Are science and religion complementary or inherently conflicted? Is there room for convergence, or will they always be at odds with each other?

These are some of the topics that will be addressed at Southwestern University’s 31st annual Brown Symposium, which will be held Feb. 5-6, 2009.

“Science and religion address the most fundamental questions of origin, purpose and place and have produced many of humanity’s greatest achievements. Yet they are often seen as conflicting world views,” says symposium organizer Ben Pierce, a professor of biology at Southwestern. “We plan to explore how the two can co-exist harmoniously.”  

The symposium will bring to campus seven scholars whose work focuses on the intersection of science and religion. Christopher Bader and Paul Froese from the Department of Sociology at Baylor University will open the symposium on Thursday, Feb. 5, with a talk titled “Images of God and Views on Science: Findings from the Baylor Religion Survey.” Bader and Froese are lead investigators for the survey, which is the most current representative study of religious values, practices and behaviors in the United States. They will present the results of a new survey on science and religion.  

Thursday afternoon’s sessions will feature presentations from Dr. Andrew Newberg, director of the Center for Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania, and Simon Conway Morris, professor of evolutionary palaeobiology at the University of Cambridge.

Newburg, who is co-author of the best selling 2001 book Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief, will give a lecture titled “How God Can Change Your Brain.” Newburg has developed brain imaging techniques to determine what happens when people have a religious experience.

Morris, who is one of the world’s foremost paleontologists, will speak on “Darwin’s Compass: How Evolution Discovers the Songs of Creation.”

Pierce noted that the symposium is being held in the year that marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species, a publication that has sparked perhaps the greatest controversy between science and religion.  “Evolution is one of the foundational principles of biology, accepted as fact by the vast majority of scientists. Yet polls consistently show that 40-50 percent of Americans reject evolution, believing instead that humans were created by God pretty much in their present form less than 10,000 years ago,” he said.

Friday’s sessions will feature lectures by Mary Evelyn Tucker, co-director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University, and David Sloan Wilson, an evolutionary biologist from the State University of New York, Binghamton. Tucker will speak on “The Emerging Alliance of Religion and Ecology” and Wilson will give a presentation titled “Evolution as the Theory of Choice for the Study of Religion.”

Pierce, who is one of Southwestern’s six Brown chairholders, said he hopes the speakers will show how science, broadly defined, can better inform us about religion, spirituality and religious behavior. “My hope is that this year’s symposium will stimulate among our students, faculty, alumni and members of the larger community thought and discussion about how science and religion interact and influence one another, leading to a better understanding of both fields,” he said.  

The symposium is free and open to the public. All the lectures will be held in the Alma Thomas Theater, which is located in the Alma Thomas Fine Arts Center on the Southwestern campus.  For more information, or to register for the symposium, visit or call 512-863-1902.

The symposium also will include an art exhibition that shows how science and spirituality inspire the arts. The exhibition, organized by Southwestern University Professor of Art Mary Visser, will feature the work of Christian Lavigne, a well-known pioneer in the field of digital sculpture. Lavigne will give a lecture about his work on Thursday, Feb. 5 at 4:45 p.m. in the Fine Arts Gallery. A reception will follow the lecture. The Brown Symposium is funded through an endowment established by The Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston. The symposium was first held in 1978.



Related News & Events