Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Distrusting Science

Awash in Green and RedScot McKnight shared a release from the American Sociological Association this morning. The ASA has determined that there is a growing "distrust of science" among people who self-identify as conservative and among those who frequently attend church (obviously there is a significant overlap between these groups, but that's not to say they're identical). As McKnight says, this is "deeply troubling."

The study, which covers most of the past 40 years (interestingly, the period from 1974-2010, which means that this study almost precisely covers the span of my own lifetime), is in many ways saying nothing new. I see that I've commented on this rift as recently as two months ago. Indeed, the episode of Legend that I cited there is again very much on my mind as I read this study.

Quite bluntly, the idea that a person should mistrust science because he or she happens to be religious is one that is hard to get my head around, the fact of my seeing and learning about such people all the time notwithstanding. My mindset has long been consistent with the admittedly-clich├ęd concept of "all truth is God's truth."

Indeed, it has long been my understanding that many of those who we now understand to have pioneered modern scientific methods, did so out of a deep religious conviction, and a desire to learn more about the world that God created. For example, while Roger Bacon, a Franciscan friar, may not have been so revolutionary for his time in his promotion of scientific inquiry as once considered, this is largely because medieval science has proven not to be so hostile to such investigation as once supposed. They were people of their time, to be sure, but not opposed to following observation where it would lead them.

While religious people may well approach the world with certain preconceptions that a non-religious observer would leave aside, this is by no means to say that religious people should approach the world without an open mind to what the observed world could teach them. Some religious leaders would seem to put God in Groucho Marx's role as he once famously quipped, "Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?" Religious people seem to have confused a devotion to God with a need to repudiate common sense. Are we really moving in a direction of hostility to scientific knowledge that even the medieval world did not exhibit? "Deeply troubling," indeed! We need people of faith to stand up against this trend, and quickly!

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