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➞


Abraham’s Dice Conference

A note from Karl Giberson, Scholar-in-Residence in Science and Religion at Stonehill College and the organizer of the conference exploring chance and providence in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam:

Readers of Science & Religion Today may be interested in the upcoming science & religion conference at Stonehill College in Easton (Nov 16-20). The presentations are all free and open to the public, but optional conference registration includes airport pick-up, meals, shuttles to hotels, and other things. Interested parties are more than welcome to just drop by. If you would like to have meals with us, these can be arranged for a modest fee (just our cost of adding one more person), but we need to know in advance. (Email me at kgiberson@stonehill.edu)

The conference starts with a social time, dinner, and plenary talk by John Barrow on Sunday, Nov. 16. The complete program can be found here. A press release advertising the conference can be found here.

The Sunday night talk by Barrow is titled “Is the World Simple or Complicated? Chance, Uncertainty, and Unknowability in Modern Cosmology,” and raises provocative questions about how our situation in the universe—life on a stable, habitable planet around the right kind of star—is the result of both interacting physical laws and billions of years of happenstance. Barrow is a major British intellectual, chaired professor at Cambridge, and author of many provocative books and over 500 papers in cosmology. Sunday will also be our most extensive dinner on campus.


The Science of Jewish Identity

ELI talksTomorrow afternoon, Rabbi Geoffrey Mitelman, founder and director of Sinai and Synapses, will be a guest of ELI on Air. He’ll be discussing how our identities are formed, and what the science of self means for Jewish identity.

To join the conversation, click over to YouTube tomorrow at 1 p.m. You can also share your questions on Facebook in advance, or through YouTube or Twitter (using #elitalks) during the event.


Who Will Win This Year’s Templeton Prize?

Templeton PrizeThe winner of the 2014 Templeton Prize will be announced on March 13 at a news conference at the British Academy in London at 6:30 a.m. EDT. The prize, valued at about 1.8 million dollars, “honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.”

You can watch the winner announced via a live webcast.

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