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Special Event

Millennium 2000: Religion

Aired January 2, 2000 - 11:30 p.m. ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: In Asia, most of the stock markets are open, apparently Y2K bug free. We'll take you live to Hong Kong trading floor.

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: Israel and Syria sit down for talks Monday in the United States. Could this be the millennium of peace in the Middle East?

WOODRUFF: And as mankind strains very hard toward the heavens, can science and religion continue to coexist?

I'm Judy Woodruff.

SHAW: And I'm Bernard Shaw.

Just ahead, a conversation with experts on the future of religion in a scientific age.

But, first, some of the top stories.

Investors are still checking for Y2K problems, but, so far, so good. Markets in Tokyo, Taiwan, and Sydney are all closed for an extended new year's recess, but Hong Kong and other Asian markets are up and running.

CNN's Lorraine Hahn joins us live from Hong Kong Stock Market.



Well, all key Asian markets ended the morning session with a bang and still no sign of that Y2K bug.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index is in record territory. It is up 1.6 percent as we go into the lunch break. In Singapore, the market there also in record territory. The Singapore Straits Times Index is up 2- 1/2 percent.

Traders say that investors are flush with cash, and this money needs a home. Also, the -- it seems that the only problems with Y2K is the fear and paranoia that people are having about this bug.

Lorraine Hahn, reporting live from the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. WOODRUFF: In Chechnya, Russia says it has made inroads into the region's southern mountains where rebel strongholds are located. Russia's forces also continue to pound the capital Grozny with air and artillery fire. Casualties are reportedly mounting on both sides.

Despite three weeks of Russian attacks, rebel forces still control the city's center. Grozny is now the only rebel-controlled town in Chechnya's north.

Just a short time ago, a Syrian delegation arrived at a conference center outside Washington. They are set to resume peace talks with Israel around midday on Monday. President Clinton will preside over the opening day of negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara. They will be secluded in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

And as Ralph Begleiter reports, the two countries have already laid the groundwork for an agreement in previous negotiations.


RALPH BEGLEITER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The talks in Washington are the highest level negotiations Israel and Syria have had.

But, four years ago, the two sides hashed out a lot of the details of peace along the Golan Heights. In those talks, Syrian and Israeli military leaders sketched demilitarized zones on either side of a still undetermined border. They talked about placing electronic sensors and international monitors between them. The U.S. even offered to give both sides overhead intelligence information to prevent any surprise attack.

In those 1995 negotiations, Israel and Syria discussed a staged agreement covering an exchange of embassies and even talked about a detailed timetable for steps toward peace, including a specific timetable for Israeli withdrawal from the Golan.

All that has been collecting dust since former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, but both sides and U.S. mediators know it could be dusted off and finalized quickly, if Syria and Israel are ready to make the crucial political decisions they never made in their last round of talks.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We see now leaders with an unquestioned determination to defend and advance the interests of their own people but, also, determined to marshal the courage and creativity, the vision and resolve to secure a bright future based on peace.

BEGLEITER (on camera): There have been so many false starts in Arab-Israeli negotiations that it would be foolish to predict success of this one, but the groundwork for reconciling one of the Middle East's most strident conflicts has already been set.

Ralph Begleiter for CNN, Washington. (END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: As our millennium 2000 coverage continues, we focus on religion.

SHAW: Are recent advances in science changing our beliefs about God? Joining us will be Aly Abuzaakouk of the American Muslim Council, Father John Langan of Georgetown University, and Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.


WOODRUFF: We embrace it or reject it, but, more than ever, we'll confront other people's understanding and practice of it. Religion in millennium 2000. Sharing a world of faith.

The marking of the millennium is a religious notion dating from the birth of a religious figure, Jesus Christ.

SHAW: But man's evolution is marked by scientific advances as well, some of which pose challenges to religious beliefs.


SHAW (voice-over): With less than a half a century to spare before the new millennium, man made it to the heavens with science as a stepping stone, marking a new era in human history and highlighting an old dilemma in human thought. As the rational world increasingly encroaches on the mystical, can religion and science coexist?

MICHAEL SHERMER, "SKEPTIC" MAGAZINE: Science is constantly changing religion in the sense that religions adapt to the knowledge base and the stories told by scientists.

SHAW: But ancient religious institutions have struggled with that change and the scientists whose discoveries have threatened Old Testament beliefs. In 1633 when Galileo embraced Copernicus's idea of a sun-centered universe, the Catholic Church condemned his findings until in 1996 Pope John II cleared his name in a landmark statement entitled "Truth Cannot Contradict Truth," making room, more than 300 years later, for a newly ordered universe in the Catholic world.

SHERMER: Smart church leaders bend and flow with the tenets of science because they realize that -- that it's two separate spheres.

SHAW: In the latest age of reason, some have predicted that man would find no more need for a god, that an increasingly rational, scientific world would someday become godless. That hasn't happened.

During the century that spawned weapons of mass destruction, miracle medicines, urban sprawl, and the Internet, millions still flock to religion, exploring their spirituality and worshiping God in both ancient and modern ways, turning to him with their most profound questions, in joy, in anger, in sorrow. Why?

REV. BILLY GRAHAM: It would be great to have that joy and that peace that God can give in the midst of suffering, in the midst of things we don't understand, in the midst of the questions that you asked that I don't have the answers to.

SHAW: Partly because of this, God's place in the next millennium is assured, but it is not defined. The world's religions are still manifested more by the material than the mystical, sparking wars, shaping nations, as well as inspiring music, art, and awe. When man triumphs, he praises God. When man fails, he takes comfort in him.

RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will never forget them nor the last time we saw them this morning as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.

SHAW: But be he Ala, Buddha, Christ, God is an intangible. His image is in the individual minds of those who perceive him, and to worship him is to make a leap from everyday reason to an ancient, ageless faith. Millions do, for while man may use science to reach the heavens, most of mankind still believes that only God could create them.


SHAW: Can science and religion continue to coexist?

WOODRUFF: We will talk about that now with three religious leaders from three different faiths. With us are Aly Abuzaakouk of the American Muslim Council, Father John Langan of Georgetown University.

SHAW: And Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.

Rabbi, beginning with you, how has science undermined or helped the search for a supreme being?

RABBI DAVID WOLPE, SINAI TEMPLE, LOS ANGELES: Well, it's been complex throughout history. In some ways, as you pointed out in your introduction, with Galileo, Newton, Copernicus, and the change in the conception of the universe, religion was upended.

But, at the same time, as science allows human beings to use both their souls and their minds to explore and to penetrate some of the mysteries of the world, I think that, while a bit of science can be used to upend traditional beliefs, nonetheless, what remains undisturbed -- and, in some ways, even enhanced -- is the vision of not only human beings as exalted creatures in some sense but the world as the creation of something that has a mystery at its core.

And the more that science, as it were, acknowledges or bows it head before a certain mystery at the center of things, the more religion and science can travel in concord.

SHAW: Mr. Abuzaakouk, your thought?

ALY ABUZAAKOUK, AMERICAN MUSLIM COUNCIL: First of all, I think as Muslim I have found in the Koran, which is the book of reading, the first word that God revealed to mankind is "greed," which means the -- really deceit of knowledge.

The Koran established the civilization -- the Muslim civilization which brought about science and religion in a very compatible way. They complement each other. There has never been a dichotomy, and there has never been a controversy since science deals with the physical reality of the world, religion deals with the spiritual reality of the world, and both sides of the -- the spiritual and the physical lead us to the recognition of the oneness of God who has created both.

SHAW: And to you, Father Langan. Has science helped or undermined the search for a supreme being?

REV. JOHN LANGAN, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Well, I think science originates in a desire to understand the world, and in that respect, it's very much akin to theology, and I think, from a religious perspective, science is a way of expressing our cooperation with God, in effect thinking the thoughts of the creator, and this is -- this is a great privilege.

But it's also true if you look at the history of the way in which science developed, after initially being encouraged by religion, there was a period where religion, I think, felt threatened by the advance of science, in particular by certain tensions that developed between traditional religious sources and scientific discoveries, the kind of thing that you were mentioning -- alluding to in the Galileo case and that came to us in a different form with Darwin and evolution, and people in church leadership positions felt very nervous about this, and it's taken a while for them to -- to come to a degree of comfort with the -- the legitimate autonomy of science, the fact that science is best conducted by professional scientists who criticize each other's work.

WOODRUFF: But, Mr. Abuzaakouk, why is it that with the advances that have been made -- whether it's travel into space, the space telescope -- the Hubble space telescope, on the one end -- on the other hand, the ability of surgeons to operate literally on a fetus in the womb of a -- of a woman -- why has none of this managed somehow to weaken the argument for a god?

ABUZAAKOUK: Because it is really those development that we have seen has helped us to see more the laws that God has brought to the universe, and the development -- the scientific development brings us closer to understanding and appreciate the creation of God. As I said before, when the scientific method deals with the physical reality of the world, it really brings about the laws of God which we always are discovering. Until today, we are discovering the DNA and many other things.

But the only thing is that when some of the philosophers try to use the scientific method to (INAUDIBLE) which is spirituality, and the spirituality which deals with knowing the love and friendships and many thing that you cannot really put in the lab and try to observe them in a scientific way. So these are the areas where we find that vision, and -- and it gives the human being that side of him which God has created and put in him. And we found at least in our tradition philosophers and scientists and scholars were at the same time working on the -- all these fields without having any problems.

WOODRUFF: But Reverend...


WOODRUFF: Go ahead.

LANGAN: If I could...

WOLPE: I'm sorry. I was going to say as well that part of is that the way western religions have set things up in a sense is conducive to science from one point of view. We, after all, starting with the Jewish tradition and then in Christianity and Islam, assumed a creator God, and because human beings were supposed to imitate God inasmuch as it was possible, there was a stimulus for human beings to create as well, which I think is one of the principle reasons why science and technology arose in the western world.

Also, once you make God the author of the universe, then you assume predictable laws that you can study in the way that western science does, and once you make God God and nature is separate, that is the natural world isn't God, then you assume that you can study nature, that it's not studying the divine itself, but a created world whose mysteries one ought to be able to penetrate.

And so once you put all that together, even though it's true that in some ways it changes the argument for God, in fact, science and religion can work synergistically. They can bolster each other to make this argument from the point of view of theology, and I would say just...


WOLPE: ... as a last remark that in some ways what religion would ask of science is both that it increase its view of what human beings are and decrease it, that is we're both greater and lesser than the scientific materialist world view would suggest. We're greater in the sense that we have souls that are eternal, and we're lesser in the sense that our minds can't understand everything, only a great deal.

WOODRUFF: So, Father Langan, are you -- the three of you arguing there is literally no scientific advance out there that weakens the argument for a god?

LANGAN: I -- I think a lot -- the real battleground is, as the rabbi was suggesting, in terms of the philosophical interpretation of science. Science as an activity is increasingly specialized, and religion speaks more to the sense of the whole that human beings aspire to, and religion suggests ways of thinking about our entire experience.

I think the areas of conflict come when you have philosophical movements that in effect say that human beings should be understood in reductionist terms as really closed systems without a spiritual dimension to them, and I think that becomes the real -- the real battleground. What do we say about the character of -- of the human person and how do we at the same time acknowledge the great accomplishments of science and the fact that science itself is an expression of the human spirit? It would be...

WOLPE: There's a...

LANGAN: ... highly paradoxical if, in effect, humanity were to be overturned by science, which in some sense is a human creation.

WOLPE: There is a...

SHAW: Our discussion...

WOLPE: Sorry. There is a reason why science and faith coexist not only in the same culture but in the same person. I mean, both in modern times and classically, Newton spent the last 10 years of his life searching through the apocalyptical biblical literature, which is a strange occupation of the premier scientific mind of -- of perhaps all of western tradition, and Einstein, the presumptive man of the century, after all, spent a good deal of time talking about his sometimes distant, sometimes close conception of God.

SHAW: Gentlemen, we're going to have to pause.

But when we come back, this question will be put to our distinguished panelists: Will science make the need for God obsolete? In a moment.


SHAW: Will science make the need for God obsolete?

Father Langan, first to you.

LANGAN: I don't think so. I think the need for God is something that's very widely shared among human beings, and people will have to in some cases change their conceptions of what they expect in religious terms.

I remember when the Soviets first sent cosmonauts up, they had Gargarin, as I recall, mock the -- the expectation that from his spaceship he could see God. That's critical for a certain fairly crude anthropomorphic conception of what God is.

More positively, I think science will press religion to greater precision and to more honesty in its self-examination.

I think one thing to say, that a lot of people in the Jewish and Christian traditions learned was that things that they had thought were quasi-scientific in their own traditions simply could not stand up to scientific criticism, and they came to understanding, say, the opening chapters of Genesis as ex -- shaped by a different literary tradition and not as something competitive with science but rather as pointing to the mystery of creation. SHAW: Mr. Abuzaakouk?

ABUZAAKOUK: I think the first thing that we believe is that those who worship God on a higher level are the scientists. The Koran states that the people of knowledge -- that is scientists, scholars, and then so on -- are the deepest people who really appreciate God and God's creation. I believe that the more knowledge we advance, the more we know about physical world, the better we will be developing our spirituality.

And the whole notion that we really separate the spiritual from the physical material reality really puts a man in a state of chaos because God has created man in both ways, and the more we know about the -- I mean, the Koran tells us that we have to go and seek knowledge in the land, in the space, we seek knowledge in ourselves, and it really stresses it and makes it very important that we use our intellect and our reasoning.

And because of that, we have never seen in our tradition any conflict between science and religion. As a matter of fact...

SHAW: And...

ABUZAAKOUK: ... the best scholars were the scientists who were also the most deep affected religious teachers.

SHAW: And, finally, to Rabbi Wolpe.

WOLPE: Yeah. I think that it's true, as you're suggesting, that in some ways religious conceptions have gotten -- presumptions about the world have gotten smaller and smaller as science has proved different things true and false, but it is that central core, if you will that mystical core, that speaks to every human heart and also, I think, creates human community that is -- always has been the -- the soul of religion and retained its vitality now.

In fact, in some ways, its vitality has even increased beyond what it was before and that, I think, won't change. It is to quote the theologian T.R. DeShardin (ph). He said we're not "physical beings having a spiritual experience but spiritual beings having a physical experience," and science can speak with unequal authority to that physical experience, but to that spiritual being, you must turn to faith.

SHAW: Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple, Los Angeles. Father John Langan of Georgetown University in Washington. And Aly Abuzaakouk of the American Muslim Council. Gentlemen, thank you very much.

WOLPE: Thank you.

LANGAN: Thank you.

ABUZAAKOUK: Thank you.

SHAW: You're quite welcome. That concludes our discussion for now.

WOODRUFF: Stay with CNN for more of our continuous millennium 2000 coverage.

For our viewers in the United States, you'll be able to relive the first 24 hours of the millennium on a special edition of NEWSSTAND. That's Tuesday at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 Pacific.

SHAW: And there's still more. In our next hour, a real education. Is the way we teach changing? That's next at midnight Eastern Time, 5:00 GMT.


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