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Lecture explores faith, science

Caitlin Housley | Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mathematics Professor Joanne Snow and associate mathematics Professor Colleen Hoover presented “Faith and Reason in the Life and Work of Mathematician Marston Morse” at Saint Mary’s Believing Scholars Lecture Tuesday.

As Snow mentioned, the lecture, put on by Saint Mary’s Center for Spirituality, was “a very broad overview of one man’s philosophy of the link between science and religion.”

Snow and Hoover addressed many topics, including the development of Morse’s spiritual life, his philosophy that religion supports science and the influence of faith on Morse’s personal and professional life.

According to Snow and Hoover, Morse was very prolific, writing many books and articles, serving his country in times of war, raising seven children and on top of that, providing many insights into the field of mathematics.

Morse fathered the Morse Theory, helpful in the study of topology of mathematical space, Snow said.

Morse was raised as a staunch Baptist until his future wife entered his life. Louise Morse was a Catholic, and refused to marry a non-Catholic. Morse converted, and was a strong advocate of his faith ever since, Snow said.

According to Hoover, Morse was not afraid to stand up for his newfound Catholic faith. He was not afraid to correct the misconceptions and false assumptions others had about the Catholic Church.

In their lecture, Snow and Hoover argued science and religion do not contradict each other; rather, they complement each other.

Morse’s philosophy stated that there is no conflict between science, philosophy and theology, Hoover said.

Morse argued that any spark of conflict between these fields would only arise due to misunderstanding of the definition of “science,” Hoover said.

Hoover highlighted one of Morse’s many philosophies, which stated that “both religion and science recognize the power and limitations of reason.”

“Morse believed that faith is as much needed in science as in religion,” Hoover said.

Spirituality’s study of the infinite, Morse argued, greatly complements science.

“Recognition of the infinite gives the scientist the humility to make great discoveries,” Hoover said.

Snow said Morse believed that “without faith, science lacks the wonder and awe” of discovery.

Morse was not a stranger to the Notre Dame community.

According to Snow, he knew many influential people, including Einstein and Notre Dame’s own Father Hesburgh. Morse was consulted in the renovation of the Notre Dame math department, and he donated many books to the Hesburgh Library,

Despite already having written an article about a connection between Morse’s work and the arts, it was the study of Morse’s connection between science and religion that most interested Snow, she said.

She said her research on this topic gave her “a greater respect and admiration of the man.”

Sarah McCroy, a junior Mathematics and Business major at Saint Mary’s, also discovered a greater respect for Morse.

“Studying as a mathematician, I like to look for ways I can use my study to learn more about my faith,” McCroy said. “I look to examples, such as Morse, to understand how they use their field of study to reflect on their faith.”

Sister Kathleen Dolphin, director of the Center for Spirituality, said this student reaction was the ideal outcome of the event.

“Students seem to be interested in the connection between faith and reason. The Center for Spirituality’s goal is to address these questions in an academic way.”

In particular, Dolphin said she wanted to help students address the current problem of science versus spirituality.