Dear WesleyNexus Colleague:
We are about to enter the season of Advent which is celebrated in many ways. It is the anticipation of the birth of Jesus, the incarnation of Christ and the Word made flesh. It enlivens our normal routines and awakens us to profound uniqueness and wonder. We remember the proclamation by the early church passed on to us as the good news of the Gospel. We usually like to approach Advent with joy and nostalgia, remembering our childhood when times were simpler, rejoicing in the blessings of life. This is as it should be. However, the literal meaning of advent is not so quaint. Advent means “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event”. Synonyms for advent found online include arrival, appearance, emergence, materialization, occurrence, dawn, birth, rise, development, approach, and coming. Implicit in the meaning is the coming of change and disruption with a focus on the future and not the past. As Frederick Buechner wrote, “for outlandish creatures like us, on our way to a heart, a brain, and courage, Bethlehem is not the end of our journey but only the beginning – not home but the place through which we must pass if ever we are to reach home at last”.
In Brian McLaren’s recently published The Great Spiritual Migration, echoes of Buechner’s insight can be found. McLaren soberly describes what advent means in our current context. He prophetically proclaims that
“EACH GENERATION FACES SOME GREAT WORK, some heroic challenge that summons its children to courage and creativity. The great work of this generation will be to respond to the quadruple threat inherited from previous generations: an ecological crisis that, left unchecked, will lead to a catastrophic environmental collapse; an economic crisis of obscenely increasing inequality that exploits or excludes the world’s poor while dehumanizing the rich as well; a sociopolitical crisis of racial, ethnic, class, religious, and political conflict that could lead to catastrophic war; and a spiritual and religious crisis in which the religious institutions that should be helping us deal with the first three crises either waste our time or make matters worse. To face one of these crises would be difficult enough; to face all four simultaneously will require all hands on deck – including the best potential contributions of each of the world’s religious communities. To save the world from this quadruple threat is the great work for which all people of faith and goodwill, including Christians, must be mobilized.” (page 166)
To succeed in this great calling of our time will require that we leverage all the resources and insights available to us. McLaren describes what is needed when he says “Now imagine: if you wanted to find an organization well positioned to encourage change on all of these four levels, whom would you call? You would need an organization that was both local and global. It would need to involve people from all sectors of society – agriculture to government, health care to education, for-profit to nonprofit, science to the arts. It would need to specialize in personal development, community building, deployment for mission, and public communication. What organization could fulfill these diverse requirements”? (page 169)
If we think that the church is the institution capable of responding, we cannot help but be dismayed, for too often the church has been too small, too disconnected, and too intellectually cut off to be that institution. But it need not be. Advent is both a time of change and a time of new hope. By promoting McLaren’s vision of a wider church connected to our scientific and technology-drenched world, WesleyNexus commits to participate in this advent.
Many thanks to those who have contributed financially to WesleyNexus. We are making progress towards funding our 2018 Evolution Weekend program, which will take place on February 11 and focus on the societal challenge of opioid addiction, but still need donations to fully fund our program. Please click here if you can help fund our 2018 Evolution Weekend program.
May you and yours enjoy a blessed Advent season.
Rick, Maynard, and the rest of the
WesleyNexus Board of Directors
Ilia Delio OSF speaks on “The Universe Within”
On September 30th, the National Presbyterian Church, in Washington DC, hosted a special event featuring professor Ilia Delio (Villanova University). Delio’s point of departure was the recent encyclical in which the Pope affirmed the reality of global warming precipitating an “earth in crisis,” to make her basic point that we humans are shaping what the world is becoming. She pointed out that if everyone on the planet lived in America, at the current level of development and resource utilization, it would take six planets our size to accommodate our ecological footprint. This means, in fact, that currently we are exhibiting a resource utilization rate 23 times more than what is sustainable. What we cannot comprehend is that science itself cannot deal with a “runaway hypothesis.” Religion, too, is at a loss because in recent years we have seen the world stripped of its sacredness, and most of us are living with “moral confusion.” Delio exhibited the NASA-created map of the universe since the Big Bang, making the key point that, in spite of the human quest for certainty, we are living in an unfinished universe: there is no purely objective reality out there. As Teilhard de Chardin pointed out more than fifty years ago, our reality is relational, through and through, structured with quantum entanglement, and our own consciousness is inherently part of a world of connectivity. To underscore her points, Delio referred to the groundbreaking work of Paul Dirac, David Bohm and others to illustrate the reality of the “whole cosmic process” of which we are a part – even our consciousness is an emergent property. This leaves many humans with a sense of void in life, so some people already are looking for technology to fulfill what religion has been promising. In this situation of cosmic dislocation, we have lost the depth dimension of interiority. The result is shallow thinking and rampant consumerism. But Delio advocates the positive dimension, the opportunities before us, citing the developing techniques to “awaken our brains”: meditation, a focused consciousness, neuroplasticity, silence, solitude, and a recovery of an inner reality (sometimes called the soul). The challenge is to recover our sense of oneness with the cosmos, reclaim our sense of personhood, and recognize our evolutionary significance through a process of “centration.” This is what Teilhard was affirming with his notion of Omega that is “pulling” us forward into the future, and allows us to say “yes” to God’s love at the foundation of the universe. We don’t thus escape the evolutionary structures of the world, but the Christ-event refines these structures, even when they are broken, because we live in a “luminous web” of love. Recognizing this brings us to our full humanity, and allows us to see meaning in all our relationships. Delio calls us to recover the truth of the “be-attitudes” and to “let go, let love flow.” Supporting her insights, Delio cited works from the medieval mystics such as Meister Eckhart, from scholastics like Duns Scotus, the gospels, and the writings of many contemporary thinkers such as Thomas Merton, Etty Hillesum, Karl Rahner, Pedro Arrupe, John Haught and others. All testify to the reality of Christo-genesis that brings God’s love into the active self, transforming the self into new life and making us one with the creation in all its wholeness. Delio concluded with the affirmation that spirituality is central to the “inside story” of the cosmos. Religion and evolution together are destined to form the conscious organism that will complete God’s intention for wholeness in the cosmos. More than 200 people received this message that day. You can read more and access videos of Delio’s work at www.omegacenter.info
ISSR Discussion at American Academy of Religion
Once again, during the annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Biblical Literature, in Boston November 17-20, the International Society for Science and Religion (ISSR) hosted a series of public events featuring high-level research on new challenges in science and religion. This is a summary of some of those discussions. The first session had the title “Attending to Symbiosis: Theology and the Connectedness of Nature.” The thesis of connectedness was presented by Dr. Andrew Davison (Starbridge lecturer in theology and the natural sciences at Cambridge University in the UK) and supported by a series of slides showing the startling level of symbiosis in biology, the concept of emergence, and whole-part relationships in astrophysics. Author of a book on astrophysics, drawn upon his experience on a NASA-sponsored project searching for life in other parts of the universe, Dr. Davison referenced the phenomena of symbiosis, astrobiology and the “metaphysics of participation” as a structuring principle in Christian theology. Responses to the presentation were offered by Dr. Daniel Castillo, professor of theology at Loyola University in Maryland, Dr. Adam Pryor, assistant professor of Religion at Bethany College, Kansas and a fellow at the Center for Theological Inquiry at Princeton, and Dr. Katherine Sonderegger, professor of theology at the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, all of whom in their own research were affirming the importance of taking seriously symbiosis as an informative principle in both the realms of biology and physics. Argument came from the final panelist, Dr. Wesley Wildman, professor at the Boston University School of Theology and founding director of the Institute for the Biocultural Study of Religion. While not challenging the basic concept of symbiosis, Wildman nevertheless warned that theology should not “jump” too quickly at the claims of universality in such analysis, saying that the basic understanding of what it means to be human, including the sin of self-centeredness and brokenness, remains strong and must be accounted for in theology. Yes, symbiosis in nature is present, but there are other consequences of human interconnectedness that must be accounted for in theology and ethics. The level of discourse in this session was extremely high.
ISSR presented a second session focused on current CRISPR/CAS research, called “Gene Editing: Possibilities and Perspectives,” a mini-conference addressing possibilities in human germline editing from the perspectives of religion, bioethics and public engagement. New gene-editing techniques in particular patients (called somatic cell gene therapy) have potentially serious consequences for descendants (germline modification). The session featured Dr. Richard O. Hynes (MIT), Dr. Laurie Zoloth (University of Chicago Divinity School), Dr. Ron Cole-Turner (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary), and Dr. John H. Evans (University of California at San Diego). Journalists and commentators regularly call the CRISPR/CAS technology a “revolution” because in principle it can allow for human germline enhancements, and all of the panelists raised questions that should be central for theologians and ethicists.
Human Enhancement was the central topic for the third of the ISSR sponsored sessions, this one on the specific topic of “Biological Frameworks and Cyborg Theologies.” This session was a bit different because it featured two authors whose recent books have gained wide attention. The first presenter was Dr. Harris Wiseman, author of the 2016 book The Myth of the Moral Brain (MIT Press). Wiseman received his PhD from the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge and is currently a senior research associate at the Institute of Education and University College London. In this book Wiseman dispels the notion that there are discrete neurochemical bases for morality and argues that neuronal interactions in the brain mediate inter-individual and group interactions to an extent that human enhancement is far more complex than popular science and reductionists would have us believe. The second presenter was Dr. Scott Midson, whose book Cyborg Theology: Human, Technology and God has just been published this month by I B Tauris & Co. Midson is research assistant in the Department of Religion & Theology at the University of Manchester. In this book, Midson challenges the frequent anthropocentrism in the analysis of nature and utilizes the myth of Eden to show that the human now has the possibility to recover the “lost” oneness with the natural world even as we pursue novel and “post-human” technologies. Critique in this session was provided by Dr. Jennifer Thweatt-Bates who authored a book several years ago that carried forward Donna Haraway’s claims in The Cyborg Manifesto (1991) that we already have evolved into cyborgs. Thweatt, assistant professor of theology at New Brunswick Theological Seminary, also has a new book out called Cyborg Selves: A Theological Anthropology of the Posthuman (Routledge) and in this session she raised some basic questions for theology as we now go about considering transhumanism in the years ahead. This was an extremely stimulating session and the subject will be increasingly important for theology to address in the years ahead. More information concerning events and papers from the International Society for Science and Religion can be found at www.issr.org.uk
Dr. Michael Summers speaks to the ASA National Capital Section
On November 11, the National Capital section of the American Scientific Affiliation, now more than fifty persons strong, presented a program featuring Dr. Michael Summers, hosted by the Fairfax (VA) Community Church. Dr. Summers is Professor of Planetary Sciences and Astronomy in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. Dr. Summers, as a planetary scientist who specializes in the study of structure and evolution of planetary atmospheres, drew upon his planetary research that deals with the chemistry and thermal structure of the atmospheres of Io (one of the Galilean moons of Jupiter), Titan (the largest of Saturn’s moons), Uranus, Neptune, Triton (the largest Neptunian moon), Pluto, and Mars. His talk was filled with illustrations of the rings of Saturn, which, as he explained, are constantly changing. He showed us a satellite photograph of a “hexagonal hurricane,” and other renditions of Titan’s nitrogen atmosphere and seas of methane. During his seventeen year tenure at NASA, Dr. Summers’ research on Earth’s atmosphere focused on understanding middle atmospheric ozone chemistry, coupled with chemical-dynamical-radiative modeling of active trace gases, heterogeneous chemistry on meteor dust, the influence of solar variability on the state of the stratosphere and mesosphere, and polar mesospheric clouds and their connection to climate. In addition to discussing some of his findings, he also commented on the impact such potential discoveries as extraterrestrial life may have for the Christian faith. The title of Dr. Summers’ talk was “The Joy of Surprises” in which he was making the point that science is so much fun because there is usually a surprise every day in the process of experiment and discovery. He surprised many of us by saying that as of that day (November 11) scientists had discovered 3,704 exoplanets in our galaxy, and that number by now (as I write this) probably exceeds 3,750 – there were twelve new discoveries just the previous week. His talk was profusely illustrated with photo-renditions of planets and moons in our own solar system, especially Pluto – Dr. Summers was chief scientist on the NASA mission to map Pluto. There are some 64 moons in our solar system alone, and some of these bodies have interior water, one of which contains more water than all the oceans on earth. Even more surprising, our space probes have already discovered “organic” material on the surface of some of these entities, and scientists now believe they have evidence that 6 of these entities in our solar system are habitable. On a larger scale, Dr. Summers points out that there are 400 billion planets in our galaxy alone, which is more than the total heartbeats of all the humans that have ever lived… that certainly gives one pause for contemplation. Dr. Summers’ presentation followed on the heels of his recent book Exoplanets: Diamond Worlds, Super Earths, Pulsar Planets, and the New Search for Life beyond Our Solar System. Dr. Summers is himself a believing Christian, and in his talk as well as his continuing work he affirms a deep sense of awe that we have access to so much information about God’s creation. For more information on the American Scientific Affiliation and a chapter near you, go to www.asa3.org
Time and Eternity: A Christological Perspective by Paul Julienne
When addressing the meaning of advent, implicit in any discussion must include the concept of time. We all know what time means, at least we think we do. But time is not so easy to understand and not so obvious. The incarnation affirmed by Christian doctrine throughout history proclaims the coming of eternal Word into the temporal world. Eternity intersects with time to use the terminology used by Paul Julienne in a 2015 Biologos post. In this article, Julienne, a retired physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Joint Quantum Institute of NIST and the University of Maryland, describes the meaning of time within science, how it is measured and “What is the connection, if any, between this temporal world of experience and “eternity,” the domain we usually associate with God?”
You can read Julienne’s article here
Another View Regarding the Incarnation
In the year 2000, George J. Brooke, edited an insightful volume called The Birth of Jesus: Biblical and Theological Reflections (T & T Clark, Edinburgh). Brooke is highly respected as a biblical scholar, having served as Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis Emeritus in the University of Manchester where he taught Biblical Studies and Early Judaism from 1984 until 2016. Chapter 5 in this book is written by Canon theologian Arthur Peacocke, and is called ‘DNA of our DNA” in which he draws on extensive contemporary research to show that Jesus’ acclaimed virgin birth is both a biological impossibility and theologically a Christian heresy. In the first instance, to be “fully human” Jesus must have necessarily participated in our evolved human nature, as Gregory of Nazianzus famously said, “What he has not assumed he has not healed.” Even if one claims the virgin birth was a moment of “parthenogensis” (as occasionally happens in some minor species), without a male spermatozoon to deliver the Y chromosome, the birth irrevocably would have been female. Theologically, if the claim is made that the impregnation of Mary was totally an “act of God,” meaning that Mary served only as a receptacle, then this special creation de novo of a divine nature (so that the humanity was only apparent), Jesus would have simply been “dressed up” as a man, which is the core definition of docetism. The conclusion drawn by Dr. Peacocke: “For Jesus to be fully human he had, for both biological and theological reasons, to have had a human father as well as a human mother, and the weight of the historical evidence strongly indicates that this was so…. Any theology for a scientific age which is concerned with the significance of Jesus of Nazareth now has to start at this point.” The book is available on Amazon and in many seminary libraries.
Cobb vs Neville: A Theological Dialogue
October 21, 2017 @ Claremont School of Theology
Last month, Claremont School of Theology brought together two seminal theologians within the Wesleyan tradition for a face-to-face discussion. Robert Neville, professor of theology at Boston University and former Dean of Chapel at Boston University, engaged with John Cobb, co-founder of the Center for Process Studies in Claremont, CA. Together, Neville and Cobb represent two streams of Methodist tradition frequently overlooked. Boston University has been the center of the influential philosophy known as personalism, a perspective contributing to Methodist thinking for over 100 years. Claremont, home of the Claremont School of Theology and the Center for Process Studies is the home for Process Theology, a philosophical theology based on the thinking of Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne. Both Neville and Cobb are United Methodists, actively writing on a variety of theological and social issues of our time. Both scholars have accepted and incorporated scientific knowledge into their thought. The challenges McLaren mentions in his book are addressed by both these senior Methodist scholars. The full video of the discussion can be found here:
Angel Donor Issues $5000 Challenge in Support of Discovery & Faith
WesleyNexus has spent the past year launching Discovery & Faith, a new program initiative to help the next generation experience the harmony between science and faith. This time last year, Discovery & Faith had just a name, a logo, and the skeleton of a website with a few “About Us” statements. We’ve made tremendous progress.
Now, Discovery & Faith has been blessed with an “angel donor” who will match, dollar-for-dollar, the first $5,000 we raise through our end-of-year fundraising.
Every donation in support of Discovery & Faith would help us meet our goal. But, more than that, Discovery & Faith donors would be partnering with us to:
- promote more intellectually and theologically robust biblical learning for the next generation of Christian kids; and
- sow seeds of reconciliation (in the perceived conflict between science and faith) at a time of deep and rampant divisiveness in our culture.
If you would like to help us meet the $5000 Challenge for Discovery & Faith, please go to: