All posts tagged: Expanded Reason Award

After Galileo: Modern Science Has Deep Parallels with Theology

Galileo is probably best known for his work The Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems, the book that triggered his ill-fated encounter with the Inquisition. However, when it comes to Galileo’s role in shaping our understanding of the modern scientific enterprise, it is his 1623 work The Assayer that has had a much larger impact. In one of the most quoted lines in the book, Galileo sums up his view of science, a view that has come to dominate our understanding of science ever since: Philosophy is written in this grand book the universe, which stands continually open to our gaze. But the book cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and to read the alphabet in which it is composed. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one wanders about in a dark labyrinth. Galileo saw, clearer than most, the uncanny ability of …

Robots Without Families: On Identity and Organic Continuity

When Pascal constructed his calculating machine in 1642, it did not matter that the thing looked like a jewelry box. The “Pascaline” was not meant to simulate human appearance but to perform a function previously possible only for the human mind. In contrast, it matters very much to some present-day robot-makers and users in rather different commercial spheres, such as markets for artificial friends or lovers, that their creations can simulate the look and feel of a human being well enough to satisfy a customer—for a few moments at least. Engineers are working to make robots sufficiently lifelike to make a person forget about their willing suspension of disbelief, or to have diminished qualms about interacting with a machine as if it were a human. Here I would like to provide some taxonomic distinctions to clarify our discussion. The difference between Pascal’s invention and the goal of these robot-makers reflects the difference between what I would call computational artificial intelligence vs. complete artificial intelligence. The Pascaline, and computers in general, could rightly be called a …

Does Darwinian Evolution Naturally Petrify the Image of God?

Hello, human being, hummus from the soil. You are lowly, yet magnificent. You have been pulled up from the earth and breathed into life by YHWH. You are made in his image. Your wiry limbs and curious eyes somehow make visible the hidden things of God. Come, name the other creatures, those body-beings who are like you, but also not like you. You are the Namer; they are the Named. You come out of Eden, where there is a four-branched river that waters the land, and also several trees. Human being, you come from Eden, yet you do not come from Eden. You come from Africa, from your mitochondrial mother. You are homo sapiens, of the genus homo. You are a bipedal hominid, a big-brained ape, with perhaps a trace of Neanderthal DNA. You are made by God, in the image of God, and you have also been made by nature, through the engine of change, over the span of two thousand millennia. How can this be? * The principle of unassailable human dignity is …

When Worlds Collide: Scripture and Cosmology in Historical Perspective

Collision Course Scientists are generally lauded for their stellar achievements for the cause of humanity. Their work is tedious and painstaking, requiring great intellect and greater patience. They dedicate their lives to thinking outside the box, asking unimaginable questions, and resolve seemingly unresolvable problems. Every now and then they reach a breakthrough, identifying the cause or cure for a disease, locating a distant planet where life could be viable, or finding a more efficient source of energy. In most cases, the general public appreciates their efforts and celebrates new discoveries, excited for the promise these triumphs hold for the qualitative improvement of human life; that is, until science interferes with ideology. There are many ideological obstructions to the advancement of science. Some obstructions are warranted and necessary. As science moves at breakneck speeds with respect to genetic engineering, for example, there are legitimate ethical concerns regarding not what can be done, but what should be done. Other obstructions would seem to be unwarranted and unnecessary. These roadblocks are generally ideological in nature, operating under the …

Attempts to Explain Cosmogony Scientifically

In Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, I discussed some of the speculative scenarios in which time has no beginning and the Big Bang is merely the beginning of one part of the universe or one epoch in its history. Another line of physics speculation accepts the idea that time has a beginning, either the Big Bang that occurred some 15 billion years ago, or some earlier perhaps even bigger Bang, but seeks to give that beginning a scientific explanation. Many scientists are under the impression that such an explanation would render a divine creator superfluous. As I will explain later, this notion is based on a misunderstanding of the idea of Creation. However, let us put that issue aside for now and focus on the scientific ideas. The Reasons to Look for a Theory of the Beginning Theories of the beginning of the universe generally are formulated within the field called “quantum cosmology.” There are several motivations for this work. At the most basic level, scientists seek to understand phenomena, and the Big Bang is a phenomenon. …

Ah, to Live in a Cosmos Again!

Anaxagoras takes the stage early in Aristotle’s Metaphysics as that sober man among drunks who rightly claims that reason is the cause behind all of nature and its beauty.[1] This same Anaxagoras, we are told, “answered a man . . . asking why one should choose rather to be born than not by saying ‘for the sake of viewing the heavens and the whole order of the universe.’”[2] Reason is needed to cause the beauty of the whole; only mind can make the world a cosmos. Mind is also needed to recognize that we live in a cosmos, as Seth Benardete remarks: “We see heaven and earth, but we do not see their unity, which we call cosmos. ‘Cosmos’ puts a label on an insight about the structure of the whole that is simply not available to sight.”[3] This label, “cosmos,” is rooted in the Greek verb kosmein, meaning both “to arrange” and “to order, rule” as well as “to adorn” (as in “cosmetics”). The aggregate of all that exists is a cosmos because of …

An Academic Program for Exploring the Divine Healing Touch in Medicine

The greatest challenge facing the academic health center community is to restore the marriage between humanistic concerns and scientific and technical excellence in health care delivery practices. —R.J. Bulger, The Journal of the American Medical Association, 2000 I came across this quote from Bulger in his article “The Quest for a Therapeutic Organization” while teaching an undergraduate seminar at the University of Michigan, where I am currently a faculty member in the School of Medicine. Bulger’s words so moved me that his declaration has since become my professional mission statement. Bulger’s choice of words like “restore” and “marriage” invokes a sense of something sacred which has been broken. “Humanistic concerns” bring to mind a sense of the divine’s presence in mankind, which has been long forgotten. The undergraduate seminar I taught was called “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made: Themes of Medicine in the Old and New Testament.” The title of the course was taken from Psalm 139 where David expresses awe for his maker, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my …

Georges Bataille: The Dark Soul of the Night

Unnatural Theology Georges Bataille’s life was an uninterrupted search for the divine. In his wanderings and writings he consistently wrote of the necessity of scientific knowledge, critical reason, and theoretical evaluations. He did this, however, in order to firmly delineate the horizon beyond which these epistemological approaches prove insufficient, misleading, and even poisonous. His scientific search led him to a religious atheism and systematic account of non-knowledge. In his posthumously published Theory of Religion he talked of “the sticky temptation of poetry” that he thought caused illegitimate anthropomorphic descriptions even in the exact sciences. Bataille associated clarity and consciousness with rigorous scientific analysis, and he attempted to apply the tools of analysis to the phenomena of religion. At the same time, he had a desire to give an account of what precedes and comes after the clarity of self-consciousness and scientific rationality. In his slim, fiercely naturalistic exploration of religious thought and practice he hoped to play midwife to a new joining of clear consciousness and the ecstasy previously associated with forms of religious mysticism. …

Frankenstein’s Scientific Chaoskampf

Jason Josephson-Storm convincingly argues in his recent book The Myth of Disenchantment, that contrary to the popular narrative of us living in secular age in which the common imagination has no room for anything spiritual, magical, or mythological we still very much live in an enchanted age.[1] We never became disenchanted because the so-called disenchanters, the founders of the modern sciences, were themselves caught up in the esotericism and occultism common in Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In short, magicians never went away they just put on lab coats. Of course the forgoing summary is crude and there is much more nuance to Josephson-Storm’s argument. However, the aim of the following is not to provide an analysis of his thesis. Instead, I would like to take this idea of Josephson-Storm’s that modernity, specifically modern science, is still rooted in myth and get at the founding myth of modern science’s progeny and master: modern technology. In so doing, I hope to call into question for both the lay person and the pastor the technophilia—the …

How Can Modern Science Purify Christianity from Error and Superstition?

John Paul II once wrote to Fr. George Coyne, S.J., the former director of the Vatican Observatory, that “Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish.” Setting aside the fascinating fact that the Vatican has its very own observatory, whose Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT) is located on Mount Graham in southeastern Arizona, the statement itself issued by the former pontiff contains a potentially scandalizing assertion if given only a superficial reading. How could it be at all possible that science, especially a modern science in whose name the deposit of faith has been greatly assailed in recent history, can “purify religion,” particularly Christianity, “from error and superstition” without at the same time introducing a corruption of revelation and faith? Moreover, how can religion in general and Christianity in particular “purify science from idolatry and false absolutes” without forcing science to be at variance with its own particular method and …