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The History of the Summerhays Lecture Series

In 2002, J. Ward Moody, Michael Rhodes, and Briant Summerhays proposed a lecture series at Brigham Young University to promote dialogue on science and religion. The goal was to create a forum where men and women of faith could share insights on how the truths of revealed religion mesh with knowledge from the sciences. The proposal was accepted and the lecture series was named “The Summerhays Lecture” in honor of Briant’s father, Hyrum Barrett Summerhays, who was a life-long friend and benefactor to BYU’s astronomy program. Kimball Hansen delivered the first Summerhays Lecture on March 21, 2003. The lecture series was originally hosted by the Department of Physics and Astronomy until 2014, when the responsibility for hosting the lecture shifted to the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences.

The Summerhays Lecture typically occurs on or near the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, approximately March 21 and September 22. Both equinoxes are significant to both science and religion. In astronomy, the equinox is when the day and night are equally long, and signals the start of spring or fall. Additionally, the vernal equinox is near the time of Joseph Smith’s First Vision and the autumnal equinox is around the time when Joseph Smith was taught by the angel Moroni and ultimately obtained the golden plates.

There is now a tendency to emphasize the differences between science and religion. Religious people are sometimes criticized as blind, naïve, or shallow, while some scientists are painted as arrogant and unfeeling. However, many great scientists, such as Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, saw no fundamental conflict between their religious beliefs and their scientific pursuits. It is no coincidence that many great universities that have nurtured scientific progress were founded and supported by religious organizations seeking truth.

Scholars at BYU are charged to be led by the Holy Ghost in all academic settings, whether teaching mathematical tables or molecular biology. We best discover bridges between scientific and religious knowledge when we pursue them through study, faith, and dialogue. The Summerhays Lecture series is dedicated to that pursuit.