by Susan Barreto, editor
A new era, a new classroom discussion…
Last month Covalence focused on how scholarly religion and science centers shape university life, and this month we take a look at how knowledge gained at seminaries can be applied to congregational life.
New efforts underway at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago will help seminarians add scientific perspective to their theological studies. Previous efforts such as those at Princeton Theological Seminary, which were discussed at the annual meeting of the Ecumenical Roundtable on Science, Technology and the Church in April (see feature), have already begun to have an impact. The hope is that a number of Templeton-funded efforts in congregations may blaze a new trail in the religion and science dialogue.
Also promising is a new program being developed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Rice University. In 2011, only 15% of scientists at major research universities saw religion and science as always in conflict, according to a Rice University study published in Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. Rice sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund said at that time that much of the public sees irreconcilable conflict in religion and science due to differing views on the origins of earth and how life developed, but a majority of scientists interviewed by Ecklund and her colleagues viewed religion and science as “valid avenues of knowledge.”
This study’s co-authors were sociologists Jerry Park of Baylor University and Katherine Sorrell, a former post baccalaureate fellow at Rice and current Ph.D. student at the University of Notre Dame. The team interviewed 275 participants, pulled from a survey of 2,198 tenured and tenure-track faculty in the natural and social sciences at 21 elite U.S. research universities.
Of this group, 70% said they believed religion and science are only sometimes in conflict. Half of the original survey population also expressed some form of religious identity. The study concluded that scientists as a whole differ substantially from most of the American public in how they view teaching “intelligent design” in public schools. Nearly all of the scientists have a negative impression of the theory of intelligent design.
In 2010, Ecklund’s book Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think was published by Oxford University Press detailing her findings. Scholars, including Ecklund are now conducting a major survey of several religious communities regarding their beliefs about science and their perceptions of scientists. They are also looking at the views of scientific professionals (see this month’s news).
One of the topics that will be covered by the AAAS/Rice University survey is evolution and our News this month features a new book from Fortress Press considering the concept of a creator God in an evolving world. One of the book’s authors says they have striven to make sense of complex processes and concepts for readers and the book is described as an intelligent and accessible defense of the compatibility of classical theism with the evolutionary worldview.
Evolution is an area that many view as controversial when it comes to religious faith. Officials at AAAS say that while evolution is often in the spotlight, other issues are at least as provocative in both positive and negative ways. Those issues include medical treatments and technologies, water management technology and humane agricultural production, which are of great interest regarding their service to the developing world. Climate change is also being seen as a concern as religious communities begin to shift toward a mindset of environmental stewardship and concern for the world’s poor, according to AAAS.
Genetic determinism, nature of mind and free will, and the blurring of the lines between humans and machines are other areas where science impacts individual beliefs and faith. All of these topics need to be addressed in accessible ways as part of a responsible and reasonable faith-based dialogue as we approach the impacts of science on humanity’s shared future.
The outcome of the AAAS survey will be a good barometer of where some of the seminary and Sunday school curricula will need to be enhanced for its greatest potential.
Covalence, May 2013