Individual Initiative Leads to Public Discourse on Science and Religion on the Huffington Post Religion Website

Recently the Sinai and Synapses’ series “More Light, Less Heat,” on the Huffingon Post Religion website, featured two Bahá’í women talking about how they integrate science and religion in their professions and in their lives. Dr. Lisa M. Ortuno, a Wilmette Institute faculty member for the course Science, Religion, and Creating the Future: A New Discourse, holds a PhD in biology and works for the Promega Corporation, a biotechnology company. Dr. Carey Murphy is a retired eighth-grade science teacher who taught in a predominantly fundamentalist community in South Carolina, where she used Bahá’í principles of rationality to teach critical thinking to her students. 

How did this opportunity to participate so publicly in one of the major discourses of society come about? In 2008 Dr. Ortuno read Reverend Michael Dowd’s Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World. She was so impressed with Reverend Dowd, a reconciler in the often divisive discussions about science and religion, that she reached out to him. The result was a meeting in 2010 at which they discussed his topic of evolutionary Christianity and the Bahá’í Faith. As an extension of her conversations with Reverend Dowd, Dr. Ortuno contacted Dr. Karl Giberson, known for his work in the creation-evolution debate with Dr. Francis Collins and the Biologos Foundation. Her discussions with Reverend Dowd and Dr. Giberson resulted in a presentation at the 2011 annual meeting of the Association for Bahá’í Studies: “Evolutionary Christianity and Biologos: Looking at Two Christian Movements Advancing the Harmony of Science and Religion.”

Another outcome of Dr. Ortuno’s discussions with Dr. Giberson was his putting her in touch with Rabbi Geoffrey A. Mitelman, a Reform Rabbi in New York who has written a good deal about the intersection of religion and science.

When Rabbi Mitelman founded Sinai and Synapses, a project that “seeks to bridge the scientific and religious worlds, offering people a worldview that is scientifically grounded and spiritually uplifting,” he invited Dr. Ortuno to be a member of a new working group comprised of clergy of different faiths and scientists with an interest in promoting religion as another source of knowledge and wisdom for humanity. The new project’s first meeting was held in December 2013 in New York City, with regular meetings and additional projects planned.

One of Sinai and Synapses’ first decisions was to start a series of pairs of talks, with each member of the working group responsible for a pair of talks. The series’ title “More Light, Less Heat” reflects the moderate approach to the often thorny discussions about science and religion. Dr. Ortuno was asked to prepare one of the first pair of talks, which were given the title “How Two Baha’i Women Integrate Science and Religion.” She gave one of the talks and asked Dr. Murphy, with her background of teaching critical thinking to eight graders to give the second talk.

Other pairs of talks include one by Rabbi Josh Ratner and Rabbi Fred Hyman, talking about how psychology and cognitive neuroscience have influenced their rabbinates and another by Rabbi Michelle Fisher, executive director of MIT Hillel, and Professor Ian Hutchinson, MIT professor of nuclear science and engineering and a Christian, talking about “Embracing Religion at MIT.”

To listen to the videos of Dr. Ortuno and Dr. Carey talking about how they integrate science and religion (or to read transcripts of their talks), click on http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-geoffrey-a-mitelman/how-two-bahai-women-integrate-science-and-religion_b_4556942.html. You may also want to visit the Sinai and Synapses site at http://sinaiandsynapses.org to listen to the other pairs of talks.