Shaping debate on religion in public life.

Ethical Futures: Digital and Ecological

A multi-disciplinary network interested in developing theological responses to ecological challenges and digital technologies

Ethical Futures: Digital and Ecological is a multi-disciplinary network of theologians, philosophers, natural and social scientists, artists, practitioners, academics and activists with shared interests in developing theological responses to ecological challenges and new digital technologies.

The network emerged from conversations following the publication of a book in 2017 by Senior Research Fellow Rev’d Dr John Reader, entitled Theology and New Materialism: Spaces of Faithful Dissent. Examining the concepts of transcendence, human agency, and a New Enlightenment, Reader’s book also moves into more practical areas of aesthetics and technology and a response to the contemporary apocalyptic of climate change.

Following the launch of the book in Oxford, subsequent meetings and discussions have been held with a growing number of scholars and activists, interested to challenge and develop the themes it engages, particularly the ethical questions that lie at the intersections between our algorithmic society, the contemporary ecological crisis and religion.

This work follows in the tradition of William Temple, who was deeply concerned with, not only social justice, but also the environmental sustainability of our earth and the impact of technology.

“As a general principle upon which alone the solid foundations of peace can be built, we should recognise that the resources of the earth should be used as God’s gift to the whole human race, and used with due consideration for the needs of the present and future generations.”

Read more about the members of this network here.

Upcoming Meetings

August – 3rd – Peter Haslehurst & Andrew Bevan – 2pm – Is the brain a computer?

The human brain is often thought of as a biological computing device. Long before digital computers became a reality, Alan Turing developed a thought experiment to demonstrate the idea of a general purpose computer. Such a Turing machine can in principle execute any algorithm – a sequence of instructions which given a particular input will aways produce the same output. The human brain, which mediates every aspect of our conscious experience and agency, has a complex physical structure. A typical neuron, of which the brain contains about 85 billion, has an input data channel comprising up to 100,000 inputs (synapses). In turn the neuron sends output data via its axon to many other neurons. The synapse itself has a specific physical structure which can be visulaized under a microscope. Data arrives at the synapse in the digital-like form of electrical spikes, which trigger the release of a tiny chemical cloud of neurotransmitter (definitely not digital). Moment by moment the neuron integrates all these incoming signals and passes on the results as electrical spikes in its axon (digital-like again). Significantly for our discussion, release of neurotransmitter at the synapse seems to be stochastic, which decisively rules out the idea that the brain functions as a Turing machine.

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