Should Science Speak to Faith?
Two prominent defenders of science exchange their views on how scientists ought to approach religion and its followers.
Both you and I have devoted a substantial fraction of our time to trying to get people excited about science, while also attempting to explain the bases of our current respective scientific understandings of the universe. So it seems appropriate to ask what the primary goals of a scientist should be when talking or writing about religion. I wonder which is more important: using the contrast between science and religion to teach about science or trying to put religion in its place? I suspect that I want to concentrate more on the first issue, and you want to concentrate more on the second. I say this because if one is looking to teach people, then it seems clear to me that one needs to reach out to them, to understand where they are coming from, if one is going to seduce them into thinking about science. I often tell teachers, for example, that the biggest mistake any of them can make is to assume that their students are interested in what they are about to say. Teachingis
seduction. Telling people, on the other hand, that their deepest beliefs are simply silly—even if theyare
—and that they should therefore listen to us to learn the truth ultimately defeats subsequent pedagogy. Having said that, if instead the primary purpose in discussing this subject is to put religion in its proper context, then perhaps it is useful to shock people into questioning their beliefs.
The fact that I think religion is bad science, whereas you think it is ancillary to science, is bound to bias us in at least slightly dif¬ferent directions. I agree with you that teaching is seduction, and it could well be bad strategy to alienate your audience before you even start. Maybe I could improve my seduction technique. But nobody admires a dishonest seducer, and I wonder how far you are prepared to go in "reaching out." Presumably you wouldn't reach out to a Flat Earther. Nor, perhaps, to a Young Earth Creationist who thinks the entire universe began after the Middle Stone Age. But perhaps you would reach out to an Old Earth Creationist who thinks God started the whole thing off and then intervened from time to time to help evolution over the difficult jumps. The difference between us is quantitative, only. You are pre¬pared to reach out a little further than I am, but I suspect not all that much further.
In a 2005 survey of U.S. National Science Teachers Association members:
30% said they felt pressure to omit evolution from their lessons 31% said they felt pressure to include nonscientific alternatives to evolution in their classes