Friday, March 13, 2015

AAAS "Perceptions" Conference

Is there any way to bring together religious and scientific communities? The early church thinker Tertullian famously posed the question, 
“What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” 
What can the church have to discuss with those outside? Or more contemporarily, the physicist Lawrence Krauss has asserted, 
“Science is only truly consistent with an atheistic worldview.”
 There would seem to be, from either the religious or scientific, no connection.

But we’re about to hear some different answers this week through a conference put together the world’s largest scientific organization, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, or AAAS, as it’s better know. “Perceptions,” is a day-long event that certainly has its share of superstars: Nobel Laureate physicist William D. Phillips, well-known Texas Tech climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, celebrated author and speaker Rice University sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund, and President of the National Association of Evangelicals, Leith Anderson.

All this arises from the work of AAAS’s DoSER, or Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion, a program, which is 30 years old and is now headed by Jennifer Wiseman, an MIT and Harvard-trained astronomer of no mean standing. Having served as Senior Program Scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope at NASA, she’s now Senior Astrophysicist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. As she commented, 
I believe it is important to rejuvenate our congregations with a sense of joy and unity in contemplating the magnificence of Creation, with forefront scientific knowledge.”
That summarizes quite a bit about this conference.

Yes, the participants may be worth listening to, but what are they going to address? I know there will be origins (which means evolution versus creation), climate science, global health, science and the religious communities. I mentioned that last one, because that’s where I’ll make a contribution, through a project I’m directing on how 18-30 year olds view science and faith, is to take part on a panel with other members of religious communities (both Jewish and Protestant) which have sought to bring science to faith.

My experience is there’s a lot to talk about and that the students I’ve been interviewing want to know how to bring the two together. In fact, one sophomore told me religion and science are like “peanut butter and jelly—you can’t have one without the other.” The metaphor may not work for all of us, but I got the point. Despite the fact that over 2/3rds of 18-23 year olds see—or perhaps better, hear about—a conflict between religion and science (may they caught Lawrence Krauss on YouTube), many want to find reconciliation.

Here's my summary for today's talk in just three points:
  1. Yes, integrating faith and science can be done, and it’s an important task.
  2. Do this work through relationships, particularly with scientists we know.
  3. Take it in steps. Begin the dialogue. You don’t have to finish it in our conversation.

To be sure, there obviously some contrasting perspectives, like the 20-year old sophomore who told me, “A lot of people think we’re going to figure everything out one day.” If that’s the perception, it’s going to be hard for this conversation to gain much traction. But, I suppose, that’s what this conference is designed to help sort out.

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