4 Take-Aways from the Veritas Forum: Does Science Point to Atheism?

Over 500 curious bodies filed into Salomon auditorium to listen to a discussion over the question: “Does Science Point to Atheism?” Although science and religion are regularly accepted as age-old enemies, Hans Halvorson and David Rand brought fresh contributions to the possibility (or not) of the intersection of science and faith. I say “contributions” because the moderator, professor Ken Miller, made it clear at the beginning that they were not searching for “final answers”. They were generating intellectual discussions.  So what can we take away from tonight’s forum?

  1. Science and Faith are Equally Deserving of Intellectual Respect

Hans Halvorson, who self-identifies as a Christian believer, admitted that he grew up in the church but seriously started to evaluate his faith in his teens. He decided that if he were to be a believer, he was going to do it seriously. He stressed the importance of investigating a logical narrative for explaining the world and challenged the audience to “re-examine faith with intellectual honesty and vigor.”  For him, becoming a Christian did not only enhance his moral life, but his intellectual life as well. His contester, David Rand, opened by asserting that he is “not a person of deep faith” and explained how faith should not play a role in the practice of science or experimentation. He argued that the empirical elements of science do not necessitate a belief in God and instead challenged the audience to be intellectually open to “alternative explanations of where life began”.

  1. Science and Faith Are in a Constant Search for Truth

Both panelists agreed on the constant thirst for truth present in both science and religion, and the “obvious tension” in their differences. Rand denied the notion that science uncovers a pre-existing truth in the world and instead presented the idea that everything has built upon itself. “The biggest structure is cause and effect”, he said. In his view, truth is explained through a continuous chain of cause-and-effect that has evolved and brought us to where we are today. On the other hand, Halvorson warned against the danger of ascribing to a set method in the search for truth. “Science tends to limit itself,” he proposed. Halvorson said that we often follow a logic that says “science is searching for truth, science has not found God in that search, so therefore there is no God”. He presented the idea that truth can be discovered in ways that don’t necessarily have a structure.

  1. Genesis Can Play a Role in Both Science and Religion

Both Rand and Halvorson merged on their opinion about the significant role of the Genesis narrative. Rand cited an impacting encounter with a priest who explained to him that Genesis can be less stringently viewed as a fact-book and rather as a story that needs to be interpreted. Rand asserted his belief in the incompatibility of the Genesis timeline with that of the scientific timeline of the natural world, but agreed that “as an allegory of things, it serves its purpose”. Halvorson took a more theological route and explained that the Genesis story is significant in Christianity because it affirms the need for salvation. He believes that the cornerstone of Christianity is redemption and thus “redemption presupposes fall of man”.

  1. The Resurrection Changes Everything

The idea of Jesus Christ being brought from death to life is undoubtedly in tension with the laws of nature. Halvorson argued, however, that the resurrection is “not scientifically irrational”. This is because, in his view, we don’t really know what the laws of nature are. He explained that the laws used to explain the natural world are constantly changing and being discovered, so there is no way to say that resurrection is incompatible with these laws. Halvorson expressed his wholehearted belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and emphasized its centrality to his faith. Rand, on the other hand, explained how a reconciliation of resurrection and science is impossible. He agreed with the statement that one has to “check their brain at the door in order to believe in a miracle”. When asked how he personally interprets the resurrection he joked that, “Jesus wasn’t dead, he was just in bad shape for a few days”.  Even today, the resurrection continues to be the factor that shakes things up.

David Rand concluded his talk by explaining the difference between spirituality and religion. He considers himself a spiritual person.” It is a spiritual experience for me to go rowing in the mornings,” he said.

Hans Halvorson concluded his talk with a striking statement: “Everyone believes at least one false thing.” He followed up with a challenge to find out what the false thing is and to “stop believing it!”

So what do you think: Does science point to atheism?

Read more about the Veritas Forum here.

Monica Perez is a senior concentrating in Comparative Literature.

This article was originally published online at The Brown & RISD Cornerstone.

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