How should we respond to prejudices about belief?

Reflections on Islamophobia: Still a Challenge for Us All

The publication of The Runnymede Trust’s report Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All in 1997 was a watershed moment in the history of recognising and opposing anti-Muslim prejudice. The first British policy report to focus on the problem of Islamophobia, it is often credited with popularising the term. Last week an updated report, Islamophobia: Still a Challenge for Us All, was released to mark its twentieth anniversary. In this post, Stephen H. Jones offers reflections on the new report’s understanding of Islamophobia utilising research for Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum on non-Muslims’ perceptions of Islam and science. Continue reading How should we respond to prejudices about belief?

Fake news, media framing, and the case of Pope Francis’ ‘shocking’ comments on evolution

If you can believe what you read, “FAKE NEWS” is everywhere these days. Shot onto the media scene like a lexical gag, the phrase was fired from the mouth of President Donald J. Trump as he confronted CNN reporter Jim Acosta during the then president-elect’s first press conference. Although the words are much older, Trump has certainly made the capitalisation his own. “FAKE NEWS!” The phrase itself comes stinking of Orwell’s ink, and when levelled it splits the media between those who goodthink and crimethink—between those who carry the party line, and those who don’t. However, this post isn’t concerned with presidential duckspeak, but rather the shape of the messages themselves—fake or not—which we receive via the media. Continue reading Fake news, media framing, and the case of Pope Francis’ ‘shocking’ comments on evolution

Old Categories, New Territories, and Future Directions: A Response to Bernard Lightman

Map of the universe, from Petrus Alphonsi, Dialogi cum Moyse Judaeo. Shelfmark: MS. Laud Misc. 356, fol. 120r

By Peter Harrison

A note from the editor: In a previous article on this site, historian of science Bernard Lightman offered a reflection on the new work of Peter Harrison. Harrison’s book, The Territories of Science and Religion, seeks to outline how conceptions of science and religion have changed throughout history, and details the inadequacy of projecting our present categories onto the past. In his reflection, Lightman raised four points about Harrison’s work: concerning the influence of Darwin’s evolution, the role of ‘professionalization’, the impact of evolution on natural theology, and how Harrison’s Territories relates to the ‘complexity thesis’, the current dominant idea in the historiography of science and religion. Below is Harrison’s response to Lightman’s post:

I’m grateful to Bernie Lightman for his thoughtful and perceptive comments on The Territories of Science and Religion. Lightman is a leading authority on science and religion in the nineteenth century, and a scholar from whom I have learned a great deal. Accordingly, I was interested to see his assessment of my treatment of a pivotal period in which he has a particular expertise. Fortunately, it seems mostly to have passed muster, although Lightman has issued a few challenges and identified some important issues that warrant further attention.  Continue reading Old Categories, New Territories, and Future Directions: A Response to Bernard Lightman

Material Apologetics: Interpreting the Purpose of Answers in Genesis’ Ark Replica

Recently, the conflict between religion and science—or, to be more precise, between a loud religious minority and an important part of modern biology—took the unusual form of a 150-metre-long wooden ship. After about six years of planning and building on July 7, Answers in Genesis, America’s largest creationist organization, opened its Ark Encounter theme park in Northern Kentucky. In a later round of development the park is also set to feature a recreation of the Tower of Babel and other similar Biblical buildings and objects.

Across a spectrum of possible relationships between modern science and religion, Answers in Genesis is at the end which is characterized by conflict, mutual limitations and exclusions. Answers in Genesis represent Young Earth Creationism, a belief system based on a literal reading of the Bible, which assumes the earth to be about 6000 years old. According to their calculations, the Genesis Flood happened around 4400 years ago, and Answers in Genesis makes it clear that the consequences of the Flood can be observed in the findings of modern geology, biology, and anthropology, only if these findings are interpreted in the right way. Hence, the potential for conflict between their position on science and religion and modern secular science is particularly big. Continue reading Material Apologetics: Interpreting the Purpose of Answers in Genesis’ Ark Replica

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

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

‘Most people don’t have the time to be concerned with systems of ideas, because they have day jobs’

Chris Nurse, Wellcome Images Artwork - skulls with crucifixion scene. Collection: Wellcome Images Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc-nd 4.0

John H. Evans offers a sociologists’ view on science and religion debates

John H Evans is the author of Playing God? Human Genetic Engineering and the Rationalization of Public Bioethical Debate  and Contested Reproduction: Genetic Technologies, Religion and Public Debate. Here, he talks to Tom Kaden, one of the Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum team about sociology and debates about science and religion.

Tom Kaden: So welcome, John Evans, to this talk. Could you first of all please say a little about who you are and your general areas of study?

John H. Evans: My name is John Evans. I’m a Professor of Sociology at the University of California, San Diego. I was trained as what’s called a sociologist of religion. The basic difference between a sociologist of religion and, for example, a theologian, is a theologian makes arguments based upon faith presuppositions, like the bible was influenced by God or something like that. A sociologist of religion makes claims about religious people, religious institutions, using secular forms of argument, mostly through social science. Continue reading ‘Most people don’t have the time to be concerned with systems of ideas, because they have day jobs’

Darwin Day: Celebrating Without Deifying

Today, Friday February 12th 2016, is the 207th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth. Celebrated around the world as ‘Darwin Day’, events across 6 continents from Tel-Aviv to Tokyo will commemorate the English naturalist’s work, explore his legacy, and discuss the current state of affairs in the field of Evolutionary Biology and beyond. Whilst the majority of those attending lectures or participating in events today may do so to simply learn more about Darwin’s work, it is an opportune time to consider more deeply ‘why Darwin?’ Why not Newton, Einstein or Turing Day? Further, are we naïve to presume that such commemorative days are purely about celebrating history and science? Is what on the surface seems like a secular celebration of a historical scientific figure, in danger of alienating those with religious beliefs, and deifying one figure above all others? Continue reading Darwin Day: Celebrating Without Deifying

Un-Natural Selection: Evolutionary Concepts in Horror Cinema

Evolution doesn’t seem scary.  It is the processes of change in heritable traits of biological entities over successive generations, which give rise to biological diversity between and within organisms. This isn’t something likely to make you cower behind your popcorn box at the multiplex. However, the horror genre has frequently borrowed from science to create cinematic nightmares and evolutionary concepts provide a rich source of raw materials. In this piece I outline four key themes in horror cinema:  ‘super-evolved monsters’, ‘abomination’, ‘devolution’ and ‘monstrous mutation’ all of which are informed by evolutionary science, and along the way I’ll suggest a few films for your Halloween viewing pleasure.

Like the harbinger of doom in any good slasher movie I must offer some warnings. Firstly, horror films frequently misrepresent the reality of evolutionary science; the underlying themes are influenced by evolution, but no film discussed is scientifically accurate. Secondly, this isn’t an exhaustive review; I’d welcome you to consider these themes in relation to your own horror favourites. Thirdly, some of the hyperlinks link to scenes of a graphic nature. And lastly, there may be spoilers ahead. You have been warned! Continue reading Un-Natural Selection: Evolutionary Concepts in Horror Cinema

Why I am not a Christian: Bertrand Russell on Science and Religion

The philosopher, logician and peace activist Bertrand Russell lived for almost a century, with his life spanning from the late-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. He grew up in Britain at the height of its empire, and lived through much of the twentieth century’s major upheavals including two European world wars, the rise of communism, women’s emancipation, America’s rising imperialism and the cold war. By the age of 40 Russell was deeply involved in political movements. Russell’s achievements in philosophy and logic had given his opinions on broader political and contemporary issues deeper significance. Many of these opinions concerned both science and religion. Although Russell gave up his Christian faith in childhood, he continued to write about religion as well as moral, ethical, and scientific questions in books and essays such as Mysticism and Logic (1917), “Why I am not a Christian” (1927), The Scientific Outlook (1931) and Religion and Science (1935). The media, including many British newspapers and BBC radio and television programs, sought out Russell’s perspective on many topics including those on science and religion. Continue reading Why I am not a Christian: Bertrand Russell on Science and Religion