Conflicts at the Interface of Religion and Science

Panel 1:

For most of the 20th century religion and science have appeared to be in conflict, most especially over Darwinian evolution. Evolution, the foundation of modern biological science, was rejected by fundamentalists who sought to preserve a literal, biblical account of the creation of the world and human life. Although culturally marginalized by the 1920s, the fundamentalist movement has reemerged in recent decades to propose “creation science” and more recently “intelligent design” as alternatives to the neo-Darwinian evolutionary science taught in the public schools. This cultural battle has reinforced the widespread view that religion and science are necessarily antagonistic, with each advancing a radically different view of life. This view, however, is deeply inadequate. The assumption that religion and science are two self-contained, and oppositional camps, obscures the mutual interactions and influences that mark their historical dynamics. It blocks from view the constructive efforts by contemporary philosophers and theologians to integrate the insights of religion and evolutionary science into a more comprehensive worldview. And it discourages the intellectual exchanges that are needed to foster such synthetic thinking in the future.

The panel will address the current battle over evolution and intelligent design in American culture. It will locate the contemporary conflict within its broader historical and cultural contexts. It will seek to illuminate what is at stake in the current debate. The panelists will address the challenges of reconciling evolutionary science and religion, particularly biblical understandings of the origin and nature of the cosmos and human life. In the process it will consider larger questions about the nature of religion, the nature of science, and their interface. How can we move beyond the conflict between religion and science to promote a constructive dialogue between them?

Panel 2:

The pursuit of happiness is the deepest endeavor of humanity, defined by the American Declaration of Independence as an “inalienable human right.” But what does it mean to be happy and where is happiness to be found? Does happiness mean having fun, being wealthy, enjoying material comfort, experiencing physical pleasure, or eliminating pain and suffering? In recent years, a materialistic approach to the pursuit of happiness has increased exponentially through the advances of neuroscience. Scientists today have a good grasp of the structure of the brain and have begun to unravel the mysteries of chemical brain processes. Scientific discoveries have led the pharmaceutical industry to design psychotropic drugs that control brain processes and alleviate suffering caused by diseases and aging as well as by mental illness. Yet, today we dispense drugs not only to deal with debilitating illnesses but also to change moods or alleviate sadness and hopelessness. What in the past were judged to be unavoidable aspects of the human condition to be addressed through ethical training, character building, and belief in God, is now treated almost exclusively with pills. For many today, drugs are accepted as the means through which all of humanity may in fact become happy.

But can drugs make us happy? What does the heavy reliance on them tell us about our understanding of being human? What makes us human, and can this, in principle, be controlled or manipulated by drugs? Are we identical with our minds and is the mind identical with the brain? Furthermore, what sense does it make to talk about a soul in the light of our advancing knowledge of the nature of the brain? How is the increased dependence of contemporary western society on chemical substances related to the presuppositions of neuroscience? Can neuroscience pave the way to happiness, or should we look instead to more traditional sources of meaning such as religion, philosophy, art, and literature?

Jon H. Roberts, Holmes Rolston III, and John F. Haught "Evolution and Intelligent Design: Science, Religion and American Culture"
John F. Haught, Laurie Zoloth, and Stephen G. Post "The Pursuit of Happiness: Perspectives from Science and Religion"