The Quest for Truth in a Technological Age: The Evolving Dialogue Between Science and Religion
Thursday, September 14, 2017
7:00pm - 8:00pm
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We live in a technological age that is both dizzyingly exciting in its technical capabilities and more than a little unsettling in the unprecedented rapidity of change that is constantly being foisted upon us. Consider your smartphone: hands down the most sophisticated piece of technology per unit volume that humankind has ever created. A gentle reminder—the iPhone was invented less than 10 years ago! Or consider the internet, which is woven into literally everything we say and do. A gentle reminder—in 1984, the year I “got out” of Georgia Tech with my BS, we still used “punch cards” to write computer programs and there were only 1,000 computers connected to the internet! The manufacturing of the requisite viral-sized, speed-of-light fast electronic devices that form the guts of our smartphones and power today’s internet easily represent the most sophisticated manufacturing triumph that planet Earth has ever witnessed. Period.
The scientific enterprise, and its logical manifestation in the engineering disciplines (go Georgia Tech!), has driven these disruptive changes that pervade our daily lives. Given these remarkable successes, it is often assumed that science represents the only reliable means for obtaining “the truth.” And yet, science rests upon foundational assumptions that cannot be proven, even in principle, and mathematics itself, the bedrock of science, cannot, even in principle, prove its own logical self-consistency. It is important to appreciate that science is limited in the kinds of questions it is capable of answering. Inevitably, these are questions of mechanism—“how” questions, not questions of meaning—“why” questions.
The world’s religions, on the other hand, which are far older than modern science, exist to answer these tougher, deeper questions of meaning. A gentle reminder—at a time when religion may seem passé and irrelevant, it is instructive to note that over 83% of the world’s 7.4 billion people claim to be religious! Religion attempts to provide meaningful answers to the deep questions of existence, questions we all desire answers for. Why is there something rather than nothing? Does God exist? Does the universe have a purpose? Is there life after death? Given the nature of such questions, it is commonly assumed that religion rests solely upon untestable faith, not fact, and belief in things that cannot be seen or proven experimentally. The common inference, therefore, is that religion is fundamentally at odds with reason, and thus the tenets of the scientific method. Sad to say, this breeds the knee-jerk reaction that science and religion are diametrically opposed to each other, and in the best case, should be separated and kept at arms’ length.
Interestingly, however, dialogue between science and religion, while historically contentious, continues to evolve in fascinating ways, with one recent implication being that science and religion, when properly considered from a “convergence” perspective, is capable of producing the most complete and satisfying path forward in humanity’s quest for truth. Said another way, don’t think science OR religion, think science AND
religion. In this presentation I will unpack the fascinating evolving dialogue between science and religion, in a casual, friendly, approachable way, exposing you to the marvels of modern science (cosmology, biology, quantum theory) and what those discoveries mean for religion and the future of humanity.
John D. Cressler is one of Georgia Tech’s most decorated teachers, is well-known for his research in the field of SiGe devices, circuits and systems, is a dedicated mentor to both undergraduate and graduate students, is a leader in service to his profession and community, is the author of a number of seminal books (both technical and for general audiences), and most recently, is an historical novelist (love stories designed to break open the magic of medieval Muslim Spain for modern readers). Whew, scary huh?! Cressler is the Schlumberger Chair Professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Ken Byers Teaching Fellow in Science and Religion at Georgia Tech. He received his B.S. from Georgia Tech and his Ph.D. from Columbia University. One of Cressler’s passions is speaking on technical topics to non-technical audiences, and on nontechnical topics to technical audiences, of which he does both quite a bit. The former began in earnest with the release of his book Silicon Earth (now in its 2nd Edition), which introduces microelectronics and nanotechnology and their societal impact to general audiences. He presented on this topic last fall at DragonCon 2016, one of the largest science fiction and fantasy geek-fests on the planet (65,000+ costumed crazies!). He also teaches a course on the topic which is open to undergraduates of all majors and years, and which is required for business majors in the Georgia Tech’s Technology and Management Program. Cressler is also deeply interested in the interaction between science and religion, as well as interfaith dynamics, and he recently introduced a new course at Georgia Tech, a first of its kind, titled, “Science, Engineering and Religion:
An Interfaith Dialogue,” which is also open to undergraduate students of all majors and years. He considers teaching and mentoring of young people to be his life’s work. He and his wife Maria have been married for 34 years, are the proud parents of three exceptional young people, and the doting grandparents of five beyond-cute little ones (soon to be six!).
Last revised May 23, 2018