Lessons from the Perceptions Conference

From Matthew Facciani, a doctoral candidate in experimental psychology at the University of South Carolina:

I recently attended The Perceptions Conference, which brought scientists and religious leaders together to improve dialogue and find common ground. Here are five things I took away from this conference that may be useful for finding common ground between science and religious communities.

1. Removing perceptions
Removing perceptions and stereotypes are vital for establishing common ground. For example, scientists may believe that religious people are not interested in science, but studies have shown that this is not the case. Likewise, believers may assume scientists are trying to take away their faith, but scientists are merely truth seekers and few are hostile toward religion.

2. Listen
Active listening is necessary in order to break down those harmful stereotypes and perceptions. We should be careful to listen to the kinds of experiences people have with science and religion. This will help us understand where they are coming from and avoid jumping to conclusions and perpetuating stereotypes.

3. Understand both science and religion have limitations
Science is simply a method for understanding our natural world. It has many limitations and is constantly correcting previous mistakes. While science can give us amazing technologies and improve medicine, it cannot answer the philosophical questions reserved for religion. Importantly, religion is not some monolithic philosophy, as religious scholars are constantly disagreeing on the interpretation of scripture. Understanding the limitations of both science and religion will be important for productive dialogue.

4. Show humility
Human beings have limitations just like science and religion do. We all have biases and all can be incorrect. It’s important to acknowledge that none of us have all the answers and that we can learn from one another. Neither a religious scholar nor scientist should assume they have nothing to learn from the other. Acknowledging our ignorance in certain areas will allow us to be open minded and greatly improve civil discourse.

5. Work toward a common goal
As Pastor David Anderson says, distance allows for demonization as it’s hard to hate up close. It would be ideal for science and religious communities to work together on issues where they share interest. For example, science and religious communities share an interest in taking care of our environment so that is one place where they could work together.

As people get to know each other, stereotypes are broken and great progress can be made. I’m an atheist and a scientist myself, but I regularly work with Christians during my activism work, so I know firsthand that such relationships are possible.

Learn more about Matthew Facciani➞

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