"Except for the point, the still point, there would be no dance, and there is only the dance." ~ T.S. Eliot in "Burnt Norton"

Sunday, November 25, 2012

For years movies have been depicting robots with artificial intelligence. Some AI robots are depicted with human characteristics. The video below depicts "The Uncanny Valley", a spot where robot features become too close to human ones. 

1. Why do people get scared of robots that have AI with human features but like the AI robots with non-human features?
2. Do you believe this is true? 
3. Cartoon AI robots are considered "cute" but scientists strive to make AI robots that look very much like humans. Does this mean that we are trying to create them "in our image" like God created us?
4. Is this arrogant of us to believe we can recreate humans? 
5. Also do you believe that we will ever be able to have a fully automated robot that thinks and acts like a human would? 
6. What are the repercussions of this happening?

Please watch the video below that explains more about "The Uncanny Valley" and have fun discussing.

-Carrie W, Patrick C, and Chris S

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sins Against the Planet: Is Theology Responsible for the Consequences of Science?

Photo: An abandoned church in a mining town
 in Oregon that was deserted after the mine closed.

According to Lynn White in her article, “The Historical Roots of the Ecological Crisis,” the word ecology did not appear in the English language until 1873.  This was during the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, which introduced a litany of new issues and questions into society that are still being addressed today.  At the core of these issues, we must challenge the conception that humanity has sovereignty over the Earth. According to both of the class readings, theological belief may have part in humanity’s lackadaisical attitude toward the environment. While Christianity may have encouraged a dominion of humanity on Earth I don’t think it’s accurate at say, as White does that Christianity is at the helm of the ecological crisis.  I don’t deny either that there is something to the attitude of entitlement that surrounds the ecological crisis that seems latent in some aspects of religion.  As White points out, Pagan traditions were more outright considerate of the environment while Christianity seems to put the Earth completely at man’s disposal.  That said, I think it’s important to raise the following question: Is the attitude of human dominion that theological belief (consider Catholicism especially) has encouraged responsible for the ecological crisis?  To what extent has science teamed with this aspect of theological belief in its pursuit of industrial and technological advancement?  Also consider the opposite—are scientists who are searching for ways to help the environment operating under theological ideals or are they following a moral compass devoid of religious influence? Does science need some aspects of theological belief be motivated to save the planet?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The God Spot / Koren Helmet

Neurotheology: “The attempt to explain religious experience and behavior in neuroscientific terms.”

In the series “Through the Wormhole,” Morgan Freeman features a study being preformed by neurotheologists whom are attempting to explain the “correlations between neural stimulation and spiritual experience.” Called ‘The God Spot,’ neurologists believe they have specified a part of the brain that, when correctly stimulated by magnetic energy, will provide users with experiences that are comparable to the spiritual and out of body experiences usually associated with God intervention.

To research ‘The God Spot,’ Stanley Koren, a member of Laurentian University’s Neuroscience Department, created a helmet with the directions of Dr. Michael Persinger, that containing magnetic coils that are strategically aimed at the right temporal lobe. Many test subjects claim that when wearing the Koren Helmet they experienced “out-of-body feelings, apparitions floating around them, sensations of weightlessness, and many other strange phenomena.” Throughout all the testing, scientists discovered that about “80% of test subjects experienced remarkable visions and some sensed the presence of something else in the chamber.”

Now the big question is are these visions truly visions of God? The right temporal lobe, the area that the Koren Helmet stimulates, is responsible for auditory perception, processing of speech and vision, and language functions. It seems that the feelings the test subjects encountered may be false. This could be because parts of the brain related to the experiences of the test subjects are being more intensely activated. The inquiry scientists put on the table when debating this experiment is whether or not the "God-Spot" is a region of the brain that evolved so that humans can communicate with a higher power, or a simply region we developed to create a "comfort blanket" for ourselves amidst the violence that we experience in the world.

Other Questions:
What causes some of the test subjects to relate their encounters to a godly like occurrence?
Is ‘The God Spot’ a spot that creates the illusion of God or is it the spot that allows communication with god?




Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Evolution vs. Creationism

Merriam-Webster Dictionary has defined the definition of evolution as:

A theory that the various types of animals and plants have their origin in other preexisting types and that the distinguishable differences are due to modifications in successive generations

It also defines creationism as:

A doctrine or theory holding that matter, the various forms of life, and the world were created by God out of nothing and usually in the way described in Genesis

Charles Darwin, one of the founding fathers of evolution, explained the means of evolution in his Origin of Species.  His evolution theory is a premise on natural selection, which is based on survival of the fittest, random variations, and struggle for survival.  This finding over time has become, widely known as Social Darwinism, a major attack on Scripture.  This challenges God as the designer and the status of humanity. 

Here are the counter-arguments from non-creationists:

Creationism is based on the religious belief that there is an intellectual designer of the universe, humanity, and Earth.  The prominent group of these believers is Christian Fundamentalists, who specifically believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible.  They target against the theory of evolution.

William Paley introduced the watchmaker analogy in his Natural Theology, which stated that there is an intelligent designer.  Creationists often use this analogy to support their claims against the theory of evolution. 

Here are some questions for you guys to consider:

1.     What is your view on the controversy between evolution and creationism?
2.     Is Evolution just a theory? Does Creationist have solid evidence to argue against Evolution?
3.     Scopes Trial led to the questioning of the teaching of evolution as being part of the public school curriculum.  What is your take on this matter?  Should just evolution, creationism, or both be taught in the public school system?
4.     Earlier we’ve read John Paul II’s address on the need for a dialogue relationship between religion and science, which maintains both identity and integrity.  Do you agree with this? If not which one of Barbour’s taxonomy would you classify the two?

     Happy discussing!

     -Khulan, Riley and Ryan 


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Scientists and Their Religious Philosophies

The world would be a different place without science and would be equally different without religion; in fact, it can be argued that humanity as we know it would not exist without either. There are many obvious examples of scientists who have either battled with the church or bolstered her ideas, and Galileo is perhaps one of the most famous. Here we explore three more scientists who have revolutionized our thoughts about how our world works and their relation to faith. Some of them are more tightly connected than we often realize!

Sir Isaac Newton’s achievements ranged across the fields of mathematics, physics, astronomy and natural philosophy. Perhaps no other scientist’s work was as important to the development of modern science as was his achievement. Newton, through his observations on gravity, limits and calculus, provided scientist with valuable tools through which to view the world and better understand its phenomena. What he described was an orderly world governed by natural laws that could be defined and understood. His three laws of motion and the universality of gravitation showed that a ball falling on the earth and a planet orbiting a star were subject to the same rules. In his tireless pursuit of an ordered explanation for the universe, Newton recognized the necessity of God’s truth. For him, God was the master craftsman who had created a world of such intricate beauty that his existence was manifest. However, he understood his laws as beginning a process that would lead to understanding all natural phenomena, and show that God was not intervening constantly in the world, but that he had set it up to work according to his laws. Newton believed God to be within the realm of comprehension of Human reason, and rejected the idea of the trinity and other religious memories. His ideas would lead to the Deist movement becoming prominent among the scientific community.

Sir Charles Darwin’s work was more closely caught up with his faith than most people realize. In his early work aboard the HMS Beagle, Darwin was looking for “centers of creation”—that is areas that he believed God had created separate species. He did, however, begin to doubt that the Bible contained literal historical truth, which became a stumbling block in his faith. He was heavily influence in his work by the problem of evil—that is, how a good God can allow evil things to happen? His predecessors like Malthus had sought to solve this problem by showing that the world was governed by immutable natural laws put in place by the creator. Thus even though these laws might cause great suffering—as in famines and starvation due to inadequate food supplies an overpopulation—eventually these laws would tend towards humanities greater good.  Darwin saw the same violence and competition in nature, and sought through evolution to show that the good of adaption was achieved without the direct involvement, and therefore complicity, of the creator. The more he studied, however, the harder he found it to reconcile a benevolent creator with the suffering he observed in nature and human society. He was especially hard hit by the death of his daughter, at which point he ceased attend church.

Albert Einstein is known for solving many of the world's previous scientific problems. He moved around throughout his early years, living in Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. Eventually he would become a citizen of the United States, but before that happened, much of his scientific work was already world-renowned. The theory of relativity is particularly well-known, I'm sure most of you can tell me that E=mc^2. He also got involved in quantum mechanics later in life. But Einstein is also known for his views and philosophy on faith. He was born into a Jewish family and left Germany before World War II because he argued with the politics of the country. Although he was Jewish and lived a good life, he did not believe in an immortal soul or free will, both of which are crucial elements of Christianity. He was, however, a pacifist and spent much time speaking out against war and he considered himself to be religious in that "The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as all serious endeavor in art and science. He who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind" ('My Credo' from a speech given in Berlin in 1932, http://www.einsteinandreligion.com/credo.html). He considered this to be the true basis of religion and therefore considered himself to be a religious person. 

All three of these scientists (including Galileo as well) made significant strides in the realms of science, religion, and to a degree philosophy. There are several questions we can ask ourselves and discuss, and we've included a list for you here.

~ Discuss some of the differences that have been made in our world thanks to these scientists' theories. How have they changed the way we live from the way things used to be?

~ Darwin's theories in particular rocked the world and the Church's way of thinking. How have the two reconciled to each other (or are they still disagreeing)?

~ If these scientists were to go out to lunch together, would they end up agreeing on matters of science and religion or growing farther apart?

~ For centuries, the Catholic Church and the Pope ruled the world just as much as the kings of France, Spain, England, etc, but by the time of Einstein, the Church had more or less fallen out of power as a monarchy of sorts and exists today as solely a religious institution. How did the scientific discoveries by these and other scientists act as a catalyst for that change? Was science what caused this or were there other factors that were more influential?

~ Lastly, has the Church grown more or less vigilant and how has that affected scientific discovery throughout the centuries, especially as these particular scientists published their discoveries?

Happy discussing!


- Jade and Sam

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The 'God Particle'

Can we use Science to explain God?  Scientists are claiming that they have found evidence of a sub-attomic particle that was used during the creation of the universe.  They are calling this particle the 'God Particle.'  
Here are some questions to think about:
        Can we reduce God to a particle?  
        If we could be 100% certain that this particle "is God," what would that mean for the        
                          religious community?   
        What do you think of scientists calling the newly discovered particle, 'God particle'? 
        Do you think this discovery is a step towards or away from a deeper understanding of   
        What gives scientists the right to try and discover God?  
        Why does science feel the need to try and discover God?


~Grace, Colleen, and Remy 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

When Did We Become Human?

There's an article out today on NPR with the above title. It's written by a woman who teaches Biological Anthropology and she brings up the idea that this is never an easy question to answer. And it seems that as we discover more, it becomes more difficult to answer rather than easier. Here's a link to the article for your viewing pleasure:
Have fun!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Relationship Between Science and Faith

The age-old relationship between science and religion, often characterized by conflict, is no longer just a matter for scientists and theologians. As more and more people have joined in the conversation, pop culture has caught on as well. From television to music, the search for Truth is not just found in textbooks but in media of all sorts. Today we are looking at a song by the Dublin-based band The Script, "Science and Faith," from their album of the same name. It discusses two aspects of the relationship between science and faith: conflict and discussion. Each of us has a different take on what this song means which we will be discussing individually in the comment section, but here are a few questions to get you started:

1. Is love something that can be identified or explained by science? Or does it transcend science?
2. Seeing as we use our five senses in the scientific process, and they are the basis for this process, would this imply that love transcends our senses? Is it something more than the chemical occurrences in our brain?
3. Is human emotion or intuition enough to validate something being real, such as hope or a soul, or do we need science to confirm its existence?

Happy discussing!

-Ben, Gretchen, and Molly

Video originally by
Song by The Script from Science and Faith, RCA Records 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Good-bye, Ray Bradbury

I've been wanting to write this post for a while, since that day over a month ago now that we all learned that Ray Bradbury had died. There are probably thousands of obituaries written for him by now, and, as the world moves quickly, I am sure it has already moved on, but I wanted to add my reflections.

I began writing this post just after Bradbury’s death, where I sat on my parents' back porch in Florida. It was a fitting place for me to begin to write about an author that I have come to think of as a friend even if all I knew of him were his words. It's fitting because that is where I first read his work, and the book I want to talk about in particular is the first one that I read and that shaped the way I think more than I can say. It was also, in as true a sense as I can say this, a transformational spiritual experience for me. This book, which I read while still a teenager, was Fahrenheit 451. 

Part of that trip home was to finally collect some things that have been sitting at my parents' house waiting for me. As part of this project my parents had set out some of these objects, especially my books. As I walked into the guest room and slung my bag from my shoulder onto the bed, I saw this book at the top of a pile on the nightstand. And so with Bradbury's death fresh in my mind, I picked the book up and turned through it's now yellowed pages scrawled with my underlinings and notes. On the flyleaf I found these equations (even then I thought about everything loosely in terms of mathematics):

Silence/thought = reading = value of life = feeling

Lack of thought/programmed thought = numbness = TV = lack of silence = selfishness (apathy) = the nothing(emptiness)

I suppose in my adolescent way, that sums up what I learned from this book: what the relationship is between thought and emotion and silence. And the place of reading within all of that. In the novel, society has turned on the written word in favor of banal television shows streamed across screens that take up entire walls (sound familiar?). Books are so despised and readers so mistrusted that the firemen in the story seek out houses with books and burn them to the ground. This is where the title comes from. Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which paper burns. Some people choose to die with their books, standing with them in the midst of the flames. It’s a disturbing story…but a beautiful story of a fireman who, through a pixie-like young girl, discovers the power of books and so the power of learning and critical thought and discovery.

Many years after first reading this story, I now teach classes that engage popular culture. I am as likely to write here on this blog about Doctor Who as I am about Dante, and yet what I learned from this book still holds true for me. And I have come to think of reading as an action that can happen to any text, and I define text with large, broad strokes. TV itself is not the issue. I think this book actually taught me that. It is the unexamined consumption of it, of anything, the decided lack of responsibility. And what Bradbury's book is fundamentally about is responsibility and learning to take it and live up to it. As I paged through the text, I found this passage starred and I think it speaks to what I mean:

"...when we had all the books we needed, we still insisted on finding the ghost cliffs to jump off. But we do need a breather. We do need knowledge. And perhaps in a thousand years we might pick smaller cliffs to jump off. The books are to remind us what asses and fools we are. They're Ceasar's praetorian guard, whispering as the parade roars down the avenue, ‘Remember, Ceasar, thou art mortal.’ Most of us can’t rush around, talk to everyone, know all the cities of the world, we haven’t time, money or that many friends. The things you’re looking for…are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book. Don’t ask for guarantees. And don’t look to be saved in any one thing, person, machine, or library. Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were headed for shore.”

Those are the kind of words to change someone’s life. That changed the life of a lanky teenage girl, already in love with books and with the world, but who needed that added push to “do her own bit of saving” and to not just easily pin the saving to the books themselves.

I went on a date recently with a man who told me he hated to read. I knew immediately that would be our only date, but beyond the obvious concern about my deep love of books and writing, it spoke to something else. Because what I heard wasn’t “I hate reading” but “I hate thinking.” Maybe that’s not fair…or maybe it is. Reading goes beyond the level of hobby. Bradbury taught me that it goes to the level of humanity and of humanity being what it is called to be, being its best. We all need to be taught to read, and I mean that in its broad sense, and sadly, some of us never learn. Maybe that is what my date really meant: I have never really learned to read. I don’t mean that he couldn’t make out letters. I mean that he couldn’t see beyond them in whatever form they came in, to all that they point to, to all that they hold. But somehow books themselves are connected to that very broad sense of reading. Bradbury knew this as he made them terrifying and compelling all at once. And he told the world. And some of us will never, ever forget it.

Thank you, Ray. Rest in peace.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Erik Ehn and A Child's Drawing of a Monster

I was recently in New York visiting friends of mine. These friends happen to be an actor, and a director and they (and a few other people) were putting on a collection of six short plays titled A Child's Drawing of a Monster by Erik Ehn, who teaches at Brown. For months my friend Ryan, the director mentioned above, had been telling me that I would love these plays and love Erik Ehn...and he was right. These plays, which are more like poems acted out, explore and circle around themes of Christianity, science, hospitality, domestic violence, and social justice. I left these plays still piecing them together, still drawing out the implications, still sorting through images and ideas...and I still am and probably will be for a while now. One of the things that most struck me about his work are the images that remain imprinted on my brain (in one of the plays I saw, three men stapled a woman's dress to a huge wooden disk and sent it back and forth between them, creating the most compelling and thoughtful image of rape I have ever seen) and his idea that "we always live in biblical times" and how that idea plays out in this work.

Here is a bit from Erik Ehn talking about the relationship between theater and peace and the importance of strangeness:

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Higgs Boson You Guys!

I woke up this morning with great anticipation to read the news. The same kind of anticipation, I suppose, that propels some people out of bed Christmas morning. An amazing discovery. I even teared up a little when Peter Higgs talked about how he didn't think this would happen in his lifetime.

I'm posting this song by Lungfish, called Fearfully and Wonderfully. For two reasons: 1) the singer of Lungfish (one of my favorite bands) is Dan Higgs, and in my head, the Higgs Boson particle is named after him. He's kind of a poet, and I think in times like this, we should turn to scientists and poets; and 2) it sort of explains how I'm taking this moment-- there is an unknown that could shake up a lot of what we know as the Universe-with-a-capital-U, which can be fearful, but also wonderful.