Alister Hardy: biologist of the spirit

Hay, David (1998) Alister Hardy: biologist of the spirit. Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre : Second Series of Occasional Papers.

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Abstract

In September 1969, almost exactly 110 years after the publication of The Origin of Species, another biologist and enthusiastic Darwinian, Alister Hardy, founded the Religious Experience Research Unit in Manchester College, Oxford. Hardy’s vision was of a new kind of natural theology that would grow out of the scientific investigation of the spiritual experience of the human species. Towards the end of his first series of Gifford Lectures delivered at the University of Aberdeen in 1964, he had stated: Those who are concerned lest our civilization will change its nature under the influence of a materialistic philosophy might, I believe, do well to consider how they might encourage further research into the nature of human personality, in the hope of finding more about the nature of God. The great institutes for scientific research having a bearing on man’s bodily comfort – upon medical problems direct and indirect, agriculture and fisheries, food, transport and so on – are dotted about the country, and are as symbolic of the present age as our glorious cathedrals and parish churches are symbolic of our spiritual past. If only one per cent of the money spent on the physical and biological sciences could be spent ... it might not be long before a new age of faith dawned upon the world. It would, I believe, be a faith in a spiritual reality to match that of the middle ages; one based not upon a belief in a miraculous interference with the course of nature, but upon a greatly widened scientific outlook. What might mankind not do if he used the tools of modern science with the faith and inspiration of the cathedral builders? Can the scientific method help to re-establish such a faith? This vision of Hardy’s was heavily overlaid, if not entirely obscured, for almost all of his professional career as one of the world’s leading marine biologists. Indeed, the Alister Hardy Society is not the only organisation that currently bears his name. SAHFOS, the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science, has its headquarters in Plymouth, a staff of 20 and an annual operating budget last year of two-thirds of a million pounds. It monitors the nearsurface plankton on a network of routes covering the whole of the North Atlantic and North Sea on a monthly basis, using the Continuous Plankton Recorder which Hardy invented more than 60 years ago. In this essay I want to turn away from that highly salient aspect of Alister’s originality to explore the origins and nature of the creative vision that grew out of his central preoccupation – the relation between biology and religion.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Series: RERC Second Series Occasional Papers;19.
Uncontrolled Keywords: Experience (Religion)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
Divisions: Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre > Second Series of Occasional Papers
Depositing User: John Dalling
Date Deposited: 29 Oct 2014 14:09
Last Modified: 24 Feb 2016 09:35
URI: http://repository.uwtsd.ac.uk/id/eprint/393

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