Messiah forum probes relationship between God and science
Eighteenth-century chemist Antoine Lavoisier (Jeffrey Kauffman ’07) is one of three chemists under consideration for a retroactive Nobel Prize in the play Oxygen, which explores scientific discovery.
In April 2004, Messiah College created the Central Pennsylvania Forum for Religion and Science. Under the direction of Edward B. Davis, professor of the history of science, the forum sponsors several events throughout each semester to analyze various controversies involving science and religion, demonstrate that the two do not inherently conflict, and further vigorous study that can lead to a better appreciation of both science and God.
The forum anchored its fall 2004 event schedule with an October presentation of Oxygen, a two-act play written by famed chemist Carl Djerassi and Nobel Prize recipient Roald Hoffmann. Oxygen, directed by Edward Cohn, assistant professor of theatre, delves into questions of scientific discovery: What is discovery? Why is it so important to be first? Does it matter if you do not fully understand what you have found?
Building on these questions, the play highlights two fictional encounters separated by more than 200 years. In a meeting in Stockholm in 1777, three chemists attempt to determine who discovered oxygen, with each positioning his own work as critical to the discovery. Later, in 2001, the play shows the Nobel Prize committee struggling with the same questions of discovery as it deliberates on which scientist should receive the first “retroactive” Nobel Prize.
To supplement ideas raised in the play, the forum invited several lecturers, including Oxygen playwrights Djerassi and Hoffmann, to speak on issues such as evolution and biomedical ethics. The forum also offers a public reading group, which most recently analyzed Kenneth Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution, to facilitate further discussion among the local community.
The forum was created by a Local Societies Initiative grant from the Metanexus Institute of Philadelphia, which advances understanding concerning religion and science through research, education, and outreach. It is part of a growing network of nearly 90 similar organizations in over 25 countries, making Messiah College an important participant in the continuing global conversation.