Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think

By Elaine Howard Ecklund | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 7
God on the Quad:
Making Room for Faith on Campus

I would like to introduce the reader to Ian Hutchinson, professor and head of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The intricacies of his work on the magnetic confinement of plasmas would not be understandable to someone without specialized training, but his research might eventually lead to new forms of energy production. Hutchinson also specifically tries to reach out to a larger community of scientists beyond his discipline. He often gives talks about the relationship between religious faith and science. I attended one such lecture for graduate students and faculty at Cornell University titled “Science: Christian or Atheistic?” Hutchinson started his talk by relating how Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg, in a commencement address to students at Bates College in 2002, set out to “welcome students to the Enlightenment, explicitly disparage all religions as superstition and medievalism… while praising science.”1 In contrast, Hutchinson set out to help his audience move beyond the popular view that science is inherently atheistic. He argued that the image of science at war with religion, though often fed by high-profile scientists, is not supported by history. Hutchinson urged the 50 or so graduate students and faculty gathered that evening from a variety of disciplines and faith traditions to look at the evidence. He argued that a remarkable fraction of history’s great scientists have been convinced that science and Christian faith are compatible—such as Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell, who did foundational work in electromagnetism and the kinetic theory of gases.2 Hutchinson also discussed the importance of understanding that science is a particular kind of knowledge, with the characteristics of reproducibility (other scientists will get the same results if an experiment is done again) and clarity (any rational scientist will agree on the results of an experiment).3 Hutchinson then compared science to other kinds of knowledge, such as history (which deals with unique events), the arts, and law. He rejected the philosophical belief known as scientism (which

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