To the dismay of many, religion is becoming one of the defining issues of the presidential election campaign. From the scrutiny of Mike Huckabee’s views about evolution and Mitt Romney’s Mormonism on the Republican side, to unseemly e-mails questioning the religious upbringing of Barack Obama among Democrats, religious faith is once again front and center in electoral politics.
At the same time some are paying increased notice to religion in the campaign, others are lamenting that not enough attention is being paid to science.
In an essay published in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, physicist Lawrence Krauss faulted presidential candidates for not discussing their scientific views more fully. According to Krauss, “almost all of the major challenges we will face as a nation in this new century have a scientific or technological basis,” and the next president will need to act as an “educator in chief” on science issues.
Ironically, both the preoccupation with religion and the avoidance of science in the presidential campaign may have been fueled by the scientific community itself.
Increasingly, self-proclaimed defenders of science have tried to turn “science” into an ideological weapon to attack any questioning by religious believers of the “consensus view” of scientific elites on embryonic stem-cell research, global warming, Darwinian evolution, and similar issues.
This attempt to suppress dissenting views in discussions of science and public policy is fueled by the anti-religious orientation of the majority of America’s elite scientists. Nearly 95 percent of biologists who are members of the National Academy of Sciences, for example, identify themselves as atheists or agnostics.
The anti-religious fervor of leading scientists was on clear display last year at a conference on science and religion at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. According to one participant quoted by the New York Times, “with a few notable exceptions, the viewpoints at the conference have run the gamut from A to B. Should we bash religion with a crowbar or only with a baseball bat?”
Given the effort to exclude people of faith from public debates in the supposed name of science, is it any wonder that many in religious communities are pushing back?
The current state of affairs is tragic, because religious voices in the public square can serve as a valuable check on the prejudices and pretensions of scientific elites.
During the early decades of the 20th century, America’s leading evolutionary biologists at institutions such as Harvard, Princeton, and Columbia promoted eugenics and forced sterilization. Traditionalist Catholics and evangelicals were among the handful of voices challenging the validity of the eugenics crusade at a time when scientific dissenters were scant.
Scientists have their blind spots just as much as any religious believer. If they genuinely want more discussion over science and public policy, they could start by inviting religious believers to join the conversation.