The Workshop in the Galapagos Islands, 2015


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What is natural, human, and divine life, how do we recognise life, and what do we know or could we know of the origins of life? A workshop on these questions was held 17-21 August 2015 on the Galapagos Islands, in collaboration with GAIAS (The Galapagos Institute for the Arts and Sciences) and the Universidad San Francisco de Quito USFQ of Ecuador.

Participants and their abstracts

Ivana Anton Mlinar

Philosophy / Universidad Nacional de Cuyo / Argentina

“The Sense of Teleology in Processes and in the Development of Living Organisms: Are Aristotle and Molecular Genetics Compatible?”

In this paper I will analyse Aristotle’s teleology, a central component of his philosophy. I intend, firstly and on the basis of biology, to show that it is an empirical thesis and not an a priori one –that is, brought or applied to nature. Secondly, I will notice that the material causes of generation of a living organism are insufficient to explain and produce such an end. In other words, no sum of actualizations of the element‐potentials is sufficient by itself for the production of those complex living structures and functionings for which Aristotle offers teleological explanation.

I have a special interest in enquiring if and how classical notions (that have become important and been enriched with new nuances in the contemporaneity too) as teleology and intentionality (for instance) have their sense and validity facing the headways of science, and they allow, in turn, to bring bridges of dialogue between science and philosophy, giving a genuine and valid frame of humanization to the science.

Mariano Asla

Philosophy / Universidad Austral / Argentina

“On Good and Evil in an Extra-Terrestrial Sense: Xenoethics, the Ultimate Frontier of Moral Universals”

The search for what is proper and distinctly human is perhaps one of the most recurring issues in the history of philosophy. This problem is especially relevant in the moral sphere, where the difference between universals and particulars may have important normative consequences. In order to find a plausible empirical support for moral universals, anthropologists and psychologists have expanded the range of their observations and comparisons, progressively moving away from their cultural horizon. Following this expansive movement, one could suggest the hypothesis of even larger universals that overcome the constraints of our human culture and psychology. These universals could be found in intelligent beings beyond the boundaries of our planet. The speculation about xenoethics and trans-terrestrial moral universals is at present just a thought experiment.

Guillermo Barber Soler

Philosophy / Universidad Católica Argentina / Argentina

“Thinking Life as an Elan Vital. Bergson on Science and Evolution”

The present paper will focus on explaining the philosophical meaning of life and evolution, based in Bergson’s theories of time and knowledge. By considering time as a creative continuity, that can be understood only from a philosophical/intuitive perspective, we will arrive to the bergsonian concept of “élan vital” or creative impulse, which will lead us to a particular interpretation of what is evolution.

When philosophy thinks immaterial realities, just as freedom, soul, movement or time, with spatial categories, it arrives to intractable paradoxes, just as Xeno’s aporiae. The same happens with the concept of life, which is basically a type of movement that utilises matter with a creative impulse, that Bergson calls “élan vital”. Evolutionary theories, at least at that time, lacked what Bergson called the “effective power of time”, meaning that they were not assigning time any function in their systems. But this time-aspect of life is what permits life to evolve, to search new paths of development, assembling the simplicity of a vital function (v.g. seeing) with the complexity of the developed organs (v.g. the eye). But, on the other hand, this is also what makes life incomprehensible or irreducible to the spatial categories of Physics or basic Biology.

Daniel Blanco

Biology - HPS / Universidad Nacional del Litoral / Argentina

“Andreas Osiander and Darwinism”

I would analyse what lies behind the approach affirming that when some particular biblical text seems to be in conflict with well established scientific theories, our interpretation of that text changes in order to reduce the gaps between the two postures: a confidence about why we give the certainty we give the certainty we give to science. Of course, that confidence is not without foundation: we consider scientific theories as good explanations of natural phenomena; they have empirical support; many of them show unification power; have useful technological applications; and/or show some other epistemic virtues. For all this, we feel that it is wise that a biblical scholar listens to what science has to say every time he or she is about to interpret a biblical passage that deals with the natural world. Thinking about this privileged knowledge (but with not relation at all with biblical issues), and mainly during the decade of 1980, a debate took place in analytical philosophy. This debate was over what was called “scientific realism”, over how much confidence we can have in what science teaches us about the natural world, which I will analyse in this paper.

Jimena Camacho

Communication / UNAM / Mexico

“Science and Religion relationship about the origin of life and the notion of life in three Mexican magazines”

In the current debate about the relationship between Science and Religion the social sciences have not been largely present, including Communication Sciences and, within it, the dissemination of science. I believe that the popularization of science should be involved in discussion for several reasons. First, media spaces specialized in popularizing science are those which would naturally approach (or not) this debate and present the different positions involved to the larger public. So it is interesting and important to know whether the dissemination of science still holds the old paradigm that Science and Religion are definitely unrelated to each other (in the best case) or that they are “enemies” in the worst. Second, because media spaces of popularization of science are privileged spaces to promote the dialogue between secular and religious citizens, between the rationality of modern reason (science) and the rationality of religion or faith, following Jürgen Habermas, especially about issues where both of them can be mutually enhance. Third one, the popularization of science is not only the natural space to show to the public the debate about relationship between Science and Religion, in the manner of an agora, which it is of itself important, but also, and as a result, can itself become a bridge for dialogue between both, Science and Religion. This paper, then, aims at making a qualitative-comparative analysis from a communicational perspective on how three Mexican publications approach the subject of the origin of life and or the concept of life in their relation to religious notions.

Ignacio Del Carril

Philosophy / Universidad Austral / Argentina

“Quantum Biology, a Window to God”

This article tries to establish a relation between life, divine action and free will, having quantum physics as link. The article has two main goals: first, to make a reflection about the biological, anthropological and theological implications of quantum physics. The second goal is to show the necessity of of a fluid dialogue between science, philosophy and religion. The thread of thought will be the ideas of a relatively less known physicist named Pascual Jordan (1902-1980).

I’m mainly interested in the areas of metaphysics, philosophy of nature, philosophy of biology, philosophy of physics, and philosophy of science in general, particularly in relation to the interactions between science, philosophy and religion. I focus my research on the notion of life, which is transversal to many philosophical disciplines, being crucial to generate a “meeting place” between all these areas of knowledge in which an increasingly deeper dialogue is so necessary.

Tiago Valentim Garros

Biology - Theology / Escola Superior de Teologia / Brazil

“Is Christianity ready for ET?”

This article will examine the theological implications of the prospect discovery of life outside the Earth, as announced by NASA in the beginning of April 2015. I will begin by analysing the possible implications and meaning for theology if microbial life is discovered, contrary to the popular belief that in terms of the doctrine of creation and for Christian theology nothing would really change. I will argue that this fact will have serious implications for the study of the origin of life, and consequently, to our understanding of God’s role as creator. In a second moment, I will analyse the scenario of intelligent life being discovered and what the effects would be for Christianity if that is confirmed.

Martín Grassi

Philosophy / CONICET / Argentina

“Symbiosis and the Relational Essence of Life: A Possible Dialogue between Philosophy, Theology and Science”

The main goal of this article is to look for a notion of life that could attend to its relational essence, that is, to the evidence (in multiple dimensions of reality) that life is something that never happens in loneliness. I shall face the ambitious task of thinking the nexus that binds cosmology-anthropology-theology from a wider perspective. My participation in this Workshop looks to introduce biological insights into my research programme in philosophy, and therefore, to motivate a wider approach to religion that would bring along scientists from the natural sciences. Also, as assistant professor of Philosophy of Religion at the Universidad Católica Argentina, Facultad de Filosofía, I shall uplift the syllabus with this new biological approach to religious and theological concepts.

Wellington Gil Rodrigues

HPS / Universidade Federal da Bahia / Brazil

“The Theological Implications of the Discovery of Alien Intelligence in View of Members of Seventh Day Adventist Church”

The attempt to contact extraterrestrial beings is not anything new in the scientific world. Since 1960 there is this kind of initiative, the main is the SETI Project. However, this discussion got more importance after the results of NASA’s Kepler mission, which, since 2010, has identified thousands of extra-solar planets. These findings increase the enthusiasm about the possibility of existence of Extraterrestrial Intelligence (ETI), which has the potential to be the greatest discovery in human history, supposing that finally the question will be answered: Are we alone in the universe?

Roman Catholicism has discussed whether intelligent beings would have suffered the consequences of original sin, if they would need redemption and how God would act to save them. Judaism encourages its faithful to maintain a relationship with the God of the whole universe but offers its rules only for humans. Islam accepts the existence of ETI on other worlds, and this is declared in the Koran itself, and all the creatures of the universe are accountable to Allah, however, the religion of Muhammad is to humans on Earth, what means that the ETI should have their own prophets. Evangelical Christians have enormous resistance to the idea of contact with ETI since for most of them, humanity is the central point of the creative and redemptive power of God and that if God had created other intelligent beings in the universe, it would be declared in Genesis. However, some Christian fundamentalists have more easily incorporated the existence of ETI in their cosmology. Seventh-day Adventists, for example, believe that current humans are descendants of the first couple and that all humans inherited original sin. This group also believes that there are extraterrestrial beings in several other planets scattered through a vast universe. These beings, however, are not descended from Adam and Eve, and therefore did not inherited original sin and are considered “not fallen beings”.

Alberto Hernández-Espinosa

Computing / UNAM / Mexico

“Towards a possible Algorithmic-Info-Computational Explanation of the Notion of Life”

Different explanations on notion of life are in offer. Biology, for instance, propose theories about the origin of the life; hard sciences explain the complex processes of the life; philosophy and theology offer ontological and epistemological definitions on life. But, is it the notion of life about ontological/epistemological conceptualization? Is it about biological evolution? Is it about complex processes? Is it about taking optimal decisions? The answer to these questions, in this paper is that the notion of life is about all these issues and more, in the strictest sense of emergentism: “[…] more than the sum of the properties of their parts” (Mill, 1943), and the support for this answer, is the construction of a constructivist theory named New Computationalism (NC).

Catalina Hidalgo

Philosophy / Universidad del Rosario / Colombia

“The ethical-theological turn on the inquiry about sense and limits of human life”

The question about the existence of extra-terrestrial life is in itself an inquiry about the limits and the sense of the concept of life, but specially, about ‘human life’. Prima facie we can assert that human life is terrestrial, while there is something else that, that as it isn’t terrestrial, it can’t be called as properly ‘human’. As it follows, the concept of human life has a topological character that locates it within the limits of earth. However, as it is obviously that earth is habited not only by human beings, it is not enough to characterise the concept of ‘human life’ by appealing to our membership to that topos called earth.

Inasmuch as I’m focusing in the relation between the concept of human life, ethics, theology and the philosophical implications of ideas such as the existence of extra-terrestrial life, I would discuss the liminal conditions of human life, theological understandings of life, as well as the theological and ethical implications of the idea of extra-terrestrial life.

Nicolas Lema Habash

Philosophy / Independent / Chile

“Life and Politics: Nietzsche’s Early Critique of Kant’s Notion of Teleology in Living Organisms”

In 1868, Friedrich Nietzsche planned to write a dissertation on Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgement and, more specifically, on the concept of teleology as applied to living organisms that Kant had advanced in the second part of that work, titled “Critique of Teleological Judgement.” Eventually, Nietzsche abandoned the project, thus leaving us with a set of notes titled “On Teleology,” also known as “Teleology since Kant.” A reading of these notes will be the central focus this paper. By focusing on Nietzsche’s early perspectives on the notion of life, I wish to contribute to the understanding of the relationship between politics and life in his works and within the context of 19th Century post-Kantian philosophy. As recent scholarship has shown, Nietzsche’s interests in the conception of life and, more generally, in biology as such, cannot be separated from political considerations. Nietzsche’s reading of Kant can be studied from a ‘bio-political’ perspective. Such a perspective highlights, on the one hand, the non-exclusivity of the human within the realm of the natural. On the other, it establishes that politics begins with a particular interpretation of life itself.

Heslley Machado Silva

Biology - Education / Centro Universitário de Formiga / Brazil

“Perception of Biology Teachers about the Origin of Life in Three Latin American Countries, with Different Patterns of Religiosity and Laicism”

This paper investigates the concepts of biology teachers about the origin of life in three Latin American countries, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, for which there were significant differences in the response among teachers of the three countries. I argue that it is relevant to discuss this issue in a new religious context in Latin America, particularly in Brazil. This new scenario is shaped by the growing of the number of followers from the evangelical churches, named neo-Pentecostals, some with a literal vision of the Biblical text, on the other hand, there is also an increase of those who call themselves without religion, including no followers of any creed, agnostics and atheists. This new religious framework announces the possibility of conflicts in the educational field, that was exactly I detected in my research and would like to discuss the analysis of the results of this question.

Cristina Mancilla

Biology - HPS / Universidad Francisco Marroquín / Guatemala

“Science History: A Thematic Delimitation of Life”

For centuries, life has been a subject of study for the great branches of human thought, especially scientific thought, that has developed specific sciences for this study, such as Biology. However, as the biologist Ajay Royyuru said in a recent interview: “Interdisciplinary approach to science has been extended in our days caused by the huge volume of information, product of the accelerated scientific and technological progress in recent decades, making essential the multidisciplinary approach.” This sort of information and concepts leads us to the question: Are we doing a thematic delimitation of life or in contrast are we gathering a lot of evidence and data that would just cloud the objectiveness of this concept?, which I will tackle in this paper.

Frederik Moreira dos Santos

Physics - HPS / Universidade Federal da Bahia / Brazil

“The Concept of Life and The Second Law of Thermodynamic: a history of challenge and success through an interdisciplinary dialogue”

In the first half of the 20th century, we had two major characters (and their research groups) that will influence the fundamental studies on the concept of life: 1) The Phage group, in the US, and the Cologne school, in Germany, centred around Max Delbrück (1906 – 1981) in the thirties and forties. Schrodinger’s book “What is life?” showed many results about the cellular replication mechanism in molecular biology produced by Delbrück and his colleagues, evidencing the clear positivist flavour that guided many members of this group. 2) The group lead by Sir Frederick G. Hopkins (1861 – 1947), which had a different metaphysical background to define life. According to him life is “not a mass of matter composed of a congregation of like molecules, but a highly differentiated system: the cell, in the modern phraseology of physical chemistry, is a system of co-existing phases of different constitutions”.

Ilya Prigogine’s work synthesised both traditions, i.e. the reductionist and the holistic one. In the sixties, studies in thermodynamic on systems far from equilibrium got a tremendous development with the Brussels’ school, and Ilya Prigogine was becoming one of its main and most renowned members. He aimed at defending that behind of the dynamic of life existed an autonomous principle which pervaded all living beings, i.e. the irreversibility. This principle along with the systems out of equilibrium help to prepare the conditions that make life possible. The openness of living beings make possible to keep entropic features under control because livings beings have the capacity to decrease their internal entropy due an increase of external entropy. Such proposition is stablished upon a general principle that led Kay & Schneider to proposed a reformulation of the second law of thermodynamics in such specific way: “the reformulated second law suggests that systems […] will take advantage of all available means to resist externally applied gradients. When highly ordered complex systems emerge, they develop and grow at the expense of increasing the disorder [negentropy] at higher levels in the system’s hierarchy. We note that this behavior appears universally in physical and chemical systems.”

Gonzalo Recio

Philosophy / Universidad Tres de Febrero / Argentina

“All life Depends on Life: Aquinas’ doctrine of Creation and Divine Life”

The origin of life is a profound mystery. Where did the first primitive DNA molecules appeared? What were the conditions in Earth -or elsewhere!- which allowed the first unicellular organisms to rise? Is life constrained to develop from carbon-based foundations, or is it possible under radically different conditions? If we go further back in time, anthropic questions rise: what kind of fundamental cosmological constants are allowed if a life-hospitable universe is to evolve? These are profound questions indeed. It is the task of science to unravel these mysteries and give us a deeper understanding of our origins as living creatures. However: is that all there is to it? If we wish to understand the origin of life, is it enough to answer all of the above questions and any other similar ones? In my paper I will deal with two further important questions: “What is God?” and “What is Creation?”. These considerations will, hopefully, allow me to show the metaphysical relationship there is between the notion of a Creative God and that of a Living God. In doing this I will clear the way to show the deep connection philosophy unveils between all that lives, from the most primitive bacteria to God. Any doctrine that pretends to find the ultimate origin of reality in one of its material parts, or in an impersonal original entity fails to recognize one of Aquinas´ fundamental insights: to be Creator is inextricably intertwined with being a Living Person. The universe comes from Life.

Juan Manuel Rodríguez Caso

Biology - HPS / UNAM / Mexico

“Life on Earth and Beyond: Alfred Russel Wallace and his Views on the Origin of Life”

Although Wallace interests are well known with regarding to the application of natural selection in a large number of phenomena, little has been said of his work on the origin of life. Among other studies, based on his views on Man’s development, he established his understandings on astronomy but especially in the way life could arise on Earth, and after millions of years of evolution, had the possibility to give rise to organic life and higher forms of intellectual beings. Also noteworthy is the manner in which Wallace addressed the issue at all times, emphasizing not only the scientific but also philosophical scope of his proposal, considering that not only a materialist explanation can be valid in order to explain the origin of life, since in his opinion man is a spiritual being, therefore the evolution of life should also include that aspect. My interest with this paper will be to show the impact of Wallace view on the origin of life in contemporary discussions, both with other scientists and among the Victorian public, as an example of interdisciplinary interaction between science, philosophy and even religion, considering that questions on life and Man were (and still are) particularly sensitive among scientists.

Fernando Rodríguez

Semiology / Universidad Argentina de la Empresa / Argentina

“In Support of the Interpretation Model in Biosemiotics”

In this paper I will argue that Biosemiotics can contribute to redefine life. This is relevant by itself, in a Platonic-Aristotelian sense (knowledge for knowledge’s sake), but in today’s world where organ cloning defies the most essential ideas of living and human beings, what must be understood for ‘life’ has to be debated not only from a theoretical scope but also in practical philosophy and in the field of everyday behaviour. Neurobiology and Philosophy sometimes hold radically opposing views upon this issue, and it is an increasingly assumed perception that semiotics (the science of signs), now stretched up to include the whole life phenomena (biosemiotics) can make important contributions to the matter and renew it with unprecedented perspectives. Biosemiotics is not just another branch of biology or of semiotics, but an innovative perspective that promotes a complete and basic new starting point concerning life phenomena, to which it attends as meaning bearing phenomena. Biosemiotics’ main axiom is that life and semiosis overlap: they are one and the same thing. Very important moral dilemmas may be considered under a different light from this alternative viewpoint. Biosemiotics is unquestionably a conversational partner in the current and future treatment of the concept of life.

Camila Sloboda Pacheco da Silva

Biology - HPS / PUC-SP / Brazil

“Revisiting the Place of Virus among Us, the Living Beings”

If we intent to shed some light into the subject of the virus as micro-organism with or without a life, we have first to describe what life means, biologically. From this it is possible to make again some observations about what is considered the object of biology, lending the words of other sciences, as chemistry and physics. Life, in the first place, can exist especially where we find the organization of physical and chemical elements in which the functions are maintained by one scheme of structuring and regulation. And if we think in this way is possible to imagine the virus as a microscopic living being, because the virus is constituted by one part of different sort of proteins that protects involving the other part made by genome (DNA or RNA). Whereas there is still a dispute about the relationships between virus and living beings, we know for certain that the virus is derived directly from the most real form of life, so that their natures are fundamentally the same. While discussion is under its way, it is still easier to ask if one virus has life itself or no, rather than answer this dogmatic question. One thing has to be extremely clear, is that scientists are appreciating virus as fundamental players in the history of life.

Saulo Henrique Souza Silva

Philosophy / Universidade Federal de Sergipe / Brazil

“Beasts, Men, Aliens, Spirits and God: John Locke and the Chain of Life”

In this paper I will analyse Locke’s views on the possibility of extra-terrestrial life. As suggested by the title, An Essay Concerning Human understanding, published in 1689 by the English philosopher John Locke, consists of an investigation into the man’s understanding. However, the inquiry about the limits and extent of human knowledge led to reflection on the order of creatures that surround the universe and are objects of curiosity or scientific research. Thus, the object of natural philosophy is divided between beings material and spiritual beings that inhabit the material world and the intellectual world, respectively. From this division, it is possible to establish a diversified chain of being as follows: 1) At the bottom of the chain were beasts, animals and vegetables or simply sentient beings and material formed by an organized and permanent corpuscular structure. 2) Then participants were men of the material and sensible world, as well as the intellectual and rational world. Even on these two categories, Locke advocates the probable existence of extraterrestrial beings. In other words, Locke advocates the possibility of life on other worlds and not only the existence of simple and merely sentient beings, but also of intelligent life, possibly having higher cognitive ability to that of humans.

David Suárez Pascal

Biology - HPS / UNAM / Mexico

“Life and Value: Creativity as a Sign of Life”

Science, philosophy, technology and literature have approached the issue of the nature of life from many and diverse perspectives. These strikingly different views, share a basic distinction: that between life and mere existence. The search for a more inclusive analysis of the nature of life is of course motivated not only by relatively recent scientific developments, but it is part of the same trend of thought that has impelled the search for more inclusive analyses of intelligence, reason, knowledge, theories, etc. Once we supplement the description of life as we know it (which covers a lot of our biological knowledge) with a more inclusive notion of life, we could get not only a broader picture of biological processes and theories, but also a deeper understanding of the nature of life. In this paper I will suggest that if we deal with the role that the notion of creativity plays in discussions about the nature of life we can get an idea of the sort of gap that neither single nor joined life-defining hallmarks seem able to bridge. Specifically, the thesis I will argue for is that a peculiar notion of the value of life is commonly embedded in many of our descriptions of the features of living systems and that this notion enables us to distinguish life from inert matter better than sophisticated notions of emergence.

Raphael Uchoa

Biology - HPS / PUC-SP / Brazil

“Man’s Place in Nature and T.H. Huxley’s Basis for Biology”

In this paper I will explore Thomas Huxley’s ideas of “biology”: what is it? What ground does it cover? In what sense Huxley’s ideas of humans’ place in nature was pivotal for his conception of life and of the science that investigates it? The problem relative to man’s place in nature operated as a common thread among several notions and theories formulated and debated in Victorian England. That was precisely the subject of Evidence as Man’s Place in Nature (1863), a book by Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895) that became highly influential from the 1860s onwards. I will present the main conceptions underlying Huxley’s delimitation of biology as a field of inquiry, presenting an overlapping of ideas relative to zoological classification formulated at that period and appropriate comparison criteria required for accurate grading of living beings

Héctor Velázquez Fernández

Philosophy / Universidad Panamericana / Mexico

“Is There a Real Boundary between Living Beings and Non-Living Beings? From Ontological Reductionism to Methodological Pluralism”

The question of the origin of life and the mechanism and conditions that permitted its beginning and the diversity and complexity of species, implies to answer in advance how we can distinguish between living being and non-living being. I will devote this paper to this question, and in particular I will try to answer whether living beings can be reduced to the laws of non living-being, which is to ask whether the reality of life can be reduced to the reality of non living being, or whether the laws of life can be reduced to the laws of the non-living.

I will argue that to identify the boundaries between living being and non-living being implies to define what we understand for the notion of life; and that supposes to apply an heterogeneous physics to explain why the natural structures are maintaining an stability in a context that is tending to an instability, but according to patterns. Moreover, to explain what is a living being, implies also to explain how is possible for the living being to communicate their differences from one generation to another generation, as a combination between diversity and order. Furthermore, I will argue that my evaluation of the limits of an ontological or a methodological reductionism to study living beings implies an interdisciplinary approach and supposes specific criteria to distinguish the boundaries between living being and non-living being.

Pablo Zunino

Philosophy / UFRB / Brazil

“Philosophical Aspects of the Theory of Evolution: Impulse and Vital Process”

This article examines some philosophical considerations about the origin and the concept of life based on Henri Bergson’s work, The creative evolution (1907). To evaluate the different scientific perspectives on the theory of evolution will allow us to understand the evolutionary process from a broader perspective, in which the effort of science converges with the philosophical ideas. The theme of the variation of species, for example, occupied a prominent place in the research of evolutionary biology since Darwin and Eimer, who thought the concept of adaptation based on the model of causality. However, this explanation raises the problem of how it is possible that two different species develop similar organs, either through accidental variations (natural selection) or directed variations.

Rafael Vicuña

Universidad Católica de Chile

Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, Universidad Católica de Chile, will address questions on the origin of life on Earth and the search for life on other planets, as well as the biological notion of life.

Celia Deane-Drummond

University of Notre Dame / United States

Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame, United States, will engage with theological understandings of life as well as the theological and ethical implications of extra-terrestrial life.

John H. Brooke

University of Oxford / United Kingdom

Emeritus Professor of Science and Religion, Oxford University, will discuss historical debates in philosophy, theology and natural history, on extra-terrestrial life, as well as Darwin’s engagement with the question of life on Earth and its diversity.

Diego Quiroga

GAIAS - Universidad San Francisco de Quito / Ecuador

Dean of Research at Universidad San Francisco de Quito and co-Director of the Galapagos Institute for the Arts and Sciences.

Stella de la Torre

GAIAS - Universidad San Francisco de Quito / Ecuador

Decana – Colegio de Ciencias Biológicas y Ambientales

“What can research on Ecuadorian biodiversity tell us about the uniqueness of life and culture, the case of Galapagos extremophiles and Amazonian primates”

Along the history of science there are several examples of paradigm shifts triggered by new research in unexplored areas. The astonishing and greatly unexplored biodiversity in Ecuador, from the extremophiles in Galapagos to the non-human primates in the Amazon, has been the basis for new research that have contributed to challenging classic ideas in evolution. The discovery of organisms living in the extreme environments of hydrothermal vents in the deep ocean beds of Galapagos in 1977 was remarkably important for our understanding of life’s origins and of the conditions required for life to occur. Extremophiles thrive in environments where most living organisms will die. Some extremophiles could survive in the outer space and some may be able to live in the environments of other planets. In this context, for the proponents of the Panspermia theory – the transfer of life throughout the Universe – the study of extremophiles could provide a hint of how this transfer could occur. Thus, extremophiles are not only an example of how diverse the results of natural selection could be but their existence challenge the classic idea that life is unique to Earth and that can only occur in a very narrow range of environmental conditions. In a similar way as the research on extremophiles has opened new horizons for the study of life on Earth, research on non-human primates has challenged the classic idea that culture is unique to humans. Culture is defined as the non genetic transmission of behavioral styles to the next generation. In humans, one example of a culturally transmitted behavior is language. The existence of the extraordinary linguistic diversity in our species has been directly related to our learning abilities. To understand how these characteristics evolved we have turned to the study of vocal communication and learning in non-human primates. However, evidences of similar processes in our closest relatives are scarce. In a study I carried out with my research team on the pygmy marmoset Cebuella pygmaea in Amazonian Ecuador, we found evidence that cultural variation in vocal communication may be the rule rather than the exception in the Primate Order and that the apparently reduced vocal variability in primates is an artifact of the lack of appropriate quantitative data. In our study, we found significant interpopulation differences in the acoustic structure of two contact calls in this species. Some of these differences were explained by the acoustics of the habitats, but several others were not. Genetic analyses using fecal DNA have provided preliminary evidence that genetic diversity among populations is less than diversity within each population. Thus, vocal dialects may not be the result of genetic drift; instead, mechanisms of social learning and cultural transmission may account for the recorded differences. These examples highlight the potential of studying Ecuadorian biodiversity to better understand biological and cultural evolution.

Tamara Trownsell

Universidad San Francisco de Quito / Ecuador

“Lenses, Images, Fruits and Order of Appearance: A working lexicon of ontological philosophy for addressing how the assumptions we make about existence affects how we understand and engage in life”

Fundamental for how we understand “The Origin and Concept of Life,” this text introduces a new lexicon for addressing ontology in such a way that it aids us in seeing how the ontological lens we use to engage with existence shapes that to which we pay attention, how we perceive and understand it, and then what we think we can do about it. The paper will contrast two lenses based on complementary-opposite assumptions about the primordial instance of existence. The contrast, discerned in terms of how each one’s pre-supposition shapes the image we use to filter existence and according to which we relate to it, will be developed over the course of four sub-sections. First, the complementary-opposite primordial assumptions about existence, separation and interconnection, will be defined and briefly discussed. The second section will review the conceptual tools we need to contrast the implications of each ontological pre-supposition. Third, these tools are key for the next portion, which actually walks us through how each primordial assumption generates a distinct image that affords only certain kinds of fruits due to the ontological order of appearance of phenomena through the image. Finally these different ontological processes are applied to the concept of life itself so that we might be more aware of how our particular ontological assumptions about existence affect the way in which we engage the idea from conceptualization and throughout the entire process of engagement.

Nathan Digby

Universidad San Francisco de Quito / Ecuado

“Emptiness and Arising: An Analysis of the Concept of Life through the Lenses of Madhyamika Buddhism and Process Philosophy”

Madhaymika (Middle Path) Buddhism claims to stake out a middle path between origination and extinction, destruction and permanence, identity and difference, and coming and going. By negating both the existence and non-existence of these conceptual opposites, this philosophy suggests a new, relational ontology of phenomenological emptiness, in which all things arise in dependence on other things (pratitya-samutpada). This view stands in stark contrast to most Western approaches, which tend to focus on existence alone. One large exception to this rule is the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, which also outlines a relational ontology by locating being within a larger process of continual becoming. In this paper I hope to bring these two approaches to making sense of reality together around the question of life. Can Madhaymika’s deconstructive negative dialectics shed new light on the concept of life through dismantling its opposites (life/death, substance/process, being/non-being)? How does Whitehead’s understanding of life as “the origination of conceptual novelty” complement this view? In particular, I will argue that attention to these two philosophies may help clarify some of the underlying difficulties in defining the concept of life in traditional Western scientific terms.

Patricia Sierra

GAIAS - Universidad San Francisco de Quito / Ecuador


Recent space exploration using sophisticated telescopes and space probes has given us a great deal of information about the physical characteristics and prevailing conditions on the planets and moons of the solar system. This information indicates that the appearance, survival and evolution of life in any of those worlds will be very difficult and impossible for advance lifeforms. The discovery of worlds circling other stars different from the Sun has become a major issue in the understanding of possible scenarios where extraterrestrial life can eventually be found. Although we have not found a twin sister of Earth, the incredible number of worlds with unimaginable characteristics and surface conditions has opened the possibilities to new ways of searching for life elsewhere.

Defining the information and blueprints we should look for as indicators of biological activity on those worlds has become a new challenge for scientists.

Andrew Pinsent

Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion

Research Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion, at the University of Oxford, and Director of the project Science, Philosophy and Theology in Latin America.

Agustina Lombardi

Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion

“Edith Stein on the Concept of Life: Between Phenomenology, Aristotelian Forms, and Evolutionary Biology”

In this paper I will present Edith Stein’s ideas regarding life, inasmuch as life can be understood biologically and spiritually. In 1921 Stein decided to convert to Catholicism. Before her conversion, she focused her studies on the constitution of the human person strictly through a phenomenological approach, still in dialogue with psychological discussions of her time. After her encounter with Christianity, Stein incorporated features of Aquinas’ thought, together with other Christian and classic thinkers such as Augustine, Aristotle, and Plato. This incorporation led Stein to develop an understanding of human nature as immersed in the natural world. Thus, moving beyond her previous purely phenomenological considerations of an embodied ego, Stein developed a conception of the human nature as a microcosm that gathers all the different realms of the created world, understood as composed of different degrees of being. Thus, phenomenological notions such as Körper and Leib converge in Stein’s work with classic Christian thought. Through the analysis of her works The Structure of the Human Person and Finite and Eternal Being, my goal is to present her twofold understanding of life as material and spiritual life. According to Stein, both kinds of life are an internal movement carried out by an inner form: the Aristotelian soul. The difference, for Stein, between these kinds of life is that whereas purely material life is to be understood in terms of an inner movement, spiritual life implies an outward movement as well. Finally, I will present briefly how Stein engages with the problem of the evolutionary origin of species with her notion of form.

Ignacio Silva

Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion

Research Fellow at the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion, University of Oxford, and co-Director of the project Science, Philosophy and Theology in Latin America.

Eugenio Urrutia Albisúa

CECIR / UPAEP / Mexico

Vice-Rector Académico at the Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla and Director of the Institute Ciencia y Religion at the same university.