If you follow the comment threads in places where anything concerning science is being discussed, you've probably noticed how little it takes to get some posters really apoplectic about the dangers to scientific inquiry posed by "fundamentalists," "creationists" or other assorted religious cranks and yahoos. Interestingly enough, virtually all of the science reportage I'm referring to isn't even remotely connected to the religion/science controversy. Nevertheless, the discussion doesn't get very far before someone weighs in with dark warnings about the fate of Galileo, the Scopes trial and McCarthyism [not scientific, I know but it gets in there anyway], along with much less decorous references to "bigots," "Christofascists," or "witch burners." Such dangerous people do exist, but it's pretty hard to find any of them on most college campuses. So why is it necessary to do battle with them when they don't even show up? More than that: even if no one says anything about religious belief at all in these venues, it's not the least unusual to encounter unprovoked, stern admonitions about the incompatibility of science and faith. Curious, to say the least.
In this light, I'm hoping that something productive will come from a new initiative sponsored by the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, a Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion (DoSER), the subject of this piece today at Inside Higher Ed. One purpose will be to "facilitate communication" between science and religious belief, since the two are so often seen as mutually exclusive, and some commenters have already jumped in to insist that it must ever be so. Hopefully though, the tone of the "dialogue" can at least become a bit more civil, particularly on the part of those who so often mount a stiff defense when no one attacks.