By Chris Peisch
On Monday night, The Veritas Forum, a non-profit organization that partners with Christian student groups on college campuses, hosted a conversation on neuroscience, consciousness and faith in the Geology Corner Auditorium. The seminar, titled “Is Perception Reality?” aimed to put Christian world views in conversation with alternative philosophies.
The discussion featured Stanford professor of neurobiology Bill Newsome and adjunct professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences David Eagleman, who discussed their perspectives on the intersection of faith and science.
The Veritas Forum solicited student input to determine a topic of conversation that would be of most interest to the Stanford community.
“A lot of students were interested in consciousness and the intersection between science and faith,” said student event coordinator Prescott Bliss M.S. ’18.
Eagleman described himself as a “possibilian,” someone who actively investigates an exploratory “possibility space” and uses science to eliminate possibilities that are not viable.
Newsome’s religious views diverged from those of Eagleman’s. Newsome, a Christian raised by a Baptist minister, described himself as reductionist in scientific methodology, but not in spiritual ideology.
Forum director Samuel Kim said Veritas aims to invite speakers who will engage in meaningful dialogue and explore the intersection between opposing philosophies.
“Bill Newsome and David Eagleman represent two very interesting perspectives and they are very much engaged with their specific world views,” he said
Eagleman and Newsome opened the conversation by introducing their research and their respective philosophical values. Stanford psychiatrist David Carreon moderated the conversation and prompted the panelists on topics ranging from frontiers in neuroscience to the duality of the human soul.
Asked how scientists should approach the challenge of understanding consciousness, Newsome responded, “I would take one of our national laboratories dedicated to nuclear research and fill it with neuroscientists, physicists, mathematicians and engineers to work together to get us a tool that could record from the brain and stimulate the brain at fine spatial and temporal resolution non-invasively. Then we could start understanding the science of consciousness.”
The panelists also discussed the potential for biases against religious individuals in the scientific community.
“I think that there is a peculiar bias which is distributed unevenly across religions,” Newsome said. “There is a tendency to be disdainful toward Christianity, and some of that is with good reason because some of the most central advances in biology were resisted by elements of the Christian church.”
The Geology corner was filled to capacity, and students even began to fill the aisles once all the seats had been filled.
Kim expressed his gratitude for the event coordinators and the “wonderful turnout.”
“We are excited to see that so many people on campus are interested in these deeper dialogues,” Kim added.
The Veritas Forum will host an group discussion with Stanford’s InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in Old Union on Friday night and a follow-up discussion on bioethics with David Eagleman at the Li Ka Shing Learning and Knowledge Center on Thursday, May 17.