Introducing the “Oracles of Science”

As a member of the Central Pennsylvania Forum for Religion and Science, I’m participating in an Oracles of Science: Celebrity Scientists versus God and Religion (Karl Giberson and Fr. Mariano Artigas, Oxford University Press, 2006) reading group.  I thought some of you would have an interest in considering how the Oracles of Science (i.e., Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, Steven Weinberg, and Edward O. Wilson), influence contemporary understandings of reality, origins, science, and religion.  So tighten your seat belt, bring your communication system on-line, and let me know what you think about the concept of the Oracles of Science. ...

Oracles of Science

Oracles of Science

Somewhere billions of miles from earth a spacecraft, ancient by all relevant standards, hurtles through space, an insignificant speck in a vast, empty, and some would say hostile cosmos.  Although there is little chance that it will be noticed by alien life-forms, it nevertheless contains a message from the human race to whatever aliens find it, just in case.  The message — both its content and the proposal to send it — was largely the work of Carl Sagan, a physicist who served briefly in the role of humanity’s ambassador to the rest of the universe.  Sagan was dedicated, articulate, and tireless enthusiast for science; he spent his life looking through its lenses at all of human experience and subjecting whatever did not measure up, like religion, to withering criticism.  His enthusiastic promotion of science turned him into a standard bearer for the secular humanists as they pressed their case for science against religion (p. 3).

Meanwhile, back on earth … Richard Dawkins (b.1941), Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002), Stephen Hawking (1942), Carl Sagan (1934-1996), Steven Weinberg (b.1933), and Edward O. Wilson (b.1929) serve as

the Oracles of Science.  Like the traditional oracles of classical Greece, Shakespeare, and even the hit movies about the Matrix, they tell us what we need to know.  Are we alone in the universe?  Where did we come from?  Did the universe have a beginning?  Is there a point to our existence?  Are we the products of random chance?  Where do we find answers to deep and important questions?  We are a culture that looks to science because that is where we expect to find our answers.  We cannot, however, find these answers ourselves, for only a specialist can navigate the complex terrain that is modern science.  We need guides — Oracles — to show us the way.

So what do you think?

  1. Are you familiar with all of the Oracles of Science?  [Note:  I have heard of them all and have limited exposure to their writings through time spent in the Franklin & Marshall College’s Geology Department, an undergrad degree in Biology from Grove City College, and campus ministry at a number of campuses including Carnegie Mellon University.]
  2. When the Oracles of Science speak, do they speak for science as a whole?
  3. Do the Oracles of Science guide or at least strongly influence the way contemporary culture understands reality, origins, science, and religion?  Can you guess where the authors are going with regard to the shared perspective of the Oracles of Science?
  4. Are there other well know ambassadors of science (possibly Oracles of Science) who should be added to the list, some which may even offer a different lens on reality, origins, science, and/or religion than these Oracles of Science?  Some names come to mind, but I want to give you the opportunity to offer unbiased contributions.

Watch your feed, more coming from the introduction.  …

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Tom Grosh IV

Enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa, four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he hosts the Christian Scholar Series), on campus as part of InterVarsity Graduate & Faculty Ministry (serving fellowships such as the Christian Medical Society/CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine), online as the Associate Director of the Emerging Scholars Network, in the culture at large, and in God's creation.

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5 Comments

  • ghartman17022@gmail.com'
    Gregory Hartman commented on December 19, 2008 Reply

    > 1. Are you familiar with all of the Oracles of Science?

    Steven Weinberg and Edward O. Wilson are new to me. I’m aware of the others but haven’t bothered to read much by them.

    > 2. When the Oracles of Science speak, do they speak for science as a whole?

    No. See “The Language of God” by Collins for an example, or Science Evolution and Creationism at http://www.nap.edu/catalog/11876.html

    I still wouldn’t say that the national academy of science speaks for science as a whole, but it’s a lot closer than the individuals that you list.

    > 3. Do the Oracles of Science guide or at least strongly influence the way contemporary culture understands reality, origins, science, and religion?

    That’s very hard to say. From what I’ve observed their views carry more weight as I move away from scientists. However, at some point the cultural aversion to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) takes over and people turn to pseudo-science. Perhaps the general public assumes that the oracles are authoritative but finds their message to be implausible.

    > 4. Are there other well know ambassadors of science (possibly Oracles of Science)…

    Francis Collins and John Polkinghorne. I’d also rate the National Academies fairly highly even though their influence is indirect.

  • Tom Grosh commented on December 19, 2008 Reply

    Thank-you for the contribution Greg. More coming over the weekend. …

    But in the meantime, I’d encourage everyone to visit a list of “science books” for the “hard to buy for” from Hearts and Minds Bookstore, http://www.heartsandmindsbooks.com/booknotes/christmas_gifts_science_books/

    Byron’s really “mixing it up with various streams.” I confess that my list would be quite different, although Gingerich would be good to include. Off the top of my head, how about Boyle, Collins, DeWitt, Galileo, Gingerich, Kuhn, Lewis’ “Ransom Trilogy,” Lindberg, Newton, Nichols, Numbers, Polkinghorne, Polanyi, Schaefer (Henry Fritz). Anyone have Christmas book recommendations for followers of Christ in the sciences or interested in the sciences? Maybe even a “must have 1-2?”

    BTW, I have a friend reading James A. Herrick’s “Scientific Mythologies: How Science and Science Fiction Forge New Religious Beliefs” (IVP) and I’m looking forward to his analysis. This piece maybe a good one for on-line discussion, see http://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/book.pl/code=2588 Anyone else reading “Scientific Mythologies?”

  • amywung@gmail.com'
    Amy commented on December 23, 2008 Reply

    > 2. When the Oracles of Science speak, do they speak for science as a whole?

    From what I’ve read of Sagan, and heard of Dawkins, their approach to all things has a no-nonsense, bare bones, objectivity-only-please-thank-you-ma’am feel. And therefore religion, with its frills and rituals and unprovable answers doesn’t fit into that approach. And I think many people do find this approach appealing, because it sounds so much like just plain common sense.

    If they do take time to regard the emotional (I would say spiritual, but that’s probably not a word they’d approve of!) aspects of religion, it’s usually limited to the negative emotions of suspicion and territoriality – the way it makes people suspicious of other religions or worldviews which threaten their religion’s dominance. And many people find this appealing too, because who doesn’t like to think of themselves as the underdog battling against the uneducated and unwashed masses. Of course they would never admit to such an irrational prejudice, but there you have it.

  • Tom Grosh commented on January 7, 2009 Reply

    Thanks to a philosopher friend, I came across Atheists Send a Message, on 800 British Buses. Take some time to read the piece to consider how you respond to the concerns raised by the organizers of the campaign.

    Note the high profile of Richard Dawkins (one of the “Oracles of Science”). Not surprisingly he didn’t endorse the use of “probably” in the bus advertisement which reads “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

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