Writings

 

 

These writings whose years are in red bold-face type are available as pdf files at Wiley-Blackwell Zygon. Downloads are free for members of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science (IRAS), individual subscribers to the journal, or through affiliation with libraries that subscribe to the journal. For others, downloads can be purchased according to instructions when you click on a pdf file.

Also, you can request a single copy for your own personal use only by writing me at kpeters396@cox.net.

A few articles are in bold-face red. These can be downloaded–for your personal use only–directly from this website by clicking on the article.

 

CURRENT

2012. With Marjorie Hall Davis. “Are Religious Experiences Natural? Biological Capacities for Religion.” In Is Religion Natural? Edited by Dirk Evers, Michael Fuller, Antje Jackelén, Taede Smedes. London: T&T Clark International.

Abstract: In this essay we explore the biological bases of two kinds of religious experience—one of being in a calm, centered state of consciousness, and one of connectedness. Using a metaphorical model of the human psyche from psychotherapist Richard C. Schwartz, we describe an inner ecology which includes a core “Self,” understood as an experiential state of consciousness, as well as other states. We give examples that suggest ways that these various states are related to evolved, interacting systems of the brain. Finally, we cite work of Andrew Newberg on the brain functioning of Tibetan monks in meditation and Franciscan nuns engaged in Centering Prayer, which resemble the state that Schwartz calls the “Self.” These studies support the hypothesis that religious experiences are natural in that they are biologically grounded. Although we have biological capacities for these experiences, the capacities are developed in human interaction and are influenced by culture, including religious beliefs and practices.

2012. “Human Salvation in an Evolutionary World: An Exploration in Christian Naturalism.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science. December.

An earlier version is available for download at Human Salvation in an Evolutionary World View: An Exploration in Christian Naturalism. July 2012.

Abstract. In the context of an evolutionary world view, this essay proposes that humans need “salvation,” understood as restoring and maintaining well-being or functioning well. Humans are embedded in, embodiments of, and emergent creative-creatures of the universe. We have evolved also as ambivalent creatures–capable of doing good, harm, and standing by while harm is being done. There are multiple factors, such as genetic, neurological, and child developmental factors, that lead to malfunctioning and harmful consequences. There are also multiple religious and secular approaches that help restore well-being. I will develop a view of Jesus as a “religious genius,” an exemplar who, grounded in a direct experience of God, taught an alternative wisdom of undiscriminating love and engaged non-violent political activism against the primary domination system of his day, the Roman empire. Christians and others can follow Jesus by engaging in a set of meditative practices that facilitate well-well being out of which compassion for others and a passion for justice flows. Universal love rooted in Jesus is compatible with an evolutionary perspective that all humans on our planet are part of a natural family.

2012. With Barbara Whittaker-Johns. “Human Behavior: Doing Good, Doing Bad, Doing Nothing.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science. December.

Abstract. The 2011 summer conference of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science (IRAS) considered the topic “Doing Good, Doing Bad, Doing Nothing: Scientific and Religious Perspectives on Human Behavior.” Plenary speakers addressed the evolutionary, biological and neurological roots of good and bad behavior (Melvin Konner), the unconscious brain activity involved in prejudice (Mahzarin Banaji), the cultural production of evil and how hope begins with the cries of suffering (Cheryl Kirk-Duggan), the causes and the neurological and social consequences of developmental trauma (Laurie Pearlman), the social conditions for genocide and mass violence, and for bystanders being passive while violence occurs, and ways to respond to help healing and the prevention of more violence (Ervin Staub), practices for the transformation of conflict fostered by domination systems and for peace building (Robert and Alice Evans), and how the various Eastern religions each diagnose a central obstacle to human fullness of life and offer a prescription as an antidote (Barbara Jean Jamestone). The three papers that have emerged from the conference by William J. Shoemaker, Ervin Staub, and Karl E. Peters carry forward the evolutionary, neurological, social, and religious analyses of human beings doing good, bad, and nothing, and suggest ways of becoming more actively involved in diminishing evil behavior and enhancing good behavior.

2012. “Towards a Naturalistic Christianity: Developing the Thinking of Gordon Kaufman.” Presented at the American Academy of Religion, Chicago IL, November 2012. Unpublished.

Abstract. This paper relates Gordon Kaufman’s naturalistic theology to his Mennonite social justice Christianity. First, I summarize his naturalistic understanding of God as mysterious serendipitous creativity that underlies the universe and is manifested in Darwinian biological evolution and human creativity. Then I develop a Kaufmanian naturalistic Christology, beginning with Kaufman’s idea that God as non-personal, non-moral creativity becomes the personal God of love in Jesus. I then suggest that Jesus was a “religious genius,” using a Darwinian understanding of the origins of genius following Dean Keith Simonton and New Testament scholar Marcus Borg’s comparative religion analysis of Jesus in the dimensions of spirt, wisdom, and politics. In the context of the domination system of the Roman Empire, Jesus’s “genius” contribution is a universalizing of the Jewish idea of loving God and neighbor to include all people, so that one engages in non-violent resistance against the domination system. Following Walter Wink, Borg argues that Jesus is a non-violent revolutionary on behalf of the marginalized people of his day. This is a form of the Christian “moral exemplar theory” of atonement. Using the thought of Henry Nelson Wieman about the resurrection, I suggest that Jesus continues as the “Christ-event” that creates compassionate followers who engage in non-violent action for justice against contemporary “domination systems.

To download a private copy click on “Towards a Naturalistic Christianity: Developing the Thinking of Gordon Kaufman.”

 

BOOKS

Dancing with the Sacred: Evolution, Ecology, and God. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International.

Portions of this book have been published as “Dancing with the Sacred: Excerpts.” Zygon:Journal of Religion and Science. September 2005. See below for abstract.

2008. Spiritual Transformations: Science, Religion, and Human Becoming. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

 

PUBLISHED ESSAYS

1970s

1974. “The Image of God as a Model for Humanization.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, June.

1976. “Presuppositions of Scientific Theology.” New Perspectives in Religious Thought, Summer.

1976. “The Development of the Earth and the Quality of Life.” Religious Humanism, Summer.

1977. “Realities and Ideals in the World System.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, June.

1977. “Energy and Self-Actualization.” Current Issues in Environmental Education.

 

1980s

1980. “Evolutionary Naturalism: Survival as a Value.” Journal of Religion and Science, June.

1982. “Religion and an Evolutionary Theory of Knowledge.Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, December.

Abstract. This paper outlines an evolutionary theory of knowledge involving not only conceptual but also behavioral and experiential knowledge. It suggests human knowledge is continuous at the behavioral and experiential level with that of nonhuman animals. By contrasting an evolutionary understanding of ultimate reality (God) with the more traditional, personalistic understanding, the paper shows how an evolutionary epistemology applies to religion in terms of‘ both general and special revelation. Finally, the paper explores how one might respond to the problem of religious knowledge in a pluralistic age and how a non-personal, evolutionary understanding of God might be religiously adequate.

1983. Modern Science and Religious Pluralism–What in the World Is God Doing?” National Forum, March.

1987. “The Contours of an Emerging Territory: Impressions of Twenty Years of Zygon,” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, Twentieth Anniversary Issue, January.

Abstract. While the general territory mapped by the founders of the Center for Advanced Study in Religion and Science and Zygon remains the same, how one delineates the contours of this territory depends partly on personal histories and on whether one is a theologian, a scientist, a scholar of religious studies, or a philosopher. However, the pluralism in the CASIRAS-Zygon community can be placed in a more comprehensive, evolutionary framework, in which the different approaches exert cultural selection pressures on each other. The most important selection pressure is having to make scholarly work usable by non-scholars seeking meaning for their lives in a scientific age.

1987. “Towards a Physics, Metaphysics, and Theology of Creation: A Trinitarian View.” In Religion, Science, and Public Policy Today, ed. Frank Birtel. New York: Crossroad. pp. 96-112.

1988. “What is Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science? Purpose, History, and Financial Goals.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, December.

Abstract. This editorial statement describes the purpose of Zygon and the need for such a journal. It then sketches the history of the journal and of its financial affairs. Next it proposes some development projects to expand the impact of the journal around the world, to develop Zygon leadership, and to establish more firmly Zygon’s financial base. The statement opens and closes with the news of Zygon’s receiving a Gift Subscription Challenge Grant.

1989. “Humanity in Nature: Conserving Yet Creating,” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, December. A longer version is also published in The World Community in Post-Industrial Society. Seoul: Korean Christian Academy, 1989.

Abstract. Developing a scientifically grounded philosophy of cosmic evolution, and using the moral norm of completeness as dynamic harmony, this paper argues that humans are a part of nature in both its conserving and emergent aspects. Humans are both material and cultural, instinctual-emotional and rational, creatures and creators, and carriers of stability and change. To ignore any of the multifaceted aspects of humanity in relation to the rest of nature is to commit one of a number of fallacies that are grounded in a dualistic-conquest mentality. Examples of some new developments in philosophy and theology, metaphorical images, and ritual show how to overcome dualism in favor of a dynamic harmony of humanity within nature.

 

1990s

1992. “A Social-Ecological Understanding of the Human Self,” Religious Humanism, Winter.

1992. “Empirical Theology and Science.” In Handbook of Empirical Theology, ed. Randolph Crump Miller. Birmingham, AL: Religious Education Press.   1992. Also published with minor revisions in Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, September.

Abstract. Empirical theology stands in contrast to science insofar as it seeks to understand the nature and source of human fulfillment and insofar as science seeks to understand the world and human beings regardless of the implications of that knowledge for human welfare. However, empirical theology is like science insofar as it affirms a dynamic, relational naturalism; accepts limitations of the human knower, thereby making all knowledge including religious knowledge tentative; seeks causal explanations as well as religious meaning; and argues that a key criterion for justifying ideas is their ability to explain experience already had and to predict new experiences in Lakatosian-type progressive research programs.

1992. “Interrelating Nature, Humanity, and the Work of God: Some Issues for Future Reflection,” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, December.

Abstract. This essay suggests some future items for an agenda about human viability, defined as survivability with meaning and purpose, by exploring interrelations between nature, humanity, and the work of God. It argues for intrinsic and creative value in nature, so there is a value kinship, as well as a factual kinship, between humans, nature, and God-working. It considers humans as “webs of culture, life, and cosmos” and suggests some implications of this notion of human nature for viability. And it asks what human fulfillment can be in light of the awesome creative-destroying-recreative activity that seems to be the ground of an evolving universe.

1994. “Pragmatically Defining the God Concepts of Henry Nelson Wieman and Gordon Kaufman.” In New Essays in Religious Naturalism, Highlands Institute, Vol. II, ed. Larry Axel and Creighton Peden. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press.

1997. “Story Tellers and Scenario Spinners: Reflections on Religion and Science in Light of an Evolutionary Theory of Knowledge.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, December.

Asserting that both scientists and religious thinkers are involved in telling stories about the past and spinning scenarios about the future, I first compare and contrast the purposes of scientific and religious storytelling. Then, in light of some recent work on brain and language evolution, I offer a possible story about how humans might have become storytellers. Finally, I discuss how religious stories might be evaluated pragmatically and even scientifically by developing Lakatosian-type research programs.

1998. “The Open-Ended Legacy of Ralph Wendell Burhoe.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, June.

Through cultivating my thinking, along with that of many others, Ralph Burhoe taught me to understand myself in relational terms. He helped me to appreciate religious traditions on scientific grounds and to see how religion adapts to changing conditions even as it continues to provide meaning and guidance to the wider culture. He restored my belief in an ever-present sovereign God when God is understood in terms of function and system.

1998. “What Kind of God?–A Case Study.” Journal for Case Teaching, Fall.

1999. “The Evolution of Morality: Reflections at the IRAS 1997 Star Island Conference,” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, September.

In my summary lecture at the IRAS 1997 Star Island Conference on the Evolution of Morality, I reflected on the thinking of other speakers in light of my own personal experience. My remarks were organized around five questions: (1) Do worldviews matter, and how do we decide if some matter more than others? (2) What does it mean to be moral? (3) What is the relation between biology and culture? (4) How does a scientific, sociobiological description of how we have become moral fit with our own personal quest for meaning and moral guidance toward richer and fuller lives? (5) How do we test evolutionary views of the biological conditions of morality scientifically?

 

2000s

2001. “Neurotheology and Evolutionary Theology: Reflections on the Mystical Mind,” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, September.

Eugene d’Aquili and Andrew B. Newberg in their book The Mystical Mind suggest that their neurotheology is both a metatheology and a megatheology. In this commentary I question whether neurotheology is comprehensive enough and suggest that it needs to and possibly can take into account the moral and social dimensions of religion. I then propose an alternative metatheology and megatheology: evolutionary theology grounded in the science of biocultural evolution and focusing on ultimate reality as creatively immanent in natural and human history. Neurotheology and evolutionary theology may complement one another. Evolutionary theology accounts for both the neurology of the brain and culturally evolved ideas and practices of particular religions and their theologies. Hence it seems more comprehensive than neurotheology. However, because ultimate reality in evolutionary theology is immanent in the world of space and time, of baseline experience, it cannot account for the mystic experience of absolute unitary being. In accounting for this transcendent experience and its reality, neurotheology is more comprehensive. However, neither theology can account for how transcendent ultimate reality, experienced by the mystic as absolute unitary being, gives rise to the changing world experienced as baseline reality.

2003. “Ambivalence and Pluralism in the Bio-cultural Evolution of Morality.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, June.

Abstract. Much good work has been done on the evolution of human morality by focusing on how “selfish genes” can give rise to altruistic human beings. A richer research program is needed, however, to take into account the ambivalence of naturally evolved biopsychological motivators and the historical pluralism of human morality in religious systems. Such a program is described here. A first step is to distinguish the ultimate cause of natural selection from proximate causes that are the results of natural selection. Next, some proximate causes are suggested as possible conditions of biological and emotional valuing as well as of customary social morality and individual rational ethical thought. Finally, different moral perspectives of Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity are briefly presented in order to illustrate how one might inquire about the selection of a variety of biopsychological and cultural proximate causes that enable the evolution of a plurality of religious moral systems.

2005. “Dancing with the Sacred: Excerpts.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science. September.

Abstract. In excerpts from my Dancing with the Sacred (2002), I use ideas from modern science, our world’s religions, and my own experience to highlight three themes of the book. First, working within the framework of a scientific worldview, I develop a concept of the sacred (or God) as the creative activity of nature, human history, and individual life. Second, I offer a relational understanding of human nature that I call our social-ecological selves and suggest some general considerations about what it means to live meaningfully and morally in an evolutionary world. Third, I explore how we might be at home in a universe that is constantly changing and in which suffering and death are interwoven with life and new creation.

2005. “Confessions of a Practicing Naturalistic Theist: A Response to Hardwick, Pederson, and Peterson.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, September.

Abstract. In my response to the comments of Charley Hardwick, Ann Pederson, and Greg Peterson, I continue the narrative, confessional mode of my writing in Dancing with the Sacred. First, I sketch some methodological decisions underlying my naturalistic, evolutionary, practical theology. I then respond to the encouraging suggestions of my commentators by further developing my ideas about naturalism, mystery, creativity as God, the place of ecological responsibility in my thinking, sin, and eschatology. I offer suggestions as to how I might widen the practical applications of my theology beyond environmental and medical ethics to other areas of moral responsibility in relation to the creative process. I do all this with much appreciation for the care and careful critical reflection that my commentators have devoted to my thinking.

2005. “Reflections of a Naturalistic-Evolutionary-Practical Theologian in Conversation with Gallagher and Pangerl.” American Journal of Theology and Philosophy, September.

2006. “Spiritual Transformation and Healing in Light of an Evolutionary Theology.” In Spiritual Transformation and Healing: Anthropological, Religious, Medical and Biological Perspectives, Joan Koss-Chioino & Philip Hefner, eds. Lanham, MD: Altamira Press.

2007. “Empirical Theology and a “Naturalistic Christian Faith.” In All That Is: A Naturalistic Faith for the Twenty-First Century by Arthur Peacocke, ed. Philip Clayton. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

2007. “Toward an Evolutionary Christian Theology.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science. March

Abstract. In order to develop a single narrative of God’s continuing creation that includes salvation, this essay in theological construction focuses on the idea of transformation. Using the metaphor of conceptual maps in science and religion, it weaves together ideas about evolution, God working in the world, and how humans can be brought to wholeness in community in relation to God.

2007. “Saving Experience in an Age of Science,” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, December.

2008.Some Correlations Between Methods of Knowing and Theological Concepts in Arthur Peacocke’s Personalistic Panentheism and Nonpersonal Naturalistic Theism,” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, March.

Abstract. Differences in methods of knowing correlate with differences in concepts about what is known. This is an underlying issue in science and religion. It is seen, first, in Arthur Peacocke’s reasoning about God as transcendent and personal, is based on an assumption of correlative thinking that like causes like. This contrasts with a notion of causation in empirical science, which explains the emergence of new phenomena as originating from temporally prior phenomena quite unlike that which emerges. The scientific understanding of causation is compatible with a naturalistic theism that holds a nonpersonal model of God as the creative process. However, focusing on the immanence of God, there is a second correlation between methods of knowing and concepts of God. Classical empiricism, used by science, correlates with God understood nonpersonally as the creative process. Radical empiricism, in which feelings and not only sense perceptions have cognitive import, opens up the possibility that one can experience Peacocke’s personal, panentheistic God as pattern-forming influence. I illustrate this second method-concept correlation with a personal experience.

2008. “Understanding and Responding to Human Evil: a Multicausal Approach,” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, September.

Abstract. One task of religion is delivering human beings from evil within and between themselves. Defining good as well-being or functioning well, evil as impaired functioning, and doing evil as impairing the functioning of others, this essay explores how religions in consort with other social institutions might understand and respond to evil in light of contemporary scientific knowledge. To understand evil I use a multicausal approach that includes both biological and sociocultural environmental causes. I illustrate the use of this approach by analyzing how we might understand and respond to human rage and violence.

2010. “Why Zygon? The Journal’s Original Visions and the Future of Religion-and-Science.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science. June.

Abstract. This essay briefly examines the original visions of Zygon, how they helped explain the publication of a new journal, and what they imply for where we might be going today.

Previous Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *