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Pastors, Scientists to Continue “Perceptions Project” Dialogues

The team at Public Agenda, an NCDD organizational member and Partner of our upcoming national conference, has been reflecting on their experiences facilitating the Perceptions Project – a series of dialogues between scientists and evangelical Christian pastors – in a fascinating series on their blog. We encourage you to read the second reflection on their bridge-building work below, or find the original version here.

PublicAgenda-logoAs we make the final preparations for the next set of Perceptions Project dialogues, I can’t help but think back to our first dialogues in Pasadena.

We spent considerable time preparing for those conversations, between evangelical pastors and scientists. We worked with our partners on the project, AAAS (the American Association for the Advancement of Science), thinking about who should participate and how the dialogues might unfold. We anticipated the tensions that might emerge – tensions that could stall conversation between the two communities. And we thoughtfully planned ways to surface areas of common ground and shared understanding.

Yet despite the many hours of planning that led up to the dialogues, I was unable to foresee what it would feel like to be in them. What I hadn’t, and perhaps couldn’t, anticipate was how eager participants would be to talk to one another and ask questions about each others’ experiences. While there was some tension between the groups, the overarching theme was curiosity.

One interaction in particular has stayed with me since that first dialogue. We were discussing the manner in which scientific data is presented in popular media. A few pastors expressed frustration with the seemingly constant stream of new evidence that is presented as fact yet often appears to be contradictory.

In response, several scientists described the scientific method. They also noted that they are limited in the claims they can make based on a single study and expressed their own frustration at the way their findings are often presented—and inflated—in the media without sufficient context or qualification.

This was an “a-ha” moment for one pastor who, prior to the dialogues, assumed that scientists were responsible for how their findings were presented in different media outlets.

That “a-ha” moment reminded me of the critical role that dialogue can have in connecting us in spite of our differences. For the Pasadena participants, dialogue provided an opportunity to break down misconceptions and provide each group insight into how the other community operates.

As the next dialogues approach, I eagerly anticipate the “a-ha” moments that lie ahead and wonder what questions participants will ask of one another that will deepen their understanding of each others’ experiences.

You can find the original version of this Public Agenda post at www.publicagenda.org/blogs/when-curiosity-reigns.

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Roshan Bliss
An inclusiveness trainer and group process facilitator, Roshan Bliss serves as NCDD's Youth Engagement Coordinator and Blog Curator. Combining his belief that decisions are better when everyone is involved with his passion for empowering young people, his work focuses on increasing the involvement of youth and students in public conversations.

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