Regaining Compassion for Humanity and Nature by L. Charles Birch
Charles Birch is a biologist specializing in genetics, and resides in Australia. He is joint winner of the 1990 International Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.. His teaching career includes Oxford, Columbia and the Universities of Chicago and Minnesota, as well as visiting professor of genetics at the University of California at Berkeley and professor of biology at the University of Sydney. Professor Birch has blazed new paths into the relationships between science and faith. Published originally by New South Wales University Press, New South Wales University press, 1993. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
Preface to the North American Edition
I wrote this book in Australia, which is my home country. Yet in many ways it reflects values and commitments I came to discover in the United States of America.
The religion I had embraced as a youth taught me the meaning of strong commitment to certain values of life. But it was attached to an interpretation that was narrow and cramping. It was evangelical and fundamentalist, and was totally unable to accommodate the world of science that I was entering. My conversion to a more open faith that took both science and religion into account came to me exclusively from the North American continent.
I was introduced to a more liberal Christianity through the sermons of Harry Emerson Fosdick of Riverside Church in New York City and then later through Paul Tillich of Union Theological Seminary. Tillich’s distinction between secondary concerns and ultimate concern became critical in my thinking. The more philosophical side of my thinking, which had to embrace science, came from Alfred North Whitehead, whose books on science and philosophy were mostly written at Harvard University. It was then natural for me to gravitate to the thought of Charles Hartshorne, who was in the department of philosophy at the University of Chicago in the heady days of the chancellorship of Robert Maynard Hutchins. Hartshorne had earlier been an assistant to Whitehead. While I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago in the 1940s I came to discover the theological side of Whiteheadian thought, for the university’s Divinity School had at that time probably the most distinguished faculty of Whiteheadian scholars ever assembled together anywhere in the world.
From the influence of Chicago it was natural that I should turn to Hartshorne’s student John Cobb, Jr., at the Center for Process Studies in Claremont, California, and his colleague David Griffin. There, both process philosophy and process theology are integrated into postmodern thought.
I am neither a theologian nor a philosopher, but rather a scientist. Science by itself never showed me the meaning of purpose on a cosmic scale, nor the meaning of compassion for humanity and nature. I am indebted to the people I have mentioned -- all of whom I came to know personally, with the exception of Whitehead -- and others for showing me these connections. Specific ways they contributed to my life and thought are apparent in the chapters that follow.