Category: Science and Religion

A Church That Wants to Teach Science

By Chris Mooney | September 8, 2011 12:59 pm

This is a guest post by Tim Broderick, a Chicago resident with a keen interest in science and science education.

One of the most painful moments in the film “Jesus Camp” (and there are many) comes when a parent homeschooling her children talks about evolution. The kids are shown watching creationist videos mocking science, and are then led, in a lesson, to reject and question science for no other reason than for a religious fundamentalist view of the world.

Contrast that with the image of a church congregation whose members join together to honestly explore their faith through exploration of science.

Now, think about at least 90 congregations wanting to do that.

St. John’s Episcopal Church, located on the northwest side of Chicago, is one of those 90 congregations. It’s a church that’s diverse in its politics as well as in beliefs. Yet St. John’s also blessed same-sex unions before they became legal in Illinois, promotes environmental causes, works with a local homeless mission and hosted two Darwin Day celebrations in the past three years.

As one of the instigators of those Darwin Day events, I was approached earlier this year by Rev. Kara Wagner Sherer, the pastor of St. Johns, to help put together a grant proposal. The grant – Scientists in Congregations, sponsored by the Templeton Institute – sought to help congregations identify scientists among them interested in teaming with a religious leader to design a program to explore science and inform a dialogue about faith. The long-term aim of the the grant was to create a model program that other congregations could use as well.

We put together what we felt was a pretty interesting program – looking at the Dover evolution trial, global warming, cosmology and neuroscience.

And then an interesting thing happened last week.

We didn’t get the grant. It turns out we were one of about 90 churches interested in elevating the voices of scientists in our congregation. Looking back, I suspect we likely drew too much on the opportunities afforded us by the world-class museums located here in Chicago. It’s not something that a small church in Mississippi, for instance, could easily adopt.

But what’s interesting isn’t that we didn’t get the grant, it’s that after our proposal was turned down, the people involved in putting it together expressed an interest in going ahead with our program anyway.

The first portion – centered around a reading drawn from the exerpts of the Dover evolution trial transcripts – is planned for our 2012 Darwin Day celebration.

As we go forward, we’ll see what we can pull from the other modules. Funding will be a challenge, but there are likely other opportunities for grants that we can explore. I’m particularly interested in doing something with global warming because there has been some skepticism expressed about the science. I think it would be an interesting discussion.

In the raging debate online about science-religion compatibility – a debate I’ve participated in – these kind of efforts gets lost. It’s important to remember that for many people, the question of whether science and religion is compatible isn’t very interesting.

Exploring how they’re compatible is, even if it means challenging one’s own beliefs.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and Religion

Questioning the Candidates on Dominionism

By The Intersection | August 25, 2011 1:20 pm

By Jon Winsor

Questions about Dominionism and national politics are now moving out of the muckraking exposés and the religion pages and into elite journalism. Yesterday, NPR’s Fresh Air devoted most of its air time to journalist Rachel Tabachnick on the topic of Dominionism. Now, NY Times Chief Editor Bill Keller is going there as well:

This year’s Republican primary season offers us an important opportunity to confront our scruples about the privacy of faith in public life — and to get over them. We have an unusually large number of candidates, including putative front-runners, who belong to churches that are mysterious or suspect to many Americans. Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are Mormons, a faith that many conservative Christians have been taught is a “cult” and that many others think is just weird. (Huntsman says he is not “overly religious.”) Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum are all affiliated with fervid subsets of evangelical Christianity, which has raised concerns about their respect for the separation of church and state, not to mention the separation of fact and fiction.

I honestly don’t care if Mitt Romney wears Mormon undergarments beneath his Gap skinny jeans, or if he believes that the stories of ancient American prophets were engraved on gold tablets and buried in upstate New York… Every faith has its baggage, and every faith holds beliefs that will seem bizarre to outsiders. I grew up believing that a priest could turn a bread wafer into the actual flesh of Christ…

In the last presidential campaign, Candidate Obama was pressed to distance himself from his pastor, who carried racial bitterness to extremes… I don’t see why Perry and Bachmann should be exempt from similar questioning…

To get things rolling, I sent the aforementioned candidates a little questionnaire.

Read More

Rick Perry: Curiously Similar to Michele Bachmann on Science

By The Intersection | August 11, 2011 6:30 pm

By Jon Winsor

Rick Perry, who is supposed to announce his presidential candidacy this weekend, is presently only two points behind Mitt Romney, according to a recent CNN poll. So where does he stand on science?

Rick Perry joins Bachmann in advocating for intelligent design, recently commenting:

“There are clear indications from our people who have amazing intellectual capability that this didn’t happen by accident and a creator put this in place,” Perry said.

“Now, what was his time frame and how did he create the earth that we know? I’m not going to tell you that I’ve got the answers to that,” Perry said. “I believe that we were created by this all-powerful supreme being and how we got to today versus what we look like thousands of years ago, I think there’s enough holes in the theory of evolution to, you know, say there are some holes in that theory.”

Teaching the controversy“– the Discovery Institute would love that. Perry is also solidly in the climate change denialist camp, saying back in 2007 (when many of his fellow GOP governors were acknowledging the scientific consensus):

“Virtually every day another scientist leaves the global warming bandwagon. … But you won’t read about that in the press because they have already invested in one side of the story. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be good stewards of our environment. We should. I am just saying when politics hijack science, it quells true scientific debate and can have dire consequences for our future.”

…Asked for elaboration on the scientists who Perry said are abandoning the “global warming bandwagon,” his office listed two dozen recent articles, almost none about scientists. They range from calls for Gore to lose his Academy Award to a posting from the Tehran Times (“Iran’s leading international daily”) stating that Gore doesn’t deserve the Nobel Peace Prize because as a senator he voted to authorize the first Gulf War.

TalkingPointsMemo DC did an informal poll at the recent Heartland Institute International Convention on Climate Change and found Perry to be a strong presidential favorite among conference goers (with Michele Bachmann running second).

Like Bachmann, Perry bills himself as a libertarian.  Read More

MORE ABOUT: rick perry

Perry’s God Strategy May Be Effective. Science Explains Why.

By The Intersection | August 9, 2011 12:31 pm

This is a guest post by Jamie L. Vernon, Ph.D., a research scientist and policy watcher, who encourages the scientific community to get engaged in the policy-making process

This week Texas Governor Rick Perry took part in a prayer rally in Houston Texas.  In doing so, he may have found a recipe for success in the 2012 Republican Presidential primaries, if he chooses to run.  According to attendees, his brief remarks and his role in organizing the event garnered their admiration, which bodes well for the Governor.

Perry’s solution to America’s problems?


In his comments to the congregation, Perry laid it out quite clearly,

“I tell people, that “personal property” and the ownership of that personal property is crucial to our way of life.

Our founding fathers understood that it was a very important part of the pursuit of happiness. Being able to own things that are your own is one of the things that makes America unique. But I happen to think that it’s in jeopardy.

It’s in jeopardy because of taxes; it’s in jeopardy because of regulation; it’s in jeopardy because of a legal system that’s run amok. And I think it’s time for us to just hand it over to God and say, “God, You’re going to have to fix this.”

I think it’s time for us to use our wisdom and our influence and really put it in God’s hands. That’s what I’m going to do, and I hope you’ll join me.”

Science tells us that Perry’s message combined with the current political and economic turmoil may drive voters in his direction.  Read More

Most College Undergrads Question Science-Religion Conflict

By Chris Mooney | June 10, 2011 2:06 pm

I’ve just been made aware of this intriguing study by Christopher P. Scheitle, in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. Looking at a survey of the religious and spiritual views of a very large sample of university students, Sheitle finds, surprisingly, that science-religion-conflict views (whether pro-science or pro-religion) are not predominant. Rather, they’re a minority (31 % overall), with science religion “independence” or “collaboration” views more prominent (69 % overall).

However, the conflict perspective was strongest in two areas. Among those studying natural sciences, engineering, or mathematics, the “conflict: I side with science” perspective was above 20 percent. Among those studying education, meanwhile, the “conflict: I side with religion” perspective was over 35 percent (!). Here is the conclusion of the study:

The predominant narrative surrounding the religion and science relationship has been driven by the assumption that these institutions are engaged in an unavoidable conflict resulting from their contradictory claims to truth (Evans and Evans 2008). However, the analysis conducted above found that most undergraduates, regardless of their area of study or even their religiosity, do not hold a conflict perspective. Furthermore, many more students move away from a conflict perspective to an independence/collaboration perspective than vice versa. This finding might be especially surprising since many people, especially religious families, assume that higher education has a secularizing influence on students (Smith and Snell 2009:248), which might be expected to increase perceptions of a conflict. Despite its seeming predominance, the conflict model of understanding religion and science issues does not seem to have much support within the undergraduate population. Ecklund and Park (2009) made a similar conclusion in their analysis of the views of academic scientists.

Still, some of the patterns seen in the analysis above might be disconcerting for those looking to move beyond the public battles for power between religion and science. The finding that scientists and engineers are among the most likely to have a pro-science conflict perspective could mean that some of the most influential voices in these public debates might be more likely to fuel the debates than attenuate them. Similarly, future educators are among the most likely to hold a pro-religion conflict perspective. Given that classrooms and school boards have been one of the central forums for the struggle over religion and science, this does not bode well for a
reduction of those struggles.

Full study here. I am sometimes asked why there aren’t more young people who are interested in freethought, skepticism, and so forth–especially since millennials, we know, are highly secular. But insofar as the skeptic/freethinker/atheist movements are wedded to “conflict,” I think this study may suggest part of the answer.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and Religion

New Point of Inquiry is Up: Michael Shermer–The Believing Brain

By Chris Mooney | June 7, 2011 9:04 am

The latest show is up, and I am confident it will be much discussed. Here is the write up:

Our guest this week is Michael Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic magazine and head of the Skeptics Society, and a longtime commentator on issues relating to science, critical thinking, and the paranormal.

Chris asked Michael on to discuss his new book, which is entitled The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies, How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them As Truths.

Clearly, much of what Shermer has to say here will be of great relevance to skeptics and freethinkers—and along the way, Shermer also discusses his views on global warming (real, but not such a big deal) and how to promote evolution in a religious America.

In addition to publishing Skeptic, Michael Shermer is  a monthly columnist for Scientific American, the host of the Skeptics Distinguished Science Lecture Series at Caltech, and Adjunct Professor at Claremont Graduate University. His other books include Why People Believe in Weird Things andWhy Darwin Matters.

In a series of posts this week, I’m going to say more about at least 3 parts of the interview that I think will prompt discussion–our exchanges on global warming, “accommodationism,” and the differences between liberals and conservatives.

In the meantime, you can listen to the show here and order Shermer’s new book here.

Latest Point of Inquiry: Accommodationism and the Psychology of Belief

By Chris Mooney | May 17, 2011 1:49 pm

I haven’t been able to post on this until now, but we did a special Point of Inquiry last week from my cabin on board the MSC Musica as it was docked in Venice–and to judge by downloads (18,000 so far), the episode is exceedingly popular. In it, I sit in the hot seat and Ron Lindsay, the head of CFI, grills me about my views on what is labeled “accommodationism” and also my acceptance of a Templeton Cambridge journalism fellowship. Later, we also go into detail about my Mother Jones piece on the science of why we deny science.

The response to the show is, typically, polarized. The more I study how we reason on contested issues, the less it surprises me that on this topic, the things I say become a Rorschach. (That includes this comment, by the way.)

Richard Dawkins himself (or whoever operates his feed) tweeted the show, and then Dawkins reposted a passage from Sam Harris, which Dawkins called “brilliant” and which takes Sheril Kirshenbaum and myself to task on “accommodationism.” We responded to Harris a long time ago; that response is here.

PZ Myers criticized the show; Josh Rosenau argued back; there and elsewhere, hundreds of comments have been generated. I agree with Rosenau, not surprisingly, but what I find more interesting is that PZ seems to accept the premise from which I’m now arguing: Read More

Psych Evidence that Supports New Atheism

By Chris Mooney | April 21, 2011 8:53 pm

In general, I believe what we know about human psychology runs contrary to the New Atheist approach and strategy. However, I do my best to follow the data, and here’s a study that suggest at least one aspect of their approach may work. The tactic finding support here is not necessarily being confrontational–that would tend to prompt negative emotional reactions, and thus defensiveness and inflexibility towards New Atheist arguments–but rather, making it more widely known that you’re actually there–as “out” atheists try to do:

Although prejudice is typically positively related to relative outgroup size, four studies found converging evidence that perceived atheist prevalence reduces anti-atheist prejudice. Study 1 demonstrated that anti-atheist prejudice among religious believers is reduced in countries in which atheists are especially prevalent. Study 2 demonstrated that perceived atheist prevalence is negatively associated with anti-atheist prejudice. Study 3 demonstrated a causal relationship: Reminders of atheist prevalence reduced explicit distrust of atheists. These results appeared distinct from intergroup contact effects. Study 4 demonstrated that prevalence information decreased implicit atheist distrust. The latter two experiments provide the first evidence that mere prevalence information can reduce prejudice against any outgroup. These findings offer insights about anti-atheist prejudice, a poorly understood phenomenon. Furthermore, they suggest both novel directions for future prejudice research and potential interventions that could reduce a variety of prejudices.

Full study here.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and Religion

Martin Rees Wins Templeton Prize

By Chris Mooney | April 6, 2011 11:18 am

While in Cambridge last summer, I had the pleasure of meeting the astrophysicist Lord Martin Rees and touring the master’s rooms and gardens in Trinity College–which is something like heaven on Earth. So I knew the Templeton program was a big fan of Rees–but I didn’t know he’d be the next winner of the Templeton Prize.

Until recently the head of the Royal Society, Rees is credited with asking the “big questions” in his explorations of astrophysics and the nature of the universe–or multiverse–but also with being a leader in the scientific community in drawing attention to the problem of climate change.

There’s a very notable fact here: Rees is not religious, though he calls Anglican traditions the “customs of my tribe.”

Let’s end with some words from Rees in acceptance of the prize:

Some people might surmise that intellectual immersion in vast expanses of space and time would render cosmologists serene and uncaring about what happens next year, next week, or tomorrow. But, for me, the opposite is the case. My concerns are deepened by the realisation that, even in a perspective extending billions of years into the future, as well as into the past, this century may be a defining moment. Our planet has existed for 45 million centuries, but this is the first in its history where one species – ours – has Earth’s future in its hands, and could jeopardise not only itself, but life’s immense potential.

I applaud the Templeton Foundation for choosing such a distinguished scientific leader to receive its biggest award. For more on the Templeton Prize, see here.

New Sci Comm Book; Playboy Article Online; and More

By Chris Mooney | March 23, 2011 5:48 pm

I’ve just gotten back from a trip to Brazil, so much as accumulated and this post is essentially a link dump:

1. Playboy article online. My piece on the spirituality of scientists has been put online. Warning: clicking this link may yield a bit in the way of Playboy-type…visuals.

2. Successful Science Communication. Cambridge University Press is preparing a new volume on science communication, and I’m one of the contributors with a chapter on “Dealing with the U.S. Media.” (Tough, I know.) The book won’t be out til September, but you can get a sense of the contents here. Andrew Revkin is also a contributor.

3. Why Johnny Can’t Do Science. There was a spectacular two part series on the problems of U.S. science education in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette by Mark Roth. I strongly encourage you to read both pieces, here and here.

That’s all for now….


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