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Can a Priest Be a Spokesman for Science, Too?

by Cally Carswell 

Tags: Science, science and religion, creationism, evolution, Michael Reiss, Royal Society, New Scientist,

Members of the Royal Society, Great Britain's national academy of science, were thrown into a tizzy recently when, according to the New Scientist, the society's director of education Michael Reiss said, “creationism is best seen by science teachers not as a misconception but as a world view.” In an article for the Guardian, Reiss added that science teachers should be able to engage in serious and respectful discussion with students who have doubts about the theory of evolution.  

Though Reiss was not advocating that creationism be taught as science, some society fellows were furious that Reiss, an ordained priest, would suggest creationism be discussed in science classes. Nobel laureate Harry Kroto told the New Scientist that Reiss's comments, taken at face value, are not entirely problematic, but the messenger is. “There is no way that an ordained minister—for whom unverified dogma must represent a major, if not the major, pillar in their lives can present free-thinking, doubt-based scientific philosophy honestly or disinterestedly.” 

In a letter to the Royal Society calling for Reiss’s resignation (he has since stepped down), Kroto and fellow Nobel prize winners, Richard Roberts and John Sulston, emphasized the point that as a deeply religious man, Reiss never should have been appointed to his position in the first place: “Who on earth thought that he would be an appropriate Director of Education, who could be expected to answer questions about the differences between science and religion in a scientific, reasoned way?” 

Their comments raise a big philosophical question: Can a person represent both science and faith? Or are science and religion so fundamentally different that a person must choose one before the other?