My first post on this blog (http://bit.ly/1F7fwRf), focused on a wedge that is separating science from religion. This wedge technique, promoted by the Discovery Institute (and employed by other religious groups) is overtly trying to force people to choose between accepting scientific explanations of the natural world and alternative Biblical explanations. Before I am accused of holding a scientistic (and anti-religious) bias, let me be clear that there is, quite certainly, a corresponding wedge from the scientific community that equally tries to force this choice between evidence and belief. I believe the figure above (found via a quick Google search) demonstrates this counterpoint quite effectively.
Apparently, some scientifically minded people have become so confident in the methods of science and so assured in the findings of scientists, that they have made the completely unnecessary leap to asserting that science answers all questions and explains all natural phenomena. This purely scientistic worldview allows for no supernatural activity in our world; natural causes must explain everything. However, there is absolutely no scientific data (nor can there be) to support such a claim. Regardless, some scientists (even some quite reputable and accomplished) claim that the acceptance of any supernatural explanations is not only non-scientific, but also nonsensical. In his divisive book entitled “The God Delusion”, Richard Dawkins (2008) claims to, “not go out of [his] way to offend, but nor shall [he] don kid gloves to handle religion any more gently than [he] would handle anything else” (p. 50). However, he also states that the argument made by Intelligent Design proponents (that the probability of natural selection accounting for certain complex structures in nature [e.g. the human eye] is too remote to be considered credible), also works the other way and “comes close to proving that God does not exist” (p. 137). He boldly identifies the intention of the book is that, “religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down” (p. 28). I find it hard to believe that Dr. Dawkins would not recognize the offensiveness of such statements to people who consider their faith an integral part of their human existence. Instead, I view his objectives as an overt example of a representative of the scientific community attempting to use science (more accurately mathematics) to call into question the rationality of any non-scientific explanation of phenomena in our environment; in other words, driving a wedge between science and faith. I agree with fellow biology professor Don Frolich (of University of St. Thomas) who refers to Dawkins’ science as “pretty much out of date” (Frolich, 2015) and I go much further to say that his science is illogically and unquestionably misapplied.
Like the Discovery Institute’s wedge, this scientifically-driven wedge has also taken roots in a subset of science-minded individuals. I remember from my graduate days at Baylor University when a Christian graduate student had the impertinence to hang an ichthus on his office door; days later, the emblem of his faith sported legs, a smiley face, and an irreverently prominent reproductive organ. Clearly, a fellow biology student was delivering a strong message about his (or her) negative perspective of this student’s religious faith. Similar negative perspectives toward religiously-oriented ideologies can be seen in recent films such as “God’s Not Dead” (2014). This film depicts a young college student who faces negative academic repercussions from his philosophy professor due to his belief in God. The story line follows the all-to-common fear that many of my current students have wrestled with at the prospect of entering the world of college life and encountering the slippery slope presented by most liberal arts institutions.
Clearly there is a public perspective of wedges that separate science from religion, which come from both the scientific and the religious camps. Fortunately, however, these wedges may not be as pervasive as they might be represented. I have spent the last 25 years in no less than 11 institutions of higher education (as either student or professor) and I have not witnessed any real criticism of religion from the science professors. Albeit, most of these 11 institutions are located in the US south and, therefore, represent a more conservative perspective. However, my experience is not markedly divergent from what recent social science research has discovered. In her survey of 1700 scientists from around the US, Elaine Howard Ecklund (2015) found that nearly 50% identified themselves as religious. While there surely must be some non-religious science professors who use their platform to drive a wedge between science and religion, clearly half would not due to their own personal faith; many more, it stands to reason, would not if for no other reason than to avoid conflict with students (something that university professors, despite contrary opinion, usually try to avoid). Conversely, despite my own experience with anti-science perspective from the faith realm (as described in my previous blog post http://bit.ly/1F7fwRf), Ecklund’s research also characterizes the description of religiously-minded, anti-scientism as more of a myth than a reality. Her research of over 10,000 self-identified religious Americans revealed that only a small minority (7%) favored Intelligent Design while 32% were quite comfortable with theistic evolution (see www.Biologos.org), which demonstrates harmony between their faith and science [human origins topic purposely used as a window into surveyed respondents’ views on science as opposed to faith]. In fact, only 27% of respondents indicated a belief in an inherent conflict between science and religion
Maybe the wedges have not been driven as far as we have been led to believe. While the divide between science and religion can seem quite established from a single perspective of someone caught between them (my own history), acknowledging the broader perspective can be quite reassuring. While some may claim that Ecklund’s conclusions are overly-optimistic “spin” (http://www.newrepublic.com/article/117071/elaine-ecklund-says-science-religion-are-compatible-why-theyre-not), I choose to accept her interpretation of data and similarly adopt this perspective. I feel it is the approach that most-efficiently leads to furthering the conversation between people of faith, people of science, and people who find themselves pulled between the two (such as myself); such conversations are how such wedges can be reversed and how science and faith can comfortably coexist!
Dawkins, R. (2008). The God Delusion. Houghton Mifflin Press: New York, NY.
Ecklund, E.H. (April, 2015). Catholicism and Science. Conference hosted by the Religion and Public Life Program (Rice University) and the Center for Faith and Culture (University of St. Thomas).
Frolich, D. (April, 2015). Catholicism and Science. Conference hosted by the Religion and Public Life Program (Rice University) and the Center for Faith and Culture (University of St. Thomas).