For all their historical tensions, scientists and religious scholars from a wide variety of faiths ponder many similar questions—how did the universe begin? How might it end? What is the origin of matter, energy, and life? The modes of inquiry and standards for judging progress are, to be sure, very different. But is there a common ground to be found? ABC News’ Bill Blakemore moderates a panel that includes evolutionary geneticist Francisco Ayala, astrobiologist Paul Davies, Biblical scholar Elaine Pagels and Buddhist scholar Thupten Jinpa. These leading thinkers who come at these issues from a range of perspectives address the evolving relationship between science and faith.
This program is part of The Big Idea Series, made possible with support from the John Templeton Foundation.
Bill Blakemore became a reporter for ABC News 46 years ago, covering a wide variety of stories. He spearheaded ABC’s coverage of global warming, traveling from the tropics to polar regions to report on its impacts, dangers, and possible remedies. Overseas he has covered a dozen wars or major conflicts, including the Black September, Bangladesh, 1973 Arab-Israeli, Iranian and Beirut civil wars, as well as the Iraq wars (from Baghdad), and the Afghan/Taliban war. On 9/11, he reached Ground Zero before the towers fell. He was ABC’s Rome bureau chief 1978-1984, traveled extensively with John Paul II and wrote several documentaries and the Encyclopaedia Britannica article about him. Since 1984, he’s been based in New York, where he also served as education correspondent. He began focusing on biodiversity, extinctions, and global warming in 2004, as well as the emerging sciences of play behavior and animal intelligence, and hosted ABC’s Nature’s Edge until 2012. He has won most major broadcast journalism awards. He currently writes and lectures on the journalistic profession, the “Many Psychologies of Global Warming,” and the cinematic art of Stanley Kubrick.
Called the “Renaissance Man of Evolutionary Biology” by The New York Times, Francisco J. Ayala has made significant and wide-ranging experimental and theoretical contributions to evolution theory.
Dr. Ayala’s scientific research focuses on population and evolutionary genetics, including the origin of species, genetic diversity of populations, the origin of malaria, the population structure of parasitic protozoa, and the molecular clock of evolution. He is a recipient of a Presidential National Medal of Science and the 2010 Templeton Prize for exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.
Dr. Ayala is University Professor and Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author or editor of 40 books. He also writes about the interface between religion and science, and on philosophical issues concerning epistemology, ethics, education, and the philosophy of biology. He was a chief witness in the creationist trials in Arkansas in 1981 that prevented religion from being taught as science in the classroom.
Elaine Pagels changed the historical landscape of the Christian religion by exploding the myth of the early Church as a unified movement. Her findings were published in the bestselling 1979 book, The Gnostic Gospels, an analysis of 52 early Christian manuscripts that were unearthed in Egypt. The book won both the National Book Critic’s Circle Award and the National Book Award and was chosen by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best books of the 20th Century.
Dr. Pagels’ other bestselling books include Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, The Origin of Satan, Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas and most recently, Reading Judas (co-authored with Karen King).
The recipient of the Rockefeller, Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellowships in three consecutive years, she is the Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University, and has a working command of Greek, Latin, German, Hebrew, French, Italian and Coptic.
Paul Davies is a theoretical physicist, cosmologist, astrobiologist, and best-selling author. He is Regents’ Professor at Arizona State University, where he is Director of Beyond: Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, co-director of the Cosmology Initiative and principal investigator of the Center for the Convergence of Physical Science and Cancer Biology. He previously held academic appointments in the UK and Australia. His research focuses on the “big questions”, from the origin of the universe to the origin of life. His most recent popular book is The Eerie Silence: Are We Alone in the Universe? He has received the Templeton Prize, the Royal Society’s Faraday Prize, the Kelvin Medal of the UK Institute of Physics, the Robinson Cosmology Prize, and many book awards. He is a member of the Order of Australia and a recipient of the Bicentenary Medal of Chile. The asteroid (6870) Pauldavies is named in his honor.
Thupten Jinpa has been the principal English translator to the Dalai Lama for more than 25 years and has translated and edited many of his books, including Ethics for the New Millennium; Transforming the Mind; The Universe in a Single Atom: Convergence of Science and Spiritualit; and the recently published Toward a True Kinship of Faiths: How the World’s Religions can Come Together.
Dr. Jinpa, who received the Geshe Lharam degree from the Shartse College of Ganden Monastic University, is an adjunct professor at the Faculty of Religious Studies at McGill University, Montreal and a visiting scholar and an executive committee member at the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, the School of Medicine, Stanford University.
He has been a core member of the Mind and Life Institute, dedicated to promoting dialogues between science and contemplative disciplines, especially Buddhism. He is the president of the Institute of Tibetan Classics, Montreal. His own publications include works in both Tibetan and English.