Yesterday The American Academy for the Advancement of Science had a panel discussion on the science/faith dialogue at its annual meeting. I haven’t heard the outcome, but you can guess what it was given that the number of discussants who find science and faith incompatible was apparently a big fat zero, and that the the Templeton Foundation helped fund the panel. The link in the first sentence leads to a video of astrophysicist Jennifer Wiseman, a religious person who was just hired as “director of the Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion.”
In the video, Wiseman states that she’s “trying to help people see a harmony between scientific study of the natural world on the one hand and also grappling with these bigger questions of, you know, Is there purpose? Is there meaning? Is there a way of incorporating a faith life in harmony with scientific study?—and I think there is.”
Is that the job of the AAAS—to promote just those theological views that espouse harmony between faith and science?
And, inevitably, HuffPo puffs up the panel with a post, “Science, Religion, and Civil Dialogue,” by Alan Leshner, CEO of the AAAS (I wasn’t aware that any scientific organization had a CEO) as well as executive publisher of Science. The word “civil” here is a tipoff that the dialogue will be only about the compatibility of science and faith, and will ignore the many scientists who feel that these areas are epistemically and methodologically incompatible. Leshner also—and I’m getting used to this—distorts the recent study by Elaine Ecklund on the religious views of scientists, twisting her findings to make it seem that scientists are more religious than they are:
Of course, some people in sociologist and survey director Elaine 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, in 275 lengthy follow-up interviews Ecklund found only five scientists who said they actively oppose religion.
Some scientists described themselves as atheists? This is, to put it charitably, an understatement of the facts. As Jason Rosenhouse points out about Ecklund’s survey:
Asked about their beliefs in God, 34% chose “I don’t believe in God,” while 30% chose, “I do not know if there is a God, and there is no way to find out.” That’s 64% who are atheist or agnostic, as compared to just 6% of the general public.
It is disingenuous for an organization like the AAAS to keep putting on these dialogues, and to pretend that faith and science are perfectly compatible, in the face of the palpable facts that:
- Science and faith are epistemically and methodologically incompatible
- American scientists are far less religious than the general public
- A huge number of Americans, including those who feel that evolution subverts their faith, see a real conflict between science and religion.
And the AAAS is a science organization, supposedly devoted to furthering science. Instead it seems to be engaged, like the National Center for Science Education and the National Academy of Sciences, in one-sided, two-bit theology.
As I’ve said many times before, I don’t think it’s the business of these organizations to do theology, let alone promote only theologies of compatibility. Let them just deal with science. But if they feel that they must do theology, then by all means highlight the many scientists who find faith and science incompatible. To do otherwise is intellectually dishonest.
Step up to the plate, AAAS. If you’re going to do these dialogues, and represent the world accurately, how about this one: “Science and Faith: The Eternal Conflict”.
You can find a lively discussion of the AAAS business over at Butterflies and Wheels.