Written by Giulia Giuffre
Next week, Southwestern University will host the 31st annual Brown Symposium, Science and Religion: Conflict or Convergence, in the Alma Thomas Theater.
Science and religion address the most fundamental questions of origin, purpose and place and yet are often seen as conflicting world views.
“The relationship between science and religion has many practical consequences. How people view this relationship can influence what is taught in schools and affect the type of research the government supports,” Benjamin Pierce, professor of biology and holder of the Lillian Nelson Pratt Chair, said. “Recently, the topic of science and religion, especially the conflict between evolution and schools, has been in the news. For instance, the State Board of Education met to set the Texas Science Standards. These standards determine what teachers cover in public school. During the meeting, there was a lot of debate and discussion of evolution.”
Seven scholars and artists will present during the Brown Symposium and discuss the intersection of science and religion.
Following the introduction at nine Thursday morning, Christopher Bader and Paul Froese will have a joint presentation on “Images of God and Views on Science: Findings from the Baylor Religion Survey.” Bader and Froese are assistant professors at Baylor University and have published numerous books and articles on the sociology of religion.
“Bader and Froese are investigators for the comprehensive Baylor Religion Survey. This survey explores Americans opinions about religion and how these opinions affect the views of science,” said Pierce.
After lunch, Andrew Newberg, associate professor in the department of radiology and psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Center for Spirituality and the Mind, will discuss “How God Can Change Your Brain.”
“Newberg will discuss his research of using imaging techniques to study the processes of the brain during religious experiences, such as prayer and meditation,” Pierce said. “This is an example of how to use science to better understand religion.”
Following a short break, Simon Conway Morris will present “Darwin’s Compass: How Evolution Discovers the Songs of Creation.” During the presentation, Morris, professor of evolutionary paleobiology at the University of Cambridge, will discuss the principles of evolution.
“Morris studies fossil records to explore evolution. He will use this research to discuss how evolution may not be random, but converging towards a form,” Pierce said. The final presenter of Thursday will be Chrisian Lavigne, artist, author, poet and director and co-founder of Ars Mathematica, an international organization that promotes the use of new technologies in sculpture.
Lavigne will discuss “The Science and the Spirituality as Sources of Inspiration and Questioning for the Digital Arts.”
After Lavigne’s presentation, the Sarofim School of Fine Arts Gallery will host a reception and exhibit of his art work. Lavigne works in the field of digital sculpture and his artwork has been exhibited in museums and galleries in many different countries.
The Symposium continues early Friday morning with Mary Evelyn Tucker discussing “The Emerging Alliance of Religion and Ecology.” Tucker, a senior lecturer and senior scholar at Yale University and co-director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology, studies the relation and interaction of religion and ecology.
“Tucker will be discussing the common goals of religion and ecology. For example, both are concerned with preserving creation and biodiversity,” said Pierce.
The last presenter of the Symposium will be David Sloan Wilson, professor of biology and anthropology at the State University of New York, Binghamton. Wilson’s discussion, “Evolution as the Theory of Choice for the Study of Religion,” will reflect his research of evolutionary theory as applied to aspects of humanity and other life.
“Wilson will discuss how to better understand religion with evolution,” said Pierce. “For instance, all cultures have a collection of beliefs for a higher being and religion. This is almost like an evolutionary trait of human community.”
The Brown Symposium will conclude with a panel discussion between the speakers and members of the audience.
“I’m interested in hearing the questions the speakers ask each other and how they answer these question and the questions of the audience,” said Pierce. “Everyone has things that they agree and disagree with. Discussing and thinking about these things are part of the learning process. If you only think and learn about things you already agree with, then you won’t learn much.”
“I do not think that many people are going to be swayed either way, although I hope I’m wrong. People are pretty set in their opinions, or they just don’t care. I think people should care, whatever side they are on. It’ll dictate how they think, and most importantly, what their kids learn,” Lane Hill, a junior, said.
“With this conference, I hope that people see more than one way for science and religion to interact,” Pierce said. “I want the discussions during the Brown Symposium to show that conflict is not the only relationship between religion and science. Science can be used to better understand religion and religion can help us make scientific advances. In this and other ways, the two can interact in a positive way.”
Every year, Southwestern University hosts the Brown Symposium through an endowment established by The Brown Foundation, Inc. The Brown Symposium is an opportunity for a holder of a Brown Chair to design and present a conference that enhances the understanding of their area of study.
“This isn’t a topic usually discussed in the academic world even though it is a topic that affects almost everyone,” Pierce. “This conference takes what we learn in one field and relates it to another field, crossing the interdisciplinary boundaries in our studies.”
“This year’s topic is fascinating in that all participants come from unique backgrounds of religious and scientific context,” said Alex Hall, a sophomore. “Additionally, as a student of science, my perception of the topics to be covered are likely to be different from that of music majors, classics majors or even Georgetown residents.”
For more information on the presenters, events and schedule of this year’s Brown Symposium, visit the website for the Symposium.