Ian Ramsey Centre

Religion, Society, and the Science of Life, 2017 IRC-ISSR Conference, Oxford, 19-22 July

There will never be a Newton for the blade of grass,” Kant wrote in 1784, a quarter-century before the birth of Charles Darwin, and less than a half-century before the first synthesis of an organic compound in a laboratory. Philosophies, theories, and theologies of humans, animals, and nature were built on this fundamental exclusion of life from science.

But contemporary biology has changed the rules of engagement between life and science. Life is now not only mapped down to the level of the genome, it is cut, copied, manufactured, fine-tuned, and CRISPRed. Life has become not just an object of science, but the raw material of new technology. And yet, although the science of life is shaped by assumptions developed through the study of inanimate things, life is an object of science like no other. A single cell contains an entire world. Even in a post-vitalist era, the biologist G.G. Simpson has proposed that the esoteric secret ingredient of life is real: the hypercomplexity of eukaryotic organisms. This is why the science of life is distinctive among the sciences in its methods, using history, narrative, and teleological terms and explanations. Moreover, the extraordinary complexity of the science of life presents unique challenges for pedagogy and public dialogue.

What are the implications of the incorporation of life into science—for religion, values, morality, and meaning? What are the philosophical, theological, and theoretical implications of life’s special status among the objects of science? What does the animalising of the human mean for the framing of human (or nonhuman) religion and societies? What is the religious and theological significance of nonhuman life—whether animal or xenobiological? Do theories of the evolutionary origins of religion help us better understand it in its political and spiritual dimensions? Are organisms made up of basic biological components, and how do those components interact in a dynamic relationship with the whole organism and the environment? Does biology shed light on how we experience? What are the implications of a conversation between biology and the humanities for thinking on culture, identity, sexuality, and society? Are biology and technology on a continuum, or are there breaks in the order of nature? How does the science of life open up new relationships with other humans, other species, and the planet?


Samantha Frost, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Massimo Pigliucci, City University of New York
Ullica Segerstrale, Illinois Institute of Technology
Rebecca Stott, University of East Anglia


Ottoline Leyser, University of Cambridge
Michael Ruse, Florida State University
Fraser Watts, University of Lincoln


Alister McGrath, University of Oxford
Michael Reiss, University of London  




The IRC has sent reservation lists for accommodation and meals to St Anne's College.

If you have any last-minute enquiries, please contact the IRC administrator and we shall do our best to help, but we cannot undertake to make substantial changes:






2:00pm Registration opens
6:00pm Reception
6:30pm Dinner

8:00pm PLENARY: Massimo Pigliucci (City University of New York)
“Living According to Nature? The Biology of Human Nature and What It Tells Us About Ethics”


8:00am Breakfast
9:00am Free time
10:30am Coffee and tea break

11:00am PLENARY: Samantha Frost (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign),
“The Attentive Body: Epigenetics, the Index, and the Registers of Meaning”

12:30pm Free time
1:00pm Lunch
2:00pm SHORT PAPERS I (3x4)
4:00pm Coffee and tea break


4:30pm PLENARY: Ullica Segerstrale (Illinois Institute of Technology)
“Science and its Social Implications: A Recurrent Concern”


6:00pm Free time
6:30pm Dinner

8:00pm PUBLIC LECTURE: Michael Reiss (University of London)
“Religion, Society, and the Science of Life: Implications for Public and School Education”



8:00am Breakfast

SYMPOSIUM: the International Society for Science and Religion
"Implications of the New Holistic Biology"

9:30am PART I: Led by Ottoline Leyser (University of Cambridge) and Michael Ruse (State University, Florida)

11:00am Coffee and tea break

11:30am PART II: Presentation by Fraser Watts (University of Lincoln) and panel chaired by Michael J Reiss (University of London)


1:00pm Lunch

2:00pm SHORT PAPERS II (3x4)
4:00pm Coffee and tea break, followed by free time
6:30pm Dinner

8:00pm PUBLIC LECTURE: Alister McGrath (University of Oxford)
“Science and Religion: Reflections on the Future of a Dialogue and Debate”


8:00am Breakfast
10:30am Coffee and tea available
11:00am SHORT PAPERS III (3x4)
1:00pm Lunch
2:00pm SHORT PAPERS IV (3x4)
4:00pm Coffee and tea break

4:30pm Rebecca Stott (University of East Anglia)
“Netted Together: Darwin, a Father, a Daughter and a Cult”

6:00pm Reception
7:00pm Final conference dinner


8:00am Breakfast
10:00am All rooms vacated



THURSDAY, 20 JULY, 2:00 - 4:00PM  
Band A: Mary Ogilvie Lecture Theatre – Biology and Metaphysics
Marta Bertolaso Robustness Between Biology and Technology: Melting Pot or Trading Zone?
Birdie Kushner  Prescribed Emptiness: Alleviating the Suffering Incurred from Causal Determinism and its Related Disorders
Alexander Massmann Human Dignity in Evolution: Developmental and Social Prerequisites
Lluis Oviedo Biologizing Religion: Some Missed Opportunities
Band B: Seminar Room 3 – Sexuality and Natural Law
Peter Woodford The Game of Life: What Game Are We Playing?
Eiko Honda Transgendering Nature: Sexology, Epistemology, Slime Mould, and the Japanese Naturalist Minakata Kumagusus (1867-1941)
Donovan Schaefer Pre-Copulatory Sexual Cannibalism and Other Accidents: Desire, Evolution, and Natural Law
Marian Hillar Natural Moral Law: From the Stoics to Kant, Darwin, and Modern Evolutionary Science
Band C: Seminar Room 6 – Science and Self
Bair Eloyevich Puig Zhamaganov Can Humanity Escape Its Biological Basis? An Analysis of a Religious Idea from the Standpoint of Biology
Christopher Krall The Human Person Fully Alive, Where Science and Religion Come Together
Stig Lindberg Science and Religion: Examining the Relationship from the Standpoint of Human Subjectivity and Biocentrism
Finney Premkumar Reimagining Biology: How a Theology of Life Can Help Reshape the Science of Life
FRIDAY, 21 JULY PM, 2:00 - 4:00PM  
Band A: Mary Ogilvie Lecture Theatre – Biology and Metaphysical Naturalism
Stephen LeDrew Evolutionism: Atheism as Religion
Juuso Loikkanen Intelligent Design and Its Challenge to Naturalism
Sarah Lane Ritchie Biology, Belief, and Spiritual Technologies: A Theological Embrace of Soul-Less Embodiment
Konrad  Szocik What is Right and What is Wrong in Darwinian Approach to the Study of Religion 
Band B: Seminar Room 3 – Teleology  
Mehdi Nassaji and Berry Billingsley Enhancing Students’ Epistemic Insight in Relation to Possible Futures for Humanlike Machines: Finding from an Intervention Study
Douglas McGaughey "The Petri Dish Only Confirms that Kant was Correct": Our Technical, Teleological, and Practical ‘Purposiveness’ in Science and Morality
Amerigo Barzaghi Natural Teleology in Science and Religion: Augustinian and Thomistic Approaches to Darwin’s Revolution
Andrew Pinsent Social Temperance, Homo Sapiens, and Homo Liturgicus
Band C: Seminar Room 6 – Origins of Life
Prasanta Bandyopadhyay Are Scientific Model About Life Testable? Lessons from Simpson’s Paradox and Philosophy of Science
Andreas Losch What is Life? Insights from a Dialogue Between Science, Philosophy and Theology
Frederik Moreira dos Santos The Conceptual Controversy Between the Second Law of Thermodynamics and Life: The Sunset and Sunrise of an Interdisciplinary Debate (1910-1940) 
Anthony Nairn These Are Some of the Things Hydrogen Atoms Do, Given (13.8) Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution”. Science, Religion, Ecology, and the Spiritualism of a Re-Enchanted Society
SATURDAY, 22 JULY, 11:00AM - 1:00PM
Band A: Mary Ogilvie Lecture Theatre
 – Species
John Berkman The Wise Hominid, Human Distinctiveness and Natural Law
Linda Ritterbush Paleobiology, Extinction, and Posthumanism
Jonathan Jong Are Human Being Homo Sapiens?
Allison Covey Vocational Animals: Theological Reconsiderations in Light of the Science of Life
Band B: Seminar Room 3
 – Vitalism and Mechanism
Michael  Burdett The Machine in the Ghost: On an Ontology of Information and The Politics of Life
Jack Coopey Behemoth:  Henri Bergson’s Philosophy of Life and Deleuze’s Vitalism; A Humanization of the Science of Life
Zhaoyuan Wan Evolution in Confucian Context: A Case of Study of Kang Youwei (1858-1927)
Chris Oldfield The Meaning of Life in Peter van Inwagen’s Metaphysics
Band C: Seminar Room 6
 – Moral Theology
Craig Boyd Evolution and Moral Theology: Four Ways of Navigating the Two Cultures
Arlyn Culwick How Does Morality Come To Be?
Braden Molhoek  Original Sin and Intergroup Bias: Reimagining Reinhold Niebuhr and Theological Ethics
Brandon Ooi Evolutionary Models of Altruism: Implications for Christian Belief and Behaviour
SATURDAY, 22 JULY, 2:00PM - 4:00PM  
Band A: Mary Ogilvie Lecture Theatre – Evolution of Cognitive Science
Stefani Ruper To Naturalize is to Differentiate: How Recent Advances in Cognitive Science Provide a Material Basis for Resisting Homogenizing Discourse
Ruth Gornandt The Nature of Belief: The Cognitive Science of Religion and its Possible Impact on Theology
Mari Ovsepyan Cognitive Science of Religion and Theisitic Belief: Born Lovers?
Alessia Pannese From Sense to Assent: Enthusiasm as Empirical Evidence in Natural And Spiritual Science
Band B: Seminar Room 3 – Origins of Altruism
Jennifer Brown Moral Priorities Among Church-Goers. A Study Exploring the Possible Relationship Between Church Worship and Moral Thinking
Tamas David-Barrett & James Carney Moralizing High Gods Are a Consequence, Not a Cause, of Social Organisation
Paul Rezkalla Evolution’s Contingency and Morality’s Immutability
Harris Wiseman Moral Enhancement – Neurobiology and Faith as Context
Band C: Seminar Room 6  – AI and Transhumanism
Mikael Leidenhag Artificial Intelligence, Health Science, and Soteriological Transhumanism: Explaining AI Through Two Accounts of Consciousness
Ben Page & Max Baker-Hytch Transhumanism – The Personal Life Machine?
Pejman Khojasteh The Developments in Artificial Intelligence based on Biotechnology and the Implications with Regard to Religion and Society
Luis Miguel Torro Ferrero Considering Human Vunerability and Transhumanism: Some Theological Perspectives