This page is a description, by Calvin College, for one of their "summer seminar" programs:
Nature in Belief: Evolutionary Explanation,
Biological Function, and Religious Purpose
Alvin Plantinga, University of Notre
Jeffrey Schloss, Westmont College
June 21-July 16, 2004, in the Calvin Summer Seminar Series,
funded by the John Templeton Foundation
One of the most provocative and crucially important domains of historic interaction between science and religion has been the elucidation by science of mechanistic causes for phenomena previously understood by religion as entailing supernatural agency. In recent years, this area of dialogue has become both more promising and more challenging by virtue of renewed scientific interest, particularly by biological disciplines, in going beyond mechanistic descriptions to functional or teleonomic explanation: inferring biological purpose at the level of organismal function and evolutionary directionality. This opens up new opportunities for conciliance in religious and scientific understandings of design or natural function. But it also harbors new challenges when attributions of natural and divine purpose appear unrelated to, or even incommensurable with, each other.
No single issue embodies this tension more dramatically than the quest for biological explanations of religious belief, behavior, and experience. Unlike earlier Freudian or Marxist deconstructions of religion, mechanistic accounts from the perspective of neuroscience and functional accounts from the perspective of evolutionary theory have successfully generated predictive and conciliatory hypotheses about observed patterns in belief and behavior. The implications of these accounts for religion are ambiguous. On the one hand, western religious traditions view belief in God as facilitated by and fulfilling of human nature. So uncovering natural inclinations, and possibly benefits, to religious faith is both welcome and anticipated. On the other hand, religious faith and experience entail the conviction that God has acted to engage humanity through divine revelation and often through supernatural initiative. Reductively functionalist accounts of religion appear problematic. Thus, as science attempts to uncover neurophysiological mechanisms and evolved cognitive functions that mediate religious experience, these endeavors may constitute both a challenge to and resource for theology — not only by raising new questions about causation, and perhaps new options for natural theology, but also by illuminating longstanding tensions about grace and nature, intrinsic to understandings of religious belief within theology itself.
In spite of an explosion of recent scientific work in biological teleology and religious functionality, there has been no rigorous interdisciplinary analysis of the issues from the perspectives of epistemology, philosophy of religion, or theology. This seminar will survey the leading, and often highly contrasting, evolutionary theories of biological purpose and religious function, and assess these notions both philosophically and theologically. We
will engage four related areas, with the help of internationally recognized
workers (see next section) in each field.
(1) We will examine the philosophical warrant for inferring purpose and proper function, and discuss the relationship of such inferences to naturalistic and supernatural understandings.
(2) We will evaluate the widening range of contemporary proposals for the role of purpose in biological explanations, emphasizing controversies over the relationship between teleology, functionality, and evolutionary processes.
(3) We will survey contemporary evolutionary studies of religion, with special attention to recent functionalist accounts that view it as a group-selected adaptation and byproduct accounts that view it as an evolutionary spandrel or cognitive byproduct.
(4) We will assess the implications of the above for science religion dialogue, simultaneously asking: a) whether fully naturalistic accounts constitute defeaters for religious belief, b) whether some naturalistic accounts constitute resources for either natural theology or theological anthropology, and c) whether theological understanding can constitute a resource of reservoir of fruitful hypotheses for empirical scientific investigations in this area.
other pages about HUMAN ORIGINS
"Nature in Belief" conference
Summer Seminars for 2007 from Calvin College