shade attracts a certain nocturnal moth, which is attracted to the lighter color, and thus takes up the task of pollination abandoned by the hummingbirds. This results in 22% more fruit for the plants that change to the lighter color.
But not all of the plants change their blossoms from red to light pink or white, and until recently scientists couldn't understand why. The answer came in 1984, when an unusually heavy rainfall decimated the moth population. The plants that switched to the lighter color remained unfertilized, while those that kept their red flowers attracted the few hummingbirds that remained. Those with the red flowers thrived, and thus ensured the continued existence of the scarlet gilia.
The examples we have discussed here are only a tiny sampling of innumerable symbioses, known or unknown, that occur both on land and in the sea. It is no wonder that those who penetrate deeply into the mysteries of nature come to feel a sense of spiritual awe. "Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science," wrote Albert Kinstein, "becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe—a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble." In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Nature is too thin a screen; the glory of the Omnipresent God bursts through everywhere."
Everything you see has its roots in the unseen world. The forms may change, yet the essence remains the same. Every wonderful sight will vanish, every sweet word will fade, But do not be disheartened, The source they come from is eternal, growing, Branching out, giving new life and new joy. Why do you weep? The source is within you And this whole world is springing up from it. - Rumi
I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage.
False Dichotomy: Where "two alternative statements are held to be the only options, when in reality there exist one or more other options which have not been considered."
I've never understood the dispute between "faith"- based creationists and "fact"-based scientists. It seems to me the entire debate rests on the unquestionable assumption that God and science are mutually exclusive. Who came up with that formula?
Is it not possible that God chose to create everything via the amazing, adaptive, creative means of evolution? What if that part of the faith story where Adam had his dust-based genesis was actually a process that took millions of years? What if this way of creating was the best and most brilliant system God could come up with?
I'm not saying I know this was the case. But what if it was? How is God diminished? Is the
Divine any less as a result?
This same logic can be applied to the more fundamentalist thinking that resides on the atheistic side of this debate.
Just because things can be empirically proven and demonstrated doesn't mean God couldn't have been, or wasn't, involved in the process. Knowing how something works is certainly not a definitive rationale for the denial of God's existence.
Those who explore the scientific edges of our material reality know, probably more than most of us, just how much mystery there really is out there; whether plumbing the infinite depths of our DNA or the ever-expanding reality of our universe, the fact is there is so much that we do not understand -- that we need to accept in faith.
Incomprehensible mystery is probably most experienced and best understood by those in the scientific research world. And I've got to think that, at some point in their research, many scientists become mystics.
Besides, think of all the faith being exercised in our scientific pursuits.
Any honest scientist would admit she has to proceed on faith in most of her hypotheses -- the basic premise of science is a faith-based initiative; prove what you believe to be true.
I'm not saying these facts prove there is a God, but they certainly do leave a divine door open. We can't prove otherwise.
Is science any less because of this?
So then, why can't all of the truths of science and all of the truths of faith reasonably coexist?
Why can't fundamentalist Christian believers admit that the Bible was never intended to be a science text? Why not embrace the truths of science and see them as yet another way to better know and understand the mysteriously brilliant nature of the Divine? Might science not offer us more with which to love and understand God?
And why can't fundamentalist scientists admit that the ways and means of the natural order do not, and cannot, answer all of life's questions?
Empirical evidence proves that what we actually know about our universe is negligible when put alongside what's actually there.
Scientists, more than most of us, know what we don't know -- think quantum physics or chaos theory.
Can we not be honest about what this might mean?
Extremism in this debate has not been all that helpful. This "either you're for us or against us" kind of approach has over-simplified and dogmatized a hugely complex and important question.
Why can't all science be God's? The synergy might be quite illumining on both sides. Quite humbling, as well.
theologian John Polkinghorne has done a lot of fascinating thinking in this area. One of the sticking points in the dialogue is the perceived problem of God's supernatural involvement in a fixed formulaic universe.
How do you allow for the
possibility of providential influence while still holding on to your law-based, naturally ordered understanding of reality?
You obviously can't have both, right? Or can you?
In Science and the Trinity: The Christian Encounter with Reality, Polkinghorne makes
a rather simple point that a scientist -- doing his experimental work in changing, manipulating, and evolving the natural order of things -- is probably the best argument imaginable for this possibility:
"If creatures can act as agents in the world (a capacity that human beings directly experience but which itself is not, as yet, well understood in terms of a scientific account of detailed process), it would not seem reasonable to deny the possibility of some analogous capacity in the Creator."
"Of science and the human heart
there is no limit . . .
Love and logic keep us clear
reason is on our side . . . "
-- Bono, in U2's song
John van Sloten is pastor of the New Hope Christian Reformed Church.
Scientists Draw Link Between Morality And Brain's Wiring
May 11, 2007
Most of us feel a rush of righteous certainty in the face of a moral challenge, an intuitive sense of right or wrong hard to ignore yet difficult to articulate.
A provocative medical experiment conducted recently by neuroscientists at Harvard, Caltech and the University of Southern California strongly suggests these impulsive convictions come not from conscious principles but from the brain trying to make its emotional judgment felt.
Using neurology patients to probe moral reasoning, the researchers for the first time drew a direct link between the neuroanatomy of emotion and moral judgment.
Knock out certain brain cells with an aneurysm or a tumor, they discovered, and while everything else may appear normal, the ability to think straight about some issues of right and wrong has been permanently skewed. "It tells us there is some neurobiological basis for morality," said Harvard philosophy student Liane Young, who helped to conceive the experiment.
In particular, these people had injured an area that links emotion to cognition, located in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex several inches behind the brow. The experiment underscores the pivotal part played by unconscious empathy and emotion in guiding decisions. "When that influence is missing," said USC neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, "pure reason is set free."
Bringing medical tools to bear on moral questions, cognitive scientists are invading the territory of philosophers, theologians and clerics.
Usually, the human brain is of two minds when it comes to morality -- selfish but self-sacrificing, survivalist yet altruistic, calculating but also compassionate. Many dilemmas force a choice between the lesser of two evils, invoking a clash of competing neural networks, said Harvard neuroscientist Joshua Greene. Intuition tempers rational deliberation, especially when our actions to help some people will harm others.
At this level of inquiry, the mind is a special effect generated by neurons. Trust is a measure of neuropeptide levels, while fairness is an electromagnetic pattern in the right prefrontal cortex. Disrupt it with a strong magnet, as did University of Zurich researchers in 2006, and any sense of fair-dealing fades away like a radio station subsumed by static.
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Is morality innate or learned? Join Robert Lee Hotz and other readers in a discussion4.
Not everyone reasons through moral conundrums in the same way, of course. Decisions hinge on family values, cultural heritage, legal traditions and religious beliefs -- or on the kind of brain you can bring to bear on the problem.
At the University of Iowa Hospital, the researchers singled out six middle-age men and women who had injured the same neural network in the prefrontal cortex. On neuropsychological tests, they seemed normal. They were healthy, intelligent, talkative, yet also unkempt, not so easily embarrassed or so likely to feel guilty, explained lead study scientist Michael Koenigs at the National Institutes of Health. They had lived with the brain damage for years but seemed unaware that anything about them had changed.
To analyze their moral abilities, Dr. Koenigs and his colleagues used a diagnostic probe as old as Socrates -- leading questions: To save yourself and others, would you throw someone out of a lifeboat? Would you push someone off a bridge, smother a crying baby, or kill a hostage?
All told, they considered 50 hypothetical moral dilemmas. Their responses were essentially identical to those of neurology patients who had different brain injuries and to healthy volunteers, except when a situation demanded they take one life to save others. For most, the thought of killing an innocent prompts a visceral revulsion, no matter how many other lives weigh in the balance. But if your prefrontal cortex has been impaired in the same small way by stroke or surgery, you would feel no such compunction in sacrificing one life for the good of all. The six patients certainly felt none. Any moral inhibition, whether learned or hereditary, had lost its influence.
The effort to understand the biology of morality is far from academic, said Georgetown University law professor John Mikhail. The search for an ethical balance of harm is central to medical debates on vaccine safety, organ transplants and clinical drug trials. It colors political disputes over embryonic stem-cell research, capital punishment and abortion. It is the essence of much military strategy and the underlying logic of terrorism.
Harvard News Office
For Harvard neuroscientist Marc Hauser, the moral-dilemma experiment is evidence the brain may be hard-wired for morality. Most moral intuitions, he said, are unconscious, involuntary and universal. To test the idea, he gathered data from thousands of people in hundreds of countries, all of whom display a remarkable unanimity in their basic moral choices. A shared innate capacity for morality may be responsible, he concluded.
Many scientists think his theory needs more proof. Since no two brains are exactly alike, each brain's ability to perceive right and wrong might be unique. The world is a thicket of moral maxims we readily ignore. Even so, it would be curious if, in the neural substrates of morality, we find common ground.
• Email me at ScienceJournal@...5.
May 31, 2007
What I Think About Evolution
By SAM BROWNBACK
IN our sound-bite political culture, it is unrealistic to expect that every complicated issue will be addressed with the nuance or subtlety it deserves. So I suppose I should not have been surprised earlier this month when, during the first Republican presidential debate, the candidates on stage were asked to raise their hands if they did not “believe” in evolution. As one of those who raised his hand, I think it would be helpful to discuss the issue in a bit more detail and with the seriousness it demands.
The premise behind the question seems to be that if one does not unhesitatingly assert belief in evolution, then one must necessarily believe that God created the world and everything in it in six 24-hour days. But limiting this question to a stark choice between evolution and creationism does a disservice to the complexity of the interaction between science, faith and reason.
The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two. The scientific method, based on reason, seeks to discover truths about the nature of the created order and how it operates, whereas faith deals with spiritual truths. The truths of science and faith are complementary: they deal with very different questions, but they do not contradict each other because the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God.
People of faith should be rational, using the gift of reason that God has given us. At the same time, reason itself cannot answer every question. Faith seeks to purify reason so that we might be able to see more clearly, not less. Faith supplements the scientific method by providing an understanding of values, meaning and purpose. More than that, faith — not science — can help us understand the breadth of human suffering or the depth of human love. Faith and science should go together, not be driven apart.
The question of evolution goes to the heart of this issue. If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.
There is no one single theory of evolution, as proponents of punctuated equilibrium and classical Darwinism continue to feud today. Many questions raised by evolutionary theory — like whether man has a unique place in the world or is merely the chance product of random mutations — go beyond empirical science and are better addressed in the realm of philosophy or theology.
The most passionate advocates of evolutionary theory offer a vision of man as a kind of historical accident. That being the case, many believers — myself included — reject arguments for evolution that dismiss the possibility of divine causality.
Ultimately, on the question of the origins of the universe, I am happy to let the facts speak for themselves. There are aspects of evolutionary biology that reveal a great deal about the nature of the world, like the small changes that take place within a species. Yet I believe, as do many biologists and people of faith, that the process of creation — and indeed life today — is sustained by the hand of God in a manner known fully only to him. It does not strike me as anti-science or anti-reason to question the philosophical presuppositions behind theories offered by scientists who, in excluding the possibility of design or purpose, venture far beyond their realm of empirical science.
Biologists will have their debates about man’s origins, but people of faith can also bring a great deal to the table. For this reason, I oppose the exclusion of either faith or reason from the discussion. An attempt by either to seek a monopoly on these questions would be wrong-headed. As science continues to explore the details of man’s origin, faith can do its part as well. The fundamental question for me is how these theories affect our understanding of the human person.
The unique and special place of each and every person in creation is a fundamental truth that must be safeguarded. I am wary of any theory that seeks to undermine man’s essential dignity and unique and intended place in the cosmos. I firmly believe that each human person, regardless of circumstance, was willed into being and made for a purpose.
While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man’s origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.
Without hesitation, I am happy to raise my hand to that.
Sam Brownback is a Republican senator from Kansas.
(Alice Feinstein is an SRF member living in Colorado. She is coauthor of Fighting Disease: The Complete Guide to Natural Immune Power (Rodale Press) and editor of numerous health books.
One of the first students to be shot at Columbine High School massacre eight years ago in Littleton,Colorado, Mark Taylor came close to dying that day. Just 16 at the time, the young man had been standing outside with a group of friends when he heard a loud pop and felt something sting his leg. Before it even registered that he had been shot, about ten more bullets slammed into his chest. Amazingly, he did not lose consciousness right away. Instead, he lay critically wounded—watching out of the corner of his eye as a couple more classmates went down. One of them died on the spot.
That horrific day two of Taylor's fellow students had gone on a shooting rampage, ultimately killing 12 students and one teacher and injuring 22 more people before they were killed themselves. At the time, Taylor recalls, it all seemed so unreal. What was real,was the pain, both physical and psychological, that followed. He spent forty days in the hospital and underwent four surgeries. One doctor told Taylor that it was a miracle that he survived so many hits to the chest; but he did survive, only to deal with months of agonizing treatment for blood clots and damage to muscles and organs. "The surgeries were even more painful than when I took the bullets," says Taylor, now 24.
It would have been understandable for Taylor to be angry and resentful, to carry that rage and trauma with him for years, perhaps even for the rest of his life. In the end, though, he forgave his shooters. In the process, he tapped into what scientific research is now identifying as one of the most powerful healing forces available: forgiveness.
"When I was in the hospital, my godmother came in and read scriptures to me on forgiveness," Taylor says. "The scriptures helped me more than the pain medication. For me, the major healing was forgiveness."
This teenager had a lot to forgive, but forgive he did. A Christian, he explains that the concept of forgiveness is so central to his faith that forgiving his shooters was vital. Forgiveness did not come right away, though. Even with daily scripture reading and prayer, "it took at least a year," he says. However, the result was not only emotional and spiritual healing, but complete physical recovery as well.
Forgiveness Brings Healing
What Mark Taylor discovered through personal experience, medical science has confirmed: Forgiveness does have the power to prevent and heal both mental and physical problems.
"There is abundant, clear evidence that forgiveness is good for people," says Frederic Luskin, Ph.D., director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project, and author of Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness.
Over the past two decades, says Dr. Luskin, researchers across the nation have demonstrated in numerous studies that forgiving others helps to:
In one study that Luskin describes in his book, college students alternated angry periods of thinking about a grudge they held against an individual with periods of thinking about forgiving that same individual. During the periods of anger, their heart rate went up, as did their blood pressure. During the periods devoted to forgiveness, the students reported feeling more positive emotions and relaxation.
"This study showed that holding a grudge in the short term could stress participants' nervous system," notes Luskin. "No study has yet proved that holding grudges causes long-term health damage, but many studies hint at it."
A number of studies, including a couple that he conducted himself, have pointed to the ability of forgiveness to defuse anger, says Luskin. "Anger," he says, "is a risk factor for all sorts of cardiovascular disease"—citing the conclusive body of evidence that people who cannot control their anger are more likely to have heart attacks and strokes.
Not only that, but research has documented that both depression and high levels of anger reduce immune system function. A poorly functioning immune system can increase the likelihood of contracting a wide variety of illness—everything from the common cold to cancer—and impede the body's ability to heal from illness or traumatic injuries such as Columbine student Mark Taylor's.
Given all that forgiving others does for the body, "there's almost no aspect of physical health that wouldn't be benefited," says Luskin.
And yet, the healing power of forgiveness does not stop with what it can do for the individual.
"We each help to cocreate this world. Therefore the central challenge today is a spiritual one," says Luskin, who as a member of Self-Realization Fellowship has practiced Kriya Yoga meditation for many years. If you are angry and you don't forgive, "your anger and hatred pollute the world," he says. "There's so much we can do to increase harmony and peace on this planet simply by making ourselves more
Robert Enright, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, would agree. Dr. Enright is author of Forgiveness Is a Choice: A Step-by-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope and one of the nation's top forgiveness researchers.
"Forgiveness, among all the possible virtues, if practiced well and on the largest scale, has the capacity to change the world," says Enright. "It's not only injustice that causes problems; often our vengeful response to injustice creates even greater and more enduring problems."
What Is Forgiveness?
Dr. Luskin gives this description of forgiveness: "It is the moment-to-moment experience of peace that comes when you take less offense, take responsibility for how you feel, and change your story from a victim to a hero."
At the same time, experts point out the need for common sense. If you're mad at someone who is abusing a child and you do something about it, that's constructive anger, says Luskin. "Forgiveness is not an excuse for unthinking acquiescence, or a substitute for guarding loved ones and making sure one has good boundaries," he says.
If you need to take action to stop abuse, do so. Forgiveness of the abuser can come later.
Taking Up the Forgiveness Challenge
It's one thing to believe in the power of forgiveness, another thing to actually put it into effect. Luskin, who has lectured and given workshops on forgiveness at colleges, churches, and temples throughout the nation, says that invariably when he's 5 or 10 minutes into his talk, someone will stand up and say, "That's all well and good. But you don't know my mother-in-law." Or my boss, or my husband, or my ex....You can fill in the blank here, he says.
Even with all of the proven benefits of forgiveness, actually doing the act of forgiveness can be a challenge — and not just for people like Mark Taylor who have experienced major physical trauma.
Diana Blevens, for example, who sold office supplies in Vermont, wanted to forgive her boss, whose verbal taunts ultimately cost her her job. It took more than a year of daily effort. As Blevens tells the story, her sales numbers attested to the fact that she was consistently bettering the performance goals that had been set for her. Yet almost from day one her new boss had hurled verbal abuse her way, criticizing everything from how she dressed to how she spoke.
Blevens has held several top sales jobs through the years and knew that both her appearance and her interaction with the public were professional and above reproach. Her boss was clearly out of line, she says, and so irrationally abusive that she began to wonder if they didn't have some kind of kar-mic tie from a previous life.
While continuing to perform her sales work to the best of her ability, Blevens began looking for another job. And she began work on forgiving her boss as part of her personal spiritual growth. Every time she had angry or resentful thoughts towards her boss, she said a prayer of forgiveness. Meanwhile, her boss got wind that her resume was circulating and he fired her without notice. Then she really had to work on
"I must have forgiven that man 50 times a day," she says.
About a year later, she heard from one of her old boss's important clients. He passed along some information that could mean significant sales revenue for the company she had worked for. The choice was hers. She could remain silent, thereby exacting a sort of revenge. Or she could pick up the phone and give her old nemesis the valuable information. Of course, she made the call. Her boss received the information; then, after a moment of stunned silence, he politely asked her how she was doing.
"I knew in that moment I was free," Blevens recalls. "By the end of that call, I felt that we'd finished up the karma and that we'd finished it in a loving way. There was nothing left of the previous antagonism. It felt like I had done something amazing."
Learning to Forgive
With so many of the world's great spiritual traditions advocating forgiveness, and modern science verifying that forgiveness is, indeed, good for physical and mental health, there are clear reasons for making the effort to forgive old wrongs. Yet it's often not easy. Even a spiritual giant like Mahatma Gandhi acknowledged the challenge. "The weak can never forgive," he said. "Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong."
So how does one go about developing the strength to take up the challenge of forgiving others? Here are a number of suggestions from the recent research findings:
Take baby steps. Work at forgiving what you see as the smaller injustices in your life—an unkind act from a spouse or child—before moving on to events that are more difficult for you to deal with. During Dr. Luskin's workshops, people sometimes resist the suggestion that they become more forgiving by saying, "How could I forgive someone like Hitler?" "I tell them to put that on a shelf," says Luskin. "If you're still holding a grudge in your life, heal that. Maybe you'll never get to the
Holocaust and that's okay."
Try forgiving the person who cuts in front of you at the super market line, the slow drivers who insist on hogging the fast lane, the waitress who can't seem to get your order right. Work on forgiving politicians whose policies you disagree with. Work on forgiving your brother-in-law who hogs the conversation at the dinner table.
Replace anger with gratitude. "Remember that 3,500 children will starve to death today," says Luskin. "Then tell me that it's unfair that your mother was unkind to you." Focusing on the grace, privileges, and prosperity that have come your way will make it less likely that you'll dwell on the perceived slights and injustices that you've experienced in the past.
Forgive from a distance. Although it can be helpful to express or demonstrate our forgiveness to others, sometimes circumstances are not conducive to our doing so. Just because you've forgiven a person, doesn't mean you have to spend time with them. "You can forgive from afar," says Dr. Enright. "You can forgive without reconciliation or trusting. Forgiveness does not negate the unfairness. You're not denying reality. Forgiveness says, 'Despite your unfairness, I will have compassion.'"
Let go of victimhood. If you've been thinking of yourself as a victim, start thinking of yourself as a hero, advises Luskin. It takes spiritual strength to forgive. Forgiving transforms you from being a victim to being a spiritual hero.
Seek inspiration in scripture. "All the religions of the world have an honored place for forgiveness in their wisdom literature," says En-right. (See shaded box below.)
Focus on your heart. Luskin has developed a technique that you can use whenever you feel yourself affected by anger or resentment. It can be done in just a few minutes, and helps to reduce the body's production of stress-inducing chemicals.
>Sit up straight and close your eyes. Breathe deeply a few times, relaxing your belly so that it expands with each inhalation.
>Then take your attention up to your heart and spend a few minutes thinking of someone you love or of past events in your life that have inspired you to feel love. Or simply picture a beautiful scene in nature. As you do so, continue the deep breathing and ask yourself how you might think about the offense without feeling pain. If you can't do this, just concentrate on the breathing and positive image until some degree of mental peace replaces the angry desire for retaliation.
Help Stop the Cycle
Lack of forgiveness causes many of the problems in the world, says Mark Taylor. People who have been violendy treated as children often perpetuate that pattern of cruelty themselves as adults. Gang members who can't forgive go out and shoot others.
Nations that can't forgive get caught up in cycles of mutual revenge that can last for centuries, says Taylor. Even small acts of forgiveness help put an end to violence, he points out.
"This is a spiritual battle," says Taylor. "We're going to have to love those who hurt us. Pray and ask God to help you with forgiving."
*Published in the Summer 2007 Issue of SRF Magazine.
THE TIMES SATURDAY JUNE 7 1986
A choice in the chaos of chance
The mechanistic universe, which seemed to rob man of his free will, is dead. The atoms and subatomic particles from which everything is made are not like those miniature billiard balls that follow the predictable predetermined paths described by classical mechanics.
The new physics confronts us with a different picture. Chance and uncertainty lie at the very heart of the matter, according to Bohr's quantum mechanics. The atom and its constituent particles are far from being neat predictable entities at all. Every electron, proton, atom, molecule, or group of molecules faces not one predetermined future but many alternative futures. Chance will determine which.
The moment-to-come is haunted by an infinity of statistical ghosts; while some become actual as the present moment unfolds, others collapse (the "collapsing of the wave function", in the language of the new physics) only to be replaced by a new set of possibilities.
How does God relate to this uncertainty and what are the implications for the doctrines of free will and predestination?
The future is a creation of the mind; it has no reality other than as an infinite number of ghostly possiblities. There is no means of knowing for certain exactly what will happen tomorrow, which of the possibilities will become real or which will collapse unrealized into oblivion. Perhaps even God does not know.
But prophetic predictions and the many allusions in scripture to God's plan and purpose in history, suggest that the future is already mapped out, a landscape waiting to be discovered and traversed.
This suspicion is strengthened by belief in God's omniscience. Tomorrow must exist in some sense, it is argued, if it is already "there" to be known. On those grounds, many have been led to acquiesce in the beguiling comforts of fatalism.
The analogy with a book is often used. While we make our way through life, page by page, God who is outside time can look ahead to future chapters.
But the book has a modern offspring in the soap opera, less fixed in its forms. Authors of weekly episodes adjust the details of plots and subplots as they unravel them. Sometimes they even rewrite, depending on the availability of actors or with an eye to the ratings.
For God, the future must be even more open. By giving man moral freedom he allows great flexibility in his plans and purposes and imposes limits to his power. One of those limits may be that he willingly restricts his omniscience and does not probe the future.
History is not a book which he has written; it does not exist until it happens. It is enough for God to know that one way or another all will be well. His presence in the process guarantees for us that it is wise to live hopefully.
Time travel is an entertaining and absorbing fantasy (witness the popularity of the recent film. Back to the Future, or the exploits of Dr Who), but in reality only the present exists. Our time travelling must be with the rolling here-and-now.
God goes before us, "prevents us", in all our doings. It is "He in whose wake the year unfolds its days," in the lovely phrase of Simone Weil. Only the present is real and the future a sweep of possibilities within it.
A significant insight of the new physics is the inseparability of the observer (the experimenter) and the event observed. The act of looking is a critical and determining factor in the experiment, influencing what is seen. God is the ultimate observer, the creative spiritual field in which we live and in which the material universe functions. He creates every moment using the laws of nature.
But the laws of nature at the level of fundamental particles have an openess about them, according to quantum theory. The elements of chance and uncertainty offer opportunities for novelty just as free will does for human beings.
Where there is chance there can be choice (in such a world there could even be room for effective prayer, not just the prayer which transforms people but the prayer which influences things).
Karl Barth in his great commentary on Romans wrote that, "Before every moment in time, God foreordains". He foreordains us because he knows us completely. But there is a paradox, a "grim disturbance" underlying the whole epistle. It goes under the name of double predestination. We are all doomed that we might all be saved. We all share the hardened heart of Pharoah; we are all led to freedom with Moses.
God's foreordaining does not dictate the future in the fixed format of a book. It is a divine pressure, a predestinating moment lying within and behind every moment of unfolding time.
Free will. then, is an essential and central part of the Gospel. There are many possible routes forward within this unfolding present, containing both blessings and curses. Double predestination applies to each of us but it calls for a response. God deliberately limits his power to give us free choice. Which future will we choose? Which will we allow to collapse into oblivion?
Christian teaching and quantum theory take some of the inevitability out of the way things will work out. There is no Third World War ticking away until its time has come: no unavoidable blood bath lies ahead of South Africa; tomorrow I need not be entirely the person I am today. We will be judged by how seriously we take this freedom.
Chaplain, St Paul's
Girls School, Brook
THE TIMES SATURDAY JANUARY 5 1985
Of miracles and pigs with wings
What is a Christian to think about miracles? Here is a subject of recurring, sometimes bitter, controversy which surfaced again recently in the arguments about the fire at York Minster.
A number of people were deeply disturbed by the reported views of a bishop-elect, views which seemed to them to cast doubt on miracles which they thought central to the Christian faith. Some of them suggested that the fire itself was a miracle, expressing God's anger at the consecration of a man who held these views.
Those who believe in such miraculous punishment are very sure that they know God's mind. How could they be certain that God was showing disapproval of the bishop? Might not the fire indicate God's anger against the Bishop's critics? But to speak more seriously, the whole discussion showed how much we need to clear our minds on the subject of belief in miracles.
There was a letter in The Times on this subject on July 13 last year signed by 14 scientists. They wrote that they all gladly accepted the Gospel miracles, for ''miracles are unprecedented events...... science, based as it is upon the observation of precedents can have nothing to say on the subject. Its laws are only generalizations of our experience.
This makes miracles altogether too easy! I believe in miracles, but they have to be astonishing, disturbing, hard to believe or they are not miracles.
I imagine these, 14 scientists watching a pig with wings flying round the garden, saying to each other (quite calm and unastonished): "That's interesting, we have not observed that before."
Of course, this is not what they would say: they would either think that a clever trick was being played or that they were hallucinating. For the pig would not simply be unprecedented but incredible.
These 14 scientists hold one common view of science. However, there is another more convincing view which says that science is not just generalization from known instances but an imaginative penetration of the rationality of the universe, involving faith in that rationality.
The "law" that all swans are white is simply a superficial generalization from experience, and so is destroyed by the first black swan one sees. But the laws discovered by a Newton, an Einstein or a Planck are profound insights.
After the discovery of such a basic law, instances are often found which seem to disprove it; but if the law is deeply revealing of a newly understood rationality in the universe, scientists often tolerate the contrary instances in the belief that they will be explained later. The law may have to be modified but will not be abandoned.
The basic framework of physical law which science upholds is the essential matrix for miracles. If anything can happen, nothing is miraculous. On the other hand,: if scientists were prepared to accept anything they saw, science could never have made any progress. For centuries man saw the sun going round the Earth; generalizing from that daily experience would never have got us through the Copernican revolution.
Science has something to say about miracles, for science lives in a necessary tension of faith, holding fast to laws and regularities already discovered while remaining, alert to recognize anomolies and to jiidge whether they are errors, like misprints in a printed' page, or hoaxes, or whether they are clues to. a, deeper coherence, a more profound law, which will change the whole outloqk of science.
What makes a miracle, even the greatest miracle, the Resurrection, so challenging is that such an event is deeply incompatible with our best understanding of how the universe works. Its hard to accept.
What can make the miracle nevertheless believable has to be that we see it as a pointer, a clue, to an even deeper understanding of the way the universe works, so convincing that we are compelled to have faith that the difficulties and contradictions will one day be resolved.
A miracle points to a hidden meaning, and the profundity of the meaning can make the miracle believable. Many happenings which apparently break the laws of nature, such as a flying pig, are not miracles for they reveal nothing,-there is therefore no reason to believe them; every reason to find a mundane explanation. It is only a glimpse of a most profound meaning which can make us venture out of our known laws, like Peter out of the boat.
This is in fact just what happens with great discoveries in science. They may be rejected for a time because they upset the firmest beliefs so far held by scientists. The new view, the new law, is accepted when it is felt to be so much more deeply satisfying to reason that a sort of conversion takes place.
Something like this may be the way we have to look at miracles. The scentist-philosopher, Michael Polanyi, offers us a view of evolution as a long progress towards meaning, a progress in which we may perhaps see each step as miraculous: life evolving from lifeless matter, then on to intelligence, then, to spiritual understanding and moral responsibility.
At each step new laws come into operation which transcend without transgressing the laws of the lower level. A true miracle could be the clue to a yet higher level of reality whose laws we only yet glimpse in such flashes of revelation.
Such glimpses are more likely to upset than to confirtn any belief, that we know exactly what God intends.
The writer is author of "Everyman Revived: the Common Sense of Michael Polanyi"
There is also another related thread in this forrum at:
Anecdotes --> Role of Miracles in Esoteric Traditions
Breakthrough to consciousness
Deep-brain therapy reopens ethical debate on right to live
Monday, August 06, 2007
The exciting discovery that implanting electrodes in the brain of a minimally conscious patient has set him on the path to the restoration of full consciousness calls for an overhaul in the way such patients have been traditionally regarded.
The 38-year-old man was deemed to be a "vegetable," according to his mother, after his skull was crushed in an assault six years ago. Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Neurological Restoration in Ohio implanted electrodes in his brain two years ago and wired them to pacemaker batteries in his chest cavity, bringing him back to an evolving state of consciousness.
The unidentified man can now speak in short bursts of a few words at a time, comb his hair, and he has exchanged his feeding tube for a fork and spoon.
Unlike the late Terri Schiavo, whose case generated a fierce legal clash over her cognitive abilities and right to live, this man was not in a persistent vegetative state.
According to the American Academy of Neurology, the criteria for distinguishing a minimally conscious state from a persistent vegetative one include a limited, but discernible evidence of awareness as expressed in a number of intermittent behaviours:
- Following simple commands;
- Gestural or verbal yes/no responses;
- Intelligible verbalization;
- Purposeful behaviour, (such as) appropriate smiling or crying in response to the linguistic or visual content of emotional topics or stimuli;
- Vocalizations or gestures that occur in direct response to the linguistic content of questions;
- Reaching for objects.
An individual in a persistent vegetative state can't exhibit any of these behaviours, even fleetingly, but does have sleep/wake cycles and can move from the vegetative state into a minimally conscious one.
That brings the discussion back full circle to cases like Schiavo's where debate seemed to have been centred around a sort of finality -- whether the soul had fled or not. Clearly, if patients like Schiavo can progress to a minimally conscious state, and in that state, can be revived through deep-brain electrode stimulation as the 38-year-old man was, then the lines around what is currently a very grey area of ethics need to be redrawn.
Dismissing such patients as vegetables, writing them off as permanently unsalvageable and letting judges rule, godlike, on who shall live and who die, may prove to have been an ethically abhorrent means of making decisions for them, if they can, in fact, be returned to consciousness.
And if they can, it means that their human consciousness never flickered out; it was always there, like a flame that burns down low, but can be rekindled to some level of brightness.
Or, as Dr. Joseph Fins, chief of medical ethics at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, says, it will "move away from the therapeutic nihilism that has so plagued this population, most of whom are ignored, receiving what is euphemistically described as 'custodial care.' "
Limited experiments with electrode implantation have been done on the cortexes of people in persistent vegetative states with some encouraging outcomes noted, but nothing from which to draw definitive conclusions. More work should be undertaken with these patients, in light of the stunning results in Cleveland.
Ethical debate surrounding such patients has been polarized for years down ideological lines of "right to live" and "right to die" -- the latter usually implying someone else's right to do away with the incapacitated person.
The recovery of the 38-year-old man should be a catalyst to refocus the debate -- not only emphasizing the right to live, but reaching new standards on how much better that can be achieved.
September 18, 2007
Is ‘Do Unto Others’ Written Into Our Genes?
By NICHOLAS WADE
Where do moral rules come from? From reason, some philosophers say. From God, say believers. Seldom considered is a source now being advocated by some biologists, that of evolution.
At first glance, natural selection and the survival of the fittest may seem to reward only the most selfish values. But for animals that live in groups, selfishness must be strictly curbed or there will be no advantage to social living. Could the behaviors evolved by social animals to make societies work be the foundation from which human morality evolved?
In a series of recent articles and a book, “The Happiness Hypothesis,” Jonathan Haidt, a moral psychologist at the University of Virginia, has been constructing a broad evolutionary view of morality that traces its connections both to religion and to politics.
Dr. Haidt (pronounced height) began his research career by probing the emotion of disgust. Testing people’s reactions to situations like that of a hungry family that cooked and ate its pet dog after it had become roadkill, he explored the phenomenon of moral dumbfounding — when people feel strongly that something is wrong but cannot explain why.
Dumbfounding led him to view morality as driven by two separate mental systems, one ancient and one modern, though the mind is scarcely aware of the difference. The ancient system, which he calls moral intuition, is based on the emotion-laden moral behaviors that evolved before the development of language. The modern system — he calls it moral judgment — came after language, when people became able to articulate why something was right or wrong.
The emotional responses of moral intuition occur instantaneously — they are primitive gut reactions that evolved to generate split-second decisions and enhance survival in a dangerous world. Moral judgment, on the other hand, comes later, as the conscious mind develops a plausible rationalization for the decision already arrived at through moral intuition.
Moral dumbfounding, in Dr. Haidt’s view, occurs when moral judgment fails to come up with a convincing explanation for what moral intuition has decided.
So why has evolution equipped the brain with two moral systems when just one might seem plenty?
“We have a complex animal mind that only recently evolved language and language-based reasoning,” Dr. Haidt said. “No way was control of the organism going to be handed over to this novel faculty.”
He likens the mind’s subterranean moral machinery to an elephant, and conscious moral reasoning to a small rider on the elephant’s back. Psychologists and philosophers have long taken a far too narrow view of morality, he believes, because they have focused on the rider and largely ignored the elephant.
Dr. Haidt developed a better sense of the elephant after visiting India at the suggestion of an anthropologist, Richard Shweder. In Bhubaneswar, in the Indian state of Orissa, Dr. Haidt saw that people recognized a much wider moral domain than the issues of harm and justice that are central to Western morality. Indians were concerned with integrating the community through rituals and committed to concepts of religious purity as a way to restrain behavior.
On his return from India, Dr. Haidt combed the literature of anthropology and psychology for ideas about morality throughout the world. He identified five components of morality that were common to most cultures. Some concerned the protection of individuals, others the ties that bind a group together.
Of the moral systems that protect individuals, one is concerned with preventing harm to the person and the other with reciprocity and fairness. Less familiar are the three systems that promote behaviors developed for strengthening the group. These are loyalty to the in-group, respect for authority and hierarchy, and a sense of purity or sanctity.
The five moral systems, in Dr. Haidt’s view, are innate psychological mechanisms that predispose children to absorb certain virtues. Because these virtues are learned, morality may vary widely from culture to culture, while maintaining its central role of restraining selfishness. In Western societies, the focus is on protecting individuals by insisting that everyone be treated fairly. Creativity is high, but society is less orderly. In many other societies, selfishness is suppressed “through practices, rituals and stories that help a person play a cooperative role in a larger social entity,” Dr. Haidt said.
He is aware that many people — including “the politically homogeneous discipline of psychology” — equate morality with justice, rights and the welfare of the individual, and dismiss everything else as mere social convention. But many societies around the world do in fact behave as if loyalty, respect for authority and sanctity are moral concepts, Dr. Haidt notes, and this justifies taking a wider view of the moral domain.
The idea that morality and sacredness are intertwined, he said, may now be out of fashion but has a venerable pedigree, tracing back to Emile Durkheim, a founder of sociology.
Dr. Haidt believes that religion has played an important role in human evolution by strengthening and extending the cohesion provided by the moral systems. “If we didn’t have religious minds we would not have stepped through the transition to groupishness,” he said. “We’d still be just small bands roving around.”
Religious behavior may be the result of natural selection, in his view, shaped at a time when early human groups were competing with one another. “Those who found ways to bind themselves together were more successful,” he said.
Dr. Haidt came to recognize the importance of religion by a roundabout route. “I first found divinity in disgust,” he writes in his book “The Happiness Hypothesis.”
The emotion of disgust probably evolved when people became meat eaters and had to learn which foods might be contaminated with bacteria, a problem not presented by plant foods. Disgust was then extended to many other categories, he argues, to people who were unclean, to unacceptable sexual practices and to a wide class of bodily functions and behaviors that were seen as separating humans from animals.
“Imagine visiting a town,” Dr. Haidt writes, “where people wear no clothes, never bathe, have sex ‘doggie style’ in public, and eat raw meat by biting off pieces directly from the carcass.”
He sees the disgust evoked by such a scene as allied to notions of physical and religious purity. Purity is, in his view, a moral system that promotes the goals of controlling selfish desires and acting in a religiously approved way.
Notions of disgust and purity are widespread outside Western cultures. “Educated liberals are the only group to say, ‘I find that disgusting but that doesn’t make it wrong,’ ” Dr. Haidt said.
Working with a graduate student, Jesse Graham, Dr. Haidt has detected a striking political dimension to morality. He and Mr. Graham asked people to identify their position on a liberal-conservative spectrum and then complete a questionnaire that assessed the importance attached to each of the five moral systems. (The test, called the moral foundations questionnaire, can be taken online, at www.YourMorals.org.)
They found that people who identified themselves as liberals attached great weight to the two moral systems protective of individuals — those of not harming others and of doing as you would be done by. But liberals assigned much less importance to the three moral systems that protect the group, those of loyalty, respect for authority and purity.
Conservatives placed value on all five moral systems but they assigned less weight than liberals to the moralities protective of individuals.
Dr. Haidt believes that many political disagreements between liberals and conservatives may reflect the different emphasis each places on the five moral categories.
Take attitudes to contemporary art and music. Conservatives fear that subversive art will undermine authority, violate the in-group’s traditions and offend canons of purity and sanctity. Liberals, on the other hand, see contemporary art as protecting equality by assailing the establishment, especially if the art is by oppressed groups.
Extreme liberals, Dr. Haidt argues, attach almost no importance to the moral systems that protect the group. Because conservatives do give some weight to individual protections, they often have a better understanding of liberal views than liberals do of conservative attitudes, in his view.
Dr. Haidt, who describes himself as a moderate liberal, says that societies need people with both types of personality. “A liberal morality will encourage much greater creativity but will weaken social structure and deplete social capital,” he said. “I am really glad we have New York and San Francisco — most of our creativity comes out of cities like these. But a nation that was just New York and San Francisco could not survive very long. Conservatives give more to charity and tend to be more supportive of essential institutions like the military and law enforcement.”
Other psychologists have mixed views about Dr. Haidt’s ideas.
Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist at Harvard, said, “I’m a big fan of Haidt’s work.” He added that the idea of including purity in the moral domain could make psychological sense even if purity had no place in moral reasoning.
But Frans B. M. de Waal, a primatologist at Emory University, said he disagreed with Dr. Haidt’s view that the task of morality is to suppress selfishness. Many animals show empathy and altruistic tendencies but do not have moral systems.
“For me, the moral system is one that resolves the tension between individual and group interests in a way that seems best for the most members of the group, hence promotes a give and take,” Dr. de Waal said.
He said that he also disagreed with Dr. Haidt’s alignment of liberals with individual rights and conservatives with social cohesiveness.
“It is obvious that liberals emphasize the common good — safety laws for coal mines, health care for all, support for the poor — that are not nearly as well recognized by conservatives,” Dr. de Waal said.
That alignment also bothers John T. Jost, a political psychologist at New York University. Dr. Jost said he admired Dr. Haidt as a “very interesting and creative social psychologist” and found his work useful in drawing attention to the strong moral element in political beliefs.
But the fact that liberals and conservatives agree on the first two of Dr. Haidt’s principles — do no harm and do unto others as you would have them do unto you — means that those are good candidates to be moral virtues. The fact that liberals and conservatives disagree on the other three principles “suggests to me that they are not general moral virtues but specific ideological commitments or values,” Dr. Jost said.
In defense of his views, Dr. Haidt said that moral claims could be valid even if not universally acknowledged.
“It is at least possible,” he said, “that conservatives and traditional societies have some moral or sociological insights that secular liberals do not understand.”
I would like to greet you Idd Mubarak with the following insightful article. Enjoy!
TI!E TIMES SATURDAY AUGUST 4 1984
Science and religion
Shakespearian preview of relativity
Some years ago I made a pilgrimage to the remote and beautiful Siccar Point on the Berwickshire coast. It is the place where, 150 years ago, the eminent Scottish geologist Hutton expounded his theory of Uniformitarianism to his two distinguished pupils, Playfair and Sir James Hall. By studying the arrangement of the rocks he sought to persuade them that the age of the Earth was very considerable.
The visit made a great impression on Playfair, who later recorded the episode in this memorable passage: "The mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time; and while we listened with earnestness and admiration to the philosopher who was now unfolding to us the order and series of these wonderful events, we became sensible how much further reason may sometimes go than the imagination can venture to follow".
The years have not diminished the strength and relevance of that passage. To a large extent what we make of the world is the combined result of our reason and imagination, but those two faculties do not always work in harmony. For those in the forefront of nuclear physics at the moment, reason would suggest things that the imagination could scarcely accept. Relativity and the quantum theory are having a profound effect on our view of the world.
In the good old days of Newtonian physics there was at least a sense of security. Observer and observed were clearly demarcated and the quantification of motion and gravity enabled planetary motion to be predicted correctly. It might well have been expected that those Newtonian laws would also apply to the subatomic world - but not so.
A surprising element of randomness became apparent; electrons, unlike planets, did not seem to conform to laws of motion. Although their collective behaviour could be dealt with on a probability basis, it nevertheless remained true that individual paths were essentially random and indeterminate.
The exact nature of an electron caused difficulties. It appeared to have the qualities of a particle and of a wave. That schizophrenia is also reflected in its peculiar symmetry. Whereas for an ordinary globe spinning on its axis, one complete rotation of the axis would restore the original position, the electron requires two rotations. The first rotation brings round its "alter ego" and another one is necessary to get back its original face.
The electron is indeed a very strange particle and the implications that stem from its behaviour are quite extraordinary. It is one of the supreme ironies of modern physics that, instead of giving us precise answers, it is raising deep philosophical problems and introducing a high degree of subjectivity.
As Professor Paul Davies says. "Fundamental things like duration, length, past, present, and future can no longer be regarded as a dependable framework within which to lead our lives, instead they arc flexible, elastic qualities, and their values depend on precisely who is measuring them."
The same intense element of subjectivity also permeates Shakespeare's The Tempest. Although the themes that run through the play are many and varied, it may well be that rather as in Elgar's Enigma variations, "through and over the whole set another and larger theme goes".
That larger theme could simply be illusion. From the very beginning of the play the audience is exposed to vivid scenes which subsequently turn out either to be stage managed by Ariel or sheer illusion. The setting of the play on an enchanted island at once removes the audience from its secure roots in the real world. Anything can happen in this magic place and probably will.
Unlike Elgar's Enigma variations, however, where the larger theme is never stated, in The Tempest it is stated and comes in Prospcro's "cloud-capped towers" speech. It is no coincidence that that speech follows the greatest illusion of all, the masque; "players pretending to be spirits, pretending to be real actors, pretending to be supposed goddesses and rustics", as Tillyard puts it. It is as if that amazing multiple illusion triggers off Prospero's grand statement that "we are such stuff as dreams are made on".
It's the theme that pervades the whole play; to quote Tillyard once more on the importance of that speech: "Not that it in the least sums the play up: rather it is like evening sunlight sending its beams on objects very varied and unlike itself, yet fusing them in a common illumination " This common illumination is none other than illusion.
The finai master stroke of the play is the integration of the audience into that peculiar world. Prospero remains himself in the epilogue and firmly, but politely, tells the audience that they themselves are players in this strange game and not mere spectators. In almost uncanny fashion that anticipates the very essence of relativity and it is surely a tribute to the greatness of the play that science is only just beginning to come to terms with its real message.
Although seeming poles apart, the quantum theory and The Tempest tell us the same story. In some ways the story is disturbing because it presents us with a constantly shifting frame of reference with no fixed points. The subatomic world does indeed teem to be the "baseless fabric" of Prospero's vision.
However, there is another side to the coin; The quantum theory opens up an amazing number of possibilities which we could scarcely have the courage to dream about. A person who foresaw those possibilities in a prophetic and visionary way was the Swedish dramatist, Strindberg, who in his introduction to A Dream Play in 1901, said: "Anything can happen; everything is possible and probable. Time and space do not exist; on a slight groundwork of reality, imagination spins and weaves new patterns.... The characters are split, double, and multiply; they evaporate, crystallize, scatter, and converge. But a single consciousness holds sway over them all - that of the dreamer."
Not only does that anticipate the implications of modern physics but also, if one equates Prospero with the dreamer, it forms a remarkably succinct summary of The Tempest.
Rose Geransar and Brian Seaman
For The Calgary Herald
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Margaret Atwood and Christian Bok will be on hand to present their views at the One Origin, One Race, One Earth Conference being held in Calgary Nov. 15 to 17. The event also features the Rosalind Franklin Art Exhibit, which will display student art works inspired by genetic science.
The conference is open to the public and aims to enhance understanding about genetics and human health by involving diverse groups of individuals in dialogue and debate. For more information and for a list of confirmed speakers, go to http://www.aclrc.com/OneOrigin/
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What do Frankenstein, Jurassic Park and a Canadian television series called ReGenesis have in common?
A mad scientist creating life in a lab, dinosaurs brought to life from ancient DNA, and recurring stories of genetic engineering and wombs to rent are all examples of how popular culture can stir the public imagination to look to the deeper issues behind the pursuit of science.
That science fuels imagination would come as no surprise to Albert Einstein, who said: "I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge."
In the view of arguably the greatest scientist of the 20th century then, imagination also propels the progress of science.
Now, with an award-winning Canadian poet, Margaret Atwood, paired up with a University of Calgary geneticist to create "living poetry" using the genome of bacteria, you might say you've heard it all.
Christian Bok, who teaches English at the University of Calgary, is working with a renowned geneticist named Stuart Kauffman.
Bok will encipher a poem as a sequence of DNA and then Kauffman will implant it into the genome of a bacterium called Deinococcus radiodurans, an organism that can survive a thermonuclear blast and could be around when the sun explodes.
Scientists and bioethicists have recently been exploring the role of the arts as a way to engage people in questions about science policy.
However, the imaginations of artists and writers have always inspired the public fascination with science, as much through stories of hope as through tales driven by fear.
The bleak future of A Brave New World and the chilling prospect of Nazis re-creating Hitler through cloning, as set out in The Boys From Brazil, illustrate the role of creative arts using imagination to make real the limits of biology.
They also suggest the ethical bounds beyond which a decent society ought not to venture. More recently, movies such as Gattaca or The Island have led us to question whether we want a world where our lives are predetermined by our genes or where humans are created for spare organs for those rich enough to pay the price.
There are also many contemporary examples of creative public engagement in Canada. For example, scientists and artists are collaborating on the television series
ReGenesis. Set in the near future, this unique show features online science fact sheets and commentaries that explore the ethical and social issues underlying each episode.
Genome British Columbia and other organizations have used Caryl Churchill's play, A Number, to introduce audiences to the lives of cloned human beings of the future.
Discussions about the intrinsic value of human life, led by a science expert, follow productions of the play.
Health Canada has even used theatre as a tool to engage Canadians in discussion when it was developing the Assisted Reproduction Technologies Act.
One such Health Canada project was a play called Orchids, written by an Ontario professor of obstetrics and gynecology named Jeff Nisker.
From a living poem to a day in the life of a clone, from live tissue sculptures to the end of the world as Margaret Atwood saw it in her disturbing 2003 novel, Oryx and Crake, the arts can be a profoundly significant means for us to seriously question the world we live in and ask what kind of a world we want for our children.
Rose Geransar and Brian Seaman are co-chairs of the conference on genetics, human rights and the next phase of human evolution being presented Nov. 15 to 17 by the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre, in conjunction with the University of Calgary's Department of Medical Genetics.
Now that biologists in Oregon have reported using cloning to produce a monkey embryo and extract stem cells, it looks more plausible than before that a human embryo will be cloned and that, some day, a cloned human will be born. But not necessarily on this side of the Pacific.
American and European researchers have made most of the progress so far in biotechnology. Yet they still face one very large obstacle — God, as defined by some Western religions.
While critics on the right and the left fret about the morality of stem-cell research and genetic engineering, prominent Western scientists have been going to Asia, like the geneticists Nancy Jenkins and Neal Copeland, who left the National Cancer Institute and moved last year to Singapore.
Asia offers researchers new labs, fewer restrictions and a different view of divinity and the afterlife. In South Korea, when Hwang Woo Suk reported creating human embryonic stem cells through cloning, he did not apologize for offending religious taboos. He justified cloning by citing his Buddhist belief in recycling life through reincarnation.
When Dr. Hwang’s claim was exposed as a fraud, his research was supported by the head of South Korea’s largest Buddhist order, the Rev. Ji Kwan. The monk said research with embryos was in accord with Buddha’s precepts and urged Korean scientists not to be guided by Western ethics.
“Asian religions worry less than Western religions that biotechnology is about ‘playing God,’” says Cynthia Fox, the author of “Cell of Cells,” a book about the global race among stem-cell researchers. “Therapeutic cloning in particular jibes well with the Buddhist and Hindu ideas of reincarnation.”
You can see this East-West divide in maps drawn up by Lee M. Silver, a molecular biologist at Princeton. Dr. Silver, who analyzes clashes of spirituality and science in his book “Challenging Nature,” has been charting biotechnology policies around the world and trying to make spiritual sense of who’s afraid of what.
Most of southern and eastern Asia displays relatively little opposition to either cloned embryonic stem-cell research or genetically modified crops. China, India, Singapore and other countries have enacted laws supporting embryo cloning for medical research (sometimes called therapeutic cloning, as opposed to reproductive cloning intended to recreate an entire human being). Genetically modified crops are grown in China, India and elsewhere.
In Europe, though, genetically modified crops are taboo. Cloning human embryos for research has been legally supported in England and several other countries, but it is banned in more than a dozen others, including France and Germany.
In North and South America, genetically altered crops are widely used. But embryo cloning for research has been banned in most countries, including Brazil, Canada and Mexico. It has not been banned nationally in the United States, but the research is ineligible for federal financing, and some states have outlawed it.
Dr. Silver explains these patterns by dividing spiritual believers into three broad categories. The first, traditional Christians, predominate in the Western Hemisphere and some European countries. The second, which he calls post-Christians, are concentrated in other European countries and parts of North America, especially along the coasts. The third group are followers of Eastern religions.
“Most people in Hindu and Buddhist countries,” Dr. Silver says, “have a root tradition in which there is no single creator God. Instead, there may be no gods or many gods, and there is no master plan for the universe. Instead, spirits are eternal and individual virtue — karma — determines what happens to your spirit in your next life. With some exceptions, this view generally allows the acceptance of both embryo research to support life and genetically modified crops.”
By contrast, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, God is the master creator who gives out new souls to each individual human being and gives humans “dominion” over soul-less plants and animals. To traditional Christians who consider an embryo to be a human being with a soul, it is wrong for scientists to use cloning to create human embryos or to destroy embryos in the course of research.
But there is no such taboo against humans’ applying cloning and genetic engineering to “lower” animals and plants. As a result, Dr. Silver says, cloned animals and genetically modified crops have not become a source of major controversy for traditional Christians. Post-Christians are more worried about the flora and fauna.
“Many Europeans, as well as leftists in America,” Dr. Silver says, “have rejected the traditional Christian God and replaced it with a post-Christian goddess of Mother Nature and a modified Christian eschatology. It isn’t a coherent belief system. It might or might not incorporate New Age thinking. But deep down, there’s a view that humans shouldn’t be tampering with the natural world.”
Hence the opposition to genetically modified food.
Because post-Christians do not necessarily share the biblical view of an omnipotent deity with the sole power to create souls, Dr. Silver says, they are less worried about scientists “playing God” in the laboratory with embryos. In places like California, residents have voted not only to allow embryo cloning for research, but also to finance it.
But sometimes the reverence for the natural world extends to embryos, leading to unlikely alliances. When conservative intellectuals like Francis Fukyama campaigned for Congress to ban embryo cloning, some environmental activists like Jeremy Rifkin joined them. A Green Party leader in Germany, Voker Beck, referred to cloned embryonic stem-cell research as “veiled cannibalism.”
Of course, many critics of biotechnology do not explicitly use religious dogma to justify their opposition. Countries like the United States, after all, are supposed to be guided by secular constitutions, not sectarian creeds. So opponents of genetically modified foods focus on the possible dangers to ecosystems and human health, and committees of scientists try to resolve the debate by conducting risk analysis.
The outcome hinges more on beliefs than on scientific data. A study finding that genetically modified foods are safe might reassure traditional Christians in Kansas, but it won’t stop post-Christians in Stockholm from worrying about “Frankenfood.”
Similarly, some leading opponents of embryo research for cloning, like Leon Kass, say they are defending not Judeo-Christian beliefs, but “human dignity.” Dr. Kass, former chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, says the special status of humans described in the Book of Genesis should be heeded not because of the Bible’s authority, but because the message reflects a “cosmological truth.”
It is not so easy, though, to defend supposedly self-evident truths about human nature that are not evident to a large portion of humanity. Conservatives in the House of Representatives managed to pass a bill banning Americans from going overseas for stem-cell treatments derived through embryo cloning. But the bill didn’t pass the Senate.
It is by no means certain that this type of stem-cell research will ever yield treatments for diseases like Parkinson’s, but should that happen, it is hard to see how any Congress — or any law — could stop people from seeking cures.
The prospect of cloning children is much more distant, particularly now that researchers are becoming optimistic about obtaining stem cells without using embryos. For now, scientists throughout the world say they do not even want to contemplate reproductive cloning because of the risks to the child. And public-opinion polls do not show much support for it anywhere.
Even if human cloning becomes safe, there may never be much demand for it, because most people will prefer having children the old-fashioned way.
But some people may desperately want a cloned child — perhaps to replace one who died or to provide lifesaving bone marrow for a sibling — and won’t be dissuaded, no matter how many Christians or post-Christians try to stop them. To reach this frontier, they may just go east.
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