Inclusivity means including religious people

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If we’re aiming to build a genuinely diverse and inclusive scientific community, that means that we need to accept religious scientists as a part of Team Science.

I was reminded about this last week, when I got a a lil’ spate of hate mail. It turns out that an anti-religion blogger caught wind of a blog post I wrote three years ago. In that post, I fretted about some particular loud and rabid “New Atheists” who spent a lot of their time trying to build a wall around science, to keep out folks with religious beliefs. I don’t know what he said, and it didn’t really increase traffic into my blog, but his flock managed to put a dent into my inbox.

I have to admit, I’m not particularly proud of that post that drew the hate mail. Shortly after I wrote it, it became a learning opportunity for me. The haters are neither here nor there, because I can afford to brush off the ire of anti-religion activists. But I did get other critical feedback, that was really on point, and it made me regret saying what I said, and the way I said it.

I put energy into relatively small number of people who are destructive to our community, and that energy is what feeds them. At the same time, I overlooked a much greater number of people who have been putting time and effort into building a just and equitable scientific community. Who have been working to make space in ecology and evolutionary biology for scientists of faith, who don’t see any conflict between science and religious belief.

I don’t have a huge platform here, but it’s a medium sized one at least in the scientific community. And by calling attention to the haters rather than the people doing good work, I misappropriated my platform. I responded with gratitude to my critics, and said that I would make good on elevating the voices of religious folks in science, and those who are doing this work. And I asked people to hold me accountable.

And then, time went by, life went on, and I didn’t really return to the topic, and nobody held me accountable. So I thought now’s the time to make good on bringing more attention to people who do the work of welcoming scientists of faith, promoting education about evolution in a manner that is effective and respectful of others, and to hearing from religious people who are navigating a life in science.

So in the coming weeks, after soliciting pitches for posts, I’ll be publishing work from people who I think we can learn a lot from. Stay tuned! It’s taken me too long to do this, and is nice to respond to hate mail with something more constructive.

3 thoughts on “Inclusivity means including religious people

  1. Its a touchy subject. I worked with a biology teacher who was a short Earth creationist and they did use their position as a pulpit for sowing doubt about the very science they were hired to teach. I would never dare to criticize another teacher, especially as a lowly adjunct.
    Personally, I follow Huxley’s Agnosticism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Henry_Huxley#Voyage_of_the_Rattlesnake) and I hold that a true Scientist cannot hold a position of Atheism because that implies he knows something that is unknowable.

  2. Great post. I did not realize how exclusive science tends to be until I went vegan. Since veganism is considered a personal choice, a lot of people believe you should suffer the negative consequences of this choice. As a result, I have experienced exclusion on this basis that is superficially similar to the experiences of religious people, especially those with dietary restrictions. Not being able to eat (or receiving food that was clearly an afterthought) is a great way to feel excluded, since food and drinks are such a core part of social activities. I can only imagine what it must be like as a muslim to go to a seminar and only receive a ham sandwich and a beer (not an exaggeration, this has happened to me). For sure, science as a whole suffers when the scientific qualities of such people are lost because they feel they do not belong.

    Now, these are just practical issues that occur when religion and science are treated as separate things. But they are not separate! I have deliberately avoided certain scientific paths because these paths would be at odds with my life philosophy. However, I genuinely believe I could do good work even there because harm reduction is a core tenet of my life philosophy. My contribution to science, especially in terms of how it relates to society, is lost here because there is no room for a scientific discussion that values religious points of view as much as it values scientific points of view.

    Regardless, it is a complete fallacy to assume that religion and science are separate things. Every scientist operates under a moral framework that affects how they treat others and what subjects they consider worth researching. When people choose to put a label on that framework, it should not affect how their moral framework is allowed to relate to their science.

  3. Thanks for this post! I appreciate it. There are many religious people who have a nuanced faith and who accept evolution, the Big Bang, etc. Francis Collins is an excellent example. We all have a metaphysical belief system of final causes whether religious, pure materialism, or something in-between. No metaphysical system can be proven, so we should just respect our differences. I’m not anti-science. I want evolution taught in public (as well as in private schools). I just think it is okay to be totally fine with science and to be religious. I’m a Christian, and I have Jewish and Muslim friends who feel likewise. There are organizations for people like us, such as the American Scientific Affiliation or the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences. These societies do important work such as advocating for teaching evolution in public schools as well as in churches. Oh, and I ‘m reading Lee Smolin’s new book (Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution: The Search for What Lies Beyond the Quantum), and he writes in a similar way as you.

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