Veritas Forum Appropriate at MIT
Several people have already responded to the philosophical arguments in Rahmat Muhammad's March 9 column on the Veritas forum at MIT. Rather than continue the discussion on meaning, I would like to respond to Ms. Muhammad's characterization of the Veritas forum and her suggestion that such forums are inappropriate for the MIT community. I applaud Ms. Muhammad for bringing awareness to the possible pitfalls that might occur at the interface of science and religion. However, I feel that Ms. Muhammad's article misrepresented the nature of the Veritas forum in several ways that must be addressed.
Ms. Muhammad criticizes the forum for trying to "impose Christian values" and promote "passive submission to an established religion." The Veritas forums are indeed grounded in the Christian faith. However, the structure of the Veritas talks were planned so as to encourage discussion and critical thinking. Two of the three major Veritas events took the format of dialogues between a Christian and non-Christian member of the MIT or Harvard faculty, and plenty of opportunities were given at the end for the audience to raise questions and objections. It may be that some may still consider these factors to be inadequate in promoting an open-minded setting; however, any fair and accurate critique of Veritas should first acknowledge this attempt by the organizers to create meaningful dialogue.
Second, Ms. Muhammad argues in her letter that the scientific method should be objective and should not be influenced by religious beliefs, implying that the Veritas Forum encouraged attendees to prioritize religious beliefs over science. On the contrary, many Christians would wholeheartedly support Ms. Muhammad's position. In fact, Dr. Francis Collins, the Forum's keynote speaker, cautioned Christians not to let their fear of disproving their faith stop them from considering scientific evidence for theories such as evolution.
Lastly, I find Ms. Muhammad's suggestion that "Places like MIT should not allow [the search for meaning] to be hijacked by well-meaning but closed-minded individuals seeking to impose a religious agenda" to be deeply disturbing. Beyond the noticeable irony of any call to "silence the closed-minded people," this statement raises fundamental questions about the nature of the intellectual environment at MIT, the ability and right of individuals to evaluate arguments, and whether MIT citizens need to be somehow protected from ideas that are deemed undesirable. President Hockfield stated very wisely in her March 12 "Letter to the MIT Community" that free speech and the open contest of ideas are essential to education and research, and the suppression of speech "hinders learning and violates the core principles of scholarship." MIT can only truly be a place of scholarship if people of all views and backgrounds, whether Ms. Muhammad, the Veritas Forum, or anyone else, are able to dialogue freely about their beliefs.