Why Trust Science?

Why Trust Science?

American culture has a peculiar relationship with science – especially for a nation ostensibly built on Enlightenment ideals. Scientific knowledge, and how and whether it is filtered through the lens of faith, has increasingly taken the public spotlight as debates rage over education, and the urgency of political action on issues like climate change becomes increasingly clear. The public response to COVID-19 was just one more in a string of circumstances where support for scientific action became a proxy for political views – before that, it was the environment, emerging out of the moral minefield of Cold War-era science.

Many of these struggles have arisen because of a perceived conflict between religion – usually the Protestant Christianity that has traditionally been ascendant in this country – and scientific discoveries that have been perceived to threaten this culture in some way. But what if there wasn’t a conflict after all? Judaism, in particular, can show us how intellectual curiosity and rigor can in fact be inspired by the traditional culture of a religion. How might this positive example be useful for improving the public discourse?

Naomi Oreskes, PhD is the Henry Charles Lea Professor of the History of Science and Affiliated Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University. She is an internationally renowned earth scientist, science historian, and author of both scholarly and popular books and articles on the history of earth and environmental science. Oreskes has been a leading voice on the science and politics of anthropogenic climate change.

(This post is part of Sinai and Synapses’ project Scientists in Synagogues, a grass-roots program to offer Jews opportunities to explore the most interesting and pressing questions surrounding Judaism and science. “Why Trust Science?” was a panel discussion between Dr. Oreskes, Rabbi Dan Geffen and Judy Klinghoffer held at Temple Adas Israel on August 14, 2023).

Illustration by A. Laydenfrost for Popular Mechanics (1952)

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