Recently I have been hearing a lot of references to science evangelism, mostly indicating someone who is really really passionate about communicating science. Now the second part (especially when it comes to geology) is definitely true about me, but I’m slightly unsure about the ‘evangelising’ part. I grew up in South Devon, not really a part of the world known for extremely strong religious beliefs, but there were a number of devout religious practitioners in my street and the nearby community. I knew the kids from some of these families, we went to school together and played together, but every so often they would come to our house, all dressed up smartly, to try and sell us their religion. Now realistically I imagine the children that I was friends with probably didn’t care if we wanted to be the same religion as them so long as we were willing to go off on adventures through the woods and play on the swings, but their parents did care. I remember how excruciatingly uncomfortable these little visits would be – my parents aren’t particularly religious, but when the person with a pamphlet lives a few houses away and their kids play with yours, it’s a lot harder to turn them away!
I think this is where my problem with ‘evangelism’ comes from. An evangelist is defined in the Oxford dictionary as:
- A person who seeks to convert others to the Christian faith, especially by public preaching
- A layperson engaged in Christian missionary work
- A zealous advocate of a particular cause
- The writer of one of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John)
Now I do love science, and do I think people would be better off if they understood more science (and geology)? Absolutely. But I don’t need people to believe in science – to want to make it their life’s work or suddenly go start chemistry busking in Croydon (although either of these things would be awesome). Now just to clarify, I still think everyone can do science (and should understand the basics), I just don’t think it needs to be number 1 priority for everyone.
I like having friends who are lawyers, accountants and historians, who sing with beauty and fire or can name pretty much every rugby player that England has had for the last decade (yes Jen, I’m looking at you). Science is great, it challenges you and forces you to look at the world through new eyes. But it is not the only beautiful and challenging thing about our lives. The question I have to ask is in that case do we need to redefine what evangelism means in a science communications sense? I think we do.
So I have decided to redefine science evangelism for myself.
SCIENCE EVANGELIST (noun)
- A person who shares their enjoyment of science and curiosity about the world; without judgement, superiority or sometimes even company!
If a scientist evangelises in forest when no-one is there, do they actually make a sound?!?