Professor presents competing religious theorists' ideas
By Paul Karpenko
A former UW-Fox philosophy professor held a lecture in Perry Hall for the campus' first spring Scholars Series event Feb. 18.
Richard Hanson presented the talk titled, "Evil, Human Nature and the End of Time: Human Origins and Destiny in Buddhism and Christianity".
"The nature of evil is the struggle to survive," Hanson said.
Hanson's presentation included a slide show comparing and contrasting Christian and Buddhist perspectives through the works of the late religious thinkers Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Anagarika Dharmapala.
"I wanted to address thinkers that took the notion of evolution seriously. I think it speaks very intimately to the scientifically informed culture," Hanson said.
Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) was a French Jesuit priest and a paleontologist. He introduced scientific theories about how the universe came into existence (cosmogony), and made significant archaeological and anthropological discoveries.
Hanson described Teilhard de Chardin's theory about the noosphere, the sphere of human thought.
"Matter involutes first into the geosphere, the rock and the basic stone formations of the planet then later into the biosphere, which is made of the living things that inhabit the Earth. These organic molecules change in complexity over time, with finally... human beings on the scene, having the noosphere, the sphere of the mind," Hanson said.
Tailhard believed life involves struggle, and the struggle to survive is the where evil exists. Disorder, failure, decomposition and growth are evils that are experienced on this planet, according to the theorist.
Many forms had to perish before a successful form was formed and no growth is accomplished without sacrifice. Tailhard said that if we understood the mystery of evil, we would come close to understand the mystery of the universe. We need to accept it and move forward within it.
Dharmapala (1864-1933) was a Buddhist activist and missionary. He is recognized as one of the most respected Buddhists of the twentieth century.
Dharmapala believed in the Buddhist view of dharma, in which everything that exists is part of a greater process; it is a cause of everything else. All reality is interwoven and no being exists on its own. People only exist in relation to everything else.
He also preached a physical law of the universe called karma, in that every action affects everything in the universe. He believed life started as transcendental state of bliss, and eventually evils like attachment and desire led to misery and differentiated beings.
Dharmapala felt that life moves in cycles of birth, death and rebirth, and those who adjust their perceptions by following the Buddha's teachings can see life as it is and transcend.
"What the Buddha taught was being echoed into modern science and modern science had an awful lot to learn from the Buddha. Basically, Western culture is finally waking up to some of the vestiges that Buddhism has been trying to teach for the past 2500 years," Hanson said.
Sophomore Breanna Everetts especially valued this part of the lecture.
"Dharmapala's take on evil was particularly interesting and foreign to me. Although Dr. Hanson explained the relationship between attachment, karma and suffering very clearly, I will have to give the concept time to settle in my mind," Everetts said.
The Perry Hall crowd was larger than expected for the philosophical lecture.
"This was the first lecture that I've attended at UW-Fox, and based upon philosophy lectures that I've attended at other universities I only expected a dozen or so in attendance. I was most impressed to see many non-students, people from the wider community, attend the lecture." assistant professor of philosophy Mike McFall, said.
Students in attendance agreed.
"I was pleased with the turnout," sophomore Justin Wiese said.
"I was pleasantly surprised by the size and variety of the audience. I found the following Q&A to be quite interesting," Everetts said.
Though currently a senior lecturer at UW-Rock County and UW-Washington County, Hanson was previously a senior lecturer of philosophy at UW-Fox. Hanson's former students petitioned the Scholars Series chair to invite him back to Fox to speak.
"During my first semester at UW-Fox I was a student in Dr. Hanson's Intro to Philosophy class. That experience caused me to realize I wanted to continue studying philosophy throughout my college education, so I was excited for another opportunity to learn from him," Everetts said.
Many noted the knowledge and passion of the speaker.
"Dr. Hanson is clearly passionate about philosophy and was able to present those concepts in a way that inspired deeper thought and questioning in his audience," Everetts said.
Hanson received his undergraduate degree from UW-Milwaukee, majoring in philosophy and completed his graduate work at Marquette University.
"I was reading Nietzsche when I was 13 and I've always asked myself questions and looked for answers," Hanson said.
For many, being involved with philosophy is challenging yet rewarding.
"Some days I don't enjoy philosophy at all, philosophy can be a very difficult undertaking. You ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing what I am doing?'" Hanson said.
"Ultimately I think it is the satisfaction that comes from putting some of the largest questions in a rational context, being able to apply my mind and my reasoning and my experiences to questions about nature and the meaning of existence, and dealing with those kinds of things at a more conceptual level that I find satisfying."
"I absolutely love philosophy. Currently, I am a political science major but I plan to declare a second major in philosophy when I transfer," Everetts said.
McFall pointed out an interesting phenomena concerning philosophy.
"Many people believe that philosophy is something that can only be understood or appreciated by a select few. However, philosophy done properly has value for everyone," McFall said.
His favorite part of Hanson's talk was learning about Teilhard.
"I've heard about him before and he seems like a fascinating character. However, I simply haven't gotten around to reading any of his works yet," McFall said.
Scholars Series, sponsored by the UW-Fox Foundation, invites many well-known experts and the community to campus for educational lectures and presentations. For a comprehensive list of spring events on campus, please visit http://www.uwfox.uwc.edu/events/.