Science has been under siege for years by some religious leaders over evolution, global warming, the age of the Earth and universe, and even the question of when life begins.
And while the faith vs. science struggle appears to be heating up again, there’s been a significant strategic shift in the centuries-old conflict. Scientists are fighting back.
Evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins made a case for no supreme being in The God Delusion in 2006 and evolution in The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution in 2009.
In early February, Bill Nye “The Science Guy” engaged Ken Ham, founder of The Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky., in a debate about the origins of humanity, which was streamed online and attracted widespread media attention.
And Sunday’s premiere of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey took approximately 20 minutes from its hour-long journey through the stars to focus on the Italian Dominican monk and scientist Giordano Bruno’s battle with the Church over his suggestions that the Earth was not the center of the space and that the universe is infinite. For that, Bruno was tried and convicted of heresy and burned at the stake in 1600.
Long free from such penalties and persecution, is science now going on the offensive against its detractors?
“I don’t know if science as a whole has gone on the offensive,” said Mike Cushing, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Toledo and director of its Ritter Planetarium. “There is a vocal minority … of scientists and philosophers called the new atheists who are writing books and doing debates, et cetera who are pushing back in their minds. I would say most scientists — I can’t speak for all scientists — don’t have the time or necessarily the inclination to think about or worry about such things.”
Still, Cushing said he is frustrated to watch science pilloried by those who often either don’t understand it or misrepresent it, and he worries what the anti-science stance portends.
“The problem is, we have an entire society that is based off technology now and the use of technology, for good or bad,” he said. “To be ignorant of how science works and how technology works and the impact it has is detrimental to us as a society.”
Some Christians express similar sentiments with science in HBO’s recent documentary Questioning Darwin in which creationists assail the man who developed the theory of evolution. Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago, in a 2009 article published in the New Republic, was equally blunt in opining science and religion as incompatible: “It is like saying that marriage and adultery are compatible because some married people are adulterers.”
Julian Dazies strongly disagrees. Dazies has a PhD in chemistry and served on the UT faculty for 23 years in the chemistry department. He’s also the pastor of The University Church in Toledo, which is part of the United Methodist Church.
The Rev. Dazies calls such declarations of separatism between science and religion dualism. “It has to be this or that. It’s always two options. That’s dualism.”
And while he doesn’t take literally the Genesis account of creation in the bible, he said there’s little point in engaging those who do in a debate, as did Nye.
“Debates are about convincing somebody that your point of view carries the day,” Rev. Dazies said. “It’s like listening to some used car salesman trying to separate you from your money. It’s got nothing to do with the discernment of truth.”
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.