Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science

June 2001 Editorial

[Zygon, vol. 36, no. 2 (June 2001).]
© 2001 by the Joint Publication Board of Zygon. ISSN: 0591-2385
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9744.2001.00349.x

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Zygon is now at the halfway point in its thirty-sixth year of publication. Much has changed since Ralph Wendell Burhoe and his colleagues started on this venture in 1965. The change is quantifiable, in the size of the journal—averaging more than twice as many pages per year than in the first ten years—and the number of authors. The quality of change is more important, expressed, for example, in the range of questions and perspectives represented. The move into electronic access is one of the most striking innovations in recent years. Members of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science and all individual subscribers have access to Zygon from their home computers. Last December, we noted that 178 universities and other institutions in Korea now have electronic entrée to our text, as well as 22 state-funded universities in California. Beginning in 2001, Zygon will be available in all 64 Canadian universities, in 16 universities and colleges in Norway, and in 15 universities and in 55 colleges and community colleges in Ohio. All of these arrangements have been instituted by national and state governmental agencies contracting with our publishing agent, Blackwell Publishers. It seems not too much to imagine that in a few years every state-supported university and college in the United States will receive the journal electronically, in addition to the university systems of many other nations around the world. The Zygon “college without walls,” as the founders envisioned it, is becoming an international community. Our author base reinforces this assessment—in the years 2000 and 2001, published articles have come from Taiwan, Brazil, Estonia, Italy, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, and Canada, as well as the United States, which still supplies more than 80 percent of our articles.

Our basic purpose has remained the same in these thirty-five years. Beginning with the premise that religion and science are two fundamental driving forces of contemporary life, we believe that human welfare is served by and requires interaction between them, indeed “yoking,” as we embody in our name, “zygon.” The articles in this issue emphasize that the yoking of science and religion builds on engagement. The first section includes three articles that engage Huston Smith’s recent book, Why Religion Matters. Smith is recognized as one of the foremost scholars of religion in the world today, and he has communicated his understanding of religion widely in articles, books, PBS television series, videos, and public speaking. In this book, he intensifies ideas that he has expressed in public frequently: that science undercuts religion and that efforts like Zygon may in fact reinforce the foe of religion and values. In their responses to Smith in this issue, two scientists, Ian Barbour and Ursula Goodenough, and a religious studies scholar, Gregory Peterson, express their deep appreciation for Smith’s lifetime of work but also advance sharp critique of his argument and its presuppositions. Peterson sums up this engagement in his judgment that Smith is correct that the basic issues are, Why does religion matter? and How should it interact with science? However, rather than “limiting science in order to make room for religion,” as Smith argues, Peterson proposes “a better model” that carries “the potential for both fields to come out the better and, indeed, richer from the engagement.” Without gainsaying the correctness of Huston Smith’s concern, Gregory Peterson’s alternative represents the abiding conviction that has marked this journal’s guiding vision for one third of a century. Smith himself presents an incisive restatement and elaboration of his position. The engagement is marked by genuine disagreement. The arguments that are presented on both sides of this engagement deserve our profound consideration.

The second section, “Engaging E. O. Wilson,” flows directly from the engagement with Huston Smith, since Wilson is one of the prime examples cited by Smith of science-as-foe-of-religion. In a dialogue organized in February 2000 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Stephen Pope and Philip Hefner engaged Wilson’s view of ethics and religion, respectively, and leveled a direct critique. A discussion with Wilson followed, and it accompanies the articles by Pope and Hefner. In it Wilson reveals just how far he is willing to go in this engagement. His informal and extemporaneous clarifications of his own understanding of moral discourse and of the dimension of spirituality that is intrinsic to human life stand as classic statements of his thinking. This three-way dialogue demonstrates both how multidimensional the engagement between science and religion can be and also how it can open up to the possibility for Peterson’s vision of “better and richer” expression for both.

Paul Tillich (1886-1965) was one of the towering theologians of the twentieth century. Although he is often classified as a theologian who placed religion and science in non-intersecting paths, he did in fact give more attention to theoretical and practical issues of religion’s placement vis-à-vis culture than any other theologian of his time. He interpreted both religion and science in a complex, subtle, and provocative manner. In June 1999, a millennial symposium was organized by Paul Henry Carr at New Harmony, Indiana, where Tillich’s ashes are buried. Papers from this symposium are published in our third section, “Engaging Paul Tillich’s Thinking on Religion and Science.” Readers who are already familiar with Tillich will find a rich set of probes here, which can lead to a new level of understanding the theologian. For those who do not know Tillich, these papers not only illumine his thinking about religion and science, they also serve as a primer that elaborates some of Tillich’s most important and characteristic ideas. These articles demonstrate that Tillich, as well as his interpreters, was seeking a better and richer conversation between religion and science. So far as we know, this is the first such collection of articles to focus on Tillich’s importance for understanding the engagement of religion and science.

Engagement is the theme of this issue; engagement is the business of Zygon. Whether you are reading these words in Korea or Norway, Brazil or California, or elsewhere in our international range, we ask you to join in.

Philip Hefner



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