Touching The Limits Of Knowledge
Cosmology and our View of the World

Introductory Meeting
1/24/2000
Summary by Katrina Sylor:

The first meeting of the seminar was attended by a surprisingly large number of students, a few of whom had to sit on the floor. Professors Mbius (PEM) and Brockelman (PPB) went over the requirements of the course, the structure of the meetings to follow, and the goals of the course.

In this series of discussion seminars we will be tackling the enormous question of "what is Reality?" PEM pointed out that it is not as trivial a question as it seems. He likened the answer to a triangle, with science, religion and philosophy at its corners. Our desire is to see how the three interact with each other. Is there a god? If so, how do we reconcile our scientific knowledge with our faith? PEM also briefly discussed the Anthropic Principle, which attempts to answer the question of why the universe is set up in such a way that it can develop and support life. There are so many coincidences, such accuracy in the physical world, how are they all possible? There are two answers: The Shotgun Approach, an analogy to shooting out a spray of bullets, and having one just happen to hit the target. (i.e. there are many possible universes; we just happen to live in the right one) Or we can say that the universe is planned.

We then went on to a discussion of PEM's background and reasons for teaching this course. As a child in Germany, he was required to study religion in school, with an emphasis on the superiority of Christianity. As he grew older and began to study physics, he rejected religion as an explanation of the universe. Now, after years of research, he is starting to see that science alone can't explain everything. The traditional view of science (science=measurement) says that if you can't measure something, then it doesn't exist. It therefore makes it hard to explain changes in people's minds. Also, with the introduction of quantum mechanics, we've learned that we can't be as accurate as we want. Just when you think you've reached the limit, there is always more to learn on the other side.

PPB then spoke about his background, and pointed out that all too often professors get stuck in the rut of their own field, and that cross-discipline discussions such as this course are important in a Liberal Education. PPB is interested in the philosophies of science and religion. What is science? What is religion? He believes that religious experience isn't necessarily ruled out in a scientific world. Science is a perspective with limits; do these limits say anything spiritually? There are two sides to human beings; first, our use of technology, and second, our need for direction and orientation in life. These two sides don't need to clash! We need to go beyond the image of god as a guy in the sky, and expand our ideas of what exactly "god" means. Stories such as Adam and Eve in the garden are not meant to be taken literally, but are stories with a message to be interpreted

Next, the various people in the room introduced themselves, and went over their various reasons for being here. We all come from a variety of majors within the University- Business, Economics, Communication, Forestry, Anthropology, Pre-Med and Humanities, just to name a few. The reasons for taking the course were just as varied. Overall, we are all excited about open discussions of the complex debate between Science and Religion. Most everyone wants to hear other people's opinions, and hopefully this will help us answer these questions for ourselves.

January 31, 2000