Emeritus Professor Charles Birch
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Professor Charles Birch (1918-2009) was Emeritus Professor at the University of Sydney and Challis Professor of
Biology for 25 years. He was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion in 1990, a prize considered
to be ‘the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for religion’. Professor Birch was described as ‘Australia’s leading
thinker on science and God’ (Sydney Morning Herald, 27 Feb. 1998).
Professor Birch’s 1991 commendation for Beyond the Human Condition
‘In his book Beyond The Human Condition Jeremy Griffith makes the right emphasis when he identifies the order of the universe and its cosmic and biological evolution as the issue that brings science and religion together. Science shows an increasing complexity in order with cosmic and biological evolution but it finds no meaning to that increase in complexity. Jeremy Griffith finds that a religious vision brings an “integrative meaning” to that order. Moreover it leads him to an ethical vision of integrating love and peace. In all this he gives us a genuinely original and inspiring way of understanding ourselves and our place in the universe. His vision is one I embrace with enthusiasm and commend to all those who are searching for meaning.’
To parents, friends and interested parties Professor Birch said there were ‘two huge themes’ in Jeremy Griffith’s books: the first being ‘the nature of the world’, and the second being ‘the nature of human nature’.
Professor Birch then went on to describe the limitations of science’s current mechanistic approach to inquiry, its avoidance of the psychologically self-confronting, holistic truth of the interrelatedness of matter, saying:
‘there is a problem about that [the mechanistic paradigm], it can’t deal with certain questions…Every individual entity, be it cell or an atom, and certainly human beings, all living creatures, their constitution is different by virtue of the relationships that they have with the whole that they belong to. Now that is the most important thing I think that one can begin to think about, the nature of the world, the universe…And I think this is the sort of exploratory area which could transform a lot of thinking. In other words, science can’t deal with subjectivity…This [holistic aspect] is something that is very difficult to get your teeth into [confront] and yet it is the most important thing in the world. … what we were all taught in universities is pretty much a dead end. You don’t get any where much with that [holism-denying approach]. And so psychology is looking round now for some way of dealing with the subjective…Very few are prepared to admit the possibility that there is a subjective side.’
Professor Birch’s address at the 1998 launch of the WTM/FHA’s website
To an audience of over 200 at the Australian Museum (16 Oct. 1998), Professor Birch opened his address by saying:
‘Now I’m happy to be involved with the launch of your website for three reasons: One is the questions the Foundation asks are important. I think they’re important. Two, the Foundation has had a positive and creative influence on the lives of many of you, some of whom I know. So it must be doing some good, despite what the ABC might have had to say about you. Thirdly, and this relates to something that John Biggs was talking about information. And actually while he was talking it occurred to me that although I’ve spent the whole of my life virtually lecturing to students, I mean that’s not the only thing I did, but I spent a lot of time lecturing to students, I’ve never lectured to students on any subject of which I was taught, which is suggestive the extent of which information becomes out of date. In fact as soon as I graduated I was already out of date. I learnt that very quickly. My third point, the third reason why I am glad to be here relates to that. In the 21st century the world will not be run by those who possess information alone. We are drowning in information. Just look at the internet. But we are starving for wisdom. And what we need is people who put the two together—the right information with the capacity to make important choices wisely. The Foundation can bring together the right information and wise choices.’ more...