The Table Video
Civil Discourse & Intellectual Humility in the Science and Religion Debates - Elaine Ecklund
All around us we hear public discussion about science and religion. Should creation be taught in public schools alongside evolution? Is our faith literally all in our brain? Did the universe begin with a big bang, the hand of God, or both? How, in our scientific and religious communities, can we talk about issues related to science and faith with a sense of intellectual humility and civility in a fraught world? Based on ten years of research examining how scientists engage with religion and religious people engage with science, Elaine Howard Ecklund will bring data to this discussion, exploring the conditions under which religious and scientific communities might find common ground.
Thank you, it’s such a great, great privilege to be here. I am married to a particle physicist. Don’t be afraid, I’m not gonna give a lecture about particle physics. That’s kind of all I know is what I just said. [audience laughing] And the one thing that’s really, there’s lots of different things about our work, but the one thing that is very different about our work I think is that his research subjects, particles do not talk to him, right? They don’t, at least not in a language that he can hear.
Whereas my research subjects, people, do. And that’s what I think is really fascinatingly wonderful about social science and also frustrating is that our research subjects talk to us. They change our ideas about the world. They make us angry, they make us better people. It’s an incredibly social enterprise doing social science, which should be self-evident. But all of that to say that I can remember the exact interaction that I had with another person when I thought, you know what, I oughta study the interface between religion and science. And it was about 15 years ago.
I was a PhD student at Cornell University and I was working with my advisor at the time, Penny Edgell and we were working on a study of how churches are responding to changes in family life. And my job as her research assistant was to go to churches in upstate New York, go to Bible studies, go to Sunday school classes and just talk to people about faith and family life. And I had this amazing interaction with a woman in a small group Bible study and we got chatting with each other. She asked me if I’m new to the church, and I said, “Yeah, I’m new the church.” She asked me what I do and I said, “Well, I’m a PhD student at Cornell University,” and told her a little bit about what I was studying and she said, “Yuck, I would never want my child “to go to Cornell University.”
And I’m thinking like, she prefers Harvard or something. And I’m thinking like, you wouldn’t want your child to go to Cornell University, it’s an Ivy League school. You know, that would be something that most parents would be happy about, you know? And I asked her a little bit more. You know, why wouldn’t you want your child to go to Cornell? And she said, “Well, because I’d be afraid “that the scientists on campus would take the children, “take my child away from their faith, “that they’ll take these classes on evolution “and where the big bang theory is discussed “and that they’ll decide after being part of these classes “with Cornell University professors to leave the faith.”
And so she said, “I just don’t want my child “to go to Cornell,” and I thought at that moment, I wonder if that’s really true. I remember that exact moment when I thought, I wonder if that’s really true. And that really for me embarked a research agenda of studying what people of faith think about science and what scientists think about issues of faith. We see all around us a true lack of civility from both scientific and religious communities. This will come as no surprise to you. It’s what’s in the media, and conflict really sells, and I think that’s why it’s there. We see quotes like this one from Sam Harris, who’s an outspoken atheist who’s a neuroscientist, who’s a philosopher, and let me read this quote to you.
He says, “The conflict between religion and science “is inherent and very nearly zero-sum. “The success of science often comes at the expense “of religious dogma, the maintenance of religious dogma “always comes at the expense of science.” I love this picture. It’s a great visual for that lack of civility. I got that from a student. I just said, find me a picture that seems like it’s uncivil and that’s what she came up with. And then of course we have Richard Dawkins, who is something of a negative muse for some of us, right?
And I don’t want to just use Richard’s work that way. I think he’s done a lot to put forth, to make science more acceptable to a very broad public, but when it comes to religion he has a real axe to grind and he’s not shy about it. So a quote, and you can pick many from him, “One of the truly bad effects of religion “is that it teaches us that it’s a virtue “to be satisfied with not understanding.” And lest we think people of faith are all a kind and gentle people who are excellent at civil dialogue in the public sphere, we have equally good examples as these from people of faith.
We have an evangelical representative who says, “All that stuff I was taught about evolution “and embryology and the big bang theory, “all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. “And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks “who were taught that from understanding “that they need a savior.” And then of course Ken Ham gives us some good fodder as well, by definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record.
So what can social science research bring to debates like this? And it’s been a real privilege to be part of this conference because usually I just present my research and I don’t have the opportunity to really reflect on what it means more broadly for public dialogue. So this opportunity has been really, really wonderful to me. As I started thinking about it I thought, what kind of place does social science research have in public dialogue about religion and science or alleviating that sense of tension and debate? And I think social science research in its very best form helps us understand broad varieties of people’s stories more accurately.
We’re very interested in having the most accurate portrayal as possible of the broad variety of people’s stories that are out there. To the new atheist scientist, to the strident creationist, to the woman in the church that I met who is literally afraid for the faith future of her children how can there be a way forward? And social science research can help us to some extent in describing more accurately the lay of the land so we can more effectively chart a way forward for public dialogue. I’m gonna discuss just very briefly research that I’ve done on three different studies and then move in to talking about some myths that scientific communities have about religious communities and that I think religious communities, particularly Christian communities which is where I identify my own tradition have about the scientific community.
Myths and even stereotypes that really impede an accurate understanding of the other and empathy for the other than can be so incredibly useful and needed in really robust public dialogue about these issues. So first a brief description of my research studies. I started out in 2005 with my first grant from the Templeton Foundation, which I’m incredibly thankful for because that really gave me the resources to move forward in this area of research. I did a survey of about 1,700 scientists and 275 in-depth interviews with research scientists at elite US universities and then ended up publishing a book from that study called Science Vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think.
Then I got very interested in looking at things from the other perspective, trying to figure out what faith communities think about science. And to that end I did a US population survey of over 10,319 interviews with different religious groups. And with a veritable army of phenomenal students, graduate students and undergraduates at Bryce University were a major part of that study. We also included in that study, which just closed last year, a oversample group that’s a little bit larger than would be naturally occurring in the population of people who are everyday scientists.
Those who work outside of universities in research and development. They’re not working in labs at Princeton and places like that, but I wanted to see how those people might compare to some of the elite scientists that I studied in the past. And then most recently I’ve taken this research agenda a little bit more internationally. Not a little bit, a lot more internationally, and our group is fielding an eight-country study of scientists’ attitudes toward religion and ethics and other kinds of associated issues. Our target is to get 15,000 survey respondents for that study and do about 700 interviews in those nations and it’s been a very complicated but absolutely phenomenal opportunity.
So hostility and incivility, I’ll argue, happen often because we stereotype the other in a way that impedes true empathy. And good research can take away, if listened to, can take away some of those stereotypes. So you’re gonna have to take my word for it ’cause I don’t have enough time to really go into it in depth, but from my research there’s six kinds of myths that I’ve identified that are pretty widely held among the scientific community and among faith community. So let’s start first with the myths that I’ve noticed scientists believe. One very prevalent myth is that religious people aren’t interested in science, that they are just interested in other kinds of issues. I think that this is in part perhaps propelled by Stephen Jay Gould’s very popular ideas of non-overlapping magisterium, that these two realms are just completely separate. And the scientists that I work with often have a kind of colloquial interpretation of that larger philosophic paradigm that goes something like the following.
You know, religious people, they go to church so much they are just interested in a whole different set of things. They’re not at all concerned about science. They’re not our conservation partners in the scientific enterprise. Closely associated but a more virulent perspective is the idea that religious people actually view science as the enemy, that they are against science. So not just that they’re apathetic, there’s, and I think that’s a different kind of myth to dispel, there’s a secondary myth that religious people are actually antagonistic, not just apathetic, but actually antagonistic to science and to scientists. And thirdly, I think scientists really underestimate the importance of religion in American society. They’re in a community which is a good deal more secular than society as a whole.
There certainly are scientists who have faith, and we’ll talk about that in a few minutes, but because their community is on the whole more secular because issues of religion don’t come up, and if they spend so much time in that community I think they have a kind of stereotype that religion will just go away eventually. It’s kinda on its way out, and if they ignore it that it will go away. I think religious people believe equally damaging kinds of myths and because of our context here at the center I’m gonna focus mainly on Christians today, but I give other talks about other religious groups as well which also have myths. One myth is that atheists are always hostile to religion. There’s sort of one kind of atheist in the minds of many people of faith, and that is the hostile atheist, a sort of Dawkins-esque kind of person.
Secondly, I think very much like this woman in the Sunday school class, there is this myth that science is a huge cause of unbelief, that scientists are perhaps out to eat young Christian children for lunch and that they are these really active actors who are just trying to get out there and take young Christian children away from the faith. I hear that over and over again when I do interviews with people of faith in certain circles. And then thirdly, it is outside of the imagination. This may come because of the educated nature of this population and the fact that you’re at a talk like this, this may come as a surprise to you, but I still find the idea has a strong foothold in many communities of faith that you can’t actually be a deep person of faith and be a scientist.
That they see very few models for that. If there are scientists who have faith that are people in the pews that are sitting next to them they perhaps don’t talk about it very much, but there’s a very strong idea that you just cannot retain a robust faith and be a scientist. So let’s provide a little bit of evidence that I think starts to dispel some of these myths knowing that there would be more evidence if I had more time. So first, myths that scientists believe. Religious people aren’t interested in science. Well, that one’s pretty easy to dispel. We ask survey questions, something like the following. So one is, please tell me how interested you are in the following kinds of issues.
When we ask new scientific discoveries we find that if we just single out the Christian populations, so that would be Evangelicals, Mainland Protestants and Catholics and just look at those who are very interested in new scientific discoveries there’s a high degree of interest we get approaching a quarter to 1/3 of Christian populations seem to be very interested in science. If we actually say, are you somewhat interested or very interested and collapse those categories together we get well over 50% of Christians who say that they are very or somewhat interested in new scientific discoveries. What I find analytically interesting, and which I think is relevant for dialogue is that when you ask them if they are very interested in new medical discoveries you get even a higher level of interest in new medical discoveries.
So very interested starts to go up quite a bit, and when you add the somewhat interested that approaches about 75%, so one of the take-homes for me from these kind of data coupled with the interview data that I collect is that for Christians there are pretty good levels of interest in science, but there are even higher levels of interest in those kind of scientific issues, scientific technologies which seem to help the world, medicine is a prime example. It would be perceived in most Christian communities as being much more spiritual for a child to be a physician than to be a bench scientist.
There is this kind of sensibility that medical technologies alleviate suffering, which I think is true and is a core value of medicine, but there’s some real common ground there between scientists and religious communities around the issue of alleviating suffering. And Christian communities very, very interested in alleviating suffering. I want to turn just for a second to, for another interest in science statistic looking at the environment. So this is the proportion of people who say that they’re very interested in the environment overall and by religious tradition and you see here again the Evangelical Protestants, the Mainline Protestants, the Catholics, you have appreciably high levels of interest in care for the environment as well. Again, that’s borne out in these 320 interviews that we did with people of faith as well, many of them in Evangelical communities.
There is a concern for the environment. If you collapse, again, the very interested and the somewhat interested category it gets quite a bit higher. And just to give a little bit of texture to these opinions I want to give you a couple of quotes that we collected from interview data. Here’s from an Evangelical in a church in Houston who says, “Science is fantastic and I thank God for this. “It isn’t as if He didn’t want us to find out “about His incredible creation.” So this person is really connecting the appreciation of science with the appreciation for God’s world. And a Catholic in Chicago says, “I’m so amazed “at the advances that have been done in medicine.” Again, that appreciation for medical technology. “I’m so amazed at the things they can discover, “what they can do for human beings now “which should be the main goal for them,” meaning scientists “to work for humanity and be helpful to humanity.”
So our second myth is that religious people view science as the enemy, that they’re kind of anti-scientific. So one survey question that’s relevant here is when we asked people of faith to tell us how they view the relationship between science and religion. So one set of, we had named several choices to get some nuance into this kind of question beyond what other surveys have done, so there’s conflict, but it’s different if you think there’s a conflict between religion and science and you consider yourself on the side of science, right? Or conflict and you consider yourself on the side of religion.
And then we gave them a choice of just thinking that they’re completely independent aspects of reality, the non-overlapping magisterium kind of idea and then the choice of collaboration, that each can be used to help the other. And we got some interesting values here. We analyzed these data. So about 1/3 of Evangelicals say conflict, I’m on the side of religion. That wouldn’t be too surprising to scientists, and it’s the most of any religious group, but 14% of the whole general population say that as well. 21% of Evangelicals say independence. They refer to different aspects of reality, interestingly. 35% of the general population thinks that. But nearly 50% of Evangelicals think that religion and science can collaborate, that each can be used to support the other. That’s a pretty highly accepted view among the general population as well where 38% think that religion and science can collaborate, can be used to support the other.
And in general, I always tell scientific communities that religious Americans do not express negative attitudes about science’s contribution to society. That if scientists are open to it there are a lot of follow supporters of science in faith communities, so here’s just one statistic here. We asked overall does modern science do more harm than good? We asked them to respond to that kind of statement. 85% of all Americans disagree totally with that statement.
Overall modern science does more harm than good. This is the strongly disagree people. 86% of Evangelicals disagree with that, and 83% of the religiously unaffiliated disagree. So Evangelicals right up there with others in their support of science in a sort of general kind of way. I wanna give you a little bit of nuance though to this myth. There is a caveat, and that is that while Evangelicals and Catholics also do not feel tension with science, they do feel tension with scientists sometime, and that’s a strong distinction that in general they think science is a great thing, but perhaps because of media representation of particular atheistic scientists they do feel a tension with scientists and even fear from scientists at certain points.
So 50% of the public, this is from a National Science Foundation survey, say that we depend too much on science, not enough on faith. 25% from our study agree that scientists are hostile to religion. 38% agree that scientists should be open to considering miracles in their theories and explanations. So they think that scientists are not enough open to the supernatural. Let’s move on briefly to talking a little bit about the kinds of myths the scientists believe. So in the last one rather, is that ignore religion and it will go away, and this is one probably I don’t need to convince you of, but I want to provide just a little bit of data. So according to our survey, which maps onto other nationally representative data sets quite nicely, about 85% of Americans identifies being part of a religious tradition.
And here I’m looking just at religious identity categories. So do you feel comfortable self-describing according to this label? And we find that about 23% see themselves as Evangelicals. If you look at Evangelical in other kinds of ways, not necessarily the label Evangelical you get even higher proportions of people who might map onto Evangelical sensibilities or beliefs. I think it’s also important to tell scientists that many of these think that, many of these religious people that they think are so anti-science are not necessarily anti-science, but they do think that their faith has an impact on science and how they interpret certain kinds of scientific issues, especially scientific issues that have some kind of implication for humanity, for the value of humanity as well as scientific issues that seem to have some kind of implication for God’s role in the world.
So when you get to issues which appear to have implications for those two theological values or truths depending on your perspective, there is a kind of implication that religious people think that their faith has for science, and I think scientists need to wrestle with that. Now we’re gonna go to the myths that people of faith believe. I think through doing this research you get the kind of wonderful opportunity, as I expressed before, as a social scientist to get your own myths dispelled. And I would say when people ask me, what’s the thing that you’ve learned as an individual from doing this 10 years of research, I would say that my view of atheists has completely changed as a result of doing this research. 10 years ago I would have told you, I was a PhD student in sociology of religion, I would have told you there are many, many ways of being a person of faith, just too many to count.
There’s so much diversity among faith communities. If you had asked me, are there many ways of being an atheist I would have said, nope, there’s just one. You don’t believe in God, right? That was my understanding of atheism. And through actually sitting face to face, talking with scientists who are atheists I’ve had my own stereotypes, my own understandings just completely blown out of the water in a way that has made me develop a great deal of empathy rather than defensiveness and hostility towards the scientific community and those among it who are atheists. So one is that atheists are always hostile to religion.
And I think that this is a myth that gets a lot of traction in the media, and that’s why so many people of faith believe it. So after I finished the religion among academic scientists study, the first study I did, I found, I write this at the end of the book, that very few scientists are as negative about religion as new atheist scientists would lead to you believe. Of the 275 scientists that I sat with in their offices, in their laboratories and talked to them about issues of faith, there were quite a few of them who were atheists, but I could count on less than one hand the number who would mirror the kind of new atheist against religion kinds of views that someone like a Sam Harris or a Richard Dawkins has.
I also want to point out that there’s something kind of fascinating going on in the scientific community, and I’ve written some about this in other research articles. I wrote one with Elizabeth Long called Science and Spirituality, is that scientists are actually quite interested in spirituality. 22% of scientists who identify as atheists are also spiritual, and you wouldn’t believe the kind of pushback I’ve gotten from that finding from both the scientific community and from religious communities. They do not like that finding. They really want to argue about that and say, how can it be true? But our role as social scientists is to just report things in people’s own terms as they understand it. And about 1/5 of scientists see themselves as very spiritual people.
About 27%, let me put up this chart for you, about 27% of agnostic scientists see themselves as very spiritual people. And what they mean by that when we do these in-depth interviews, if they found a way to hold science as well as sort of matters of ways of knowing that are outside of science together in some kind of self-consistent way. Scientists I find tend to place a higher priority on self-consistency than many other kinds of people in the general population do, and these spiritual scientists talk a lot about the ways in which they want a spirituality that’s very consistent with scientists. And they also want some kind of framework, and they contrast it actually with their atheist colleagues who are not spiritual, they want some kind of framework for serving the other, for having some kind of motivation for meaning and purpose outside of a self.
They talked on and on to me about those kinds of things. And as I said, I have other articles, you wanna read more about that. But I think that knowledge that there are varieties of atheism, and even a proportion of scientists who are actually spiritual atheists could really change how communities of faith view atheist scientists. There’s a kind of openness there that I think we have not really thought about or plumbed the depths of yet.
Let me just give you a quote from this biologist I interviewed several years ago who said, “Spirituality I think is the same kinds of feelings “that one has in religion, a higher being “or some kinds of larger organization “that we don’t understand the world, “but it’s not as defined and it’s not necessarily shared “by a group of people.” She’s describing her own spirituality, “but it can be much more individual.” Another biologist I interviewed contrasts his sense of spirituality with a spirituality of the general population and he says, “People in the public “who have spirituality believe in God “and they think of it that way. “Personally, I believe in nature “and I get my spirituality from being in nature, “but I don’t believe there’s a God.”
I want to go on to a few, just briefly, a few myths that I think people of faith believe, again focusing specifically on Christians. One is that science is the major cause of unbelief. And this one is a little bit more complicated to dispel, but let me give you some initial evidence. So I just in the midst of doing this international study, as I said, of scientists’ attitudes towards religion in eight different countries and I thought I’d give you a little bit of data from that study since it’s it’s sort of most hot off the press. And we asked scientists about different kinds of factors that have an impact on their own religious transitions over the life course, we asked that through survey research, we ask it through interviews, and one data point is this question where we asked them to respond to whether or not their scientific training has made them much less religious, slightly less religious, no effect on how religious, slightly more religious, much more religious.
You do see a strong minority who say across these four different national contexts that I put up here who say that their scientific training has made them much less religious, but you see many more who say that their scientific training really has had no impact on their religiosity, and a smaller minority who say that it’s actually made them slightly or much more religious. But when we get into the interviews, and here I’ve done the most work among US scientists, we can start to uncover if not science, what is it for atheists and agnostic scientists that has made them less religious over time.
And I think we uncover some interesting things. So if not science, then what? A predominant factor across the studies is that religion is simply foreign. So unlike those in the US population, so you’ll find lots of scholars will say the number of those who are nonreligious are really growing in the US population, but you won’t find a lot of people in the US population who were raised in atheist homes. So there is not a kind of second generation atheist affect as much, right, it’s actually relatively difficult to find a lot of people who were not raised with any form of religion. Those people are a bit overpopulated in the scientific community.
They tend to self-select into science, and we’d need a longer discussion to think about why. But 13% of US scientists say that they were raised without any religion, that they just had no exposure to religion, that’s not an enormous proportion, but it’s quite a bit larger than the general population. Consider this, scientists are three times more likely than general population to be raised in homes where religion is not important. So even if they were raised in a home where they had some kind of nominal religion, they’re much more likely to be raised in a home where religion is not that important, not practiced, or practiced weakly, by which I mean W-E-A-K-L-Y, that they were not practiced weekly, but with very low degree of strength. Perhaps the most powerful reason is this, that religion has let them down.
And one of the most winsome interviews that I’ve ever done where I felt just enormously changed after the interview was this interview with a woman who’s a biologist who talked very powerfully about her experiences being raised in an Evangelical church. And she said the following. This is an excerpt from her interview, “When I asked hard questions I was told “just to make a decision to believe. “My experiences with religion was that it was a way “that judgment was passed on people who were different.” And she has really carried, she’s been out of that setting for many, many years, but when she talked about it it was as if it had happened yesterday.
She had a great deal of emotion about the kind of judgment that was passed on her in her perspective, and she meant in particular with her youth group leader. She asked hard questions of the faith and he just told her, just don’t ask those questions. And you have to remember that people who end up being scientists at places like Princeton or Harvard were probably pretty inquisitive children from the very beginning. There’s a lot of natural talent that often goes into that. And so these are people who are going to be asking extraordinarily hard questions of everything around them and probably their faith is no different. Another kind of myth that people of faith have is the following, you can’t be religious and be a scientist. This is certainly not true. We have these very public examples like Francis Collins of course is the current director of National Institutes of Health, but I find in general from the US data that about 30% of scientists are secularists, by which they think atheists or no religious traditional at all. About 50% identifies religious in some capacity.
And 20% see themselves as spiritual. They’re not religious, but they still do consider spirituality to be incredibly important. And when we turn to those who we call these rank and file religious scientists, those scientists in the broader populations, not the ones working at elite universities we find the numbers go up quite a bit more. So here you see quite a large proportion, about 17% of general population scientists who see themselves as Evangelicals. About 25% see themselves as Mainline Protestants, and about 19% see themselves as Catholics.
There’s a caveat here, too. I think part of the reason that scientists are not sort of well known in their congregations is ’cause they practice both in the scientific community a kind of closeted faith as well as in the religious community a kind of closeted science where they just are a little bit concerned perhaps what other people of faith will think about their work as a scientist, they feel frankly kind of afraid of talking about it, and I notice both of these things, but I’ll put up just one quote from a physicist, a woman who’s been lucky enough to be interviewed more than once for my studies. She was randomly selected into my populations. She said, “I think universities “are not always very accepting environments. “It’s really hard to be a religious academic “because the public opinion is such “that you’re either religious or you’re a scientist. “To say you are religious might mean other scientists “would question your work.”
And I asked her, as we sometimes get kinda pushy as researchers in interviews I said, “So, what happened “when you said you were a person of faith? “Did they question your work?” And she said, “Well, I never talk about it, “so I wouldn’t know.” But even though she had never had this kind of personal experience there’s such a strong culture in some academic communities of questioning scientists, the work of scientists who are people of faith that she thought that they would if she were to mention it, so it was a very powerful cultural assumption on her part. So how can we go forward? So what does this data tell us? Or what kinds of principles might it give us for how we can actually go forward in this kind of subject area, in the interface between science and religion, of fostering a sense of civility?
So let’s start with what scientists might be able to do. I think scientists need to start with common ground. Those who are communications experts, those who lead a dialogue over contentious topics say that you don’t go into a conflictual situation, you don’t go right for the jugular first, right? You start with the areas where there are common ground. And what I found from talking with both scientists and with people in faith communities is that both groups care a lot about helping humanity, and they care a lot about helping the environment. They frame that in particular kinds of ways specific to those communities, so people of faith, Christians think about loving God’s children, whereas scientists by and large would not see it in those faith-based frameworks but think about just helping humanity generally.
But if we start there with that desire to help others and to help the world, this is an area of real common ground I would argue where scientific and faith communities can join together, so remember the proportion of people of faith who are interested in new medical discoveries, and this is borne out over and over in the kinds of interviews that we do. Here’s a quote also for a person, a woman who’s an Evangelical I interviewed who said, “I do believe that it’s our responsibility “to take care of the Earth because honestly “if God has created this Earth, “then it’s not right for us to destroy it.” So persons of faith have sometimes very powerful motivations to care about the creation. Scientists need to see those in their midst who have faith as being bridge builders. I’ve argued this over and over and I’ll keep arguing it.
Part of what they ought to do is really enable scientists not to be closeted, but to actually do outreach into their faith communities, to do outreach into their faith community, so it’s important to remember that there are scientists sitting in the pews. About 75% of non-university scientists identify with a religious tradition. Even non-religious scientists experience a sense of spirituality and awe and beauty in their work often. Here’s a quote from a biologist is talking about that sense of awe who says, “I think when you watch the microscope, “parts of the brain and you just see the organization, “the sense and everything, it’s really amazing. “That was really just pure beauty. “I didn’t care about what this was giving to me,” meaning the experiment that he was doing, “as scientific data, just looking “at the thing itself was amazing.” So that common sense of awe and beauty about the natural world is really found in both faith communities and in scientific communities, and I think this can be an area where scientists who have faith can act as very powerful bridge builders.
What should people of faith do? One is that we need to stop stereotyping atheists. We need to understand that there are varieties of atheism including the possibility of spiritual atheists, and we need to understand that many scientists are atheists not because of science itself, but in their own terms what they explain in their own stories because they’ve had bad experiences with faith communities. And along those lines of mitigating those bad experiences of faith communities, I think we need to start right in the beginning to be committed to science in our faith communities rather than combative about science in our faith communities.
So how can churches be engaged in the support of science? Well, one way is to encourage positive talking about science in Sunday school. So what if children in faith communities first heard about all the positive possibilities for science actually in their faith communities? What kind of image would they have? How would this be different? I think that’s very important to think about. One of the things the Templeton Foundation has done is support an initiative called Science In Congregations, and I’ve been a part of this in several churches where we have created Sunday school curriculum where scientists in the congregations or scientists from other congregations in the community come to Sunday school classes, talk about their own faith journeys, the way in which they see their faith realized through their work as a science, and I think someone like Francis Collins is an amazing, amazing person and I enjoy him very much.
I have the privilege of knowing him personally. But I think even more powerful is the scientist that you know, the scientist that sits next to you in the pews, the person who you trust, who you’re in a moms group with or a dads group with and this kind of person that you have collateral relationship with I think you have a lot more possibilities for passing information that could be perceived as conflictual over that kind of bridge than you do having an outsider come in and convey information. And along those lines, how could faith leaders begin to see science as a form of calling?
So how can we empower religious leaders to both focus on the scientists in their midst for those who are leading very compartmentalized lives to help them understand the ways in which they might be called to be bridge builders, but how can we also get children, we might have this amazing brainpower in our midst that is not being capitalized upon because of the kind of rigid boundaries that we’ve set up, and what would it look like in our faith communities if we started to see science not as something which should be defended against, but something which ought to be pursued robustly as a form of calling? So let me leave you there, thank you very much. This has been a real privilege to be with you. [audience applauding] [film projector whirring and clicking]