Persuasion in the Evolution Wars

Wikimedia Commons
By Tom Aechtner

I would like to think that I’m a rational person; an individual who logically considers my actions and attitudes.  For instance, it’s my hope that when faced with an advertising campaign I would thoroughly study every claim an advert might make, rather than being affected by flashy images or persuasive rhetoric.  My guess is that I’m not alone in thinking this about myself.

Many of us perceive ourselves to be sensible people who are not easily swayed by the guiles of persuasive techniques, such as those found in advertising pitches or political speeches.  The problem, however, is that decades of persuasion research has revealed we usually don’t have the ability or the motivation to diligently evaluate the many persuasive messages we are bombarded with on a daily basis. Continue reading Persuasion in the Evolution Wars

Peter Harrison’s The Territories of Science and Religion: A New Peter Principle

http://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/T/bo19108877.html
The front cover of Harrison’s The Territories of Science and Religion.

Peter Harrison’s new book,[i] based on the Gifford Lectures that he delivered at the University of Edinburgh in 2011, is essential reading.  It is the most important study of the history of science and religion since the publication in 1991 of John Brooke’s Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives, in which Brooke laid out what has been called the “complexity thesis.”  That thesis has been the principle guiding almost all scholarship in the history of science and religion since 1991, so for at least the last 25 years.  In brief, Brooke argued (and he was by no means the first) that the conflict thesis, the notion that science and religion have been at war throughout history, was fatally flawed, and that any single thesis had to be rejected as the basis of a historiographical model.  Instead, scholars had to conduct empirical research on the period they were examining to determine the nature of the relationship between science and religion.  Brooke’s book inspired scholars to go back and look again at key moments in the past in order to find more complicated patterns than the simplistic emphasis on conflict that had reigned in earlier studies. Continue reading Peter Harrison’s The Territories of Science and Religion: A New Peter Principle

Can creationists be pro-science?

Paolo creation

If someone asked you the question: “What do creationists think about science?” It’d be quite understandable for you to answer: “Well, they must hate it.” After all, we define these people by their rejection of one of the most well-known scientific theories of all time. But beyond evolution itself, how do creationists view science in general? The first problem with answering this question is that it assumes creationists are a monolithic group of like-minded people, who all hold the same beliefs for the same reasons. In recent years, much work has been done to smash this monolith, and to rebuild the pieces into a more nuanced understanding of this group of individuals.

Continue reading Can creationists be pro-science?

Lifting the lid on the research process

Reflections on the student partnership programme at Newman University

At the beginning of 2016, the team at the Centre for Science, Knowledge and Belief in Society (CSKBS) launched their first student partnerships at Newman University. The main aim of the project was to engage the student population in the process of research on two of the Centre’s projects: God’s in Mind and Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum. We hoped to mentor the students as they were introduced to the various stages of the research process, guiding them through the ups and downs of being a researcher. Below is a reflection, by both the students and the team, on the successes and the challenges of the student partnership project. Continue reading Lifting the lid on the research process

“The most pestilential book ever vomited from the jaws of hell”

Radicalism and science at the publisher John Chapman

In the latter nineteenth century several British doctors, philosophers and naturalists embraced scientific principles as the ones upon which society should best form itself for the future. The theory of evolution, the atomic theory of matter and the theory of the conservation of energy were the core theories upon which this new group hoped to reshape society for the modern period. Historians now call this group of high profile Brits the “scientific naturalists”. Herbert Spencer, whose philosophical exposition of evolutionary principles for society became highly influential, John Tyndall whose essays on religion were widely read and debated, and Thomas Henry Huxley, who later acquired the name “Darwin’s bulldog”, were tireless advocates of this scientifically infused world-view. Continue reading “The most pestilential book ever vomited from the jaws of hell”

What is the history of “Antievolution”?

Credit: Corbis/Getty

Perhaps nobody wants to be an “Anti.” In the American abortion debates, both sides typically self-identify as “Pro-” (Choice or Life) and debase their opponents as being “anti” something-else; anti-abortion, anti-life, anti-women. People, organizations, and statements may be described as Anti-Islamic, Anti-Family, Anti-Semitic, Anti-EU, Anti-LGBT; those descriptors are most often used critically.

We seem to live in an anti-anti era, and as a historian, it’s important to be highly sensitive to “actors’ categories” describing and classifying ideas and issues in ways people themselves used. This is why some historians of “science” and “religion” have argued against using those terms to describe human activity in the ancient world, or in non-Western cultures. At the same time, respecting actors’ categories does not mean giving historical figures license to define their own legacy. Hindsight and context allows historians to observe the larger trends that individuals are part of, even when people at the time couldn’t see them. Continue reading What is the history of “Antievolution”?

Prophecy, Mistrust and Development: Religion and the 2014-15 Ebola Epidemic in Sierra Leone

By CDC/Cynthia Goldsmith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

One night in June 2015 in Freetown, Sierra Leone, the Ghanaian Prophet Daniel Amoateng roared to a crying, praising and screaming crowd that there would be ‘No more Ebola’. Backed by the clanks of an electric keyboard, the noise became rapturous with call, response and cheers as Amoateng declared over and over that the disease must ‘touch nobody’. Aside from prophecy, Amoateng donated scholarships to orphans affected by Ebola and, for his efforts, received the 2015 Ghana UK-Based Achievement (GUBA) Humanitarian Award. Continue reading Prophecy, Mistrust and Development: Religion and the 2014-15 Ebola Epidemic in Sierra Leone

What’s the best way to think about creationists?

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Michelangelo_S%C3%BCndenfall.jpg

What’s the best way for non-creationists to think about creationists?  Some view them, unhelpfully, as inescapably anti-modern, utterly unwilling to face facts.  This unwillingness is often supposed to be linked to religion itself, with religious belief understood as diametrically opposed to the scientific process.  Science, we are told, is about facing facts, being open to correction, being willing to be wrong.  Religion, we are sometimes told, is about none of those things. Continue reading What’s the best way to think about creationists?

Tracking Dinosaurs and Finding God

Photograph by Edward B. Davis.

***This post originally appeared on 07 January 2016, on Ted Davis’ blog, Reading the Book of Nature hosted on the BioLogos website***

Giant Birds and Dinosaur Footprints

In 1802, a twelve-year-old farm boy named Pliny Moody found an unusual object while plowing a field in South Hadley, Massachusetts—a big, flat stone bearing what appeared to be footprints of large birds, which some are said to have attributed to “Noah’s raven.” For decades they drew no scientific attention, but in 1835 a local stonemason, Dexter Marsh, noticed similar marks on a flag stone he had set aside for use in a sidewalk he was building near his house in nearby Greenfield. Others also saw them, including a physician, James Deane, who wrote to geologist Edward Hitchcock of Amherst College, describing what he called “the tracks of a turkey in relief” (Hitchcock, Reminiscences of Amherst College, cited below, p. 82). Continue reading Tracking Dinosaurs and Finding God

The Bible and Qur’an in the Light of Modern Science

Sacred texts are central to many faith traditions, but how do they retain their authority as divine revelation in a supposedly rational age? What happens when the Word of God appears to contradict modern scientific knowledge about the world? And how do individual believers reconcile these potential conflicts?

These are the questions that we are exploring at the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion in Cambridge, in a new research project entitled ‘Science and Scripture in Christianity and Islam’. Rather than attempting a direct comparison between these two world religions, our intention is to bring them into fruitful dialogue with one another on a question that is of mutual concern: that of scripture and its relationship to modern science. Continue reading The Bible and Qur’an in the Light of Modern Science