So the pope and a physicist walk into a bar. Well, it’s less a bar, really, than it is a lecture hall. And the pope isn’t actually there, but the physicist met him once. So a physicist walks into a lecture hall to talk about the pope.
This was the unlikely scenario presented back in April 2001 with the opening lecture of a forum sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation entitled “Science, Religion and the Human Experience.”
The first lecture in the series was presented by physics Professor Walter Kohn, who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1998. Kohn spoke about his experiences at a physics conference, held in the Vatican, during which he spoke with Pope John Paul II.
“We didn’t know if anyone would come,” said Jim Proctor, associate professor of geography. “We held it on a Friday afternoon. Friday afternoons, people go surfing; nobody goes to lectures.”
Proctor’s apprehensions proved unfounded.
“As it turns out,” he said, “the place was so crowded, so overflowing, that they installed speakers in the halls outside the lecture hall, and what looked like hundreds of people just sat in the halls and listened to the audio feed.”
Two years and 16 lectures later, the program is coming to a close. This evening, Proctor will give the 17th and final lecture of the series at 7:30 p.m. in Corwin Pavilion. His lecture, entitled “In __ We Trust: Science, Religion and Authority,” will discuss the results of a recent study, funded by the National Science Foundation, that investigated the levels of trust that Americans place in each of four prominent societal authorities: science, religion, nature and government.
“We tend to argue a lot over what we believe,” Proctor said. “What’s true and false, what’s right and wrong. Society is full of that. But how do people decide what’s true and false, what’s right and wrong?”
Proctor’s lecture will conclude the efforts of the “Science, Religion and the Human Experience” program by discussing some basic questions about the nature of human trust and the institutions among which this trust is divided.
Proctor said it was a combination of strong reputations – in both the science and the religious studies departments – that distinguished UCSB from other competitors for the Templeton grant. The $100,000 grant, which UCSB received in 2000, stipulated that the winning institution provide a minimum of four lectures a year by people from a variety of academic backgrounds.
“What the Templeton research lectures program was about,” Proctor said, “was getting people from the physical and life sciences, the social and behavioral sciences, and the humanities all interacting with each other. Our campus has a strong reputation for that type of very broadly interdisciplinary work.”
Since its launch just over two years ago, the series has presented lecturers from a variety of academic disciplines and from a number of prestigious universities, including Harvard, Oxford and the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.
In addition to lectures, the “Science, Religion and the Human Experience” program has offered seminars for faculty members and has developed academic courses for both graduate and undergraduate students at UCSB.
“I personally have felt this series has been a very good thing for the campus. It obviously created a great deal of interest, as evidenced by attendance,” Kohn said. “It raised a great number of questions for students that are not normally raised during a university education.”
Proctor has recently been working with other faculty members to obtain funding from the Templeton Foundation for a follow-up program that would begin in the 2004-05 academic year.
Following this evening’s lecture, there will be a discussion led by religious studies Professor Catherine Albanese and Jon Cruz, associate professor of sociology and Asian American studies.
For further information about “Science, Religion and the Human Experience,” visit the program website at www.srhe.ucsb.edu.