With the discovery of stem cells, genomes, and cloning, today’s scientific age promotes debate and controversy whenever science and religious dogma interact.
The second year of the Science, Religion and the Human Experience lecture series concluded last week with guest speakers Hilary Putnam, a professor at Harvard University, and Bruno Latour from the Ecole des Mines in Paris. More than one hundred students, faculty and community members attended the lectures held in Corwin Pavilion.
Putnam’s lecture on Thursday, “The Depths and Shallows of Experience,” focused on different aspects of religious experience including Immanuel Kant’s philosophies of perception, scientific observation, and skepticism.
“I cannot imagine being religious unless having an experience in the religious sense,” Putnam said. “We must overcome the idea that it is obvious what religious experience refers to and understand how deep experience can be.”
Putnam presented three approaches to skepticism, which consisted of seeing God as a necessary being, but not believing; denial of any religion outside of the one “true” religion; and the existential theory that religious experience cannot be proved.
Latour, a world famous philosopher of science, participated in Thursday’s lecture as a discussant and brought up the issue of fanaticism, raising the issue of terrorist claims of religious experience. Putnam responded that a religious experience is possible without visions of God or angels and the only solution to terrorist acts is to change the conditions that breed religious fanaticism.
“Fanaticism,” Putnam added, “[is] an agonizing problem, an agonizing reality.”
Latour began his lecture on Friday night, claiming he has come from Paris, “to talk with you on something I have no authority on whatsoever.” His lecture, “The Specific Regime of Enunciation of Religious Talk,” was not on religion, but theories of the purpose and effects of religious speech.
He repeatedly compared the effects of “love talk” with those of “religious talk.”
“What happens to you when you are first addressed by love talking?” Latour asked. “Simply put, you were far, now you are closer.”
Similarly, he said, religion directs the listener to “the far away” – a deity, heaven, or ancient history. But religious talk, like love talk, should bring the listener close to perceive a worldly view on religion, and even interpret scriptures realistically rather than literally.
The second half of his lecture consisted of a slide show of religious paintings such as Philippe de Champagne’s “Vera Icona.” Latour used the paintings as a metaphor to prove that science and religion, like paintings, are mediated ideas. The paintings are not the actual images, but interpretations of the images, and may be transformed depending on how the viewer perceives them.
Anthropology Professors Mayfair Yang and Mary Hancock offered comments and questions following Latours lecture.
“By focusing on speech acts, Latour is shaped by one particular religion – Christianity,” Yang said. Using Taoism as an example, Yang quoted the Tao Te Ching: “Those that know the Tao do not speak.”
The lecture series will continue in January of next year.
“We’ve had a lot of lectures this year,” said Geography professor and SRHE organizer James Proctor. “This year it’s not brand new, but there’s still been a lot of interest generated. People are just interested in science and religion and how they interact.”
Both lectures concluded with questions from the audience and a reception. Previous lectures, photographs and an online forum are available at .