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Volume 87 Issue 18 | p. 4 | Letters
Issue Date: May 4, 2009

Not Appropriate For Newscripts

Department: Letters

OVER THE YEARS, C&EN's Newscripts feature has reliably supplied fun and humor as a welcome dessert after a stimulating-but-staid meal of chemistry news. But the column, "Men of Science, Men of Faith," left an unwelcome taste in my mouth, as it likely did with many other scientists of faith (C&EN, Feb. 2, page 48).

ACS takes the history of chemistry seriously enough to have a technical division devoted to it. It is therefore disconcerting that the society's magazine would be used to promulgate a view, the "warfare" or "conflict" model of science, that modern historians and philosophers of science widely consider as mistaken as the phlogiston theory. Sadly, unlike the phlogiston theory, a more accurate and nuanced picture of how science and religion actually interact has failed to become common knowledge in society.

Jesse Preston and Nicholas Epley, the authors of the study cited in the article, are aware of the warfare model's ubiquity in popular culture. They recognize that their experimental design cannot determine whether science is innately linked in-brain as an alternative to God or whether that opposition is acculturated. This caveat does not survive C&EN's interpretation of the work.

If recent estimates of scientists who believe in God are to be accepted, then roughly 40%, or more than 60,000, ACS members are men and women of both science and faith. It should go without saying that we do not consider our vocation and our religion to be fundamentally in conflict. Nor do we all subscribe to deistic interpretations of God's action in the world, as C&EN (perhaps unintentionally) intimates.

For one thing, I would not say that "God put the wheels in motion, but nature took over from there" any more than I would say that "I put the car in drive, and the vehicle took over from there." The consistent teaching of monotheistic religions throughout the centuries is that there is no nature without God; his continued work and will are necessary for our continued existence.

This is a rich and multifaceted tradition, and it does not deserve to be bracketed with obscurantist creationist movements that dominate the coverage of science-faith issues. C&EN does a significant subset of readers a disservice by so facilely discussing this topic in the Newscripts forum, which is usually devoted to offbeat science and snake oil. Is that how faith should be thought of?

Christopher J. Barden
Lakeside, Nova Scotia

 
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