ON THE AGENDA | JULY 16TH, 2014 | Isaac Rowlett
Can dialogue improve the relationship and collaboration between scientists and Evangelical Christians?
Public Agenda is partnering with AAAS to facilitate a series of dialogues between scientists and evangelical Christian pastors throughout the summer. The purpose of the project is to improve dialogue, relationships and collaboration between these two communities, often viewed as staunchly divided. This blog is one in a series from our public engagement team, who write to reflect on their experiences moderating the dialogues. Read more about this project here, and for more information, email Allison Rizzolo.
When I told people that I was headed to LA to facilitate a conversation between evangelical pastors and scientists, most reactions fell somewhere between surprise and cynicism. "Why bother," asked a friend, "when theyíre never going to agree on anything anyway?"
But a strange thing happens when you get a small group of people together in a room for a facilitated dialogue: they listen to one another. And instead of trying to persuade the group to support their worldviews, the pastors and scientists each respectfully introduced themselves and explained why they do what they do for a living. Similarities emerged right off the bat: curiosity, compassion and an unyielding search for truth.
It wasnít long before the conversation took on a lighter tone. One participant, a reproductive biologist, acknowledged the tension in the room as he explained his research: "We already covered religion and politics," he said, "so I figured Iíd throw sex in there too."
And there were profound moments as well, like when a scientist explained that he wasnít 100 percent certain of anything, and that all scientific theories exist only until proven false. "What you just said makes me feel safe," a pastor replied, "because many of the scientists I know seem so definite in their beliefs, so I donít feel comfortable expressing my faith."
Three hours later the group had hammered out areas of common ground and ideas for next steps to foster collaboration between the two communities. But more importantly, the conversations continued well past the end of the formal discussion. Most participants lingered in the room and talked, exchanging contact information and discussing how to keep the conversation going.
As a facilitator, it was humbling to witness a group of people overcome significant differences to explore how to work together to improve their community. Letís hope that they can continue to defy expectations and set an example for the rest of us.
This is interesting work. I find that it fits well into the area of interest sparked by Habermas's work on mutual learning between secular and religious citizens. Habermas stresses the importance of mutual translation and places responsibility on both equally, instead of only on religious types, as does Rawls. What there any awareness of this challenge in the discussions and how was it managed?