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Distinguished Science Lecture Series Archives

Symposium on Science,
Religion & Politics

Sam Harris

Over the past decade the relationship of science and religion has been under close scrutiny, with people on both sides developing various positions on how two of the most powerful institutions in the today’s world — one ancient, one modern — can co-exist. And as we have seen in the news coming out of the Middle East, the relationship of religion and politics has also taken center stage, as people of faith and party on both sides square off in the name of God and mammon. In this afternoon symposium we bring to the table four eminent scholars and social commentators, all with new books on these vital topics, to present their views, exchange ideas with one another, and to engage the audience in lively conversation.

Owen Gingerich is a Harvard astronomer and one of the most respected historians of science of our age, and in his latest book, God’s Universe, he presents compelling arguments for people who already believe in God that their faith is not ungrounded, and that no only should believers not be threatened by science, they should embrace it for revealing the wonders of the creation.

In 1999 Columbia University professor of behavioral medicine Richard Sloan published a definitive critique of prayer and healing studies in the prestigious British medical journal Lancet, and his new book, Blind Faith, elaborates on these and the studies in this field published since. Sloan notes that many of these distant intercessory prayer studies — in which religious strangers pray for patients to be healed — failed to control for such intervening variables as age, sex, education, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, marital standing, degree of religiosity, and the fact that most religions have sanctions against such insalubrious behaviors as sexual promiscuity, alcohol and drug abuse, and smoking. When such variables are controlled for, the formerly significant results disappear. Not only is this bad science, says Sloan, trying to quantify God is bad religion.

Sam Harris’s book, The End of Faith, generated a firestorm of cultural controversy as he outlined with unfailing logic and clear rhetoric the dangers of mixing religious fundamentalism with weapons of mass destruction. In to a Christian Nation, Harris continues his commentary and ups the amperage of his warning about the dangers of mixing religion and politics.

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