Brown Spirit: Veritas Forum

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Welcome to the conversation about religion and spirituality at Brown! Religion is a key facet of the identity of many students on campus. Supporting a vast array of religious groups and promoting various inter-faith activities, Brown offers plenty of opportunities to both nurture your own faith and to understand the faith of others.  Come join Mitch Akutsu in his column Brown Spirit to be immersed in the soul of Brown.

Hey everybody! So this week I’m going to break the string of interviews and tell you a little bit about other events happenings in the religious sphere at Brown. Last week, the Christiain fellowships on campus worked together to host a Veritas Forum. From the website, “Veritas Forums are university events that engage students and faculty in discussions about life’s hardest questions and the modern relevance of Jesus Christ.” The theme for the night was “Science and Faith: Friends or Foes.” The presenter for the event was Ian Hutchinson, a MIT professor of nuclear science and engineering who also deeply loves Jesus Christ. Barrett Hazeltine, who is somewhat of a celebrity professor at Brown, interviewed Professor Hutchinson about his faith and thoughts about the intersection of science and religion. As a science concentrator figuring out my own relationship with faith, I found the conversation incredibly engaging.

Various topics were discussed. Hazeltine asked questions about how developments in AI could potentially lead to the creation of a human consciousness. Also, discoveries in neuroscience are slowly unraveling the mechanics of how thought works, which may make the intervention of a higher being seem less and less likely.

Hutchinson had many interesting things to say about the cross between science and faith. As a Christian scientist, he has gone as far as to write a book about the implications between the fight between religion and scientism (the belief that the scientific method has universal applicability and that empirical evidence is the most authoritative kind of data). He made it a point to contrast scientism and science, saying that scientism is a system offering a contradictory world view to faith, while science is simply knowledge of the known universe. In response to the questions involving neuroscience and AI, he further emphasized how faith simply presents a worldview where empiricism isn’t the end-all be-all, like in mathematics and history. While the mechanics of the brain may become fully understood, the content of the thoughts being stored will forever be human alone. The basis of culture, the nuances of language, the motives behind art, and our relationship with the being clever enough to make a universe that would bear conscientious organisms like ourselves- none of these things will be undermined simply because we know how the brain stores and manipulates thoughts.

If you have been following my posts, you may have felt the vibe that faith isn’t completely welcome on a campus like Brown’s. Whether or not that hostility is actually real, people of faith definitely feel it so it’s an issue worth discussing. The Veritas Forum is only one such event where religious Brown students try to lighten the tension. Brown is an incredibly intellectual place. Ideas are scrutinized to the very last detail- that’s why so many great people and thoughts have come out of this university. Faith shouldn’t get a pass on this kind of analysis. The methods and grounds for analysis have to be appropriate though, as Hutchinson emphasized. The Veritas Forum is just one instance of intellectual-religious conversations happening on campus.

If you’re coming to Brown leading a life of faith, be prepared to strengthen and hone it in ways you may have never imagined before.  There are plenty of events that are intentionally designed to stir conversation about religion’s place in society, like the Religious Literacy Project and Thursday Night Supper. The opportunities are there, it’s simply up to your curiosity how deep you will go!

Hope to see you all again next week!

Thanks for reading!  Have any questions at all about religion, spiritual life, or Brown in general? Feel free to shoot me an email at Takamichi_Akutsu@brown.edu with any of your questions or comments!

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