The Need for a More Productive Conversation

Today, the public discourse about the role of religion in our scientific age is almost never productive, because two main reactions are filling the airwaves and the blogosphere.

On one side are religious fundamentalists, who argue that religion should be the primary, if not the only, source for ultimate truth and morality. As a result, they often either ignore or even actively try to shut down scientific inquiry.

On the other side are adamant atheists, who claim that religion is the source for much of the evil in this world and is based on outdated superstitions. As a result, they have come to believe that religion has no value in this world at all, and often strive to eliminate religion entirely.

Yet while both sides are arguing, few people are truly listening – their arguments are creating a lot of heat, but they are producing very little light. Indeed, both of these perspectives are major contributors to the increased polarization of our society.

But in this public conversation about religion and science, there is a large population in the middle that has not found a way to express its voice.

The Challenges in the Jewish Community

This is particularly the case in the Jewish community. In November 2014, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Program on Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion (DoSER) partnered with Sinai and Synapses for a Jewish workshop as part of the John Templeton Foundation-funded Perceptions Project.

When the Perceptions Project asked people how they perceived the relationship between science and religion, several potential responses were offered. One was “in collaboration,” one was “independent,” and two were “in conflict” — one “on the side of religion” and the other “on the side of science.”

About 25% of the American populace chose one of the two conflict options, which, interestingly, was the same percentage as the Jewish population. But while most of the Christians who saw religion and science in opposition viewed themselves as on the side of religion, those Jews who saw science and religion in conflict came down on the side of science — and by a huge margin. For the “conflicted Christians,” three out of four opted for religion, and one out of four chose science. But for the 25% of conflicted Jews, 15 out of 16 saw themselves on the side of science, and therefore, anti-religion.

This finding clearly implies that it’s often less of a challenge to get Jews to embrace science than it is to get them to embrace Judaism. Perhaps because Judaism has long celebrated questioning and challenging authority, or perhaps because theology is rarely emphasized in the more liberal (and largest) branches of Judaism, many Jews erroneously think that if they accept science, then they need to reject their Judaism.

These numbers reflect not only the challenge of making Judaism relevant and meaningful in our scientific world today. They represent a larger question: how to present a worldview that gives purpose to people’s lives and lets them make a positive impact on societal and global issues, and at the same time, embraces critical thinking and scientific inquiry.

Sinai and Synapses — Scientifically Grounded. Spiritually Uplifting.

Sinai and Synapses fills that void in the public discourse, offering people a worldview that is both scientifically grounded and spiritually uplifting.

It provides tools for learning and living to the millions of people who see science as their ally as they pursue personal growth and the repair of our world. We don’t look at scientific questions, and we don’t look at religious questions — we look at human questions, and try to see how both science and religion can contribute to the conversation.

Ultimately, Sinai and Synapses utilizes science in the very human quest for meaning and purpose. It provides people with new ways to integrate science into a religious outlook, helping them to enhance their lives, elevate the public discourse, and improve our world.