There’s a pernicious dichotomy that’s spreading across America. One side is perceived as being scientific, educated and liberal. The other side is seen as religious, uneducated and conservative. Not only that, if you pick anything from one list, then you have to pick all three. It’s an added bonus if you can also demonize “the other side.”
That’s bad for our political discourse. It’s bad for our ability to engage with those with whom we disagree. And it’s bad for our own psychological and spiritual selves.
It’s also a false dichotomy. That’s why on Saturday, I proudly marched down Central Park West for the March for Science and holding up a sign with the hashtag #rabbiforscience that says “Science is Sacred!”
As I marched, dozens of people came up to me asking to take a photo. As I talked with fellow science enthusiasts, a devout Catholic told me how much she values science. A Southern Baptist told me that she sees God in the work of scientists. And a woman in a hijab said, “That’s an amazing sign! Shabbat Shalom.”
My goal in marching wasn’t just to advocate for science. It was to surprise people, and discover that we can often discover unexpected allies. Indeed, most people don’t realize how much we need religious people to be advocates for science, and how much scientists need to communicate with religious people. In a post for NPR’s blog 13.7 – Cosmos & Culture, psychologist Tania Lombrozo shares that
[a] new study, forthcoming in the journal Public Understanding of Science, contributes to a growing body of psychological research uncovering the mechanisms by which politics and ideology influence people’s perceptions of scientists and scientific claims. The key insight is that science isn’t understood in isolation, disconnected from other beliefs, values, and emotions. Instead, science is assimilated within a web of existing attitudes and beliefs, a core part of which concerns a person’s social identity.
That’s why we need organizations like The Clergy Letter Project — a collection of over 14,000 clergy who believe evolution should be taught in public schools — that came out in support of the March for Science. At BioLogos, a Christian organization that holds both faith and science to be sacred, three scientists say they marched because “As Christians, we are called to love God with our minds.”
And that’s why the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest scientific organization, publisher of the Science family of journals, and a partner for the March for Science, has a project called the Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion. Why? Because the AAAS recognizes that religious leaders have tremendous power in America, and so to truly advance science, there needs to be productive communication between the communities.
People are complicated, nuanced, and multi-faceted, and if we want to come together to solve the biggest issues we face, we need wisdom from any and all sources. We can’t pigeon-hole or make assumptions about people. Or, as astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson phrases it in a video for Big Think:
The moment when someone attaches you to a philosophy or a movement, then they assign all the baggage, and all the rest of the philosophy that goes with it, to you. And when you want to have a conversation, they will assert that they already know everything important that there is to know about you because of that association. And that’s not the way to have a conversation.
So if you see someone wearing a cross, or a hijab, or a kipah, don’t assume they are anti-science. And if you hear someone works in a lab, or does experiments, or simply loves science, don’t assume they are anti-religious.
Instead, start a conversation where we can find points of connection. What makes you curious? When have you felt awe and wonder? What are your fears and hopes for this country, and how can we try to resolve them?
That’s what inspired me the most at the March for Science — while there was certainly angst (one sign said, “I can’t believe we have to march for this”), primarily, there was a sense of diversity, positivity, and most of all, celebration.
If we’re going to have a thriving society, we need to rebuild our fractured society, and recognizing all kinds of sacredness is a place to start. We need to see the sacredness of scientific inquiry and evidence-based argument. We need to see the sacredness of our democracy and our pursuit of justice.
And most crucially, we need to see the sacredness of discovering each person’s unique — and potentially unexpected — story.