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May 10, 2013 | By admin

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Are we a Culture of Gratitude or Entitlement?

November 14th, 2013

This month’s Big Questions Online projects features a commentary by Dr. Robert Emmonds (guru of gratitude) on What Must We Overcome as a Culture or as Individuals For Gratitude to Flourish?  Dr. Emmonds points out that while we live in a world dedicated to the pursuit of happiness, this pursuit seems to have morphed into self-entitlement.  When material things come to us so easily, we begin to believe that that is what we deserve and we lose the ability to be grateful.  But research consistently shows that feeling gratitude is essential for happiness.

We all have tendencies to self-preoccupation or even narcissism.  Emmonds uses the example of the story (Luke 17:16-18) of the ten lepers healed by Jesus, only one of which returned to give thanks, as a reminder of how common ingratitude is. He also stresses that gratitude requires humility.  Humility allows us to recognize “that everything good in life is ultimately a gift.

The comment section is worth reviewing as well as the essay.  In Emmonds reply to my comment, he noted that he was introduced by a co-author to Swedenborg:   “She shared with me Swedenborg’s insights that those who feel love toward the neighbor and a blessedness toward God are in a grateful sphere or heavenly state, and are thus in heaven. Also that it is through gratitude we have the ability to live in a joyful, peaceful state; in its paradoxical, elusive way, gratitude is the door to many heavenly gifts. But the door is low, and Swedenborg reminds us that we must humble ourselves to enter.”  Well said.

The Moral Behavior of Ethics Professors

November 1st, 2013

In a recent interview on Philosophy Bites, a podcast from England, Eric Schwitchgebel reported on his study of the ethical beliefs and behaviors of ethics professors. He found that professors, philosophy professors, and ethics professors all behaved about the same in terms of not eating meat, voting and making charitable contributions. However, the ethics professors’ opinions on what constituted good moral behavior were far more supportive of those virtues.

It is difficult to say whether this is a sign of our times or simply a reflection of basic human nature, but the pattern of saying one thing and doing another is not unfamiliar.  How often have we seen public officials convicted of graft or driven from office in scandal as a result of a failure to adhere to their own professed moral code?  Or ministers and religious leaders who surreptitiously engage in behavior they decry as sinful in their public pronouncements?

Dr. Schwitzgebel speculates that ethics philosophers are so used to arguing on moral issues that they are probably better at rationalizing when it comes to moral behavior.  Perhaps this is true as well of those who are well-versed in politics, public communications or theological inquiry.  As we humans become adept at mental and intellectual pursuits by slicing, dicing and spinning arguments, our behaviors and private choices can lose touch with the simple notion of right and wrong.

We are all familiar with the idiom “the bigger they are the harder they fall.”  Perhaps we need another one that points to the spiritual risks of facile argumentation: “the smarter they are, the hard they fall.”

Great Summary of the Free Will Debates!

October 23rd, 2013

Dr. Jonathon Schooler has authored a discussion  Does Belief in Free Will Make Us Better People? (inthe Big Questions Online series sponsored by the Templeton Foundation) that succinctly summarizes the current state of knowledge and disagreement on this key metaphysical question.  Dr. Schooler’s opening article notes that the lack of consensus leaves us on the position of having to make a choice – “each one of us is faced with deciding for ourselves where we stand on an issue that may have important consequences for how we lead our lives.”  Increasingly, the evidence suggests that a belief in free will promotes pro-social behaviors and increases our sense of personal control and our general well-being.  His conclusion is that a belief in free will, which is entirely consistent with our subjective intuition, is the better choice.

The comments in response to the article provide a thorough and expert overview of the three dominant perspectives on free will – determinism, compatibilism and libertarianism – and an exploration of the problems with definitions, uncertainties and unknowns that frustrate the search for consensus.  The threads lead into issues the ISAS Forum has dealt with previously, including experimental philosophy,  neuroscience and causation.  Dr. Schooler in his closing words concludes that “people can have very different perspectives on the issue of free will, and that is as it should be at this time”, implying that more empirical data may clarify which answer is the right one.  My own conclusion is that free will, as explained in Miracles, is a paradox where we are forced to make a choice (using, of course, our capacity for freely willing).

Assessing Our Motivations – An Act of Love

September 6th, 2013

There is a prevalent misconception that our choices are directed by our thoughts.  In fact, our choices are driven by our motivations – the things that we love.  Often, our very rational mind is hijacked in support of that which we want to believe, as I noted in the essay on Cognitive Bias.

If our choices are driven by our motivations, then we should spend some time trying to understand those motivations and the reasons why we do them.  As inscribed on the ancient Temple of Apollo at Delphi, “Know Thyself” is an important and useful goal.  At the same time, how can we organize this self-reflection in a way that is most helpful in improving our choices and improving our lives?  There are entire libraries of philosophy, psychology and theology devoted to this subject, but sometimes it is helpful to keep things simple.

Curtis Child’s video “Universal Categories of Love“, from his “Off the Left Eye” series on youtube, provides a clear and simple analysis of the motivational categories or loves which drive our choices – and which determine our behaviors, our morals and our ultimate happiness.

You choose!

Quantum Physics and Free Will

July 23rd, 2013

The Templeton Foundation’s Big Question Online Series posted a profound article this week summarizing the basis for concluding that quantum physics requires/proves the existence of non-physical agency.  In “What Does Quantum Physics Have to Do with Free Will?, Antoine Suarez makes the case for concluding that the only coherent explanation for quantum behavior is metaphysical – there are phenomena outside of nature that have effects on things in nature.  This approach resolves a number of the issues we have been dealing with in this forum including the problem of reductionism.  <See  Causation).  Reductionism requires an immense “leap of faith” to believe that coherent, finely tuned and ordered natural phenomena can emerge from randomness.  In fact, they do not.  There is an ordering “force” at work, a propensity or disposition in the language of dispositional essentialism, that directs the emergence of higher level systems from lower level substrates, e.g. consciousness from processes in the brain, life from chemistry, chemistry from physics…  There is a place for God, and for Love, in this kind of universe.

The Science of Love

June 5th, 2013

According to Stephen Post (BQO June 3, 2013) the act of loving is profoundly transforming.  Studies show that showering others with our love frees us from self-pre-occupation and related negative feelings, increases our depth and enjoyment of life and improves our physical and mental health!  In response to the questions posed, I offered this response:

One aspect of love that seems to be missing from the definition is that of “self-love”.  Love has two poles – it can be self-directed or other directed.   This is not necessarily a bad thing.  For example, as you point out, doing good things for others brings extraordinary satisfaction, the consequence of which is a higher sense of self-worth and a more rewarding life.   In this sense we can be called to do for others as a matter of enlightened self-interest or self-love.  Without this reciprocity from the act of loving others, it is hard to see how a person would ever feel a motivation to love others!  On the other hand, love which is focused first on self-satisfaction can be exceedingly negative and manifest as impulses for mere gratification or dominion.  This is the inherent human evil that St. Paul and Luther warned about, is it not?

On question 1, doing acts of charity from an initially selfish motive (to look good, for example) may yield an inward warmth that can change a person and lead them to greater acts of love to the neighbor.

On question 2, it may be more accurate to say that experiencing the reciprocity of love may engender a sense of divine presence and expectation.  We are led to an appreciation of God through the experience of Love.

Finally, I hope that it does not take 100 years for physics to appreciate the dynamic creative and life-giving power of Divine Love.  Emanuel Swedenborg wrote about this 300 years ago, and physicist Ian Thompson has recently shown (Starting Science from God: Rational Scientific Theories From Theism, 2011) the deep connections between what is known of modern physics and what Swedenborg had to say about Divine Love.

Three New Books about Physics

June 4th, 2013

The technical details and mathematics of modern physics may be mastered by only small number of scientists at elite academic institutions, but non-technical explanations continue to proliferate.  This popularization of physics for the layperson would be welcome were it not for the fact that the foundations of physics are in such disarray.  Three new books provide fresh perspectives on this conundrum and should perhaps be added to our summer reading lists.  Neil Turok’s contribution is The Universe Within: From Quantum to Cosmos, in which he explores his solution to the ontological puzzle of what started the Big Bang – the Big Bounce.  In simple terms, the idea is that our universe is one cycle of an endlessly repeating cycle of Big Bangs and Big Crunches.  Jim Baggett, a physicist turned writer, takes a highly critical approach in Farewell to Reality: How Modern Physics Has Betrayed the Search for Science.  This work sounds like a polemic by a reformed string theorist who has thrown up his hands in disgust at the lack of progress, but apparently offers good explanations of the key problems and theories.  Time Reborn: From the Crisis of Physics to the Future of the Universe by Lee Smolin is a more inventive offering which points to the time-independent formulations of physics (since Newton) as a potential hindrance to deeper understanding.  This approach may have merit – see the ISAS post on The Puzzle of Entropy for a discussion of one of the key time-dependent features of the universe.  Happy reading!

Quantum Physics – Too Weird to Explain?

May 23rd, 2013

Quantum physics is a century old and it has been an incredibly powerful tool for understanding and explaining physical behaviors at the smallest scale.  As well established as it is, physicists have never been able to resolve its key paradox or to settle its metaphysical implications.  These issues are explored in a June 2013 article in Scientific American title Quantum Weirdness?  It’s all In Your Mind by Hans Christian von Baeyer.  While the quantum paradox has many faces, the one cited by Baeyer is the thought experiment known as Schrodinger’s Cat.  Under the traditional “Copenhagen” interpretation of quantum physics, the quantum wave function, which represents probabilities of certain outcomes, is real, in which case Schrodinger’s cat in the experimenter’s box would be both dead and alive at the same time – until he opens the box (which serves to “collapse” the wave function probabilities into a single outcome).  Another alternative, the “Many Worlds” interpretation, answers the paradox by saying, “Yes”, there is a universe in which the cat is dead and another universe in which the cat is alive.  The experimenter can be in both until he opens the box.  The newest interpretation, the “Quantum Bayesian” interpretation, borrows from probability theory and postulates that the probabilities (and the wave-function) are NOT real – they are just an expression of the experimenter’s belief.  We may believe the cat is alive, or we may believe that the cat is dead, but it is not both.  The cat really is one or the other – we find out when we open the box.  After a hundred years of quantum physics, we still have the mystery of Schrodinger’s cat.

In the Image of God …

May 8th, 2013

The account in Genesis 1:27 – “So God created mankind in his own image.” – is one of the most cherished concepts in the Judeo-Christian religious traditions.  It has been one of the most common points of attack for critics, as well, for being anthropocentric (arrogantly putting humanity at the center of the universe) and anthropomorphic (attributing human qualities to something which arguably must be far beyond human).  One of the problems may be due to the tendency we have to confuse form with purpose.  It seems limiting to say that that humans in physical form look like God.  Perhaps it is more appropriate to say that the purpose of humans and the functions of the various features of the human body are like attributes of God.  This is the explanation provided by Emmanuel Swedenborg almost three hundred years ago, and this recent video produced by Curtis Childs for the Swedenborg Foundation beautifully exhibits these ideas and explains why they are so relevant today:

Why Do Children Believe in God?

April 17th, 2013

April 17, 2013. Justin Barrett posed an interesting hypothesis in the Templeton Foundations “Big Questions Online” forum in March 2013 – that children are born with a propensity to believe in a transcendent intentional being (God). She notes that the “maturationally natural cognitive subsystems” with which humans are endowed, specifically the ones that allow us to understand intentional agency and recognize other minds, lead to a readiness for the conceptualization of God. Added to this is the inherent understanding children have that things, including natural phenomena, happen for a reason. Although the commentary and response in the forum is not extensive, the article itself is a good summary of what may be a consensus in the field. The article thankfully does not take a position on whether these findings prove or disprove the validity of such a belief in God. Atheists will say it is evident that belief in God is merely a trick of evolution. Theologians may respond by quoting from the gospels: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

Science and Religion Should Enlighten Each Other

April 11th, 2013

April 11, 2013: We recently had dinner with a friend who mentioned that he had met a child of Professor Charles Townes. Professor Townes is now in his nineties. Remarkably, he is the only scientist to receive both a Nobel Prize (Physics-1964) and the Templeton Prize (2005), although Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama and Alexandr Solzhenitsyn have also been graced with dual awards. While Professor Townes may not be well known, his public comments in the early ‘60’s that “science and religion are not unrelated, and should be honestly and openly interacting” generated considerable interest as well as antagonism. His views are as valuable today as they were then. “While science and religion may seem different, they have many similarities, and should interact and enlighten each other… Science tries to understand what our universe is like and how it works, including us humans. Religion is aimed at understanding the purpose and meaning of our universe, including our own lives. If the universe has a purpose or meaning, this must be reflected in its structure and functioning, and hence in science. In addition, to best understand either science or religion, we must use all of our human resources – logic, evidence (observations or experiment), carefully chosen assumptions, intuition, and faith.” (from his Templeton Prize acceptance speech).

Life Beyond Death

April 11th, 2013

March 22, 2013:  I recently had the privilege of hearing Dr. Eben Alexander speak about his experiences, which he recounts in his NYTimes Best Seller, Proof of Heaven. I was profoundly moved. He spoke humbly, but emphatically from the heart about how his near death experience changed his life. As an eminent Boston neuroscientist and physician he had been convinced that consciousness arose in the brain and that God did not exist. But his visits to the heavenly realm in a period when his brain was shut down has given him a direct knowledge and conviction, beyond doubt, that there is a Divine Creator imbued with infinite love. Human consciousness does not arise from the brain but is itself part of the Creator’s eternal realm. We inhabit our brains and bodies for a time on our journey to be fully integrated with the Creator’s infinite love.

The ISAS Forum – New Directions

April 26th, 2012

The debates about the role of science and religion are continuing to receive great interest. Coverage in the popular media is increasing, and the opportunities to break down some of the historical and “doctrinal” divide between science and religion seem to be increasing.  In this context, we feel there is a need for the ISAS Forum to refocus and reenergize in order to better support and promote civil dialogue and increased understanding of the ways in which both scientific and spiritual knowledge can improve our lives and the collective human experience.

After several months of review and revision, we are re-launching the ISAS Forum and website. In addition to maintaining a continued commitment to high quality, thoughtful content, we are expanding our outreach to include a regular email newsletter to a broader audience and introducing a new News feature focusing on topical items of interest.

We welcome your input and your participation. Please feel free to contact me at [email protected] with any comments, and please engage in the conversations that are now open in our ISAS Forum Discussion pages.

Thank you – George Gantz

Science and religion are two windows that people look through, trying to understand the big universe outside, trying to understand why we are here. The two windows give different views, but they look out at the same universe. Both views are one-sided, neither is complete. Both leave out essential features of the real world. And both are worthy of respect. (Freeman Dyson – 9 May 2000)


ISAS – Session #1 – May 2, 2011

March 14th, 2011

May 2 – What is Truth? – On May 2, about 20 participants joined a lively discussion on the difficult question of how we determine that something is “true”. This included an exploration of gaps in the ability of science and math to prove beyond doubt that something is true, and reflections on whether science and religion are distinct areas of inquiry or whether there are ways these spheres of understanding can inform and support each other. Many topics for potential future consideration were identified.

The presentation and discussion was led by George Gantz, the series Director.  A Synopsis is posted in the Forum Discussions under The Nature of Truth. The session was recorded and is available on New Church audio at this link.

This ISAS live discussion session was held at the Harvey Wheeler Community Center at 1276 Main St., Concord, Massachusetts, from 7:30 to 9:00 PM.

ISAS – Session #2 – May 16, 2011

March 14th, 2011

Theistic Model of Organic Evolution – On May 16, about 20 participants joined in the second ISAS discussion forum. Our guest was Dr. Reuben Bell, and he reviewed his background in science and religion and the “two hats” he experienced growing up in Oklahoma – one a firmly religious, fundamentalist background – the second a positivist, scientifically based education. Eventually he left the first hat behind, but always wondered if the two hats could be united in a consistent spiritual-natural framework. He then gave us a stunning introduction to his current initiative – the development of a theistic synthesis of the science of natural evolution.

The event recording is available at New Church audio at this link.

ISAS – Session #3 – June 6, 2011

March 14th, 2011

The Human Brain – On June 6, Dr. Justin Junge led a mind-stretching discussion on the human brain. In addition to probing some of the questions about knowledge, truth and science from the previous two sessions, Justin explored some of the latest advances in brain imaging and new scientific discoveries about the brain. However, these advances remain limited and tentative in light of the extraordinary complexity of the human brain, which he described as the most sophisticated and highly ordered object in the universe. While the claims and the graphics about the brain may be bold and detailed, they are really guesses based on a relatively tiny data set.

This ISAS live discussion session was held at the Harvey Wheeler Community Center at 1276 Main St., Concord, Massachusetts, from 7:30 to 9:00 PM. A recording is available at New Church audio at this link.

Biology and Evolution
Mind, Brain and Spirit
Physics and Cosmology
Science – Religion Debate
The Nature of Truth
News & Announcements
Insights into Infinity- Is .
the World Finite?
Are we a Culture of
Gratitude or Entitlement?
Busted: Three 21st Century
Technology-Driven Myths
The Moral Behavior of
Ethics Professors
Does Knowing = Having
Justified True Beliefs?

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