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Science and Religion is Topic of Juniata College Lecture Series

(Posted March 10, 2003)

HUNTINGDON. Pa. -- To illuminate the current debate about evolution and whether certain evolutionary theories should be taught in the public school, Juniata College has scheduled three lectures in March and April by renowned scientists to present different perspectives on the subject.

"There are strong emotional feelings attached to these issues throughout the country," says Xinli Wang, assistant professor of philosophy at Juniata College. "The speakers we have scheduled are all experts in various areas of the debate."

All three lectures are open to the public.

"Just as no contemporary religionist can really understand how the modern biological sciences work unless they engage evolution, so also scientists cannot understand existential investments of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, or Jews unless they engage the lasting power of religious worldviews," says Don Braxton, J. Omar Good Professor of Religion.

Ursula Goodenough, professor of biology at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., will talk on "Emergence, Transcendence and Religious Naturalism" at 7 p.m., Monday, March 10 in Alumni Hall in the Brumbaugh Science Center.

Michael Behe, professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University, will talk on "Science Stumbles on Design" at 7 p.m., Friday, March 21 in Alumni Hall.

Robert Pennock, associate professor of philosophy at Michigan State University, will lecture on "Evolving Irreducibly Complex Systems" at 7 p.m., Friday, April 4 at Alumni Hall.

These presentations are part of the Science and Religion Lecture Series. The series is sponsored by the Templeton Foundation and the Juniata College J. Omar Good Fund. The John Templeton Foundation's mission is to pursue "new insights at the boundary between theology and science through a rigorous, open-minded and empirically focused methodology, drawing together talented representatives from a wide spectrum of fields of expertise."

"It's important to present all sides of the issue and to have people think more deeply about the importance of how science and religion come together," Wang says. "We don't want to tell people what to believe but rather allow them to learn how to believe."

Wang and three other Juniata faculty, Doug Glazier, professor of biology, Randy Bennett, associate professor of biology and Don Braxton, associate professor of religion, teach a cultural analysis course at the college called God, Evolution and Culture.

Goodenough's lecture will focus on how the evolution of human beings and human conciousness can be reconciled with the spiritual side of nature -- what she calls religious naturalism.

Behe's talk will center on the theory of "intelligent design." Behe will argue that the molecular structure of cells is too complex to have evolved through random mutation and natural selection.

Pennock's presentation will rebut the "intelligent design" theorists by showing how complex, functional systems evolve over time. He will discuss new experimental research that uses digital organisms that allow researchers to observe how systems evolve.

In addition, each of the invited speakers will spend a day on campus talking to classes, student meetings and media representatives.

"Not only will every student get to hear something sympathetic to their views, they will also have to confront views that do not coincide with their assumptions," Braxton says.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.