A big part of the challenge is explaining what Blueprint 1543 is trying to do without slipping into simple dichotomous language that, though easy to explain, may do long term harm to our mission. I have in mind the way that it is easy to talk about “science” as being one sort of thing in opposition to “religion” or “faith.” Even the act of claiming they are not in conflict reinforces the idea that they are at least the sorts of things that could be reasonably said to be in conflict. But is that right?
There is a near-parallel in the history of psychological science. Scientist Sir Francis Galton is credited with coining the oft-repeated dichotomy “nature versus nurture.” The idea that humans have a “nature” or fixed biological endowment that contributes a certain portion of their thought, feelings, and behaviors in contrast with the social and cultural learning that contributes another portion has animated many areas of study in psychological science for over a century. As productive as this framework has been, it has also perpetuated an unfortunate misunderstanding: that somehow human nature develops independent of social or other environmental contributions and, contrariwise, human social and cultural “nurturing” is independent of the influences of human biology. In the fight over whether a certain thought or behavior is 34% nature and 66% nurture rather than, say, 52% nature and 48% nurture, the truth of the matter is obscured. Whatever the human psychological phenomenon in question, it is likely to be best understood as 100% nature and 100% nurture. That is, upon closer inspection, the distinction dissolves.
The situation is similar with “science-and-faith,” and “science-and-religion.” These pairings presume that there is a thing we can call science and this second thing that is comparable enough that we can put the two in conflict or “dialogue.” I get the impulse. Most of my career I have done it, too. I have appreciated when Francis Collins, as in his Templeton Prize address, speaks of how “science” and “religion” harmonize. But notice that this musical metaphor assumes that “science” and “religion” offer their own notes. Both are voices or musical instruments that produce like products. The metaphor makes for strong communication and helpfully tries to make peace among those agitating for continued fighting between pro-science/anti-religion guilds and anti-science/pro-religion guilds. But as helpful as such conciliatory language is, it still accepts a certain misconception: that science is a thing that is comparable to this other thing that we call “religion” (or “faith” or even “theology”).
But upon closer inspection there is not one thing called science. Rather, there are lots of different people, research teams, labs, institutes, schools of thoughts, and disciplines that use systematic observation to draw inferences about how things in the natural world are and behave. Sometimes agreement around inferences emerge and sometimes it doesn’t. There is no one voice of “science.” And there aren’t even any fully agreed upon criteria for what counts as a science and what isn’t, or whether a certain kind of activity done within the context of scientific inquiry is or is not science.
Likewise, “religion” and “faith” are contested terms. It isn’t remotely clear that these labels refer to any unified cluster of thoughts, behaviors, forms, or whatever – let alone unified clusters that are distinct from the sorts of activities that are known as “scientific.” And if they aren’t comparable sorts of things, it wouldn’t make sense to talk about them being in conflict, dialogue, or harmony.
Intellectual historian Peter Harrison makes similar points from a historical perspective in his book The Territories of Science and Religion (2014). Current usage of the terms “science” and “religion” are relatively new and very much conditioned by historical dynamics, mostly in Europe and the United States. If I understand Harrison correctly, two hundred years ago, the assertion that “science and religion are in conflict” or “can be put in dialogue” or “be harmonized” would strike almost all hearers as gobbledygook. You might as well have said something like, “It is time to put redness and vision into dialogue.” What?
It is for these sorts of reasons that Blueprint 1543 is trying very hard to avoid dichotomous language and unnecessarily giving heuristic abstractions more sense of solidity than they deserve. And yet, we need to capture to our focal activities somehow and also recognize that this false distinction is part of our current cultural baggage. So, I find myself often describing Blueprint 1543 in terms of people instead of abstractions. We don’t want people unnecessarily thinking that the pursuit of science means that someone has to shelve their lived Christianity (or their identity as a Muslim or Hindu, etc.). And we don’t want theologians thinking that the tools and findings of the sciences are off limits to their work. We want to see more people who are seeking new knowledge, understanding, and wisdom through all of the available tools of intellectual inquiry that are fruitful for their particular research questions, whether these tools are commonly regarded as scientific or as theological. Rather than artificially sequestering these tools, or trying to fragment our lived experiences, we want to encourage integrated people to do great intellectual work to help humanity make progress on life’s big questions.