So I’m thoroughly enjoying our book club’s most recent selection, Contact. Check out Chapter 10’s conversation between Eleanor Arroway and the religious folks, Palmer Joss and Rev. Rankin. Although they’re talking about extraterrestrial (not divine) intelligence, a lot of the language of their conversation about science vs. religion and empirical evidence vs. faith is entirely relevant to our national conversation on teaching intelligent design in the classroom. During their debate on the importance of scientific skepticism, Eleanor says the following, basically breaking down why science is science and religion is religion:
So the way you avoid the mistakes, or at least reduce the chance that you’ll make one, is to be skeptical. You test the ideas. You check them out by rigorous standards of evidence. I don’t think there is such a thing as a received truth. But when you let the different opinions debate, when any skeptic can perform his or her own experiment to check some contention out, then the truth tends to emerge. That’s the experience of the whole history of science…
And conceding that curiosity about our beginnings and our place in the universe is natural, she says:
Look, we all have a thirst for wonder. It’s a deeply human quality. Science and religion are both bound up with it. What I’m saying is, you don’t have to make stories up, you don’t have to exaggerate. There’s wonder and awe enough in the real world. Nature’s a lot better at inventing wonders than we are.