Letters to the Editor

Building a Bridge Between Science and Faith

April 17, 2011

To the Editor:

Elaine Howard Ecklund's "Science on Faith" (note the pun!) tries hard to open lines of communication between the communities of science and faith (The Chronicle Review, February 11). It is shrewd in that it argues for the need for scientists to become better acquainted with religion, ethics, and values in order to be able to communicate better with students and also to make science more acceptable to the public.

However, such a proposal faces a twofold dilemma:

First, in what some call a post-Christian era, religious faith has waned, and academics in general, and scientists in particular, think it backward, illogical, illegitimate, reactionary, and "unscientific" to bring up religion or morals for discussion. The popular culture seems to counter appeals to either morality or religion with the commercialized mantra, "If it feels good, do it." The postmodern aversion to absolutes or any fixed moral/ethical standards for judging individual behavior or social action raises the question of how one can then discern or condemn such evils as the Nazi-caused Holocaust, the Soviet Gulag, or the Chinese laogai. Yet, admitting that one takes religion or ethics seriously immediately casts doubt in academic quarters regarding one's objectivity, fair-mindedness, political correctness, and scholarly credentials, if not one's sanity.

The second major barrier for scientists taking religion, values, or ethics seriously is embedded deeply in academic culture regarding the compartmentalization of knowledge into disciplines, fields, and subfields. There is a giant gulf separating natural sciences from social sciences and humanities. The natural sciences claim objective, factual knowledge via the allegedly value-free scientific method. The social sciences have tried to emulate the natural sciences' empiricism, with mixed success. The humanities have been confined to the realm of opinion, some would say irrelevance, reflected in various schools of thought in philosophy and a great diversity of ethical, aesthetic, and religious persuasions seen as merely subjective. This led C.P. Snow to lament the division between scientists and humanists in The Two Cultures.

What Dr. Ecklund tends to overlook are efforts at bridge-building across all disciplines, reconnecting knowledge, ethics, and faith, and aspiring to integrate scientific facts, values, ethics, and religious worldviews in the quest for a more holistic understanding of the promise and the challenge of being human. One such pathbreaking educational endeavor is the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research, the International Christian Studies Association, and the co-sponsored Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies.

Thus, skeptics would be encouraged to learn about the prospects of redeeming academe's future via a Third Culture, a culture of cultures, re-envisioning all disciplines, theory, and practice.

Skeptics on both sides of the evolution-creation controversy, which undermines both science education and faith commitments, would be even more amazed at the possibility of a conceptual/theoretical breakthrough bridging Darwinism and intelligent design, a new paradigm in Thomas Kuhn's sense—a Copernican revolution in evolution.

In brief, there is hope that academic culture may yet come to address student needs for relevance, meaning, ethical engagement, and the spiritual quest, as well as the widespread public distrust of science.

Oskar Gruenwald
Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies
Institute for Interdisciplinary Research
Pasadena, Calif.