High school youth who go to church know that church and school teach different accounts regarding the creation of life. A pastor shares a few ideas of how to get a discussion going that respects both our faith and the insights of science.
A clergy friend was telling me on the phone recently that one of her high school youth at the recent ELCA Youth Gathering in New Orleans said, "I don't understand why Christianity and Christians don't want to look at science for answers on creation." I think that such a general statement like this becomes a clear call for us rostered leaders to address this issue. High school youth are soaking up the popular media and culture and need to hear other voices about how to view the ongoing dialogue on how faith and science relate to one another.
It is crucial that we equip high school youth to view these subjects through a theological lens so that our youth do not think they have to choose between their science class and their confirmation class.
When I specifically focus on the issue of the origin of life with the youth, I try to anticipate their responses (however, I have found that the openness and curiosity of these young adults nearly always blows me away!). For the most part, I find that there is an honest openness to science, but they don't know how their faith in Christ fits into this scientific world. Some feel they have to choose. "Was the earth really created in seven days like the Bible says or is it longer like scientists say?" It's cut and dry, that is, is science correct or is the Bible correct?
What I really want to know is where the group is theologically.
I don't understand why Christianity and Christians don't want to look at science for answers on creation.
One activity which helps me to achieve this is to shape the youth in the room into a human spectrum. I point to one corner and say, "Please go to this corner if you think that Darwin was crazy." Then, I point to a corner on the opposite side and say, "Go to this corner if you think Darwin was enlightened by God." And then I invite everyone to go to any point in between the corners which represents their stance.
I next ask a few either-or statements based on what I'm curious about, such as:
- I believe the world was created in seven days, or I believe the world was created by the big bang.
- The biblical creation story tells who created us, or the biblical creation story accounts for the way we were created.
- Every word of the Bible is historical and scientific truth, or religion needs science to better understand God's creation and our role in it.
Some of these statements require explanation because the youth haven't thought about these alternatives before. At other times, I'll see some strong beliefs come alive. I'll move the discussion forward by challenging the youth to find what the Bible says about creation and I ask them to read it to me. They often read Genesis 1.
Afterwards, I offer this challenge: "You know where to find the seven days of creation! I thought there was a story about Eve being made from a rib of Adam, and you didn't share that story of creation with me. Could there be another creation story?"
|For Further Reading
- Ian G. Barbour, Religion and Science Historical and Contemporary Issues (New York: HarperCollins, 1997)
- Ted Peters, God—the World's Future, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress: 2000)
- Christopher Southgate, God, Humanity and the Cosmos, 2nd ed. (New York: T & T Clark International, 2005)
This is where I'll get some interesting looks. I might witness a moment of enlightenment; or perhaps some comments from a know-it-all child. If they can't find this creation story, I guide them to Genesis 2:4b–3:24.
It is helpful (depending on the size of the group) to split into smaller groups and let them discover the similarities and differences in the two Genesis creation accounts. If I need to stir up the discussion, I bring up questions such as, "In Genesis 1 does the first mention of night and day come before or after the sun and moon? What might this mean?"
Next, I begin to bring in theology. For example, we consider three doctrinal teachings related to creation: creatio ex nihilo, imago dei, and creatio continua. I write them down on paper and hang them on the wall for all to see.
The Latin may scare some youth, so make sure to simplify as much as possible!
Creatio ex nihilo means creation out of nothing. There was nothing before God, and there is nothing separate from God.
Imago dei means image of God. We were created in the image of God and therefore God's own creation is in God's image.
Creatio continua means creation continues and is ongoing. Creation is not only a single act in the past. Humans not only help to sustain it but also help with creation within the world.
These are a few ideas of how to begin to discuss with senior high youth the matter of origins and the development of life through creation and evolution, as seen through the lenses of faith and science. On Sunday mornings we confess, "I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth." We acknowledge our faith in God as creator. Creation is at the heart of our faith. So let's help our young people realize that such a discussion is not a matter of choosing between a science class and the confirmation class.
Dana Hendershot is the pastor of learning and youth at Christus Victor Lutheran Church, Naples, Florida. She writes a blog entitled "Kaleidoscope Faith" at kaleidoscopefaith.blogspot.com.
This article appeared in the November / December 2009 issue of Lutheran Partners Online.