Addressing Evangelical Perceptions of Science

Neuroscience lecture at the recent Perceptions Project workshop. Photo credit: AAAS/DAVID BULLER
Neuroscience lecture at the recent Perceptions Project workshop. Photo credit: AAAS/DAVID BULLER

The perceptions that religious leaders have of science often determine how they respond to debates about science and religion. If science is presumed to be a threat to belief, defensive stances may be adopted; if the topic is felt to speak of the wonder of nature, it is likely to be approached with a more open spirit.

The Perceptions Project from the Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER), supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation, recently hosted the first of three regional workshops aimed at addressing this discourse, especially with evangelical Christians. Preparatory work included focus groups and a nationwide survey of nearly 10,000 individuals. Now, DoSER is facilitating conversations about the science and religion interface using discussion guides tested in collaboration with the National Association of Evangelicals and Public Agenda.

“Evangelicals value scientific writing and draw upon scientific sources for knowledge even if they are suspicious of some forms of science,” principal investigator Elaine Howard Ecklund writes in her preliminary findings summary. “Evangelical Protestants, however, are more than twice as likely to say they would turn to a religious text, a religious leader, or people at their congregation if they had a question about science,” she continues. This is an insight that underlines the value of engaging religious leaders when building bridges between the evangelical and scientific communities.

Results from the survey and from DoSER’s work with evangelicals will expand into three additional workshops this year that will enable dialogue between scientists and leaders from Catholic, Mainline Protestant, and Jewish communities.

  • gregorymark

    I’m an evangelical, and I am also fascinated by science. I am an amateur astronomer, and have participated in events at local public schools, introducing children and parents to astronomy (no agenda attached other than to view celestial objects). I’m an avid reader of hard science on cosmology and physics. I also am fascinated by neuroscience. I don’t distrust science. I think science and religion ask different questions. To quote a physics professor at UC Berkeley, science asks the “how” and “what” of the universe; religion asks the “who” and “why.” Very different focuses, and not mutually exclusive. What bothers me is that some in the scientific community have apparently declared war on religion and faith, and do their best to undermine both. And some in the scientific community have allowed science or the “banner of science” to be taken hostage to a political agenda.

    • TallySkeptic

      One basic question which both science and religion attempt to answer is “What is real?” Because they use very different methods to answer this question they come to very different answers. The religious question “why?” which you point to here usually refers to “what were the motives of the person?” If a god is not part of reality (“who?”), then it makes no sense to ask what were his motives. And so, there is a very basic incompatibility of science and religion. I think eventually one will fade, and it will be religion.

    • SigmetSue

      I agree that atheists are excessively dogmatic and rigid and that they have declared war on religion. Case in point: these folks are shocked (!) at any suggestion that writings in the Bible are anything but pure fantasy.

      I am also concerned by fundamentalists and some evangelicals who have declared war on specific areas of science – the concept of evolution, the true age of the heavens and the Earth, climate change, and Biblical interpretation and their idea that schools should “teach the controversy.” Baloney, there is no controversy except in their own heads. It is just not possible to teach Intelligent Design in science classes because there is absolutely no connected evidence for it, only Creationists”
      nit-picking objections to the absolutely and seamlessly abundant evidence for evolution.

      Frankly, I think Genesis needs an edit to better conform to the revelations of science. It’s obvious to me that the writers of the first chapter were giving the best scientific insights available to them at the time. Lacking telescopes to permit looking back in time, they got the heavens part all wrong. But they got the earth sequence right, showing they understood stratigraphy as a way of looking back in geologic time. Nowhere does it say that God told them what to write. The writers used their intelligence to figure it out by themselves.

      And the Adam and Eve story? It’s a folk memory of Paleolithic tlife in southern Iraq, part of which is now drowned by the Persian Gulf but which was dry land during the Ice Age. Adam and Eve are archetypes because it’s easier to tell and remember stories about individuals than about groups.

  • R. Gary Klein

    In my opinion; the two gravest threats to the future well being of our country are racism and certain organized religions.

  • John Heininger

    The issue of our time is not “Is it science”, but whether mainstream science itself now lives in a surreal godless world of its own making, far removed from reality. When mainstream science began to assert that ALL REALITY can, will, and must, be explained solely by natural processes and causes alone it moved from reality to absurdities; from science to scientism; and from “methodological” naturalism and the scientific method to METAPHYSICAL or “philosophical’ naturalism and godless materialism.

    As described by leading geneticist Professor Richard Lewontin, “We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism, It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door” .

    Godless naturalism and Darwinism not only represent a religious faith in the full sense, but are founded on “blind faith”, magic and miracles. Here’s why:

    Naturalism is religious because it is founded on “metaphysical” beliefs that are above and beyond the capability of science and physics to
    verify. As stated by the Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Macmillan): Naturalism is the METAPHYSICAL position that nature is all there is, and all basic truths are truths of nature.” This naturalism operates on yet another unproven “metaphysical” precept: The precept that science is the foundation of ALL knowledge and that ALL truth can be arrived at by the empirical method. Of course, this turns out to be the definition of SCIENTISM, not science.

    Naturalism is a “blind faith” because it assumes that the unproven beliefs of godless materialism are true from the outset: Making the “unproven” starting hypothesis the “unproven” conclusion. In reality, science is an ocean removed from ever substantiated this unverified “blind faith” premise.

    Naturalism functions on “magic” and “miracles” because it is founded on “vastly improbable” events for which there are “no verifiable scientific answers”. This encompasses the origin of the universe and everything in it, including the quantum vacuum, fine tuning, the DNA Double helix, life, complex genetic codes, consciousness, mind, reason, and everything else. None of which have a “verifiable scientific answer. Yet Lawrence Krauss, Richard Dawkins, and all other devotees of naturalism and Darwinism do believe that the cosmos and everything in it is the result of vastly improbable events that have no verifiable scientific answer. This naturalism is truly a world of “magic” and “miracles”: Namely, vastly “improbable” events for which there is “no verifiable empirical scientific answer”.

    Even more miraculous is the universe of Krauss and Dawkins and others: A magical universe that produces increasing order as it designs itself, out of chaos, at the very same time it is running down towards increasing disorder, loss of information and heat death. Little wonder that noted physicist Paul Davies calls this an “unresolved paradox”. As we have a running down dying universe that cannot even sustain itself. simultaneously creating and making itself as it is running down and dying. All of which shows that both naturalism and Darwinism are “sand castles” founded entirely on SUBJECTIVE inferences, unverifiable assumptions, circular reasoning, self-fulfilling predictions, mere explanations, conjecture, and sheer speculation as to what “supposedly” happened in unobserved distant past. When in reality there exists no testable, experimental or observational science for any of this. So, we clearly see the “non-reason” and “scientism” of godless naturalism in full bloom. With the scientific world “blindly” believing that all this magic and miracles happened all by “itself” without a miracle worker. Which all of us would have to concede is “really miraculous”.

    In fact, the more “reason” and “science” knows about the profound unity and unique structure of the universe, and the breathtaking complexity of life, the LESS PROBABLE godless naturalism and evolution becomes. And the “greater” the probability of a rational intelligent transcendent first cause. Thus, Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, Maxwell Clark and the other creationist pioneers of modern science conducted their science within the framework of theism because there is no sustainable alternative. Indeed, their experimentation and observations had affirmed the foundational theistic premise on which all of science operates. Namely, that the universe was both “rational” and “intelligible”. Because a rational and intelligent effect such as the universe always demands a rational and intelligent cause – God.

    As scientific knowledge expands godless naturalism and Darwinism will appear to be increasingly improbable, and diminish. The ever expanding body of creationists scientists committed to theism, and the “intelligibility” (ID) of the cosmos, will endure and ultimately prevail, in spite of the loud and furious shouts and scientism of Krauss, Dawkins and co. Of this we can be certain, because as pointed out by philosopher Thomas Nagel in, “Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False” (Oxford University Press, 2012)) the “intelligibility” of this universe is the foundational precept on which all of science functions, and without which it is impossible to do science. Meaning, Krauss and Dawkins and all other scientists into godless naturalism are actively sawing of the limb they are sitting on.

    So, why is this magic and miracle working metaphysical “blind faith” and “scientism” (on which Krauss, Dawkins and mainstream science now
    operate) now being imposed on science classes? And how long will this bazaar situation be tolerated and allowed to continue?