Let me start by saying that I have never participated in an activist march in my life. But last weekend I seriously considered it for the first time. With the March for Science, I could march for something I love! While the event had partisan elements (see below), for many marchers it was a celebration of science and the importance of scientific findings in public discourse. The March was ground-breaking in getting scientists out of their labs and into the streets. Scientists and science-lovers came out in force, wearing knitted brain hats and carrying signs with nerdy puns. It brought together a new, broad coalition of people–this wasn’t just about climate change, or medical research funding, or human space flight, but a celebration of science itself. Even some activist chants were about the scientific process:
— James Shaw (@jamespeshaw) April 22, 2017
At BioLogos, we love science and we are passionate about its importance for the church and for society. Thus, the stated goals of the March for Science are a good fit with our mission. Science—done well—is an amazing tool for understanding our universe and provides essential grounding for public policies that promote human flourishing. Since the March was announced in January, dozens of you have asked BioLogos what we thought about it. Three scientists in our community wrote last week about why they chose to march. The stated goals of the March are not incompatible with Christian faith; one of our board members, theologian Rich Mouw, wrote to encourage Christians to celebrate the gifts of science. A member of our Advisory Council, sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund, reminded readers of Christianity Today that “The March for Science isn’t anti-religion. Most scientists aren’t either.” And Science ran a news piece on religious groups who endorsed the March.
The challenge is that the March was obviously triggered by recent political events in the US. Many marchers held anti-Trump signs, and many rallies featured anti-Trump rhetoric, even at sites in other countries. BioLogos does not engage in partisan politics; these positive comments about the goals of the March are not an endorsement of a Democratic agenda. Of course some marchers argued for and against particular policies; such political debates are part of setting policy in our democracy. Yet more marchers were arguing for something more basic: that policy discussions must be grounded in well-established scientific findings. In a sense, they were protesting against the politicization of science, by insisting that scientific findings are true for all of us and cannot be ignored or summarily rejected by any political party.
Unfortunately, the responses of some Christian groups to the March for Science have moved the conversation about science and Christianity in the wrong direction. Yes, scientists sometimes get things wrong. Yes, they sometimes bring their metaphysical and political agendas into their scientific work in unhelpful ways, even turning science into an idol. But I would ask Christian critics of the March to consider that the mainstream practice of science is still our best shot at understanding God’s world. Peer review and other scientific practices do work, over the years, to give an accurate picture of the natural world, while allowing new hypotheses a chance to be considered. If a large group of scientists worldwide say that a finding is supported by abundant evidence, the church should take it seriously. Christians need a good relationship with science and scientists if we are to speak accurately and carefully about Creation, and if we are to be effective in calling scientists to faith in Jesus Christ.
I hope the March will have a positive impact on the public conversation about science. Yet, to paraphrase a New York Times editorial, we need storytellers even more than marchers. I believe that organizations like BioLogos are uniquely poised to have a real impact on the conversation. A marcher makes a statement, but a storyteller starts a conversation. A storyteller bridges divide and connects people face to face. This is why I’m so proud of our BioLogos Voices program that sends Christian scholars and scientists to communities all over North America, so that science can have a voice and a face.
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