Category Archives: Theology

Science and religion

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* “All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree.” – Albert Einstein

* “The antagonism between science and religion, about which we hear so much, appears to me purely factitious, fabricated on the one hand by short-sighted religious people, who confound […] theology with religion; and on the other by equally short-sighted scientific people who forget that science takes for its province only that which is susceptible of clear intellectual comprehension.” – Thomas Henry Huxley (1825–1895), “The Interpreters of Genesis and the Interpreters of Nature” (1885)

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Ab initio creata sum

Hymne an das Ewig-Weibliche / 19. – 25. März 1918 – Verzy / Teilhard de Chardin / An Beatrix / Ab initio creata sum…(Proverbs 8:22)

Seit Weltbeginn bin ich erschienen. Vor den Ewen (Äonen) ging ich hervor aus Gottes Händen – umrißhaft, um im Gang der Zeit an Schönheit zu gewinnen, Mitwirkerin seines Werkes.
Alles im Universum erfolgt durch Vereinigung und Befruchtung – durch Zusammenschluß der Elemente, die zueinander suchen, paarweise verschmelzen und neugeboren werden in einem Dritten.
Gott hat mich in das ursprüngliche Viele hinein ergossen als die Kraft, die verdichtet und den Dingen zu ihrer Mitte verhilft.
Ich bin das einigende Antlitz der Seienden – bin der Duft, der sie herbeilockt und sie in Freiheit und Leidenschaft mitzieht auf den Weg ihrer Einigung.
Durch mich gerät alles in Bewegung und ordnet sich zueinander.
Ich bin der Zauber, der in die Welt gemischt ist, auf daß sie sich sammle – das über ihr schwebende Ideal, auf daß sie emporsteige.
Ich bin das wesenhaft Weibliche.

Teilhard de Chardin was one of the few theologians who had also a sound scientific background. He worked in the paleontology laboratory of the Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle; in 1913 he took part in excavations in the prehistoric painted caves in the northwest of Spain – more information at

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His verses reminds me to Jeremiah 1:5 who already expressed 628 BC a clear view of our pre-existence: Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee. Is there really so much difference to what we currently believe about meiotic events?

Mercy and truth

Doing science and seeking truth may be occasionally unkind to others. Watching a beautiful movie (“Babette’s Feast“, Oscar 1988) I was deeply moved by the speech of the officer Lorens Löwenhjelm about “Barmherzigkeit und Wahrheit” or “mercy and truth” – it goes back to

Ps 85:10 (KJ) Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Also Martin Luther found that remarkable as well as Wolfgang Huber. Yea, yea.

Aleph (Codex Sinaiticus) online in 2009

So far we could admire the wonderful Gutenberg bible in Göttingen (1454)

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Current students of theology seem to have much better tools… The exciting news are that Codex Sinaiticus (dating back to 350?) is currently being digitized where NT and half of AT will be available in 2 years or so.
In 1844 Konstantin von Tischendorf discovered the Codex in a paper basket at Saint Catherine monastery of Mount Sinai (I also visited the monastery some years ago but did not find anything useful in the basket). He was allowed to take 43 of the 129 sheets to Leipzig. On another visit he discovered even more papers that were donated to Tsar Alexander. In 1933 former USSR sold 347 sheets to the Britische Museum in London, 6 sheets are still in St. Petersburg. In 1975 another 38 pages were found that are still Saint Catherine. At the moment British Library London, Universitätsbibliothek Leipzig, Russian National Library St. Petersburg and Saint Catherine work together for a digital edition of the manuscript including the use of hyperspectral imaging to uncover erased or faded text. This is quite important as Codex Sinaiticus (together with Codex Vaticanus) has heavily influenced our textus receptus.

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Exodus of science from Germany after 1933

A book that crossed my desk only very recently is about the exodus of science from Berlin after 1933. As a child I never understood the second commandment when God said to Mose that

Ex 20:4 I am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments.

I always thought the idea to be unfair to be under collective guilt. Nevertheless when reading this book (published already in 1994 by Walter de Gruyter) we get a deeper meaning how science is affected for many generations by the displacement of the most prominent scientists.
Particular important in this book is the first chapter of Hubenstorf and Walther that highlights the situation in Berlin. Following world war I, Berlin had become the indisputable center of most scientific disciplines in the German speaking territory. In some disciplines Leipzig, Vienna or Munich may have been competitors, economics had been strong in Kiel, mathematics and physics in Göttingen, history in Marburg, however, for most scientists Berlin had been the highly desired “endpoint” of their career. he Friedrich-Wilhelms university had been the largest university, but there have been many more science organizations like Technical University Charlottenburg, Deutsche Hochschule für Politik, Preußische Akademie der Wissenschaften and Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft (that is covered in more detail in another excellent chapter).
Medicine has been hit hardest during the Nazi period by having a large number of Jewish scientists. The resulting repercussions in the realm of science are described at different levels. Starting with a typology of transformation of scientific institutions, the establishment of new disciplines and the establishment of a military science sector, the autors give many historical details about the ways of scientific publishing or the organization of displaced scientists.
The cancer research department of the medical faculty fired 12 or 13 scientists; the hygiene institute dismissed 8 of 12 scientists including later Noble prize winner Erwin Chargaff. Hospital Lankwitz fired all physicians, Neukölln 67%, Freidrichshain 62% and Moabit 56%.
It is a terrible story – you can read how the editor of the Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift Paul Osswald Wolff was replaced by a Nazi supporter. Karger publisher even moved from Berlin to Basel (where they still reside today).
As any good science is strongly connected to teaching it may be understood that breaking this tradition has lead to a punishing of the children for the sin of the fathers to the third a fourth generation. Science politicians may even recognize the downside of spending money into science: they will be blessed by thousands of generations.

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Tit-for-tat or altruism in science

No, this essay will not deal with altruism in science but with the science of altruism. There are two new papers from the Fehr group (one in Science on Nov, 3 about diminished reciprocal fairness after magnetic stimulation of the right prefrontal cortex and a second in Nature on Aug, 24 about altruism in two indigenous groups in Papua New Guinea). I was, however, much more impressed by their recent review of human altruism.
Cooperation between genetically unrelated groups is a typical human behaviour (otherwise seen only in ants, bees and the naked mole rat) where there seems a strong reciprocity between selfishness and altruism. Cooperation is rarely stable and may deteriorate under worse conditions. Altruistic rewarding and reputation seeking seem to be the most powerful determinants of future donors’ behaviour where effects of punishing behaviour seem to be underestimated: Cooperation in larger group continues only if punishment of defectors and non-punishers is possible.

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Solomon’s Decision

There is a never ending stream of popular press articles in Germany about creation versus evolution (ZEIT Wissen 1/2006:58 reports that 50,4% of all German believe in creation). Much of the controversy between ID-activists and evolutionary anthropogists is about timescales. Why can creationist not accept that

Ps 90:4 For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.

Anthropogists may find a new review on coalescence methods interesting that finds

If the importance-sampling distribution is well chosen, the algorithm will perform well, otherwise, it will perform poorly. Unfortunately, unless we have a good idea of the correct answer from some alternative source, it is not obvious whether the algorithm is working well. Once again there is significant scope for intuition when choosing the importance-sampling distribution. The method is as much art as science. [sic!]

or another review:

… new results contradict early but still influential conclusions that were based on analyses of gene trees from mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome sequences

where the search for the most recent common ancestor by haploid marker is expected to result in shallower times. A recent letter in Nature on “Dogma, not faith, is the barrier to scientific enquiry” offers a nice compromise, that can be read twice:

In a famous article, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” (Am. Biol. Teach. 35, 125–129; 1973), Dobzhansky described his religious beliefs: “It is wrong to hold creation and evolution as mutually exclusive alternatives. I am a creationist and an evolutionist. Evolution is God’s, or Nature’s, method of Creation.”
In contrast to modern creationists, Dobzhansky accepted macroevolution and the documented age of Earth. He argued that “the Creator has created the living world not by caprice (supernatural fiat) but by evolution propelled by natural selection”.
He collaborated for many years with Ernst Mayr, who, when asked about his religious views, replied: “I am an atheist. There is nothing that supports the idea of a personal God. On the other hand, famous evolutionists such as Dobzhansky were firm believers in a personal God. He would work as a scientist all week and then on Sunday get down on his knees and pray to God” (Skeptic 8, 76–82; 2000).

Yea, yea.

Is religion a natural phenomenon?

I do not want to discuss the rather polemic view of Daniel Dennetts “Breaking the spell” or promote other books of the new secularism. The Guardian digital edition writes on 29th Oct 2006

Secularism is suddenly hip, at least in the publishing world. A glut of popular science books making a trenchant case against religion have soared up the bestseller lists both here and in America. The phenomenon represents a backlash against a perceived rise in religious fundamentalism and recent crazes for ‘spirituality’ by way of books such as The Da Vinci Code. Secularists are now eager to show that the empiricism of science can debunk the claims of believers.

More interesting is the question if human morality is an inborn trait or not. Nicholas Wade has a nice essay in the NYT:

Marc D. Hauser, a Harvard biologist, has built on this idea to propose that people are born with a moral grammar wired into their neural circuits by evolution. In a new book, “Moral Minds” (HarperCollins 2006), he argues that the grammar generates instant moral judgments which, in part because of the quick decisions that must be made in life-or-death situations, are inaccessible to the conscious mind. People are generally unaware of this process because the mind is adept at coming up with plausible rationalizations for why it arrived at a decision generated subconsciously. Dr. Hauser presents his argument as a hypothesis to be proved, not as an established fact. But it is an idea that he roots in solid ground, including his own and others’ work with primates and in empirical results derived by moral philosophers.

I renember also an article by Roger Higfield in the Washington Times (24th March 2003) than unfortunately vanished from the internet:

Scientists are hunting for a “God gene” that underpins our ability to believe. The idea of genes linked with beliefs does not look far-fetched, given the influence of genetics on the developeing brain.

Higfield is refering to an empirical twin study:

To investigate the heritability of religiousness and possible age changes in this estimate, both current and retrospective religiousness were assessed by self-report in a sample of adult male twins (169 MZ pairs and 104 DZ pairs, mean age of 33 years). Retrospective reports of religiousness showed little correlation difference between MZ (r=.69) and DZ (r=.59) twins. Reports of current religiousness, however, did show larger MZ (r=.62) than DZ (r=.42) similarity. Biometric analysis of the two religiousness ratings revealed that genetic factors were significantly weaker (12% vs. 44%) and shared environmental factors were significantly stronger (56% vs. 18%) in adolescence compared to adulthood. Analysis of internal and external religiousness subscales of the total score revealed similar results. These findings support the hypothesis that the heritability of religiousness increases from adolescence to adulthood.

Time on Oct 17, 2004 referred to a book of Dean Hamer “The God Gene”

Chief of gene structure at the National Cancer Institute, Hamer not only claims that human spirituality is an adaptive trait, but he also says he has located one of the genes responsible, a gene that just happens to also code for production of the neurotransmitters that regulate our moods. Our most profound feelings of spirituality, according to a literal reading of Hamer’s work, may be due to little more than an occasional shot of intoxicating brain chemicals governed by our DNA. “I’m a believer that every thought we think and every feeling we feel is the result of activity in the brain,” Hamer says.

This looks very much like a completely physical view of spiritual affairs (Hamer became famous for his failure of the “gay gene” before abandoning science).

So we may better turn to the question if there is any theological background? I renember a famous guest lecture in Marburg 1980 about the Epistle to the Romans by Herbert Braun (Braun is a Bultmann scholar. Ernst Fuchs was in Marburg too; together with Ernst Käsemann and Günther Bornkamm they are all famous scholars of Rudolf Bultmann. Käsemann and Fuchs both wrote a “Commentary on Romans”).

Fuchs highlighted Rom 2:14 in King James translation saying:

13 For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
14 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:
15 Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;

Science and theology are not far away here. Maybe it is even common sense that most humans have an inherited deep feeling of religiousness.

Genetic code and God’s language -cont’d-

There is a new book by Francis Collins “The language of God“, one of the leading persons in human genome sequencing. As the commentary says:
Continue reading Genetic code and God’s language -cont’d-

Truth in science (and religion)

A recent interview of Jane Glitschier in PLoS genetics with Tom Cech nicely shows the relationship of truth and research: “There is a search for absolute truth in research. You never get there—but there are criteria by which you judge how close you are. You’re always criticizing yourself and criticizing your colleagues, and they’re criticizing you. And there is a test, very often, that you can do to decide who’s right.”

Addendum

Here is a difference between science and religion — Jesus told his disciples, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Yea, yea.

Siddur, mantra, prayer

The Jewish siddur, the Buddist mantra and Christian prayer all contain repeating elements. Why does our genome also has has so many long and short interdispersed repeats – to give life a stable background on an ever changing environment? Yea, yea.