One of the best things about being a grad student is the weekly ritual that is department seminar. We gather together in a room or auditorium, hang out, drink coffee, and eat cookies. Oh, and someone usually talks about something science related. In seminar each week I get the chance to broaden my horizons and learn something new. I hear about research in areas far outside my work. Sometimes it doesn’t really spark my interest, and that’s ok, other times I leave impressed by a colleague’s work, eager to learn more. Last Friday, just before Thanksgiving, here at UMass we had the opportunity to have Nate Morehouse from the University of Cincinnati come tell us about his amazing work on jumping spiders.
So far in this series we’ve established that the ‘Two Books’ of science and religion are distinct ways of knowing – tools we use to ask and answer questions about different aspects of the world around us. We made the claim that there is no essential conflict between the two magisterium of science and faith. From there we went on to give an overview of proper scientific explanations for the origins of life on earth – evolution by natural selection – and, what happens when scientific inquiry exceeds its bounds. Today we discuss the other side of the coin – religious perspectives on origins.
Science & Faith pt 2
The diversity of life on earth is amazing. Any trip to the zoo or aquarium, time spent watching Planet Earth, or better yet, any walk in the woods lets you experience a glimpse of the diversity here on Earth. Again and again, I find myself in awe of insects on a flower, the number of ferns in the forest. birds singing above my head, or critters under a log. If you've read my blog before, then you might have figured this out about me already (see posts on taxonomy, salamanders, and warblers). But, have you ever wondered why? Why are there so many different birds, bugs, and butterflies? For goodness sake, why do we need so many different ferns in New England alone that are so similar I can't tell them apart??
This question of life's origins and species diversity is one that men, women, and children have been trying to answer since we shared the Serengeti with secretary birds (maybe don't quote me on that). Artists, philosophers, scientists, and theologians have all pondered this question and offered their opinions, but, what kind of question is it? Whose answer should we go with? And, how do we know if we are right?
Oil and water, vinegar and baking soda, Buckeyes and Wolverines - some things just don't seem to get along. For many, science and religion are fit right in on this list. But, is that really the case? Is there actually a conflict between the findings of science and the tenets of religion that cannot be reconciled? Individuals on both sides of this debate, with some help from the media of course, have propped up the conflict idea, in fact, a 2015 Pew Research poll showed that nearly 40% of American adults believe there is an essential conflict between science and religion.
As a Christian who also happens to be a scientist, this is an extremely important topic to me. If there truly is an essential conflict between these two how could I continue as a Christian practicing science? As I've read, thought, discussed, and struggled through this idea over the years I have seen the need for better communication and dialogue. Scientists seem to misunderstand religious folk, and many who claim to be religious do not understand the scientists. To work toward bridging this gap in communication, I have been teaching a weekly course at my church through the month of August with the church's pastor, Bill Hodgeman. In the class we have explored science and religion, discussing what they are and how they work, we have talked about scientific and religions explanations for origins, and began to dig into some of the important questions. Even though the class was intended originally for a religious (specifically Christian) audience, my hope is that people on the Christian end will better understand scientists and vice versa.
Whats that? You missed the classes?? Well, dear reader, you are in luck! In a series of blog posts I will dig into the issues discussed in the class each week, starting now!
It has been a long time (too long) since I've written a post here. Much too long! My excuse is that I've been busy out "in the field" collecting data for my PhD research. No... not in the field like that...
Being "in the field" just means being out collecting data wherever that data may be. So, fieldwork can take a paleontologist to the Badlands of the Dakotas in search of bones, an archaeologist to the jungles of the Yucatán, or an bat biologist inside caves and caverns. My field work as taken me up and down the Pioneer Valley as I do ecological surveys of approx. 50 forested sites from the Connecticut boarder to the Vermont border. You can read more about what I am researching and why on in a write up on the research page (see, I haven't been completely silent on the website this summer). I hope to have more blog posts up here soon, but in the mean time here is a bunch of photos giving you a glimpse of what I've been doing in the woods all summer long.
America is, whether you want to admit it or not, a nation of immigrants. The country and culture that we have today was founded by immigrants, grew through immigration, and relies on the the hard work and innovation of immigrants to power our economy. My own father and brother-in-law are immigrants to this country from the Caribbean. It is fitting then, that some of our most beloved, beautiful, and brilliant birds are annual immigrants from the south. In this Creature Feature, we will explore a group of brightly colored little songbirds with a boisterous personality - the wood warblers.
I have always enjoyed observing plants and animals do what they do. Birds hopping about in tree tops foraging for insects, turtles basking, squirrels chasing each other across a lawn. This is probably why I’ve always liked keeping critters at home as pets, I could observe them and get to know them up close and personal. The more you observe something in its natural environs, the better you are able to understand it. So it is with science. If we can observe and understand science as it happens in real life we will have a better understanding of who scientists are, why they do what they do, and the value of their work. Allow me to introduce Science in Living Color, a blog series where you will be introduced to people whose work intersects with and relies on science all over the world.
To kick things off we will meet a man who is not a scientist, but a public policy officer. Nevertheless, his work is 100% dependent on critical biological and environmental science on a daily basis.
Over the past few weeks there have been two significant scientific marches here in the US, The March for Science last weekend, and the Climate March just yesterday. These have been powerful demonstrations, with literally tens of thousands of people coming together in support of science, environment, and positive change. In a climate (atmospheric and political) that is changing (in more ways than one), these were ways for supporters of science to make their thoughts and opinions known to those in power.
We should remember, though, that the best way to really change what people think is through face-to-face communication. The person who thinks funding for ecological research is a waste isn't likely to change their mind because a bunch of people wearing Patagonia and hiking boots stood on Boston Common in the rain. They might, however, see things differently after honest communication, hands on experience, and genuine interaction with science. In Boston, there was a Kids March with educational demonstrations, activities, scientists excited to talk to kids (ok, grown ups too). This is what we need more of!