The Episcopal Church Network for Science, Technology & Faith

NEWSLETTER

Inaugural issue, vol. 1-1, Season of All Saints 2001





Working Group morphs into Network, spins off Committee

At its annual meeting in April 2001, the Episcopal Church Working Group for Science, Technology and Faith voted to rename and reorganize itself as the Episcopal Church Network for Science, Technology and Faith. A membership organization, the Network serves as an association for all Episcopalians interested in how faith and ethics interact with technology and science (including medicine, environmental studies, and other disciplines). Membership is open to all Episcopalians, with an Associate Membership category for anyone else who wishes to join.

In a parallel move, the Chair of the House of Deputies, the Very Reverend George Werner, appointed seven members of the former Working Group's steering board to constitute a Committee formed by actions of the 1997 and 2000 General Conventions, the Committee on Science, Technology and Faith. This Committee, which reports to the Executive Council, is charged with advising the Church on the formation of policy in areas where it has expertise.

The Committee will draw upon the membership of the Network as consultants for its various studies and tasks. The Committee is currently active in three areas, and has appointed a subcommittee for each: Genetically Engineered Foods, Creation, and the Ecumenical Roundtable on Science, Technology and the Church in Canada and the U.S. (URL )

The Network plans to publish an occasional newsletter, both print and electronic, available to its own members and to leaders of the other delegations to the Ecumenical Roundtable. Links with the national Church's website will eventually enable a far wider distribution.

Those who wish more information about joining the Network and supporting its Newsletter with the requested modest subscription fee ($10), please contact the Membership Chairperson, the Reverend Dr. J. John Keggi, S.O.Sc.

To learn more about the Committee and the studies and activities undertaken by the individual subcommittees, contact the following:

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Do you recognize any of these people?



In 1988, the Reverend Dr. Fred Burnham, Director of the Trinity Institute, and the Reverend Dr. Robert John Russell, Director of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, sponsored a short conference for scholars in the (then small) field of science and religion. Many of the 25 participants were ordained scientists. The Reverend Dr. Peter Arvedson, S.O.Sc., was there and took some pictures, which will appear here and in future issues, but we don't recognize most of the faces. Perhaps you see yourself or somebody you know. Help us out by sending us the names of people you recognize. Send all ID information to the Editor. Many thanks!

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Sewanee sponsors study of William Pollard's legacy in science, theology & education

by Courtland Randall

A project to extend the contributions of William G. Pollard, Physicist, Educator and Priest who died in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in 1989 has been undertaken by The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. The goal of the project is to influence students in science, engineering, and medicine to broaden their knowledge and perceptions in the philosophical, religious and cultural realms, rather than to focus narrowly in their chosen technical fields. The model of Pollard's life suggests that a broad perspective can enhance effectiveness in all walks of life including scientific and technical work. Like John Polkinghorne and Arthur Peacocke, outstanding Anglican priest-scientists, Pollard leaped boundaries with nimbleness available to anyone who enjoys and comprehends life's quests. When sharp focus was required for a task, whether technical, educational or pastoral, Pollard did so without conflict with other roles and duties. His life revealed no inherent conflict among firm commitments to scientific rigor, educational effectiveness, and deep religious faith. He made lasting contributions to science, the academic excellence of hundreds of institutions, and the multi-disciplined search for a contemporary spirituality. He is a modern, high-tech renaissance man whose life needs to be better known, appreciated and emulated.

Work centers at the School of Theology at Sewanee under the direction of Courtland Randall, who knew and worked with Pollard for 20 years in Oak Ridge. The project commenced with a festschrift for Pollard in March 1999, in Oak Ridge, attended by 35 friends and colleagues of Pollard's, including Alvin Weinberg, former director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, several of his research associates, past and present members of Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU, the organization Pollard founded and directed), and Oak Ridge citizens. Important contributions to the meeting were made by Pollard acquaintances, including Robert Hughes, Professor of Divinity at the School of Theology at Sewanee, and Robert J. Schneider, Professor of General Studies at Berea College. The meeting was opened by Ronald Townsend, President of ORAU, who committed to advance the educational and scientific work begun by Pollard in the late 1940s. Alvin Weinberg recounted examples of Pollard's exceptional effectiveness in many walks of life. Hughes and Schneider, who had encountered Pollard in religious activities, added insights as to the importance of his work in that realm. William Wilcox, Curator of a Pollard collection at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Oak Ridge, spoke of his pastoral services to that parish as deacon and rector beginning in the early 1950s.

Several Sewanee faculty and administrators had known Pollard through his educational and religious work throughout the region, including the Reverend Robert Hughes, Norma and Olin Mills Professor of Divinity; The Very Reverend Guy Fitch Lytle, Dean of the Sewanee School of Theology; and Vice Chancellor Joel Cunningham. Pollard loved the Sewanee campus, which is not far from Oak Ridge. He lectured, preached, and taught there over a period of 30 years or more. He was a Sewanee trustee and an honored commencement speaker. Typical of his influence is a passing observation by Joel Cunningham. Pollard's educational and religious activities at Sewanee had occurred before Cunningham's rise to a position of educational leadership in the south. But growing up in Oak Ridge, he was awed by the actions and words of his neighbor, Bill Pollard. "It is quite possible" he said to Dean Lytle and Randall during a meeting in August, "that I would not be here in this position at Sewanee were it not for the living example of Pollard."

A funding operation has begun to support ongoing outreach in Pollard's name, building upon his own work in science, education, and religion. Initial funds have been provided by ORAU to begin work on a history of Pollard's influence upon the rise of science in a hundred or more educational institutions and other entities in the U.S. southern states. Plans are underway for several writings dealing with Pollard's life and contributions, a web page for technical students, a TV mini-series, college short courses on ethics, and a dramatic play. Contributions for the Pollard Project will be gratefully accepted. Make out checks to the University of the South, with a notation "for the Pollard Project," and mail them to Sewanee, TN 37375. For further information, contact research fellow Courtland Randall.

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Harvard conference explores interface between science and religion

by Barbara Smith-Moran, S.O.Sc.

(Episcopal New Service) Those who minister in a scientific and technological milieu know how difficult it is to induce scientists and engineers to talk about their religion or spiritual expression. While they belong to parishes in the same proportion as other Americans, they are often consider it taboo to speak about it with each other. Perhaps it's tantamount to admitting to a lapse in intellectual integrity. Perhaps it's too private a matter for discussion among colleagues. Whatever the reason, a project called Science and the Spiritual Quest has sought to change the cultural pattern.

The project is the brainchild of two theologians connected with the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS), part of the Graduate Theological Union of Berkeley, California--the Rev. Dr. Robert John Russell and the Rev. Dr. Mark Richardson. Russell, the center's director, is also a high-energy physicist and United Church of Christ clergyman. Richardson, an Episcopal priest, was formerly the program director at CTNS and is now professor of theology at the General Theological Seminary in New York.

The October 21-23 conference on "The Quest for Knowledge, Truth and Values in Science and Religion" at Harvard's Memorial Church was the second of four planned over a span of four years. The conferences are designed to give some of the world's leading scientists, who have met with each other in closed sessions over a year's time, to publicly discuss their conclusions about the connections between their scientific and their spiritual practices. Between the bookend presentation by two prominent scientist-theologians, 16 participants spoke of how they feel that their own spiritual expression interfaces with their practice of science.

Guru-scientists

Oxford biochemist and eminent Anglican theologian, the Rev. Canon Dr. Arthur Peacocke, S.O.Sc., delivered the opening keynote address. Winner of the 2001 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, he spoke of the emergence of the "guru-scientists" who "are calling the tunes in the general intellectual scene"--especially among other scientists, and also in the wider culture. Some of these guru-scientists deny the legitimacy of theology as an intellectual pursuit in a contemporary university.

Peacocke admits the need for change in the way theology is done today. He sees the need for an "open, revisable, exploratory theology in all religions." Such a global theology would not be wholly dependent on authoritative scriptural sources read uncritically. The findings of science, he said, are a global resource that offers new images, metaphors and symbols for exploring and speaking of the "creative Ultimate Reality" that is God.

The views represented by the speakers were wide-ranging. Physicist Paul Davies, of Imperial College London and the University of Queensland, spoke of a "cosmic religious feeling," inspired by his study of a universe whose laws permit it to become self-creating, self-organizing, and self-aware. He was critical of religions that are based on stories that tell of a God active in history.

Appearing opposite him in the same session, Nobel laureate physicist William Phillips spoke of the joy it brings him to know about God's personal care for him. "If we look at the world just through the window of science," he said, "then love is just biochemistry." He moved the audience to hand-clapping with a rousing video of his church's gospel choir, with himself in the bass section. He says that he doubts that any scientific experiment can be designed that will support what brings him such joy, his belief in a personal God.

Realities of violence

Many speakers referenced the terrorist attacks of September 11. The session entitled "What Does it Mean to Be Human?" confronted the realities of human violence and altruism. Primatologist Jane Goodall spoke to the conference by live videocast from Calgary, Alberta. Her classic studies of chimpanzees in the wild have demonstrated that these closest relatives of human beings share with us the capacity for cooperation, modifying and using tools, sense of humor and wonder, self-awareness, fear, despair, happiness, mental suffering, empathy--and brutal behavior.

She identifies speech as the ability that makes human beings unique. It allowed an explosion of intellectual development, which has, in turn, enabled our species to be both better and worse than the chimp. Because of the ability to think through the results of actions, human beings alone among all animals are capable of terrorism and altruism.

Paired with Goodall in this session was neurobiologist William Newsome, of the Stanford University School of Medicine. Newsome said that in order to answer the question of what it means to be human, he found he needed "to take off his neuroscientist hat and put on his human hat. We're the only species pondering the possibility that there is no meaning to our existence."

His own scientific work has led him to believe that the most significant aspects of who he is are rooted in the functioning of his central nervous system, especially the cerebral cortex. The most fundamental aspect of being human is not addressed by facts from science, he said. "The facts are ambiguous about our meaning and our role in the universe. We must all go beyond science in search for ultimate meaning. He concluded that the central part of what it means to be human is to come into relationship with "the central reality of the universe and find it to be good."

Spiritual quest

The session on "Information Sciences, Intelligence, and Creativity" paired computer scientist Manuela Veloso of Carnegie-Mellon University with Praveen Chaudhari, a research staff member of IBM's Research Center. Veloso, who is Roman Catholic, works with multi-robot systems, each member of which is designed to be autonomous. Autonomy involves perception, response to stimuli, and cognition--the ability to reason, experiment, and learn. While robots may eventually do all the tasks a human being can do, and perhaps better, she does not believe that that is the same as being human. Robots will always be missing something, she says. She struggles with the question of whether a robot can ever have feelings, even if programmed to have them.

Chaudhari addressed the issues connected with spirituality by quoting from the sacred texts of different world cultures and traditions. He said that in the culminating state of spiritual growth, the distinction between doing science and being spiritual vanishes. "We cannot describe, there are no words for, our underlying humanity and what is at the cosmos at depth," he said. "We struggle with words to do that, but they are the wrong medium."

As the final bookend for the conference, physicist-theologian Ian Barbour provided the summary. Conference organizer Philip Clayton rightly introduced him as the founder of the field of science and religion. Now retired from Carleton College, his most recent book (2000) is When Science Meets Religion.

In his summary, Barbour noted that none of the scientists tried to usescience to prove the existence of God. He observed that the physical scientists have been more receptive than the biological scientists to the idea of a spiritual quest. He noted the agreement among the scientists that there hasn't been much progress toward understanding consciousness. It may turn out to be inaccessible to science, he ventured.

Regarding human nature, not much reference was made to the contributions that religion might make to this topic. The dualism of body/spirit, critiqued by neuroscience, is also rejected by modern theology. He proposed that since so little attention was given to ethical issues, an entire conference should be devoted to it in the future. Observing that all religious traditions have their scriptural fundamentalists, Barbour concluded with a question: "From this conference, how can we help our religious communities to take the findings of science more seriously and to practice the spirit of inquiry?"

[The text of all the conference talks can be purchased. For information, see URL http://www.ssq.net/]

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ANNOUNCEMENT

Videostreaming of Eric Beresford's talk available,
"Serving the Constituencies of a New Technology: An Ethical Critique"

The Committee and Network together (then known as the Working Group) sponsored a major conference last January at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York City. The title of the conference was "Genetic Engineering and Food for the World." The Reverend Canon Eric Beresford, a geneticist and priest in the Anglican Church of Canada, gave one of the plenary talks, which identifies the major ethical themes in the science/religion dialogue on genetically engineered foods. This talk is now available in videostreaming at the website of the Counterbalance Foundation, a co-sponsor of the conference. The direct link is provided here: Beresford talk.

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ANNOUNCEMENT

Science & Spirituality lecture series at the Philadelphia Cathedral

Spring 2002

8:15-8:30 a.m. Coffee and Registration
8:30 10:00 a.m. Lecture and Discussion

ADMISSION: $5 at the door
INTERNATIONAL HOUSE (3701 Chestnut Street) unless otherwise noted.

Scheduled Presenters

Monday, 4 February
Wednesday, 20 March
Thursday, 25 April For further information, call the Cathedral, 215-386-0234, or consult the website http://www.philadelphiacathedral.org/index.cfm.

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All Network Newsletter materials may be reproduced with proper attribution.
Revised: 19 November 2001
Send comments and news items to the Network Newsletter editor, The Reverend Barbara Smith-Moran, S.O.Sc.
http://home.earthlink.net/~smithmoran/stfnewsletter1-1.html



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