Campus forum asks, 'Is religion rational?'

Meghan Sullivan addresses students in her "God and the Good Life" course at the University of Notre Dame. (Paul Blaschko)

In a sequel to one of the largest non-athletic events on its campus last year, Montana Tech in Butte, Mont., will host the second annual Forum on Science and Religion on Feb. 16.

Focusing on the question "Is Belief in God Irrational?" Meghan Sullivan will keynote the 7 p.m. gathering in the school's main auditorium.

Sullivan is the O'Brien Collegiate associate professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, and a regular contributor to various periodicals on issues of philosophy, theology, politics and ethics.

"Being a Christian means not only believing that a God exists but also a host of complicated and sometimes very specific moral, historical and philosophical claims," Sullivan told NCR.

"We can wonder about the rationality of these beliefs — are they based in evidence? Should they be?" she said. "How do we develop responsible faith? And how do we accommodate doubt? I'll share how I think about these issues as a philosopher and a Catholic."

Also organized by Montana Tech's Catholic Campus Ministry, last year's initial event drew "an absolutely packed auditorium of several hundreds, with students also sitting on stage, in aisles, standing at the back, and more than 100 who could not get close enough to listen," according to Fr. Patrick Beretta, ministry director and pastor of Butte's St. Patrick Parish.

Last year's speaker was Ian Hutchinson, a professor of nuclear science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The forum is coordinated through The Veritas Forum, an organization started at Harvard University in 1992 and which today helps sponsor "more than 130 forums per year, approximately 80-90 in North America, and about 40 internationally," said Kystal Smith, the organization's university engagement director and director of special projects.

"The heart of our model is respectful, intellectually rigorous dialogue between scholars with diverse belief systems," Smith said in an email to NCR. "We find that there are few other models for this kind of dialogue, as our model is not debate, but it is also not just oriented toward a Christian audience."

Last year's North American Veritas Forums drew almost 35,000 participants, Smith said

Beretta and Smith said the target audience is students, faculty and staff, but "the broader community as well" has been attracted, in Smith's words. A reception will follow immediately after event, they said.

This will be the fifth Veritas Forum in which Sullivan has participated. Montana Tech is affiliated with the University of Montana in Missoula, Mont.

[Dan Morris-Young is NCR West Coast correspondent.]

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