Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Purple Interview: Faith, Hope, Science, and Caprica

I recently participated in The Purple Interview for Purple State of Mind. This is a fascinating project to encourage conversation and find common ground between two Americas (loosely between "conservative" and "liberal" America). Here is how the project (Purple Sate of Mind) started:
The effort began as a single conversation about God between two old friends: Craig Detweiler, a Christian theologian and filmmaker, and John Marks, a skeptical former 60 Minutes producer and novelist. The result was the award-winning documentary Purple State Of Mind, which was just named one of the top ten films on religion in the November issue of Booklist, the official publication of the American Library Association.

The documentary gave birth to the website. Thanks to tens of thousands of weekly visitors to this website, an encounter between old friends has turned into a collective discussion among strangers, an adventure in diplomacy across the boundary lines that increasingly divide us: political, cultural, sexual, and religious.

Like many of you, we feel the growing sense of hostility between left and right, liberal and conservative, secular and religious sensibilities.

Like many of you, we see the line of division running through our families and friendships.
In the documentary, we frequently disagree---about the existence of god, the meaning of life, the nature of happiness, the source of morality---but we never walk away from the conversation. We get angry, but we listen. We make fun, but we also show respect. We ask tough questions. We demand and get real answers.

Nothing is scripted. Nothing is sacred. Nothing is easy. Connection is everything.

That’s the mission. Our aim is nothing less than to reform the way Americans communicate across the great divide, one conversation at a time.

I had a chance to recently see this documentary, Purple State of Mind. It is funny, poignant, and very well done. Check it out, if you get a chance. So of course, I was delighted when John Marks requested me to answer some questions for his website. Here is a link to the Purple Interview: Faith, Hope, Science, and Caprica and here is a teaser about science & religion (other questions range from sci-fi to issues of science and the sacred - a nice summary of the blog you are reading):

Q:You yourself are something of an anomaly, at least on the surface. You’re an astronomer and yet you’re also an assistant professor of Integrated Science and Humanities, which means your brief is larger, encompassing two world that often seem to be at odds in our national conversation: science and religion. How do you walk that line?

SH: I think this may have something to do with the fact that I’m trained as a scientist (astronomer), but I grew up in a highly religious society (Pakistan), and was always fascinated with history. Over the period of time I have been fortunate enough to bring together these different strands into my professional work. As far as the perception of an inherent conflict between science & religion, it depends on what aspect of religion are we talking about. If a religion makes a claim that the Earth is 10,000 years old, or that humans have no link to other species on the planet, then yes, there is a conflict. On the other hand if a religion provides a social structure to the society, perhaps meaning to one’s life, and leaves physical explanations to science alone, then there is no clash. I don’t want to play down the complexity of debates about science & religion nor do I want to brush aside serious philosophical challenges brought about by scientific progress through the ages and the respective religious responses. However, instead of blanket statements of “conflict” or “harmony, it would be nice if the discourse is over the details of individual cases.

Read the full interview here.


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