Bannan Institute Symposium

Science and Seeking: Rethinking the God Question in the Lab, Cosmos, and Classroom Bannan Institute Symposium
February 28-March 1, 2014

Open to the public, $25 registration (scholarships available)

Registration is free for students

All events take place in the Recital Hall.

Pre-registration for the Symposium has now closed. If you have not yet registered and would like to, please send an email to with your expressed interest. Please note that due to ordering restriction, we may be unable to provide food for late registrants. Thanks for your interest and understanding.

With the many advances in biology and cosmology, the question of the relation of science to theology has become more acute and yet filled with new possibilities for rethinking the God question in the lab, cosmos, and classroom. Is there a third way beyond the polarizations of the current debates? This symposium brings together leading thinkers in the fields of science and religion to highlight new horizons in the ongoing endeavor to understand more deeply what it is to be human in an evolving universe.

Session I: Science and Seeking after Darwin

Science after Darwin: The Lineage of Evolutionary Biology and George John Romanes
Donald R. Forsdyke, Professor of Biochemistry, Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, Queen’s University
February 28, 2014 | 6:30 – 7:15 p.m.

Although referred to as ‘Darwin’s disciple,’ George Romanes went far beyond his mentor, in evolutionary theory, neuroscience, comparative psychology, and philosophy/theology. Building on the work of philosopher William Clifford, he extended our ‘theory of mind’ of another person or animal, to the question of mind in the universe. However, neither Clifford nor Romanes saw mind and biological inheritance in informational terms. The information idea traces from Samuel Butler to Richard Semon, from Semon to Erwin Schrödinger, and thence into the modern era (Shannon, Weiner, Chargaff, Watson and Crick). This view harmonizes with insights arising from modern DNA research and some startling recent developments in brain research.

Donald R. Forsdyke is Professor of Biochemistry, Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario. He is the author of numerous papers in scientific journals related to the study of immunology, AIDS, genomics and evolution. He is the author of a scientific biography of George Romanes entitled: The Origin of Species, Revisited. A Victorian who Anticipated Modern Developments in Darwin's Theory. (McGill-Queen's University Press. 2001) and Evolutionary Bioinformatics (Springer, 2003, 2011).

Seeking after Darwin: The Loss of Unbelief and George John Romanes
John David Pleins, Professor, Department of Religious Studies, Santa Clara University
February 28, 2014 | 7:15 – 8:00 p.m.
Reception immediately following

The stereotype of the 19th century is that a crisis of faith engendered skepticism among the scientifically minded. However, the recent recovery of a lost manuscript of memorial poems in honor of Charles Darwin written by his close colleague George John Romanes complicates this picture. This talk will discuss Romanes’ struggle over questions of science and religious belief as found in this unique collection. This talk celebrates the acquisition of the original Romanes manuscript by Santa Clara University.

John David Pleins, Ph.D. (University of Michigan) is Professor of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University. He is the author of The Evolving God: Charles Darwin on the Naturalness of Religion (Bloomsbury, 2013) and When the Great Abyss Opened: Classic and Contemporary Readings of Noah's Flood (Oxford, 2003). Pleins's research and teaching interests include mythology, debates over Genesis, biblical social ethics, and theodicy. He has also done archaeological work in Jordan. His current research is on the religious worldview of George Romanes, an evolutionary biologist and close associate of Charles Darwin (Bloomsbury, forthcoming). 

Session II: Truth and Goodness in God and Nature

Can Theology Make Sense of Evolution?
John Haught, Distinguished Research Professor and Senior Fellow, Science and Religion, Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University
March 1, 2014 | 9 – 9:45 a.m.

Is there room for a theological understanding of life after Darwin? Today many scientific thinkers, especially those familiar with biology, claim that neo-Darwinian science has made the idea of God superfluous. The very features of life that previously led religious believers to trust in God now seem to admit of a purely natural explanation. Can we expect scientifically educated people to believe that these features of life may still have a religious meaning in a post- Darwinian world? This lecture offers a theological way toward understanding Darwin’s religiously unsettling ideas based on the author’s recent book Making Sense of Evolution: Darwin, God, and the Drama of Life (WJK Press, 2010).

John F. Haught is the Distinguished Research Professor and Senior Fellow, Science and Religion, Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University. He lectures internationally on science and religion and draws on the best of contemporary theology to better understand the sometimes tense and controversial relationship between the two. He is currently focused on Teilhard de Chardin’s vision for the twenty-first century. Haught has a distinguished career of nearly four decades teaching theology at Georgetown University and was awarded the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa by the University of Louvain in 2009. He is the author of many books, including Making Sense of Evolution: Darwin, God and the Drama of Life (Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), God and the New Atheism: A Critical Response to Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens (Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), Is Nature Enough? Meaning and Truth in the Age of Science (Cambridge University Press, 2006), Deeper Than Darwin: The Prospect for Religion in the Age of Evolution (2003), and God After Darwin: A Theology of Evolution (Westview Press, 1999). In 2005, Haught testified as an expert witness for the plaintiffs in the famous Intelligent Design case of Kitzmiller vs. the Dover Area School District in Pennsylvania, arguing against the school board’s plan to allow Intelligent Design to be taught as an alternative to evolution in public schools. He has won numerous awards including the Owen Garrigan Award in Science and Religion (2002), the Sophia Award for Theological Excellence (2004), and a “Friend of Darwin Award” from the National Center for Science Education (2008).

Suffering and the Mystery of Evil: Believing in an Unmoored God
Paul Crowley, S.J., Jesuit Community Professor, Department of Religious Studies, Santa Clara University
March 1, 2014 | 9:45 – 10:30 a.m.

Theologians from Paul of Tarsus to Jon Sobrino, S.J. have noted the connection between suffering, understood as existential, spiritual and ontological loss, and evil, especially as it appears in forms of sin in its personal and historical modalities. Yet this view is repudiated by sources ranging from Job to Jesus to Boethius, Augustine and Aquinas, all of whom point to the providence of God, understood in various ways, as the framework within which we can best understand suffering and the problem of evil. This, in turn, later led to philosophical schemes of theodicy to justify God in the face of suffering, especially suffering brought on by natural catastrophe and accident. But theodicy leads to the eventual dismantling of God’s relationship to the world, and to suffering and the mystery of evil, so that loss is met with the emptiness of agnosticism. What, then, could it mean to believe again in a God seemingly unmoored from our reality and from the perplexity of suffering?

Paul G. Crowley, S.J. is the Santa Clara Jesuit Community Professor in the Department of Religious Studies. He received his B.A. in Humanities from Stanford, an M.A. in Religion from Columbia, an S.T.L. from the Jesuit School of Theology, and a Ph.D. in Systematic and Philosophical Theology from Graduate Theological Union. He joined the Santa Clara faculty in 1989, and has also served as visiting professor at Weston Jesuit School of Theology (now Boston College School of Theology and Ministry) and Stanford University, and professor by courtesy at the Jesuit School of Theology, SCU. A former Fellow of the Jesuit Institute at Boston College, he has served on the governing boards of the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA) and of Theological Studies. Professor Crowley is the author of many articles and In Ten Thousand Places: Dogma in a Pluralistic Church (also published in Spanish),Unwanted Wisdom: Suffering, the Cross and Hope, and two edited volumes:Rahner beyond Rahner: A Great Theologian Encounters the Pacific Rim, and Robert McAfee Brown: Spiritual and Political Writings. He is currently concerned with the problem of belief in the post-modern age and the shape of theology within a pluralistic context, and is working on two new books, both due to be published by Orbis in 2015.

Session III: Humans and Animals in Theology and Evolution

The Wisdom of the Liminal: Re-Imaging the Image of God in an Evolutionary Multispecies Context
Celia Deane-Drummond, Professor, Department of Theology, University of Notre Dame
March 1, 2014 | 11 – 11:45 a.m.

The image of God has, for much of the history of Christian theology, sought to define the meaning of human uniqueness by stressing human superiority compared with other animals. Many geologists now argue that we have entered a new era, the Anthropocene, where humans dominate the life on planet earth, reinforced by a restricted Neo-Darwinian interpretation of human evolution as survival of the fittest. I will draw on current anthropology to present a case that even prior to the emergence of symbolic religious capabilities humans evolved in cooperative communities that recognised the significance of other animals as part of a wider community niche. I argue in this lecture that a constructive theological anthropology needs to be sensitive to such insights, while offering its own distinctive voice. In order to do this, I press for a performative interpretation of the image of God in terms of theo-drama, one that has some analogies with current anthropological understanding of community niche construction. Theo- drama does not eschew human distinctiveness, but it places greater emphasis on an enlarged vision. Theo-drama is, in this view, about the specific and unique performance of humanity in relation to God, but it is responsive to the active presence of other creatures.

Celia Deane-Drummond is currently full Professor in Theology at the University of Notre Dame. She took up this position in August 2011 and her unique appointment is concurrent between the Department of Theology in the College of Arts and Letters and the College of Science. Her research interests are in the engagement of theology and natural science, including specifically ecology, evolution, animal behavior and anthropology. Her research has consistently sought to explore theological and ethical aspects of that relationship. Her most recent books include Future Perfect, ed. with Peter Scott (London:Continuum, 2006, 2n edn. 2010), Ecotheology (DLT/Novalis/St Mary’s Press, 2008), Christ and Evolution (Minneapolis: Fortress/London:SCM Press, 2009), Creaturely Theology, ed. with David Clough (London: SCM Press, 2009), Religion and Ecology in the Public Sphere, ed. with Heinrich Bedford-Strohm (London, Continuum, 2011), Animals as Religious Subjects, ed. with Rebecca Artinian Kaiser and David Clough (London: T & T Clark/Bloomsbury, 2013), The Wisdom of the Liminal: Human Nature, Evolution and Other Animals (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014).

What Good is God to Animals? Human Uniqueness in Theology and Science
Oliver Putz, Lecturer, Department of Religious Studies, Santa Clara University
March 1, 2014 | 11:45 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Oliver Putz received an MA and a PhD in biology from the Freie Universität Berlin, Germany. He worked as a research biologist in the field of reproductive and evolutionary biology both in Europe and the United States, followed by a spell as lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin. His attention then moved to the study of theology, and he graduated with a master's degree in theology from the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley. Currently he is working on his dissertation in theology on the integration of theological anthropology and evolutionary and behavioral biology into a new understanding of the relationship between God and sentient beings, including nonhuman animals.

Session IV: Bridging Cosmology and Theology

Cosmology, Philosophy, and Theology in Creative Mutual Interaction
Robert Russell, Director, Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences and Ian G. Barbour Professor of Theology and Science in Residence at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley
March 1, 2014 | 1:30 – 2:15 p.m.

In this lecture, we will explore the ways in which Christian theology and philosophy influenced the rise of modern science, in particular contemporary Big Bang cosmology. We will also explore the ways in which Big Bang cosmology raises important implications for Christian theology.

Robert J. Russell is the Founder and Director of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS), and the Ian G. Barbour Professor of Theology and Science in Residence at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), Berkeley. He is the author of Time in Eternity: Pannenberg, Physics, and Eschatology in Creative Mutual Interaction (University of Notre Dame Press, 2012) and Cosmology from Alpha to Omega: Towards the Mutual Creative Interaction of Theology and Science (Fortress Press, 2008). Russell serves as Co-editor of Theology and Science journal and co- edited Resurrection: Theological and Scientific Assessments, ( Eerdmans, 2002) and edited Fifty Years in Science and Religion: Ian G. Barbour and His Legacy (Ashgate, 2004). He holds a Ph.D. in experimental physics from the University of California, Santa Cruz, an M.Div. and an M. A. in theology and science from the Pacific School of Religion, an M. S. in physics from the University of California, Los Angeles, and he triple- majored in physics, religion and music at Stanford University. He is ordained in the United Church of Christ and is a member of the Society of Ordained Scientists.

Earth and the Heavens: Contemplating the Cosmos
Jennifer Wiseman, Director, Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion, American Association for the Advancement of Science
March 1, 2014 | 2:15 – 3 p.m.

Jennifer Wiseman is an American astronomer. She received her bachelor's degree in physics from MIT and her Ph.D. in Astronomy from Harvard University in 1995. Wiseman discovered periodic comet 114P/Wiseman-Skiff while working as an undergraduate research assistant in 1987. She currently directs the Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion for the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  She also serves as a senior astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard space flight center.   She enjoys giving talks about the beauty and excitement of science, astronomy, and discovery.

Excavating Dialogues: A Glimpse into Historic Manuscripts on Science and Religion
Tour of Related Books and Manuscripts in Archives and Special Collections
March 1, 2014 | 3 – 5 p.m.

Archives and Special Collections, Library and Learning Commons

comments powered by Disqus

Immersions Video

This text will be replaced