Science communication is the goal, but how will it play in the pews?

By Marion Lara/Public domain via Unsplash

In its latest e-booklet, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) cites some interesting realities in America.

A 2012 survey was quoted estimating that only 44% of Americans say they have personally met a scientist, while another 20% say they have a friend who is a scientist.

I wonder what the figures would be for those who attend church regularly. Would they be substantially less? Even if they are similar, it begs the question of whether society as a whole in fact can respect the facts gleaned by a segment of the population with which it has little interaction.

This was the concern of not only the AAAS but its affiliated groups the Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion (DoSER) and the Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology in putting together an e-booklet looking at the role scientists should play in civic life.

The groups found that Americans “with greater depth of religious faith” tend to express the strongest reservations when asked about debates of advances in the biomedical sciences and the teaching of evolution. The statement is backed up with the findings of a 2016 Pew study, they said, that saw a correlation between Americans who attended church and prayed regularly and this group’s opposition to gene editing and the use of synthetic blood to improve physical ability.

While such studies highlight the educational, political and socio-economic divides that still plague us, it fails to capture another divide in “religious” categorization that lumps all denominations and religious groups into a heterogenous viewpoint.

Case in point would be the rise of “creation” themed attractions in recent years that are popular among a wide variety of Evangelical churches and even by some who attend mainline protestant congregations. The aim is to teach a biblical story of creation as the antidote to the evolutionary story of creation that has in some people’s eyes shoved God into the corner.

The most recent park to open is Dinosaur Adventure Land in Alabama. The museum’s purpose is to “prove the Bible is true and scientifically accurate, and that evolution is “the dumbest religion” in the history of the world, according to press reports.

The 65-year old Baptist minister who founded the park told a local newspaper that his life’s work is to prove the Bible is true and scientifically accurate. He wouldn’t be the first to take on this task. Answers in Genesis’ Ken Ham opened the Creation Museum in Kentucky a few years ago. It also features dinosaurs and biblical history in a way that has attracted millions of visitors, according to it’s website.

At the root of both parks is something called creation science, which could be defined as science that is in line with the biblical account of creation. According to folks at the Creation Museum, Lucy the Ape was constructed by scientists using small fragments of 47 bones out of 207 bones in the human body. The reconstruction, according to the museum’s website, was done according to the scientists “pre-existing beliefs about the fossil as to whether Lucy was an ape, human or ape-man”.

According to the Smithsonian, where the famed Lucy is on exhibit, she is roughly 3.2 million years old and is an Australopithecus afarensis. She walked upright and is the most famous of all early human individuals due to her age and relative completeness. Her skeleton, scientists say, allow them to learn about early human body size, shape and locomotion more than only fragmentary and sparse remains.

The concept of human origins is where the so many Christians have become divided over the years. Where one group seems to question scientist’s motives in promoting evolution, other groups embrace the findings of science as another way of discovering the intricate details of God’s creation that did indeed evolve over millions of years.

Does one believe the creation science account of human origins solely because the Bible is mentioned, or do the scientists who discovered Lucy have the final say in what she represents without taking Genesis into account?

According to the recently released AAAS document, in cases of conflict such as evolution the main goal of communication and outreach efforts should be to educate Americans about the scientific and technical details of a matter in dispute. Through a process of information transmission, AAAS officials say the public is brought up to speed on the relevant science involved on debated issues such as genetically modified foods.

“Information transmission” sounds pretty formal and yet perhaps unintentionally complicated. The AAAS admits it is an effort of not just focusing on the transmission of facts but of educating society about the process by which those facts are gathered. This has the potential to help speed the dialogue along.

One has to wonder though how that competes with a replica of Noah’s Ark in a companion exhibit to the Creation Museum or an animatronic dinosaur in a room full of Bible verses.

In recent weeks, Ham has mailed US churches free copies of his new book, Gospel Reset. According to a press release the book package includes complimentary tickets for church leaders to visit three Christian-themed attractions (Ark Encounter, Creation Museum and Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.) in the US.

We seem to know that communication is important when it comes to faith and science, and yes more communication could be the solution. Still it seems that getting the scientific message across to the intended audience could prove more complicated and costly than many of us care to admit.

What is refreshing though is that communication is becoming a focus in the sciences, which may help us down the road in telling the creation story in a way that is faithful to the scientific evidence and in alignment with those who believe God had a role in the creation of the universe and humanity.

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