“What Is Life?” Question Draws Together Scientists, Philosophers—and Our Seminary Dean

24–28 June 2011 • Kraków, Poland

“What is life?” is one of the great questions that has stimulated and confounded human thought for centuries. From Platonism to naturalistic pantheism, from Judaism to Tenrikyo, and from the Death Anxiety supposition to the RNA world hypothesis, human beings have developed theories in attempts to offer the Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question. Fr. John Behr, delivering his paper, "Let Us Make a Human Being," at the conference.Fr. John Behr, delivering his paper, "Let Us Make a Human Being," at the conference.

Our Dean, Fr. John Behr, as a theological scholar in the Orthodox Christian tradition, recently added to the age-old discussion by attending the "What is Life?" conference in Fr. John Behr (far right) in an animated discussion at the "What Is Life?" conference, Kraków, Poland,Fr. John Behr (far right) in an animated discussion at the "What Is Life?" conference, Kraków, Poland,sponsored by the Centre of Theology and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom. There, he joined philosophers and scientists in an “immensely stimulating and rewarding discussion” about the mystery of life.

“I gave a paper entitled ‘Let Us Make a Human Being: Divine Initiative and Human Response,’ ” said Fr. John, “exploring, through the writings of St. Irenaeus of Lyons and St. Maximus the Confessor, how while every other aspect of creation was spoken into existence—'Let there be, there was, and it was good—the work which God specifically sets himself to—'Let us make a human being in our image'—requires a fiat, a 'Let it be,' from the creature, to be born anew in Christ, living the life that he grants by his resurrection through taking up the cross.”

The conference was the sixth in a series of conferences that the Centre has sponsored, including one in Rome (2008) on "The Grandeur of Reason: Religion, Tradition, and Universalism"; and Granada (2006) on "Belief and Metaphysics."  This year’s conference was led by Professor John Milbank, the leader of a group of Christians from a number of church traditions known as “Radical Orthodoxy,” and Conor Cunningham, the author of the recent book "Darwin's Pious Idea: Why the Ultra-Darwinists and Creationists both get it Wrong."

“The point of these conferences,” said Fr. John, “is to bring together theologians, philosophers, and scientists to discuss areas of common interest relating to the witness of Christianity in the contemporary world. It is very important that we bring an Orthodox presence to such gatherings, to be part of the broader discussions going on.”

The gathering was cosponsored by  the Uniwersytet Papieski Jana Pawla II, Kraków, Baylor University, and Brigham Young University.