Inaugural lecture reconciles science and faith

LMU’s first inauguration event aimed for nothing less than questioning the fundamental assumptions of Western thought.

John Haught, a distinguished professor of theology at Georgetown University, delivered a lecture at the event in the new Life Sciences Building’s auditorium on the evening of Wednesday, Sept. 30. The lecture, titled “Science, Faith, and the Cosmic Future,” traced the evolution of how scholars reconcile theology and science. According to Haught, a transformation in the relationship between the two disciplines may be underway, particularly in the Catholic Church.

The lecture gave the audience a glimpse into the intellectual interests of Snyder, who will be sworn in Tuesday. Snyder first encountered Haught at Georgetown, and Haught’s teachings have since had a profound effect on Snyder throughout his own academic career. While working at Fairfield University, Snyder read one of Haught’s books, “Is Nature Enough?”

“That book changed me. It changed my spirituality. It changed my life dramatically,” said Snyder, who introduced Haught at the event. “It helped me see, as a scientist, that if we seek to be truly objective, you never should ignore data associated with faith.”

In the hour-long talk, Haught described how humanity shifted from a panvitalist worldview – in which everything has life and meaning – to a materialist worldview, which believes that nothing is essentially alive. According to Haught, this shift began when Descartes proposed that the mind and the body existed separately. Because of this idea, called dualism, science and religion have gradually been parting ways for centuries.

“Mindless matter has become the philosophical foundation of so much modern thought. Life and mind, therefore, are reducible to states of matter,” said Haught. “So much modern theology abandoned the natural world because they thought it was somehow a different realm than that of the world of spirit.”

Haught believes that Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, “Laudato Si,” marks a shift away from this intellectual framework. It has been effective, he says, in “calling our attention to the defectiveness of this way of thinking, at least on the part of Christians.”

The inaugural events kicked off with a discussion of science and religion because it represents the type of interdisciplinary dialogue Snyder believes is particularly relevant for LMU.

“Especially in a place that values its teaching so much that we want to get in the way of it as little as we can, we decided the best way for us to approach our inaugural event would be to have one awesome powerful thoughtful discussion,” said Snyder. “LMU, being a Jesuit and Marymount Institution, is a perfect place to have interdisciplinary conversation.”

Administrators, professors and students almost filled the new auditorium, which seats nearly 300 people. The strong attendance was “a sign, I hope, of our hunger as faculty, staff and students for high-quality intel discourse that nourishes both our minds and spirits – our whole persons,” said Dr. Joseph LaBrie, special assistant to the president. The event was co-sponsored by the Inauguration Planning Committee, the President’s Office and the Academy of Catholic Thought and Imagination.

Following Haught’s lecture, two faculty members – Jennifer Abe, a psychology professor, and James Landry, chair of the chemistry and biochemistry departments – provided their thoughts on the subject. Abe and Landry both echoed Haught’s belief that science and religion are complementary and are both necessary in a modern world.

“We can learn to love God without turning our back on the world, and we can love the world without feeling we have to turn our back on God,” Haught said in his conclusion. “Science itself has helped us make this transition to this new way of thinking toward love, toward God and toward the world.”

Michael Busse is a senior entrepreneurship major and music minor from Eugene, Oregon. Maps, popular music and efficient public transportation take up most of his mindspace. Concise diction helps him sleep at night.

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