William Grassie

Recent Blog Posts

Contrarian: A new documentary on the life of John Marks Templeton
Why should Big Pharma invest in Big History? My answer is in the form of a warning label I imagined attached to all pharmaceutical products.
On a recent visit to Pioneer Works in the Brooklyn Red Hook neighborhood, I heard a lecture by Matthew Putman on “Imaging the Invisible”. The venue is a newly renovated factory and warehouse dating back to 1866. Putman began his lecture in the post-and-beam grand hall at Pioneer Works by referencing Richard Feynman’s 1959 lecture. “There is plenty of room at the bottom.”
I find the mass fears and popular mythologies unhelpful and dangerous. It is useful, however, to contemplate, and to some extent also prepare for the "worst-case scenarios."

Published Articles

The scientific pipeline dominates educational discourse today, but it is those outside the pipeline who would benefit most from reform. Serving their needs requires a different sort of activism, and new attention to evidence about how, when, and why people interact with science.
In this game of thrones, mathematics certainly makes a stronger claim today to royalty than does theology or philosophy. Some regard mathematics as the rightful queen who unites all the scientific disciplines under her rules.
Thresholds of Emergent Complexity as a Map to the Modern University.
Easter, you may have noticed, is not a fixed day in the calendar. The reason has to do with the mismatch between the periodicity of the sun and the moon and the long history of human efforts to create a reliable and consistent calendar.
The four dimensions in the Great Matrix of Being give us four ways of measuring reality -- by time, by scale, by energy density flow, and by thresholds of emergent complexity. All phenomena can be located within this Matrix.
The Baby Jesus is an archetype in evolution’s long progression through an unbroken chain of babies.
What knowledge of science, culture and civilization would you most want to pass on to the surviving humans as they faced the prospect of adapting to a new environment and rebuilding their lives over many generations?
A report on the inaugural meeting of the International Big History Association in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Humans now consume some 18 trillion watts of energy in a variety of forms. Every aspect of our contemporary lives depends on this tremendous flow of energy.
Exploring Big History requires that we systematically collect and analyze information about the past from an evolutionary and global perspective.
This is the new chart for the new cosmology. It is the most comprehensive compendium of scientific facts on a single page I know. No reason to leave home without one of these map of time stuffed in your glove compartment or backpack.
What is the lifetime of our communicative civilization? Will our civilization make it through the 21st century intact? Is there a “Great Filter” of self-destruction that limits the life expectancy of intelligent life in the universe?
Eric Beinhocker’s The Origin of Wealth offers exciting metaphors for rethinking Darwinism and evolutionary theory.
Times Square and New York City were right outside. I was on the stage talking about the difficulty of proving all ravens are black and explaining why my students should care about dead white guys from Vienna. Fortunately, real science came to the rescue.
What does it mean to take a scientific approach to the study of religion? Does a scientific study of religion disprove the existence of God, the reality of Nirvana, the possibilities of miracles, and the hopes of a life beyond death?
There is more functional diversity within a great tradition than between great traditions.
Early social theorists on religion all used some version of Marx's base-superstructure model of causation, though they may not have used the exact terms. Some natural or material factor that determines the beliefs and behaviors of individuals.
We can now talk about a global marketplace for religions. The fastest-growing religions are Islam, Pentecostal Christianity, and amorphous New Age-type syntheses. The first two are "irreversible investments"; the latter can be thought of as a "diversified portfolio."
Religions contribute to group survival and reproduction in diverse environments and in competition with other human groups. Religions provide a way to promote group solidarity and cooperation.
A fuller taxonomy of religious experience needs to be developed, detailed, and correlated with different brain states and cognitive theories of religion.
Recent observational studies indicate a significant, mostly positive connection between religiosity and better health, though it would be difficult to isolate what aspect of religion and spirituality plays the significant role.
The most important stories that humans tell, retell, and reframe are the ones people do not generally recognize as stories at all. These are referred to as "metanarratives." These master stories are the stuff of ideologies, religions, nationalisms, and cultures.
Today, an informed philosophy of science would also need to talk about information as a metaphysical concept.
Proofs of the existence of God have definitely fallen out of favor in contemporary theology. Rather, we should talk about what one means when one talks about "God."
What is thought to be on the inside of religion and what is thought to be outside is something we should continually question. We need to be pushing on these boundaries, testing certain assumptions and prejudices.
The photograph was taken on the streets of Bangkok. I was stunned by these plastic Buddhist monks sitting in a shop window. The statues are of famous Thai monks and are rendered with remarkable realism.
Anyone who purports to teach and interpret evolution and genetics to the public should read Ecological Developmental Biology by biologists Scott Gilbert and David Epel.
What drives the evolution of increasing complexity on our planet and in the universe is actually "consume more energy in order to be more complex." This is what Bertrand Russell calls "chemical imperialism."
Is transhumanism the great promise of technoscience or "the world's most dangerous idea"? The debate is an extremely fruitful field for philosophical and theological inquiry.
When Species Meet is a continuation and enlargement of Donna Haraway’s previous book. Both are efforts to explore the complex relations between humans and animals.
As geologists Orrin Pilkey and Linda Pilkey-Jarvis make clear, science has not been very successful in predicting or managing environmental changes.
“The Singularity” will be a new threshold in evolution, a tipping-point when “trans-biological” and “post-biological” civilization takes off.
His process metaphysics tends to depersonalize God to the extent of rendering theism irrelevant and naturalize moral evil in the service of evolution.
Creating a best-case scenario for Sri Lanka.
We now have a loom on which to weave the many pieces of truth we discover. That loom is the history of our species over the last million plus years, the evolution of our planet over the last 4 billion years, and the evolution of the universe over some 13 billion years.
Without the history of nature, we cannot truly appreciate or understand the present and quite extraordinary moment in the natural history of our planet and the cultural evolution of our species.
Religion is a complex neurocognitive experience that includes rituals, social groups, and other dimensions not easily replicated in a lab or isolated in individual human minds.
What is thought to be on the inside of religion and what is thought to be outside is something we should continually question. We need to push on these boundaries.
Through Metanexus Institute, I had helped to organize a delegation of Western scholars to participate in this International Congress on Religion and Science. This was the first conference of its kind to be held in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
When we talk about biocultural evolution in the 21st century, my bet is that religion broadly understood will take center stage as the most important and unpredictable variable for better or worse.
Examining human creativity within the context of natural history and cultural evolution.
What knowledge contained in what books of science, culture, and civilization would you most want to pass on to the surviving humans of a major planetary catastrophe? You get to choose one book, not the whole Library of Congress.
Jewish Faith and Modern Science is a magnum opus from Norbert Samuelson, one of the most important Jewish thinkers working on interpreting contemporary science and traditional faith.
I have long claimed to practice Buddhist mindfulness, but for me that means filling my mind full with as much as possible. Buddhist meditation always struck me as more about mindlessness, a process of clearing away all desires, all sensations, and all thoughts.
The book is a genre bender—mixing inspirational science writing, theological reflection, biblical interpretation, and self-improvement manual into a sometimes distracting blend.
Why the constructive engagement of religion and science is needed and some strategic thoughts about how this might be best pursued.
The history of the universe, the evolution of life, and the rise of human civilizations are in fact a unified story and best taught that way.
The contemporary encounter between science and religion is intrinsically one of the most fascinating conversations going on in this corner of our galaxy. It may also be one of the most important for our future well-being.
The logic of war always undermines the just war doctrine, because winning by whatever means necessary becomes the precondition for survival in armed conflicts. The history of warfare in the 20th century points ever more to the harsh logic of war.
An ontology and epistemology that looks only to materialism and reductionism for its explanations of phenomena will have a hard time explaining information itself.
At a time of heightened alienation and conflict between Islam and the West, there is an urgent need to promote a “dialogue of civilizations” as called for by President Khatami some years ago. The dialogue between science and religion provides an important point of departure for such an ambitious project.
The core of the evolution wars is whether a scientific understanding of biology allows room for religious and philosophical commitments to purpose in human life, purposes that somehow also must connect to the unfolding history of the universe.
1) Cultural Ambivalence 2) Definitional Ambiguity 3) Metaphysics Matters 4) Relational Revelations 5) Science as a Spiritual Quest 6) The Sciences of Religion Revisited 7) Healthy Semiotics 8) Innumerate Nescience 9) Philistine Fideism 10) Moral Muddles
There may be compelling reasons to suppose our universe really is one piece of a vast multiverse. On the other hand, multiverse theory may be the 21st century equivalent of counting how many angels will fit on the head of a pin.
If God is everywhere, then why is God so hard to perceive? One could imagine a God more like a Chairman Mao or a Comrade Stalin with photographs of himself hung everywhere in nature and everywhere the secret police to enforce our acquiescence.
Responding to Michael Ruse's thoughtful response to my essays on "Human Creativity: Accelerating Complexity and Evolutionary Discontinuity" and his more colorful criticism at the recent Haverford Conference on "Genetics, Bioethics, and Religion."
Founder and Executive Director

William Grassie has a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations from Middlebury College and a doctorate in religion from Temple University. He has taught in a variety of positions at Temple University, Swarthmore College, and the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to graduate school, he worked for 10 years in international relations and conflict resolution in Washington, D.C., Jerusalem, Berlin, and Philadelphia. He is the recipient of a number of academic awards and grants from the American Friends Service Committee, the Roothbert Fellowship, and the John Templeton Foundation. In 2007–2008, he served as a Senior Fulbright Fellow in the department of Buddhist studies at the University of Peradeniya in Kandy, Sri Lanka. He is the author of The New Sciences of Religion: Exploring Spirituality from the Outside In and Bottom Up (Palgrave Macmillian, 2010) and a collection of essays, Politics by Other Means: Science and Religion in the 21st Century (Metanexus, 2010). He has also edited two volumes: Advanced Methodologies in the Scientific Study of Religion and Spirituality (Metanexus, 2010) and H+/-Transhumanism and Its Critics (Metanexus, 2010) with Gregory Hansell. For more information, go to www.grassie.net

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