2020 abstracts

Why Have Hope?Morrie Pongratz

June 3, 6:30 PM

Wikipedia defines hope as “an optimistic attitude of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes related to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large.”  In this presentation we will explore the basis for hope for the individual, specifically a Christian.  We will then consider how the ideas of the scientist/theologian Teilhard de Chardin, Georgetown University’s Distinguished Research Professor, John Haught, and Harvard University’s cognitive psychologist, linguist, and popular science author, Steven Pinker, give us reason for hope for the world at large.


A Concern for the Planet as Part of Faith  – Bob Dryja

June 10, 6:30 PM

Religions are often thought to concentrate primarily on (1) divine-human relationships and (2) social/ethical relations between humans, but a third important relationship is that of humans and their communities with the natural world, including the universe at large. With the emergence of science, the natural world and ecology began to fade away as a major component of religion. We will consider some aspects of religion in pre-scientific societies (Norse Vikings and the Walatowa Pueblo), and argue that in the future, religion should become more involved in existential concerns about a changing global environment.


The Problem of Evil – Chick Keller

June 17, 6:30 PM   

That a good Creator could make a world in which there is evil (here defined as any bad happenings) has been a problem for humans for ages.  The existence of evil in the world, in the view of Raymond Lam, “presents the gravest challenge to the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God.” The name for attempts to explain this is Theodicy. It divides evil into human caused, and natural. This talk will look at different aspects of the problem and show how most don’t really settle it. It will end with a totally new way to approach  which looks at our evolutionary and cultural drives and suggests a solution.  Finally we will consider evil happening to innocent life other than humans.


The Genes of Genesis: Original Sin and Gene-Culture Co-evolution – Nels Hoffman

June 24, 6:30 PM

The “Modern Synthesis” of Darwin’s theory of evolution made it hard to believe that homo sapiens suffers today from some kind of inherited flaw, originating in the behavior of a prehistoric man and woman, as Augustine’s doctrine of Original Sin supposes. But newer research leads to the concept of gene-culture co-evolution, emphasizing that we inherit much more than genes from our forebears. Recent notions such as reciprocal causality, developmental plasticity, and the “phenotype-first” viewpoint furthermore show us how culture and behavior have sometimes led the way, with the genes following along behind. Thus, it is conceivable that the effects of the disobedience of an ancient king and queen may indeed be written in our genes, causing us a problem that is insoluble if we are left to our own devices.

D. Grummett and P. Bentley, “Teilhard de Chardin, Original Sin, and the Six Propositions”, Zygon 53, 303 (2018)

Kevin N. Laland, Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony: How Culture Made the Human Mind (Princeton, 2017)

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, (Harper & Row, New York, 1959)


Transhumanism I. Bioengineered Superhumans: Technology, Ethics, Religion – Nels Hoffman

July 1, 6:30 PM       

New developments in bioscience, neuroscience, and computing seem to herald the dawn of a new age, in which humans will take control of their own evolution. Will it be possible for humans to modify their own genomes, to connect their brains and bodies directly with computers and other powerful machines, and to extend their lifespans indefinitely? Such a prospect has given birth to a new literary genre called Transhumanism, which regards such possibilities as likely if not inevitable, and examines their societal and ethical implications. In this talk, the first of two talks on Transhumanism, we look at the technical progress occurring in the fields of genetic editing, brain-computer interfaces, and aging research. We’ll focus primarily on the scientific details, leaving most of the ethical and religious issues to the second talk, on the following Wednesday, by Dan Winske and Bob Reinovsky.

Fasale Rana and Kenneth Samples, Humans 2.0: Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Perspectives on Transhumanism (2019, RTB Press, Covina CA)


Transhumanism II. Path Forward: Superhighway or Rocky Road? – Dan Winske and Bob Reinovsky

July 8, 6:30 PM

In this second half of the discussion of the future of humanity, referred to as transhumanism, we consider two very different points of view. These views are based on two books: Homo Deus by Yuval Harari, an Israeli historian and bestselling author of his previous book, Sapiens, and The Great Mystery, the latest of a series of books on science and religion by Irish Anglican priest, philosopher and scientist, Alister McGrath.First, we consider Yuval Harari’s look very far in the future, when humans are merged with robots and computers to produce a new species, which he terms homo deus, and the development of “The Internet of All Things” that manages everything in the universe. In contrast, in the second part of this talk we consider Alister McGrath’s view that the inherent nature of humans, and their inclination to doing both good and evil, will limit what can be accomplished, and even that has to be carefully monitored to prevent global catastrophe.

Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, Harper Perennial, New York, 2017.

Alister McGrath, The Great Mystery: Science, God and the Human Quest for Meaning, Hodder and Stroughton, London, 2017.


Near Death Experiences – Glenn Magelssen and Susan Sprake    

July 15, 6:30 PM

Over the last thirty to forty years there has been increased interest in the events surrounding a near death experience. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and Raymond A. Moody Jr. began interviewing people with this experience and soon realized the shared stories had many similarities. There was a striking pattern to the experiences of the individuals, but the number of people interviewed was small. More recently, Jefferey Long has interviewed more than 1300 persons. Each interview did not necessarily contain all the pattern elements, but each interview did fit within the different pattern elements. I’ll describe and present examples of these. An example of one of the events that is contained in the pattern and experienced by more than 50% of those interviewed is one called “an out of body happening”. In this case the dying person describes leaving his/her body and is able to look at the dying body at a distance. The person is able to watch how the doctors and nurses are working to try to bring life back. When the person returns to the body and is able to talk to the doctors and nurses, the person is able to describe accurately what they were doing when trying to bring the person back to life. We will take a short look at possible explanations for the behavioral pattern.