Science, Religion and the Search for Meaning
Learning Community Coordinator Sophia Acevedo '14
This learning community brings together perspectives from astronomy, astrobiology, psychology and religion to explore the essential human quest to make sense of our place in the universe. Are religious and scientific views compatible, complementary, mutually exclusive, or irrelevant to one another? These are the issues that will animate out-of-classroom interaction when these seminars combine for learning community experiences.
Learning Community Coordinator
Your learning community faculty will be assisted by a student "learning community coordinator." The LCC assists the faculty in the planning and coordination of out-of-classroom LC experiences, and works with the learning community students directly to explore the learning community themes.
Your LCC will be Sophia Acevedo '14. Sophia was born and raised in Los Angeles. At Dickinson, she is a religion and physics double major. She enjoys playing the guitar, going to concerts and keeping track of the Mars Science Laboratory Rover.
Are We Alone in the Solar System?
Popular culture and science fiction teems with depictions of aliens and their encounters with human beings, whether here on Earth or elsewhere. But what if microorganisms were discovered on the moons of Jupiter or the planet Mars? What would be the ramifications, both socially and scientifically, of such a discovery? In recent years, there have been a number of very successful missions supported by NASA to explore planets and their satellites, asteroids, and comets. This is in accord with one aspect of their new vision for the Space Sciences program – to search for extraterrestrial life. This search, however, depends greatly on what we know life to be: the Earth and its inhabitants. If the requirements for life as we know it are liquid water, a source of energy, organic molecules, and biogenic elements such as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, then NASA has already found multiple arenas in which “life” may reside. If current and future missions find that there is a second genesis, what will that say about God and our religious beliefs? Does it prove that life is not an accident? Is there a built-in bias towards life and mind, resulting in a Purpose and a God? Or is life simply chemistry? This seminar will focus on the budding science of Astrobiology and the implications it has for religion. We will begin by learning how planets form, and discuss what is needed for a planet to be considered habitable, thereby defining “life.” Students will research and present the scientific findings of current NASA missions to Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn that support the search for life. By reading excerpts from books such as How We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God and The Fifth Miracle: The Search for Origins of Life, we will have the opportunity to discuss the relationship of science and religion.
Professor: Catrina Hamilton-Drager, Physics & Astronomy
Time: 12:30 MWF
Making Meaning in our Lives: The Psychology of Religion
This course will consider religion as a powerful system of meaning that can affect individuals in many ways. We will explore the psychological aspects of religious belief, including the ways in which religion affects motivation, emotion, behavior, individual identity, and social interactions. Through the reading of social science research studies and first person narrative accounts, we will consider questions including: what is the psychological function of religion or faith?, how does religion impact psychological functioning and well-being?, why are some people strongly influenced by religion and other are not?, and, how does religion impact interpersonal relationships, at the levels of friendship, family, community, and society?
In the final segment, we will apply our knowledge of the psychology of religion to a question that has sparked great debate in recent years: are “faith” and “reason” inherently incompatible? We will examine the arguments made by new atheist scholars (that educated, thoughtful people cannot/should not be religious) in light of research on the psychological strategies people engage with in order to balance reason, faith, and doubt.
Professor: Megan Yost, Psychology
Time: 11:30 MF