Saturday, August 9, 2008

Science-and-religion resources (and foodie postscript)

No, this is not about creationism or intelligent design or science in the public schools. That's a whole other set of resources, websites, and organizations.

This is about the conversation between science and religion, which is alive and well. It's not my field, but I know a few things about it and have had colleagues and teachers who specialized in this area. It's fascinating and important.

I had dinner last night with the Adorable Godson, who as you may or may not recall is a budding astrophysicist. He has a bachelor's in computer science already and is getting a second bachelor's in physics so that he can go on to graduate school in this field, which he has decided is his vocation. We caught up on the summer and various matters not for blog consumption, he told me about his summer internship and taught me all sorts of interesting things about light and telescopes and and stars and galaxies, and we had a brief conversation on science and religion. I promised I'd follow up with some resources, and having just written him a letter that took over an hour to compose because of all the hyperlinks, I thought I'd post it here (with the personal bits taken out) as a resource for blog visitors.

There were two questions that led to this letter. One was whether there were physicist-priests out there. (The answer is yes.) Another was a more general one about science and religion. The Adorable Godson has been reading a book on this topic by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

It's really fun having a godson and having him be local. I have two goddaughters who are the same age (all of them are in the 22-23 year old range) but they are not in town --one lives in Europe-- and neither is an Episcopalian. I love them all dearly, so this isn't an issue of favorites. I'm just tickled to have one of them be local and involved in the same congregation as I. As you may recall, he's a recently baptized member. Also, he can explain computers and stars. And he and Her Grace, the fabulous Maya Pavlova, are fond of each other. What's not to love?

Okay, here is the slightly edited letter. Enjoy the resources.

The best known priest-physicist is John Polkinghorne, who was the recipient of the Templeton Prize half a dozen years ago. A short bio is here. There is a website about him with all kinds of links here. You can find the text of an interview of him (from sometime in the last decade, I think, maybe late 90s) with a bibliography at the end.

Maybe an even better place to start: A lovely intro to Polkinghorne and issues he addresses is the episode of the excellent, excellent radio show
Speaking of Faith called "Quarks and Creation." There is an interview of Polkinghorne there. The show has podcasts, too :-) but its website is also worth exploring at length.

There are three U.S. centers for science-religion dialogue. They always host a reception together at the
American Academy of Religion (AAR), the professional society whose meeting I attend every November.

One of them, CTNS, the
Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, is part of the GTU where I did my Ph.D. studies. Poke around their website (I made a hyperlink, as you see) - it has great stuff on it.

The other two centers are the
Zygon Center for Religion and Science in Chicago and IRAS, the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science. They co-publish the journal Zygon.

CTNS has gotten a ton of grants from the
Templeton Foundation and they had a project (one among many, you can see on their site all the books their affiliated scholars have produced re: religion and science) called "Science and the Spiritual Quest." That is also the title of the book I mentioned to you; I have the book in my office. All the essays in it are by leading scientists who have varied religious affiliations and backgrounds.

CTNS has had several joint projects with the Vatican Observatory, which is not just at the Vatican but in Arizona. The main researcher there, a very sweet guy, is a Jesuit priest and physicist named
Bill Stoeger. You'll like his bio -- I think some of the work he's done is in areas of physics in which you are interested.

CTNS's founding director is a physicist (Ph.D. in physics) who is also an ordained
United Church of Christ (U.C.C.) minister. His name is Robert John (Bob) Russell and he was my friend Kirk's dissertation chair.

Kirk Wegter-McNelly is my classmate and he specializes in the dialogue between physics and religion. He was a physics major as an undergraduate and wrote his dissertation in theology on quantum nonlocality and the Christian theology of creation. Click on his publications and you will see he is the author of a forthcoming encyclopedia article on physics and religion! Kirk just got a humongous research grant for a wild project with Raymond Chiao at UC-Merced.)

A former professor at the GTU who was also part of CTNS is now teaching at the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church (know as "General"). His name is
Mark Richardson. (That link will also show you the Metanexus Institute.) Very nice guy.

They are all nice guys. Yes, this is a male-dominated field. There are a few women in the science and religion biz and at one point they founded their own support and research group. The main person I know from that group is
Lisa Stenmark, whose major work has been in high-tech-related science as I recall and who teaches in the area of Magic, Science, and Religion according to the San Jose State website. (The other major person I knew in that group was Lou Ann Trost, whose doctorate is in theology, and I see that she's now teaching with Lisa in CA.) I see that Zygon, the center in Chicago, has just appointed a woman as its new director. This is a big deal and a first. Her name is Gayle Woloschak and she is an Orthodox Christian. She's a molecular biologist and medical school professor.

The issue of course is not just having women in the field but including in the field feminist, womanist, and other theoretical or theological approaches. Here's
a very short essay or piece of essay on this. Also a short essay , "An Ecology of Knowledge," by Lisa Stenmark. (A lot of the issues raised are epistemological as well as ethical.)

Oh, and CTNS also has a new project called
STARS. Check out the research topic and the theme! Lots of physics there.

For one of the basic books on the whole religion and science dialogue, go to the works of
Ian Barbour and see his short When Science Meets Religion. But he has, as you will see by the bio, written a lot of books. And yes, he is a physicist. Here's another bio of him.

I'd be very interested to hear more about the book by the Dalai Lama. Eric and Don's course [These are my colleagues -- Eric Mortensen in religious studies, my department, an expert in Buddhism, shamanism and folklore et al., and Donald Smith in physics; they team teach a course on science and religion; I'd love to take it!] probably has perspectives from Asian and other religious perspectives that the folks above have not explored in depth, if at all. So of course, a look at their syllabus would be really important. The science-and-religion field is vast. It is also serious and scholarly and a lot of people don't realize this -- which is why it's great that Krista Tippett has done shows like the one with Polkinghorne. Another thing that helped spread the wealth, so to speak, was a curriculum contest (I have friends who applied for grants via this competition back in the day) and program on teaching religion and science. CTNS called it the
Science and Religion Course Program.

That should get you started ;-) .

* * * * *
P.S. JohnieB, Pablito, TCR, and others will want to know what we had for dinner.

I cooked, if you can call such a simple meal cooking. Four courses:

1. Crenshaw melon.

2. Salad of mixed greens with heirloom tomato slices, avocado slices, red bell pepper strips, and cold salmon (not much, left over from my dinner of the night before -- cooked en papillote with absolutely nothing, just the fresh fish, and yes, it was the ecologically okay kind, wild caught from Alaska, thank you to my local supermarket, big ol' corporate Harris Teeter), dressed with extra virgin olive oil and freshly ground French sea salt.

3. Whole wheat fusilli with pesto. (Pine nuts are too pricey and hard to digest, though classic pesto calls for them; I was out of walnuts; and the only nuts I had in the house --I keep nuts in the freezer so they won't go stale or rancid-- were cashews, so I experimented. Besides the cashews, the classic ingredients: olive oil, garlic, fresh basil, grated parmesan.)

4. Small amount of Julie's Organic Mocha Java ice cream with blueberries on top. (Originally it was going to be just the ice cream; but the Adorable Godson caught sight of the blueberries in the fridge and said, "Mmmm, blueberries.")

The melon, tomato, pepper, basil, and blueberries were from the farmers' market.

Oh, and to drink, iced peppermint tea; it was a no-wine evening.

The Adorable Godson says he's cooking next time.


FranIAm said...

Jane- this is brilliant. I adore you for posting it.

Yesterday I heard a story on NPR about a camp for secular humanists. For the record, I have no problem with secular humanism or atheism.

However, while I could appreciate the zeal of these teens for science, I did find myself saddened to hear some of them finding science and spirituality completely incompatible.

The reality for me is that one of the best things about the RC church is the interplay of the two.

Thanks for posting this. And I have heard that (and probably every other) episode of Speaking of Faith. I listen to it on my iPod all the time. I often listen to episodes multiple times and they really inform me.

MikeF said...

Fascinating, Jane. A lot of good reading here, little though I understand physics... Thank you for a feast of thought-provocation!


Eigon said...

I'm reading the Dalai Lama's book at the moment - fascinating stuff!
Glad to have found this blog (via the Quaker Agitator and Caminante).