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Is it possible to justify both a belief in science and a faith in religion?

Project: 26
Name: Lawrence G. Souder (ls39@drexel.edu; 215-895-2730)
Department: Culture and Communication
Academic Area: Communication/Environmental Policy/History/History and Political Science/Philosophy /Science, Technology, and Society

Title: Is it possible to justify both a belief in science and a faith in religion?

Description:
Scientists and their research institutions must communicate their work not only to peers and their institutions but also to the public because (1) they are bound by the traditional scientific norm of communalism to share the results of their work with others, (2) they are indebted to the public for funding their science, and (3) they are obligated to do their part to maintain the democratic political processes that depend largely on reliable scientific knowledge. Often in their attempts to communicate with the public, scientists must confront audiences who are indifferent or, worse, hostile, to the scientific enterprise. Fundamentalist religious groups constitute one especially vociferous example of these audiences. This communication challenge is the focus of this project. / / Faced with this challenge some scientists go on the offensive, as outspoken British ethologist Richard Dawkins did when he asserted: "[F]aith is one of the world's great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate." Other scientists are more conciliatory and attempt to accommodate religious opposition by allowing religion and science each its own realm of influence, as Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences, did when he nominated evolutionary biologist-turned creationist, Francisco Ayala, for the 2010 Templeton Prize: "His publications show the power of science as a way of knowing and the significance and purpose of the world and human life, as well as matters concerning moral or religious values that transcend science." Neither response pleases everyone. Either scientists accommodate religious audiences and alienate their hardline colleagues, or they maintain an adversarial position and antagonize the religious communities. This dilemma is the focus of this research project. Through a rhetorical analysis of scientific discourse, the student will examine how scientists have attempted to negotiate this dilemma in their efforts to communicate science to the public. In so doing we hope to discover whether certain strategies emerge and how effective they are. / / This project is designed to appeal to: / / Students of Corporate and Public Relations who want to narrow their focus on the public's relationships with scientific institutions / Students of Technical and Science Communication who want to examine the political difficulties in adapting science to a general audience / / Students of Environmental Studies who want to focus on one of the key challenges in the communication of climate science / / Students of Philosophy of Science and Technology who want to explore the tensions between belief and faith as they are played out in current events / / Students of History of Science and Technology who want to discover contemporary episodes of the historical challenges that confronted the likes of Copernicus and Galileo

Associated Independent Study:
This project includes the option of a three-credit independent study tentatively entitled,"The Rhetoric of Accommodation." It will survey the scholarly literature that informs the methodology of this project. A preliminary reading list includes: / / Cancel, Amanda E., Mitrook, Michael A., and Cameron, Glen T., 1999. Testing the contingency theory of accommodation in public relations. Public Relations Review. 25 (2, Summer), 171-198. / / Jung, Julie, 2007. Textual mainstreaming and rhetorics of accommodation. Rhetoric Review. 26 (2), 160-178. / / Rogerson-Revell, Pamela, 2010. "Can you spell that for us nonnative speakers?" Accommodation strategies in international business meetings. Journal of Business Communication. 47 (4, October), 432-454.

Gained Experience:
Sensitivity to the rhetorical dimensions of the public communication of science / Knowledge of the tension between fundamentalist religions and traditional scientific perspectives / Practice in examining the details of scientific discourse

Outcome:
The goal of this project is to produce a published research paper for one of the journals specializing in the communication of science (e.g., Public Understanding of Science, Science Communication, and Science, Technology, and Human Values). The outcome of my collaboration with a Humanities Scholar last year was the following published research paper: "Ad Hominem Arguments in the Service of Boundary Work among Climate Scientists," with Furrah Qureshi, Journal of Science Communication, Volume 11, Issue 1, January, 2012.

Tasks:
Examine public communication practices in the context of science / Collect specimens of public communication of science that seek to negotiate the dilemma described above / Analyze the specimens to discover rhetorical patterns in response to the dilemma

Location:
Libraries and seminar rooms on campus

Meetings:
at least one three-hour meeting per week

Interview Availability:
April 16, April 17, April 18