Archive for January, 2010

Session 2
Monday Feb 8 1pm
Reading: Monad to Man, Intro and Ch 1

Session 3
Tuesday Feb 23 2pm
Reading: Aquinas for Armchair Theologians, Ch 4 and 5

Session 4
Tuesday March 9 2pm
Reading: Chance and Necessity, Ch 2 and 9

Session 5
Tuesday March 30 2pm
Reading: TBA

Session 6
Tuesday April 20 2pm
Reading: TBA


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Note: This is the first in a series of forum event summaries composed by the students of Ecol 524.

The forum on Change, Purpose, and Progress in Evolution and Religion convened its first session today for an introductory meeting to define ground rules and a common vocabulary that nevertheless lasted for two hours. We are a collection of students, researchers, faculty, and faith leaders with a spectrum of expertise and perspective ranging from layperson to doctorate, atheists to priests, but all with questioning and critical thinking abilities that challenged us to arrive at common and generalized definitions of some commonly used terms.

Our ground rules included a commitment to attend the meetings throughout the semester, so as to progress (verb) together toward a deeper understanding of change, purpose and progress (noun), how they have influenced and been influenced by the theory of evolution and various religions (specifically Christianity, which we have the greatest expertise on). We agreed to respect our moderators’ efforts to bracket unproductive or irreconcilable discussions, and to refrain from ad hominem attacks. These rules of respect should continue to apply to discourse on this blog.

In an effort to foster precise and effective communication, we agreed to the following definitions of more broadly used terms:

progress (small “p”): the idea that things get better through time. The definition of “better” will be up for debate.

Progress (capitol “P”): the philosophical school of thought that things get better through time due to human activity. This is a critical distinction between the two. Think of a Venn diagram in which Progress is a small circle representing a subset of progress.

This distinction stems from the construct in our society of humans as exceptional from nature.

Myth: an explanatory tale in our society, that forms a world view. It is not used here in the sense of “opposite to fact,” but as any explanatory tale with or without evidence to support it. In particular, there are three competing myths in Western society: Progress (things are getting better), Golden Age (things are getting worse), and Stasis (things are neither better nor worse, they may be cyclical or simply constant).

We attempted to define “science,” but found that different scientists among and within disciplines have distinct and strong opinions of what defines it. One definition proposed was a strictly Popperian methodology (see Popper’s entry on Wikipedia if you do not know what that is). Another was that science is “knowledge that progresses,” or adds up over time. Yet a third possible definition suggested was “a way of knowing which includes methodological naturalistic observations, believes in a symmetric universe, and always involves interaction with empirical data and discussion.”

Just wait until we try to define “religion.”

Since I have my little soapbox here, I want to recommend a novel I have recently begun reading for the Environmental Biology course I am a TA for. It is called Ishmael, and was published in 1992 by Daniel Quinn. It’s a fast read. The entire first half is really devoted to demonstrating to the reader the concept of the cultural myth, as defined above. The story apparently goes on to pick out a couple specific myths in our society, namely the exceptionality of humankind. I cannot tell you how Ishmael ends because I don’t want to ruin it (and I have not yet finished).

And finally something to ponder: How does yesterday’s Dilbert cartoon reflect progress or Progress in our culture?

Post authored by: PS

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Announcement: Meeting Details

Session 1: Tuesday January 19 at 2pm

Introductory meeting of the forum.

Readings:  None.

Session 2: Monday February 8 (time TBA)

Michael Ruse leads discussion of his book Monad to Man

Readings: Monad to Man, Introduction and Chapter 1.

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A brief introduction

The scientific theory of evolution by natural selection has had a profound philosophical influence on ideas of chance, purpose and progress, sometimes running into conflict with religion in the process. The touchy nature of these questions means that they are rarely discussed openly in scientific circles.

This seminar series will provide a forum for rigorous, authentic, respectful but not circumscribed discussion of these core philosophical issues, from both scientific and theological perspectives. Participants of any religious belief or none are equally welcome. Discussions will be structured around assigned readings.

This series is part of a graduate level course in ecology at the University of Arizona. Distant friends and members of the public are encouraged to participate in our discussions online.

Suggested readings will be posted here and via the class email list at least a week in advance of forum events.

Summaries of the forum events themselves will be posted here to serve as fodder for further discussion.

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