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➞

April 22, 2015

religiousness and mental healthReligiousness and Mental Health
Is being a believer beneficial to one’s mental health? That’s the conclusion of much psychological research, which points to both the social support of belonging to a congregation, and the stress-reducing qualities of knowing that a larger force is looking out for you. But a newly published study challenges those beliefs. Analyzing answers provided by a large and diverse group of participants, it finds “secular and religious adherents have similar levels of mental health.” (Tom Jacobs, Pacific Standard)

Why I Teach Evolution to Muslim Students
Rana Dajani: I teach evolution to university students in Jordan. Almost all of them are hostile to the idea at first. Their schoolteachers are likely to have ignored or glossed over it. Still, most students are willing to discuss evolution, and by the end of the course, the majority accept the idea. If Muslim students can challenge ideas on such a controversial academic topic, then they can also approach other aspects of their lives by questioning—and not just blindly accepting—the status quo. These tools and attitudes are crucial to the development of their personalities and to becoming responsible citizens. (Nature)

Creationism in Louisiana Public School Science Classes
Zack Kopplin: I have evidence that religion, not science, is what’s being taught systematically in some Louisiana school systems. I have obtained emails from creationist teachers and school administrators, as well as a letter signed by more than 20 current and former Louisiana science teachers in Ouachita Parish in which they say they challenge evolution in the classroom without legal “tension or fear” because of pro-creationism policies. (Slate)

April 17, 2015

spiritual-childChildren, Spirituality, and Happiness
Lisa Miller: A new study just published online in the Journal of Religion and Health by my lab at Columbia University shows that happiness and the character traits of grit and persistence go “hand in hand” with a deeper inner asset: spirituality, which this study measured as a deep spiritual connection with a sense of a sacred world. More generally my research of more than 20 years on adolescence, depression and spirituality shows more specifically how putting a priority on performance stunts development of a child’s inner life and the single most powerful protection against depression and suffering, the spiritual self. (TIME)

Vatican Climate Change Workshop
Called “Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity,” the event will feature scientists and world religious leaders, aiming to build a global movement toward curbing climate change, according to the online program. Speakers will have “a special focus on the most vulnerable, to elevate the moral dimensions of protecting the environment in advance of the papal encyclical,” according to the program. (Rachel Zoll, Associated Press)

The Future of World Religions
The religious profile of the world is rapidly changing, driven primarily by differences in fertility rates and the size of youth populations among the world’s major religions, as well as by people switching faiths. Over the next four decades, Christians will remain the largest religious group, but Islam will grow faster than any other major religion. (Pew Research Center Religion & Public Life)

April 16, 2015

cathedral-science-religionDo Americans Believe Science and Religion Are in Conflict?
Jonathan Hill: There is more than meets the eye in survey questions about the relationship between science and religion. Although the results appear to have a straightforward reading at first, we need to recognize that changes in the wording and framing of these questions are tapping into different conceptions of science, religion, and the boundaries between the two. Social scientists would do well to move beyond simplistic survey questions and begin to investigate public conceptions of the boundaries and content of religion and science more intentionally. (Big Questions Online)

Are Scientific and Religious Explanations Incompatible?
Tania Lombrozo: For starters, I think we need to be clear about whether we’re talking about scientific and religious explanations per se, or about explanatory practices in science and religion. (13.7: Cosmos and Culture, NPR)

Analyzing Religious Metaphors in the Climate Change Debate
Dimitrinka Atanasova and Nelya Koteyko: These were chiefly used to describe climate scientists, diverting the focus on to the people rather than the analyses they carried out. The use of “conversion” and “recanting” to describe a transition from believing in climate change to being skeptical are what linguists call novel metaphors—regarded as especially persuasive because they are new to the reader. (New Scientist)

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