by Susan L. Barreto and Philip Hefner
The Zygon Center for Religion and Science and Zygon Journal, with support from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago and the John Templeton Foundation, hosted a symposium February 9 and 10 on Arthur Peacocke’s lifelong work of narrowing the gulf between science and belief.
The project likely began with a series of questions in Peacocke’s own heart and mind. A biochemist and a priest in the Anglican Church, Peacocke died last October after publishing more than two hundred papers and twelve books on theology and science. He became one of the world’s greatest thinkers on humankind’s struggle to find a bridge between evolutionary theory and Christian faith. The two-day series of lectures attracted nearly one hundred participants – including scientists, theologians and seminary students.
“We cherish Arthur in Chicago, but we realize he belongs to the world,” said Philip Hefner, editor of Zygon Journal. Rosemary Peacocke, Arthur Peacocke’s wife and guest of honor, noted that he would have been surprised and honored at the symposium’s turnout and the enthusiasm of its participants. Ian Barbour, considered to be the “Dean of Religion and Science” studies, paid tribute to Peacocke and traced the interaction of the two men over the years.
Keynote speaker Gloria L. Schaab, assistant professor of systematic theology at Barry University, focused on Peacocke’s early work in uncovering the correct framework of dialogue between scientists and theologians. While science analyzes what’s observable, theology is based on the infinite, unfathomable reality, she said.
“Concerning finite reality in science and infinite reality in theology, Peacocke proposes that each must speak critically and somewhat skeptically,” Schaab said. “The theologian and the scientist must strive to demonstrate as clearly as possible that the reality which each investigates truly exists.” This brand of inquiry is what Peacocke dubbed ‘critical realism’ – the idea that science and theology can refer to the realities they investigate but neither can literally describe them.
The concept of God as ‘cosmic composer’ was explored in the responding panel of Wentzel van Huyssteen, Princeton Theological Seminary’s James I. Mc- Cord Professor of Theology and Science, and Karl Peters, professor emeritus of philosophy and religion at Rollins College and co-editor of Zygon Journal.
Antje Jackelén, departing director of the Zygon Center for Religion and Science, opened the second day’s schedule of seminars with her paper on “An Intellectually Honest Theology.” Peacocke proposed an intellectually honest theology that deals with questions that must be asked. If those questions are not asked, humanity will ultimately pay with a loss of meaning, Jackelén said.
Philip Clayton, professor of theology at Claremont Graduate School, focused on Peacocke’s concept of hierarchies. He concluded that current scientific views fit closely with Peacocke’s idea of a hierarchy of interlocking complex systems that have a determinative effect on the whole of nature.
Ann Pederson, a professor of religion at Augustana College, Sioux Falls, S.D., spoke on Peacocke’s “Christology for a Scientific Age,” and the impact the science and religion dialogue has had on her first-year students. Pederson and Peacocke co-authored the book Music of Creation in 2005.
Pederson highlighted Peacocke’s belief that Christ embraces nature in all its particulars, inclusive in that he embodies all of God’s intentions for his creation. For him Pederson said, “To be Christologically informed is to serve one’s neighbor. And who is our neighbor? It is the world around us.”
Peacocke’s final book, All That Is: A Naturalistic Faith for Twenty-First Century, was written in the months immediately before his death. This book is a compact expression of his conviction that faith can be understood and articulated in constructive interaction with contemporary science. Fortress Press published this work in book form for the symposium. The book includes Peacocke’s proposal and ten scholarly responses, to which Peacocke in turn responded. Nancey Murphy, professor of philosophy at Fuller Seminary, Donald Braxton, professor of religious studies at Juniata College, and Philip Hefner, all of whom contributed to the volume, provided commentaries on All That Is.
The symposium concluded with presentations by two scientists. Northwestern University molecular biologist Gayle Woloschak, who showed how Peacocke’s early work studying the nature of hydrogen bonds in DNA helped lead to the discovery of DNA’s true structure. He also pioneered the chemicals used to study DNA, which are still in use in laboratories today, she said. Paul Heltne, president emeritus of the Chicago Academy of Sciences and a senior research scholar with the Center for Humans and Nature, elaborated on Peacocke’s interpretation of evolutionary theory.
ZCRS and Zygon are grateful for this opportunity to honor a man who was a good friend and a foundational figure in bringing religion and science into meaningful conversation.
Through a grant from the John Templeton Foundation, the papers from this symposium are available on the website, zygonjournal.org, and in the March 2008 issue of the journal.