Science, civil dialogue, and religion

By Alan I. Leshnerchief executive officer American Association for the Advancement of Science I was not surprised by the news … Continued

By Alan I. Leshner
chief executive officer
American Association for the Advancement of Science

I was not surprised by the news that half of 1,700 top U.S. scientists described themselves as religious, in a recent survey by sociologist Elaine Ecklund of Rice University. The scientific community, like any other group, includes people with many world views, from evangelicals to atheists.

Of course, some people in Ecklund’s study group, as with the general population, described themselves as atheists. Yet, even within that category, many also identified themselves as “spiritual.” This may explain why Ecklund found only five scientists, in 275 lengthy follow-up interviews, who said they actively oppose religion.

Let’s hope that Ecklund’s unusually comprehensive assessment will help overturn the myth that scientists reject spirituality, or that science and religion are inherently incompatible.

But that myth persists among many scientists and religious believers. In another study by the Pew Research Center, nearly two-thirds of Americans, or 61% said in 2009 that science poses no conflict with their own faith. Nonetheless, 55% of those same respondents said they view religion and science generally as “often in conflict.” Evolution, for instance, has divided Americans since 1859 when Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species.

There is a better way, which will be demonstrated June 16 when leading scientists and a respected Christian minister engage in a free, public dialogue at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

A fundamental ground rule for any successful engagement effort is not a required outcome. So, civil discourse will be the only objective for the upcoming event, convened by the association’s Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion program. The association also takes no position on whether religion is “good” or “bad.”

Americans have long recognized the power of scientific engagement as a neutral tool for improving foreign relations. Science diplomacy in the 1970s resulted in new cooperation with China and the Soviet Union. Similarly, the current Administration launched a major science diplomacy effort, naming science envoys to predominantly Muslim countries in North Africa and Southeast Asia.

But within our own borders, we have tended to overlook another important form of diplomacy that could promote civility by easing political and religious polarization. Increased civil dialogue between scientists and religious leaders suggests a path toward common ground, whether the topic is human origins or climate change.

The need for such diplomacy is clear as U.S. science educators and some in the religious community increasingly find themselves at loggerheads over issues where science can appear to conflict with long-held beliefs. In state after state, those who oppose evolution are introducing legislation to undermine science education. Revised Texas science standards, for example, fail to mention common descent or the age of the universe. These omissions are unfortunate. Understanding evolution is central to science literacy, which in turn affects students’ job prospects and American competitiveness.

Climate change skeptics also are challenging science curricula. The Texas standards, similar to a new Louisiana bill and proposals elsewhere, now require students to learn “different views on the existence of global warming.” Such attempts to weaken K-12 science education are troubling and perplexing. The science of climate change is clear, after all, and a basic tenet of many religions is the call to be good stewards of the planet.

Various groups are working to mend this rift. As one example, the Scientists and Evangelicals Initiative in 2007 sent religious leaders and scientists to Alaska to see receding glaciers and talk with people affected by climate change. Last year, the group also spoke with U.S. policy-makers about options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The June 16 event at AAAS will bring David Anderson, founder and lead pastor of Bridgeway Community Church, together with scientists such as William Phillips, a 1997 Nobel Laureate in Physics, astrophysicist Howard Smith of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and paleontologist Rick Potts of the Smithsonian Human Origins Program.

Tensions at the intersection of science and society can promote a pervasive atmosphere of disrespect that damages the fabric of our culture: A recent Zogby International survey revealed that Americans overwhelmingly feel “fed up with incivility.” In response, Mark DeMoss, a Republican and evangelical Christian, teamed up last year with Lanny Davis, a liberal, Jewish Democrat, to launch the Civility Project, which calls on us to be respectful, despite our differences.

We should all follow their example. Both medical and technological advances and high-quality science education improve human welfare and drive economic progress, creating jobs and better lives for our children. Civil dialogue offers a way for the American public and the scientific community to collaborate more productively on behalf of our communities and our nation.

Alan I. Leshner is chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and executive publisher of the journals Science, Science Translational Medicine, and Science Signaling.

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  • ChrisRR

    The basic disagreement between science and (Judeo-Christian) religion comes down to a single page (the first page) in the Bible. Genesis:1 is the dividing line between these 2 disciplines. The (judeo)Christians believe in the literal interpretation of the creation of the Universe, while scientists dismiss it out of hand. Is there a happy medium?Either one side or another is correct – or BOTH are wrong. In order to explore the second possibility, you would first need to come up with a new theory on the creation of the Universe. Once you had that new theory you would have to map it into Genesis:1. That’s a tall order – to prove EVERYONE wrong, but it does happen.My first book

  • ChrisRR

    Sorry for the bad link

  • ThomasBaum

    ChrisRRYou wrote, “Either one side or another is correct – or BOTH are wrong.”And why would you come to this conclusion?The “fact” that God created everything and that the “days” of creation are “periods of time” and that what was tried to get across is that God created all but that the “specifics” were not what the “writer” was interested in but that a “Being” was responsible for all that is seen and unseen except for the “reality” of aforementioned “Being”.The bible is not a “science” book and was never intended to be taken as one.The bible is about the “fact” that there is more to creation than just the physical parts of creation which includes man.The bible is about trying to let us know that there is a “reason” for creation that goes beyond the “physicality” of creation.In other words, God has a Plan and has had His Plan since before creation and God’s Plan will come to Fruition.Part of God’s Plan was to actually become One of us, in other words to enter “time and space” at a specific point, some think that this is impossible for God to do but not only could God do this, God already has.Take care, Be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • ChrisRR

    Thomas Paul Moses Baum,What I was referring to was the LITERAL interpretation of Genesis:1. Jewish people believe in the “first sunrise” and that the Earth is 5000 years old and that the Earth was created in 6 days. But I think you already know this. You are putting your OWN interpretation forth as a counter to my terse comment.By reading the rest of the Bible (past page 1), you would probably see things in those terms you outlined. But I am trying to get right to the point of contention – which is How the Universe was created, how old is it, how old is the Earth, was there a process of Evolution at play, etc. That is not about the Bible in general – just Genesis:1.

  • ThomasBaum

    ChrisRR Part IIYou also wrote, “But I am trying to get right to the point of contention – which is How the Universe was created, how old is it, how old is the Earth, was there a process of Evolution at play, etc. That is not about the Bible in general – just Genesis:1.”The bible, including Genesis:1, is not about the “How” but is more about the “Who and Why”.I am not sure if it is in Genesis 1 or not but it is in other places and that is that one of the first, if not the first, things that God created was “Wisdom”.It really strikes me as putting God in a “box” of one’s own construction to say that God could not have “set up”, “thought up”, whatever, a “mechanism” for God’s creation to unfold according to “the rules or natural laws” that God came up with.The “universe”, which includes the earth, is quite dynamic and science and scientists, I believe, are quite intrigued by both the “simplicity” and “interconnectivity”, some may say complexity, that is exhibited in God’s creation or if one does not believe in God then in the physical, both seen and unseen, realm.One could say that science is about the “outer world” of man while the bible is about the “inner world” of man and man’s relationship to the “outer world”, other men and to the Creator and I don’t think I need to say this but here “man and men” refer to humans and humanity, just as in the bible it is used that way and also at times to mean a male human being.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • ThomasBaum

    ChrisRR Part IYou wrote, “1. Jewish people believe in the “first sunrise” and that the Earth is 5000 years old and that the Earth was created in 6 days. But I think you already know this. You are putting your OWN interpretation forth as a counter to my terse comment.”Actually, since the sun at one time wasn’t, there had to be a first sunrise, isn’t this so?You say that the Jews believe this, I don’t think that this is quite so because it is from the “original meaning” that “the first day” and so on meant a “period of time”, I, personally, do not know what the “Jewish people believe” but I would venture to guess that there might be various beliefs involved here.There are some things in the bible that are quite “literal” in the words that are said and some where the words don’t exactly mean what they appear to mean and some things that not literal at all but do have a meaning to pass on.There are those that take the “days” of creation as that which we now refer to a day but from what I have heard, the original translates to mean “period of time” an “unfixed” period of time I might add and some of these same “those” do not believe Jesus when He very explicitly said and meant “This Is My Body”.In the bible when the number “one thousand” is used it may mean one thousand and it may mean “endless” since one thousand was the “biggest numeral”, so to speak, that was used, sort of like someone saying a gazillion.It is the “hard sayings” that Jesus spoke and the Apostles made mention of that some people seem to want to gloss over, some of which are: “Love one another as I have loved you”, “Judge not, lest ye be judged”, “Forgive us as we forgive others” and miss what the bible is trying to get thru to, as my namesake said, “These are a hard-headed and stiff-necked people”, have we changed much?, have we changed at all?One of the things that truly seems a human trait is to tell “others” how they should live, what they should believe, etc., rather than living one’s own life, is it not?Jesus, most definitely, did not become One of us for us to set up a theocracy but is this not exactly what many have attempted throughout the age?

  • ThomasBaum

    hightech2 You wrote, ” High Tech Humans Know today, Humans can be reproduced in a High Tech Science Lab, even Cloning could be possible today, like God/Us, our High Tech Human Ancestors Reproduced, the Female from the Male Rib in Genesis 1,2.”But can you start with absolutely nothing and make a human or for that matter can you make a pile of dirt or a star or anything out of nothing?You also wrote, “We Know today that Colonization and Traveling in Space, is a Big Task for High Tech Humans.”Seems as if there are some people that are extremely worried that the sun that powers earth is in imminent danger of going “out of business” in about 5 billion years, more or less, and they want to hightail it out of here, do you think it is to wreck some other “hospitable” place, if they can find one?You also wrote, “Why should there be conflict between Religious and Atheist Humans when High Tech Science Colonization and Reproduction Knowledge are in our Society today?”It is not between “Religious and Atheist Humans” and it is not just between humans, no matter what “label” one hangs on oneself.People are always trying to come up with an “answer” and no matter what “answer” someone comes up with, it seems that at least part of, if not the whole of it, is to impose this “answer” on others, is this not so?No one can live anyone else’s life.God has a Plan and God’s Plan will come to Fruition.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • hightech2

    Why do Humans since WW1,2, have so many sexual encounters? Before that, most females stayed Virgins until marriage. So who were the females that were not virgins? Loose Females or Prostitutes? Or was that just a myth, that females had to be Good Girls when they were growing up? Did Bad Girls mean they had Sex Before Marriage?

  • hightech2

    No matter what Body Birth Misbred Humans do, whether it is Lying, Cursing in God’s Name, Swearing on a Bible, losing your Virginity, becoming a Pedophile, a Murderer, or any ‘Sin’, a result of Misbred Heterosexual Genetic Birth Makeup and Environment. Humans make the Degrees of Sin, on a Fallen Planet.

  • hightech2

    If a good percentage of Scientists are Religious, why do they not see all the High Tech in Genesis 1,2. Or do they not read the Old Testament?Genesis 1, has the step by step to Colonize a Planet with High Tech, and in Genesis 1,2, they Clone a Female from the Male Rib, ‘in their clone image’. It is in black and white and handed down for 6,000 years. How does these writings and myth, get explained in Evolution Theory from the 1800s?

  • hightech2

    When did God make the Rules that the Female should remain a Virgin until she married? If all females did this, then the Males could not have sex before marriage either. So who were all the females that males had Fornication Pleasure Sex with, before marriage? Other Men’s daughters or their own?

  • hightech2

    Either Way that Life Began on Earth, whether in Genesis 1,2, by High Tech Science, or in the Evolution Theory, the Male lost his Virginity, and started seeding his Female Virgin Clone in Genesis 3,4, like Animals as projected in Evolution. This was the Start on Earth of Reproducing Misbred Genetic and Physical Children.

  • hightech2

    Continued from following entry, that I posted first.In Genesis, the Planetary Flood changed the Earth’s Axis, changed the Eco System into the seasons. Rain began with the resulting rainbow, and the seasons began as recorded in Genesis. Before the Earth’s Perfect Axis tipped, All Earth Land Area was in the Temperate Zone, and Earth was watered with a mist, as Science states.

  • hightech2


  • hightech2

    Sign on a Church yard. “Honk if you love Jesus. Text while driving if you want to meet him”Humans on Earth should not text and drive. If they die they will not go to be with Jesus.”Jesus is Alive in a Physical Body, in Spaceships and on Planets,” with our High Tech Ancestors God/Us in Genesis 1,2, that Colonized Earth and Reproduced Male and Female Clones ‘in their image’. Humans do not Die to go to be with Jesus or the ‘Father of Life on Earth’. Acts 9:9-11. KJV. “And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two man stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.”With a High Tech Science translation, heaven is a flying saucer or spaceship of God/Us that Colonized Earth ‘in the beginning’. Jesus will return with them for the Final Judgment Day, before the Planetary Fire set up with all our Toxic Pollution, coal mines, oil wells and spills, etc. And the Angels in white, were in spacesuits like our Astronauts also wear. Flying Saucers disappearing in Clouds were happening in the 1900s on Earth.The Supernatural Writings of Humans without High Tech Science, can be translated today as High Tech Science. It is Time to accept that Earth was Colonized by High Tech Science Humans, not Supernatural Gods ‘in our image’.