tion, Maxine Singer, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine, and President Emerita of the institution, recalled her service on the committee that wrote the first edition of the report Science and Creationism (National Academy of Sciences, 1984). The committee’s meetings were enlivened by the exchanges of two accomplished physical scientists, she said. “One, an adamant, feisty, and cerebral non-believer, would have preferred us to offer bold language that set religion aside as a way to view the world. The other, a calm and at least as cerebral religious believer who was also firmly convinced by the evidence for biological evolution, urged us toward an understanding and tolerance of religion.”

The committee listened carefully to this discussion, Singer said, and what it learned is captured in the eloquent conclusion to the 1984 report: “Scientists, like many others, are touched with awe at the order and complexity of nature. Religion provides one way for human beings to be comfortable with these marvels. However, the goal of science is to seek naturalistic explanations for phenomena within the framework of natural laws and principles and the operational rule of testability.”

This is the spirit in which the convocation was held. “My hope,” said Singer, “is that we all respect the religious beliefs of one another, of students and their families. I think you can find ways to teach evolution that are scientifically rigorous but avoid contentious challenges to individuals.”

PERSPECTIVE OF A FUNDER

The convocation was funded by the National Academy of Sciences, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the Christian A. Johnson Endeavor Foundation, the Carnegie Institution for Science, and the National Science Foundation through a Research Coordination Network/Undergraduate Biology Education grant to the University of Oklahoma. A representative of one of the funders, Susan Kassouf, a program officer at the Johnson Endeavor Foundation, spoke in the opening session about some of the larger issues addressed during the convocation. She said that the mission of the Johnson Endeavor Foundation is to help people, especially young people, flourish. It has pursued this mission by helping to provide students with a liberal arts education that offers the best thinking of humanity. For this reason, among others, the foundation has become interested in understanding why so many Americans doubt evolutionary science when such doubt can have grave consequences not only for the individual but also for the larger society.

“Getting one’s head, heart, and soul around the scientific theory of evolution and its implications is daunting,” said Kassouf. “While our awe and wonder about the world may deepen in light of evolutionary



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement