Who Should Be Included in S&R Discussions?

The Faith and Science program at the World Science Festival doesn’t have someone who thinks science and religion are fundamentally incompatible on its panel, and cosmologist Sean Carroll says the imbalance is a problem:

The panelists include two scientists who are Templeton Prize winners—Francisco Ayala and Paul Davies—as well as two scholars of religion—Elaine Pagels and Thupten Jinpa. Nothing in principle wrong with any of those people, but there is a somewhat obvious omission of a certain viewpoint: those of us who think that science and religion are not compatible. And there are a lot of us! Also, we’re right. A panel like this does a true disservice to people who are curious about these questions and could benefit from a rigorous airing of the issues, rather than a whitewash where everyone mumbles pleasantly about how we should all just get along.

Physicist Chad Orzel feels differently, arguing that it might be right for certain science and religion discussions to not include an incompatibilist:

In the end, I’m not convinced you need anyone on the panel to make the case that science and religion are fundamentally incompatible. That idea is out there, coming from both sides of the science-religion split (and you’ll notice they don’t have any young-earth creationists on the panel, either). The interesting subject of conversation is not so much the absolute compatibility or not of science and religion—given that neither side is really going to budge on that—but rather how it is that religious scientists reconcile the supposedly incompatible sides of the issue. There’s some potential for interesting personal stories and psychological depth there—how do you maintain faith while practicing science when both religious extremists and other scientists are saying that’s impossible? That’s presumably what they’re aiming for with the panel, and given competent moderation, they could get something a lot more interesting out of that than they could by putting a militant atheist or a Biblical literalist on the panel.

Joshua Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education agrees:

Someone like Dawkins would stop the World Science Festival panel cold. The whole point Affirmative Atheists are making is that there is no dialogue to be had. Which means that the panel would descend into a metaconversation about whether there should even be conversations like the one they were supposed to be having. And that wouldn’t inform anyone.
I’ll grant in principle that there is a way to have a civil and informative dialogue about science/religion compatibility between people who think it exists and those who don’t. I can’t say I’ve ever seen it work, but surely it can be done.

Category: Debates

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One Response

  1. V. V. Raman says:

    To make a public discussion like this meaningful from which the uncommitted can take something, it would have been good to have a couple of science-unfriendly scientists also. After all, the topic has many facets.
    One could also argue that it should be required, in this day and age, to have some Non-Christian religion-friendly scholars also in such public debates in non-theocratic countries. Or else, it perpetuates the widely held, but factually untenable impression that religion means Christianity, or Judeo-Christianity, or Abrahamic-Book-affiliation. It’s about time religion-talk matures to a more sophisticated level.

    V. V. Raman

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