|Mark Graves, Visiting Research Assistant Professor
University of Notre Dame
During the fellowship, I will explore and develop a foundation for a novel integrative approach to science and religion at the intersection of theological anthropology and artificial intelligence (AI). Drawing upon resources in psychology amd philosophy, I plan to develop computational and theological models of the human person, specifically models built from texts of religious, moral, or spiritual significance, such as classic theological texts or long-form interviews within moral psychology studies. The models capture and make explicit the semantic meaning within the text, and thus its descriptive psychological or normative theological features, and can be used for further exploration within digital humanities (for theology) and moral theology (as applied to AI technology). In particular, the initial texts will be chosen to investigate moral and religious dispositions (classically, habitus) important for virtue development and spiritual formation.
|Sander Klaasse, Postdoctoral Researcher in Science and Theology
VU University Amsterdam
Whilst science is often understood as having officially no opinion regarding life’s fundamental questions, such as morality and the meaning of life, some, however, have intended to expand the boundaries of science in such a way as to normatively support conclusions about existential questions. In moral philosophy, for example, an ‘empirical turn’ has emerged, according to which recent scientific findings in neurosciences, linguistics, and evolutionary psychology are considered to be significant determinants as to how we should live. Contrary to these expansionist developments in the science of morality, many theologians seem to consider science and its methods as irrelevant to theological enquiries; they prefer what critics might call an ‘armchair approach’, in which theological views are pronounced on the basis of traditions and intuitions rather than experiments and observations. Although there may be sound reasons for such an approach, a theology that is entirely disengaged with the sciences seems to be an untenable position to hold nowadays.In my postdoctoral project, I intend to examine the possibility of applying methodological scientism to the field of systematic theology, just as this has been done to the field of moral philosophy. My assumption is that scientific findings and its methods could be considered as significant determinants in theological matters, alongside – or perhaps even reshaping – the prevalent systematic, historical, and literary approaches, and could be used in a theological context as tools to overcome theological or, more generally, religious disagreement. Ideally, then, this postdoctoral project envisions an empirical approach to dogmatics, providing an experimental framework for theologians that enables them to explore theological issues in cooperation with other academic disciplines, whilst at the same time maintaining a rather firm systematic theological profile. This will hopefully lead to a stronger engagement amongst theologians with the sciences, and allow them to demonstrate the relevance of theology within the wider academia.
|Rope Kojonen, Fellow in Theology & Science
University of Helsinki
There is a broad consensus that theism and evolution are compatible, though models of exactly how they should be related vary widely. Yet the general compatibility of theism and evolution does not yet establish that there is positive evidence of purpose in biology, any more than such evidence can be seen in “the course which the wind blows” (Darwin 1876). Evolutionary explanations for biology’s apparent teleology (or teleonomy) have traditionally been understood to eliminate any need or basis for biological design arguments, such as those used by the contemporary Intelligent Design movement. Since theistic evolutionists accept the viability of Darwinian explanations for this apparent teleology, it at least initially seems that the appeal to biological design as evidence of a Creator is unavailable to them. Furthermore, the course of evolution seems to be quite contingent, making the idea of a purpose behind evolution seem incredible to many, and at most credible from within a pre-existing faith-based worldview. Yet for such a reading to be plausible to “read into” nature, or for it to be possible to defend the order of biology of a sign of the Creator’s wisdom, theology should engage with the best biological science and the philosophy of religion. My project explores the grounds of a theistic interpretation of biological teleology as evidence of the Creator in a Darwinian universe.
|Mikael Leidenhag, Research Fellow in Theology and Science
University of Edinburgh
My research is focused on the relationship between natural teleology and Christian eschatology. Christian eschatology typically maintains that God is transforming the universe into a New Creation. Nature is progressing towards a transcendent future and is, therefore, profoundly teleological. Yet, modern science, and evolutionary biology in particular, is usually hostile to teleological concepts. I evaluate the philosophical coherency of naturalistic, quasi-naturalistic, reductive and non-naturalistic accounts of teleology, and asses their theological implications for an eschatological understanding of creation.
|Nathan Lyons, Research Fellow
I work on the philosophy and theology of nature in dialogue with medieval thought and contemporary evolutionary theory. In my project I explore how a number of new emphases in evolutionary theory (phenotypic plasticity, genetic accommodation, niche construction, evo-devo) can be analysed in terms of creaturely co-creation. I am particularly interested in the ways that organism agency can exert a non-trivial influence on the evolutionary futures of species. My primary historical source is the fifteenth century theologian Nicholas of Cusa, who understands the human being as a ‘living image’ of the divine life that can paint itself, as it were, into new forms. I argue that recent developments in evolutionary theory invite us to extend this anthropology backwards into the biological order in a way that recognises creative agency in pre-human nature.
|Brett McCarty, St Andrews Fellow in Theology and Science
Duke Divinity School
Modern medicine is a crucial and underexplored site of interaction between theology and science. In practices of modern medicine, theological and scientific assumptions are inscribed in the bodies of both patients and practitioners. During this fellowship, building on my prior work examining how the body is understood and encountered within the modern research hospital, I will explore the urgent and complex world of pain management. Through ethnographic work in eastern Tennessee, an area particularly affected by the U.S. opioid crisis, I will reflect on unexamined theological and scientific imaginaries that underlie contemporary management of pain and on the relationship between descriptions offered by theology and science and prescriptions regarding human flourishing. I will then put forward a constructive account of how theology and science can work together in contemporary management of pain to assist those who are ill and in pain in making peace with their bodies, with others, and with God.
|Daniel Pedersen, Postdoctoral Research Fellow
University of Exeter
In this project I aim to offer a modern account of the origins of sin that meets important theological criteria and that at the same time sees human sin as part of evolutionary history – even a product of it. I will do this utilizing recent primatological findings, paleoanthropology, and Darwinian theory, in an account of the origins of sin that attempts to reconstruct human evolutionary history as well as possible. This account will be recognizable to the tradition yet will, more importantly, be supported by the best scientific research on human history and our closest living ancestors.
|Sarah Lane Ritchie, Research Fellow in Theology & Science
University of St Andrews
My research is focused on naturalistic conceptions of consciousness, and more specifically the sorts of theological opportunities that arise when one takes seriously scientific approaches to human cognition and mentality. Currently I am exploring the neurobiology and cognitive science of belief formation, with special emphasis on how one might direct one’s own religious belief – e.g., via the use of liturgy, religious activity, and other ‘spiritual technologies’ that enhance one’s felt experience of spiritual realities.
|Bethany Sollereder, Postdoctoral Fellow in Science and Religion
University of Oxford
My project, coined “Compassionate Theodicy”, is intended to find a way to shift the audience and purpose of theodicy. Instead of addressing a skeptical academic audience and relying on formal philosophical “satisfactions”, my project hopes to find a way to link some of the discoveries and perspectives in theodical literature with the pastoral needs of Christian believers. The key question is: “How can the discipline of theodicy offer resources to help people reorient their thinking in ways that makes suffering more bearable?”
|Tobias Tan, Research Associate in Science and Religion
University of Cambridge
Scientific research in the field of ‘embodied cognition’ is revealing ways in which human cognition is influenced by bodily and environmental factors. These findings deepen our understanding of embodied religious practices such as rituals, which choregraph the bodies of practitioners and curate their material environments in ways that may have distinctive cognitive effects. Many of these cognitive effects, however, operate below the threshold of conscious awareness, raising the question of whether they undermine rational control over our behaviour. In light of this question, my research will examine the rationality of embodied religious practices, interrogating how such practices, and our understanding of their cognitive effects, may compromise or enhance rational control.
|Matthew Whelan, Postdoctoral Fellow in Theology & Science
My research agenda lies at the intersection of theology and agroecology, the so-called science of unstainable agriculture. Agroecology integrates ecology into agriculture, and it characteristically looks to local ecosystems as the most appropriate model for agricultural practice, with farmers, in effect, seeking to mimic the ecology of the locale. In proceeding in this way, agroecology evokes certain lines of natural law reflection within the Christian theological tradition, in which the created order displays God’s wisdom—even if in a fragmentary and imperfect fashion—and human beings have something to learn from close attention to it. My research explores what natural law tradition and agroecology can learn from one another about natural order, the place of humans within it, and the tilling and keeping of the world. In addition to holding advanced degrees in theology from Duke University and agroecology from Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza in Costa Rica, I also have extensive experience working with farming communities in Costa Rica and Honduras. Currently, I live in Waco, Texas with my wife Natalie and our three children.
|Adam Willows, Research Fellow
University of Leeds
In describing morality, thinkers like Aquinas and Kant have often pointed to reason: moral opinions are opinions about independent facts, and we arrive at them by reasoning about those facts. Conversely, many modern scientists from various disciplines favour the sentimentalist view that moral opinions are grounded in our feelings or attitudes. My project aims to show that essential rationalist commitments are not at odds with work in the sciences, but rationalists must take on board work on the nature of cognition and the role of emotion in moral action. The theological and moral significance of human rationality can be affirmed without diminishing the importance of emotion in moral action.
|Kevin Nordby, Research & Teaching Fellow
University of St Andrews
I am researching a handful of projects that all fall within the new interdisciplinary context known as analytic theology. In particular, I am investigating religious experience from epistemological, neuroscientific, and theological frameworks. More specifically, I am concerned with: determining how contemporary theories of self-knowledge may effect mainstreams view of religious experience; articulating a new way ‘common-sense epistemology’, religious experience, and sceptical theism can fit together; determining what proper distinctions set apart conceptions of religious experience and revelation; and proposing a neo-Alstonian defence of beliefs based on (purported) religious experiences by way of re-assessing the epistemology and neuroscience of perception.
In addition to these topics, I am very interested in what religion can learn from the psychology of fundamental meaning-making groups. For example, the family unit often functions as a primary meaning-maker in the lives of individuals. It seems that one’s identity within religious groups also operates as a primary meaning-maker in the lives of individuals. Contemporary psychology offers us a great deal of insight and understanding into how families operate—how they go wrong and how they go right. If some patterns are multiply realized across fundamental meaning-making groups, then perhaps religious groups can learn from family system psychology in order to more effectively drive their own flourishing and avoid negative patterns (e.g., abuse, religious trauma, etc.).
Finally, my last project is what I take to be perhaps the most significant: I am fascinated by how one engages students effectively. Effective teaching is too often taken for granted as simple or automatic. With this in mind, the study of effective teaching and learning experiences will guide my approach to the above research areas.