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Two books on the Nexus between Science, Religion, Nature and Humanity
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2009-10-12 07:34:43
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The Templeton Press has just issued an exciting book edited by James D. Proctor and titled Envisioning Nature, Science, and Religion which greatly enhances the ongoing science and religion dialogue. It echoes another In fact this book can be considered a worthy sequel to one which came out some six years ago by Willem B. Drees and titled Is Nature ever Evil? One book complements the other.

Proctor is professor and director of the Environmental Studies Program at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. With a background in geography, environmental science, and religious studies, his research primarily concerns concepts of nature, science, and religion, as well as contemporary environmental thought. He is also a coeditor of Geography and Ethics: Journeys in a Moral Terrain.

Contemporary scholarship has given rise to several different modes of understanding biophysical and human nature, each of which is entangled with related notions of science and religion. Envisioning Nature, Science, and Religion represents the culmination of three years of collaboration by an international group of fourteen natural scientists, social scientists, humanists, and theologians. The result is an intellectually stimulating volume that explores how the ideas of nature pertain to science and religion.

Editor James D. Proctor has gathered sixteen in-depth essays, each of which examines and compares different aspects of five central metaphors or "visions" of biophysical and human nature. These visions are evolutionary nature, emergent nature, malleable nature, nature as sacred, and nature as culture. The book's diverse contributors offer a wide variety of unique perspectives on these five visions, spanning the intellectual spectrum and proposing important and often startling implications for religion and science alike. Throughout the essays, the authors do a great deal of cross-referencing and engaging each other's ideas, creating a cohesive dialogue on the visions of nature. Envisioning Nature, Science, and Religion offers a blend of scholarly rigor and readable prose that will be appreciated by anyone engaged in the fields of religion, philosophy, and the natural sciences.

In our post-modern era one frequently hears calls for a return to tribalism and tropicalism and even cannibalism adopted as a metaphor of sort: the so called antropophagic approach which later inspired tropicalism and tribalism in Brazil. What are even more ominous are the calls to a trans-humanity that transvalues values and goes beyond humanity or human nature as we know it, somewhat redolent of Nietzsche’s Overman, but applying mechanistic scientific technological Hobbesian principles to human nature doing away even with the Nietzschean poetical prophetic approach to the call of the trans-conventionally human.

The question thus naturally arises: can one call nature “evil”? Or is life a continual struggle; a mere matter of eating and being eaten, where value judgments should not be applied especially if one, like primitive tribal man, considers oneself part of nature and lives in harmony with it? Is nature beautiful? Or is beauty in the eye of the beholder? Berkley thought that he had disposed of that problem declaring that without an observing mind there is no world and there is no beauty either.

Nevertheless, scientists, ignoring Berkeley, went on their merry way, often pretending that their disciplines only describe and analyze natural processes in factual terms, without making evaluative statements regarding reality. But the questions persists: are scientists also driven by the beauty of that which they study? Are they appalled by suffering they encounter, and look for technical or medical means to improve nature?

Outside of the scientific community, value judgments are even more common. Humans evaluate nature and natural processes in moral, aesthetic and religious terms as cruel, beautiful, hopeful or meaningless. Is nature ultimately good, with all suffering and evil justified in the context of the larger evolutionary process? Or is nature to be improved, via culture or technology, as it is considered less adequate than it could be?

In these two books, major scientists, theologians, and philosophers discuss these issues. As a study on the relations between religion and science, they are unique in emphasizing the evaluation of nature, rather than treating religion and science as competing or complementary casual explanations. By questioning some thoughtless assumptions of modernity understood in a Hegelian mode of inevitable progress, those two books give the reader plenty of food for thought and a pause in the mindless acceptance of the “politically correct” stances of the day.


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ap2009-10-12 15:00:47
'In our post-modern era one frequently hears calls for a return to tribalism and tropicalism and even cannibalism adopted as a metaphor of sort: the so called antropophagic approach which later inspired tropicalism and tribalism in Brazil.'
You obviously have very poor knowledge of the issue you're writing about - and you think that anthropophagism in Brazil was a simmetry of the one you know in the US or Europe, when in fact it was an irony of our own western cannibalism myths and theories. There are surely many difficulties (voluntary or not) when it comes to understanding this, even among our scholars. As I explained to you before as well, the generation of the tribalists has very little to do with amazonian tribes. And Tropicalism, by the way, was a cultural movement guided by principles which are now being adopted worldwide by young generations of creators.
ps. I suppose the US´s cultural agents are somehow afraid of the fact that Brazil can present an alternative American model to the world, guided by a different cultural matrix, more open and creative than the US, and by different values as well?? I can sense the panic in North America, but I can also sense it in several parts of Europe. Hummm a new economic giant, with an economy already sustained by green energies (not the case of the US nor many European countries) and a promising cultural potency as well, where people don't even speak english??? A country of mulattos can become one of the most developed in the world??!! I can feel the apprehension growing and the resistance coming, often in the form of unfundamented attacks and speculations or derision of Brazil's international image in the media. Even using a high number of rationalizations and deluded arguments to present something which is not the truth. That's sad.

ap2009-10-12 15:07:16
ps2. and what are you doing by taking advantage of previews explanations on the concepts of Tropicalism and the Tribalists, but degluting something which you don't even know to transform it into something that you know and can criticize, even if what you know is not at all equivalent to what you don't know (but you think you know)?? Independently of Tropicalism or the Tribalists (which are different movements), the Oswaldian anthropophagism ironies are still valid after all. One century after.

ap2009-10-12 15:27:29
It's also quite likely that many Brazilian creators don't see the world under the logics dominant-dominated, which is the logics unfortunatelly applied to every sphere of life (including the cultural one) by many in Europe or the US. If they would see the world in that perspective, they would have no dignity nor sense of self-value left (considering the attempts to dominate them), which is certainly not the case. So you see, the frames of reference are totally different. They don't even care if others consider them threatening emergent competitors - they're simply not in the same wave lenght and their purpose is not to compete or show that others are wrong or whatever, it is to create. Whole different attitude.

ap2009-10-12 15:30:09
That doesn't mean that some in the US or Europe can't have that new attitude too, but they are still a minority eaten by competitors. Hopefully the minority will grow.

Emanuel Paparella2009-10-12 15:54:53
What is conveniently side-stepped in this diatribe full of ad hominem attacks and parading as a dialogue of sort, is the more ominous trend, among activists out to debunk Western Civilization and its underpinning, toward dehumanization, or the trans-human world being constructed or in Nietzschean terms the Oberman who will transvalue values. Here is a link for the reader seriously interested in exploring the issue.


ap2009-10-12 22:06:29

Emanuel Paparella2009-10-13 06:10:48
The subtext to this one sided monologue parading as a “dialogue” seems to be this: I, as a Westerner have the right to criticize and indeed undermine the underpinnings of Western culture, especially its religious underpinnings, and brand it as the monster that has brought much uncivilized behavior to the rest of the world; and I can do this while paying homage to the Rousseaounian noble savage and to innocent indigenous cultures which are romantically thought to be the salvation of Western culture; I can do this while ignoring the fact that movements such as that of multiculturalism and tropicalism are theoretical philosophical movements that live and thrive on the critique of Western Civilization and uses “enlightenment” or romantic theories of civilization to question the very premise of civilization. Paradoxically, without intending it, those theorists are admitting what they would never admit when comparing the enlightenment to religious principles: that the enlightenment needs to enlighten itself. At the same time they fail to acknowledge that the culture of the “noble savage” (the indigenous people) and of the Black slave now imbedded in American cultures is what makes American Western culture (both North and South) somewhat different from strictly European Western culture. But that gives no pause to the political correctness of the “enlightened” European. Indeed, bad habits die hard.

ap2009-10-14 01:06:08
'Rousseaounian noble savage and to innocent indigenous cultures which are romantically thought to be the salvation of Western culture'
Now tell me - was Rousseau South American? So why do you insist in interpreting South American phenomena at the light of Western concepts? That's the main mistake. And tropicalism or the tribalists have nothing to do with original innocence or wanting men to return to a 'good savage' state, as I told you before - they have to do with the affirmation of a cultural attitude. Multiculturalism lives on the critique of Western civilization? So why are do our western societies want to be multicultural? No, it doesn't. Multiculturalism just postulates that there are multiple models possible, at the same time. This would not aggravate the polarities in our world, it would ease them. Multiculturalism has to be taken beyond the suburbs of our cities. To accept multiculturalism is to accept the world. The Other.
'fail to acknowledge that the culture of the “noble savage” (the indigenous people) and of the Black slave now imbedded in American cultures is what makes American Western culture (both North and South) somewhat different from strictly European Western culture'
Or can it be that the culture of the Brazilians in Europe, the one of the Mexicans in the US, the culture of the Bangladeshi in the UK are what can make our European or American western cultures look beyond their belly buttons? Actually, examples like these are their single oxygen balloons right now. Because we don't accept multiculturalism beyond the borders of our suburbs. We don't have it as an attitude, we have it as a policy.

ap2009-10-14 01:31:31
Exchange and circulation of human beings - those are subject to strict regulamentations because certain parts of the world need to 'keep their privileges' and are afraid to sink if most africans or mexicans or afghans flee - please tell me how can one talk about multiculturalism like that? first you feed conflicts elsewhere and cause in all sorts of ways the need to flee, then (or before that) you regulate all passages and just allow them in on 'illegal slave ships'. multiculturalism is obviously not the general attitude - we don't share our world with the whole world (only with the ones who come here, under certain conditions; if we happen to travel, most times we take our prejudices with us in such strong way that they stop any true exchange). We need to think about The Equal and abolish all strong/weak, savior/saved, cultured/uncultured, colonialist/exploited oppositions. Are we ready for that? If it wasn't for european and black, south american cultures would be mostly indigenous in their concepts. if it wasn't for indigenous and european, they would be mostly black (and we discount the millions of asians who emigrated to south america...). Do cultures have a colour? Why can't they be transparent instead? To allow all colours - and allow is different from 'tolerate'.

ap2009-10-14 02:05:02
The place for compassion is the place of culture. If there is no compassion, how can we have multi-culture? compartmentalized, as in most of our suburbs. that's not trans-culture as mainstream, that's just an organized crowd. there are individuals who transgress these micro-borders, and somehow that can even become a rule. but how about our big-scale borders? does one transgress by passing through customs? no, a whole different attitude is necessary. does one transgress by sending an email asking 'hello how are you, how are things over there?' to peru? maybe that transgresses more than going there to try ayahuasca or cocaine, or to cuba to pay for a girl, or to stay at a 5-star private club hotel in mozambique. that changes nothing, that just perpetuates stupid asymmetries. the truth is maybe 80% of the world in not worried with changing anything, that's not a priority for them.

ap2009-10-15 03:31:08
and then we sadistically victmize victims by stating that 'they cannot even save themselves'. but since you are a philosopher, please tell me why more than 50% of humans are simply cannibalistic, if they have the chance to. some 30% of those are very aggressive, and from those half are worst than the most dangerous animals. well, sorry to say but there's a reason to think that the jungle might be better than some sick human environments. for those who 'cannot save themselves', at least.

Emanuel Paparella2009-10-15 07:08:50
In an essay-review titled Post Darwinism: The New Synthesi, reviewing Ecological Developmental Biology: Integrating Epigenetics, Medicine, and Evolution, by by Scott F. Gilbert and David Epel, William Grassie makes an interesting observation which is relevant to the above discussion. Says he: “The image of man affects the nature of man, observed Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel. “We become what we think of ourselves”. We cannot avoid the Naturalistic Fallacy; the only question is how to relate the “Is” and the “Ought.” Let’s be sure we use science to the best of our ability to get the “Is” of nature as accurate as possible, because we will surely morph that “Is” into political economy, social policies, behavioral norms, and child-rearing practices. Gilbert and Epel note that “If we think of ourselves as killer apes, certain behavioral phenotypes are acceptable that would not be socially allowed if we view humans as the current apex of an evolutionary trend towards cooperation”.

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