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  • Keywords
    • Commencement speech,
    • Affirmative action,
    • Science versus religion,
    • Genetics and the brain,
    • Mennonites and science,
    • Harvard Medical School,
    • Anti-intellectualism

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Reflections on Science, Religion and Society: A Medical Perspective
by Joseph B Martin

Throughout his long and distinguished career in medicine and neuroscience, Dr. Joseph B. Martin has had the honor of delivering speeches to graduating students, professional societies, and academic conferences. As both a lifelong Anabaptist and prominent member of the scientific community, his talks often focus on how to balance the spiritual and logical sides of our being to become healthier and more productive members of society. Collected here are several of Dr. Martin’s speeches from over more than fifty years as an academic and doctor. They reflect his evolving views on science and spirituality, and explore how that confluence is at the center of some of today’s most important and controversial issues. Interspersed with commentary to provide further context and reflection, the talks reflect the changes we have seen as a society deeply entrenched in technological advances and religious tensions. Through them, Dr. Martin helps us to understand both the world around us, and the world within.

Joe Martin in this series of graduation speeches inspires and encourages us to reflect deeply on the place of science and religion in our lives as well as our role as effective citizens of our various communities. Based on a long successful academic medical career, he offers helpful advice on the personal attributes for effective leadership. The reader will find the lessons learned from reading this book are insightful, profound and invaluable. Frederick H Lovejoy Jr., M.D. William Berenberg Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School ------ In this highly personal collection of commencement addresses and other commentaries, an eminent neuro-scientist/medical educator offers insights regarding the tension between facts and faith, with wise counsel for ways to address many of the significant sociopolitical issues of the day. Joseph Longacher, MD, Former Clinical Professor of Medicine, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine and Past President, Mennonite Medical Association. ------ I know of no one better poised than Joe Martin to examine the interface between the certainties of fundamentalist religious thought and skepticism of the scientific method. Raised as a Mennonite, trained as a neuroscientist, challenged from all sides as a medical leader - including ten years as Dean of Harvard Medical School - he has a perspective that is truly unique. I have been deeply privileged to dialogue with Joe for many years - and now you can do so in the reading of this marvelous book. Dr. Tim Johnson, Retired Medical Editor, ABC News and author of Finding God in the Questions ------ Like many of us, Joe Martin has struggled with the conflict between faith and science; in eloquent, literary prose, he welcomes his readers into his musings over these two contrasting and complementary dimensions of his life and career. He reminds us how remarkable it is that chemical reactions in the brain are the basis for the complexity and majesty of human intelligence—reflected in literature, love, altruism, benevolence, and the quest for knowledge, purpose, and meaning. Jules L. Dienstag, M.D., Carl W. Walter Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School ------ Few deans or university chancellors can informatively discuss the relevance of religious belief, moral duty, and responsible personal conduct as comfortably as they can medical practice or scientific research. Joseph Martin has done so. Drawing on his deep and unusually broad experience that span his youth as a Mennonite farmer in Alberta, to the upper-reaches of academic medicine, Reflections on Science, Religion, and Society, is both a guide and a provocative challenge to those who seek answers to current quandaries. His perspectives, spanning five decades, are crisp, specific, and practical. Hamilton Moses, III Professor of Neurology Johns Hopkins School of Medicine ----- This collection of lectures, which span nearly four decades, represent the cumulated wisdom of one whose career embraced clinical medicine, front-line biomedical research, and senior administrative positions at two of the world’s leading centres of learning – Harvard University and the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Joseph B. Martin is eminently qualified to address the range of themes presented in these lectures as well as his present-day reflections on their relevance. Trained as both physician and scientist, his personal ethics, sense of integrity and caring concern for others were shaped by a nurturing family and rural community in Western Canada and by the tenets of his Mennonite faith. Dr. Martin’s reflections will serve as guides for those who struggle to reconcile belief and science. —Dr. Garth M. Bray, Emeritus Professor, Neurology and Neurosurgery, Faculty of Medicine, McGill University

Joseph B Martin photo

Joseph B. Martin, MD, PhD, is the Edward R. and Anne G. Lefler Professor Emeritus of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School. Born in Alberta, Canada, he studied at the University of Alberta, Case Western Reserve University, and the University of Rochester. He worked at McGill University and was then appointed chief of the neurology service at the Massachusetts General Hospital. He has served as the dean of the School of Medicine at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), chancellor of UCSF, dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Harvard University, and remained on the faculty of Harvard Medical School until his retirement in July 2016. Dr. Martin is a member of the National Academy of Medicine, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and an honorary member and past president of the American Neurological Association. The author of more than three hundred scientific publications and several books, Dr. Martin’s most recent book, Alfalfa to Ivy: Memoir of a Harvard Medical School Dean, was published by the University of Alberta Press in 2011.


Joseph B Martin

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