By Christine A. Scheller
Public Agenda is partnering with AAAS on the Perceptions Project. We are helping facilitate a series of dialogues between scientists and evangelical Christian pastors throughout the summer. This post was excerpted from a piece originally published on the Perceptions Project website.
With foundational work from two focus groups and a nationwide survey of nearly 10,000 people to inform it, the Perceptions Project took to the road in May, hosting the first of three regional workshops.
Participants in the Pasadena, California, meeting of scientists and evangelical leaders reported benefiting from this unique opportunity for dialogue regarding their perceptions of science and of each other.
"There will always be disagreement that is irreconcilable. There was, however, a gentle middle ground, where discussion could be had," said one scientist.
"I found the pastors and religious leaders more diverse in their views than I had expected. ... I was also impressed with the openness most of them showed toward the scientific viewpoint," said another.
The workshops are professionally facilitated conversations about the science/religion interface using discussion guides tested during focus groups hosted by DoSER [AAAS's Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion] in collaboration with the National Association of Evangelicals and Public Agenda, a nonpartisan research and public engagement organization.
For the most part, workshop and focus group participants echoed perspectives discussed at DoSER's February 2014 AAAS Annual Meeting symposia, "Religious Communities, Science, Scientists, and Perceptions: A Comprehensive Survey."
The nationwide AAAS/Rice University survey yielded a wealth of data that will inform DoSER-facilitated dialogue going forward. The survey found, for example, that evangelicals are only slightly less likely (20%) than other respondents (25%) to report that they would read a news report about a new scientific discovery.
"Evangelicals value scientific writing and draw upon scientific sources for knowledge even if they are suspicious of some forms of science," principal investigator Elaine Howard Ecklund wrote in her preliminary findings summary.
"Evangelical Protestants, however, are more than twice as likely as the overall sample to say they would turn to a religious text, a religious leader, or people at their congregation if they had a question about science," she added.
This is one reason why this round of workshops focuses on engagement with evangelical leaders.
Two more workshops will bring together scientists and evangelical leaders in coming months-one in Colorado and the other in Georgia.
Lessons learned from the survey and from DoSER's work with evangelicals will inform three additional workshops later this year geared toward other faith traditions. Those workshops will facilitate dialogue between scientists and leaders from Catholic, Mainline Protestant, and Jewish communities.
The Perceptions Project will conclude in spring 2015 with a national conference in Washington, DC, at which highlights and outcomes from the project will be presented.
Click here to read this post in its entirety, and read more about the Perceptions Project on our blog. The second series of Perceptions Project dialogues is coming up shortly -- keep an eye out for highlights on our blog.