UCSB Professor Emeritus Walter Kohn attracted a crowd worthy of a rock concert to Kohn Hall on Friday afternoon.

Kohn, UCSB’s 1998 Nobel laureate, gave the inaugural lecture in the “Science, Religion and the Human Experience” forum – a three-year program dedicated to illuminating the relationship between science and religion.

The lecture hall filled long before the start time and the line for admittance spilled out the door. Those in the front of the line were told that there was standing room only, while those immediately behind were turned away. When the crowd refused to leave, technicians attempted to solve the problem by playing the lecture through the building’s public address system. Still, people began to walk around Kohn Hall, peering in through its windows.

William Grassie, administrative director for the Templeton Research lectures, spoke about the trust people place in religion and science, and the importance of eliciting a dialogue between the two worldviews. On a lighter note, he showed the audience a cartoon featuring a bottle, which was labeled “Elixir of Quantum Mechanics – Add a Dash to Any Argument.” Grassie concluded by dubbing the UCSB program as “visionary and courageous” for taking on the challenge of instigating such dialogue.

Executive Vice Chancellor Ilene Nagel, who introduced Kohn with a brief biography of his deliverance from Austria during World War II, said he was the “special child rescued from the tyranny of his time – a man with a gentle spirit, a keen wit and a powerful advocate for peace.”

Kohn opened his lecture by expressing his enthusiasm for science but said, “Science is an insufficient guide through life, leaving many questions unanswered and needs unfulfilled.”

His talk focused on “inter-religious tolerance.” As a Jewish person and as a scientist, he spoke of his experiences last year of visiting the Vatican for a physics conference, meeting the Pope and his correspondence with several prominent members of the Catholic Church.

Two “Science, Religion and the Human Experience” panel members gave their response to Kohn’s lecture. The first, Jim Langer of the Physics Dept., said Kohn set a good tone for the series by speaking not as a scientist or an authority on religion, but with honesty as a human being.

The second panelist, Rabbi Stephen Cohen of Hillel-UCSB, responded by echoing Kohn’s call to religious tolerance, suggesting the Catholic and Protestant Churches practice tolerance by not thinking of Christianity as an improvement on Judaism. He quoted Danish physicist Niels Bohr: “The opposite of a simple truth is often a falsehood. But the opposite of a very great truth is often another very great truth.”

Kohn and the panelists later engaged in a question-and-answer session with the audience. Occasionally, a word like “Cosmotheandric” or “M-theory” would slip out, but the panelists were quick to try to explain themselves in simpler terms at the first sign of confusion.

The program was made possible by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. Associate geography professor Jim Proctor, who wrote the Templeton grant, introduced the lecture series and dedicated it to the late professor emeritus Ninian Smart – a former chair of UCSB’s Religious Studies Dept.

Afterwards, the crowd filed out slowly from the lecture hall, the hallways and the flower gardens. “We’ve learned our lesson,” said Proctor, who promised to book larger halls for next year’s lectures.

The next lecture on “Science, Religion and the Human Experience” will be given Friday by history professor emeritus Jeffrey Russell in 6020 HSSB. More information on “Science, Religion and the Human Experience” programs is available online at www.srhe.ucsb.edu.