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Astrophysicist Jennifer Wiseman to Lead AAAS Effort to Build Religion-Science Dialogue

Jennifer Wiseman

Jennifer Wiseman, a NASA astrophysicist, has joined AAAS as director of the Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion.

Wiseman currently heads the Laboratory for Exoplanets and Stellar Astrophysics at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. She will retain a position at Goddard, where she is the incoming senior project scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope. From 2003 to 2006, she served as the program scientist for the Hubble at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Wiseman was welcomed to AAAS during a Wednesday, 16 June, panel discussion, “Re-Envisioning the Science and Religion Dialogue.” The speakers included William Phillips, professor of physics at the University of Maryland and a 1997 Nobel laureate in physics; Howard Smith, an astrophysicist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and author of “Let There be Light: Modern Cosmology and Kabbalah”; David Anderson, founder and lead pastor at the Bridgeway Community Church in Columbia, Maryland; and Rick Potts, director of the Human Origins Program for the Smithsonian Institution.

AAAS established the Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER) program in 1995 to foster communication between scientific and religious communities. The program builds on the association’s long-standing commitment to relate scientific knowledge and technological development to the purposes and concerns of society at large.

“Jennifer Wiseman is an accomplished scientist who also understands the importance of religion in American life and how a deep knowledge of the natural world need not threaten religious belief,” said Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher of Science. “With continuing battles over the teaching of evolution in the schools and new fundamentalist attacks on the reliability of climate science, there is a need more than ever for a constructive conversation between scientists and religious groups. Dr. Wiseman is admirably prepared to help make that happen.”

In her scientific work, Wiseman studies the formation of stars and planetary systems using radio, optical and infrared telescopes. She has a bachelor’s degree in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As an undergraduate research assistant, she discovered comet Wiseman-Skiff in 1987. She earned her doctorate in astronomy from Harvard University and continued her research as a Jansky Fellow at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and a Hubble Fellow at The Johns Hopkins University. She also has an interest in national science policy and served as an American Physical Society Congressional Science Fellow on Capitol Hill.

Jennifer Wiseman, new director of the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion, talks about her background and her hopes for the program.

Wiseman, who enjoys giving talks on science to schools, youth and church groups, and civic organizations, said she has noticed recently an exceptional amount of interest in the public on seeing how the excitement and the wonder of what were discovering, especially in astronomy, can fit in with other concerns and interests, including religious belief. She began to see how much of a thirst there was out there for a healthy dialogue, where members of religious groups would really like to hear about the excitement of science and try to think about how it informs their faith and inspires a sense of wonder.

Wiseman said she sees herself as an ambassador to help people both appreciate what we are discovering in science and feel that they are a part of it. She said the DoSER program is interested in practical ways it can help foster mutual understanding. As an example, she said, leaders of seminaries have asked for help incorporating more science courses and information into their curricula for clergy in training.

The DoSER program is an initiative of AAAS Science and Policy Programs. Its activities, guided by the goals and principles of the association, are made possible by grants from the John Templeton Foundation and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Over the years, the program also has received funding from the Pew Charitable Trust; the John and Esther Klingenstein Foundation; the Greenwall Foundation; the Institute for Civil Society; the U.S. National Institutes of Health; the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation; the Counterbalance Foundation; the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences; the Center for Research in Science of Azusa Pacific University; the Smithsonian Institution; Science & Spirit magazine; and a number of individuals.

Read a Huffington Post blog entry by Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher of Science, on the value of civil discourse between the scientific and religious communities.

Learn more about DoSER here