A “worship team” sang praises of the Lord, while professor Fred Sigworth prepared do his best to reconcile the demands of faith and the demands of science.
“God of wonders beyond our galaxy / You are holy, holy / The universe declares your majesty / You are holy, holy,” the crowd intoned.
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After the introduction by the Yale Christian Fellowship’s worship team on Friday, Sigworth launched into a lecture that stressed the compatibility of science and faith by focusing on the idea of the “unexpected vista,” the discovery or witnessing of a unique occurrence, a phenomenon which he said was common to science and religion.
Sigworth’s talk spanned the foundations of modern science and the debate over evolution and intelligent design, with ample reference to philosophy and the Bible.
“Being a Christian is good preparation for work as a scientist, and science can help prepare you for being a Christian,” he said.
Sigworth said that both religion and science require working with incomplete data, and that both are fields that foster a strong sense of community. He described the scientific community as consisting of scientists dispersed around the world “all marching together, communicating and making progress,” likening it to the “special bonds” in the Christian community.
Sigworth also spoke of “unexpected vistas” in the context of both science and religion. In science, Sigworth said, scientists sometimes inadvertently stumble upon their major discoveries. Similarly in religion, Sigworth said, one could unexpectedly “discover Jesus and see him as the word of life.”
The talk also touched on evolution, which Sigworth said was “a good description of population genetics” but one with which he did not totally agree. He said that he believes in the power of evolution but is not altogether certain how to explain the beginning of life. But though Sigworth said he likes the idea of intelligent design — a theory that argues that the formation of the universe was directed by an intelligent entity — he does not fully identify with the theory.
“We have to approach Genesis with caution,” he said. “It’s okay to leave questions open while maintaining belief in God.”
Sigworth did, however, take a firm stance on what he called the scientism movement, criticizing scientists such as Richard Dawkins, author of “The Selfish Gene,” which argues that genes use humans to propagate themselves. He said it was important to make a distinction between science and scientism, the latter of which argues that science, as opposed to philosophy or religion, is the only correct way to interpret the world.
The talk had about 40 attendees, many of whom were either members or prospective members of YCF.
Jessica Thomas ’09 said she attended the talk as a part of her regular participation in YCF, calling it “awesome … especially because science and faith are such relevant topics today.”
Andrew Uzzell ’08, also a YCF member, said he found Sigworth’s comments refreshing, particularly his views on the reconciliation of faith and science.
“I simply never thought of the similarity in quite that way,” he said.
During the question-answer portion of the talk, attendees asked Sigworth how he reconciles his work in science with his religious views. He said that his belief in God makes his experimental results no less valid, and that his religion enhances his work by giving him a unique perspective.
Sigworth completed his doctorate at Yale in 1979 and has been a professor in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Physiology since 1991. His specialty of study is the function and application of ion channels.