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October 9, 2000

Booth: Commonality crucial for reconciliation

By Eric Rangus

Wayne Booth offered no easy answers in his Sept. 28 address in Glenn Auditorium, but then again, his subject matter, "The Rhetoric of Reconciliation: Science and Religion," is not kids' stuff.

It's a debate over the nature of the world's very existence, and both sides have divergent-and often inflexible-views on the subject. Usually, each side is intolerant of the other's viewpoint, and neither sees anything in common with the other. There is no overlap in belief.

Therefore, Booth suggested ways the two sides could reach some sort of a common ground to at least address the problem. But he was realistic.

"It's a controversy not likely to end," said Booth, Pullman Distinguished Professor of English Emeritus at the University of Chicago. He visited campus to kick off Emory's Year of Reconciliation.

In his introduction, President Bill Chace called Booth "a most reasonable man. He has made reason and the act of reasoning the project of his life."

If any headway is to be made in bridging the gap between people of religion and people of science, it must be through rhetoric, Booth said. "Rhetoric" being defined as the exchange of language between two people or groups in dialogue.

And a lot of that has to do with understanding the other side's argument and beliefs.

"There must be a probing of the deepest convictions of both sides of any conflict," Booth said. "Do they stand on any common ground? You must push the pursuit of understanding by really listening to the enemy."

This probing of shared grounds is what Booth called "rhetorology."

"This is under the assumption that there is shared ground," Booth said.

Booth then discussed the theories common to both arguments. Booth listed seven of them, calling them "marks." He asked the audience to interpret each of them in the contexts of religion and science, saying that each side adheres to the belief in its own way.

· Mark 1: An insistence that the world as we experience it is somehow flawed.

· Mark 2: There is a standard to which these flaws can be judged.

· Mark 3: There is a certain order or reality that provides those standards.

· Mark 4: All those who are genuinely religious (or scientific) see themselves as part of this brokenness.

· Mark 5: The cosmos calls on them to do something about this brokenness.

· Mark 6: When the cosmos conflicts with personal impulses, immediate wishes should be ignored and the higher power or thought followed.

· Mark 7: Contact with a higher power (in science, this can be defined as solving a complex problem) openly or subtly offers a spiritual high.

The opponent's differences must also be probed, Booth said. In preparation for a dialogue, one must define the opponent's final goals, methods, definitions, general principles and the range of cultural differences involved.

"What's kept me going is the immense importance of reducing the blind misunderstanding that floods the discussion of science versus religion," Booth said.

To end the night, Booth took questions in a session moderated by Juliette Stapanian Apkarian, associate professor and department chair of Russian and East Asian languages.


Back to Emory Report Oct. 9, 2000