This article describes emerging patterns in Anglo-American philosophy that represent radical breaks from the thought patterns of Enlightened modernity, and spells out consequences of these changes for the theology–science dialogue. The rationale is based on the relation that philosophy bears to the rest of culture. The discussion describes new moves in three traditional branches of philosophy: metaphysics, philosophy of language, and epistemology. It contends that, beginning half a century ago, whole clusters of terms in each of these domains have taken on new uses, and that these changes have radical consequences for all areas of academia. The discussion notes their actual and potential contributions to the dialogue between theology and science.
Once people accept the historical emergence and spread of science as a unique discursive formation, it becomes nonsense to talk about the relationship between religion and science, or religion as a kind of science in societies that have not yet encountered or internalized this development. Religion and science cannot be judged or compared along a single axis of measurement, and therefore they will continue to irritate or complement each other. The de facto identification of science with abstract reason and religion with engaged performance, the incommensurability of science and religion in the modern world, the destabilization of the transcendent or foundational claims of each, and the ultimate uncertainty that their conjunction or opposition imposes, all beg for triangulation with a third construct: namely, ethics.
The findings of the cognitive sciences enrich our understanding of atheism by providing a more nuanced and empirically grounded concept of ‘belief’ and by problematizing psychological assumptions often employed in theorizing about atheism. Beliefs are diverse not only in content but also level of cognitive processing, and implicit beliefs can and do diverge from explicit beliefs. This is just as true for beliefs about supernatural agents as it is for beliefs about physical objects. Further, findings from the cognitive sciences call into question the notion that human beings are ‘rational’ and the notion that beliefs can be explained by their ability to provide comfort. The cognitive sciences are replacing such assumptions with an empirically grounded vision of mind and belief.
David P. Barash
Although evolution by natural selection does not necessarily disprove the existence of God (thus, it does not ‘prove’ the validity of atheism), it negates two of the more potent pro-religion arguments, here dubbed the ‘Argument from Complexity’ and the ‘Reassurance of Specialness’. In addition, it provides support for one of the strongest challenges to traditional religious belief, by contributing to the ‘Reiteration of Theodicy’.
Science is the only path to understanding. It would be contaminated rather than enriched by any alliance with religion. Such should be the attitude of a scientifically alert atheist. This article elaborates and justifies this core attitude. There are those who consider that the domain of science is restricted to some kind of ‘physical world’, whereas religion deals with the ‘spiritual’. A scientific atheist holds that the domain of science is the physical world, but considers there is no other variety of world, and that the ‘spiritual’ is an illusion generated by a physical brain. The discussion considers the nature of this belief and distinguishes it from religious belief.
Victor J. Stenger
While belief in gods was almost universal in the ancient world, Thales of Miletus introduced the notion that observed phenomena could be explained in natural terms without invoking imagined spirits. Leucippus and Democritus, and later Epicurus and Lucretius, proposed that everything was composed of particulate atoms in an otherwise empty void. Any gods that existed played no role in the human world. The universe was infinite, eternal, uncreated, and included many worlds besides our own. These ideas conflicted with the other philosophical schools of the time and were suppressed by the Church during the Dark Ages. Atomism reappeared during the Renaissance and became a crucial ingredient in the scientific revolution that followed. The atomic picture of matter has now been solidly confirmed. Furthermore, the notion of an infinite, eternal, and uncreated ‘multiverse’ is strongly suggested by modern cosmology.
Atheists, conservative theists, and religious liberals often read the history of science in ways that support their own position. Atheists expect continual mutual support between science and nonbelief, conservatives emphasize theistic metaphysical foundations for science; and liberals find a historical development toward separate spheres for science and religion. The rise of science was more complicated than anticipated by any of these stories. Atheism and science have usually developed almost independently, with weak connections. Today, the naturalism of modern scientific descriptions of the world is consonant with an atheistic position. But even now, significant tensions between science and atheism remain.
The last few years have seen a great deal of research on the association between religion, spirituality, and medical outcomes. This research has not been without controversy however, in terms of methodological and analytical issues. One particular under-researched area concerns the increasingly visible sub-population of individuals who identify themselves as ‘nonreligious’, a group that includes atheists, agnostics and individuals who believe in god(s) but do not identify with one particular religion. As a result, relatively little is known about the health and quality of life within this particular group, not only in comparison to religious individuals, but also within nonreligious populations as well. This essay covers three major issues: (1) a brief summary of the controversies concerning religion-health research; (2) what the current research does indicate about the nonreligious, particularly about affirmative atheists (as opposed to simply ‘nonreligious’); and (3) reasons for the neglect of nonreligious individuals to date and reasons for increasing attention to them.
While giving attention to the embryo question and indeed to the meaning of ‘playing God’, this article surveys more generally some religiously significant aspects of recent genetics and biotechnology. The first section considers what genetics suggests about human nature. The next section, on biotechnology, looks first at work on plants and animals, but moves quickly to human applications, from gene therapy to cloning and stem cells, asking about the moral implications. The final section offers a theological interpretation of genetics and biotechnology, reflective of Christianity but intended for a wider readership. The article also looks at the question of the human embryo and its role in research, the theological implications of the technological transformation of the human self, and how we are to understand in religious terms our new role in creation.
B. Alan Wallace
While Buddhism is often referred to as a ‘non-theistic religion’, it has the potential to play a unique mediating role between theistic religions, with their emphasis on faith and divine revelation, and the natural sciences, with their ideals of empiricism, rationality, and scepticism. The main body of this article focuses on Buddhist approaches to cultivating eudaimonic well-being, probing the nature of consciousness, and understanding reality at large. In each case, religious, scientific, and philosophical elements are blended in ways that may not only lend themselves to dialogue with Western science, but push forward the frontiers of scientific research as well as interdisciplinary and cross-cultural inquiry. The article also argues that Buddhism has developed a science of consciousness, with a few exceptions regarding sciences with no controlled experiments.