Taking science to the sanctuary
Recent research data suggest that one of the main reasons teens and twenty-somethings leave their faith behind is that churches come across as antagonistic to science. According to this Barna Group survey, 35% of the young people surveyed said "Christians are too confident that they know all the answers. Three out of ten young adults said that churches are “out of step with the scientific world we live in."
Roughly one-quarter said they felt Christianity was anti-science and about the same number said they were turned off by the creation versus evolution debate.
These research figures point to the fact that a contentious religion and science debate, rather than dialogue, is actually not that attractive to young people seeking answers for their daily lives. Perhaps that’s why some of the new initiatives underway in churches show so much promise.
It may seem like an unconventional place to discuss the Big Bang, evolution or even artificial intelligence, but a sanctuary near you may be encouraging the model of science and theology in dialogue rather than the one of debate pitting one set of ideas against another.
This month Covalence looks at an innovative grant program funded by the John Templeton Foundation that pairs up pastors and scientists in order to educate parishioners on scientific topics and how science relates to religion. It’s a challenge and it’s uncommon and it really is unprecedented in the Templeton Foundation’s history since it has traditionally funded universities to enable them to offer public events, research and unique classes to university students.
The reach of the Scientists in Congregations grant, though, will be much wider. Educational materials are being worked on for grades six through high school, while adult forums are looking at science in relation to upcoming lectionary readings and artificial intelligence.
Should this program take off it could have a strong impact beyond the 37 congregations that were awarded grant monies. Of this group at least four of the congregations are within the ELCA and are working closely with nearby universities to bring professors and scientists into the congregation.
Also in the area of inspiration and education, the ELCA Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology is in the process of developing a three-session confirmation module dealing with creation and science. The Alliance is looking for congregations willing to field test the confirmation module, a module that is designed to help students explore how scientific theories and biblical creation stories can go together as we consider God’s world and the human place in it.
The Alliance member and pastor taking the lead on the confirmation module project is Rev. George Murphy, who is both an ordained pastor and a PhD. physicist — a rarity in any denomination.
But as more pastors are taking an interest in science themselves and befriending their local astronomers, philosophers, doctors and researchers, it seems that scientists too are less antagonistic toward religion than previously thought. Only 15% of scientists at major research universities see religion and science always in conflict, according to a Rice University study that was recently published in Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.
Rice sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund contradicts the idea that most people in understanding reality and origins of Earth and how life developed see irreconcilable conflict in religion and science, because a majority of scientists interviewed by Ecklund and her colleagues viewed religion and science as “valid avenues of knowledge.”
It’s the recognition of validity of both faith and scientific fact as valid avenues of knowledge that makes life today a little more interesting whether you are sitting in the pew, active in the pulpit or making discoveries in the lab.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.