Sticky ideas

There were a bunch of 'break out' groups, not just mine.

The organizer of the meeting crafted these smaller groups rather intentionally. The overall meeting must have had several hundred attendees and the break-out groups were smaller - something like 10-20 in each. The organizer chose my group pretty craftily: he put together a slew of  Natural Scientists with a collection of  Old Testiment Divinity/Theology folks together in one group.  I was asked to facilitate discussion on a list of topics we were given and I would report back our interactions to the organizer at a later date.

I should also mention that we all work at Christian colleges/universities.

Among the things we talked about was how we "treated" evolution in our classrooms.  I suppose this question wouldn't have a lot of legs in some other break-out groups - I suspect the group consisting of folks from the Business Department and Foriegn Languages don't deal a whole lot with this topic (though I could be wrong) as those of us in the Biology & Physics and Divinity & Theology probably do.  It was a healthy discussion with the variability I expected to see represented - on both sides of campus (science & religion).  This is a bigger issue (with both students and faculty) at some of the member's institutes than at others, and there were a range of professors in our group who represented differences in the classroom from teaching only science to giving equal weight to non-scientific understandings. At some universities this topic has been treated carefully and at others, it's not been an issue.

Later, we discussed a different question: something like "what topics in your field would be fruitful to serve as a theme for future conferences?"  Among the topics our small group brought up was "Sustainability" and our discussion on this topic was energetic and touched on climate change and environmental issues and the term "Creation Care".  While in the discussion on 'evolution' above, I expected some opinions to range broadly (given the specifics of the group memebers), I didn't really expect to have much divergence in opinions on this issue (at least from the scientists). Yet I was surprised that more than a couple folks expressed thoughts such as "...climate change is just a theory, right?"   and  "...there is still a lot of doubt about this, right?"   and  "... this whole environmental thing is just a fad, it will go away."

Though I didn't hear it in this meeting, I have heard statements like this before: "God gave us dominion over the Earth; it's ours to do what we want with it"  and  "I don't believe in extinction - God wouldn't let one of His creations go extinct"  and even "... Global warming doesn't matter - Jesus is returning soon, I'm just trying to speed up His return."  

As a population biologist, conservation ecologist, Christian and faculty member in a sustainability program, I reckon there's a lot I could say about both of these topics, but this isn't the time or place for that.   The thing I noticed, the interesting thing to me was the overlap.  

Imagine a Venn diagram - circles including sets of people and their opinions.  One circle contains those folks who don't understand or accept the modern scientific explanation of how populations / species continue to exist in a changing world (fairly or unfairly I'll use the term: Biological Evolution Denyers), and another circle containing folks who don't know about, understand or accept that climates and ecologies are changing on the planet due to human activities (I'll use the term: Climate Change Denyers).  When these circles are overlapped to show the folks in each circle that are common to both groups, I wonder how much overlap there is.  According to the opinions expressed in our small group, there was considerable overlap.  I recognize there are issues of sample size, the non-randomness of the population at the meeting and deliberate assignment of members to group, just as there are issues with the complexity of defining the circle - these issues are not bimodal for most folks - they don't lend themselves to easy "inside the cicle" or "outside the circle" characterization necessary for a Venn diagram.  

But, based on the comments that were expressed, if I were to classify these group members' responses, the observed overlapping on these issues was interesting.  It's just an observation, and I brought it up to the group to see what they made of it. I guess I've noticed this general tendency when talking to people over the years, but it was so obvious in our small group setting as we talked about these topics. Perhaps what made it more interesting is that these circles (the Denyers) in our small group included people from both sets of professions (science and religion).  

Strangely, bringing this to the attention of the group - or verbalizing it - lead to an uncomfortable silence.

The Old Testiment folks came to my rescue.  

"Genesis," someone said.  "It stems from how your read Genesis 1 & 2. It's the intersection of how you understand the Bible and your world-view."  Other Old Testiment folks chimed in, as this is their area of expertise. They all were very familiar with the idea that your world-view affects how you approach and understand the Old Testiment, and that, in turn, affects how you view the world. I know this sounds like a circular arguement to some extent, but it certainly has some truth in it. This is certainly a topic they were familiar with, even if the implications are something I am famililiar with (Climate Change Denyers).  It's certainly a cross-campus, integrated and complex set of interacting issues.  ...and sticky.

For now, that's all I want to say about this. I really just want to share that observation and not attach any jugement to it. This is some fertile ground, to be sure. I'll probably return to pieces of this topic later on, in a more focused way.

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