Atheist and theist professors discuss science and faith

Two notable experts explored the timeless question of how humanity came to be at Colorado State University Friday.

The Lory Student Center Main Ballroom overflowed with students, faculty and Fort Collins residents, who gathered to listen to the discussion hosted by the Veritas Forum.  The organizers said the event was not a debate, but rather a discussion between experts.

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Professor Ian Hutchinson, who spoke from a Christian viewpoint, is a plasma physicist and professor of nuclear science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Bernard Rollin, a CSU professor of philosophy and animal sciences, shared from an atheist perspective. His research focuses on animal rights and animal consciousness. He is the University’s bioethicist.

Christian MIT professor Ian Hutchinson and Atheist CSU professor Bernard Rollin engage with the audience during the debate.
Christian MIT professor Ian Hutchinson and Atheist CSU professor Bernard Rollin engage with the audience during the debate.

Theist Perspective from Hutchinson

Hutchinson said, contrary to common belief, religion has not prevented scientific growth.  Throughout history, the story of Creation taught in the Bible has served as a catalyst for further scientific investigation, he said.

“On the contrary, (science and faith) do overlap,” Hutchinson said. “However, I think it’s important to recognize that science … has limits. There are many things that natural science is incompetent to study, because its methods rely on reproducibility and clarity, which are properties that not all subjects posses.”

Hutchinson emphasized that there must be something beyond natural science.

“(Followers of Jesus) believe that both the deepest reality and the highest moral meaning of authority are to be found in loving relationship,” Hutchinson said. “We believe that the universe exists because a God whose nature is love, expressed in relationship, has willed it to be so.”

Atheistic and theistic belief both require faith, Hutchinson said. He said that his belief in God is founded on many reasons, from both science, logical reasoning and his personal experiences.

“If history is any judge, it is people who act boldly and with determination, even in the face of risk and the absence of complete information or evidence, who are successful in this world,” Hutchinson said. “They act in accordance with the principles of this world that are plausible but not proven. That is, they act on faith.”

Atheist Perspective from Rollin

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Rollin said he agreed with Hutchinson’s premise that natural science does not dictate life choices.

“Commonsense metaphysics, the way you see the world, is where (a scientist) is forced to live,” Rollin said. “It is simply impossible to see things as only physics or chemistry.”

However, Rollin said that common sense allows humans to see beyond scientific facts alone. He compared religious belief to having a childhood crush. While infatuated with a girl as a child, Rollin said he saw her as more beautiful and intelligent than she truly was.

“No one can argue you out of it,” Rollin said. “And ordinary words of logic do not apply … Similarly, if somebody has a religious experience or conversion, it is mean-spirited to remind them that they used to not think that way. You will not change their mind.”

He said that religious beliefs taught in the Bible do not match with scientific facts.

“From a purely logical perspective, nobody can be homely and beautiful at the same time,” Rollin said. “By the same token, the world cannot be, from a purely logical perspective, 6000 years old and three billion years old.”

Diversity Beat Reporter Hannah Ditzenberger can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter at @h_ditzenberger