Upcoming conferences organized by other bodies are listed in our International Science and Religion News site. The following conferences have been organized by ISSR:
Human Nature and Embodied Cognition
20-23 September, 2012
Akademie Lokkum, Germany
For further details please visit www.loccum.de.
Belief in Dialogue: Science, Culture and Modernity Conference, American University of Sharjah, UAE
21 -23 June 2011
Conference Announcement and Call for Papers
The Belief in Dialogue: Science, Culture and Modernity Conference, is being jointly organised by the British Council, in partnership with the American University of Sharjah and in association with the International Society for Science and Religion (ISSR). The conference forms part of the British Council’s global Belief in Dialogue programme. For further information, please click here.
Conference 2010 – International Society for Science and Religion and the Ian Ramsey Centre, Theology Faculty, University of Oxford
7-11 July, 2010
God and Physics, incorporating an 80th birthday celebration of the work of John Polkinghorne
St Anne’s College, Oxford, The Clarendon Laboratory, Oxford
For further information visit: www.ianramseycentre.org
ISSR Conference 2009 – Evolution, Religion and Suffering
3 – 5 July 2009, Cambridge, UK
The focus of the first day of the conference was on the Evolution of Religion, developing a critical evaluation and moving towards an alternative approach to currently prevailing views. The suggestion was that these views are under-determined by empirical data and may be over-influenced by naturalistic assumptions.
The second day covered a variety of topics.
On the last day of the conference, there was an examination of the reception of Darwin in different world faith traditions, with a special focus on the problem of suffering.
Professor Jeremy Carrette – “Encoding and Extending: Deconstructing the Cognitive Science of Religion”
This paper seeks to examine the nature of concept formation in the cognitive science of religion. It focuses on three key works of anthropologist Harvey Whitehouse to show the problem of concepts and language in cognitive theory. It begins by raising the question of science and ideology in the work of Durkheim to examine the problem of the pursuit of knowledge in the human sciences. In the light of the problem of discovering whether concepts represent the thing or the ideal of the thing, the notions of encoding and extending in cognitive science are used to test the nature of cognitive thinking about religion. Encoding is seen to restrict the variables and extending to open up the complexity of mind in social context. The paper seeks to make cognitive discourse the object of analysis rather than religion and shows the theoretical limits and philosophical problems of simple cognitive modelling. Cognitive science tells us less about religion than about the ideology of concepts in cognitive theory.
Professor Peter Richerson – “Is religion adaptive? Yes, no, but mostly we don’t know”
The question of whether religion is adaptive or not is debated with much vigor and passion, but the question as usually posed is much too simplistic to be answerable. Religions are extremely diverse. What is true of one often will not apply to another. Given religions are complex systems of beliefs, emotions, rituals, moral injunctions, and social institutions and organizations. Some parts may be adaptive and others maladaptive. We know that cultural evolutionary processes can, in theory, lead to adaptations, maladaptations, and neutral variation. Religion is an appreciable fraction of the totality of culture, and any appreciable fraction of culture is virtually certain to exhibit all three.
Dr Timothy Jenkins – “Reconciling Nature and History”
Cognitive science places the mind inside the head, while anthropology places it outside, in the social environment of people, institutions and events. This simple distinction results in each approach having different objects, methods, and forms of explanation. The one may be characterized as offering a naturalistic, the other an historical account of the intelligibility of human action. Recent advances in natural science thinking, however, have emphasized the contextual and social nature of the processes of natural selection. This may offer the prospect of resolving the alternatives of naturalism and historicism, and so paving the way to a truly social psychology.
Dr Gennaro Auletta – “Teleonomy and Information Control”
My intervention will explore teleonomic processes of co-adaptation during phylogeny and epigeny as well as the issue of the information control by the organism on the environment. Evolution has neither purpose, nor finality but could have a directionality. In the long time run intelligent beings would be the natural consequence of evolution, since intelligence provides the highest form of information control allowing for acquisition and interpretation of hidden information (understanding of causal connections between events far away in space and time, guessing and sharing of others’ intentions, elaboration of abstract models and production of tools that are unprecented in nature, and so on).
Dr Robert J Russell – “Does ‘The God Who Acts’ Really Act? A Theory of Non-Interventionist Objective Divine Action (NIODA) in Light of Contemporary Science and Its Importance to Theistic Evolution”
If Christians are to offer a robust response to atheistic and to ID interpretations of neo-Darwinian evolution in terms of what is generically called “theistic evolution,” we must be able to argue that God is objectively involved in the course of evolution in a way makes a difference and yet which is entirely consistent with science. What is needed, therefore, is a scientific theory which is relevant to biological evolution and which can be interpreted philosophically in terms of ontological indeterminism. Such an interpretation, in turn, offers the platform for a theology of divine agency which I call “non-interventionist objective divine action” (NIODA). The CTNS/Vatican Observatory series of publications includes at least six distinct approaches to where such a theory might be found in science. I will evaluate each of these briefly before arguing that quantum mechanics (QM) offers the most likely candidate. I will then discuss its strengths and weaknesses and conclude with the challenge raised by its success in terms of the theological problem of suffering in nature and God’s relation to this suffering (“natural theodicy”). For details, see Chs. 4-8 in Cosmology from Alpha to Omega: The Creative Mutual Interaction of Theology and Science (Fortress Press, 2008).
Dr. Ian Barbour – “Beyond Intelligent Design”
The ID movement is still strong in the U.S.; it recently won a long dispute on the Texas Board of Education. The media have played up the conflict with scientists such as Dawkins who defend materialism. I will examine some themes among biologists (complexity, emergence, convergence, Evo-Devo, etc.) and theologians (evolutionary theists, all of them members of ISSR) which move beyond this conflict.
Dr.Noreen Herzfeld – “And the Word Became Hypertext: People of the Book in an Electronic Age”
YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Gameboy—the young today live in a world, mediated by computer technology, in which the written word has been supplanted by the clip, the tweet, the update, the video game. This has significance for those religions which the Qur’an calls “the People of the Book”—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—for the printed page has played a central role in each of these traditions. A world where technology has moved beyond the book brings two challenges to these faiths. If the book is no longer the preferred technology through which to tell a culture’s story, can these faiths adapt to another or, as Marshall McLuhan so famously said, is the medium the message? What does it mean for the evolution of these faiths to move from the fairly static medium of the book to the more fluid and visual dynamics of the computer?
Dr. Ladislav Kvasz – “Evolution of Religion as a History of Transcendence”
The aim of the paper is to outline an evolutionary perspective on religion. The different stages in the development of religion will be identified by their specific forms of transcendence. In this way the evolution of religion is interpreted as history of transcendence. It is the basic conviction of the author of the paper, that religion is that structure of human culture, where consciousness was constituted and systematically expanded. The forms of transcendence are the forms by means of which human consciousness expands, and this expansion is subjectively perceived as a transcendence. Human consciousness is at present composed of feelings, images, values and ideals. The different stages in the development of religion will be identified as stages in which first feelings, first images, first values and first ideals became conscious.
Prof. Dr. Palmyre Oomen – “Divine Action in Relation to the Laws of Nature: Whitehead’s View Compared with Other Indeterministic Accounts”
Amid recent theologies which ply an indeterministic ontology in conceptualizing a non-interventionist account of divine agency – e.g. Murphy’s quantum based and Polkinghorne’s chaos based views of special divine action, Whitehead presents a remarkably different indeterminsitic and non-interventionist account of divine action in relation to the laws of nature. According to his process view, God neither imposes nature’s laws nor works as ‘determiner’of the indeterminacies left by the laws; rather, God is that actuality that makes the contingent and statistical laws possible. This has considerable theological consequences.The paper begins with a presentation and explanation of Whitehead’s view, compares it with John Polkinghorne’s, and ends up with some evaluations of the differences.
John Hedley Brooke: “Introduction: Darwinism, Religion and Suffering”
I shall ofer a few introductory remarks on Darwin’s own thinking about religion, his comments on the extent of pain and suffering and his wish to avoid ascribing immediate responsibility to a deity.
Shai Cherry: “Judaism, Darwinism and the Typology of Suffering”
Jewish history has been punctuated by tragedies since the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 586 BCE. In response, a number of theodicies, embedded in theologies and cosmogonies, were articulated to account for the periodic decimations experienced in Jewish history. In the wake of Darwinism, some of those theodicies have been pressed into service to account for mass extinctions in natural history. Moreover, several Christian theologians have borrowed native Jewish theodicies in their attempts to grapple with the challenges of neo-Darwinism to the traditional notion of providence.
Marwa Elshakry: “Natural Theologies: Muslim Exegeses of Evolution”
In the late 1880s, one of the first accounts of evolution by a Muslim theologian was published in Arabic. Written by a Tripolitan shaykh and Sufi, it discusses the compatibility of a Darwinian view of evolution with the Qur’anic verses on creation. Using this as a starting point, I would like to explore the ways in which evolution brought to the fore a particular set of theological concerns for Muslim exegetes, such as on: creation ex nihilo; the nature of matter and the soul; and questions of certitude and proof. I will then ask why other questions, such as on theodicy, the age of the earth and so on proved less relevant.
Dr.Ernan McMullin – “Darwin and the other Christian Tradition”
The leading theologian of the early Christian church, Augustine of Hippo, argued against taking the Six-Day account of the creation literally (in our sense of that term) and proposed instead that the Creator implanted the seeds of all the living kinds in the original creation, each to mature when conditions were right. Aquinas later regarded this as a viable interpretation. Perhaps it was the turn to biblical literalism in the sixteenth century and the reliance on the literal Six-Day account in the natural theology of the seventeenth century that sent this alternative reading of Genesis into decline. In any event, it seems to have been almost forgotten, only to be recalled soon after the appearance of The Origin of Species, when its obvious consonance with the Darwinian account was noted by several Catholic writers, among them St. George Mivart. In the years that followed it was emphasized by a sequence of Catholic writers reflecting on the significance of the theory of evolution for the Christian view of creation. It was rarely noted outside the Catholic tradition and, quite surprisingly, has played hardly any role in the evolution/creation debates of recent years.
David Gosling: “Darwinism and the Hindu Tradition: Does what goes around come around?”
Although parts of nineteenth-century Europe experienced a furore when Darwinism and related scientific concepts were first proposed, educated Hindus in India appeared to assimilate these notions with ease. But as the century proceeded, leading Hindus increasingly reasserted, adapted and even rejected cardinal beliefs to enable them to counter western Christian teaching about moral issues such as the need for divine intervention and suffering. Meanwhile many Hindus continue to embrace popular notions of karma and rebirth which they adhere to with varying degrees of credibility in the face of increasing scientific knowledge.
Donald Lopez: “Darwin, the Buddha, and the Ignoble Truth of Suffering”
Darwin argued that “all sentient beings have been formed as to enjoy, as a general rule, happiness” and that such sufferings as pain, hunger, and fear are beneficial to the species. The Buddha is renowned for his proclamation that all life is qualified by suffering and that the cessation of suffering only comes with the cessation of birth. In this lecture, I will examine the assumptions that underlie these apparently contradictory claims and consider in what ways, if any, they might be compatible.
Christopher Southgate: “Re-reading Genesis, John and Job: A Christian’s Response to Darwinism”
Classically, Darwinism has posed four challenges to Christian theology – in relation to the literal reading of Genesis and to the argument from design, also to the distinctive status of human beings, and to the goodness of God in the face of the extent of suffering intrinsic to evolution by natural selection. The lecture will treat briefly the first two challenges, then introduce some new work on evolution in relation to the Incarnation. Finally there will be an extended discussion of what the ambiguity of evolutionary creation might mean for the Christian understanding of God as Trinity.
Cambridge Conference 2006 – Understanding Humans in a Scientific Age
The 2006 conference focused on one of the prime issues of the current dialogue of science and theology, and some of its main contributions are to be incorporated in a book at present being edited by Martinez Hewlett, Christopher Knight, and Wentzel van Huyssteen.
Boston Conference 2004 – Creation: Probability and Law
In 2004, with its second conference in Boston, ISSR consolidated its presence in the science-religion field, the event culminating in a highly publicized public lecture by three Templeton Prize-winning ISSR members (John Polkinghorne, George Ellis and the ‘father of environmental ethics’ Holmes Rolston III) on the topic of: The Science and Religion Dialogue: Why It Matters.
A book arising from the conference, entitled “Why the Science and Religion Dialogue Matters”, has been edited by Fraser Watts and Kevin Dutton and published by the Templeton Foundation Press. Details may be found at:
Granada Conference 2002
In 2002, ISSR held the first of its bi-annual conferences in Granada, Spain. Here, ISSR met as a learned Society in an academic environment for the first time and in so doing clearly established itself on the ‘Science and Religion map’.