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At AAAS, a Focus on the “New Atheist Confessional”

There’s a definite buzz about Sunday’s panel at the AAAS meetings in Boston. With a focus on the theme of “Communicating Science in a Religious America,” there is sure to be a large crowd and a healthy discussion. The panel will be held on Sunday afternoon from 1:45 to 4:45 p.m, Hynes Convention Center, Third Level, RM 309.

For a preview of one paper, see this press release detailing William and Mary anthropologist Barbara J. King’s presentation

In her AAAS presentation, King will address what she sees as a trend among scientists toward bumper-sticker declarations of faith (or lack thereof), most discernible in scientific books written for a lay audience.

“I see a pattern that I call the ‘confessional’ or the ‘testimonial.’ They’re writing about their personal beliefs about religion, so they are speaking as scientists, but they really want to confess,” King said. “The majority of them say ‘religion is an illusion’ or ‘science needs to replace religion.’ Some of them display an evangelical zeal to convince people that science needs to rid the United States of God. To me, this is a huge mistake. Everything is wrapped in a personal confessional and I think that is doing a disservice to communicating science in religious America.”

She is quick to add that the trend also includes declarations of faith by Christian scientists, which are just as divisive as the testimonials by agnostic or atheistic scientists. In her paper, embargoed by AAAS until after the annual meeting, King names names, citing specific examples of confessionals/testimonials by her fellow scientists–with one exception.

“I have written this paper without mentioning Richard Dawkins,” King said, referring to the author of The God Delusion. “Everyone knows that Richard Dawkins says that science has to oppose religion and we have to get people out of their sad delusions by making them think rationally. I don’t talk about him.”

She doesn’t talk about her own faith–or even if she has one–in the context of her work. “Then, the conversation becomes about me and I am not what the conversation should be about,” she explained. “I say that we all should frame science around the evidence. If you say ‘Here’s my science and it’s wrapped up in my Christianity’ or ‘Here’s my science, it’s wrapped up in my atheism,’ then people remember the atheist, they remember the Christian. We need to give more credit to the American public interested in science. They can read the science, evaluate the hypotheses and the evidence presented.”


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