Dispatch From the Metanexus Conference

metanexusTom Oord, a professor of theology and philosophy at Northwest Nazarene University, praises Karl Giberson‘s talk on celebrity scientists “who make anemic spiritual or anti-religious pronouncements and yet the public regards their words as highly significant—despite the lack of thoughtful study these scientists have done on the great theological and religious ideas of history.”
In an exchange on Facebook, Oord adds:

Giberson also strongly criticized those who think that the general theory of evolution and Christianity are essentially incompatible. I join him in this criticism. Contrary to some creation scientists, I find no negative moral consequences to believing both that God is Creator and that the general theory of evolution is true.


Another Dispatch From the Darwin Festival

darwinfestivalRichard Dawkins has posted the follow-up to Daniel Dennett‘s first report from the Darwin Festival, in which he heavily criticizes a session on evolution and theology. (Philip Clayton, Wentzel van Huyssteen, and John Brooke have since responded.) In the second installment, Dennett shares his impressions of another session he attended, this one on the evolution of religion.
Here’s what Dennett wrote:

The second Templeton-sponsored session (at the Cambridge Darwin Festival) was more presentable. On the evolution of religion, it featured clear, fact-filled presentations by Pascal Boyer and Harvey Whitehouse, a typical David Sloan Wilson advertisement for his multi-level selection approach, and an even more typical meandering and personal harangue from Michael Ruse. The session was chaired, urbanely and without any contentful intervention, by Fraser Watt, our evolutionary christologist. (I wonder: should “christology” be capitalized? Ian McEwan asked me if there was, perhaps, a field of X-ray christology. I’ve been having fun fantasizing about how that might revolutionize science and open up a path for the Crick and Watson of theology!)
I learned something at the session. Boyer presented a persuasive case that the “packaging” of the stew of separable and largely independent items as “religion” is itself ideology generated by the institutions, a sort of advertising that has the effect of turning religions into “brands” in competition. Whitehouse gave a fascinating short account of the Kivung cargo cult in a remote part of Papua New Guinea that he studied as an anthropologist, living with them for several years. A problem: the Kivung cult has the curious belief that their gods (departed ancestors) will return, transformed into white men, and bearing high technology and plenty for all. This does present a challenge for a lone white anthropologist coming to live with them for awhile, camera gear in hand, and wishing to be as unobtrusive as possible. Wilson offered very interesting data from a new study by his group on a large cohort of American teenagers, half Pentecostals and half Episcopalians (in other words, maximally conservative and maximally liberal), finding that on many different scales of self-assessment, these young people are so different that they would look to a biologist like “different species.” Ruse declared that while he is an atheist, he wishes that those wanting to explain religion wouldn’t start with the assumption that religious beliefs are false. He doesn’t seem to appreciate the role of the null hypothesis or the presumption of innocence in trials. We also learned tidbits about his life and his preference—as an atheist—for the Calvinist God.”


Dispatch From the Darwin Festival

darwinfestivalJerry Coyne has posted philosopher Daniel Dennett‘s report on a session about evolution and religion from the Darwin Festival currently taking place at Cambridge University.
Here’s what Dennett wrote:

I am attending and participating in the big Cambridge University Darwin Week bash, and I noticed that one of the two concurrent sessions the first day was on evolution and theology, and was ‘supported by the Templeton Foundation’ (though the list of Festival Donors and Sponsors does not include any mention of Templeton). I dragged myself away from a promising session on speciation, and attended. Good thing I did. It was wonderfully awful. We heard about the Big Questions, a phrase used often, and it was opined that the new atheists naively endorse the proposition that “There are no meaningful questions that science cannot answer.” Richard Dawkins’ wonderful sentence about how nasty the God of the Old Testament is was read with relish by Philip Clayton, Professor at Claremont School of Theology in California, and the point apparently was to illustrate just how philistine these atheists were—though I noticed that he didn’t say he disagreed with Richard’s evaluation of Yahweh. We were left to surmise, I guess, that it was tacky of Richard to draw attention to these embarrassing blemishes in an otherwise august tradition worthy of tremendous respect. The larger point was the complaint that the atheists have a “dismissive attitude toward the Big Questions” and Dawkins, in particular, didn’t consult theologians. (H. Allen Orr, they were singing your song.) Clayton astonished me by listing God’s attributes: according to his handsomely naturalistic theology, God is not omnipotent, not even supernatural, and . . . . in short Clayton is an atheist who won’t admit it.
Read the rest of the report.


Dispatch From Venice

FROM KARL GIBERSON: Greetings from Venice, Italy, where the second installment of the Venice Summer School on Science and Religion is about to get started. This year’s program features presentations by evolutionary palaeobiologist Simon Conway Morris, philosopher of science Michael Ruse, zoologist Frans de Waal, Archbishop Józef Życiński, and me. The topic is “Evolution and Human Uniqueness.”
About 30 academics from around the world have gathered to spend the rest of this week interacting with each other and the program leaders. The key question on the table will be whether science offers any indication that human beings are more than quantitatively different from other species. We know that our chemical composition is identical, our physical construction almost identical, and our nervous system very similar to other species. Are we then best understood, in the words of Desmond Morris, as “naked apes”? Or is there something unique about us? Does theology, with its mysterious affirmation that we are made “in the image of God,” provide the only arguments that we are truly unique? Or are there hints from science that something truly unique “emerged” in natural history, providing us with our distinctive human natures?
Support for participants at the weeklong seminar is provided by the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, a venerable academic center that has hosted various academic, political, and intellectual gatherings since the time of Napoleon; support for the speakers and creation of the program is provided by the Templeton Foundation.

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