The above words are used to introduce a recent Time magazine cover story. Titled “God vs. Science,” the article featured a debate between “atheist biologist” Richard Dawkins and “Christian geneticist” Francis Collins. The issue’s striking cover depicted a double helix of DNA spiraling into a set of rosary beads.
This past fall, the popular press was full of trend stories regarding a perceived, increasing clash between science and religion. In a New York Times article of Nov. 21, “A Free-for-All on Science and Religion,” writer George Johnson noted that “a forum this month at the Salk Institute … began to resemble the founding convention for a political party built on a single plank: in a world dangerously charged with ideology, science needs to take on an evangelical role, vying with religion as teller of the greatest story ever told.”
In the last few months, we’ve seen a parade of provocative headlines, such as “The New Atheism”; “Are you with us or against us? America’s religion vs. science war just got a lot more polarized”; “Is There Room for the Soul? Research into the Biology of Consciousness”; and the blunt “Religion: Who Needs It?”
The impetus for these trend stories—and, perhaps, the urgency of their tone—may have been the publication, in September, of The God Delusion by Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist who holds the Charles Simonyi Chair in the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. Raised in the Anglican faith, Dawkins is now one of the leading figures in the “New Atheism” movement. With other writers, such as Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris, Dawkins is a militant who condemns, in the words of Wired writer Gary Wolf, “not just belief in God but respect for belief in God. Religion is not only wrong; it’s evil.”
Dawkins’ book appears to have triggered a long-simmering clash of ideologies. The Time article suggests that there has been a gradually growing resentment among scientists “angered by intelligent design and excited, perhaps intoxicated, by their disciplines’ increasing ability to map, quantify and change the nature of human experience.” Dawkins’ manifesto—which, as I write, is # 5 on The New York Times nonfiction bestseller list and # 12 on the Amazon.com bestseller list—may be the tipping point that has brought the clash between science and religion to a head.
The editors of HCM had planned a “Faith and Science” feature for some time before the public debate came to a boil. Recently, we gathered together members of the campus community for a discussion framed by the question, “What are the tensions and the harmonies inherent in a life given to both science and faith?” The results of that discussion can be found in this issue’s cover story.
We understand the charged—potentially explosive—nature of this conversation. And it is the very reason this is a topic that calls out for engagement by the College community. Our need to engage complex and difficult questions can be found at the heart of our mission to be “open to new ideas, to be patient with ambiguity and uncertainty, to combine a passion for truth with respect for the views of others.” It is the essence of what we do at Holy Cross. And, as we hope you will see from the published transcription, our community brings to its table a depth of thought, a seriousness of purpose and a civility that has been missing from much of the public exchange.
In this spirit, we invite our readers to join our discussion. We encourage you to share your response to this conversation. To do so, please visit the Holy Cross Magazine page on the College’s Web site and post your thoughts.
On another note, I would like to welcome HCM’s new designer, Karen Shilad, to the magazine team. We are delighted to have Karen on board. In the issues to come, she will be putting her particular stamp on the look of HCM.
From the entire Holy Cross Magazine staff, we wish you a happy and healthy 2007.