This chapter is a critical literature review of recent social science research describing and analyzing the participation of Christian churches in various phases of the human rights movement in Latin America. Spanning the period from 1964 to the present, such human rights activism took place in the contexts of authoritarian rule, civil war, democratic transitions, and the consolidation of democracy. The chapter focuses on the influence of Christian church leaders, laity, organizations, and resources on the origins, growth, and maturation of human rights-oriented social movement organizations (SMOs). Drawing on Douglas McAdam, Sidney Tarrow, and Charles Tilly’s work on political process theory, this literature emphasizes the invaluable role of religious organizations in providing space, resources, protection, and framing to nascent human rights movements in the region during the 1960s-70s. Even so, the literature also grapples with the diverse range of political stances taken by Christian church leaders and activists, both within and across national-level cases. With the maturation of the movement and the transition to democracy, political process theory remained relevant, but failed to capture some of the key challenges and opportunities experienced by Christian activists, as opposed to social activists in general. Thus, scholarship shifted focus to organized religion’s capacity to build social capital and sustain meaningful Christian social and human rights activism.
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.
Ronald A. Simkins
With the publication of Lynn White Jr.’s seminal essay, the biblical attitude to nature became a scholarly concern. Initial work had an apologetic bent, defending the Bible against misuse and misinterpretation, but more recent studies have critically assessed the role of nature in the Bible within its historical and social context. The Bible emerged out of an agrarian worldview of the ancient Near East and largely shares the same attitudes to nature as Israel’s Near Eastern neighbors. For the ancient Near Eastern peoples, there was no nature independent and separate from human beings, and the presence and will of the gods could be expressed through the material world. This worldview is expressed through three distinct attitudes to nature in the biblical and ancient Near Eastern literature: a mastery-over-nature, a harmony-with-nature, and a subjugation-to-nature attitude.
David L. Clough
Attention to the place of animals in the Bible has been significant in provoking new Christian theological understandings of the place of animals. Theologians bringing the question of the animal to biblical texts have found a wide range of resources for discussing Christian belief about animals, with significant implications for Christian ethics. This chapter provides a survey of key themes and texts at the interface between the Bible and animal theology, including biblical understandings of animal life, the relationship between human and nonhuman animals, the place of animals in visions of redemption, and biblical accounts of human responsibilities for other animals.
Julia Watts Belser
Contemporary Jewish ecotheology frequently grapples with three theological challenges that emerge from traditional readings of Genesis 1: the notion of a conflict between God and nature, the tradition of human exceptionalism, and the belief that God has granted humans dominion over the natural world. Emphasizing the multivocal nature of Jewish theology, this chapter demonstrates that biblical and rabbinic sources also offer seeds of alternative ecological possibilities: a sensuous naturalism that celebrates the wonder of creation and the kinship of all life, as well as a vibrant tradition of religious practice that allows contemporary Jews to construct ecological action as a Jewish obligation. While Jewish law has often been interpreted in ways that privileged human interests over the intrinsic value of the natural world, the chapter argues that this robust concern for human life and health can and should ground a Jewish theology and ethics of environmental justice.
This chapter seeks to address the implicit and explicit implications of biblical scholarship for environmental ethics. It begins by examining the cultural world in which the biblical scholars lived as generative of a different kind of ecologically relevant ethos. An appeal to the heart and imagination is crucially important in inspiring more explicit practical demands. The Wisdom literature highlights the ambiguities in paying attention to the terrifying and yet also edifying aspects of the natural world. The biblical theme of a common home has important repercussions theologically and ethically. More explicit ethical demands flow from the agrarian tenure of the Hebrew Bible in particular, though an argument can be made for pushing beyond this to more explicit sociopolitical demands. The use of biblical resources in building up the liturgical and sacramental life of ecclesial communities in ways that are of relevance to environmental concern touches on the community dimension of environmental ethics in a way that is sometimes avoided in secular discourse. The chapter argues that the practice of ecologically relevant virtues that are addressed in biblical texts at individual, familial, and political levels contribute to a liberating faith.
The Christian Bible, and theologies derived from it, have been accused of legitimizing the exploitation and destruction of nature. This chapter examines the textual evidence, concluding that, overall, the Bible is remarkably positive toward wildlife and encourages humanity to see wildlife as part of a theocentric moral order in which humans have responsibilities for wildlife conservation. The chapter next examines the history of Christian involvement in nature conservation, in particular the biblical inspiration of many early conservationists and animal-protectionists in Europe and North America, followed by a section looking at contemporary expressions of Christian concern for nature conservation both in writing and in practical expression. The conclusion explores possibilities for a re-engagement of faith-based conservation with the contemporary biodiversity conservation movement.
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.
The whirlwind speeches at the end of the book of Job (38–41) provide an essential “voice” in the conversation about Bible and ecology. Job asks the question, “What are human beings?” (Job 7:17), and the voice from the whirlwind answers the question with a resounding silence about humanity. Nevertheless, humanity (in the person of Job) plays an important role in the whirlwind speeches, as the sole passenger on God’s tour of the cosmos. Those speeches call human beings to humility—to know their place in the world but also to wonder and to justice. These biblical texts are particularly pertinent for us today, as we wrestle with the effects of human activity on the earth’s climate and ecosystems.
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.
Christian theology has always resisted a Manichaean opposition between God and the world, believing that the universe is God's creation. All forms of rational inquiry into aspects of reality have their own particular motivating experiences and indispensable concepts. Therefore, neither science nor theology should make the mistake of supposing that it can answer the other's proper questions. The year 1859 certainly did not bring the dialogue between Christianity and science to an end, though it did direct that conversation in new directions. The interaction with science has continued to be a matter of particular concern to Christian thinkers. After a brief historical introduction, this article surveys the contemporary scene. It describes five specific topics that characterize the present-day discussion: creation, natural theology, structures of reality, divine action, and eschatology.
Mary E. Mills
This chapter offers a basic definition of sustainability as used in environmental ethics before exploring defining the biblical category of city as “walled enclave.” It examines images of security and insecurity in biblical treatments of cities and then sets out the duality of historical references to city space alongside symbolic literary landscapes. The chapter then moves to urban–rural divides and to theology of built environments, leading into comparative use of the concept of apocalypse in contemporary ecological discourse and in major biblical books. Interdisciplinary engagements between biblical and cultural scholarship follows, leading into the theme of attunement and hope.
Benjamin S. Lowe, Rachel L. Lamb, and Noah J. Toly
This chapter examines the use of Christian scripture by some who doubt the reality, anthropogenesis, or seriousness of climate change. It offers an overview of public opinion surveys and social scientific research on the relationship between religion and climate attitudes in the United States, with a focus on evangelical Christianity as the largest and generally most skeptical religious group. Surveying uses of the Bible by evangelical climate skeptics, the chapter demonstrates various ways in which skeptics—including pastors, policymakers, scholars, and others—draw from scripture to cast doubt on climate science and to advocate against climate action. It outlines the logic behind those uses, explores the limits and contradictions of such logic, and highlights political affinities that may motivate skeptics to interpret and deploy scripture in these ways.