Baha'i News -- Muslim, Jewish, and Christian Scientists Hold International Summit to Call for Peaceful Dialogue

Muslim, Jewish, and Christian Scientists Hold International Summit to Call for Peaceful Dialogue

Story Filed: Monday, August 12, 2002 10:46 PM EST

GRANADA, Spain, Aug 11, 2002 (ASCRIBE NEWS via COMTEX) -- Ten days from today, leading scientists from the Middle East, Europe, and North America will gather to call for peaceful dialogue among Muslims, Jews, and Christians. The unprecedented summit meeting in Granada, Spain is a response to religiously motivated conflicts around the world, including the September 11 attacks in the United States and the global rise in terrorism. The scientists will meet with over one hundred scholars and religious leaders to face two major geopolitical threats: erupting cultural conflicts among the three monotheisms, and rising tensions between modern technological society and religious fundamentalism. The Science and the Spiritual Quest Spain Symposium will provide a public forum for debate Friday evening, August 23 - Sunday evening, August 25, 2002 at the historic Alhambra Palace Hotel. For more information and registration, visit or call +1-510-848-2355.

On the eve of the summit, some of the scientists were already speaking out. "Our era cries out for a new political vision that can take care of the spiritual and environmental crises of our time-specifically moral void, injustice, violence, and war," asserted Iranian physicist and Muslim scholar Mehdi Golshani. Meanwhile Tsevi Mazeh, an Israeli astrophysicist and longtime Orthodox Jewish peace activist, expressed hope and caution: "Objectivity and rationalism, two of the pillars of modern science, can be used to balance the strong trends of particularity within the three major monotheistic faiths. . . but the main source of openness and respect for the 'other' should be found within the core of each tradition."

British astrophysicist S. Jocelyn Bell Burnell, renowned for co-discovering pulsars, recalled that Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, and other famous scientists assembled to respond publicly to the Cold War peril of thermonuclear warfare. Herself a national leader in the Quaker tradition, Bell Burnell raised a challenge for the summit in Spain: "Do we need something similar for today's 'hot' wars? Are we the people to do it?"

Observers note the uniqueness of a meeting that features devout Jews, Muslims, and Christians who are also scientists at the cutting edge of their research disciplines. Jim Schaal, Program Director of the symposium's sponsoring organization Science and the Spiritual Quest, commented: "In more settled times, the academic discussion of science and religion could afford to dwell primarily on theoretical questions of theology and philosophy. Now scientific developments in fields like genomics and neuroscience join longstanding concerns, such as environmental degradation and weapons of mass destruction, to bring urgent and practical issues of ethics and politics to the forefront of debate. We believe that religiously committed scientists must be heard-not only in academic discourse, but also in the public and policymaking arenas."

Although Christianity and Judaism have long struggled to come to terms with the modern sciences to which they played midwife, Islam has until recently been less engaged in the Western scholarly dialogue with science-despite the legacy of high scientific accomplishments in the Muslim world during the medieval era. This, too, is changing as both Muslims and non-Muslims recognize science and its technological offspring as central players in widespread religious conflicts.

The shift in emphasis was compelling at the SSQ Boston Conference at Harvard in October 2001, when eminent French astrophysicist and Sufi Muslim scholar Bruno Abd-al-Haqq Guiderdoni delivered an impassioned plea for ethical reflection and cultural reconciliation in the wake of September 11. In a nationwide telecast, he said: "I am a scientist and I am a believer. . . (and) I feel deeply concerned by our twenty-first century. The terrible events of September 11 cast a dark shadow on it. . . Do we have reasons to hope again?" An attainable vision of peace with justice, Guiderdoni argued, demands shared understandings of the human condition informed by open-minded, humble approaches to both scientific and religious truth. To rousing applause, he concluded: "The fundamental issue we have to address is clear: do we believe in the human as much as God believes in the human?"

Guiderdoni will be a keynote speaker in the opening session of the public SSQ symposium in Granada. The closing session, entitled "Modern Science, Contemporary Politics, and Living Religions: Is There Hope for Peace?," will directly confront the political realities besetting the world today.

The three "Abrahamic" monotheisms will be broadly and fairly represented in Spain, with one speaker from each tradition featured in most sessions. Joining Guiderdoni and Mehdi to speak from a Muslim perspective at the Spain Symposium are Ayub Ommaya, a well-known Pakistani-American neuroscientist, and Munawar Anees, a Pakistani biologist and social critic hailed for his outspoken resistance while imprisoned by Malaysian authorities. Also featured is a speaker from the Baha'i Faith, a tradition rooted in Islam and dedicated to world peace: the Iranian-British scientist Faraneh Vargha-Khadem, noted for her research on cognitive and behavioral neuropathology in children.

Along with Mazeh, Jewish speakers include distinguished eminent Harvard neuroscientist and vision expert Stephen Kosslyn; Carl Feit, a respected cancer researcher and Talmudic Jewish scholar; Israeli historian of science and religion Noah Efron; American philosopher Norbert Samuelson; and Andrew Newberg, a noted American researcher in brain function and mystical experience.

Joining Bell Burnell from a Christian viewpoint are Cambridge mathematical physicist and Anglican priest and theologian John Polkinghorne, who recently won the coveted Templeton Prize; William Hurlbut, a Stanford physician and biomedical ethicist recently appointed to the Presidential Council on Bioethics; Ted Peters, a noted theologian and consultant on issues in genetics; and eminent South African cosmologist and Quaker scholar George F. R. Ellis.

Closing reflections will be offered by one of the deans of contemporary science-religion dialogue, the physicist and theologian Ian Barbour. Barbour is also a winner of the prestigious Templeton Prize, the world's largest award for intellectual achievement.

Scientific topics to be considered in Granada range from large-scale pictures of cosmology and evolution to the latest research in cloning and brain imaging. Science and Eastern religious traditions including Buddhism and Hinduism will be the focus of upcoming SSQ events in Tokyo, Japan this October and in Bangalore, India, next January.

The SSQ Spain Symposium is open to the public and journalists are encouraged to attend. For more information and registration, visit or call +1-510-848-2355. Science and the Spiritual Quest ( is a program of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences ( in Berkeley, California. The Spain Symposium is presented in partnership with the Metanexus Institute on Religion and Science ( and the CTNS Science and Religion Course Program ( with support from the John Templeton Foundation (

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