by Susan Barreto, editor
What makes for a strong religion/science dialogue?
Students at both seminaries and universities, in the U.S. particularly, have had more opportunities in recent months than perhaps ever before to learn more about the foundational concepts behind the ever-growing theology and science discussion.
For example, at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago this fall students heard lectures from scientists on the origin of the universe, DNA and the unique body structure that gave rise to humans. In the same series they heard lectures about ideas on these matters from theologians that, in looking back, seem to have been ahead of their time. Students and the public at large at Dominican University in River Forest, IL heard George Coyne discuss human beings as "Children of a Fertile Universe," whose existence depends upon the interaction of "Chance, Destiny, and a Creator God" (see this month's profile on Coyne).
In a way that suggests an exciting new broadening of the dialogue, there seems to be more interest in organizing public and educational forums on religion and science. For example, The Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences in California, in celebrating its 30th anniversary, hosted a public conference on God and Creation on December 11. Many other events for the education of youth and church leaders are being planned in the coming year in the U.S. and Europe. The Faraday Institute has put together materials for students and lay people that may find their way into classrooms as well as churches (see this month's news section).
A brief glance at upcoming events (this issue of Covalence), makes clear the first half of 2012 will be packed with conferences and one-day opportunities for both students and the general public who are interested in learning more about what theologians and scientists have to say about the world we live in. This is just the type of venue that first sparked my interest in the multi-disciplinary discussion that marks the religion and science dialogue.
These multiple opportunities raise an important question: What should attendees look for in a good dialogue? Events that feature both scientists and theologians are generally high on the agenda, but a clear and limited focus on a set topic or interrelated topics is also worth looking for. Broad topics may be helpful on an introductory level, but in many cases the temptation to dive into too many areas at once can be a source of distraction too.
What may make for a more enlightening discussion are the instances where speakers themselves are both theologians and scientists. For example, the spring conference at Goshen College will feature Celia Deane-Drummond. Celia started out studying biology and ecology and later on earned a doctorate in systematic theology. The theme to her series of lectures will be: "Re-Imaging the Divine Image: Humans and Other Animals" (see this month's Calendar for more information).
Other upcoming conferences and lectures in early 2012 will focus on biosemetics, a field that studies the production, action and interpretation of signs in the biological realm; astronomy and God; and physics and creation.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it is a good idea to bring an open mind and a blank notebook to any one of these talks. As many lecturers pose thought-provoking questions, it usually happens that more questions are raised for further study and discussion. Oddly enough, this is the sign of a productive discussion in religion and science albeit frustrating for those who are waiting to hear definitive answers in a quest for knowledge.
Susan Barreto is a journalist who has been following religion and science since 2003 with articles appearing in various newsletters and The Lutheran magazine. She is also a deputy editor of a monthly hedge fund magazine owned by Euromoney Institutional Investor. Susan is a long-time member of Luther Memorial Church in Chicago, where she lives with her husband and son.