Unification News for November 1996


UTS Seminar: Religion and Science: Advancing the Dialogue

by Garret Davies-Barrytown, NY

A seminar on religion and science was held Nov. 6, 1996 at the Unification Theological Seminary. The program featured the keynote address, "How the Genius of the Creator is Revealed in Modern Physics," followed by a question and answer session. After a Korean- style dinner, the audience was invited to participate in a panel discussion which dealt with issues related to the general topic of the seminar: "Religion and Science: Advancing the Dialogue."

Keynote Address

The keynote speaker, Prof. James Crichton, has taught physics and related subjects since 1965 at the Seattle Pacific University. Beyond his profession as a physicist, Prof. Crichton has shown interest in boundary issues between science and theology. Recently he studied relativity, cosmology and theology at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley. He is the author of "Science, the Eternal Enjoyment," published in the Seattle Pacific University Review.

To gain an appreciation for natural theology, he began with a consideration of Scriptures. Then he launched into a review of the physics of the 20th century-how the findings of modern physics have helped in the quest for a robust natural theology. He reviewed these areas: the very small (atomic and subatomic scales), the very large (extraterrestrial to supragalactic scales) and the very early (the "creation" epoch). This review was to some extent personal and anecdotal.

Two problems appeared, which he seized as opportunities. The first was that human beings have not appeared in a natural way in the currently- understood map of space-time, matter and energy. We seem to be random occurrences in a cosmic game of chance, as many articulate scientific materialists point out. A second problem, relatively minor, much less threatening to human self-esteem, is that we appear to be at the end of physics; the great achievements of this century seem to have run their course.

To deal with both issues, Prof. Crichton looked at the entire sweep of cosmic history as we have been privileged to see it. He argued that the emergence of complexity, undergirded by the laws of physics and the particular values of the physical constants which occur in our cosmos, indicate that the universe is a marvelous contrivance; it betrays an exquisite design. This is, of course, the strong anthropic principle, an argument for both the existence of God and the worth of human beings. It is apparently God's purpose to have a universe inhabited by communities of intelligent beings.

But purposes point toward goals, toward definite ends. The ambiguity in the meaning of "the end of science" allows the interpretation that we can look for the end to which our science leads us. He discussed briefly the future of science and then speculated on the future of life and mind in the universe, making extrapolations suggested by the history of the cosmos thus far. Such speculative predictions he offered as the anthropological and eschatological content of a natural theology unique to our time. Within these speculations he included the establishment of space colonies, marking a future period of expansion of the human spirit.

A lively question and answer session followed which covered a wide variety of topics, including the Talmud and the elegance of mathematical equations.

Panel discussion

After a delicious Korean dinner, the panel discussion began. The panel consisted of Crichton, the keynote speaker; Dr. Dietrich Seidel, Assistant Professor of Theology at UTS and 1996 Templeton Award winner for a course in Science and Religion; Dr. David Burton, Dept. of Chemistry, University of Bridgeport, CT; Glenn Carroll Strait, Natural Sciences Editor, The World and I; and Dr. Richard Lewis, Editor of the Unification News and science writer.

Again there was plenty to discuss: did God intervene with evolution, how does Eastern medicine interface with modern physics, the possibilities of teleportation a la Star Trek, and the critique of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics in view of David Bohm's theories implying a holographic universe. In addition, a host of philosophical and theological questions were raised, relating to issues such as the actual common ground of science and religion, God's self-limitation as suggested by the problem of evil and the assertion that a comprehensive study of creation has to include the study of mind, consciousness and human history.

The seminary welcomed a good number of guests who came from surrounding institutions of higher learning, such as Bard College and Marist College. The visiting educators and students all vigorously participated in the ensuing discussion and pronounced the seminar a stimulating success.

Dr. Carlson, associate professor of world religions, who served as the MC, concluded the seminar with an appreciation of the Templeton Foundation, whose grant had made the seminar possible. Founded in 1987 by international investment manager John Mark Templeton, the John Templeton Foundation funds over 40 studies, publications, awards and educational programs around the world in order to bring financial support and exposure to the growing interdisciplinary field of religion and science.


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