See also Sample Curriculum for Upper Elementary and Early Adolescents by Kimberlee Eighmy
A Christian educator describes the impetus and goals for a curriculum that helps churches integrate science and theology in teaching about origins to children and adolescents.
For the past 15 years I have served in the ministry of Christian education with children, youth, and families. During that time, I have sought creative methods to integrate the natural scientific world into the Christian education forum. A first attempt at this integration was during a vacation Bible school program centered on creation.
A church member, Ralph Steinhaus, and I developed an intergenerational program that incorporated elements of each day of creation. Ralph, a chemistry professor, crafted some wonderful puppet skits that integrated the science of chemistry into the understanding of how all of creation is interconnected and witnesses to God's creative power in the natural world. The children took naturally to this learning as it paralleled what they were already learning in public school, but I noted that many adults did not understand the need to bring science into the Christian education setting. In time, I would come to realize that not only are resources for integrating theology and science limited, but also that some see this methodology as a threat to promoting faith.
My continued experiences in Christian education have led me to understand the importance of addressing the issue of what are often seen as competing claims between science and theology. For children and youth, these competing claims are most often directed toward the teaching of origins. Because public schools are restricted in how they may teach about origins from a religious viewpoint, children often experience the two stories of evolution and creation in a compartmentalized way that creates confusion and a gap in understanding.1 Too often, this gap in understanding develops a polarized view of these two stories. Christian education has an opportunity to bridge this gap, and this teaching needs to begin at the point in which the child encounters the separate stories of evolution and creation.
Children often experience the two stories of evolution and creation in a compartmentalized way that creates confusion and a gap in understanding.
The upper elementary-aged child (ages 7-11) has the cognitive, psychosocial, and faith capacities to accommodate this teaching. Children of this age begin interpreting stories and beliefs in a literal fashion, but they move toward discriminating between concepts previously taught and their implications for new meaning. As the child moves toward adolescence (ages 12-14), he or she further recognizes the discrepancy between stories and their meanings. This realization "leads to disillusionment with previous teachers and teaching"2 and the child begins to challenge stories or teachings that present differing viewpoints. The challenge facing Christian education is to meet the child in daily life where he or she can grow in both the languages of faith and science that bring meaning and understanding, thus attending to the wholeness and interconnectedness experienced in life.3
As a way of addressing this need, in the fall of 2007 I engaged in a Master of Arts project that focused on integrating evolution and theology in educational ministry for children. Under the direction of Professor Norma Cook Everist at Wartburg Seminary, I developed a sample curriculum for upper elementary-aged children and early adolescents as part of this project.4 Objectives for this curriculum are: to help children and early adolescents gain skills in understanding the different ways of interpreting the Genesis stories, to compare scientific and theological ways of knowing (forming hypotheses and beliefs), to become comfortable with speaking both languages of science and faith, to explore how the evolutionary process is connected to God's work in the world, and to promote self-identity as a child of God.
Theology of the Cross
Central to this integration is using a theology of the cross as a way of understanding God's work in the world. A theology of the cross allows the Christian to witness to God's creative act in the book of Genesis while acknowledging how science establishes the way in which creation functions through evolution.5 A theology of the cross also acknowledges the cycles of life, death, and new life present in the evolutionary cycle.6 However, the purpose of these cycles is understood theologically as means through which God meets the oppressed and unfit, and not as a system of domination or survival of the fittest.7
Teaching needs to begin at the point in which the child encounters the separate stories of evolution and creation.
My primary goal is to provide children and youth with the foundational understandings that will allow them in the future to enter into open and honest dialogue that does not require one to deny the claims of either theology or science. While some may ask if theology and science need one another to function, I believe that we cannot begin to address their relationship unless we first understand how theology and science function in the same world, the world we experience as interconnected and whole.
Kimberlee Eighmy, from Verona, Wisconsin, is an associate in ministry working in the area of Christian education. Recently, she has been on study leave at Wartburg Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa. Part of her studies included the development of a sample curriculum integrating evolution and theology for children; a portion of this curriculum can be found here.
- United States Department of Education, Religious Expression in Public Schools (November 25, 2008). A summary of the current guidelines adopted by the United States Department of Education are as follows: Teaching about religion: Public schools may not provide religious instruction, but they may teach about religion, including the Bible or other scripture: the history of religion, comparative religion, the Bible (or other scripture)-as-literature, and the role of religion in the history of the United States and other countries all are permissible public school subjects. Similarly, it is permissible to consider religious influences on art, music, literature, and social studies. Although public schools may teach about religious holidays, including their religious aspects, and may celebrate the secular aspects of holidays, schools may not observe holidays as religious events or promote such observance by students; Student assignments: Students may express their beliefs about religion in the form of homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free of discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions. Such home and classroom work should be judged by ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance, and against other legitimate pedagogical concerns identified by the school.
- James W. Fowler, Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981), 150.
- For a foundational text on the interface of science and religion see Ian Barbour, Religion in an Age of Science, The Gifford Lectures, vol. 1 (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1990). In this text, Barbour notes, "We do not experience life as neatly divided into separate compartments; we experience it in wholeness and interconnectedness before we develop particular disciplines to study different aspects of it" (16).
- For more information on this sample curriculum, contact Kim Eighmy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- A broad spectrum of beliefs exists for both scientists and theologians. An excellent resource for understanding the spectrum of beliefs is by Ted Peters and Martinez Hewlett, Evolution from Creation to New Creation: Conflict, Conversation, and Convergence (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003). Peters and Hewlett see the diversity of belief as operating on two spectrums: one of Divine Action that ranges from atheism to theism, and one of Causal Explanation ranging from No Purpose Within Nature to Purpose and Design Within Nature.
- Two resources that address both evolution and the integration of a theology of the cross with science are by George L. Murphy: The Trademark of God: A Christian Course in Creation, Evolution, and Salvation (Wilton, CT: Morehouse-Barlow, 1986), and The Cosmos in Light of the Cross (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2003).
- Herbert Spencer developed this term just after the publication of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species. Darwin connected survival of the fittest to the understanding of natural selection, which combined with Spencer's work in social ethics. This combination developed into what is known as social Darwinism, which suggests that society should allow natural processes to overcome the weak in society in order to promote the rightful place of its stronger members.
This article appeared in the November / December 2009 issue of Lutheran Partners Online.