What Scientists Are Doing Wrong That
They Could Be Doing Right
What concerns me about this perception… of science and religion going head-
to-head…. It’s like there’s two monologues going on. I don’t really feel like
it’s a dialogue between scientists and people who want to see… religion taught
in a science class. There are just two monologues. People are not talking to each
other very well.
—A forty-year-old chemist
Astronomer Carl Sagan, author of Cosmos, wrote in a 1989 article in Parade magazine, “Ignorance of science threatens our economic well-being, national security, and the democratic process. We must do better.”1 Twenty years later, how are scientists confronting this national ignorance that Sagan warned us about—especially when it comes to engaging a largely religious general public? In this chapter, we move beyond classrooms and universities to examine how scientists see themselves as addressing religion-science controversies in their interactions with the rest of the U.S. populace. After 275 interviews with scientists, I found that their responses fell along a continuum from nonintervention to active outreach.
Most nonreligious scientists view religion as a generally negative force in society. Some think scientists should not waste their precious research time talking about issues of science and faith with the public, that religious America will never be won over to science and scientific understanding. Many talk cynically about religiously committed Americans, whom they see as a threat to scientific research and science education.
Others are eager to connect with the public about religion and faith but disagree about how best to do it. And those who think that imparting better scientific understanding to members of the American public is a central goal for scientists are sometimes at a disadvantage. That over 50 percent of scientists currently identify with no religious tradition means they have little ongoing interaction with religious people and communities. As discussed in Chapter 5,