Steven Friberg Offers Captivating Talk on Science and Religion for Eleventh Web Talk
On Sunday, November 15, Dr. Steven Friberg, a physicist in Mountain View, California, offered a fascinating 40-minute Web Talk titled “Science and Religion: Reconciliation, Cooperation, and Harmonious Development.” It was delivered live over the Wilmette Institute’s Go to Webinar system to 53 attendees and has already been viewed by over 300 people on our YouTube channel.
Dr. Friberg began by noting three crises facing humanity. Because of climate change, the average temperature of the earth may increase by several degrees Celsius over the current century, causing more severe droughts, floods, and storms. The number of refugees, 60 million in 2015, is nearly the double the annual number of a decade ago. The gap between the rich and poor is rapidly growing, with 1% of the population possessing half of humanity’s wealth. All three problems have scientific and religious dimensions.
The solution for all three problems is the establishment of a global civilization, Dr. Friberg noted, which embraces the spiritual and material dimensions of existence. Bahá’ís must play a leadership role in this effort and are uniquely qualified to do so, according to the Universal House of Justice, the supreme governing body of the Bahá’í Faith, because they “have both the priceless insights of the Revelation and the advantages conferred by scientific investigation.” Therefore the second part of Dr. Friberg’s talk turned to the authoritative texts of Bahá’u’lláh, `Abdu’l-Bahá, and Shoghi Effendi about the nature of science and religion, how they complement each other in our quest for understanding, and how they can strengthen each other, protecting humanity from excess materialism and selfishness, on one hand, and from superstition on the other. They are indeed the “two most potent forces in human life” and in the future can “harmoniously develop.”
How can they lend insights to each other in a practical way? In the third part of his talk, Dr. Friberg listed “applications” that could benefit from their complementary insights into reality:
- Discourse on science & religion or science & theology
- Engagement with technological, scientific, and moral challenges of the day (global warming, new biological technologies, challenges of robotics, refugees, etc.)
- Promotion of new ways of looking at social and economic development or at science, religion, and technology for development
- Explorations of the relationship between material progress and spiritual development
- Development of new cosmological and metaphysical worldviews
- The emergence of new scientific concepts and ways of study from those worldviews
- Engagement in interfaith dialogue, in intercultural dialogue, and dialogue oriented towards a world civilization
- Applications in Bahá’í communities (learning in action, etc.)
- Promotion of universal scientific literacy
Without the insights of both science and religion, society’s worldview will remain unbalanced and continue on its present materialistic course. When a technological development comes along—such as driverless cars and trucks—society will not embrace the spiritual and ethical principles that would assist the displaced professional drivers.
In the fourth part of his talk, Dr. Friberg elaborated on core seven metaphysical themes in the Bahá’í authoritative texts:
- The universe and all in it was created by God
- Everything is composed of elements
- Diversity, co-operation and reciprocity are essential properties of the universe
- Human existence is inherent in the created universe
- Humanity is endowed with virtues that nature and the animal world lack
- Humanity—and all things—grew and evolved, their perfections emerging only gradually
- The natural world is a matrix for the development of our intellectual and spiritual capabilities, and their development is its purpose
While Bahá’ís have no difficulty accepting these seven, all of them are controversial to atheists, Buddhists, or other groups. Dr. Friberg closed by calling on Bahá’ís to share these seven core principles with scientists, theologians, and other thinkers in order to help develop a new cosmological/metaphysical worldview that could underpin the assumptions behind a new world civilization that is more humane and balanced. The resulting articles and books would create a new knowledge base for future thinkers. He spoke about efforts he is making and suggested organizations and journals where Bahá’ís could make an impact.
The talk was followed by 40 minutes of questions. The entire recording is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WxS0r65bYD4 . It has been assigned in the Wilmette Institute course on Science and Religion that started several days after the talk and has generated a lively discussion there. Its thought-provoking insights should provide a foundation for public discourse on a variety of subjects.