Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Should Science Speak to Faith? (Extended version)

Two prominent defenders of science exchange their views on how scientists ought to approach religion and its followers By Richard Dawkins and Lawrence M. Krauss


Although the authors are both on the side of science, they have not always agreed about the best ways to oppose religiously motivated threats to scientific practice or instruction. Krauss, a leading physicist, frequently steps into the public spotlight to argue in favor of retaining evolutionary theory in school science curricula and keeping pseudoscientific variants of creationism out of them. An open letter he sent to Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, urging the pontiff not to build new walls between science and faith, led the Vatican to reaffirm the Catholic Church’s acceptance of natural selection as a valid scientific theory. Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, prolific author and lecturer, is also an eloquent critic of any attempt to undermine scientific reasoning. He has generally shown less interest than Krauss, however, in achieving a peaceful coexistence between science and faith. The title of Dawkins’s best-selling book The God Delusion perhaps best summarizes his opinion of religious belief. These two allies compared notes from the front lines during breaks at a conference devoted to discussing clashes between science and religion held at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego late last year. In a dialogue they re-create here, the authors explained their respective tactics for engaging the enemy and tackled some of the questions that face all scientists when deciding whether and how to talk to the faithful about science: Is the goal to teach science or to discredit religion? Can the two worldviews ever enrich one another? Is religion inherently bad? And science can ever test the “God Hypothesis”?(An abridged version of this dialogue appeared in the July 2007 issue of Scientific American)

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