Religious Discussions by Laura N. '09
Yes, there are non-atheists at MIT. But they still like science jokes.
IAP, as you might have heard, is a fun and exciting time to be at MIT, because there are about a million events going on every day. I’ve been checking the IAP events schedule pretty regularly, but unfortunately, most of the events that I find interesting take place during my Italian class or work hours. But today I was finally able to attend one of the seminars I found intersting. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as interesting as I’d hoped, but I’m really glad I went.
The topic, you might be surprised, to know, was religion.
MIT’s Asian Christian Fellowship hosted “Doubter’s Anonymous,” which listed the following description in the IAP guide:
“A discussion group about hard questions regarding faith and Christianity. Practicing and retired Christians, agnostics, atheists, and general doubters are all encouraged to come. Discussion will follow the questions that you anonymously suggest at the beginning of the meeting. Facilitators are Kevin Ford (an MIT chaplain and pastor) and Garrett Smith, who is well versed in Judaism, Eastern religions, and Christianity. Regardless of where you are on your spiritual journey, come and pose your hard questions about faith, science, Christianity, and doubt.”
As someone who considers herself spiritual but often has a hard time believing things on blind faith, this seminar seemed particularly interesting to me. The two speakers took turns answers some tough questions, like “How do Christians view Muhammad, who said that God spoke to him? Are we to simply disregard his personal spiritual encounter?” and “As a scientist, how can I believe in things described in the Bible like the sun standing still, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc?”
Unfortunately, the seminar seemed more geared towards Christians hoping to strengthen their faith by overcoming these questions, rather than someone like me, who wasn’t actually looking for a solid answer. Because of that, I found some of the answers less than satisfying. For example, the speakers explained their personal reasons for believing in Jesus rather than Muhammad, which was insightful, but without an Islamic point of view, the discussion…wasn’t really much of a discussion.
One of the interesting things the speaker mentioned was that he thought that there should be a huge price for declaring faith- that’ll keep you honest. When members of a certain religion are persecuted, only those who really believe in it will risk it. Think about it- when people are less tolerant, religion is more pure. Crazy. Looking at it from the reverse: part of the problem with Christianity today, in this speaker’s view, is that if you grow up in a Christian family, there’s a huge price for NOT declaring your faith. So you end up with a lot of people who say they’re Christians when they’re really not, which really dilutes the power and message of those people who are truly faithful. The world is unfortunately brimming over with the effects of this phenomenon as it applies to all religions.
The second question I mentioned above was perhaps more interesting, because one of the students at the seminar suggested that we change it to reflect some recent letters to the editor which had been published in the Tech.
Rather recently, MIT appointed Dean Randolph its first ever Chaplain.
This inspired a letter to the editor of the Tech by someone who opposed the apointment of a chaplain, and, as you can imagine, a few responses to that. I’ve provided the links to the letters below, but be warned, it gets heated pretty fast. My personal opinion is that the original letter writer is being horrendously narrow-minded, but see for yourself:
One of the speakers wrote on the board, “Is there purpose in the universe?” pointed to it, and asked “can science answer this question?” He claimed the answer was “no,” because science isn’t designed to answer that question. Even among scientists, it’s pretty commonly accepted that the limit of science merges with philosophy. That there’s a point at which things might just be unknowable, and that’s where faith comes in.
As for the miraculous, science-defying events that happen in the Bible, he claimed that people just wrote what they saw, and we have to figure out what they meant by that. He posed the following example:
“If you’re at the beach in the evening and the sky is a very pretty red, you might say, ‘what a pretty sunset.’ You don’t say, ‘Wow, look at the way the sun’s rays are refracting through the layers of the atmosphere as its angle of declination to our line of sight changes over time.’ You say, ‘that’s a pretty sunset-‘ but that’s terribly scientifically inaccurate!”
I’m not sure how far this goes into convincing skeptics of the truth in the Bible despite its miraculous proclamations, but it certainly got a good laugh out of the crowd.
The other speaker took a different route: he claimed that there are so many miraculous things that happen all the time that we take for granted that we just never bother to try to explain them. For example, the miracle of birth. Sure we know all about the biology of it, but we seem to be so caught up in our detailed knowledge of the sperm fertilizing the egg and the chromosomes splitting and so on and so forth, that we never really seem stop to think that all of those cells doing their thing actually creates a new person. That’s pretty miraculous, if you stop to think about it for a second.
Like I said, I had a lot of problems with some of the things the speakers were saying, but it did provide some interesting food for thought which should keep me mentally occupied for awhile.
So, in case you were wondering- yes, there is a religious following at MIT, but like in everything else, we’re still MIT students about it- so we think too much and make science jokes about it too. =)
You can see more IAP activities related to religion here.
Responses to comments:
do you like to read Kafka ? You should read The Trial, it’s a great book !
What do you like to read ?
I haven’t read any Kafka, but I do read pretty much anything and everything, so I’ll be sure to add that to my list. I’ve literally walked down an aisle of the library and pulled a book off the shelves at random for leisure reading. In general, though, I’m a big fan of fantasy, however cheesy and unoriginal it might be. I just love reading about people who are doing more exciting things than me, leading brave and epic lives and fighting evil and what not, because I’d totally love to be one of those characters. I’m also a big fan of Kurt Vonnegut, because his stuff is very sarcastic and satirical, and sarcastic just might be my middle name. One other thing I love to read but am never, ever able to finish is Hispanic literature. It’s just so hard to get through a whole book in a non-native language. It takes SO long, but I absolutely adore Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabelle Allende anyway. They write with what’s called “magical realism” which is a style that relies on blurring the line between fantasy and reality. Sorry for the long-winded answer, but you did ask me a question about one of my favorite topics ever. =)
Justin Powell asked:
Also this might be a dumb question but I have looked for the emails of the bloggers a few times and have not been able to find them… Where the heck are they??
This one has already been answered, but for anyone else who’s wondering, all of the bloggers have contact information listed to the left of their banner photos at the top of each of their entries. Feel free to contact me at asklaura at mit dot edu. I will reply to your email, but I can make absolutely no promise as to how quickly I’ll accomplish that.
Also, to everyone who sent in blog entry ideas in response to my last entry: you’re awesome! Obviously they won’t all be happening right away, but rest assured that I’ve taken note of them and will be tackling them eventually. If you ever have any personal questions or blog entry ideas, please let me know. Believe it or not, the comment section below is not specifically designed so you can have a “first post” war. And like I said, I do reply to all the emails I get from you guys. Eventually. =)