February 2, 2007

Professors tie disciplines into spirituality

The Divinity School hosted “Physics, Physiology, Philosophy: Three Paths, One Spirited Product,” a conference featuring three professors from Georgetown University, on January 26.

Professors Karl Pribam, George Farre, and Patrick Heelan have been working together for several years to unify their various areas of study and combine their different disciplines.

Pribam, a professor of psychology and cognitive science and a U of C alumnus, discussed how his study of physiology relates to physics, philosophy, and most importantly, religion.

“What we do in science is ask nature some questions,” he said. “After a while, I thought maybe I had some things that could be talked about with the Divinity School.”

For example, on the subject of evolution, Pribam said there are two types of people: those who believe in intelligent design and Darwinians.

“I suggest from my standpoint that neo-Darwinism explains a great deal, but there’s something lacking,” Pribam said. “There’s something that we experience in the complexity of what we see that seems to be developed and seems to be accounted for not only by random things that happen in the genome and then selection. That is what I think we mean by intelligent design.”

Pribam said theology has many sophisticated ways of discussing the same issues that he studies scientifically.

Farre, a physicist-turned-philosopher, gave a speech entitled “A Brief Sketch of the Evolution of Cellular Matter.” He discussed how cells have become increasingly complex over time.

Heelan, a professor of philosophy, gave his portion of the talk on the role of human consciousness, saying that mental life is focused on the construction of meaning. Heelan said human rationality is defined by the making of meaning and has four steps: an experience, a theory or hypothesis, testing and passing judgment on the theory, and finally making a decision.