Biology has been one of the central disciplines in discourses on religion and science, constructively in natural theologies, and polemically in controversies about the nature and origin of humans. This issue of Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science offers a set of major articles on recent developments in biology. Holistic biology, systems biology, or developmental biology: What is the best way to envisage biology? And how to interpret biology, philosophically and theologically? Fraser Watts and Michael J. Reiss discuss meanings—broad and narrow—of determinism, reductionism, and mechanicism in biology. They see a turn toward more holistic, organismal, and systems biology. In their contribution, all those terms are considered carefully, in conversation with the scholarly literature.
Amid the diverse ways men and women have viewed the relationship between science and religion, explicit arguments that “Science is God’s Provision” remain unexamined by historians. Such arguments are examined here as they relate to the problem of theodicy, by looking at a particular case study that inspired comments on the relationship between medicine and faith, namely, the discovery of the diphtheria antitoxin. This story highlights, first, the flexibility of the tradition of natural theology, and second, the important role the problem of theodicy has played in the history of the relationship between science and religion.
cancer • diphtheria • medicine • natural evil • natural theology • theodicy
Kristin Johnson is Associate Professor in the Science, Technology and Society Program at the University of Puget Sound, 1500 North Warner Street, Tacoma, WA 98416, USA; e-mail: kristinjohnson @ pugetsound.edu.
Henry Nelson Wieman on Religion and Reinhold Niebuhr by Daniel F. Rice
Henry Nelson Wieman and Reinhold Niebuhr were theologically poles apart—Wieman a “new naturalist” and Niebuhr a “new super naturalist”—according to Wieman’s nomenclature. Wieman devoted more time and attention to Niebuhr than Niebuhr did to him. The reason for this was the result of Wieman’s sustained attack on the “new supernaturalism” with which he identified Niebuhr as one of the major American representatives. This article traces the background to Wieman’s view of Niebuhr—Wieman’s own views on science, on religion, and on Christianity—then proceeds to Wieman’s analysis of Niebuhr’s theology and his relation to the “new supernaturalism,” concluding with Niebuhr’s reply to Wieman.
Reinhold Niebuhr • religion • Henry Nelson Wieman
Daniel F. Rice is Professor (Emeritus) of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire, WI; e-mail: d-jrice @ att.net.
Telescope + Mirror = Reflections on the Cosmos: Umberto Eco and the Image of Religion by Benjamin John Peters
Umberto Eco argues that a mirror image is not a sign. At best it is a double, a thing that ceases to be once the reflected object is removed. Harry Mulisch narratively suggests that mirror images function metaphorically as gateways between human suffering and the divine. And interestingly, science employs mirrors and mirror images both to turn our gaze upwards and to show us reflections of our place in the cosmos. Tying together Eco’s notion of the double, Mulisch’s insistence that mirror images reflect humanity’s construction of the divine, and the Giant Magellan Telescope Project’s cosmic images, it is my contention that modern, telescopic mirror images are much more than snapshots of the cosmos. They are constructions of human and divine meaning that—signifying—pose the question, what is reflected: the cosmos or humanity?
aesthetics • cosmology • divinity • Umberto Eco • hermeneutics • meaning • Charles Sanders Peirce • perception • religion • science • semiotics
Benjamin John Peters is a PhD candidate in the University of Denver / Iliff School of Theology Joint PhD Program in the Study of Religion, 2201 South University Boulevard, Denver, CO 80210 USA; e-mail: petersbenjaminjohn @ gmail.com.
Dancing Around the Causal Joint: Challenging the Theological Turn in Divine Action Theories by Sarah Lane Ritchie
Recent years have seen a shift in divine action debates. Turning from noninterventionist, incompatibilist causal joint models, representatives of a “theological turn” in divine action have questioned the metaphysical assumptions of approaches seeking indeterministic aspects of nature wherein God might act. Various versions of theistic naturalism (such as Thomism, panentheistic naturalism, and pneumatological naturalism) offer specific theological frameworks that reimagine the basic God-world relationship. But do these explicitly theological approaches to divine action take scientific knowledge and methodology seriously enough? And do such approaches adequately address the problem of how uncreated, immaterial realities could affect physical, material processes? This article examines various features of the theological turn in divine action—recognizing it as a welcome step in science and religion, while challenging its current adequacy.
divine action • laws of nature • ontology • panentheism • philosophy of science • pneumatology • theistic naturalism
Sarah Lane Ritchie is a Research Fellow in Theology and Science at the University of St Andrews, St Andrews, UK; e-mail: slr21 @ st-andrews.ac.uk.
The Problem of “God” in Psychology of Religion: Lonergan’s “Common Sense” (Religion) Versus “Theory” (Theology) by Daniel A. Helminiak
The emphasis on God in American psychology of religion generates the problem of explaining divine-versus-natural causality in “spiritual experiences.” Especially “theistic psychology” champions divine involvement. However, its argument exposes a methodological error: to pit popular religious opinions against technical scientific conclusions. Countering such homogenizing “postmodern agnosticism,” Bernard Lonergan explained these two as different modes of thinking: “common sense” and “theory”—which resolves the problem: When theoretical science is matched with theoretical theology, “the God-hypothesis” explains the existence of things whereas science explains their natures; and, barring miracles, God is irrelevant to natural science. A review of the field shows that the problem is pervasive; attention to “miracles”—popularly so-named versus technically—focuses the claims of divine-versus-natural causality; and specifications of the meaning of spiritual, spirituality, science, worldview, and meaning itself (suffering that same ambiguity: personal import versus cognitive content) offer further clarity. The problem is not naturalism versus theism, but commonsensical versus theoretical thinking. This solution demands “hard” social science.
common sense • Council of Nicaea • hypothesis of God • implicit definition • Bernard J. F. Lonergan • possibility of human science • postmodern agnosticism • supernatural • theistic psychology • theory
Daniel A. Helminiak is Professor of Psychology at the University of West Georgia, 1601 Maple Street, Carollton, GA 30118, USA; e-mail: dhelmini @ westga.edu.
The New Biology
Holistic Biology: What It Is and Why It Matters by Fraser Watts and Michael J. Reiss
Recent developments toward a more holistic biology do not eliminate reductionism and determinism, but they do suggest more complex forms of them, in which there are multiple, interacting influences, as there are in complex or chaotic systems. Though there is a place in biology for both systemic and atomistic modes of explanation, for those with a theological perspective the shift to complex explanations in biology is often welcome. It suggests a more subtle view of divine action in which God’s purposes are affected through engagement with the complex systems of creation rather than by discrete interventions. It also invites us to connect the biological interdependence with the interdependence in the nature and purposes of God, and it is consonant with a mystical vision of the unity of all things.
deterministic • holistic • interdependence • mechanistic • organismal • reductionist • systems biology
Fraser Watts, formerly Reader in Theology and Science at the University of Cambridge, is now Visiting Professor of Psychology of Religion in the School of Psychology, University of Lincoln, UK; e-mail: fraser.watts @ cantab.net. Michael J. Reiss is Professor of Science Education at UCL Institute of Education, University College London, and Visiting Professor at the Universities of Kiel, Leeds, and York and at the Royal Veterinary College, London, UK; e-mail: m.reiss @ ucl.ac.uk.
The Christian’s Dilemma: Organicism or Mechanism? by Michael Ruse
Is organicism inherently Christian-friendly, and for that matter, is mechanism inherently religion nonfriendly? They have tended to be, but the story is much more complicated. The long history of the intertwined metaphors of nature taken as an organism, versus that of nature as a machine, reveals that both metaphors have flourished in the endeavors of philosophers, scientists, and persons of faith alike. Different kinds of Christians have been receptive to both organicist and mechanistic models, just as various kinds of nonreligious scientists have been receptive to both holistic and machine metaphors. Although, it is true, organicism has been generally more attractive to persons of faith than mechanism (and vice versa), an overview of the rich and varied history of allegiances to these metaphors—religious and nonreligious alike—shows that debate is much more interesting and complex. A brief inspection of conversation surrounding recent scientific discoveries shows that this debate between metaphors is still very much alive today.
holism • mechanism • metaphor • organicism • reductionism
Michael Ruse is Lucyle T.Werkmeister Professor and Director of the History and Philosophy of Science Program, Department of Philosophy, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL, USA; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Developmental Biology, Natural Selection, and the Conceptual Boundaries of the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis by David J. Depew and Bruce H. Weber
Using the evolution of the stickleback family of subarctic fish as a touchstone, we explore the effect of new discoveries about regulatory genetics, developmental plasticity, and epigenetic inheritance on the conceptual foundations of the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis. Identifying the creativity of natural selection as the hallmark of the Modern Synthesis, we show that since its inception its adherents have pursued a variety of research projects that at first seemed to conflict with its principles, but were accommodated. We situate challenges coming from developmental biology in a dialectic between innovation and tradition, suggesting on the basis of past episodes that even if developmental plasticity and epigenetic inheritance are aligned with its principles the Modern Synthesis (and its image in the public reception of evolution) will be significantly affected.
adaptation • epigenetic inheritance • Modern Evolutionary Synthesis • natural selection • phenotypic plasticity • population genetics • sticklebacks
David J. Depew is Emeritus Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Iowa and was previously Professor of Philosophy, California State University, Fullerton, CA, USA; e-mail: david-depew @ uiowa.edu. Bruce H. Weber is Emeritus Professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, California State University, Fullerton, CA, USA; e-mail: bhweber @ fullerton.edu.
Epigenetics, Representation, and Society by Ilya Gadjev
In recent decades, advances in the life sciences have created an unprecedentedly detailed picture of heredity and the formation of the phenotype where clusters of simplistic reductionist and deterministic views and interpretations have begun to lose ground to more complex and holistic notions. The developments in gene regulation and epigenetics have become a vivid emblem of the ongoing ‘softening’ of heredity. Despite this headway, the outlook and rhetoric widely popular in the twentieth century favoring the ‘gene’ in the ‘gene↔genetic plasticity↔phenotype↔environment’ tetrad have not been successfully tackled but continue to exist in parallel with a new, equally monochromatic, viewpoint championing genetic plasticity. An examination of epigenetics and its presentation in the public sphere, open to a conversation with the social disciplines and philosophy, could address this dichotomy and contribute to the discourse. This article outlines key biological aspects of epigenetics and discusses the language, presentation and wider resonance of this field of life science research.
epigenetics • ‘hard’ inheritance • representation • science and society • ‘soft’ inheritance
Ilya Gadjev is Honorary Senior Research Associate at UCL Institute of Education, University College London (UCL), England; e-mail: ilya.gadjev @ ucl.ac.uk.
Systems Biology and Predictive Neuroscience: A Double Helical Approach by Harris Wiseman
This article explores the overlap between systems biology and predictive neuroscience, placing them in their larger context, the contemporary trend of bioinformatic convergence across the sciences. These two domains overlap with respect to their interest in data accumulation and data integration; their reliance on computational statistical correlation; and their translational goals, that is, producing practical fruits and applications from the interscientific cross-pollination that contemporary data-integrative approaches make possible. The interventions that such translational conversations generate are medical and social in nature, and are aimed at both prevention (through prediction) and treatment. It will be argued that such approaches, socially and medically applied, contain potential for conveying both agency-enhancing and agency-diminishing social messages. The article concludes with a call to balance the overwhelmingly quantitative focus characteristic of predictive neuroscience with more qualitative empirical methodologies. This would represent a double helical approach.
agency • computational biology • holism • mechanism • modeling • omics • predictive neuroscience • scientific convergence • systems biology
Harris Wiseman is Honorary Senior Research Associate at UCL Institute of Education, University College London, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1 H0AL, UK; e-mail: harriswiseman @ gmail.com.
Laws in Ecology: Diverse Modes of Explanation for a Holistic Science by Richard Gunton and Francis Gilbert
Ecology’s reputation as a holistic science is partly due to widespread misconceptions of its nature as well as shortcomings in its methodology. This article argues that the pursuit of empirical laws of ecology can foster the emergence of a more unified and predictive science based on complementary modes of explanation. Numerical analyses of population dynamics have a distinguished pedigree, spatial analyses generate predictive laws of macroecology, and physical analyses are typically pursued by the ecosystem paradigm. The most characteristically ecological laws, however, are found in biotic analyses in the functional trait paradigm. Holistic credentials for ecology may thus be restored on two bases: its accommodating complementary modes of analysis and explanation, and its having some laws within the least reductionistic mode consistent with its subject matter. These claims, grounded in the aspectual theory of Herman Dooyeweerd, lead to some suggestions for enhancing the versatility and usefulness of ecology—and other sciences—by balancing different research paradigms under a holistic vision.
abstraction • biotic • Herman Dooyeweerd • numerical • paradigm • physical • reductionism • spatial
Richard Gunton is Coordinator at Faith-in-Scholarship and Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK; e-mail: rmg @ cantab.net. Francis Gilbert is Professor of Ecology at the University of Nottingham, Nottingham NG7 2RD, UK; e-mail: francis.gilbert @ nottingham.ac.uk.
The Exploration of Ecospace: Extending or Supplementing the Neo-Darwinian Paradigm? by Niels Henrik Gregersen
The neo-Darwinian paradigm, focusing on natural selection of genes responsible for differential adaption, provides the foundation for explaining evolutionary processes. The modern synthesis is broader, however, focusing on organisms rather than on gene transmissions per se. Yet, strands of current biology argue for further supplementation of Darwinian theory, pointing to nonbiotic drivers of evolutionary development, for example, self-organization of physical structures, and the interaction between individual organisms, groups of organisms, and their nonbiotic environments. According to niche construction theory, when organisms and groups develop, they not only adapt to their environments but modify their environments, creating new habitats for later generations. Insofar as ecological niches persist beyond the lifecycle of individual organisms, an ecological inheritance system exists alongside genetic inheritance. Such ecological structures may even facilitate the development of a cultural inheritance system, as we see in humans. The article discusses theological perspectives of such new developments within holistic biology.
co-evolution • complexification • construction theory • exploration of ecospace • internal/external • the Modern Synthesis • neo-Darwinism • network causality • niche • panentheism • views of God
Niels Henrik Gregersen is Professor of Systematic Theology at the Faculty of Theology, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark; e-mail: nhg @ teol.ku.dk.
Creationism in Europe edited by Stefaan Blancke, Hans Henrik Hjermitslev, and Peter C. Kjærgaard reviewed by Willem B. Drees