As I predicted yesterday, the AAAS panel on science and faith turned out to be a warm, snuggly love-fest between the magisteria, with scientists and preachers united against those awful damned New Atheists. I’m sure that the Templeton Foundation, which funded this discussion, is licking its chops in glee. Inside Higher Ed reports what the panelists said:
Jennifer Wiseman, astrophysicist and Christian:
Speaking to a crowd of scientists, she said that the disciplines of science and religion have a lot to learn from one another .
. . . Wiseman said it is incumbent on members of the scientific community to reach out to “the people who reach people,” or religious leaders.
William Phillips, Methodist and Nobel-winning physicist:
Facilitating such a conversation, however, is no easy task. Some of the scientists on hand to welcome Wiseman as head of the program noted that misconceptions about their general faith, or lack thereof, often go unchallenged. The stereotype that all scientists are atheists, they argue, hinders dialogue.
“There are plenty of scientists who have no problem being serious about their science and serious about their religion,” said William Phillips, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist at the University of Maryland’s Joint Quantum Institute, and an active member of the United Methodist Church. “If DoSER [the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion] can get that message out, then that’s a good start.”
This issue took center stage last year when Francis S. Collins was named the new head of the National Institutes of Health. Some in the scientific community took issue with Collins’s open profession of his faith and belief in God.
Phillips described this as little more than name-calling, noting his disgust that some of his fellow scientists would consider someone unfit to lead an organization like the NIH purely because of his or her belief in God. He countered that those who protested Collins’s appointment “obviously” had not met him or did not know his work.
Howard Smith, astrophysicist and “observant Jew”:
Other scientists on hand for Wiseman’s introduction took aim at “new atheism” – a more provocative brand of non-belief that takes aim at religious beliefs and whose rise is often associated with the works of scientists like Richard Dawkins and thinkers like Christopher Hitchens. They argued that these individuals make civil discourse between science and religion nearly impossible.
Howard Smith, senior astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and a self-described observant Jew, defended the compatibility of his faith and scientific inquiry against attacks from “new atheists.”
“I strongly object to the notion that I need to compartmentalize my life,” he said. “I do not have the absolute answers to science or religion.… I’m not religious because I’m ignorant. I’m religious because I’m in awe.”
David Anderson, pastor:
David Anderson, pastor of Bridgeway Community Church, in Columbia, Md., told the roomful of scientists, that “comprehension begins with conversation.” Anderson, who also anchors a popular daily talk show on a local Christian radio station, said that “it is hard to demonize one another,” as scientists and religious leaders, when they come together for face-to-face dialogue.
Sadly, the problem is not one of demonization. It is, I fear, a problem of conflicting methods and outcomes.