Last week saw a clash of cultures within the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, publisher of ScienceNOW). At the 20 February meeting of the AAAS council, members of the group's physics section asked the association to review the goals of its program on science and religion.
A number of physicists were troubled because the chief sponsor of the 5-year-old AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion is the Templeton Foundation, an $800 million philanthropy that promotes the notion that there is a "designer" behind it all (Science, 21 May 1999, p. 1257). "We are uncomfortable with the establishment within AAAS of a program with close ties to a religious organization," the physicists wrote to AAAS council officers in December. They also believe that there's been "too much of an interlocking directorate" between Templeton and the AAAS program, says new division chair Eugen Merzbacher, emeritus professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. For example, biologist Francisco Ayala of the University of California, Irvine, and Harvard astronomer Owen Gingerich have served on the advisory committees of both groups.
At the council meeting, AAAS program director Audrey Chapman explained that the Dialogue is teaching the religious community about science and promoting discussion of difficult ethical issues such as cloning. She added that in the future, it is expected that no more than 40% of the program's budget will come from Templeton. And currently there is only one person--Ronald Cole-Turner of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary--who serves on both advisory boards.
Many of the physicists were mollified, saying they are satisfied that the AAAS is responding to their concerns. John Peoples of Fermilab, retiring chair of the section, says he also feels reassured by outgoing AAAS president Stephen J. Gould, who has made it clear that he believes science and religion should keep out of each other's hair.
Chapman says the physicists had no basis for concern. "They had not done us the courtesy of even ever looking at our Web site" before sounding off, she says. "The information they had was very out of date." The Templeton Foundation has "never had any influence on the content or direction of the program."
But at least one physicist remains uncomfortable about the secular association's foray into religious territory. Says former physics section chair Hans Frauenfelder of Los Alamos National Lab: "I'm against any dialogue in AAAS about religion and science."