Science Fictions Imagined Technologies
This issue of Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science includes three articles from a panel organized by this journal on The Nuts and Bolts of Transformation: Science Fictions Imagined Technologies and the Civic Imagination, which was held at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) in San Diego on November 24, 2019. The panels goal was to explore how science fiction both cultivates and intervenes in the ways that we imagine technologys role in society, both present and future. Through a variety of narrative and representative means, works of science fiction can both model potential versions of our sociotechnical future and provide the thinking ground for critical reflection on the role of various technologies in the present. Emanuelle Burton, co-organizer of the panel, introduces the thematic section and the larger setting of the panel (which featured six speakers). Michelle Marvins article studies the phenomenon of memory-altering technologies in Westworld and shows that unreconciled altered traumatic memory may lead to a dystopian breakdown of society; she emphasizes connections between memory altering technologies and humanitys responsibility to remember rightly. Nathan Schradles article assesses current attitudes toward artificial intelligence and quantum computing from works that do not self-represent as a science fiction but that offer near-future imaginaries; he argues that they represent a modern day form of magical thinking. Finally, Zhange Nis article turns attention to imaginary worlds around the magical practice of Chinese alchemy fused with science and technology, in a new fantasy subgenre that emerged in contemporary China, xiuzhen xiaoshuo (immortality cultivation fiction); she shows how this subgenre reconceptualizes Western transhumanism.
In this article we examine the changing relationship to risk as revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ways this has, and may in future, alter sacramental practice, considering the radical effects this could have on traditional Christian practice. We consider the cultural trends that may lie behind this developing approach to risk, examining this in the context of an emergent transhuman identity that is technologically moderated and seeks to overcome risks of human mortality.
COVID-19 • Homo transhumanus • pandemic • risk • sacrament • transhumanism
Ziba Norman is an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London, UK; e-mail: z.norman @ ucl.ac.uk. Michael J. Reiss is Professor of Science Education at UCL Institute of Education, University College London, UK, and President of the International Society for Science and Religion; e-mail: m.reiss @ ucl.ac.uk.
The Chinese Practice-Oriented Views of Science and Their Political Grounds by Yuanlin Guo and Hans Radder
In China, practice-oriented views of science can be traced back to antiquity. In ancient times, the Chinese people independently created and developed application-oriented sciences, but they ignored basic science. In modern times, China learned and introduced Western science and technology as a practical instrument to protect the nation and make it prosperous and powerful. Through technology and production, science has been playing an immediate and major role in the development of socialism since 1949. Since 1978, the Chinese government has always emphasized that science and technology are the primary productive forces. From ancient times to the present, the practice-oriented views of science are grounded in politics. Science has been the handmaiden of politics since the Qin Dynasty. However, this state of affairs hinders the development of basic science, a science that is not oriented toward immediate application. It also hinders open-minded, critical reflection on the downsides or limits of science, which could draw on broader (moral, spiritual, or religious) values.
China • history of science • lack of critical reflection • political grounds • practice-oriented views
Yuanlin Guo is Professor of Philosophy at the Center for Science, Technology and Society, Tianjin University, Tianjin, China, and (during the year 2019–2020) CLUE+ affiliated researcher at the Department of Philosophy, VU University Amsterdam, the Netherlands; e-mail: 13920598310 @ 163.com. Hans Radder is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy and CLUE+ affiliated researcher at the Department of Philosophy, VU University Amsterdam, the Netherlands; e-mail: h.radder @ vu.nl.
The Theological Debate Over Human Enhancement: An Empirical Case Study of a Mediating Organization by John H. Evans
For most theologians, theology should ultimately be used by the laity and/or the public. However, the religion and science debate has not focused on the divide between theologians and the laity. In this case study I examine the debate among theologians about human enhancement. I focus on the extent to which the structure of the debate in a mediating organization between the theologians and the public coincides with the structure of the debate among the theologians. I conduct a survey of participants in the organization, and find that the basic divides among the theologians are largely replicated. These results, when combined with studies of the theologians themselves and the laity, provide a more holistic understanding of the future debate about human enhancement.
human enhancement • mediating organization • survey
John H. Evans is the Tata Chancellor’s Chair in Social Sciences, Professor of Sociology, Associate Dean of the Social Sciences and Co-Director of the Institute for Practical Ethics at the University of California, San Diego, CA, USA; e-mail: jhevans @ ucsd.edu.
Does Belief in Human Evolution Entail Kufr (Disbelief)? Evaluating the Concerns of a Muslim Theologian by Shoaib Ahmed Malik and Elvira Kulieva
Nuh Ha Mim Keller, a contemporary Muslim theologian, argues against the compatibility of evolution and Islam. In this article we intend to critically evaluate his position in which he advances three separate arguments. First, he criticizes the science of evolution. Second, he demonstrates the metaphysical problems with naturalism and the role of chance in the enterprise of evolution. Third, he contends that evolution and the creationist narrative in Islamic scripture is irresolvable. Given these points, Keller concludes that believing in human evolution takes one outside the fold of Islam (kufr). After reviewing each of these points we argue that his claims are unwarranted because of other possibilities which Keller may have not considered. In effect, we argue that believing in evolution doesn’t necessarily or definitively entail kufr.
disbelief • evolution • human evolution • Islam • Nuh Ha Mim Keller • kufr
Shoaib Ahmed Malik is an Assistant Professor, College of Natural and Health Sciences, Zayed University, Academic City, Dubai, UAE; email: Shoaib.malik @ zu.ac.ae. Elvira Kulieva is a postgraduate student, College of Islamic Studies, Hamad bin Khalifa University, Education City, Doha, Qatar; email: ekulieva @ mail.hbku.edu.qa.
Quantum Mechanics, Time, and Theology: Indefinite Causal Order and A New Approach to Salvation by Emily Qureshi-Hurst and Anna Pearson
Quantum mechanics has recently indicated that, at the fundamental level, temporal order is not fixed. This phenomenon, termed Indefinite Causal Order, is yet to receive metaphysical or theological engagement. We examine Indefinite Causal Order, particularly as it emerges in a 2018 photonic experiment. In this experiment, two operations A and B were shown to be in a superposition with regard to their causal order. Essentially, time, intuitively understood as fixed, flowing, and fundamental, becomes fuzzy. We argue that if Indefinite Causal Order is true, this is good evidence in favor of a B-theory of time, though such a B-theory requires modification. We then turn to theology, suggesting that a B-theoretic temporal ontology invites serious reconsideration of the doctrine of salvation. This paper concludes that the best explanation for salvation given a B-theory is mind-dependent salvific becoming, a type of psychological soteriological change that occurs through downward causation.
B-theory • Indefinite Causal Order • Quantum Mechanics • Salvation • Time
Emily Qureshi-Hurst is a D.Phil. Candidate in Theology (Science and Religion) at Pembroke College, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK; e-mail: emily.qureshihurst @ gmail.com. Anna Pearson is a final year D.Phil. Student in the Department of Materials at St Anne’s College, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.
Comment and Response
I Walk the Line: Comment on Mikael Leidenhag on Theistic Evolution and Intelligent Design by Christoffer Skogholt
Is theistic evolution (TE) a philosophically tenable position? Leidenhag argues in his article The Blurred Line between Theistic Evolution and Intelligent Design that it is not, since it, Leidenhag claims, espouses a view of divine action that he labels natural divine causation (NDC), which makes God explanatory redundant. That is, in so far as TE does not invoke God as an additional cause alongside natural causes, it is untenable. Theistic evolutionists should therefore reject NDC and affirm a more robust notion of divine agency. However, this will, Leidenhag claims, have the effect that theistic evolutionists will move their position significantly closer to Intelligent Design, and so the line between TE and intelligent design is (or ought to be?) blurred. If successful, the criticism by Leidenhag would be bad news for theists who want to take science seriously and good news for those scientistic atheists according to whom there simply is no scientifically respectable way of combining theism and modern natural science in an overarching worldview. So, is TE stuck between a rock (of redundancy) and a hard place (of pseudo-science)? No, at least not due to the criticism offered by Leidenhag—but maybe religious naturalism is?
Thomas Aquinas • Philip Clayton • evolution • Deborah Haarsma • intelligent design • panentheism • Arthur Peacocke • religious naturalism • theism • transcendence
Christoffer Skogholt is a PhD student of Philosophy of Religion in the Department of Theology at Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden; e-mail: christoffer.skogholt @ gmail.com.
The Problem of Natural Divine Causation and the Benefits of Partial Causation: A Response to Christoffer Skogholt by Mikael Leidenhag
In this article, I defend my previous argument that natural divine causation suffers under the problem of causal overdetermination and that it cannot serve as a line of demarcation between theistic evolution (TE) and intelligent design (ID). I do this in light of Christoffer Skogholt’s critique of my article. I argue that Skogholt underestimates the naturalistic ambitions of some current thinkers in TE and fails, therefore, to adequately respond to my main argument. I also outline how partial causation better serves as a model for the relationship between God’s providence and evolution.
causality • intelligent design • overdetermination • panentheism • theistic evolution • theistic naturalism
Mikael Leidenhag is a Science and Theology Editor at the School of Divinity, the University of St Andrews, Fife, UK; e-mail: mikael.leidenhag @ st-andrews.ac.uk.
Science Fiction’s Imagined Technologies
The Nuts and Bolts of Transformation: Science Fiction’s Imagined Technologies and the Civic Imagination by Emanuelle Burton
This is an introduction to the thematic section on Science Fiction’s Imagined Technologies, which includes three articles that were presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) in San Diego, CA on November 24, 2019.
artificial intelligence • civic imagination • imagination • magic • memory • political change • science fiction • transhumanism
Emanuelle Burton is a Lecturer in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL; e-mail: email@example.com.
Memory Altering Technologies and the Capacity to Forgive: Westworld and Volf in Dialogue by Michelle A. Marvin
I explore the impact of memory altering technologies in the science fiction drama (2016–2020) in order to show that unreconciled altered traumatic memory may lead to a dystopian breakdown of society. I bring Miroslav Volf’s theological perspectives on memory into conversation with the plot of Westworld in order to reveal connections between memory altering technologies and humanity’s responsibility to remember rightly. Using Volf’s theology of remembering as an interpretive lens, I analyze characters’ inability to remember rightly while recalling partial memories of their trauma. In virtue of this examination, I contend that memory altering technologies may inhibit individuals from relational processes of healing, such as forgiveness. Consequently, I argue that this study leads to a richer understanding of the potential that memory altering technologies have for undermining humanity’s ability to interact in a relational capacity, specifically in terms of forgiveness.
artificial intelligence • dystopia • forgiveness • memory • memory altering • remembering rightly • science fiction • technology • Miroslav Volf
Michelle A. Marvin is a PhD candidate in Systematic Theology and the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN; e-mail: mmarvin @ nd.edu.
In Algorithms We Trust: Magical Thinking, Superintelligent AI and Quantum Computing by Nathan Schradle
This article analyzes current attitudes toward artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing and argues that they represent a modern-day form of magical thinking. It proposes that AI and quantum computing are thus excellent examples of the ways that traditional distinctions between religion, science, and magic fail to account for the vibrancy and energy that surround modern technologies.
artificial intelligence • magic • quantum computing • religion and science • technology
Nathan Schradle is a PhD candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, USA; e-mail: schradle @ unc.live.edu.
Reimagining Daoist Alchemy, Decolonizing Transhumanism: The Fantasy of Immortality Cultivation in Twenty-First-Century China by Zhange Ni
This article studies a new fantasy subgenre that emerged in contemporary China, xiuzhen xiaoshuo (immortality cultivation fiction), which builds imaginary worlds around the magical practice of Chinese alchemy and fuses it with science and technology. After the arrival of the modern, Western triad of science, religion, and magic/superstition, alchemical practices of the Daoist tradition were labeled as a superstition to be eradicated; however, they persisted and began to flourish within and beyond the realm of fantasy literature in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Immortality cultivation fiction has generated a magical form of transhumanism, which envisions human enhancement through techniques beyond the boundaries of proper science and legitimate religion. While transhumanism in the Euro-American West is popular among white bourgeoisie males and dominated by tendencies to reaffirm the human subject constructed by excluding the various subhuman others, magical transhumanism in Chinese fantasy explores the possibility of transcending that antagonistic relationship and making a posthuman subject and a utopian world.
Chinese alchemy • fantasy • magic/superstition • secularization • transhumanism
Zhange Ni is Associate Professor of Religion and Literature, Department of Religion and Culture, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, USA; e-mail: nizhange @ vt.edu.
Josh Reeves’s Against Methodology in Science and Religion
Critical Realism Redux: A Response to Josh Reeves by Paul Allen
This article combines an appreciation of several themes in Josh Reeves’s Against Methodology in Science and Religion: Recent Debates on Rationality and Theology while arguing in favor of critical realism. The author holds that critical realism manages to combine the objective truth reached through inference and especially cognitive acts of judgment as well as the various, contingent historical contexts that also define where science is practiced. Reeves advocates a historical perspective, but this article claims that in order for critical realism to be credible, a philosophical perspective must be maintained.
critical realism • inference • judgment • Alister McGrath • Nancey Murphy • rationality • Josh Reeves • J. Wentzel van Huyssteen
Paul Allen was Professor of Theology until 2019 and is now Dean, Corpus Christi College, Vancouver, Canada; e-mail: pallen @ corpuschristi.ca.
Science and Other Common Nouns: Further Implications of Anti-Essentialism by J. B. Stump
The term science is a common noun that is used to designate a whole range of activities. If Reeves is right—and I think he is—that there is no essence to these activities that allows them to be objectively identified and demarcated from nonscience, then what qualifies as science is determined by communities. It becomes much more difficult on this antiessentialism position to identify and dismiss pseudo-science. I suggest we might find a way forward, though, by engaging a philosophical tradition that has largely been neglected in English-speaking science and religion studies, and by articulating a theory of consensus along the lines of Oreskes (2019).
essentialism • evolution • history • language • pseudoscience • scientific method • truth
J. B. Stump is Vice President at BioLogos, Grand Rapids, MI, USA; e-mail: james.stump @ biologos.org.
Legitimacy and the Field of Science and Religion by Peter N. Jordan
Prompted by the concerns about legitimacy that Josh Reeves expresses in his book Against Methodology in Science and Religion: Recent Debates on Rationality and Theology, this article considers how the field of science and religion, and the disciplines and scholars that comprise it, should think about the pursuit of legitimacy today. It begins by examining four features of any conferral of legitimacy on an object. It then looks more closely at distance and its effects on judgments of legitimacy. It first notes how longer distances can enable a wide range of factors other than the internal features or inherent merits of the object to influence judgments of its legitimacy. It then explores the factors that persons who have significant expertise in or experience with the object may consider when judging its legitimacy. It closes by posing three questions that anyone designing a strategy to increase the perceived legitimacy of an object might ask.
legitimacy • methodology • theology
Peter N. Jordan is a Research Fellow at the University of Oxford, Oxford, UK; email: peter.jordan @ theology.ox.ac.uk
Making Space for the Methodological Mosaic: The Future of the Field of Science-and-Religion by Jaime Wright
This article is a response to Josh Reeves’s recent book Against Methodology in Science and Religion: Recent Debates on Rationality and Theology that welcomes Reeves’s proposal for an antiessentialist future for the field of science-and-religion, particularly because it has the potential to move the field beyond current, well-worn methods: the dominance of Christian theology and doctrine, the importance of credibility strategies, and the dependence upon philosophical discourses. Reeves’ proposal has the potential to open the science-and-religion field to other topics, problems, and methods, such as studying lived science-and-religion. One way of doing this is to study popular culture and its artifacts such as literature, which portrays a co-mingling of religion and science at the level of day-to-day experiences and practices of characters. For at the level of lived experience, religion and science are not well-defined disciplines neatly compartmentalized into separate academic departments.
experience • lived religion • lived science and religion • methodology • popular culture • practice • religion • science • scientific method • theology and science
Jaime Wright is a doctoral candidate at the University of Edinburgh’s Divinity School, Edinburgh, UK; e-mail: wrightjaimem @ gmail.com.
Science and Religion: Moving beyond the Credibility Strategy by Victoria Lorrimar
Reeves condemns the recruitment of scientific methods by representative theologians to lend credibility to their theological claims. His treatment of Nancey Murphy’s use of Lakatosian research programme methodology is focused on here, and his proposal that science and religion scholars might act as historians of the present to advance the field is explored. The credibility strategy is set in historical context with an exploration of some of the science and religion field’s original commitments and goals, particularly in terms of the emphasis on rationalism and corresponding neglect of the imagination, and the value of more creative input in promoting better dialogue between science and religion is highlighted.
Imre Lakatos • Nancey Murphy • philosophy of science • science and religion • scientific method
Victoria Lorrimar is a Lecturer in Systematic Theology, Trinity College Queensland (Australian College of Theology), Auchenflower, Australia; e-mail: Victoria.lorrimar @ trinity.qld.edu.au.
Methodology in Science and Religion: A Reply to Critics by Josh Reeves
Debates about methodology have been central to the emergence of the field of science of religion. Two questions that have motivated scholars in that field over the past half century: is it theoretically justifiable to bring scientific and religious beliefs into dialogue? and can theology be rational in the same way as science? This article responds to commentary on Against Methodology: Recent Debates on Rationality and Theology, a book which critically examines three major methodologists of recent years: Nancey Murphy, Alister McGrath, and J. Wentzel van Huyssteen. Themes raised in the commentary include the status of realism and truth in science, the unity of science, the adequacy of the term critical realism, proper ways of seeking legitimacy for an academic discipline, and new directions for the field of science and religion.
critical realism • philosophy of science • scientific method • theological method
Josh Reeves is Assistant Professor of Science and Religion in the Biblical and Religious Studies Department at Samford University in Birmingham, AL, USA; e-mail: jareeves @ samford.edu.
Ancient Hindu Science: Its Transmission and Impact on World Cultures by Alok Kumar reviewed by V. V. Raman