Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Revisiting Gould's NOMA



On the heels of my exchange with Peter Gabel about the relationship of science and religion, Tikkun Daily intern Sarah Ackley has written an excellent summation of the late evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould's non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) model, one bolstered by insights from Catholic theologian Hans Kung.

Ackley points out that Gould insisted that "the two magisteria bump right up against each other, interdigitating in wondrously complex ways along their joint border." This observation is of particular interest to me because, until now, I'd mistakingly believed that Gould felt there was no exchange between the two, non-overlapping realms.

As I wrote in "Matthew Day Jackson's Wonderful Artifacts," in October 2008,
"Whereas Gould posits that the magisteria of religion and science are nonoverlapping, I would argue that, where their circles meet, the membrane is permeable. This bleeding of one into the other represents the pinnacle of art and philosophy.”
It's clear to me now that Gould and I were on the same page all along (or, more accurately, I was on Gould's page)!

Read Ackley's TD piece here. Above, I've included a NOMA diagram that I created for the essay on Matthew Day Jackson.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Mixed Environmental News

In HH's early days, I often wrote about the health of marine ecosystems and the urgent need for more sustainable fisheries. While I no longer address these issues as frequently as I did at the project's outset, I'm every bit as invested in environmental and conservation causes. Thus, I find today's New York Times piece "UN Rejects Export Ban on Atlantic Bluefin Tuna" discouraging...but also slightly promising.

It's discouraging to read, because the news is generally bad:
"A U.S.-backed proposal to ban the export of Atlantic bluefin tuna prized in sushi was rejected Thursday by a U.N. wildlife meeting, with scores of developing nations joining Japan in opposing a measure they feared would devastate fishing economies. It was a stunning setback for conservationists who had hoped the 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, would give the iconic fish a lifeline. They joined the proposal's sponsor Monaco in arguing that extreme measures were necessary because the stocks have fallen by 75 percent due to widespread overfishing.

'Let's take science and throw it out the door,' said Susan Lieberman, director of international policy with the Pew Environment Group in Washington. 'It's pretty irresponsible of the governments to hear the science and ignore the science. Clearly, there was pressure from the fishing interests. The fish is too valuable for its own good.'"
The report is also slightly promising, however, because the United States has again positioned itself as a proponent of conservation measures.
"Only the United States, Norway and Kenya supported the proposal outright. [...] The tuna defeat came hours after delegates rejected a U.S. proposal to ban the international sale of polar bear skins and parts, suggesting that economic interests at this meeting were trumping conservation.

The Americans argued that the sale of polar bears skins is compounding the loss of the animals' sea ice habitat due to climate change. There are projections that the bear's numbers, which are estimated at 20,000 to 25,000, could decline by two-thirds due by 2050 due to habitat loss in the Arctic."
The end result, then, is by no means a happy one...but what a welcome policy change from the days of Bush & Company!?

Note: This post also appears on the Endangered Species Print Project blog.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The 'Raw Stuff'...Discussed

I submitted a version of "Different Takes on the Raw Stuff," my posted response to Peter Gabel's "A Call For Sacred Biologists," to Tikkun Magazine, and I'm pleased to report that my comments engendered an edifying conversation with the article's author.

The editors of Tikkun have posted an abridged version of my correspondence with Peter on Tikkun's blog, Tikkun Daily. I encourage folks to check it out, but I've also included two excerpts of Peter's "voice" below.
"If I could sum it up in a phrase, I would say that Christopher is committed to the idea that science and religion are both valid ways of knowing but they are separate ways, whereas I believe we have to move towards a unified approach to knowledge (the nature of which I’ll take up in a forthcoming issue of the magazine). I was happy to have such a reasonable conversation about a topic that arouses such passion."

"It seems that [Christopher has] two selves and two worlds, the mystic and the materialist, side by side, each in its domain. I’m very much in agreement that [his] stand on this is possible; nothing about science excludes a mystical and religious reality within which material reality and scientific knowledge of that material reality unfolds.

However, for me there is only one world, the spiritual-material, spirit enlivening material form. To take this world as an object therefore is to act on it and impoverish it, although sometimes for a noble and valuable purpose (western medicine!). But ultimately I am for reuniting knowledge with spirit as manifested in form, including restoring meaning/desire/intention to evolution (but not some perfect intelligent design)."
When it comes down to it, then, I don't think that Peter and I are in stark disagreement. To a large extent, I share his belief that my "two selves" are actually of a piece (i.e., the division of logos and mythos, or rational and irrational, is artificial), but I also contend that there are different ways of knowing or approaching the Whole (the Everything), and that these distinct ways of knowing can and should coexist, each bringing to the conversation their unique perspective.

Read the full exchange here. The Tikkun Daily post also features two recent drawings that aren't yet on my website.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Different Takes on the Raw Stuff


Christopher Reiger
"submerged in his erotic mystification"
2009
Watercolor, gouache, sumi ink and marker on Arches paper
32 x 32 inches

I'm pleased to announce that one of my 2009 paintings, "submerged in his erotic mystification," is reproduced in the March/April 2010 issue of Tikkun Magazine. If you're unfamiliar with Tikkun, it's a west coast-based magazine founded by Rabbi Michael Lerner and dedicated to exploring the intersection of politics, spirituality, and culture. While it has Jewish roots (hence the magazine's name), it is an inter-faith publication with a diverse group of secular and religious contributors. The March/April issue includes a special section entitled "God and the 21st Century," featuring articles by seventeen writers, including the esteemed Rabbi Arthur Green, a scholar whose stripe of mystical panentheism resonates with my theological convictions.

My artwork accompanies one of the many articles included in "God and the 21st Century." Respected law critic Peter Gabel's "A Call For Sacred Biologists" explores the gulf between a strictly rational, scientific world view and that of, for lack of a better description, holistic panentheism. I allude to this same schism in my artist statement.
"[I]ncidentally, we've realized that the divide between the imagination and reason is unnatural. The English poet and critic, John Ruskin, alluded to this schism when he wrote of 'the broken harmonies of fact and fancy, thought and feeling, and truth and faith.' Indeed, although we today learn an increasing number of facts about Nature, we understand ourselves to be apart from it, and our experience of it is therefore less complete. My artwork is born of this apparent opposition."
Gabel's subject is near and dear to me, but his language unfortunately suggests that he has a deep-seated mistrust of, as he puts it, "the so-called 'scientific method'." (Italics mine.)

In the myopic, yet much ballyhooed skirmish between science and religion, I reside in the middle, as frustrated by the rabidly anti-religious as I am disturbed by and opposed to religious literalists and fundamentalists. Gabel, while not a religious literalist, uses language that apparently misunderstands scientific endeavor. For example, he insists that we need evolutionary biologists "who connect the sacred within themselves to the sacred dimension of what they observe." If he means that we need more leading scientists to openly discuss the awe and wonder they experience through their observation of the material world, he needn't worry. Many scientists are more than happy to wax poetic about the wonders of life and the universe; stand outs include Loren Eiseley, Carl Sagan, E.O. Wilson, Thomas Eisner, and Janna Levin. If, however, Gabel is suggesting that evolutionary biologists should champion mysticism, orthogenesis (1), or notions of "a master plan," he is expressing an essentially irrational and anti-scientific bias. Biologists must be vigilant to not allow spirituality to cloud their work. By all means, biologists can be deeply religious or spiritual people, but, for science to remain legitimate, the method and its language must be materialist and reductionist. (If scientific endeavor is mixed with mysticism, it becomes pseudo-science or, put another way, bunk.)

At the article's close, Gabel writes that "the theory of evolution [must] align itself with the truth that spirit and matter form an indissoluble unity." To the contrary, the theory of evolution needn't make any attempt to "align itself" with spirituality; it is its own truth, a scientific truth. As Rabbi Green writes in the same special section,
"I recognize fully and without regret that theology is an art, not a science. We people of faith have nothing we can prove; attempts to do so only diminish what we have to offer. We can only testify, but never prove."
Exactly right!

As I wrote on this blog in late 2008, in an essay about the artwork of Matthew Day Jackson,
"At their respective best, both science and religion (re)awaken or invigorate our capacity for wonder. Each makes use of a different approach, but they are complementary. As Albert Einstein famously said, 'Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.' The late evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould called the two 'non-overlapping magisteria' because good science trades in facts to explain material phenomena, whereas religion traffics in the unverifiable and the unobservable. Where science seeks to demystify, and to build on each subsequent revelation to learn more, religion aims to make sacred that which is taken for granted, to make the ordinary again extraordinary. Both, however, offer frameworks of engaging our astonishing existence and experience. Both are compelled by curiosity and wonder. As Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, the Enlightenment writer-philosopher, argued, if God held in one hand the Entire Truth and in the other the Eternal Pursuit of Truth, a good man will choose the latter. The same is true of authentic scientists and religious thinkers. The methodology and particulars may differ, but both science and religion are realms of the question. Although the popular conception of the scientist is the white-coated statistician ready to provide any and all answers, the caricature is misleading. It is 'normative in science to be not sure,' as Jessica Palmer put it doing the ScienceBlogs panel. Science, like religion, is a matryoshka doll, a series of questions nested within questions.

Gould considered art and philosophy magisteria unto themselves, but, unlike religion and science, each overlaps the other. Where these two overlapping sections meet, we find ourselves in the realm of what the artist-writer Paul Laffoley calls the mesoteric. In Laffoley's cosmology, the circle of religion, dealing as it does with questions of ultimate meaning, is dubbed the esoteric realm. The circle of science, focused on material truths and the observable world, he labels the exoteric realm. The mesoteric realms. art and philosophy, bridge the esoteric and exoteric. Whereas Gould posits that the magisteria of religion and science are nonoverlapping, I would argue that, where their circles meet, the membrane is permeable. This bleeding of one into the other represents the pinnacle of art and philosophy."
Rather than demand that science couch its truths in the language of the sacred or demand that religion dress its Truth in the language of scientist, why not understand each as complementary, distinct practice of awe? In a recent post on NPR's "Cosmos and Culture" blog, astrophysicist Adam Frank writes,
"I believe it is possible, and necessary, to see science and human spiritual endeavor through an alternative perspective. That perspective would acknowledge the truths each can reveal and avoid jealous comparison of those truths. [...] Our elemental encounter with the world, the raw stuff of experience, was just as vivid and strange to our ancestors as it is to us now if we are willing to pay attention. They felt awe and wonder beneath the dark weight of the night sky, in the deep quiet at the forest's edge or in the shock of infant's birth wail. Those experiences drove our ancestors, as [they drive] us, to an all important aspiration, a desire to draw closer to the source of that tremendous awe. That aspiration - what I call the Constant Fire - contains the original and braided roots of science and religion. [...] That aspiration is, for me, a road less traveled in the discussions of science and religion. If we were to follow it and to ask what is common, not in results about the world but in the deeply felt response to it, who knows where we might be led?"
Beautifully stated, Dr. Frank!

My rather particular problems with Gabel's article aside, the March/April issue of Tikkun includes excellent pieces by Rabbi Arthur Green, David Loy, Shaul Magid, and others.

(1) Like Gabel, I'm warm to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's concept of orthogenesis, the "hypothesis that life has an innate tendency to move in a unilinear fashion," increasing in complexity. When people speak of "the universe becoming aware of itself," they are expressing an essentially teleological sentiment and, while many contemporary scientists will acknowledge that such a notion is possible, it is wholly unquantifiable and therefore not legitimate science. It is best classified as theology. It is important to note, however, that de Chardin was a Jesuit priest as well as a serious paleontologist and geologist. He did not believe the scientific method to be at odds with a sense of belonging, wonder, or, in his words, "the within of things." Rather, de Chardin recognized science as kin to the arts, philosophy, and theology; it is another tool for our species' exploration of the evolving universe we inhabit.

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Beholder Print Sales


Christopher Reiger
"Synesthesia #1"
Archival Pigment Print on Acid Free Cotton-Rag Paper (Edition of 25)
14 x 11 inches
2009

I'm happy to announce that I'm now offering limited edition prints for sale through The Beholder, an online "gallery devoted to showing and promoting emerging and mid-career contemporary artists." The prints are being sold per my charitable sales model; 50% of the sales price is therefore a tax-deductable contribution to WorldChanging, one of the terrific non-profit organizations that I'm partnered with.

Check out The Beholder website. There's a lot of great art featured!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

"Escape From New York" Exhibition


Do you have $5.00 (or more) to support a proposed art exhibition as hopeful as it is handsome?

Curator and freelance arts writer Olympia Lambert aims to turn a former silk factory in Paterson, New Jersey, into a noted art destination. Unfortunately, Lambert doesn't have the capital to make the project happen. Thus, she's turned to KickStarter, a terrific website and "funding platform for artists, designers, filmmakers, musicians, journalists, inventors, explorers," and other folks trying to bankroll a good idea.

On the KickStarter page for her project, Lambert writes:
"2010 has brought with it many changes and challenges, and with it a newfound enthusiasm and excitement for New York artists. In many ways, the art world we once knew and loved has come to pass. Artists are being pushed out left and right, publications folding, galleries closing, all while more and more MFAs continue to be churned out than can possibly be hired on by Manhattan’s service industry. Space is at a premium. Do we continue to go even further east into the cramped, treeless, concrete, PCB-infested jungle of Bushwick? [...] Or do we begin to explore other venues west of the Hudson?"

"This project is specifically designed to raise financing for a print and online media advertising campaign for the group art exhibition, "Escape From New York," held in the Fabricolor Building on Van Houten Street in Paterson, NJ. [...] We will be placing a full-page ad in the second week of May 2010's edition of 'New York Magazine' and run online banner ads on ArtForum, Culture Pundits, and other art media."
I'm cheering for her pluck and ambition, and I've contributed to her project fund. Importantly, I'm also quite impressed by the roster of artists that she's lined up for the show.

Let's make her proposal a reality!

Image credit: ripped from Olympia Lambert's Kickstarter project page