Zygon Editorial September 2015


Zygon Editorial September 2015

Pre-print. To appear as editorial in Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 50 (3, September 2015). Online in July 2015, at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/(ISSN)1467-9744


Our world is changing, so too has the landscape for ‘religion and science’, IRAS and Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science (see Hefner 2014; Peters 2014, 2015). Science develops and religion transformed under the influence of social changes (e.g. Drees 2015, Fredericks and Schweitz 2015), while globalization changes everything (e.g. Bauman 2015; Bagir 2015). Publishing a journal on religion and science thus changed as well. This is a consequence of new technologies, either directly or indirectly, via social changes facilitated by technology. In this editorial, I will inform you as readers of Zygon on our review process, distribution and subscription. In the second section, I will offer a preview of the contributions in this issue, with three new review articles (on language, on quantum physics, and on theories of myth), and seven articles on various facets of our understanding of the world we live in and of ourselves.


This is the 50th year of publication of Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science. Compared to the earliest issues, the appearance is still the same. The cover with the circle with the Z, with a different color for each of the four issues. Already in the first year, the months of publication were March, June, September and December. We grew, from 400 pages in 1966 to over 1000 pages annually, beginning in 2000. And we have added abstracts and keywords, as has become academic practice. In recent years there have been changes, not so much in the print issues but in the relevance of the paper copy. Digital technologies have made global collaboration and access feasible. This shows up in the review process and in the way we reach our readers, while we see another big change on the horizon, ‘Open Access’.

Review process
In the 1990s I occasionally reviewed a submission. The abstract would be submitted first, by mail. If the abstract seemed sufficiently promising, the editor would invite the full paper, again by mail. For the reviewer, the review process would start with a letter of invitation and the abstract. One would have to return a postcard to the office. One would then receive by mail a copy of the submitted paper. And in the end, the copy would be returned to the office, with the evaluation form, often filled in by hand. If invited reviewers failed to respond, they would need to receive reminders – again, by regular mail, perhaps after one or two months. Thus, it might take almost a year from the initial abstract until a decision had been reached, and communicated to the submitting author.
We now live in a time of e-mail and internet. If you don’t respond to a message within a few days, if not quicker, people worry whether there is something wrong with you. Zygon now has an online submission system (https://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/zygon). The author submits the paper, prepared for anonymous review, an abstract and keywords. The staff in our office checks whether the material is as it should be, and makes it available to the editor. I make an initial decision, whether to have the paper reviewed, or to reject it without further review as thematically or qua type of treatment not promising for Zygon. I also accept some papers; often those have been resubmitted after minor revisions, or have been reviewed already before being submitted officially through the system. For the review, I try to think of two or more colleagues competent to evaluate the quality and originality of the paper. Many names are already in our date base. An invitation with the abstract goes out as an e-mail. If the invited reviewer does not respond, a reminder follows, automatically. And another one, again a few days later. Once a reviewer has accepted, he or she has access to the paper. There are friendly reminders before the deadline, becoming more urgent as time goes by – we seek to have the review in three weeks.
Thus, the process goes much quicker, as cultural expectations have changed and reminders keep the promise alive. Of course, it still may be that someone does not deliver as quickly as expected – and the ‘someone’ can also be me, the editor, when I fail to take action when it is my turn in the process. Occasionally I need to approach multiple reviewers before finding some willing to provide the service for us. Some loyal reviewers have helped out with multiple submissions. Usually we inform reviewers of the decision made, providing them also with the reviews provided by other reviewers. Annually, we acknowledge our reviewers at the end of each December issue. With quicker messages and pre-arranged reminders, we now have a decision on almost all submissions within two months from submission, even though crucial steps – editorial selection of reviewers, reviewing the submission, deciding on the basis of reviews submitted – are done by academics who do this as a labor of love, almost always alongside a busy job.
Of the manuscripts submitted in 2014, not counting book reviews and editorials, about 46 % has been accepted, often after one or more revisions (see Table 1). Of unsolicited submissions, the acceptance rate is substantially lower. Submissions that did not need review had a decision mostly within ten days. After a decision to accept a paper, publication tends to follow within six months.

Initial Final
decisions Days decision
Accept 29 % 6 46 %
Major revision 14 % 39 n/a
Minor revision 10 % 34 n/a
Reject after review 15 % 35 17 %
Reject without review 33 % 6 36 %

Table 1. Decisions on submitted articles and average number of days from submission to decision. ‘Final decision’ includes decisions after one or more revisions.

Submitted articles are checked through “iThenticate”, a program that scans for overlap with texts available elsewhere. Quotes that are properly acknowledged are, of course, not an issue, nor are references and standard phrases. Thus, some overlap is to be expected. Rarely have we had cases where the overlap was sufficient reason not to accept a paper. Through our publishing agent, Wiley, we are also a member of COPE, the Committee on Publication Ethics, which provides guidance for editors and publishers of peer reviewed journals.

Reaching Readers
In 1999, the average print run was 2700 copies, as reported in the December issue of that year (34 (4), 745). Our print run is now about 20 % of that amount, but we reach many more readers. People access papers online. Universities often have our journal as part of a total package of journals they acquire from Wiley. Academics may often access the journal through their library, from behind their own computer. Thus, in 2014, over 100,000 times an article was downloaded from the Wiley Online Library (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/(ISSN)1467-9744), excluding downloads by programs that scan the web, so called crawlers (see Table 2).

2005 2013 2014
Print run 1,825 683 572
Institutional online access 2,454 3,703 3,886
EBSCO (access after one year) XX 4,609 4,491
Free or low cost access
(Wiley’s philanthropic initiatives) XX 5,217 4,586
Downloads (crawlers included) 57,420 113,749 XX
Downloads (humans; crawlers excl.) XX 105,000 106,490
Table 2. Some figures on distribution and downloads of Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science

Another way to have a sense of access is the so-called “impact factor”. This is a figure calculated by Thomson Reuters, the largest provider of information on scientific publishing. It notices how many articles from Zygon have been cited. The standard impact-factor looks at the impact within the two years following publication. Thus, the impact factor published in June 2015 (listed here as the impact factor 2014) looks at citations of articles in 2014 of articles published in Zygon in 2012 and 2013. If we published in those two years 120 articles as ‘citable items’, and 80 of those have been cited in 2014 one time each, the impact factor would be 80/120, or 0.667. If only one article had been cited 80 times, and no further articles received citations, the impact factor would also be 80/120, 0.667. In the humanities, people tend to cite more books than articles. Besides, having an article cited within two years may be fairly quick. Thus, the value of the impact factor to measure our significance is modest. However, it is nice to see it rising in recent years, though not in 2014 (see Table 3).

Year 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Impact factor 0.175 0.521 0.215 0.368 0.274 0.488 0.833 0.400
Table 3. Two year impact factor for Zygon, as published by Thomson Reuters in June each year.

Still, an impact factor below 1.0 implies that not every published article is cited. Over 50 % is not cited at all in the journals covered by Thomson Reuters, within those two years. A concern is also that about two out of three citations tend to be in Zygon, including citations in editorials. Thus, visibility and significance in the larger academic world is a concern.
There is such an overwhelming amount of books and articles, that publications easily are lost out of sight. The most important advocates of the articles can be their authors, who may distribute a pdf to colleagues, write in a blog or tweet, or otherwise promote their own article via social media. There is a new score, “Altmetrics” that traces for each article whether it is visible and discussed on social media. Those scores can be seen with the title of each contribution, in the Wiley Online Library.
Wiley Online Library not only presents articles as pdf, but also in an attractive html-format, the ‘Anywhere Article”; references to other articles within the Wiley Library are active links. The first issue of the current year is always freely accessible, for those who want to explore the nature of the journal. Online distribution has changed the nature of publishing significantly. However, at least for now we will also produce the print issues. Like the gold in the bank that used to provide stability to currency, the idea that there is a print copy still is important to give stability and reality to the articles, even for those who access it online. Online distribution may be expected to change the business model even further.

Open Access – Author Pays – or Hybrid?
“Open Access” sounds great. Published scholarly articles will be made available for free, via the internet. Not just for those who have a subscription or who have access via their university, but for all. More and more funding agencies require “Open Access” publications as the outcome of funded research.
However, academics, skilled in critical thinking, should not be misled by nice language. “Open Access” often means “Author Pays”. Preparing an article for distribution, setting up articles in appropriate lay out at servers with sufficient capacity, tied to the right indexing services: all such services imply costs. Our office is also paid with some of the money received for subscriptions and licenses. “Open Access” means that rather than the subscriber covering those costs, the author has to cover them. In many cases, that will in the end be the same institution, the university – though it may shift the burden from the library budget (licenses) to departments where researchers are employed.
Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science is currently a hybrid journal. Most access is on the basis of subscriptions and licenses (see above). But Open Access has been made possible by Wiley, for an Author’s Fee of 3.000 USD. In 2014, we had the first two articles appearing Open Access (Devine 2014; Petersen 2014); one from New Zealand and one covered by University College London.
I expect that Open Access, or hybrid arrangements that include Open Access, will become a customary business model in the future, with universities or consortia of universities negotiating with Wiley and other major publishers a package that covers subscriptions and author fees for all their employees. A concern for the universities is ‘double dipping’: universities paying Author Fees, but also subscription fees. The arrangement now seems to become that the amount received in fees in one year will be deducted the year thereafter from the licenses. Substantial negotiations are going on, with the major publishers of academic journals (Wiley being one of the top five) and consortia of universities in various parts of the world.
Open Access will be a challenge for authors who are not part of a major university, or whose research budget does not allow such expenses. If we have a scientist contributing to a symposium on religious interpretation of the science, would that be covered by the research budget in his department? If a retired scholar offers reflections on the human values and meanings involved in his profession, would his former employer cover the Open Access fee? Open Access sounds nice, accessible to the developing world, but it may make publishing for academics from less wealthy areas or those not embedded in academic research groups more difficult. Thus, I expect that as an interdisciplinary journal that seeks to involve scholars and scientists also ‘outside’ their immediate research area, Zygon will need to keep a hybrid character, at least for some years while this develops. How the mix of subscriptions and open access submissions will develop, and how this will affect our business model, is not clear yet.
I am concerned that Open Access may provide a wrong incentive to editors. I currently see my role as serving the readers; they should receive articles that are up to our standards. However, if the author pays, rather than the reader, it may be in the editor’s interest to accept papers that are perhaps somewhat below standard, as these weak papers bring in extra money. The stimulus works does not promote quality.
I assume that given this risk, reputation – by historical record, by composition of the editorial board, by reliable review procedures, by evidence of quality via impact, by service provided to authors and visibility of the articles in good forms, or in some other way – will become even more important, for those journals that seek to attract good papers. In the digital age, having an article published is easy, but getting it published in a journal of high standing should still remain a deserved sign of quality. Zygon, with a respectable history, a strong Editorial Advisory Board, a great group of academics willing to review papers, and a very respectable publishing agent, Wiley, should be able to remain on the side of quality.
Currently, we see with the rise of Open Access the emergence of many journals that seek to collect author fees, with minimal quality in the review process and online publication. Jeffrey Beall started a list of dubious journals and publishers in 2011, with 18 publishers listed. By January 2015, the list had 693 publishers (see https://scholarlyoa.com/2015/01/02/bealls-list-of-predatory-publishers-2015/). One publisher, with the respectable sounding name “Academic and Scientific Publishing” launched a few years ago a ‘fleet’ of over 300 new journals. If one knows how demanding it is to have a careful review process, building upon a reputation and loyalties, one might wonder how they can handle the review process for such a fleet. There is also a Directory of Open Access Journals (https://doaj.org), that lists the respectable ones, and is maintained by major university libraries and academic publishers. At this moment, it does not includes hybrid journals such as Zygon.

The world changes, and so does publishing Zygon. With Wiley we have a good partner to strengthen global presence and distribution and navigate the transitions that are coming. We remain as committed to quality and relevance as we have been before.


A new topic: Big Data This issue opens with an article on the impact of a related technological revolution, “big data”. By scanning all search terms used for internet searches via google, for instance, one might learn that more people check for flu like symptoms, and hence that a flu epidemic is rising, well before this has become noticeable by more traditional means. Michael Fuller considers the relevance of these developments for our reflections on technology, science and religion. He points out that new issues of interpretation arise, and hence opportunities for a dialogue on hermeneutical and ethical issues.

Relevance of the classic tradition Joshua Schooping draws on a classical tradition, especially the thought of the fourth century theologian Gregory of Nyssa, relating his thought on the fundamental character of matter to the ontological and epistemological ideas of the 20th century quantum physicist David Bohm. Bohm is known among specialists for an interpretation of quantum reality that differs from the more customary ones, at first by introducing hidden variables, and later with a book titled Wholeness and the Implicate Order (1980).

Chance and change In the third contribution, Josh Reeves traces changes in the understanding of a core concept in science, chance, from a context when it was loaded with religious presuppositions if not denied on theological grounds (stressing providence, divine determination) to modern, quantifiable and secularized understanding of chance and the discovery of statistical rules. This development separates Christians today from their predecessors. Augustine, Aquinas, and John Calvin figure as examples of the classic tradition; the modern conception starts to emerge in the 17th century with Blaise Pascal as one of the early representatives.

Cognitive Science of Religion David Nikkel analyzes assumptions behind attempts to explain religion by understanding the cognitive mechanisms of the human mind (see in Zygon, among others, also Van Slyke 2014, McCauley 2014). In doing so, Nikkel first describes as a position a mind-body dualism that is hardly defended nowadays. However, he makes clear how in CSR, truncated versions of this dualism still play a role, passing by lived experience. Nikkel argues that CSR suffers from a disembodied understanding of thought that is indebted to more classical forms of dualism.

Theodicy and time Mark Robson argues that C.D. Broad’s understanding of time as a “growing block” may well be a fertile model, that would help us soften the problem of evil (that is, the tension between God’s goodness and power and the reality of evil; see also Southgate 2014). As the past does not disappear, one can envisage a future in which events turn out to be significant and in which the way they are woven together may be considered beautiful, even if of a terrifying kind.

Evitability Another attempt to speak of significance in the context of an evolutionary understanding of reality is the emphasis on evitability, on events that might have come out differently. Gary Keogh argues that such evitability is a condition for significance. That I stay with my partner is more significant if it is not forced, but freely chosen at each moment. I could have done otherwise, but I chose to stay. He also argues that evolutionary reality has plenty of evitable events.

Lonergan and Piaget Chris Friel argues that one might understand the philosophical theologian Bernard Lonergan as offering, mostly implicit, a philosophy of biology. This philosophical outlook on organisms may be understood with the help of Jean Piaget’s structuralism. Piaget is mostly known for his contributions on child development and eduation, but he drew on broader knowledge of biological development, drawing for that on the biologist Conrad Waddington. Friel thus comes to conclude that a ‘process structuralism’ with an emphasis on ‘emergent probabilities’ inspired by Lonergan might be a viable alternative to modern evolutionary theory, or, I would suggest, at least might offer an acceptable interpretation and development of evolutionary theory.

Review articles
While the two previous issues had sets of review articles on religion and science in different geographic contexts, this issue offers three review articles on quite different disciplinary contexts. Bert Hodges writes on “Languages as Value-Realizing Activity”, a very well-informed and sophisticated psychological analysis of language and human practice. Language is not considered as a system of sounds and rules, but rather considered in the context of psychology, of the ways we are present and act in the world. Value is thus not an issue to be considered once science has completed its description of the world. To the contrary, science itself is a values-realizing activity.
Claudia Vanney returns to the topic of quantum physics, and especially the question whether quantum indeterminacy allows for a theological interpretation, as in the quest for a ‘non-interventionist understanding of objective divine action’, advocated by Robert J. Russell. Her title poses the question whether quantum indeterminism is real. She reviews various interpretations, and concludes that there is a plurality of possible interpretations, a plurality that undermines any attempt to build theological conclusions on quantum physics. To the defense of Robert J. Russell, I would say that I don’t think he seeks to build the theology upon the science, but more modestly, seeks to offer a possible scientific model that is consistent with the theology he seeks to articulate and defend (2001, 2008).
Robert Segal offers a review of ideas of myth, from the 19th century (Frazer, Tyler) and the 20th (Bronislaw Malinowsky, Mircea Eliade, Rudolf Bultmann, Hans Jonas, Albert Camus, Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung). He suggests that there have been shifts in the understanding of myth, from myth as a primitive science of nature to myth as serving non-scientific ends, returning to myth as a science, for instance a science of the unconscious. A helpful survey on a concept that is often used too loosely.

As the articles in this issue testify, many themes, topics and questions return in new and old forms, even though the digital world of publishing differs from the earlier time of print. The contributions, many by younger scholars, testify to the continuing reflection on issues of importance to human existence and human understanding.

Willem B. Drees
Tilburg University, the Netherlands

Bagir, Zainal Abidin. 2015. “The ‘Relation’ between Science and Religion in the Pluralistic Landscape of Today’s World.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 50: 403-417.
Bauman, Whitney. 2015. “Religion, Science and Globalization: Beyond Comparative Approaches.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 50: 389-402.
Bohm, David. 1980. Wholeness and the Implicate Order. London: Routledge.
Devine, Sean. 2014. “An Algorithmic Information Theory Challenge to Intelligent Design.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 49: 42-65.
Drees, Willem B. 2015. “From Authority to Authenticity: IRAS and Zygon in New Contexts.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 50: 439-454.
Fredericks, Sarah E., and Lea F. Schweitz. 2015. “Scholars, Amateurs, and Artisans as Partners for the Future of Religion and Science.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 50: 418-438.
Hefner, Philip. 2014. “Ralph Burhoe: Reconsidering the Man and His Vision of Yoking Religion and Science.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 49:
McCauley, Robert N. 2014. “Explanatory modesty.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 49: 728-740.
Peters, Karl E. 2014. “The Changing Cultural Context of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science and Zygon.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 49: 612-628.
—. 2015. “The ‘Ghosts’ of IRAS Past and the Changing Cultural Context of Religion and Science.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 50: 329-360.
Petersen, Arthur. 2014. “Uncertainty and God: A Jamesian Pragmatist Approach to Uncertainty and Ignorance in Science and Religion.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 49: 808-828.
Russell, Robert J. 2001. “Divine Action and Quantum Mechanics: A Fresh Assessment.” In Quantum Mechanics: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, Volume 5, eds. Robert J. Russell, Philip Clayton, Kirk Wegter-McNelly and John Polkinghorne, 293-328.. Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory Publications and Berkeley, CA: Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences; distr. By University of Notre Dame Press.
—. 2008. Cosmology from Alpha to Omega: The Creative Mutual Interaction of Theology and Science. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Southgate, Christopher. 2014. “Divine Glory in a Darwinian World.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 49: 784-807.
Van Slyke, James A. 2014. “Religion is Easy but Science is Hard: Understanding McCauley’s Thesis.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 49: 696-707.