Climate Change and Blockchain: Editorial for March 2024 issue

Climate Change and Blockchain: Editorial for March 2024 issue

Posted by Arthur C. Petersen on 2024-05-25

The first issue with the new publisher, Open Library of Humanities, is out! [Click here to browse the issue online; click here to view and download a PDF of the entire issue; and to order a printed copy for $8.61 (no-profit-to-journal price) through Amazon, choose one of the following market places: US, UK, DEFRESIT, NL, PL, SE, JP, CA or AU.] We delayed the release of the March 2024 a bit since we wanted to include a complete thematic section from the sixty-eighth annual summer conference of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science (IRAS) entitled “The Wizards of Climate Change: How Can Technology Serve Hope and Justice?” at Star Island, New Hampshire, from June 25 to July 2, 2023. In this Editorial for the March 2024 issue, you will find brief introductions to the articles included in the issue, as well as an overview of books reviewed in the latest edition of Reviews in Science, Religion and Theology.


This issue contains two general articles. Adam Chin critiques conceptual analysis as used in the religion-and-science literature as a means of determining how to characterize the relationship between religion and science. And Pieter Slootweg assesses what the Bible says about God’s way with the animals and what it could mean for human ideas about God’s moral character.

The Wizards of Climate Change: How Can Technology Serve Hope and Justice? (by Arthur Petersen and Connie Bertka)

Technological wizardry has been pitched against prophecies of environmental catastrophe since at least the mid-20th century. Innovate! Create! Only then can everyone win!Simplify! Change your ways! Or all will be lost! The scientists on the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for example, tell us that large-scale deployment of carbon dioxide removal technologies is “unavoidable” if we are to prevent further dangerous temperature increases. They also argue that we must live less energy-intensive lifestyles to substantially reduce emissions. Addressing the many dimensions of climate change—such as energy and industrial production, urban and infrastructure planning, building construction and design, and land use—will require both new technologies and lifestyle changes.

In the 2024 IRAS conference, organized by Arthur Petersen, Connie Bertka, and Bruce Naylor, we critically examined how technology can be developed, deployed and governed responsibly, to address climate change in ways that foster hope and justice. We respectfully engaged a multiplicity of world views, including religious perspectives, as we learned how countries throughout the world determine and apply climate and technology policies.

The eleven articles that are included in this thematic section cover the breadth and depth of the conference and we are very happy to be able to publish them. Wim Drees contrasts the ambitions of wizards with the warnings of prophets and asks what, if any, guidance religions can provide on climate change. Leonisa Ardizzone explores how peace education encourages technological responses to climate chaos to be cognizant of the root causes of systemic violence in all its forms via intersectional, interspiritual, and interreligious lenses. Connie Bertka addresses public perceptions and communication challenges pertaining to climate change and climate technologies, and she identifies an opportunity to encourage responsible societal discussions about the risks and benefits of climate intervention technologies. Billy Williams, Mark Shimamoto, and Lisa Graumlich describe an ethical framework for climate intervention research that they have been working on from the American Geophysical Union—what is it and why should one care?—organizing global engagement on this topic, including with leaders and members of faith communities. Lenny Smith draws an analogy between myths and scientific simulation models; “wizards of climate science” and the decision-makers informed by them need to grapple with the fact that the models do not reflect real-world targets perfectly. Chuck Fowler, Larry Hobbs, and Megan Rodden suggest implementing systemic thinking in dealing with our species-level problems by using other species as role models; they argue that replacing conventional thinking with systemic thinking leads to holistic approaches to global problems. Eric Orts draws on two novels to imagine possible global climate solutions; he discusses how both envision effective social change over the next few decades (which involves public opinion, new religious movements, politics at the global scale, tweaking the global economic system, geoengineering, various roles that people from all walks of life can play, and love). Bonnie Nadzam investigates how climate fiction may engage elements of craft, in particular Enlightenment iterations of selfhood, that may contribute, regardless of a story’s content, to destructive dynamics of the Anthropocene. Fran Flannery argues why we must stop saying “climate apocalypse,” and analyzes the links between symbols, religious social memory, and effective climate action. Robert Sarracino and Margery Dixon outline Bahá’í approaches to climate change, focusing on three components for dealing with the crisis of anthropogenic climate change: embracing of justice and equity, full embracing of sound science, and consultation at all levels of society. Finally, Noreen Herzfeld offers a case for hope in a warming world; she emphasizes that hope is an active verb, one that calls for courage, solidarity, a clear vision, and hard work: humanity is called not to despair but to use every technology and means, we can be encouraged by a vision of a new world and society that works for everyone, and we can be heartened by nature’s resilience and an evolutionary theology that looks toward the future.

Blockchain, Religious Imaginaries, and Theology (by Franck Damour)

Studies related to blockchain technology have become increasingly popular in the past few years. These studies generally address the economic, social and legal implications of this new technology, which is often regarded as a means to renew or rethink the social contract. Because of its allegedly disruptive nature, blockchain technology has motivated a large variety of actors and communities to draft manifestos, engage in radical discourses, create new schools of thought centered on a few charismatic figures or referring to an unknown prophetic figure. Like all emerging technologies, the blockchain mobilizes a feverish imagination, which influences not only its adoption but also its development. By challenging the need for any trusted third party, blockchain technology proposes an ideal of immediate communion and communication, an opportunity to overturn the monetary system (whose religious dimensions have been emphasized many times), a tool capable of transforming the relationship with time, while questioning the notion of faith and truthfulness (through a “trustless” system). It is, thus, not surprising that religious references or theological discourses abound in that context.

This thematic section addresses the corpus of discourses and manifestos in the blockchain space, with a view to decipher the imaginaries of different blockchain communities, particularly as regards their religious or even theological dimensions. The articles in this section examine the religious dimension of blockchain and cryptocurrencies by looking at the cultural context that made them possible (Pucheu), by investigating the representations of the creators of Bitcoin, the first blockchain in operation (Damour), and by looking at the imaginaries that are mobilized in blockchain communities (Brunton, Dana and Schneider).

In his article, David Pucheu seeks to take this religious dimension seriously by revealing the various Judeo-Christian archetypes that permeate the discourses framing the development of Blockchain (millenarianism, evangelism, conversionism, etc.) and by taking a particular interest in the post-Christian spiritualities (New Age in particular) that have accompanied the deployment of network computing in the United States, and California in particular, from the outset (notably around the ambivalent notion of the ‘New Edge’).

When a technology mobilizes religious motives around it, this can be explained by its original context. But we also need to investigate the technology itself: what are the motivations of its inventors and developers? What religious or theological elements are incorporated into this technical device? Here, Franck Damour examines the theological elements invested in the development of the initial blockchain: Bitcoin.

In their article, Cassandra Dana and Nathan Schneider examine the instrumentalization of perversion as a springboard for networked infrastructure on the internet. They consider the mobilization of a religious strategy, which they describe as perverse attraction: the inversion of dominant moral hierarchies as a means of cultivating a faithful practice around an as yet unfinished infrastructure project. This article considers a pair of experiments in the context of blockchain infrastructure, led by entrepreneur Ameen Soleimani: MolochDAO and SpankChain, a grant fund and a sex-worker payments network, respectively. Their thinking builds on previous work exploring the interrelationships between religious phenomena and mediation technologies. Their study provides an original angle on the mobilization of religious schemas in the singular technical device that is the blockchain.

Finn Brunton explores a millenarian belief that drives some networks around cryptocurrencies. As a financial technology with a millenarian attitude, cryptocurrencies were bound to produce their own heretics and schismatics and a coming apocalypse—the revelation of hidden knowledge by which our earthly life is transformed. Far below the public evangelists and prophets (self-described) of the blockchain, an apocalyptic movement is bubbling away, communicating over Telegram channels, conference calls and YouTube videos. In this doctrine, Bitcoin and Ethereum are the exoteric forms of the hidden “chosen one” (as the believers put it): XRP, a crypto internal to a settlement network called Ripple. For initiates, XRP is the financial infrastructure of a total economic and social transformation under the Global Economic Security and Recovery/Reform Act, or GESARA, a secret set of laws and policies soon to be revealed to the world. The planet’s economies will experience the “Great Revaluation,” when the mighty—hedge fund managers, central banks, elites—will be brought low, believers will become rich, and the global financial infrastructure will be rebased on transparent blockchain tools in a jubilee of debt and hidden capital. The author uses this case to offer a broader reflection on the context and future of religious imaginaries in the blockchain space.

This thematic section is the result of a seminar at the Collège des Bernardins (Paris) directed by Primavera de Filippi (CNRS and Harvard University), Gemma Serrano (Département Humanisme numérique, Collège des Bernardins), and Franck Damour (ETHICS EA 7446, Université catholique de Lille).

Books reviewed in Reviews in Science, Religion and Theology

Reviews in Science, Religion and Theology is a quarterly joint publication of the European Society for the Study of Science and Theology (ESSSAT) and the International Society for Science and Religion (ISSR) and is distributed free to all members of ESSSAT and ISSR. In order to give readers of Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science an overview of recent publications, we include the list of books reviewed in the latest Reviews issue (in this case, March 2024):

- Paul Tyson, A Christian Theology of Science: Reimagining a Theological Vision of Natural Knowledge, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2022

- Mary-Jane Rubenstein, Astrotopia: The Dangerous Religion of the Corporate Space Race, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2022

- Sal Restivo, Beyond New Atheism and Theism: A Sociology of Science, Secularism and Religiosity, London: Routledge, 2024

- Joseph E. LeDoux, The Four Realms of Existence: A New Theory of Being Human, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2023

- Matthew Chrisman, Belief, Agency, and Knowledge: Essays on Epistemic Normativity, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022

- Seung Chul Kim, The Centre is Everywhere: Christianity in Dialogue with Religion and Science, Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2022