Our world seems to be mired in anxiety and fear, and civic discourse has degenerated to accusations, outright lies and rhetoric. While we hear calls to “drain the swamp,” any common understanding of what that means, and a willing consensus required to achieve it, seems to eludes us. Perhaps we are looking at the situation from too narrow a perspective. It is not just our politicians that are lost in the marsh. It is our spiritual life, too.
Sexuality seems to be a simple binary characteristic of human and animal physiology. But modern science has begun to unravel some extraordinary complexities in the way male and female physiology and behavior develops, and reveals a wide variety in how individuals experience their sexuality. Many of our cultural ideas about sexuality need to change.
Biologist Stephen J. Gould in 1989 (Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History) theorized that evolution is essentially random, and that if “the tape of life” for evolution were to be rerun, the end result would be entirely different. New research is increasingly challenging that view. Certain evolutionary outcomes have emerged more than once — and some appear to be inevitable. These are not exceptions to the laws of nature, but essential outcomes of mathematical and environmental constraints. Purpose seems to be deeply ingrained in the fabric of life.
I’m a big believer in science and the significant benefits it has brought to human civilization. However, I’m also a skeptic when it comes to the “science knows all” attitude that has been so prevalent in modern culture. Ancient cultures and practices have great wisdom to share, as well. We should be willing to question the conventional modern “scientific” mythologies — and be open to the possibility of finding truth in ancient wisdom.
On August 29th, the Working Group on the ‘Anthropocene’ (AWG) reported its summary of evidence and provisional recommendations to the 35th International Geological Congress. They conclude that this new epoch has replaced the Holocene (which started approximately 12,000 years ago), and is characterized by the dominant influence of human activity on the earth’s geology and climate.
As noted in the Economist (2-27-16, p71), Michael Desai and his colleagues at Harvard (article published in Nature) report that “Sex Speeds Adaptation by Altering the Dynamics of Molecular Evolution.” The findings arise from Desai’s research with yeast, which reproduces both sexually and asexually. This feature has allowed Desai et al to experiment with the evolution of mutations in yeast populations that are limited to either one or the other reproductive modes.
Desai Lab, Harvard
We have spent some time in this forum on the issues of bias and uncertainty, and recently included posts dealing with these challenges in medical testing and reproducibility in psychological research. All these findings support the call for humility in claims about what we know and, more importantly, what the experts think they know. Drs. Adam Cifu and Vinayak Prasad have recently addressed the extent of these problems in the practice of medicine in their book: Ending Medical Reversal: Improving Outcomes, Saving Lives (2015). (more…)
I recently read a series of articles dealing with conscience and culture posted under the Questions for a Resilient Future project of the Center for Humans and Nature. At about the same time, I also read a briefing in The Week on the CRISPR technique that has vastly simplified gene editing – the headline is titled “Editing the human race.” (See also the post in this forum: “Engineering Better Babies” November 20, 2015.) CRISPR is one among many technologies that, by their very existence, test our collective conscience. (more…)
Modern humans tend to be afraid of fire, as it can be such an uncontrollable and destructive force. At the same time, our modern comforts all depend on the energy of controlled fire, and we retain a romantic fascination with fire, whether it’s a cozy fire in the living room, a campfire in the woods, or the pyrotechnic display of fireworks on July 4th. Only rarely do we think about fire as a creative, inspirational and transformational force. Yet that may be its ultimate, defining characteristic in nature, in economics and in human spirituality.
Lydia Pyne, in her article “Our Neanderthal Complex – What if our ancient relatives did “human” better?”, published in Nautilus online in May, offers an intriguing fresh look at the mythology of the brutish “cave-man” that roamed Europe tens of thousands of years ago. While Neanderthals were first identified some 150 years ago, they were promptly relegated to inferior status, a failed and dead species when compared to modern humans. (more…)
Thomas Pynchon, in his sprawling novel Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), exhibited a fascination for the peculiar mathematics of the Poisson Distribution, a pattern exhibited in certain random sequences (including the location of German rocket strikes in London during WWII). Sometimes referred to as a “law of rare events”, the Poisson distribution has proven to apply to such disparate phenomena as: the volume of Internet traffic; deaths per year in a given age group; DNA mutations resulting from radiation; goals scored in sports with two competing teams; etc. (more…)
This summer two curious scientific findings were reported, both dealing with the effects of gender, but in very different circumstances. The odd juxtaposition raises interesting questions about gender bias and suggests that in some cases it is deeply subliminal, rather than cultural – and inscribed in the actual biochemistry of the body. This also suggests that there is a kind of subliminal reasoning built into our bodies and in life as a whole that deserves careful consideration.
The Social Conquest of Earth (2012) by preeminent entomologist Edward O. Wilson is a marvelous and deep work by a master scientist and storyteller that documents the evolution and advancement of humankind through the intertwined processes of individual and group selection. However, for me the work is marred by a dogmatic anti-religious bias that belies Wilson’s own commitment to dispassionate inquiry. Wilson moreover fails to acknowledge the hard limits to scientific knowledge and understanding – limits that can only be crossed by transcendent forms of understanding which empirical study cannot provide. (more…)
On May 16, 2011, about 20 participants joined in the second ISAS discussion forum. Our guest was Dr. Reuben Bell, and he reviewed his background in science and religion and the “two hats” he experienced growing up in Oklahoma – one a firmly religious, fundamentalist background – the second a positivist, scientifically based education. Eventually he left the first hat behind, but always wondered if the two hats could be united in a consistent spiritual-natural framework. He then gave us a stunning introduction to his current initiative – the development of a theistic synthesis of the science of natural evolution. (more…)
By Reuben P. Bell, DO, MS, MDiv
The dialogue between science and religion has reached an impasse over the claims by some scientists that certain biological structures or processes are just too complex to have come about by the mechanism of Natural Selection as set forth in the doctrines of the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis (the marriage of Darwinian theory with modern genetics). (more…)
From the earliest years after the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859), debates raged about the failure of evolution by natural selection to provide for empathy, that most human of human traits. The controversy has continued ever since – and ISAS will tackle this and related subjects on May 16 at a discussion forum featuring Dr. Reuben Bell. At the same time, noted mathematical biologist Martin A. Nowak has released a groundbreaking book entitled Supercooperators: The Mathematics of Evolution, Altruism and Human Behaviour (Or, Why We Need Each Other to Succeed) (2011). (more…)