Lending Reason to the Science-Religion Debate

January 2, 2018

Karl Giberson, professor of science and religion, is one of about 20 professors in the country focused on this scholarly area.

In 2008, Karl Giberson, professor of science and religion, published a book called Saving Darwin that lays out the history behind an age-old question: Is it possible to believe in God and evolution at the same time? This very question underpins Giberson’s scholarly career in the relatively nascent interdisciplinary field intersecting science and religion. Saving Darwin was acclaimed and named a “Best Book of 2008” by The Washington Post, and it helped shape Giberson’s views of his career as a writer. “That was the moment when I realized I had gone from a scholar who writes scholarly books to a writer who is recognized by broader audiences,” he notes.

As media attention often does, the recognition snowballed. The book was reviewed by The New Republic, Giberson began to publish articles and columns in the mainstream press, and he then became a frequent source for local and national journalists seeking (mostly) healthy debate.

To be sure, Giberson’s research and writing — he makes the case for the overwhelming scientific data behind evolution and argues that there is room for modern theology to coexist with that evidence — ignites strong views. He points to one conservative talk show experience where the host canceled his second guest so he could continue to argue with Giberson. “Most people fall into extreme camps on the topic,” he explains. “But some of us in the middle say that you can be a religious believer and still accept science — and here is how you do that.”

Giberson’s background supports his position at the center of the debate. Raised as an evangelical and trained as a scientist — he holds a Ph.D. in physics — Giberson is comfortable and credible with both audiences, although he no longer  identifies  as  an  evangelical.  He  has  used  his writing and national media platform to spur important conversations and attempt to encourage cooperation. The author of 11 books, he is also a frequent  speaker  at  symposia  and  conferences across the globe — from the Vatican to a seminary in the Canary Islands — when these questions are considered. His media exposure includes a published op-ed for The New York Times and similar pieces for USA Today that examined the so-called evangelical “war on science.” Other pieces, such as a radio stint on NPR, consider whether Adam and Eve were historical characters. Still others, such as a Newsweek article on evolution that quotes Giberson extensively, seek simply to shed light on the issues underlying the debate.

All, says Giberson, are critical issues we must continue to examine. “We seem to be going in reverse on this question in America,” he says. “There’s a growing need for voices of reason who can help people make peace with science and religion.” Giberson credits Stonehill’s intellectual rigor— and openness to at-times uncomfortable questions— with its decision to appoint him as one of only 20 or so faculty in the country focused on this scholarly area. He is Stonehill’s first faculty member with his particular mix of expertise.

“At Stonehill, the community— from students to the College president— is open to and welcomes the discussion of how science and religion can be cooperative rather than antagonistic,” he says. “And that is rare.”