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Professor compares religion and biology

| Thursday, February 13, 2014

Saint Mary’s students and faculty discussed the connections of spirituality and biology over lunch Thursday afternoon as part of the “Spirituality Mondays” series. The Saint Mary’s Center for Spirituality sponsors the series, which is designed to give attendees a chance to analyze the interface of faith and reason.

spirituality TEASERKeri O'Mara | The Observer

Professor of biology Tom Fogle said biology and religion each search for “wholeness” in their own way.

Fogle said the historical eugenics movement, which worked to apply genetics to improve social welfare but also earned significant criticism demonstrated social concern. This element reflected an effort to consciously control the effects of ever-growing scientific knowledge and protect the rights and dignity of an individual.

Fogle said after the popularity of eugenics waned, scientists developed the idea that genetics are the blueprint of life.

“The blueprint model is … the belief that the heart of the formative process stems with genetics,” Fogle said. “Genetics is the lead actor in a play with the environment serving as its supporting cast.”

Fogle said he believes the blueprint model is flawed. Areas of study like ethnogenetics, which looks at how environmental influences impact future genetics, support the idea that genetics may seem linear but is actually contains multiple layers and structures, Fogle said.

“The scientific community has long moved past simple nature-nurture dichotomy,” Fogle said. “The real action lies in the intersection of the two. Contemporary genetics not only highlights that point, but suggests that it is messy and difficult to untangle.”

Fogle said the network model of biology views humanness as an ever-changing series of causes and connections between internal and external forces. The idea of personhood in Christianity is very similar, he said.

“We are each unique, changing, responsive and complex in our relationship with a timeless and omnipresent God,” Fogle said, “Biology is moving towards a vision of humanness that is constructed from a broader vision more similar to what religion has understood for thousands of years. In other words, biology is discovering what religion has known all along.”

Religion provides wholeness through biblical stories that try to craft and understand humanity, while biology focuses on the gears behind humanness, Fogle said. In time, these two paths searching for wholeness will converge, but not just yet, he said.

“We don’t see convergence yet,” Fogle said, “We’re so busy studying science right now, there’s mountains of information, but seeing interconnections is the key to the future … there are so many points to link together.”

Fogle said it’s hard to step back and see broad connections because it takes a narrow framework to be a successful scientist. A scientist can spend his whole life studying one type of cell, resulting in immense amounts of literature, but the public does not understand that even this work is only a small part of the vast amounts of scientific knowledge and research, he said.

“If there is a convergence, it will be in recognizing that the deepest understanding, the core truths, whether it’s through faith or reason, will only come from a search for wholeness, the connectedness between our inner and our outer selves,” Fogle said.

The final installment of the “Spirituality Monday” series will feature Fran Kominkiewicz, chair of the Social Work Department, discussing the relationship between spirituality and social work on Monday, Feb. 17.

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About Kathryn Marshall

Kathryn Marshall, Saint Mary's College '17, is a Biology and Humanistic Studies double major. Follow Kathryn on Twitter @kmarshallSMC

Contact Kathryn