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Philosophie, Religionsphilosophie


Mühling, Markus


Resonances: Neurobiology, Evolution and Theology. Evolutionary Niche Construction, the Ecological Brain and Relational-Narrative Theology.


Göttingen: Vanden-hoeck & Ruprecht 2014. 254 S. m. 15 Abb. = Religion, Theologie und Naturwissenschaft, 29. Geb. EUR 80,00. ISBN 978-3-525-57036-4.


Lukas Ohly

Markus Mühling offers a well-founded inquiry into the interdisciplinary dialogue between theology and biology. Therefore he rejects overestimated claims of both disciplines and develops more precise alternatives which lead to a converging concept of creation and self-development of life. Interdisciplinary dialogue will never destroy the autonomy of any discipline (21 f.). M. directs attention not to the integration, but to the coherence of both disciplines.
The author makes careful distinctions, although some seem not to be entirely significant. A case in point is M.’s distinction between non-empirically testable certainties and ideologies: Even biology depends on non-empirical certainties which theology but not biology investigates (17). Therefore, theology knows about the contingency of those non-empirical certainties (18.27). Otherwise non-empirical certainties lead to ideologies. So non-empirical certainties become conditions for making special theories viable and even though they are existentially not-disposable, they are nonetheless fallible. This is a sharp distinction. But what happens if a non-empirical certainty constitutes experience because its content »is also the author of the passively received experience« (101)? It seems to me that a dilemma arises: If this constitutive feature of experience is only a fallible certainty, then it is also fallible to have an experience at all. Or, if not, such certainty is not only constitutive for experience but also ideological. In this case ideologies are fundamental for sciences, and the difference between non-empirical certainties and ideologies dissolves.
The description of religious revelation as an experience, whose content is also the author of the passively received experience, is M.’s core idea of combining theology with biology. Thus, M. first avoids describing revelation as supernatural, and secondly opens new steps of evolution for theological interpretation. A new step becomes an »absolute retrospective surprising« [sic!] (125) without the arbitrariness of Neo-Darwinistic theory of mutation and selection. M. develops alternatives for simple causality of origin and effect: »After an event has occurred, it can be conceived as the outcome of the other events« (123). This is the case with religious revelation: It constitutes experience which retrospectively experiences revelation as the condition of its own possibility. Similarly with biological development: Between an organism and its environment there is an »integral causality« (155); between brain and environment there is a »circular causality or reciprocal causality« (75). M. falsifies the representational thinking in neuroscience and proposes Thomas Fuchs’ model (71 ff.) of the »ecological self« instead: »the experience of self-authorship as well as being an object of movements of other facts in the environment« (117). Equally M. draws out a new model of evolutionary theory as the causal interplay be-tween organism and environment, the socalled niche construction (145). In both cases, the heuristic consists in broadening causal thinking by more complex models. This interplay of different time processes which retrospectively change situations is also the case in narratives (78.120 ff.160 ff.). »Narratives are far more open to incorporating other stories within themselves« (120). Thus, M. describes a kind of narrative causality as constitutive for reality.
M. is fully aware of the difficulty of his task. He has to show that some relations are internal in order to justify his model of causal »resonances« ( The reason for this difficulty resides in the proof of the selfcontradiction in Bertrand Russell’s argument, who stressed that all relations are external. M. responds: »no statement like ›all relations are x‹ is possible« (48) because of Russell’s Paradox. But even if M. is right, it does not show that some relations are internal. Therefore M. has no logical reason for internal relations but only theological (Trinity, 133 ff.) and biological ones (ecological self, niche construction). This seems to be circular, or the existence of internal relations becomes a non-empirical certainty.
But M. also has phenomenological reasons for internal relations that are also theological, namely religious experience, whose content is also the author of experience: »The relationship between the alien event which occurs and the self is an internal relationship insofar as a self cannot be conceived without the occurrence of an alien event« (119). To sum up, there are inevitably theological reasons for the position that there are internal relations. Theology becomes the fundamental framework of experience-based theories, neurosciences and evolution theory. In the end M.’s understanding of interdisciplinarity leads to a hegemony of theology – this is far more than M. seems to intend.
I fully agree with this result, and I agree with most of M.’s argumentation. Natural sciences cannot avoid using categories which differ in matter or content. What M. describes in religious experiences as the identity of content and author, is a paradoxical description of one inevitable theological category: This experience points to the constitution of content which is categorically dif-ferent from any content because it creates content. M. combines models of different disciplines in a lucid way and suggests a convergence of biology and theology. Further, he combines basic theological insights (especially in chapter 5) with innovations. Whereas he exports mainly German theological approaches into the English-speaking area, he imports international developments in evolution theory into the German context. Unlike many German theologians who write English books, his inquiry is written in a transparent and simple language.