Philip Hefner

Religion and the New Science

This series had its genesis at a meeting of the Royal Society of Canada - in 1985, as I recall, though it may have been the year before.  The subject was the relations of religion and science, and several of the people featured in this series were present - among others physicist Iain Stewart, philosopher Albert Shalom, and British scientist James Lovelock, whose "Gaia hypothesis" was then still new and controversial.  I had long been interested in the  developments in physics and other sciences that were leading some to speak of a "new science," and in the implications of these developments for theology and philosophy, so I took the Royal Society meeting as a starting point for the following programmes.  The series came back to mind recently when I read an essay David Bohm had contributed to a festschrift for Owen Barfield back in the 1970's.  Bohm, an adventurous philosopher physicist, is one of the featured speakers in the second programme of the series, along with Ilya Prigogine, a Nobel laureate in chemistry for his work on irreversibility, complex systems, and what he called dissipative structures.  Also featured are James Lovelock and Rupert Sheldrake, whose then recently published A New Science of Life had so scandalized fellow biologist Sir John Maddox, the editor of the journal Nature, that he had declared it a "candidate for burning."  Reading Bohm's essay, it seemed to me it was time to share these still vital and interesting voices.

Discussion of religion and science has a long history, but the discussion entered a new phase in the years before these programmes were broadcast in 1985.  Among the reasons were recent experimental confirmation of the reality of quantum entanglement, or what Einstein had called "spooky action at a distance"; and the appearance of the sciences of complexity and emergent order, sciences which were then completing the job begun by early 20th century physics in overturning the postulates of classical science.   The world according to science was becoming more subtle and mysterious.  Rupert Sheldrake suggested that it was time to replace the old metaphor of "laws of nature" with something more provisional like "the habits of nature."  David Bohm suggested that mind and matter must have "the same basic order" - two aspects of a single underlying process.   Ilya Prigogine dared to "dream...about a more unified culture" in which science no longer posited a universe in which human consciousness is an anomaly.  

In what follows scientists, philosophers, and theologians discuss the implications of this "new science."  More than thirty years have elapsed since these shows were first broadcast, and no doubt details would need to be changed if they were to revised today, but it seems to me that the outlines hold up pretty well.   I should also note that the series was honoured by the Canadian Science Writers Association as the year's best radio programme.  My work rarely attracted prizes, but this was an exception, and the $1,000 that went with it, I recall, was a welcome addition to a then somewhat strained household budget...


The people heard in the series, in order of appearance, are as follows:

Part One: James Lovelock, Morris Berman, Rupert Sheldrake, Stephen Toulmin, Albert Shalom, Philip Hefner, Trevor Levere, Ravi Ravindra, Ilya Prigogine, Jacob Needleman

Part Two: David Bohm, James Lovelock, Rupert Sheldrake, Ilya Prigogine, David Peat

Part Three: Stephen Toulmin, Robert Rosen, Iain Stewart, David Bohm, Philip Hefner, Thomas Berry, Jacob Needleman, Ravi Ravindra