The 2016 Russell Family Research Fellowship* in
Religion and Science


Science, Naturalized Teleology and a Metaphysics of Incompleteness

Terrence W. Deacon and Tyrone Cashman

Public Forum, Thursday, April 14

Research Conference, Saturday, April 16

Terrence W. Deacon is Professor of Biological Anthropology in the Anthropology Department at the University of California, Berkeley. Professor Deacon's research has combined human evolutionary biology and neuroscience, with the aim of investigating the evolution of human cognition. His work extends from laboratory-based cellular-molecular neurobiology to the study of semiotic processes underlying animal and human communication, especially language. Many of these interests are explored in his 1997 book, The Symbolic Species: The Coevolution of Language and the Brain. His neurobiological research is focused on determining the nature of the human divergence from typical primate brain anatomy, the cellular-molecular mechanisms producing this difference, and the correlations between these anatomical differences and special human cognitive abilities, particularly language. The goal is to identify elements of the developmental genetic mechanisms that distinguish human brains from other ape brains, to aid the study of the cognitive consequences of human brain evolution. His theoretical interests include the study of evolution-like processes at many levels, including their role in embryonic development, neural signal processing, language change, and social processes, and how these different processes interact and depend on each other. His new book, Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter, explores the relationship between thermodynamic, self-organizing, evolutionary and semiotic processes and provides a new technical conception of information that explains both its representational and normative properties.

Tyrone Cashman received his BA, MA and PhL as a Jesuit seminarian at St. Louis University, and PhD in philosophy of science from Columbia University, with a dissertation on scientific/theological conceptions of the place of humans in nature in the 17th Century. In 1974, concerned with how fossil fuel-driven industrialization was undermining the world's natural systems, he shifted his efforts to help develop a viable wind energy industry in America and Europe and then, in the 1990s, the first solar photovoltaic and wind energy deployments in Japan. Since 2001, he has been working with Terrence Deacon helping to develop a scientific theory of how life and semiosis emerged from natural processes.


Fellow's Public Forum Lecture with Terrence W. Deacon:

The Redemption of Science (via the Naturalization of Teleology)
Thursday, April 14, 2016, 7pm

Richard S. Dinner Board Room of the GTU (Hewlett Library)
2400 Ridge Road, Berkeley

Since the renaissance the natural sciences have tacitly assumed a machine metaphysics in which any discussion of teleological processes is presumed to be illegitimate. This has an obvious place in basic physics and chemistry but is a more problematic methodological strategy for the biological and cognitive neurosciences. In the social sciences and humanities purposeful behavior is taken for granted as a given but is not explained. In my 2012 book, Incomplete Nature, I provide what I consider to be an empirically testable model of a process that shows how very basic autonomous agency, with an unambiguous self/other distinction, normative properties, and intrinsic self-directed, self-repairing, self-maintaining tendencies can emerge from a convoluted form of codependence between self-organizing physical-chemical processes that lack these properties in isolation. I argue that this provides a "proof of principle" that true teleological causality is consistent with empirical science and can emerge from basic physical-chemical processes to become an unambiguously efficacious factor in the world. A counter-intuitive feature of this emergent form of teleological dynamics is that it finds its locus in negative attributes of things and processes--constraints. This constructive analysis of the physical nature of telos and subjective interiority provides intriguing parallels and contrasts with traditional notions of souls, minds, and ideal forms, and reunifies Descartes'  res cogitans with  res extensa  without reducing the one to the other. These parallels and contrasts will be explored in this presentation. It is hoped that this development from the sciences might help rebuild a bridge that can bring science and theology back into productive dialogue with one another.

This event is free and open to the public.

The Annual Russell Family Research Conference
Saturday, April 16, 2016

Steps to a Metaphysics of Incompleteness

Richard S. Dinner Board Room of the GTU (Hewlett Library)
2400 Ridge Road, Berkeley
12:15- 5:00pm
(registration required, lunch not provided)

There is no explicit attempt to develop a metaphysical foundation for the theoretical positions presented in the book, Incomplete Nature, or in the many papers elaborating ideas related to its core theses. However, the quite atypical approach this work takes to the concepts of emergence, teleology, information, and sentience sharply contrasts with the currently dominant mechanistic metaphysics that dates to Descartes, and yet also contrasts with most alternative vitalist, pan-experientialist, and theological metaphysical perspectives as well. The basic approach we take to these topics is relational and processual but the commitment to a novel conception of strong emergence also requires divergence from earlier forms of process metaphysics that assume end-directedness as a given. This ultimately demands a reassessment of the metaphysical commitments that are implied. The central role played by Gödellian system-level logical-type violating relationships (strange loops in Douglas Hofstadter's terminology; impredicate relations in Robert Rosen's terms) in this account of the emergence of teleological relations suggests that to remain consistent this same logic it should apply to the notion of existence itself. The Gödellian analogy suggests that either causal relations are universally invariant but radically incomplete and open to emergent novelty or else causal relations can be radically incoherent and the appearance of emergence is illusory in a "block universe." The history of scientific explanations showing the "unreasonable" power of logical-mathematical representations to capture the regularities of physical processes and the absence of incoherent "miracles" that would render experimental science pointless strongly favors a view of causal invariance in a radically open and physically creative universe. Some theological implications of emergent teleology and sentience in such a Gödellian cosmos are explored. These include a reinterpretation of free will, an emergent conception of meaning and value, a reassessment of the concept of time and change, and an apophatic conception of creative potency.


Brian Patrick Green is assistant director of campus ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics and adjunct lecturer in the School of Engineering at Santa Clara University, California. He has M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in ethics and social theory from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, and a B.S. in genetics from the University of California, Davis. His teaching and research interests focus on the ethics of technology, particularly with technology's more dramatic intersections with human life, such as the ethics of space exploration and use, the ethics of existential risk, and the ethics of transhumanism.

Joshua M. Moritz is adjunct professor of philosophy at the University of San Francisco, lecturer of philosophical theology and natural sciences at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, and Managing Editor of the journal Theology and Science . He is author of Science and Religion: Beyond Warfare and Toward Understanding (Anselm Academic, 2016).

Adam Pryor earned his Ph.D. at the Graduate Theological Union and is currently Assistant Professor of Religion and Director of the Varenhorst Center for Discovery, Reflection, and Vocation at Bethany College in Lindsborg, KS. He is most recently the co-editor of  Anticipating God's New Creation and the author of The God Who Lives. His research has focused on the intersection of phenomenology with theology and science particularly around issues related to strong emergence theory. 

Mariusz Tabaczek, O.P. is graduating this spring from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA, with a Ph.D. in systematic and philosophical theology. He also holds an S.T.L. degree from the University of Poznan, Poland. He is a member of the Thomistic Institute in Warsaw, Poland. He specializes in science/theology dialogue, with a special emphasis on the role of philosophy, and his areas of expertise are systematic theology, theology of divine action, philosophy of science, philosophy of biology, philosophy of causation, contemporary metaphysics in analytical tradition, and new Aristotelianism. He coauthored two chapters for the new edition of Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction, ed. by Gary B. Ferngren (forthcoming).

Conference Schedule




Welcome, Robert John Russell


Fellowship Lecture: Terrence Deacon and Tyrone Cashman

1:45pm Response #1

Response #2

2:25pm General Discussion
2:45pm Break
3:00pm Response #3
3:20pm Response #4
3:40pm General Discussion
4:00pm Final Remarks from the Fellows
4:15pm Presentation of the 2016 Charles H. Townes Graduate Student Fellowship
4:30pm Refreshments
5:00pm Adjournment


*The J.K. Russell Research Fellowship in Religion and Science has been renamed the Russell Family Fellowship in Religion and Science to honor the contributions of the Russell Family as a whole to this annual Fellowship.

Directions and Lodging:

  • GTU area Campus Map
  • Lodging Options:
    • Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704 (510) 848-7800
    • Hotel Durant, 2600 Durant Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704 (510) 845-8981
    • The French Hotel, 1538 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, CA (510) 548-9930 (closest hotel)


2400 Ridge Road, Berkeley, CA 94709-1212 •   Tel: 510-649-2564 Fax: 510-649-1417 • •   Site Map  •   Search