Is there a contradiction between what we learn from science and what we learn from theology? Can those two seemingly disparate subjects complement each other? How can scientific discoveries enlighten religious beliefs?
These are some of the questions asked and discussed by the Institute for Religion and Science (IRS) hosted at Chestnut Hill College. This regional center explores science and spirituality through lectures, conferences, workshops, dialogue and reading groups and special activities. All presentations support a constructive and civil dialogue between science and religion.
“Science and religion can complement each other,” says Kathleen Duffy, SSJ, Ph.D., professor of physics and the center’s director. “Exploring that connection can motivate our study of the physical world and deepen our sense of the awesomeness of God’s creation.”
One of Sister Kathy’s students once told her, “On Sunday I go to church, and the rest of the week I am a scientist.”
“This student did not yet understand how her science and her religion can relate,” Sister Kathy explains.
“To her, church is one thing and science another. It’s important for us to show how they can enhance each other. Understanding how the universe has developed over almost 14 billion years, for instance, can deepen our sense of wonder and awe and help us to treasure and care for God’s creation.”
The Institute’s Beginnings
CHC has hosted the Institute since May of 2011, when the Metanexus Institute for Religion and Science provided a generous donation to Sister Kathy so she could continue its work in the Philadelphia area when Metanexus moved to New York City. Annual lectures about topics related to both science and religion are a large part of the center’s programming, all with the goal of providing a constructive dialogue around science and religion throughout the greater Philadelphia area.
Members participate through Twitter, the group’s blog or through the Institute’s Facebook page. They also may read up on their favorite topics in the 200 volumes donated by the International Society for Science and Religion that are housed in Logue Library. Information about upcoming events is sent to those on the Institute’s mailing list as well as posted on the Institute’s website.
This regional center is “committed to nurturing the constructive engagement of science/technology and religion/spirituality and promoting a dialogue that is both interfaith and multi-science,” according to its mission statement. An advisory committee of philosophers, scientists and theologians helps to encourage and maintain the interfaith, interdisciplinary nature and provides outreach programs to diverse religious and educational institutions in the area.
In addition to the lectures presented at Chestnut Hill College, speakers have presented at Cabrini College, Pendle Hill, Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, St. Joseph University and Villanova University.
A Timely Mission
The Institute’s mission is in line with that of CHC and is topical, given the events in today’s world. “If we wish to dispel fear of the unknown, it is important that we come to know persons of different faiths and cultural backgrounds — especially those who hold beliefs that differ from our own,” says Sister Kathy.
To help with such learning, the Institute recently added small group conversations after each lecture, which give participants a chance to listen to what others think as well as a chance to integrate and reinforce the topic of the lecture. A question and answer period follows the small group discussions.
A reading group meets from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on the second Monday of each month in the Walker Room of Logue Library. Currently, the group is reading David Gelernter’s “The Tides of Mind: Uncovering the Spectrum of Consciousness.” Interested readers may join at any time and should contact Institute4RS@chc.edu for information.
More than 20 videos of past lectures are available on the website under the resources section for those who were unable to attend or who wish to review a particular topic.
“These lectures are invaluable for everyone—students, faculty and staff,” says Sister Kathy. “Come with an open mind and be willing to embrace new thoughts and ideas.”
* * *
During the 2016-2017 academic year, the Institute is focusing on topics relating to the brain. This year, lectures explore the nature of the soul, the relationship between computer memory and human memory and what genetics can tell us about human origins.
On March 23, CHC professor, Bindu Methikalam, Ph.D., will present “Dreaming: A Gateway to the Unconscious?” at 7 p.m. at SugarLoaf. (More information on this lecture can be found in the News & Notes section of Connections.)
I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forgo their use. – Galileo Galilei, Italian scientist, (1564 - 1642)
— Brenda Lange