Man’s first law is survival. But once Man was able to manage with confident understanding the elements of his environment and the beasts of the field he then had sufficient time for other things — for leisure, for culture, for thought. Modern Man might have consumed much of the time at golf, travelling or enjoying the tourist facilities of resorts such as The Bahamas. These were not available to early Man. He began to think — to ruminate on the vastness and mysteries of nature, to search for answers to the queries which arose from his thought process and to meditate on the place and meaning of Man in the midst of it all.
Searching and meditation, study and penetrating thought soon brought Man to a realization that there were powers and forces vastly superior to his own which he did not comprehend but which he perceived to have something to do with the satisfaction of a human need deeper than mere physical survival. Out of this realization gradually emerged the first stirrings of religion.
Through exploration and discovery over the years Man has extended his physical horizons and has harnessed many natural forces. Scientific progress, applied to economic and commercial pursuits, has caused Man to reassess and adjust his concept and practice of religion; but the need for spiritual sustenance has remained and the study and practice of religion goes on, albeit at a reduced rate of progress.
It is not easy to measure an intangible phenomenon as religion. It is more difficult still to measure progress in religion. Scientific discovery and advance present no such difficulty; and even progress in racial equality or social justice are easily gauged. But progress in religion is rather more complicated. At various points in history up to the present time we have seen religious revivals and missionary efforts of admirable proportions; but the extent to which these have been a dissemination of the current religious concepts is the problem posed — to what extent has a deeper understanding of the relationship between God and Man been effected and by whom?
That is the duty which the eminent international judges of the Templeton Prize have set themselves and year after year they have demonstrated that progress in religion can be quantified. A perusal of the achievements of Mother Teresa, Dr. Radhakrishnan and Chiara Lubich, all previous recipients of this distinguished award, makes one deeply aware, if only with hindsight, of the meaning of progress in religion. That it has been possible to identify these religious giants and to quantify their unique achievements is a great credit to the Templeton Foundation.
The world has been full of religion but the deeds of Man have caused many to question religion. Was religion a message of salvation or a tool of domination? As a tool of domination it placed my forefathers in bondage, deprived them of their language, their religion, their culture and their pride, reducing them to chattels both in their native lands and in adopted lands across the seas. As a message of salvation, however, it gave hope to their grandsons, cooled the heat of the whip and strengthened an indomitable spirit which accepted the challenged of spiritual and physical survival and gave new vitality and promise to the New World. It was perhaps through progress in religion that eventually they were recognised as true children of God and not as mean chattels of men. Man’s inhumanity to Man was a measuring stick then for progress in religion. Perhaps it is so today.
With all the advances in the field of science and technology and all the lack of advance in the establishment of a new international economic order it is imperative that if religion is to be seen by hundreds of million of people to be valid, a definite line of progress must become evident. Is it not true that in all the world today, wherever religion is practised, be that religion Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam or Christianity that because of the continued suffering of Man religion has become increasingly discredited in the modern mind? And seemingly it makes no difference whether that mind has been educated or not.
The dehumanisation of Man by Man has seriously wounded the power of Man’s faith in God and, for those of us in the Christian religion, the promises for our future beyond the grave. Today’s Man ought not to be too surprised therefore when he discovers that this same inhumanity, practised on a personal, national and international level, has also severely damaged the capacity of Man to motivate the morals and the morale that once were so vibrant in several nations of our world.
I am but from a small corner of this world where Christian principles are held in a high esteem but I am concerned about the level of suffering of Man in countries where highly developed religions are practised. I believe it is imperative therefore that progress in religion be seen to relate to people, movements and nations that can show in their own orbits that progress in religion is real, is tangible, is alive and is actually happening in their lives, to their lives and for their lives.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I have no pressing claim which demands for me the right to be here yet I have been afforded three signal honours today. The first is that the Templeton Prize has its headquarters in The Bahamas. The second is that I have been permitted to preside over these august proceedings. And the third is to have the privilege to present to you the distinguished recipient of the 1980 Templeton prize which, after only eight years, has established itself on an international basis and is now the focal point for looking at progress in the major religions of the world.
Dr. Ralph Burhoe has been one of those prominent men who have, against the tide of popular thought and trends, sought to establish a new and vital role for religion in the world of today. At a time when conversation between religion and science was unfashionable and almost non-existent, Ralph Burhoe, in his writings, by his organizational and promotional skills, and through his great personal contact and rapport with both scientists and theologians, has been at the centre of a growing conversation, international in scope, of momentous importance. It seems to me that, in the last two decades, no other person in the world has had the cumulative impact in this area on both professional religionists and scientists as had Dr. Burhoe.
His contribution to progress in religion is found in the fact that he, more than any other person now living, has helped turn modern societies from the growing separation between science and religion and has helped some of the world’s top scientists and theologians move into dialogue again. In addition, he has made contributions, now receiving international attention of the highest order, towards translating religious truths into scientific concepts. He has worked not only to show, on broad scientific grounds, the relevance and necessity of all religions to Man’s adaptive and moral struggles but he has also given special attention to the western Judeo-Christian tradition.
His broad range of activities illustrates the prominence of his work. He is founder and has been editor of the internationally renowned Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science. It is in Zygon that many of Dr. Burhoe’s most seminal writings can be found. He is co-founder and Honorary President of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science, an organization which promotes exchange between the religious and scientific communities and which sponsors an annual seminar that brings together members of the two communities for lectures and discussion. He is a Fellow, Secretary and Treasurer of the Centre for Advanced Study in Religion and Science, an organization associated with the Chicago Cluster of Theological Schools and dedicated to advanced graduate research in religion and science.
He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His writings are now acknowledged as spearheading a major breakthrough in the scientific understanding of religion.
Like many of us, Dr. Burhoe believes that western society is in a state of religious and moral confusion and heading towards possible collapse. He shudders at the realization that the major world religions no longer have the power to energize a commanding moral stance towards life. He believes, along with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, that ‘the ruling groups and intellectual elite’ of most modern societies in general are unaware of the relevance of religious belief in a transhuman power; and he further believes that these intellectual elites ‘are indeed leading us to our doom exactly because of their lack of clear convictions concerning a system of forces that is more than human which determined our ultimate destiny’.
Keenly aware that science is often accused of creating religious scepticism among intellectual and civic leaders, Dr. Burhoe believes that knowledge from the sciences — physics, biology, anthropology and psychology — is giving us new understandings of the role of religion in human life. He places his understanding of religion squarely in the context of evolutionary theory.
In recent years Dr. Burhoe’s primary concern has been to demonstrate the role of religion in producing high levels of altruistic behaviour on the part of human beings living in complex urban societies. The resources of sociobiology and genetics, especially the works of E. O. Wilson, Donald T. Campbell and George C. Williams, have been applied by him to the area of religion and ethics. He argues, along with these thinkers, that human beings have no genetic capacity for high level altruistic behaviour towards people outside of their immediate families. Hence man, organized as he is into complex urban societies requiring high degrees of social cooperation, must have acquired this altruistic behaviour through other than biological inheritance. How did it come about? Through religion, he argues; for without religion, Man would not have emerged from the stage of the selfish ape.
Using recent advances of sociobiology and other sciences, Dr Burhoe has elaborated a revolutionary hypothesis that finds religion central to the evolutionary emergence of civilized humanity up from the apes, an hypothesis that fits a wide range of the facts and helps explain much of the scientific puzzle about human nature and its origins as well as about the nature of religion and its origins. According to Dr. Burhoe, ‘culture, including its religious core of basic values, has been created by and evolved under the same cosmic system of forces that has created the earth and the life upon it.
Religious culture, like the gene pool, is a body of life-giving information that has evolved independently from but highly co-adapted and symbolic with the human gene pool. Religion, through several essential stages from primitive animal ritual to high theology, is infused into the co-adapted outer layers of the human brain, where it provides Man’s spiritual nature and where it integrates with and transforms his animal nature. The addition of a co-adapted spiritual nature has made humans, in their spiritual communities whose brotherhoods may be even closer than genetic brothers, even more capable of large and complex societies of voluntarily co-operating individuals than is possible among the social insects.’
Nevertheless, in contrast to many fashionable contemporary thinkers, Ralph Burhoe continues to believe that there is a real future for religion. Man must always have religious meanings and institutions, he argues, so as to keep him within the boundary of the real conditions of nature.
Dr. Burhoe, your presence here today as the recipient of the 1980 Award of the Templeton Foundation Prize for Progress in Religion is an indication that the judges of the award who themselves come from the major religions of the world, feel that you have succeeded, that you are a pioneer, a living example of the resourcefulness of the human mind to continue the quest. Clearly you have demonstrated that the task of creating an acceptable scientific theology has only begun. A beginning which, I am confident, will lead you and your successors to establish a basis that will bolster the faith of many, will enable mankind to be revitalized in the faith and will lead to a better understanding between the peoples of the world.
May I humbly extend to you my hand of friendship and high esteem; may I sincerely offer you my personal congratulations and those of the hundreds gathered here today; and may I invite you now to address us.
Religion around the world in this twentieth century has manifested itself as tragically less than adequate and sometimes woefully irrelevant for human welfare or salvation in an age of the dangerously explosive expansion of the sciences and scientific technologies.
Beginning in the West, where modern science developed, there has been a widespread loss of religious belief because of its seeming incompatibility with or contradiction by a more credible new truth. I do not need to provide details about the inadequacies of contemporary religious expression in the context of the scientific world view, especially here in London where Bishop Robinson’s Honest to God in 1963 drew wide attention to the problems.
Yet a careful examination of the human predicament, initiated by a group of scientists about 40 years ago and participated in by hundreds of scientists and scholars of religion ever since, gives a more hopeful picture of religion. From this group now come published conclusions that religion has been essential in transforming ape-men into civilized humans capable of gladly co- operating in large societies.
This group further publishes that the revitalization of adequate religion is required if our free, prosperous, scientific, technological Western civilization is not shortly to collapse in a hellish period of war, coercive repression, disease, starvation, and death brought upon ourselves by the use of scientific technologies without proper wisdom and moral motivation.
It should be noted that these recognitions of the importance of religion originated not from professional defenders of the church but rather from often agnostic scientists on the basis of pictures given by modern evolutionary theory about human nature, including about our religions and about our place in the scheme of things.
How did I become involved in such a group that looked at religion scientifically? I grew up in a family where religion was taken seriously. They read about it, went to special meetings about it, and were active in teaching others about it. Among family and friends I was much impressed with the difference that serious belief in sound religion seemed to make in quality of life in terms of morals, helpfulness to others, courage, hope, and meaningful activities in spare time. A child living close to them could observe them, even when their hair was down. I was so impressed with a real correlations between what seemed to be genuine belief and quality of life that I could not believe the conclusions of many social-science studies since the 1930s that there is no good correlation between virtuous behaviour and religion. Were these studies perhaps mistakenly seeking to correlate fig production with ailing fig trees? I wanted to look more closely at virtue and religion.
In my youth I followed in this religious tradition, but already in high-school science I began to experience how religious belief tended to be eroded whenever the religious accounts became incredible in the context of new and seemingly better truth. Since my religious tradition purported to persuade on the basis of reasonable evidence of truth, I was early involved in various attempts to resolve the puzzle of what is truth. In college I became convinced the sciences were man’s most advanced tools for discovering what was true and I studied in them widely. After that I went to a theological school that might have been one of the best in which to explore my prime concern; to find a way to interpret religion credibly in the light of the sciences. But financial circumstances and the coming of my own children required me to leave school, go to work, and puzzle on religion and science in my spare time.
In our culture in the 1930s, it was difficult to find anyone with whom one could even talk about mixing religion and science. The separation of these two cultures seemed to be even wider than the separation Lord Snow found between his Two Cultures, the sciences and the humanities, where the latter may be said to have begun to become the religion of educated men in high Western civilization in the eighteenth century. I found that many people separated their religious thinking from their scientific thinking. Although I found even to raise the question of a positive relation between religion and science seemed to make people feel that there was something wrong, I discreetly kept searching for companions on this lonely intellectual quest, finding a few here and there. A few able people in the world (mostly British it seemed) had written constructively on the problem. I had been impressed with such as Arthur Eddington, James Jeans, and especially Julian Huxley.
An Invisible College of Scientific Study of Values and Religion
In 1947 I found one of the most ideal positions possible for my concerns, a new position of Executive Officer, just opened up by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences — a sort of American Royal Society with headquarters in Boston. Its officers and Council wanted me to help transform the Academy according to a plan the Academy had carefully worked out to integrate — or at least interrelate — the realms of knowledge, especially where that interrelation could be useful in finding solutions to the important social and cultural problems of mankind. While I was necessarily involved in many administrative chores, I was given a wonderful opportunity to work with the best minds in many disciplines, in programmes to make sense of various human problems.
To my delight, I early found among Academy Fellows a number of leading scientists and other scholars in diverse disciplines who were technically interested in understanding the nature of human values in the light of scientific information as well as in examining what this might imply for any possible transformation of human values. Some of these people were organized in 1948 as the Committee on Science and Values. They met from time to time over several years to explore, from their perspectives of their several fields of expertise, the nature and adequacy of human values.
In the late spring of 1952, Harvard biochemist George Wald was chairman of the Committee. At a meeting in his office, involving a discussion of the contemporary evolutionary account of the creation of the world and its life, he exclaimed that this story in its main import was not very different from the story in biblical Genesis. He suggested that we ought to tell this to the clergy who seem to have trouble convincing people of the validity of their significant message.
Stemming from the strong consensus developed at that meeting, I looked for possibilities. With the help of the Revd. Dana MacLean Greeley, later to become president of the American Unitarian Association, and the Revd. Lyman Rutledge, who had established an annual, inter- faith, week-long conference on The Coming Great Church, and others, we established in 1954 the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science. The work of the Institute led, 10 years later in 1964, to my accepting the invitation of President Malcolm Sutherland and the trustees of the Meadville/Lombard Theological School to come to Chicago and head what may have been the first theological-school-sponsored department ever commissioned to research, develop, and teach theology using modern sciences as a prime resource.
At Meadville in 1965 we established the Center for Advanced Study in Theology and the Sciences, which later became the independent Centre for Advanced Study in Religion and Science, now affiliated with the Chicago Cluster of Theological Schools.
In 1966 Meadville’s Center for Advanced Study, in co- operation with the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science and the University of Chicago Press, first published the new scholarly periodical — Zygon, Journal of Religion and Science — to communicate to a larger audience the studies by our groups as well as studies by others whom we found to be working in similar ways to relate religion and science. Zygon has helped create a community of pioneers around the world. It now continues its generative role under a new, younger chief editor- publisher, Professor Karl Peters of Rollins College in Florida.
Religion Seen Scientifically
In accepting the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, I should tell you at least a little about my own contributions to understanding religion in the light of the sciences. In addition to organizing and publishing symposia, I have myself engaged in a long research programme to apply the sciences so as to add to our understanding of religion in ways akin to our under- standing of the heavens, the earth, and the development of life. I have believed that this could be as helpful to religion as scientific theory generally has been to human needs in agriculture, medicine, and other areas of applied science. Here I shall tell you just a bit of what I find to be an especially exciting aspect of my examination of religion in the light of the sciences — my findings published in my paper Religion’s Role in Human Evolution.
I have found modern evolutionary theory the best route to understanding religion and I have found religion a necessary element in making sense of human evolution. In particular, my hypothesis about the role of religion provides, I believe, the best scientific explanation for what sociobiologist E. O. Wilson has called the ‘culminating mystery of all biology’. By this we mean the mystery of how humans can be altruistic and live co- operatively in large societies when natural selection has barred other creatures from conspecific behaviour of this sort except among very close kin and spouses. This barrier was clearly shown more than 15 years ago by such developers of evolutionary theory as W. D. Hamilton (here in Britain) and George C. Williams (in the United States). In 1976 it was tantalizingly described by Oxford’s Richard Dawkins in his The Selfish Gene.
The weight of evidence forces me to concur with Hamilton, Williams, Dawkins, and the bulk of evolutionary theorists that genetic evolution can produce altruism only for close kin and spouses. How then do humans become motivated to be helpful, even risking their bodies for nonkin? I believe that Dawkins was moving in the right direction for a solution to this when he developed a theory of the evolution of cultural information analogous to the evolution of genetic information. But he was a keen enough scientist to recognize immediately that even though a kind of natural selection of ‘memes’ (his name for cultural evolution’s analogue of genes) may take place, it cannot explain human altruism, because an analogous selection among competing memes would make the memes as selfish as the genes.
My attempt to resolve this mystery joins Wilson, Dawkins, psychologist Donald T. Campbell, and others in believing cultural evolution, including especially religion, to be a likely agency for explaining the generation of human altruism. I am excited because my model does explain it by a well-established biological mechanism — symbiotic mutualism among species — and seems to fit the facts of religion and culture.
This solution was suggested to me by the work of the late Alfred E. Emerson of the University of Chicago, who was a specialist on the evolution of termite societies. He observed complex societies of insects and other species interacting as mutually supportive elements in an almost organically functioning ecosystem. This could be explained, he thought, only if the ecosystem were selected as a functioning unit, which he called a ‘superorganism’. While I am not sure he was fully clear about how genetic selection could bring this about, it presently seems clear that the co-adaptation of any number of isolated genetic lines or species evolving together under certain common conditions can lead to the formation of mutually advantageous patterns of co-operative behaviour by the several participating species. Indeed, Williams wrote in his classic Adaptation and Natural Selection that in these symbiotic mutualisms ‘the selection of alternative alleles can simply and adequately explain the origin and maintenance of such relationships’.
While this gives a genetic basis for the evolution of Emerson’s ‘superorganisms’ of mutually co-operative actions among different species, it will not account for the evolution of human societies, where all are members of the same species, unless we find that human societies are somehow members of an independently evolving socio-cultural species to which populations of ape-men have co- adapted to form a new kind of ecosystemic superorganism where the mutual benefits of viability to the participating species exceed the benefits of previous or competing adaptations.
I submit that a close look at the facts of human evolution reveals that this is just what has happened. The elements of the culture-shaping information that I have called a ‘culturetype’ (e.g., a language, religion, technology, etc.) are indeed selected independently from, but co-adapted with, the more ancient bodies of genetic information, the genotypes, that guide the basic development of ape-man organisms. These two symbiotic ‘species’ interact to form a mutually beneficial as well as generally viable ecosystemic enterprise.
I see religions selected in part because they provided our ancestors with a statistically viable guarantee that, for all who adapt to the requirements of the particular religious culturetype, even their nonkin will reciprocate in ways that will insure their genetic future better that could their life independent of that culturetype. This enables genetic selection to co-adapt with, and reciprocally provide for, the needs of the religion and culture. I see the symbiosis of ape-men and religious sociocultural organisms as resolving the problem of how out of all species, one from the genus Homo became the first to emerge with a high degree of a second or culture-typic nature that is so well co-adapted with man’s first or genetic nature that there results a high capacity for altruism to nonkin, which makes human society possible.
What is radically novel in this model is the emergence of a new form of life built upon an earlier form. Lewis Thomas in his popular Lives of a Cell has a beautiful chapter entitled ‘Organelles as Organisms’, which describes the similar picture developed in recent molecular biology of how pairs of symbiotic, well-co- adapted species, one much more primitive than the other, became essential constituents of the life of every human as well as of other animal organisms. The symbiosis of culturetypes and genes is a later emergence of an analogous relation of two co-adapted species to make what we usually have supposed to be a single species.
It is significant to note that both ancient and more recent levels of religious culture have responded to religion’s function to fine-tune the co-adaptation between human genes and culturetypes. Some two thousand years ago Saint Paul, in describing some of the functions of good religion, wrote about the same kind of two symbiotic natures that I have just been describing as essential constituents of each person’s life. He pointed out that when these two natures are not suitably co-adapted they tend to produce a hellish tension within us. But when we adopt a religious faith that is properly co-adapted with our creator’s requirements and when we understand properly the true place of our bodily nature in relation to our sociocultural nature, then we are delivered from evil into joyful living. He was describing, without benefit of our new knowledge, the truth we are now finding about our two natures and the reality and the power of the closer-than-brotherly love, which is the new under- standing of our bonds to one another in what he called our spiritual nature — what scientifically we may call the close ties between us and our non-biological brothers in our culturetype nature.
Science and the Progress of Religion in the Future
I have just presented an outline of a small part of the new breakthroughs in scientific understanding and appreciation of the wisdom of ancient and modern religion. And, like Saint Paul speaking to both Greeks and Jews, I, speaking to scientifically informed secularists and to traditional believers, can appreciate the value of each and at the same time seek to show each that its thinking needs to be integrated with that of the other to produce a richer truth and for the more effective communication to all mankind of God’s sovereignty, love, and way of salvation.
I see modern science as a new gift of revelation about the not-readily-discernible reality which is our Creator and the Lord of our History — the larger, environing reality that brought us to be and in which we live and move and have our being. I find it also a more detailed revelation about that tiny part of the larger reality for whose further development and evolution each of us has been given a special awareness and responsibility — a part whose full extent is also not so readily discernible. Earlier religions like earlier sciences had different models, images or symbols of these hidden realities, which we can now translate for people whose thoughts and feelings on ultimate concerns require confirmation in terms of their new images of what is real. Moreover, as Campbell has noted, the well-winnowed wisdom of ancient religious traditions, apart from their archaic imagery, bear a needed truth for living that is usually greater than narrowly conceived scientific attempts to prescribe human salvation.
I see our task today as similar to that of those who labored some two thousand years ago more or less — following such leaders as Isaiah, the Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, Jesus, and Muhammad — to update the wisdom of the great world religions to adapt it to the radical changes taking place in the conditions of human life. The long perspective of evolution seems to tell us that man’s purpose is ever to seek, find, and climb new steps in the hierarchy of advancing life ordained by the powers that be. This seems to me to be very akin to our purpose distilled from a long religious history — to seek God’s will and enjoy him forever.