The Sciences

How Can We Rouse the Silent Majority?

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyJun 22, 2009 2:59 PM

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I was just reading this great column by Peter Hess, director of the Faith Project at the National Center for Science Education, on science-religion compatibility. And I came across this passage:

Too often, debates over the public perception of evolution are dominated by the fringes, by fundamentalist Christians and others who reject basic science due to their literal reading of the Bible and by ardent atheists who reject religion because they've embraced metaphysical naturalism ― that nature is all that exists. But the silent majority ― that spans the spectrum from theism to atheism ― have no problem reconciling their religious beliefs with established sciences such as evolution, or with new sciences such as stem cell research. My work at the National Center for Science Education brings me into contact with voices across that spectrum and I've found that honest, open, and inclusive dialog is not only possible, but vital for our children's education, for the credibility of religious traditions, and for the continued role of the United States as a scientific and moral leader in our increasingly interconnected world.

I heartily agree--my sense, too, is that the silent majority doesn't side with either of the extremes. And I think the polling data eminently supports this. For instance, as David Masci of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life writes in a survey of that evidence:

These data once again show that, in the minds of most people in the United States, there is no real clash between science and religion. And when the two realms offer seemingly contradictory explanations (as in the case of evolution), religious people, who make up a majority of Americans, may rely primarily upon their faith for answers.

At the same time, though, let's face it--in the science blogosphere, we don't hear a lot from the "silent majority." Rather, and admittedly with some important exceptions, we hear from the New Atheists. Yet I am arguing on behalf of the silent majority, and that is what keeps me going. So my question is this: How can we wake them up, make them realize that this is their issue too, and help them reclaim the debate for the middle ground?

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