An Imagination Game to Bridge Divides

Let’s play Rob O’Malley’s imagination game. How would you respond? How would you build bridges across these significant divides?

Another great article from @Kristel. This one quotes @art.

For convenience, perhaps the various scenarios ought to be posted.

I’d say that the majority of those questions would be theological and outside the scope of a scientist to answer. One could certainly address misunderstandings of the science, as in #4 especially.


Hi all- Josh requested that I pop in and answer any questions. Thanks for your interest in the DoSER workshop and this exercise! I readily agree with John_Harshman above that constructive responses in many of these scenarios are not necessarily about just presenting more science, or correcting potential misconceptions about science.

I will add that none of these scenarios are really hypothetical. These are scenarios that I’ve either been in myself, or seen play out, or that others have shared with me. Whether we are scientists or otherwise, there will always be times we are pushed outside our comfort zones or areas of expertise. But given that, how does one respond? Is it enough for me to just say ‘that’s outside the scope of what I’m comfortable talking about’?

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What was the hardest question for you, and how would you respond?

Depends on context. If any of these occurred in a classroom environment, it would be improper to discuss them. You might suggest a conversation later, outside of class, when you could present your own ideas while not wearing the teacher hat. But a science class is no place for theology.

As for the ones outside a classroom, #2 is just weird, and I would have no response. #3 is close enough to a classroom that I wouldn’t touch it. #4 deserves a response. #5 seems to invite further discussion of just what you propose to do. In #7, the dead don’t have beliefs, though their putative descendants might.

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#2 would unquestionably be the hardest question for me, due to the nature of social media and the potential professional (not to mention legal) dimensions of responding (or of not responding, and letting it stand without comment).

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Speaking for myself, I want to acknowledge that apart from occasional ‘Skype-A-Scientist’ type sessions I don’t have a lot of experience addressing challenging questions in K-12 settings. I do think there can be more challenging parameters (school policies, parent relationships, local culture and practice) to navigate as a K-12 educator and so I can readily accept hesitancy to engage in that context.

In college/university settings, though, if one of these questions came up in class, I would personally have no hesitation in attempting at least a short response to any of the other questions (save maybe for #2) in class- though recognizing that it might need to shift to a private conversation or follow up. If someone is brave enough to raise something like this publicly and in good faith, I feel they deserve a substantive answer…plus it’s a near certainty that others in the room are wondering similar things.

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I must be missing something because I don’t see the issue with question 2. I attended a Jesuit university for grad school. I can’t remember the religion of any of my professors ever coming up, but I doubt they were all practicing Catholics or signed a Jesuit statement of faith. The only time I saw a priest was in my Bioethics class. I later worked for the same university and was not required to sign a statement of faith, but I was not teaching faculty.

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In the context of a STEM job search, it perhaps doesn’t signal a welcoming department for someone who claims that faith identity (and also has some legal dimensions; e.g. is it discriminatory to single out a specific faith tradition in this way). I find it hard to imagine someone posting a similar comment about, say, an art history position. The issue in this case is if/how to discuss it with the colleague in a constructive way

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I hadn’t thought about it from the perspective of someone who is Catholic. I do think it’s reasonable for any potential job applicant, STEM or not, to ask about faith statements when applying at universities with religious connections. I work for a university that requires all employees, from the president to the janitor, to sign a statement of faith. That requirement is posted in every job ad.

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