Catholic Theology and Biology: Origin of Life, Chance and Necessity, and the Place of Homo sapiens in the Living World

A dialogue in four steps between theology and biology, with a particular focus on evolutionary biology. The first meeting will explore the differences and similarities between biological and theological knowledge, calling into play the respective knowledge communities and their own way of “progressing”. We will talk about the necessity of a dialogue, especially from the biographical point of view of believers who want to benefit from both sources of knowledge with an open but not cynical mind. In the subsequent three meetings we will examine some of the most fascinating and difficult issues for both biology and theology: the origin of life on Earth, the often artificially emphasized opposition between chance and necessity, and the place of man – or, biologically speaking, Homo sapiens – in the living world and its dynamics. Emanuele Serrelli, philosopher of science, will interact with experts in theology such as don Ettore Colombo, Gianni Cervellera e Dario Gellera. The perspective of curiosity and research will join biological and theological knowledge, without hiding the different ways of interpreting and the paradoxes of a dialogue which seems, at times, difficult.

Lunedì 05 ottobre 2015, ore 21
Non guardarmi non ti sento
Il senso di un dialogo tra scienza e teologia Relatori: Emanuele Serrelli e Don Ettore Colombo

Lunedì 12 ottobre 2015, ore 21
A casa nell’universo? Conoscenze e questioni aperte all’origine della vita
Relatori: Emanuele Serrelli e Don Ettore Colombo

Lunedì 19 ottobre 2015, ore 21
Gli alberi non crescono fino al cielo: Caso, necessità, predestinazione
Relatori: Emanuele Serrelli e Gianni Cervellera

Lunedì 26 ottobre 2015, ore 21
L’uomo è una scimmia nuda? Dati scientifici e riflessioni sul posto dell’uomo nella natura
Relatori: Emanuele Serrelli e Dario Gellera

Look for it in the Talks page (with additional links):

2015, Oct 5, 12, 19, 26 (h.21:00) – Oasi di Preghiera Santuario S. Maria, Cernusco sul Naviglio (MI): Scienza e fede: dialogo tra biologia e teologia. With don Ettore Colombo, Gianni Cervellera, Dario Gellera. Conference.

The narrative encounter: Tales and fairytales and systemic perspective on helping relationships

Riflessioni Sistemiche 12A new article on the journal Riflessioni Sistemiche, after the ones on “Visions of change in evolutionary biology and education” (2012) and “Evolutionary Biology: Processes and Patterns” (2011).

Narrative and systemic perspectives in caring relationships are absolutely complementary under several respects, in spite of some debates that have assumed the contrary. The article explores this topic before illustrating how systemic counseling can employ a peculiar narrative genre: fairytale.

Counseling – caring relationship – narrative therapy – pragmatics of communication – CMM Coordinated Management of Meaning – collective narrative practice

Look for it in the Publications page (with additional links):

Serrelli E, Tosini F (2015). L’incontro narrativo: narrazione e fiaba nella relazione d’aiuto a orientamento sistemico. Riflessioni Sistemiche 12 (Jul 2015), “Narrazioni”, pp. 90-102 (online on ISSN 2281-3373

The right to science education

naturalmenteA philosophical reflection on science education taking off from the Convention on the Rights of the Child realizes that the right to education cannot but translate also into a right to scientific training. This article aims to deepen this idea and to making it concrete. First, a tradition of thought that poses the nature of science as an object of experimentation and learning is sketched out. Such tradition happily meets with the idea of scientific citizenship, establishing the priorities of a genuine science education. Major tool of an education to the nature of science is the science-themed laboratory, a not-too-much guided experience. In its apparent simplicity, all the complexity of scientific activity and its objects is played out. The example is given of a laboratory about evolution complete with the answers provided by a group of 13-years-old participants. Here, dychotomies like “continuous vs. discrete” or “branching vs. linear” are all but simplified: they are put into play to open up a science education towards responsibility, just in the spirit of the Convention.


Look for it in the Publications page (with additional links):

Serrelli E (2012). Il diritto a una formazione scientifica. Naturalmente Website – Sezione Istruzione/Formazione, November. []

Macroevolution: Explanation, Interpretation, Evidence

Serrelli E, Gontier N, eds. (forthcoming). Macroevolution: Explanation, Interpretation and Evidence. Springer.
Serrelli E, Gontier N, eds. Macroevolution: Explanation, Interpretation and Evidence. Springer.


  • Provides a unique multidisciplinary approach to understand macroevolution
  • Presents state of the art scientific methodologies
  • Written by international experts from different fields

This book is divided in two parts, the first of which shows how, beyond paleontology and systematics, macroevolutionary theories apply key insights from ecology and biogeography, developmental biology, biophysics, molecular phylogenetics, and even the sociocultural sciences to explain evolution in deep time. In the second part, the phenomenon of macroevolution is examined with the help of real life-history case studies on the evolution of eukaryotic sex, the formation of anatomical form and body-plans, extinction and speciation events of marine invertebrates, hominin evolution and species conservation ethics.
The book brings together leading experts, who explain pivotal concepts such as Punctuated Equilibria, Stasis, Developmental Constraints, Adaptive Radiations, Habitat Tracking, Turnovers, (Mass) Extinctions, Species Sorting, Major Transitions, Trends, and Hierarchies – key premises that allow macroevolutionary epistemic frameworks to transcend microevolutionary theories that focus on genetic variation, selection, migration and fitness.
Along the way, the contributing authors review ongoing debates and current scientific challenges; detail new and fascinating scientific tools and techniques that allow us to cross the classic borders between disciplines; demonstrate how their theories make it possible to extend the Modern Synthesis; present guidelines on how the macroevolutionary field could be further developed; and provide a rich view of just how it was that life evolved across time and space. In short, this book is a must-read for active scholars and, because the technical aspects are fully explained, it is also accessible for non-specialists.
Understanding evolution requires a solid grasp of above-population phenomena. Species are real biological individuals, and abiotic factors impact the future course of evolution. Beyond observation, when the explanation of macroevolution is the goal, we need both evidence and theory that enable us to explain and interpret how life evolves at the grand scale.

Table of contents

Preface and Acknowledgements by the Editors

1. Emanuele Serrelli and Nathalie Gontier – Introduction: Macroevolutionary Issues and Approaches in Evolutionary Biology

Part 1: Macroevolutionary Explanations and Interpretations

2. Douglas J. Futuyma – Can Modern Evolutionary Theory Explain Macroevolution?

3. Folmer Bokma – Evolution as a Largely Autonomous Process

4. Emanuele Serrelli – Visualizing Macroevolution: From Adaptive Landscapes to Compositions of Multiple Spaces

5. Stanley S. Salthe – Toward a Natural Philosophy of Macroevolution

6. Ilya Tëmkin and Niles Eldredge – Networks and Hierarchies: Approaching Complexity in Evolutionary Theory

7. Nathalie Gontier – Uniting Micro- with Macroevolution into an Extended Synthesis: Reintegrating Life’s Natural History into Evolution Studies

Part 2: Evidencing Macroevolution with Case Studies

8. Lutz Becks and Yasaman Alavi – Using Microevolution to Explain the Macroevolutionary Observations for the Evolution of Sex

9. Alycia L. Stigall – Speciation: Expanding the Role of Biogeography and Niche Breadth in Macroevolutionary Theory

10. Alessandro Minelli – Morphological Misfits and the Architecture of Development

11. Bernard Wood and Mark Grabowski – Macroevolution In and Around the Hominin Clade

12. Elena Casetta and Jorge Marques da Silva – Facing the Big Sixth: From Prioritizing Species to Conserving Biodiversity

Look for it in the Publications page (with additional links):

Serrelli E, Gontier N, eds. (2015). Macroevolution: Explanation, Interpretation and Evidence. Springer. ISBN 978-3-319-15044-4 [DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-15045-1] [BOA] [Ac] [RG]

See the book webpage.

Interdisciplinary Workshop on Robustness – Engineering Science

Interdisciplinary Workshop on Robustness – Engineering Science

Rome, February 5th – 6th, 2015

Part of the Bio-Techno-Practice project

See program on


  • Gabriele Oliva – Robustness: A systems engineering point of view
  • Lorenzo Farina – Robustness through feedback: Benefits and limitations
  • Miles McLeod – Closing rhetorical gaps is healthy for everyone: The robustness of models and the aims of systems biology
  • Viola Schiaffonati – Model-based engineering
  • Alessandro Giuliani – News from the ‘twilight zone’: Protein molecules between the crystal and the fluid
  • Dino Accoto –  Robustness in robotics: Morphology, materials and intelligence
  • Marco Buzzoni – Robustness, mechanism, and the counterfactual use of finality in biology
  • Alfred Nordmann – Rules of thumb as paradigms of robust knowledge


Dino Accoto – University Campus Bio-Medico of Rome, Biomedical Robotics and Biomicrosystems Laboratory
Marco Buzzoni – University of Macerata, Department of Human Sciences
Lorenzo Farina – University of Rome La Sapienza, Department of Computer Control and Management Engineering
Alessandro Giuliani – Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome
Miles McLeod – TINT Centre of Excellence in the Philosophy of the Social Science, Helsinki, Finland
Gabriele Oliva – University Campus Bio-Medico of Rome, Complex Systems and Security Laboratory
Alfred Nordmann – Institut für Philosophie, Technische Universität Darmstadt
Viola Schiaffonati – Politecnico di Milano, Department of Electronic, Information and Bioengineering


Raffaella Campaner – University of Bologna, Department of Philosophy and Communication

Philosophical Steering Committee

Marta Bertolaso – University Campus Bio-Medico of Rome, FAST, Faculty of Engineering
Sandra D. Mitchell – Pittsburgh University, Department of History and Philosophy of Science

Scientific Steering Committee

Flavio Keller – University Campus Bio-Medico of Rome, Faculty of Medicine
Simonetta Filippi – University Campus Bio-Medico of Rome, Faculty of Engineering

Local Organizing Committee

Emanuele Serrelli – University of Milano Bicocca
Anna Maria Dieli – University of Tor Vergata, Rome; IHPST, Paris


Università Campus Bio-Medico di Roma
Via Álvaro del Portillo, 21
00128 Roma

With the participation of

“Istituto per la Storia del Pensiero Filosofico e Scientifico Moderno (ISPF)”, National Research Council, Naples
Department of Philosophy and Communication, University of Bologna
University of Macerata

With the contribution of

“Fondazione Cattolica Assicurazioni”

Evolution: Selfish Genes or Universal Cooperation?

A worker Harpegnathos saltator (a jumping ant) engaged in battle with a rival colony's queen. From WIKIPEDIA. Uploaded by Waldir, June 3, 2006.
A worker Harpegnathos saltator (a jumping ant) engaged in battle with a rival colony’s queen. From WIKIPEDIA. Uploaded by Waldir, June 3, 2006.

Life has been evolving on Earth for billions years. Explaining evolution drives scientists towards entities that are far from our everyday experience. We will ask: are organisms vehicles for their genes competing “egoistically” and incessantly with each other to be replicated in future generations? Is there an “Earth system” that maintains equlibrium through the birth, metabolism, and death of all living beings? We will compare influent pictuers by great thinkers – Richard Dawkins, James Lovelock, Lynn Margulis. By discussing them, we will look into contemporary research in evolutionary biology.

Look for it in the Talks page (with additional links):

2015, Feb 10 (h.20:00) – Circolo UAAR di Varese, Globe Cafè, Varese, IT: Evoluzione: geni egoisti o cooperazione universale?. Scientific Cafè.

Empathy towards the “living planet”: a knowledge paradox in the Anthropocene?

I paradossi di Gaia [Gaia’s paradoxes]

The paradoxes of Gaia for education in the anthropocene
Gaia – EARTH DAY by Alice Popkorn
Starting picture + Goddess by Marcus Ranum

Abstract: Empathy towards planet Earth seems to be the crux of an education paradox in the anthropocene, well exemplified by the story of “Gaia” in the scientific community and in the global society. The image of the world as a living being is probably as old as our species. Ancient views based on Mother Earth have been providing the narrative framework for education in many cultures for thousands years, and some aspects are somehow retraced in today’s sustainability education, although with different nuances and metaphysical assumptions. Around 1970, the idea of Earth as an organism was named “Gaia” and filled with scientific content by James Lovelock. He pointed out signatures of global processes thereby, he argued, the biosphere participates into planetary self-regulation around optimal conditions, just like in the physiology of a giant organism. In the scientific community Gaia would have troubled fortune: as a “hypothesis” or “theory” it was afflicted by serious and insistent objections, and it never got to be acknowledged. At the same time, for the public Gaia never ceased to be terribly attractive. Indeed, its communication effectiveness was emphasized by its advocates, who pointed out its educational potential in sensitizing people to care for the planet. But these aspects, too, were seen negatively by critics: the ‘homeostatic’ properties of Gaia would rather play in favor of passive attitudes and of economic interests of impacting and polluting companies; moreover, the organismal nature of Gaia would stimulate mystical views, ‘pagan religions’, and ultimately an anti-scientific mindset. The solution to this paradox should perhaps be sought in the double direction of reconsidering some human dimensions of scientific work and of setting up scientific education more coherent with the “Nature of Science” in the Anthropocene.

Event: Biodiversità ed estensione dell’empatia [Biodiversity and empathy extension]

The meeting aims to contribute to probe the foundations of an ethical approach to biodiversity and of human responsibility upon the non-human, through a reflection on those long-term transformations of science, society, and philosophical self-representation that have modified the horizon of human relations.
Since the 1960s, the ecological urgency has strongly pushed towards an assumption of responsibility towards the environment. In those years, science itself had warned about climate change and vertiginous biodiversity reduction that are now seen to characterize the current epoch, the “anthropocene”. An integrated reflection on biodiversity arose, capable of overcoming the boundaries of Modern philosophical anthropology, and situating humans into a system of relationships and interdependencies embracing non-human forms–from other living beings to abiotic environmental factors. The peculiar ability of broadening the horizon of empathic experience beyond mirroring seems to be rooted in massive developments of neuroscientific knowledge and technology, as well as in the cognitive and affective construction of our species. A discussion on evolution (natural and socio-cultural) and a renewed reflection on the very concept of human nature are therefore necessary. Just at the peak of science and technology’s manipulative power upon living nature, some authors glimpse the rise of a new opportunity: that of an empathic “age” or “civilization” (Rifkin 2010, De Waal 2010), where relatioships with different forms of “otherness” are managed in an inclusive and relational way.

Other speakers: S. Caianiello (chair), A. Minelli, L. Fogassi, C. Morabito & G. Galloni, G. Fiorito, U. Leone.

Organization: L’evento è organizzato con i fondi del Progetto PRIN 2010-2011 “Ethos e Natura. Modelli storici, problemi teorici e questioni metodologiche”, cofinanziato dal MIUR. Coordinatore nazionale: Prof. Franco Biasutti (Unità di ricerca di Catania, coordinata da G. Bentivegna, su “L’agire morale tra natura e cultura. Lineamenti storiografici e riflessioni teoriche”). Con la collaborazione dell’Istituto per la storia del pensiero filosofico e scientifico moderno del C.N.R., (nel contesto del ciclo “Osservatorio sui saperi umanistici”) e del Centro Interuniversitario “Res Viva”. Inserita nel programma del Dottorato di Filosofia della Federico II (in particolare curriculum di bioetica).

Look for it in the Talks page (with additional links):

2015, Feb 4 (h.9:00) – “Biodiversità ed estensione dell’empatia”, org. by Istituto per la Storia del Pensiero Filosofico e Scientifico Moderno (ISPF), C.N.R., Sezione di Filosofia del Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici dell’Università di Napoli “Federico II”, Naples, IT: I paradossi di Gaia. Conference talk.

Borzoo Pourabdollahian – Towards a sustainable society through serious gaming

CISEPS – Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Economics, Psychology and Social Sciences

Towards a sustainable society through serious gaming

Dr. Borzoo Pourabdollahian
Politecnico di Milano

Thursday, November 27, 12:00pm
Room U6-3143, Piazza dell’Ateneo Nuovo 1, Milano

Borzoo Pourabdollahian - Towards a sustainable society through serious gamingAbstract: The main challenge for societies is to find mechanisms to arouse among their citizens better insights about the importance of sustainability, and, more importantly, to encourage people to change their habits and behaviours towards being “sustainable citizens”. Serious games simulate real environments. They can be used as pedagogical tools in creating sustainable societies: players become motivated to behave in a sustainable manner in order to achieve the ultimate goal of the game, which represents a prosperity phenomenon. The seminar will present the audience with a set of games specifically designed to increase the player’s awareness about those activities and practices which are necessary for every specific sector of a society (e.g. Health, Science, Manufacturing, Education, Business, etc.) to turn sustainable. In particular, we will discuss the mechanisms laid in the design and implementation of each game to get better understanding of the ways in which learning contents are transferred into players’ mind and behaviour, in a scale from abstract knowledge to behavioural changes.

Borzoo Pourabdollahian obtained his PhD from Politecnico di Milano in 2014. His contribution is a guideline towards designing serious games in the areas related to manufacturing education. He has been involved in some projects funded by European Union under 7th framework program. Particularly, GaLA (Game and Learning Alliance) and TARGET (Transformative, Adaptive, Responsive and enGaging EnvironmenT). He has presented several papers in prominent conferences and is currently a reviewer of Journal of Transactions on Education.

Anthropocene Campus: Experiment in Higher Education

I participate in ANTHROPOCENE CAMPUSanthropocene, Berlin, November 14-22, 2014. I have been selected among “100 outstanding post graduates as well as actors from culture, society, and the arts”, nominated by prof. Elena Bougleux (University of Bergamo).

Encouraging new forms of transdisciplinary discourse and research THE ANTHROPOCENE PROJECT 2013/14 at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (HKW) aims to investigate the manifold implications of the Anthropocene hypothesis for cultures of knowledge. If indeed humankind has become the dominant biogeophysical force, effecting changes on a planetary scale, how can the arts, sciences and humanities contribute to a critical awareness, understanding and responsible co-shaping of these transformations? How can creative and problem-oriented modes of knowledge production and educational practices be developed?

Copyright: Globaia, Planet Under Pressure, SEI, SRC, CSIRO. This film was commissioned by the Planet Under Pressure conference, London 26-29 March, a major international conference focusing on solutions.

The ANTHROPOCENE CURRICULUM addresses these questions by way of a cross-disciplinary experiment in higher education. Instigated by HKW and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin (MPIWG) the project has brought together a group of 27 renowned university teachers from science, humanities, and art & design to collaboratively develop a set of topics relevant to the Anthropocene in an attempt to encourage cross-disciplinary thinking, mutual learning, and civic commitment as integral part into the curricula of universities and research institutions.

This exemplary curriculum will be put into teaching practice at the ANTHROPOCENE CAMPUS taking place November 14-22, 2014 at HKW in Berlin. One hundred international participants will be given the opportunity to engage in this curricular experiment, contributing their own perspectives and expertise. The Campus provides a transdisciplinary co-learning space for scholars from a wide range of disciplinary, academic, and professional backgrounds and opens up a forum for exploring the scopes, scales, and designs of Anthropocene relevant knowledge. The ANTHROPOCENE CAMPUS will be a central component of a series of public events at HKW – including lectures, workshops, exhibitions, screenings, and artistic events –, by which the two-year ANTHROPOCENE PROJECT will come to its close. An essential part of the output of the ANTHROPOCENE CURRICULUM will be the collaborative production of an ANTHROPOCENE COURSEBOOK.

Emanuele at the Anthropocene Campus:

More pictures at Haus der Kulturen der Welt website.

Species on the Threshold

Species on the Threshold: How Cultural Evolution Changes the Landscapes of Our Life

Emanuele Serrelli spoke on the relationship between cultural and biological evolution at the conference:

La specie sulla soglia: come l’evoluzione culturale cambia i paesaggi della nostra vita

Venerdì, 31 Ottobre 2014
16:30 – 19:30
Mostra d’Oltremare, Arena Flegrea, Napoli (Forum Internazionale delle Culture)

L’importanza di prendere atto che l’evoluzione sia divenuta soprattutto culturale è una delle principali responsabilità della nostra specie che ci vede “sulla soglia” di un cambiamento e di un apprendimento epocali. La cultura ha oggi il compito di attivare la responsabilità individuale e collettiva per essere all’altezza di questo processo di profonda trasformazione.

A cura di Amici della terra club dell’Irpinia associazione ONLUS e Hirpus associazione di promozione sociale. Part of the Series: Passavamo sulla terra leggeri: Culture, Educazione, Sostenibilità.

KeynoteVincenzo Moretti, Sociologo, responsabile della sezione Società Culture e Innovazione alla Fondazione Giuseppe Di Vittorio

RoundtableGiancarlo Blasi, ingegnere, socio di HIRPUS APS (moderator); Giovanni Mastino, fisico, Associazione Amici della Terra Italia; Luca Mori, filosofo, Università di Pisa; Emanuele Serrelli, filosofo della scienza, Università di Milano Bicocca; Giuseppe Bruno, ingegnere, Università di Napoli.

All videos here!!!

Emanuele Serrelli on the relationship between cultural and biological evolution:

2014, Oct 31 (h.16:30-19:30) – Org. Hirpus, Naples, Forum Universale delle Culture: La specie sulla soglia: come l’evoluzione culturale cambia i paesaggi della nostra vita. With V. Moretti, G. Blasi, L. Famiglietti, L. Mori, G. Bruno, R. Filippini. Public conference.