Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Where Faith and Science Overlap: The 2013 Herrmann Lectures

By Nora Kirkham ’16

“If someone declares science and religion do not overlap... don’t believe it.”

These were the words of Owen Gingerich, professor Emeritus of Astronomy and of the History of Science at Harvard University as he concluded his lecture, “Was Hoyle Right?” at the 2013 Herrmann Lectures on Faith and Science at Gordon College. This year’s distinguished guest lecturer spoke on three topics—“Was Copernicus Right?” “Was Darwin Right?” and “Was Hoyle Right?”—across three consecutive evenings from October 8–10.

Along with his post as professor emeritus of astronomy and History of Science at Harvard, Dr. Gingerich serves as a senior astronomer at the Smithsonian Astrophysics Observatory. Author of over 250 articles and essays, Dr. Gingerich was among the first people to win the Harvard-Radcliffe Phi Beta Kappa prize for excellence in teaching.

I met Dr. Gingerich amidst a swarm of students, guests and faculty discussing the various topics pertaining to faith and science before his last lecture on Hoyle started. With a cup of tea in hand, I listened as he laid out his lecture’s most important point: science and religion—the magisteria—do in fact overlap. Steven J. Gould, he explained, had proposed a theory that science and religion can be friends so long as they stay out of each other’s domains. Yet what if they could work alongside each other, even overlap?

Dr. Gingerich’s lecture on Hoyle that afternoon addressed this question. Sir Fred Hoyle, the English astronomer who first coined the term, “Big Bang”—a theory he actually opposed. In his research, Hoyle inevitably was confronted with the question of God’s existence and His role as creator of the universe. While Hoyle initially seemed to reject the idea of God as Creator, Gingerich explained that Hoyle’s findings brought him closer to feeling that “a superintellect has monkeyed with physics.” “How can the magisterium of science cope with the idea that there is purpose in the universe?” Gingerich asked. “Either there are monstrous coincidences or there is purpose. That is the atheist’s dilemma.”

Three respondents to Gingerich’s lectures attended the conference: Randall D. Isaac, a physicist and executive director of the American Scientific Affiliation responded to the first lecture, “Was Copernicus Right?” Gordon’s own Stephen G. Alter, professor and Department Chair of History made his comments on “Was Darwin Right?” Edward B. Davis, distinguished professor of the History of Science at Messiah College discussed “Was Hoyle Right?” Davis encouraged students to join The American Scientific Affiliation, a 'network for Christians in the sciences,' which offers free membership to college students.

This year’s lectures concluded successfully, having created yet another opportunity for students and faculty to join together with some of our era’s greatest thinkers, pursuing God’s truth in a mysterious universe.

Named in honor of the biochemist Bob Hermann, the Hermann Lectures on Faith and Science are a Center for Faith and Inquiry event held annually at Gordon. Next year’s lecturer will be Dennis Alexander, an esteemed microbiologist from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.

Nora Kirkham ’16 is a sophomore history major at Gordon College and a writer in the Office of College Communications. Raised in four continents, she is a 'Third Culture Kid'. Her interests include history, art, literature and sustainable development. 

Photo: Harvard astronomy scholar Dr. Owen Gingerich speaks on the intersection of faith and science during Gordon's annual Herrmann Lectures.

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