The graphic accompanying the Web page for this year’s honors colloquium at the University of Rhode Island appears to be ironic. It’s a sketch of a star with a face faded into it, all superimposed on a field of stars. Given that the title of the colloquium is “Origins: Life, the Universe and Everything,” one might assume the speeches would include some discussion of philosophy or even theology, but the list of presentations would seem to suggest otherwise. (An email to one of the coordinators for confirmation of this observation went without response.)
Basically, all 10 speakers are concerned with science of one form or another, which is fine as far as it goes, but it raises the question of what the underlying philosophy of the colloquium is. The fact that there must be such a philosophy implied can be seen in the advertisement that the speakers will help “to shed light on our current best understanding of humanity’s place in the cosmos.” Whatever useful information scientists might provide, that one is well outside of their purview.
Indeed, the insinuation that science can answer such questions seems like an attempt to smuggle in the academic elite’s popular variation of nihilistically tinged materialism. The extent to which scientists can tell us our “place in the cosmos” is precisely the extent to which they can do the same concerning rocks or elements. That is, they must first reduce us to mere things.
Worse, an institution that presumes to take up a topic such as the origins of everything without providing students some philosophical discourse as to (arguably) the most important question in their lives — not what or how, but why — does them a tremendous disservice. Even those who won’t attend such colloquiums will pick up the institutional message that this critical question for self-exploration and human development is unimportant.
That gets to a core reason I send my children to Catholic schools, and in keeping with my theme of today, it represents a disappointing missed opportunity.