A new movement to communicate evolutionary science to a dou
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A new movement to communicate evolutionary science to a dou

Steven . M. . Roels. Department . of Zoology, Michigan State . University. Introduction. “. It follows that naturalistic evolution will not attract a majority of Americans until our nation becomes less religious.” – .

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A new movement to communicate evolutionary science to a dou




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A new movement to communicate evolutionary science to a doubtful communitySteven M. RoelsDepartment of Zoology, Michigan State University

Introduction“It follows that naturalistic evolution will not attract a majority of Americans until our nation becomes less religious.” – Jerry Coyne, 2012.“Attempts to pit science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist.” – National Academies, 2008.Recent public opinion polls in the United States suggest that almost half of Americans reject evolutionary explanations of the origin of the human species (Gallup, 2012). This broad opposition to evolutionary science is often seen as a uniquely American phenomenon (Coyne, 2012) but some scientists are concerned that anti-evolution views are starting to be exported to other regions, including Latin America (Lazcano, 2005; Lazcano & Peretó, 2010; Cornish-Bowden & Cárdenas, 2007). Additional U.S. public polling shows that rejection of evolutionary science is strongly associated with degree of religious devotion (Gallup, 2012). Unfortunately, public attitudes towards evolution have real societal consequences, especially when skepticism of evolution is extended towards scientific knowledge in general.

AbstractPublic understanding and acceptance of Darwinian evolutionary theory, especially among religious communities, has remained limited despite continuously growing scientific understanding and consensus regarding evolutionary processes. People of faith often resist evolutionary theory because they equate this branch of science with anti-religious sentiment. This perspective has been reinforced in recent years by bestselling books that draw heavily on evolutionary biology to reject religious philosophies. Similarly, several religious groups have distorted evolutionary theory to promote worldviews incompatible with modern scientific information. However, a new movement in American Evangelical Christian churches seeks to embrace evolutionary science and disentangle it from the atheistic naturalist philosophy with which it is often connected. Here, I review the efforts of one organization, BioLogos, to uncompromisingly communicate evolutionary science to a skeptical audience of evangelical Christians, and I highlight generalizable strategies for bridging the cultural gap between evolutionary scientists and broader society.

Outreach Strategies to Communities Skeptical of Evolutionary Science

Evolution, Atheism, and Creationism

The BioLogos ApproachThe BioLogos Foundation was started in 2007 by Francis Collins, former head of the Human Genome Project and current director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. BioLogos describes itself as “a community of evangelical Christians committed to exploring and celebrating the compatibility of evolutionary creation and biblical faith.” Furthermore, BioLogos “agree(s) with the modern scientific consensus on the age of the earth and evolutionary development of all species” (BioLogos, 2013). By endorsing evolutionary theory without reservation, while maintaining a religious worldview, BioLogos seeks to be a positive alternative to both scientific atheists and anti-evolution theists. The BioLogos website and blog is the main center of the organization’s activity and contains extensive resources intended for Christians with questions about evolution and church leaders looking for material to help them teach or preach on the subject. In addition to its online presence, BioLogos organizes conferences and workshops for scientists, biology teachers, pastors, theologians, and laypeople. A current grant program funds academic research, outreach projects to faith communities, and science literacy training of church leaders.

ReferencesAnswers in Genesis. 2013. Chapter 21: Is evolution a religion? Available at http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/nab2/is-evolution-a-religion. Accessed May 22, 2013.BioLogos. 2013. BioLogos website. Available at http://biologos.org/. Accessed May 21, 2013.Cornish-Bowden, A. and M. L. Cárdenas. 2007. The threat from creationism to the rational teaching of biology. Biological Research 40: 113-122.Coyne, J. A. 2012. Science, religion, and society: The problem of evolution in America. Evolution 66: 2654-2663.Gallup. 2012. In U.S., 46% hold creationist view of human origins. Available at http://www.gallup.com/poll/155003/Hold-Creationist-View-Human-Origins.aspx. Accessed May 21, 2013. Lazcano, A. 2005. Teaching evolution in Mexico: Preaching to the choir. Science 310: 787-789.Lazcano, A. and J. Peretó. 2010. Should the teaching of biological evolution include the origin of life? Evolution: Education and Outreach 3: 661-667.National Academies. 2008. Compatibility of science and religion. Available at http://www.nationalacademies.org/evolution/Compatibility.html. Accessed May 21, 2013.Stenger, V. 2007. God: The failed hypothesis. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.AcknowledgmentsI would like to thank the BioLogos Foundation for financial support to travel to the Third World Summit on Evolution.

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estselling books authored by evolutionary biologists who argue that science has invalidated religion. Note that religion is mentioned only briefly in Coyne’s book but is addressed at length on his blog of the same name.

Some prominent evolutionary biologists, such as Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins, have argued that the solution to the problem (and many other societal ills) is to undermine religious belief. To this end, they have become active writers of bestselling books and popular blogs, frequently drawing on their scientific backgrounds to promote atheistic worldviews. Together with authors such as Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Victor

Stenger, they represent a group of writers known as the “New Atheists” who argue that “science shows that God does not exist” (Stenger, 2007).

Ironically, several conservative religious organizations are in agreement with the New Atheists that evolutionary science and religion are incompatible. The most well-developed of these groups include Answers in Genesis (AIG) and the Discovery Institute. AIG advocates for young-earth creationism with its own museum and claims that “evolution is a religion” (AIG, 2013). The Discovery Institute, along with Michael Behe, leads the Intelligent Design effort. The media success of the New Atheists appears to have actually strengthened the anti-evolution movement as conservative Christians, fearful of rising atheist influence, increase financial support to these organizations. While their particular beliefs vary, each of these groups promotes a perspective on evolution that is fundamentally at odds with the scientific evidence and consensus of the scientific community.

1.

Understand the root cause of resistance.

In the case of the evangelical Christian community, evolution is often falsely equated with atheism, a product of ideas from both the New Atheists and anti-evolution religious organizations. Evolution is thereby perceived by believers as forcing a choice between science and religion. BioLogos instead emphasizes that harmony can exist between science and faith.

4. Present accurate science to the target group. A strong understanding of evolutionary science is essential when responding to sophisticated anti-evolution arguments. BioLogos hosts workshops for teachers from religiously affiliated schools that equip teachers with new tools for science pedagogy and prepare them for challenges from evolution skeptics. However, since resistance to evolutionary science is not primarily based on a deficit of knowledge, scientific information is best presented after strategies 1, 2, and 3 have been employed and skeptical communities will be more open to discussion.

3. Honestly acknowledge tension. Specific beliefs of evolution skeptics may be in real friction with evolutionary science. These issues should not be ignored but should be identified explicitly and respectfully discussed. BioLogos funds grants to study theological issues in light of evolutionary science and also develops materials to facilitate discussions about evolution in church congregations.

2. Find ambassadors who embrace both cultures. Social groups are more receptive to controversial ideas when they are introduced by members of the group. These ambassadors can bridge cultural differences between academic scientists and the target audience. BioLogos relies heavily on scientists who are already part of faith communities to explain its views on evolution. These ambassadors also provide access to faith communities by outside scientists who are interested in public engagement.