Metanexus: Transdisciplinarity and the Unity of Knowledge

Paul Bloom: "Evolutionary Accounts of Religion: Explaining and Explaining Away"

Paul Bloom's lecture for the above referenced panel.

The virtual universality of religion is one of the most fascinating, yet previously underattended issues being explored by current evolutionary theory. Recently emerging scientific accounts of religion, while at one time a proverbial 'elephant in the closet' have now become a prominent and polarizing issue fro science and religion dialogue. This session will describe and assess a variety of alternative evolutionary proposals for the origin and nature of religious beliefs and practices, from the perspectives of biology, cognitive science, and philosophy. We will also explore and critique the implications of naturalistic explanations of religion, with an eye toward distinguishing between genuine challenges these theories raise for the warrant of religious belief, possibilities they entail for consonance, and the hyperbolic assertions on each pole.

4 June 2007

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Metanexus: Transdisciplinarity and the Unity of Knowledge

Metanexus Institute

Metanexus 2007 Conference held June 2-6 at the University of Pennsylvania on the theme of "Transdisciplinarity and the Unity of Knowledge."

The 20th century may very well come to be considered the “age of hyper-specialization.” Through the increasing…


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Metanexus 2007 Conference held June 2-6 at the University of Pennsylvania on the theme of "Transdisciplinarity and the Unity of Knowledge."

The 20th century may very well come to be considered the “age of hyper-specialization.” Through the increasing division of labor—both economic and intellectual—humans have certainly made enormous progress. We see the acceleration of specialization not only in industry, but in higher education as well. Does hyper-specialization, however, with its intensification of complexity and multiplication of information, also produce significant problems? Does it—and must it—lead to disintegration, a fracturing of knowledge, of culture, and of the soul? What impact has hyper-specialization had on education? And what are its implications for that which goes by the name of “science and religion dialogue”?

The challenge of the 21st century will be to integrate or synthesize the outcomes of the exponential growth in human knowledge into meaningful wholes It’s not that specialization needs to be overcome; it’s that individuals, communities, and civilization in general will need to develop the complementary means by which to appropriate and take the measure of all particular expertise. We must regain our ability, a facility, an adeptness at taking the whole into our most profound concern. One approach to a possible synthesis has been commonly known as the "science and religion dialogue." But does the science and religion dialogue really provide the much-needed intellectual and spiritual synthesis, the antidote to the sorely lacking unity of knowledge? Does such a dialogue really get us to the whole story of the whole cosmos for the whole person? Does it go far enough?

Perhaps we need to consider an even richer vein in a quest for synthesis. A transdisciplinary approach to the unity of knowledge respects the various disciplines and their methodologies, even as it looks for a means for developing a rigorous higher-order appropriation of the knowledge that comes from them. It is the synthetic or integral complement to (not a replacement of) the analytic methodologies of the various sciences. It strategically considers the natural, social, and human sciences, philosophical perspectives, and even religious insights in multi-pronged approaches to theoretical and practical problems. It takes up questions that transcend the boundaries of any given body of expertise.

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