Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Paradox, a Paradox!

The story of science and religion has a new narrative – not war, but paradox. Framing their findings in a variation of the typical "conflict thesis", this recent Pew Research Center report describes the relationship between faith and science in the United States as somewhat of an internal contradiction. On the one hand, most Americans hold scientists in high esteem and value the advancements of science and technology. On the other hand, many of these same Americans, because of religious beliefs, are hesitant to accept either widely established scientific theories (such as evolution) or support new technologies (like stem cell research). What follows is rather unsettling:

What is at work here? How can majorities of Americans say they respect science and yet still disagree with the scientific community on some fundamental questions? The answer may be that many in the general public choose not to believe scientific theories and discoveries that seem to contradict religious or other important beliefs. When asked what they would do if scientists were to disprove a particular religious belief, for instance, nearly two-thirds (64%) of people in an October 2006 Time magazine poll said they would continue to hold to what their religion teaches rather than accept a contrary scientific finding.

If religious belief continues to take precedence over science, the scientific community will face a formidable challenge to improving scientific literacy and engagement. What stands in their way, as these findings highlight, is an underlying sentiment in America today that science is a threat to religion. As I've mentioned in earlier posts, there are some people (prominent scientists and religious fundamentalists alike) who hold that science is incompatible with or necessarily destructive to religious belief. And when so much media attention is focused around contentious episodes between, for example, creationists and evolutionists, it's not hard to see where this sentiment comes from. But a vast majority of both scientific and religious communities disagree that these two are mutually exclusive. The official position of the National Academy of Sciences as well as many religious organizations is that faith and science can exist together just fine. Therefore, promoting this more accommodationist position may be an effective way to approach the science/religion paradox – and it's a strategy that Chris Mooney argues for in his book, Unscientific America. I want to explore his (apparently rather controversial) ideas about religion in more detail, so that'll be coming soon...

1 comment:

  1. One of the trouble with blogs is that one reads them backwards. So I am writing this after the comment I made on the later post above! I do not know what Mr Mooney has to say in his book, but this post illustrates the previous one (to the later post!). I saw Dawkins on a TV program that you might also have seen, speaking to London school science teachers who were unwilling to teach evolution in the face of religious opposition from the families of some pupils. That is the dilemma they are in, it shows why religion is still dangerous to schooling, and Mooney needs to overcome it. In my opinion, the believers have to suspend their belief. Science teachers should not encourage what is not science, and cannot not teach science. Teachers have a duty to teach their subject... properly!