About 1,100 students took two hours off from studying this Wednesday night to ponder some of the bigger questions in life.
The setting was a discussion hosted by the Penn Veritas Forum in Irvine Auditorium that focused on the question, “Is there truth beyond science?”
This year’s event took the form of a conversation between Michael Weisberg, associate professor of philosophy at Penn, and Ian Hutchinson, a professor of nuclear science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Hutchinson spoke first and told of his conversion to Christianity while still an undergraduate at Cambridge University. His British accent and Guy Fawkesian moustache did not deter from his clear and concise speaking style.
“Christian faith is not irrational,” Hutchinson said. “But it’s not wholly intellectual either.”
Throughout the talk, Hutchinson maintained that science was not the only route to knowledge and that we can understand phenomena on other levels.
“I am an assemblage of quarks,” he said, but he added that he was also a human, a man and a father. Hutchinson stressed that his being “a sinner saved by grace” didn’t necessarily rule out any of these things.
Weisberg did not disagree outright with Hutchinson but attempted to qualify many of his arguments.
Instead of calling it “science,” Weisberg emphasized the importance of “empirical inquiry” in our quest for truth.
“The only process we know about that creates the right kind of connection between us and the world is empirical inquiry,” he said. He did agree with Hutchinson, however, in saying that proof must be both reliable and reproducible.
The moderator reminded the audience that this was not a “debate,” but that did not stop them from picking sides.
“How do we score this?” joked one student in the crowd.
After the talk, there were light refreshments and tables set up for conversation in the Class of 1958 Café.
When asked what she thought of the talk, Nursing sophomore Faith Concepcion rephrased Hutchinson.
“I think it’s really important to stress that Christianity is not just a set of ideas. It’s a personal relationship,” she said. “That’s what I’m leaving with.”
2011 College graduate Ellen Williams, a planning committee member for Penn Veritas, said that this was the first time that the Forum had been framed as a dialogue. A Christian herself, she wondered, “Is it worth asking questions of proof in matters of faith?”
In closing, the audience members were asked to text someone or talk to someone and consider the questions among themselves.