|> contact us > faq > metanexus.net > templeton.org|
Trust: Prospects for Science and Religion
Stony Brook University is pleased to present this proposal to the John Templeton Foundation to support an interdisciplinary discussion that will examine trust as a central issue facing science and religion today. The proposal is innovative in three respects. First, it creates a dialogue between science and religion about a rarely discussed subject that is at the core of both fields. Second, it brings a fresh set of participants to the dialogue from a broader spectrum of disciplines. Third, it makes an important and fertile shift in the conduct of the dialogue by focusing on concrete practice rather than on abstract belief.
Science and religion potentially have much to teach each other about the issue of trust. Yet, for the most part, only religious authors and theologians have addressed the subject consistently and at length. Because the effectiveness of both scientific and religious institutions depends on trusting relationships, clarifying the nature of trust is not only theoretically interesting but has potentially significant practical ramifications.
Trust is central to the practice of both science and religion on many levels: personal, public, and institutional. On a personal level, trust permeates the scientific process insofar as scientists must rely on data, techniques, theories, colleagues, and collaborators. Without trust, the scientific process would grind to a halt like a machine drained of oil. Trust, which lies at the heart of faith, is also omnipresent in religion: between individuals and God, among members of a congregation, and between individuals of congregations and leaders.
Trust also has a public dimension in both science and religion. For personal trust is made possible by publicly encouraged practices and habits of thought that foster trust by encouraging perceptions of integrity.
Finally, both modern science and religion also confront institutional trust issues insofar as their institutions depend on a stable relation with the social world in which they are embedded. Trust is essential to the success of religious institutions at ministering to communities. Trust is essential to the relationship of a scientific institution and the surrounding community because of the capacity of research activities to affect public health and safety.
The issue of trust and modern science has particular urgency. Over the past few years, the issue of trust has erupted into controversy with many scientists charging that the government cannot be trusted to manage science, to accurately portray scientific information, or to accurately describe the risks of hazardous materials. For example, many of America’s greatest scientists charge the White House with politicizing scientific research regarding issues as different as global warming and stem cell research. The scars---and the political and policy decisions--- from this debate are unlikely to heal soon.
Religious institutions, unlike scientific institutions, produce no potentially hazardous material product or research, yet recent scandals, involving sexual abuse and financial malfeasance have created perceptions of danger and undermined relations between institutions and their constituencies. Breakdowns of trust in religious institutions are different from those involving science, though some remarkable parallels emerge, especially among institutional reactions. The differing experiences of science and religion underscore the need to understand trust and trusting relationships in a fundamental way.
Stony Brook's Templeton Research Lectures are based on the idea that important inroads to understanding trust can be made by exploring the intersections of this theme in religion and science within an interdisciplinary framework. Our program consists of a three-year, evolving seminar/lecture series with numerous special events and outreach opportunities. The first year program examines a range of personal experiences of trust throughout science, religion, and other human activities. The second year program analyzes the public dimension of trust; the publicly encouraged practices and habits of thought that foster trust, erode it, and help restore it once lost. The third year program extends the work of the first two to institutions, examining problems of trust, both scientific and religious, that have developed in the contemporary world.Stony Brook University is an exceptional place to conduct such an inquiry, given its strength in the sciences and humanities, and its numerous collaborations with key scientific institutions in the New York metropolitan area. It is the premier research campus of the State University of New York (SUNY) system and serves approximately 22,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Stony Brook shares responsibility for managing Brookhaven National Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy in partnership with Battelle Memorial Institute. The University seeks to foster a culture of interaction between the sciences and the humanities. Its faculty members have been recipients of prestigious honors and awards including the Nobel Prize, the Fields Medal, the National Medal of Science, the National Medal of Technology, and the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring.
Stony Brook University’s proposed program for the Templeton Research Lecture Series evolves progressively over three years. The aim is to build an interdisciplinary framework with which to approach the subject of trust by moving from examining personal experiences, to analyzing the public dimension, to studying institutional cases and contexts. Lectures generally given by guest speakers will alternate weekly with lunch meeting seminars generally led by Steering Committee members – ten lectures and seminars per semester. The Templeton Research Fellow and guest speakers are chosen in accordance with the theme of each year.
Year 1 Theme: Exploring Trust and Personal Experiences
Year 2 Theme: Examining the Public Dimension of Trust
Year 3 Theme:Trust in an Institutional Context
Key Questions: How does trust appear empirically and on a large scale in the contemporary world, specifically in relation to groups and institutions? What are the key groups and institutions that have an impact on trust in democratic societies. What are the various roles of trust in contemporary medicine? How does trust function differently between an individual clinical researcher and patient, and between a hospital and community? Why is medicine an area that has been able to generate a large amount of public trust? How do the relations between Stony Brook Hospital and its neighbors compare to those between Brookhaven National Laboratory and its neighbors? What are the special issues involving medical experts and expertise? What are the specific issues regarding trust that arise in connection with environmental policies? What is the impact on trust of advocacy groups, and of an “informed counterculture” dedicated to questioning scientific testimony? What is the role of highly publicized instances of failures of large technological facilities, such as Three Mile Island, Bhopal, and Chernobyl? What role has the media had in shaping the formation of trust/distrust? What mechanisms drive/inhibit rumor, and what role do these play in the formation of trust and distrust? How are trust and credibility involved in the construction of an “expert”? Must appraisal of or deference to experts involve trust? How can the need for expertise in a society dependent on science and technology be reconciled with democratic pluralism? What are the specific issues regarding trust that arise in connection with contemporary physics institutions and projects? What is the impact on public trust of their huge size and scale? What is the nature and role of the special fears associated with radiation? What is the impact of the extreme risks associated with -- or alleged to be associated with -- contemporary physics, such as the (purported) possibility that heavy ion accelerators might be able to create black holes? What are the specific issues regarding trust that arise in connection with religious institutions? What is the impact of the recent scandals involving sexual abuse by priests? How have institutions reacted to these scandals? How effective have these reactions been?
Robert P. Crease (Chair, Ph.D. Philosophy, Columbia) is a Professor of Philosophy at Stony Brook University (SBU), where he will serve as Acting Chair of the Philosophy Department in Spring 2005, and historian at Brookhaven National Laboratory. He was a Senior Fellow at MIT’s Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology (2002-2003). His books include: The Prism and the Pendulum: The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments in Science; Making Physics: A Biography of Brookhaven National Laboratory 1946-1972; Peace and War: Reflections on a Life at the Frontiers of Science (by Robert Serber with Robert P. Crease); Hermeneutics and the Natural Sciences (ed. Crease); The Play of Nature: Experimentation as Performance; and The Second Creation: Makers of the Revolution in 20th Century Physics (with Charles C. Mann). He is the translator of American Philosophy of Technology: The Empirical Turn (ed. H. Achterhuis). For several years, Crease organized SBU’s interdisciplinary Science Studies Forum. He has taught ethics and science courses, and has directed “Social Dimensions of Science,” a course in SBU’s Women in Science and Engineering program. For five years he has written “Critical Point,” a monthly column about science and society for Physics World.
Click on the name of a committee member for biographical information.