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Reason, Science, and the Question of God

Sources used: Encognitive.com on YouTube. "Linus Pauling: Nature of the Universe."

Marshall Klarfeld. "Linus Pauling speaks." on YouTube.

Charles Hartshorne. Man's Vision of God and the Logic of Theism. Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1964.

Unitarian Universalist Historical Society. "Charles Hartshorne."

Unitarian Universalist Historical Society. "Linus Pauling."Online.

The following script has three characters—the moderator (a workshop leader), Linus Pauling and Charles Hartshorne (participant volunteers). Imagine yourself in the 1970s, being filmed for a televised forum on "Reason, Science, and the Question of God." Get into character as much as you can. The more dramatic, the better!

MODERATOR: Good morning and welcome to the forum entitled "Reason, Science, and the Question of God." Our distinguished panelists are Linus Pauling, the Nobel Prize-winning chemist and peace activist, and Charles Hartshorne [pronounced harts-horne], a philosopher and theologian. Our forum today will explore the lives, work, and activism of Pauling and Hartshorne and the ways in which science and reason inform their religious and theological perspectives. Linus and Charles, thank you for being here. The first question is, "What is your religious background and how does it inform your current work?" Linus, we'll begin with you.

PAULING: Thank you for having me here today. I come from a German Lutheran background, though my parents were never very active church people so I didn't have a strong affiliation. Rather than becoming a machinist as my parents wanted me to, I was intent on becoming a research chemist, so that is exactly what I did. I have been doing research in chemistry and molecular biology and writing books about my work for decades. I also taught at Caltech for more than 30 years. My more recent work, however, is antiwar activism. I have found strong support among the Unitarians in Los Angeles. In fact, in 1954 I addressed a crowd of over 1,000 people at the Los Angeles Unitarian Church about the dangers of nuclear bombs. My wife Ava Helen and I eventually joined the Los Angeles Unitarian Church "because it accepts as members people who believe in trying to make the world a better place."

MODERATOR: Charles?

HARTSHORNE: It is a pleasure to be here today. Thank you for inviting me. I grew up with liberal Christianity, which taught me that Scripture is inspired but not flawless, that evolution and belief in God do not contradict each other, and that God's love is more important than God's power. My father refused to believe that God had control over every detail of the universe. These beliefs all inform my work in the area of process philosophy/theology today. I am suspicious of anyone who gives authority to any one book, church, or person. I believe that freedom and reason must be the tools of religious people. While I study the nature of God, I'm not very active in church these days. My daughter attends the Unitarian church in Chicago, but I have better things to do. At my wife's urging, I have attended Unitarian churches, and have become quite fond of the minister in Austin, Texas. Unitarian churches are the only ones I will support financially.

MODERATOR: What role does science play in your religious perspective? Charles, it's your turn to begin.

HARTSHORNE: Reason and logic, which are both scientific tools, are the foundation of my philosophy of the existence of God, which I believe is both sensitive to values and aligned with the sciences. I believe that the relationship of God to the cosmos is like the relation of a person to the cells of their body—"the world is God's body."

MODERATOR: Linus?

PAULING: I like to understand the world. I like to learn about new ideas. I like to think about problems, look at them in different ways, and finally get an answer to them. Chemistry is an experimental science. I deal with the world as I perceive it, and approach both science and religion from an experimental perspective.

MODERATOR: Is there an ethical component to your work? Linus, we'll begin with you.

PAULING: During the Second World War, I used my scientific expertise for military research and development, but following the war, I became increasingly concerned about the further development and possible use of atomic weapons. My wife is a pacifist and has influenced me in that direction. I began to realize the great dangers confronting us — that the atomic bomb could end the world as we know it. Therefore, I began traveling around giving speeches, circulating petitions, and protesting (along with Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell) the testing of nuclear weapons. I was honored in 1962 to receive a second Nobel Prize — the first one was for chemistry, and this one was for peace. My basic philosophy is oriented to the diminution of suffering in the world. My basic ethical principle... [is] that decisions be made that will increase happiness.

MODERATOR: Charles?

HARTSHORNE: To me, ethical means being motivated by concern for the interests of others. I believe that love is a measure of ethics because love is "action from social awareness." Therefore, God is absolutely ethical because God is perfectly loving, and we humans must try to be nearly as ethical and loving.

MODERATOR: Now, the last question of the forum: Do you believe in God? Charles?

HARTSHORNE: Absolutely. I believe in a God that is a creative and moving power open to human influence. I come from the perspective of panentheism — God is not identical with the world, but God is also not completely separate from the world. God transcends the earth, but the world is also contained within God. From a scientific perspective, this makes sense to me.

MODERATOR: Linus?

PAULING: No, I do not. I have no interest in the mystical aspects of religion. My discipline is to explain everything back to the beginning of the universe. If you ask me what there was just before the Big Bang, I cannot explain that to you. If you wish to believe in a God as the creator, please do, as we cannot explain what there was just a millisecond before the Big Bang.

MODERATOR: Linus and Charles, thank you for joining us today for this forum on "Reason, Science, and the Question of God." We appreciate your taking the time to share with us your reasoned perspectives and work on these critical issues for our time.

PAULING and HARTSHORNE: Thank you.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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