Scientific literacy

February 13, 2013

Five different bills have popped up in four different states designed to challenge the teaching of evolutionary biology and global climate change. These bills display similar language, which suggests a common source. Indeed, behind each is the work of the Discovery Institute and its “Teach the Controversy” campaign, which seeks to discredit the teaching of evolution and calls on public schools to teach creationism and intelligent design along with evolution.

Such legislative proposals are peculiar to American religious culture. When British New Testament scholar N. T. Wright visited with Century editors last fall, he noted that even conservative evangelicals in his country don’t dispute the teaching of evolution.

Why does the antiscience sentiment gain such traction in America? It can partly be attributed to the resurgent conservative movement of recent decades, which ties the distinctive theological concerns of conservative Christians to wider political suspicions about government funding and elite discourse. New Atheist writers like Richard Dawkins, who claim to present the scientific point of view, exacerbate the apparent conflict between science and faith with their aggressive attacks on faith and the faithful.

The scientific community perhaps should accept some blame for the breadth of the antiscientific spirit. As Shawn Lawrence Otto has argued in the Scientific American, most scientists write papers for fellow scientists and eschew public conversation and controversy. They need to do a better job of explaining their work and its salience for human flourishing. As state and federal money for scientific research dries up, scientists may need to embrace this task simply out of self-interest.

Scientists in academia could follow the example of their colleagues in the history department, who often are sharply attuned to the interests of a wider public and are able to write for a wide audience.

A rare conversation between scientists, theologians and social scientists is featured in “Adaptive faith.” The participants are all unusually committed to listening to one another and exploring points of connection and cooperation, as well as difference, between religion and science.

In addition to needing more interdisciplinary conversations of this kind, we need more figures who are able to transmit the new developments in science and religion to the person in the street—and in the pew. If, as religious believers contend, all truth comes from God, then religious people need not fear scientific research. They should welcome the conversation.


Scientific Literacy and Adaptive Faith

It is not helpful to blame the scientists for not better explaining themselves. Nor is it helpful to blame new atheists for ridiculing theology’s failure to accept the implications of commonly understood scientific findings. Why does creationism have such traction in America? The answer may be that educated religious leaders have utterly failed to teach the faithful that the language of religion is myth and metaphor. Even this magazine fears to admit the truth, as it did 30 years ago, that no one was ever born of a virgin. There has been little progress since the 1920's. That our ancestors were ape like should not offend but humble us. The discussion here on adaptive faith is astounding in its arrogance, based no doubt on a belief that theology is still the “queen of sciences.” Creationism is maladaptive, as are other efforts to keep us theologically in the 17th century.

Media Bias

  I understand your point, but there have been many people of faith - Christian, Jewish and others, who have voiced in no uncertain terms the problems with taking the Bible literally.  To name a few - Rev. Shelby Spong (, Karl Giberson (, Bruce Sanguin (, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks ( and so many others.  You can look at Michael Dowd's website -  to see an amazing assortment of thought leaders talking about how science can, is and should be embraced by people of faith.  Then on the Biologos Forum ( you can see scientists/Evangelical Christians engaging in serious dialogue about how science and Christian faith enhance each other.  From my own tradition, the Baha'i faith, you can see Friberg and others talking numerous topics including the need for people of faith to use reason to investigate truth and educate themselves about science and the scientific method (  Many people of faith have no problem with evolution, and in fact, embrace its beauty and creative power.

To me one of the biggest problems is media bias.This article in the Huffington post underscores this.

  The moderate views are overshadowed by the polemics.  All this being said, you are correct in that we need to HEAR more from the "middle" so we can stop being pounded by the crazy people at the poles.

Literacy and Adaptive Faith

Dear Reptibian,

I don't think that any of the persons you name has ever been published in CC. Here is a magazine that has a bias against all but the mildest versions of progressive Christianity. Media bias is close to home. Possible reaction by people in the pews used to be an accurate reason why CC and others would hold their tongues -- this by proponents of Word and Spirit! That demographic is ageing out, and I encounter more and more folk in churches who are waiting for recognition of modern science, biblical research, and more creative theology. The old formulations aren't working for more and more Christians.