Abstract for Upcoming Jay Newman Lecture

“A Matter of Bones, Feathers, and Wishful Thinking”:  Science and the Marginalization of Religion

 Dr. Janet Wesselius

This title comes from the Terry Lecture series delivered by the American novelist Marilynne Robinson in 2010 when she offered this description of how religion is caricatured by some eminent scholars in the alleged conflict between science and religion. The widespread and popular view of science is that it renders traditions and practices such as religion obsolete. In this lecture, I explore the public discourse used by science popularizers in their polemic against religion, specifically how the epistemic and cognitive authority of science—with rhetorical invocations of “objectivity” and “facts”—is used to foreclose any alternative narrative. My concern is how this discourse enables dehumanizing effects while precluding liberatory possibilities for human flourishing. It is here that I think philosophy of religion can make a significant contribution:  to provide an alternative narrative to science’s fiction about human beings as nothing more than “meaty machines” engaged in a competition to ensure the survival of their genes.  Of course, there are others who are marginalized by this popularization of science but who do not regularly interact with philosophy of religion.  By drawing on conversations in aboriginal and environmental thought—who are “naively” concerned with bones and feathers—and in literary and feminist thought—who are all too familiar with being dismissed as engaged in wishful thinking—I propose potential alliances in an effort to generate alternative narratives.