THE EMERGENCE OF SELF AND PURPOSE
Draft of paper published in Zygon 56: 960-970 (2022)
Abstract. The religious naturalist seeks, and finds, religious resources in the natural world. In this paper, adapted from a presentation offered at the 2021 IRAS conference on Star Island https://starisland.org/program/iras/, we first consider the concept of emergence (Goodenough and Deacon, 2008) and then the emergence of life from non-life on our planet (Deacon and Sherman,2008), a foundational occurrence in the natural world. We then develop the concept that each living being is a self, based on the reasoning articulated by Terrence Deacon (2012) and distilled by Jeremy Sherman (2017), and explore the implications of that understanding.
BRINGING RELIGIOUS NATURALISTS TOGETHER ONLINE
Draft of chapter published in The Routledge Handbook of Religious Naturalism (D.A. Crosby and J.A. Stone, eds.), Routledge 2018
Abstract. Religious Naturalism is a concept that has developed largely in the academy, in trade books, and on several on-line sites that avoid using the term religious. This chapter describes our two-year experience launching the Religious Naturalist Association (RNA), an on-line community that has attracted > 400 members from 47 states in the US and 28 countries. We lift up the challenges and the advantages of exploring the religious naturalist orientation in a virtual context.
CREATIVITY IN SCIENCE
Draft of article published in Zygon 28: 399-414 (1993)
Abstract. Creativity is a concept far more often associated with art than with science. The creative dimension of scientific inquiry and practice is described and compared with its artistic counterpart; similarities and differences are analyzed.
WHAT SCIENCE CAN AND CANNOT OFFER TO A RELIGIOUS NARRATIVE
Draft of article published in Zygon 29: 321-330 (1994)
Abstract. A molecular/cell biologist offers perspectives on the contributions that the scientific worldview might and might not make to religious thought. It is argued that two essential features of institutionalized religions — their historical context and their supernatural orientation — are not addressed by the sciences, nor can the sciences contribute to the art and ritual that elicit states of faith and transcendence. The sciences have, however, important stories (myths) to offer, stories that have the potential to unify us, to tell us what is sacred, what has meaning, and how we might best proceed.
THE RELIGIOUS DIMENSIONS OF THE BIOLOGICAL NARRATIVE
Draft of article published in Zygon 29: 603-618 (1994)
Abstract. A cell/molecular biologist challenges the thesis that science and religion are two ways of experiencing and interpreting the world and explores instead the possible ways that the modern biological worldview might serve as a resource for religious perspectives. Three concepts — meaning, valuation, and purpose — are argued to be central to the entire biological enterprise, and the continuation of this enterprise is regarded as a sacred religious trust.
BIOLOGY: WHAT ONE NEEDS TO KNOW
Draft of article published in Zygon 31: 671-680 (1996)
Abstract. Biology on this planet represents an astonishing experiment in carbon-based chemistry which, over billions of years, has generated billions of species adapted to countless major and minor fluctuations in ecological circumstances. In one sense there is no way to generalize about biology. While biological activities can all be ultimately explained by physical laws (like everything else in the universe), it is the emergent, intensely particular, properties of organisms that most interest us. This essay represents an attempt to describe some of the more prominent patterns that emerge from the sea of biological particularities, patterns that present many opportunities for religous reflection.
THE HOLES IN GOULD’S SEMIPERMEABLE
MEMBRANE BETWEEN SCIENCE AND RELIGION
Published in American Scientist 87: 264-268 (1999)
Abstract. A review of Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life by Stephen Jay Gould.
THE PHILOSOPHER AS BIOLOGIST, REVIEW OF ROLSTON’S “GENES, GENESIS, AND GOD”
REFLECTIONS ON SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
Draft of article published in Zygon 35: 5-12 (2000)
Abstract. Science and technology are frequently confused. This essay points out the bases for this confusion and then focuses on a basic distinction, namely, that whereas science brings us information that we have little choice but to absorb and relect upon, technology is something that humans elect to do and, hence, can also elect not to do. It is proposed that technological ethics are most cogently undertaken with scientific understanding as the linchpin and religious/artistic sensibilities as the muse.
REFLECTIONS ON SCIENTIFIC AND RELIGIOUS METAPHOR
Draft of article published in Zygon 35: 203-210 (2000)
Abstract. Scientific and religious understandings are inherently contextual, yet the contexts in which they are embedded are often elusive or difficult to reconcile with a person’s worldview or experience. Access to these contexts and understandings is therefore often abetted by metaphor. It is argued that if a metaphor is valid — that is, if it carries some core truth about an understanding — then what’s important is whether it carries that core truth over to someone else.
Draft of article published in Zygon 35: 352-555 (2000)
Abstract. Religiopoiesis describes the crafting of religion, a core activity of humankind. Each religion is grounded in its Myth, and each Myth includes a cosmology of origins and destiny. The scientific worldview coheres as such a Myth, and calls for a religiopoietic response. The difficulties, opportunities, and imperatives inherent in this call are explored, particularly as they impact on the working scientist.
CAUSALITY AND SUBJECTIVITY IN THE RELIGIOUS QUEST
Draft of article published in Zygon 35: 725-734 (2000)
Abstract. The dynamics of seeking causation and the dynamics of subjectivity are first presented and are then brought together in a consideration of the 3 core components of the religious quest: the search for and experience of ultimate explanations, the interiority of religious experience (“spirituality”), and the empathic experience of religious fellowship.
PROGRESS, PURPOSE AND CONTINGENCY: A RESPONSE TO THOMAS BERRY’S THE GREAT WORK: OUR WAY INTO THE FUTURE
VERTICAL AND HORIZONTAL TRANSCENDENCE
Draft of article published in Zygon 36: 21-31 (2001)
Abstract. Transcendence is explored from two perspectives: the traditional concept wherein the origination of the sacred is “out there,” and the alternate concept wherein the sacred originates “here.” Each is evaluated from the perspectives of aesthetics and hierarchy. Both forms of transcendence are viewed as essential to the full religious life.
A SETBACK TO THE DIALOGUE: RESPONSE TO HUSTON SMITH
Draft of article published in Zygon 36: 201-206 (2001)
Abstract. Huston Smith’s book, Why Religion Matters, offers an eloquent evocation of mystical sensibility. Unfortunately, along the way, he offers a strongly negative and often inaccurate account of the scientific worldview, the claim being that the science is laying siege to the spiritual.
GENOMES, GOULD, AND EMERGENCE
Draft of article published in Zygon 36: 383-393 (2001)
Abstract. The publication of the human genome has elicited commentary to the effect that since fewer genes were identified than anticipated, it follows that genes are less important to human biology than anticipated. The flaws in this syllogism are explained in the context of a treatise on how genomes operate and evolve and how genes function to produce embryos and brains. Most of our most cherished human traits are the result of the emergence of new properties from pre-existing genetically scripted ideas, offering countless opportunities to celebrate the evolutionary process.
MINDFUL VIRTUE, MINDFUL REVERENCE
with Paul Woodruff
Draft of article published in Zygon 36: 585-595 (2001)
Abstract. How does one talk about moral thought and moral action as a religious naturalist? We explore this question by considering two human capacities: the capacity for mindfulness, and the capacity for virtue. We suggest that mindfulness is deeply enhanced by an understanding of the scientific worldview, and that the four cardinal virtues – courage, fairmindedness, humaneness, and reverence – are rendered coherent by mindful reflection. We focus on the concept of mindful reverence, and propose that the mindful reverence elicited by the evolutionary narrative is at the heart of religious naturalism. Religious education, we suggest, entails the cultivation of mindful virtue, in ourselves and in our children.
SUBJECTIVE, NATURAL, AND CULTURAL ECOLOGY
Unpublished, written 2002
Abstract. Ecology and economy have the same Greek root – oikos – which means house or dwelling. It is proposed that we occupy 3 houses: our subjectivity, our cultures, and Nature. Hence we are called to develop a subjective ecology, a cultural ecology, and a natural ecology (and a concomitant economy for each).
RELIGIOUS NATURALISM AND NATURALIZING MORALITY
Draft of article published in Zygon 38: 101-109 (2003)
Abstract. I first offer some reflections on the term “religious naturalism.” I then outline how moral thought might be configured in the context of religious naturalism. It is proposed that the goal of morality is to generate a flourishing community, and that humans negotiate their social interactions using moral capacities that are cultivated in the context of culture. Six such capacities are considered: strategic reciprocity, humaneness, fair-mindedness, courage, reverence, and mindfulness. Moral capacities are contrasted with moral susceptibilities, fueled by self-interest and brought to the fore in times of stress and humiliation.
FROM BIOLOGY TO CONSCIOUSNESS TO MORALITY
with Terrence Deacon
Adapted from an article of the same title published in Zygon 38: 801-819 (2003)
Abstract. Social animals are provisioned with pro-social orientations that operate to transcend self-interest. Morality, as used here, describes human versions of such orientations. We explore the evolutionary antecedents of morality in the context of emergentism, giving considerable attention to the biological traits that undergird awareness and our emergent human forms of mind. We suggest that our moral frames of mind emerge from our primate pro-social capacities, transfigured and valenced by our symbolic languages, cultures, and religions.
REDUCTIONISM AND HOLISM, CHANCE AND SELECTION, MECHANISM AND MIND
Draft of article published in Zygon 40:369-380 (2005)
Abstract. Despite its rich and deepening panoply of empirical support, evolutionary theory continues to generate widespread concern. Some of this concern can be attributed to misunderstandings of the original concept, some to unfamiliarity with its current trajectories, and some to strongly held fears that it strips the human of cherished attributes. This essay seeks to deconstruct such misunderstandings, lift up current concepts of what evolution entails, and address some of the existential issues it generates.
THE EMERGENCE OF SEX
Draft of article published in Zygon 42: 857-872 (2007)
Abstract. Biological traits, the foci of natural selection, are by definition emergent from the genes, proteins, and other “nothing-buts” that constitute them. Moreover, and with the exception of recently-emergent “spandrels,” each can be accorded a teleological dimension: each is “for” some purpose conducive to an organism’s continuation. Sex, which is “for” the generation of recombinant genomes, may be one of the most ancient and ubiquitous traits in biology. In the course of its evolution, many additional traits, such as gender and nurture, have emerged as well. Patterns of sexual exchange are the basis for patterns of biological evolution and are central to the process of eukaryotic speciation. Human sexuality is central to our selves.
THE SACRED EMERGENCE OF NATURE
Page proof of article published in The Oxford handbook of religion and science / edited by Philip Clayton and Zachary Simpson. Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2008. Chapter 50.
Abstract. We first give an overview of the emergentist view of nature, and then use these concepts to outline an emergentist view of the religious quest. We suggest that much—we would say most—of what religious persons seek is grounded in a thirst for the very emergent phenomena that in fact surround us.