Thursday, August 1, 2019

Science and Religion

Last October, Pagan Forum at Illinois Institute of Technology hosted an event titled “Religion + Science.” I moderated a discussion by a sizable group of diverse, passionate, and thoughtful undergraduate and graduate students as they addressed these questions:
What place is there for mythology and religion at an institution centered on science? Do religion and science conflict, or can they strengthen and reinforce each other?

Where do scientists find moral guidance? How should morality be included in scientific projects?

Why do you attend religious events or celebrate religious holidays? How much is literal belief in the supernatural part of your religious practice?

How do religion and science overlap?

How does science help you understand religion? How does religion help you understand science?
The attendees had a lot to say.

Detail from Paul Alexander's cover art for Frank Herbert's Whipping Star (1977)

One student stated that she was not religious but saw the value of spirituality in helping people with mental health in day-to-day life and asserted that religion becomes an issue when it goes directly against scientific teaching.

Others spoke of the mental, physical, social, and spiritual benefits of religion but warned of in-group versus out-group divisions in religious organizations.

Another student addressed what he called the problem of atheist systems, arguing that a lack of a religious deity is replaced by the deification of a political dictator. He stated that it is better to have a god with strictly defined parameters than a ruler with unbridled power.

A graduate student took a strong stand for pure science and against ethical reviews of scientific research, insisting that his own personal code made his work free of moral implications and that he had no responsibility for how his work was used after leaving his desk.

The discussion ran well past the time allotted. Even after we officially ended, many students stayed to continue talking about the issues.

In November, I was invited to be a guest on Curiosity Unplugged, “the talk show where Illinois Tech faculty members leave no topic unexplored, no challenge unconsidered, and no query unanswered.” Associate Director of Editorial Services Marcia Faye wrote that she wanted to include me in an episode “on the intersection of science and religion” since I had “hosted a student discussion on a similar topic.”


The discussion panel put together for the broadcast featured faculty from several areas:
Colleen M. Humer, Studio Assistant Professor of Architecture

Andrew J. Howard, Associate Professor of Biology and Physics

Karl E. H. Seigfried, Adjunct Professor of Humanities and Pagan Chaplain

Jack Snapper, Associate Professor of Humanities

Chris White, Professor of Physics and Vice Provost for Academic Affairs
The episode was titled “In Our Search for Truth, Do Science and Religion Collide?” and described on the show’s website like this:
How did we get here? Where did we come from? Where are we going? As humans we have turned to both religion and science for answers to these infinitely daunting questions. Although religion and science have butted heads over topics such as genetics, medicine, and evolution, studies show that arguments between the two are overblown. According to a 2014 Pew Research Center report, while 59 percent of Americans believe that science and religion conflict, most Americans think that science aligns with their own beliefs, and most people who identify themselves as highly religious are less likely to see conflict. When it comes to God or science, whose side are we willing to take, and when?
I have long argued that including practitioners of minority religious traditions in public conversations leads to the discussion of issues that are regularly ignored or erased. In this case, paganism and polytheism became part of a conversation that almost always defaults to the monotheistic Abrahamic faiths as the be-all and end-all of “religion.”

By being present and speaking out, today’s Pagans and Heathens can be a force for positive change. I strongly encourage all practitioners of minority religions to engage academics and journalists. There is no better way to change the narrative than by being included in its construction.

You can listen to a recording of the broadcast – edited down from our longer discussion in the studio and first broadcast on January 3 – by clicking the ► button in the player below.



You can learn more about Pagan Forum at Illinois Institute of Technology by clicking here.

1 comment:

Julia Ergane said...

"A graduate student took a strong stand for pure science and against ethical reviews of scientific research, insisting that his own personal code made his work free of moral implications and that he had no responsibility for how his work was used after leaving his desk." This quote is very upsetting in that it implies a degree of psychopathy/sociopathy from the individual who stated it. It is wrong on its face. Everything we do has an ethical/moral implication and to try to deny it is pure blindness of a particular evil kind.

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