A week ago, I was printing out a paper copy of my talk and getting ready to head down to the Franklin Institute to be part of a very public conversation about science and religion. Rev. Jay Gardner, a Baptist minister and biologist, and I each spoke about the ways in which science and religion are entangled, how they talk to each other (and don't). If you want to see some of the notes from my talk (with some of the slides that were projected above my head), you can read them here.
Dr. Steve Snyder, our marvelous moderator, as well as a physicist and the VP for exhibits and programs at the Franklin Institute, took up the mike when Jay and I were done to asking us the hard questions— he joked he was playing the devil's advocate, but did a terrific job pushing us to talk more about about the tensions, the differences between a Judeo-Christian approach and say a Buddhist approach. Finally we threw the floor open to the sold-out crowd for questions.
I was nervous before I went. Here I was, planning on standing up in front of an auditorium full of people, who I neither knew, nor knew what they believed, and saying (in Latin, no less): Credo in unum Deum. I believe in one God.
On one level, why should saying what I believe be so anxiety inducing? I write about God, not only on the blog, but in other places, too, and I know that thousands of people read what I've got to say. I give retreats, and stand up in front of groups large and small and talk frankly about prayer and where I find God. I say it in Church every week. But in all these cases, I'm preaching to the choir. It's quite another thing to profess your faith so explicitly in the public square. What will people think? Is this just one small step on the road to becoming a street corner prophet?
As we were peering up at the people filing in to the steeply pitched auditorium, Jay bent over and whispered, "You know, when I preach, I'm usually looking down on the congregation..." I was glad to know I wasn't the only one out of her usual element.
The questions asked by Steve Snyder and by the audience were terrific. I had talked about my experiences of making the Spiritual Exercises, as a methodical way of seeking God at work, and Steve asked whether what I saw as evidence might be read differently by someone who was Buddhist. My favorite question from Steve was what we saw as the looming challenges to faith from science. From the floor: "How do you figure out whether what you're doing is right or not?" "Have you ever not done something in research because of your faith?" "What happens when you die?" "Do you believe the Pope is infallible on matters of science?"
Like all good mysteries, the answers are not simple.
And at the end, we got to go see the telescopes on the roof...totally cool!