We are marching …

We are marching ...

Credit: St. Andrews Lutheran Campus Center in Champaign, IL

We are marching in the light of God,
We are marching in the light of God.
(Repeat)
We are marching, marching,
We are marching, marching,
We are marching in the light of God.

— Siyahamb’ ekukhanyen’ kwenknos’ (We are marching in the light of God, a Zulu traditional song)

We are marching in the light of God and for a greater understanding of science is another play on the lyrics of that famous South African protest hymn against Apartheid. It is a catchy enough tune though that you might find yourself wanting to march FOR something rather than against an idea. The March for Science was overwhelmingly that kind of a march — a march FOR something bigger than any one participant. Collectively those in attendance were not anti-religion, as perhaps some may have thought, and many marchers even sought to promote a religion-and-science message of unity.

The March for Science, and the Climate Change March that followed, attracted scientists and concerned citizens including members of a variety of faith communities as well as from a variety of backgrounds.

Supporters of science have plenty of reasons to take to the streets as the Environmental Protection Agency has experienced significant budget cuts and recent termination of scientists on its advisory board.  In addition, the National Institutes of Health is also seeing a pull back on its funding. There were also reportedly efforts to save government scientific data as President Trump was inaugurated because some scientists feared that climate change data would be deleted from government webpages.

Mark Winters, pastor of a United Church of Christ congregation in Naperville, Illinois and participant in last month’s March, told the Chicago Tribune, “We both need each other. The science community gives us the facts, the faith community gives us a moral base.” The sign he held as he marched alongside his daughter in Chicago read “Religion and science are not enemies.”

“Many of the great scientists today are religious people,” Rob Baldwin, an associate professor in forestry and environment conservation at Clemson University, told a crowd at the March for Science in Greenville, South Carolina. Part of his speech may be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cj6QnG4DBCk.

Unity was the theme. Unity against science denial was part of the message, which made it through much of the media coverage. Perhaps even more importantly it was an opportunity for pastors, scientists and others to highlight that there is no basis for conflict between faith and science.

Astronomer Grace Wolf-Chase recently told a group of scientists, pastors and lay people about her time at Cornell University, and how she graduated with an uncertain feeling about her faith. She pointed out that the university was founded by Andrew Dickinson White, who was known to promote the necessity of the inherent conflict between religion and science. He elaborated his  conflict thesis of science with dogmatic theology in the 1869 two-volume A History of the Warfare of Science and Theology in Christendom. The warfare stigma has stuck.

Wolf-Chase eventually could more fully embrace her faith as she met scientists who were also Christians while in graduate school at Arizona State University. And often it is all about who you meet. Especially when you are marching for the same cause.

As was the case with South Africans during Apartheid they knew they were not marching alone! The title of this newsletter says it all, in that Covalence refers to the covalent bonds in chemistry, where both elements are stronger in their bonds rather than as individual elements. But there is a third element that also supports much of the work of those active in the faith/science dialogue.

As the song says…

We are moving in the power of God,
We are moving in the power of God,
(Repeat)
We are moving, moving,
We are moving, moving,
We are moving in the power of God.
(Repeat)

Amen.

Telling the story

Telling the story

Credit: Michael Shaheen, cc via Flickr

What is the greatest story ever told? What is the greatest story you’ve ever told? Do they have anything in common?

For theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, the greatest story ever told — according to his new book with that title — is that of science.

“Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded, and the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand,” he reportedly told a recent gathering. “It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust.”

The Greatest Story Ever Told - So FarSome would argue that Krauss, a professed atheist, may have missed the prequel.

The prequel was best told, in my estimation, by philosopher, priest and paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin, in his Mass on the World from 1923, “In the beginning was Power, intelligent, loving, energizing. In the beginning was the Word, supremely capable of mastering and molding whatever might come into being in the world of matter. In the beginning, there were not coldness and darkness: there was Fire.”

In earlier writing from 1916 he describes the creation in an even better way. He writes, “Christ has a cosmic body that extends throughout the universe.”

But how do you tell that story — the story of the universe that is — in a way that is true to science and to Christianity? It is difficult. It is a story that groups such as the American Scientific Affiliation are seeking to tell to youth and the public at large. In telling the group’s story this month, Executive Director Leslie Wickman writes of a unique group of Christians who were also scientists that wanted to cement their ideas as an organized group. This was conceived in the tumultuous years following the famous Scopes trial in the 1920s.

Another group seeking to better tell the story is the Religion News Foundation, which will likely give higher visibility to a variety of religion-and-science topics via a timely grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

A unique subset of academicians are theology and science scholars who are in a field of investigation that many, like Krauss, say is a conflict to be avoided. But every one of these scholars has his or her own reason for doing this. Some will speak openly about their story that is usually complete with concrete reasons for studying the intersection of faith and science.

The story that they tell is that of the human family. This story is changing rapidly today thanks to technologies such artificial intelligence and CRISPR and many are not so eager to tell the human story by integrating the faith and science perspective, which I would say encompasses awe, wonder and a bit of mystery.

I think the stories we are told when we are young are integral in how we view the world later as adults. What stories have you told about your experiences to your kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews and friends? Are they stories of faith? Scientific discovery? Curiosity?

These are the types of stories that are important to tell as people of faith. We need a little bit of that awe alongside respect for good scientific work. This storytelling that is related to science and the world around us should thrive within faith communities. After all, our churches will be home to future scientists, theologians and curious lay people alike.

You don’t think you are a storyteller? Let me assure that we all are. It is a distinctive human trait. We love to learn and learn to love through good stories. Just consider the parables of the New Testament. Jesus could have said “be generous,” “forgive often,” and just barked random commandments again and again, but stories help all of us to remember the key points.

What’s your story?

A Sunday on campus provides a fresh look at faith/science ministry ideas

A Sunday on campus provides a fresh look at faith/science ministry ideas

Alma Mater, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. By Kevin Dooley, cc via Flickr

After becoming a “townie” this last month in our family’s big move to Champaign-Urbana or the C-U as locals say, attending the local campus church was a pleasant eye-opening experience.

A few Sundays ago, I was offered a fresh look at how young adults approach faith. It was encouraging. Seeing young adults in action daily during the week too has also brought home the greater importance of emphasizing that it is important to encourage them to understand that taking STEM courses shouldn’t be a stumbling block to faith, and vice versa.

Whether it is explaining how many worms are now living in the compost pile in the front hallway of the church, hosting an eco-justice discussion or pointing to the precise engineering of a Moravian star to talk about the compatibility of faith and science, ELCA Pastor Amy Thoren at St. Andrews Church in Champaign is eager to reach out to undergrad and graduate students who are questioning what their faith life should be after moving away from home.

The mission statement of the congregation just off the quad is one that seeks to gather those who “are eager for the kind of ministry found on a university campus: a ministry welcoming of questions and challenge, intellectually inquisitive and thoughtful, and always in dialogue with the academic rigors found across the street and in the lives of many of our people.”

It is important as many students leaving home for the first time to have a comfortable spiritual home as they wrestle with basic questions of faith. It is a pastor’s duty to shepherd young people who are just now trying to identify who they are outside of their immediate family unit. It is an intense time in a young person’s life.

Then again some high school students had their own time of questioning of how science and faith “fit” at an even younger age, as retired science educator R. Wesley McCoy notes in this month’s essay, “Christians embracing evolution.” It is reassuring though to know that there are science teachers and pastors who agree that science as a vocation is important and is worthy of a faith community’s support.

Whether the student is in high school or college, the vocal support of their studies as well as of their faith journey is important for parents, educators and congregational leaders alike. Have you ever asked the youth in your congregation what they want to be when they grow up? Have they ever responded with a career of theoretical physicist? If, so that’s great. But even if they are unsure it is important to follow-up (even if you don’t know a thing much about science) so that they can see their interests and their community of faith don’t have to be competing for their attention. Take the time to learn from them what drew them to the sciences and what they dream of accomplishing someday.

Perhaps the most encouraging part of this month’s issue of Covalence is the news of a John Templeton Foundation-funded effort headed up by Fuller Seminary in California called Science and Theology in Emerging Adult Ministries or STEAM for short. The term “emerging adult” seems like an excellent focus at the intersection of faith and science, where so many decisions are often made in those years between 18-30 and when so many of us are unsure of ourselves and the world we find ourselves in — not that it necessarily gets any easier as we become older.

One of the numerous STEAM grants awarded through Fuller Seminary is at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and Campus Ministry in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The church is reaching out to students through small groups to determine if and why they feel tension between the practice of faith and the study of science. They plan on bringing in outside speakers to address the student’s concerns and to also form a mentorship network between local ministers and university scientists.

STEAM has its roots in the Scientists in Congregations, which was a well-received effort that sought to bring scientists and scientific dialogue into the pews.  STEAM began in early 2016 and the funded projects are just now taking off.

It will be interesting to see where these nationwide efforts lead and how many young lives are impacted. A new ministry or two may just become a permanent fixture on campus!

Will the church support good science in the public square?

Will the church support good science in the public square?I’m sure if you have spent any time on social media lately, you have seen that T-shirt advertisement. You know the one that says “Science is not a liberal conspiracy.” Even some of the educators in my church have shared the post. It seems that just like religion, science too can become a political lightning rod.

So if you also missed this on Facebook, the March for Science is taking place across the U.S. and around the globe on April 22, which is Earth Day. With marches scheduled in more than 100 cities, the Washington, D.C., march on the public mall and teach-in is only a small part of a much larger event.

According to organizers: “It’s not about scientists or politicians, it is about the very real role that science plays in each of our lives and the need to respect and encourage research that gives us insight into the world. Nevertheless, the march has generated a great deal of conversation around whether or not scientists should involve themselves in politics. In the face of an alarming trend toward discrediting scientific consensus and restricting scientific discovery, we might ask instead: can we afford not to speak out in its defense?”

Even as some churches celebrate Evolution Weekend this month, will those same congregations and pastors also participate in the March for Science?

Prior to President Donald Trump’s inauguration, AAAS President Barbara Schaal in an editorial published in Science, urged the President to include credible scientists in his administration — at all levels and in all federal agencies. She wrote: “For policies to be successful, we must first understand the current state of knowledge … The practices of science — open dialogue, publication, scrutiny and replication — help validate results, allowing our understanding of the world around us to grow and change.”

AAAS officials add that in the last several years there have been a number of instances where science contributed to public policy. One example is in forensics, where new studies have led to a better  understanding of information provided by DNA, fingerprints and the composition of bullets.

Concerns remain though that the new administration does not value science-based evidence, especially  in the area of climate change and environmental policy. These are issues that define political boundaries and where those involved in the faith and science dialogue have a unique role to play.

AAAS has made it a point to also work with religious leaders in lifting up science education, particularly through its DoSER program. This month in Covalence we take a closer look at the Science for Seminaries program that wrapped up last year. It seemed to be a successful and engaging project that will have a lasting impact on not only the seminarians but also the institutions that they attend.

The original question remains, though, as to whether seminarians, church members, or clergy will actively take part in public events such as the March for Science, just as they did for the Women’s March in January. It will be particularly interesting to see if some of those seminarian students that participated in the new coursework will feel compelled to take on a ‘teach-in’ of their own – showing that religion and science have a shared role in promoting positive relationships for the public good. Such an effort is of increasing importance as scientific initiatives increasingly may overlap with social justice issues, such as education and population displacement as a result of climate change.

So lace up your shoes, design your signs and hit the streets in the support of science. More information can be found at https://www.marchforscience.com.

Susan Barreto, Editor
Covalence

Exploring the final scientific frontier – the religious mind

Exploring the final scientific frontier – the religious mind

Credit: cc by Silver Blue via Flickr

It just stands to reason that what we almost know the least about scientifically to some degree is the closest to us — our own minds. It is something neuroscience has been trying to uncover in recent decades and in particular there is still plenty of curiosity as to whether we are hardwired for religion or if religion has changed “our wiring” for the better.

While these questions remain intriguing, the answers are still elusive. This month we are looking at the mind/body connection through the lens of mental illness. There are many struggling with mental illness today both in the pews and in our communities. In many instances individuals have discovered the support that only a church family can give. Studying trends more broadly, there are scientists who are taking a greater interest in the connections between faith and brain activity, in addition to the recent University of Utah. In some ways, these studies’ findings may be interesting from the standpoint of showing the physicality of meditation or prayer, but in other ways they seem to lessen the uniqueness of the experience by comparing it to brain reward centers that light up during sex or gambling.

Could simply lighting up the right reward center in the brain, help those struggling with mental illness? Could it also trigger a spiritual experience?  Brain chemistry is indeed addressed in treating some aspects of mental illnesses such as bipolar depression and schizophrenia.

It is also worth asking what the scientists hope to accomplish with their research on religious experience. Do they hope to find proof that God’s love is located in a specific part of one’s brain or are they seeking to “cheapen” the experience by comparing it to other rewarding activities?

It seems that on the one hand scientists are trying to put more measurable characteristics to the religious experiences that are separate from ‘self-reported’ spiritual experiences, which could be helpful. Then on the other hand, it may be that some want to explain religion away as a simple function of brain chemistry.

Either way one looks at it, the argument is a powerful that our beliefs can shape how we view ourselves and those around us. If one is a Christian, there seems to be more hopeful outlook when it comes to being part of a community and in relationships as revealed in the findings of the Chicago Social Brain Network. Proving that hypothesis is nearly impossible though as it is difficult to measure, and correlation does not necessarily equal causation. In the recent large Nurses Study conducted in relationship to suicide, for instance, the findings that those that attended church were less likely to commit suicide is noteworthy but  don’t seem all that compelling. It doesn’t address the taboo across religions of taking one’s life, for example. Nor does it demonstrate that a church community helped in addressing individual problems more than one’s friends if a person doesn’t attend church services.

While all these bits of research seem to have lofty aims, the actual findings generally raise more questions than they answer. It may just be that some of the feelings experienced by individuals praying or worshiping are not measurable or even comparable to one another. Is a Buddhist more spiritual than a Baptist? What does the fMRI say?

Still, if one is battling problems related to brain chemistry, having a friend and one’s own faith as companions seems to be crucial in bringing hope to the hopeless. That kind of hope undoubtedly is one of the most noteworthy aims of religious life. Let’s pray that we can offer that hope to one another when and where it is needed most. While those outcomes may be unverifiable on a scientific basis, it still is a reasonable aim of congregational life.

Learning Lutheran theology through the religion and science dialogue

Learning Lutheran theology through the religion and science dialogue

The Badab-e Surt formations that has been created over thousands of years as flowing water from two mineral hot springs cooled and deposited carbonate minerals. Credit: cc by Nick Thompson via Flickr

Call me an accidental Lutheran.

It just so happened that the closest church to my first apartment in Chicago was an ELCA congregation roughly one block away. It wasn’t until a few years after joining, however, that I began to learn about Lutheranism and how it differed from the mainline Protestant church I grew up in. I also began to understand a bit about Lutheran theology and this was strictly a consequence of my interest in the religion and science dialogue.

It is very easy to sit in a pew on any given Sunday morning and learn of God’s grace and love, but then know very little of the contributions Martin Luther made to theology. Concepts such as Luther’s theology of the cross just don’t readily come up in many sermons!  Perhaps confirmands learn more about these concepts along with the history of the Lutheran church, but for me and perhaps for a few other “accidental Lutherans” it has been a struggle to pinpoint the allure of the denomination or explain the theological differences.

For me religion and science opened the doors to learning about why the ELCA church body believes as it does and how, while our ideas about God may change, God does not. God is unwavering in overflowing love for humanity with all of its flaws.

This month, as the Lutheran World Federation, of which the ELCA is a part, marked the beginning of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I decided to look back on what others have written and thought about Lutheran theology and Luther’s own interaction with science in past editions of Covalence.  The result is this month’s feature and it demonstrates a snapshot of how Lutherans and science have had a good relationship over the centuries. It is fair to say that much in that story has been a positive endeavor, unlike writing and thought in other branches of Christianity that view concepts such as evolution as a threat to the Biblical narrative of creation.

So coming back to my experience: It was many years in the making, but ultimately through various lectures, discussions and conferences I’ve been able to pick up on a few theological concepts. I’ve also come across stories that depict Lutherans as a people open to scientific discovery, new technologies and supportive of science as a vocation.

I’m thankful I’ve had an opportunity to learn more about Lutheran theology generally along the way in private discussions and through public lectures.

Perhaps where this has been the most evident is with the Zygon Center for Religion and Science housed at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. It was there at the invitation of one of our vicars that I attended the Epic of Creation lecture series and was immediately captivated by the content. Since then I have embarked on a remarkable journey over the past decade, one that has deepened my faith and fed my intellectual curiosity.

As it is with any community experience it is the people that initially draw you in and the discussion that keeps you engaged. It could not have be more the case in the religion and science arena for me. Science is awe-inspiring enough on its own, but when interwoven with one’s faith and a community of fellow learners it is a glimpse into humanity’s past, present and future that fuels a lifetime of inquiry.

Scientific spirituality should be contagious

Scientific spirituality should be contagious

Credit: cc by VanessaC (EY) via Flickr

While there are many memories I could share about growing up on a farm and in a rural area, there are a few that I think shaped me, perhaps, more than I realized.

As many of you may know from your own experiences growing up in a small community, more often than not the person in town with the highest level of education (i.e. beyond the four years of college of a local educator) is the pastor or priest. Not only a moral authority, a pastor may be the person who interprets current events and is a key leader in the community.

Recently a memory came back to me of perhaps my 7- or 8-year-old-self. It was a recollection of me pretending to be a pastor. Mind you I had never seen a woman pastor at that point, but I had a nice size aluminum refrigerator from my play kitchen that doubled as a lectern when I turned it around along with an old Methodist hymnal that my mom bought at a church rummage sale. I remember giving plenty a sermon from my refrigerator/lectern.

But why I enjoyed playing pastor was more than just thinking I was the center of attention at that lectern, I think it was this idea of being right. Having all the answers, if you will, no matter the situation. I know many of you may be pastors, so just soak up this idea of always being RIGHT in your congregant’s eyes! Not an easy place to be, certainly.

Another early memory popped into my head recently too. I was a bit older and it was of a time of sheer joy and care free movement. I recall running and then dancing down our long driveway. Feeling the wind blow through my hair and then realizing I was my hands, arms, legs, feet, atoms, dirt, star stuff (thanks Carl Sagan), and an absolute mystery. I was in awe of myself as a part of creation yet still on the sidelines as a witness to it – a place I now realize that only God could carve out.

But I was a mystery on that day, and that curiosity was much more intriguing than having a full set of pat answers. It wasn’t until later on that I heard rumblings of a battle playing out between some people of faith and the theory of evolution and then faith and science broadly. Still that moment of ‘the dance’ was when I think I knew that I wanted to find out where my faith fit with the world. I was in the world but yet outside of the boundaries of the rest of nature. How could that be?

In my post college years, there was a need, however, to drop the “knowledge driven” or “know-it-all” mindset that can become routine for people of faith and learn to do that dance again as an adult. After all a world of sound bites with quick and easy answers loses its luster after a few years.

Here’s where science could spark something new. Discoveries about the universe and even quantum physics could hold unique truths about the world around us. That mysterious, glorious dance in awe of what is right in front of us and the presence of a creator within us (the creation) and outside of us at the same time. This is the spirituality that I see at work when it comes to having an abundant, forward-moving religion-and-science dialogue.

This scientific spirituality, as I’m calling it here, is also present in the “Affirmation of Creation” overture drafted by an organization within the Presbyterian Church (USA) that, like the Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science, and Technology, seeks to lead the church in engaging with science in productive ways. A divine dance with all of creation, if you will.

We must look closely at the “why” questions those two groups and others in the Episcopalian and United Church of Christ religion and science organizations ask all the time. These groups get together once a year in fact at a series of meetings called the Ecumenical Roundtable on Faith, Science and the Church (ERT). Here these leaders share ideas and take the time to learn more on faith-and-science topics of the day that they then can take back to their respective congregations and denominations.

ERT meetings have pondered “Why is genetic enhancement through techniques like CRISPR worth the attention of the church.” In other years they have considered whether the practice of genetic modification is ethical in the eyes of the people of faith. Likewise, a previous meeting at the Roundtable took a close look at the use of social media and its effect on congregations. Together they engage in a dance of spirituality that is enlivened through scientific curiosity. This dance is what I call “scientific spirituality.”

These are important discussions that need scientists and everyday persons alike to participate alongside pastors. It is not about having all the answers as my childlike faith may have once deemed important, but the willingness to ask the right questions at the right time — and more importantly — together.

Is science squeezing out religion in our modern society?

Is science squeezing out religion in our modern society?

The Ark Encounter’s reconstruction of Noah’s Ark. Credit: A. Larry Cross Communications

A friend of my son and recent grad from a local Jesuit high school recently exclaimed, “That just doesn’t make sense!” when I mentioned a field of scholarship called “religion-and-science.” His argument was that one is studying either one or the other, but that both disciplines do not go together. On the surface, it seems to be a reasonable argument that the two don’t need each other and apparently he is not alone, especially when looking at recent figures coming out of Pew Research.

As highlighted  in that research, there are a growing number of people who describe themselves as not being religious. About half of current religious “nones” who were raised in a religion (49%) indicate that a lack of belief led them to move away from religion, according to Pew Research. This includes many respondents who mention “science” as the reason they do not believe in religious teachings, including one who said “I’m a scientist now, and I don’t believe in miracles.” Others reference “common sense,” “logic” or a “lack of evidence” — or simply say they do not believe in God.

The answers to the Pew survey illustrate some of the most commonly accepted beliefs that are often repeated far and wide when it comes to being a scientist. That is that many scientists are not religious as “faith” and “scientific inquiry” cannot be housed in the same person. Of course this is overly simplistic. Still, the growing number of “nones” or those who do not identify with a specific religion were mostly raised in a particular religion with 78% saying they shed their religious identity in adulthood.

Then there are folks like Deborah Haarsma, who is a scientist and a Christian. She is tasked with taking on the other end of the spectrum, religious individuals who choose not to believe in science. As President of the BioLogos Foundation, she had served as professor and chair in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan prior to taking on her role at the foundation.

According to her biography on the BioLogos website, as an experienced research scientist Haarsma has studied very large galaxies (at the centers of galaxy clusters), very young galaxies (undergoing rapid star formation in the early universe), and gravitational lenses (where spacetime is curved by a massive object). Her work used data from several major telescopes, including the Very Large Array radio telescope in New Mexico, the Southern Astrophysical Research optical and infrared telescope in Cerro Pachon, Chile, and the Chandra X-ray Observatory in orbit around the Earth.

Speaking to lay audiences on scientific topics, Haarsma often speaks to churches, colleges, and schools about the relationships between science and Christian faith. Most recently, she made it clear that BioLogos Foundation,founded by geneticist Francis Collins, fully affirms the authority and inspiration of the Bible, and there is no reason to believe a proper interpretation of Genesis 6-9 conflicts with modern science.

In a letter posted on her blog, Haarsma responded to the opening of a unique theme park created by Ken Ham’s group “Answers in Genesis.” The Ark Encounter features a large wooden reconstruction of Noah’s Ark and is based on the flood story in Genesis 6-9

She also discussed Christianity’s legacy of encouraging scientific research that was built on the belief that all of nature is God’s creation. According to Haarsma’s blog, hundreds of years of research in geology, paleontology, biology, and many other fields have produced abundant evidence that the earth is billions of years old and that fossils and geological features formed through many processes over eons of time. Today, she writes, 99% of Ph.D. biologists agree that plants, animals, and humans formed through evolutionary processes.

Rev George Murphy, Covalence’s theological editor, also contradicts the common belief about incompatibility. He is both a pastor and also a physicist who has recently published a scientific paper. In this edition of Covalence, he writes about the age of the earth. While the essay is from several years ago, it is evident that being a pastor didn’t mean Murphy felt the need to leave behind his life as a scientist.

While Haarsma and Murphy may seem to be an anomaly in the scientific and religious communities to pollsters, if there is anything I’ve learned over the years, it is that the idea that science and religion are unique and distinct enterprises is a myth. That myth seems easier to believe than the stories of the people of faith who also work in the sciences. And because of this misconception, it makes the jobs of both Haarsma and Murphy all that more challenging and rewarding for all of us willing to listen to what they have to say.

Let’s talk about resources

Let’s talk about resources

Credit: cc by Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr

Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink

– Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

No, this isn’t an essay on the scarcity of clean water or natural resources. Rather, let me reflect here on how to rethink the availability of resources necessary for communicating about and teaching of faith and science basics to all ages.

This month as we read about Clint Schnekloth’s Faith & Science VBS experience this summer, it is clear that it takes lots of resources to pull off a distinctive summer program such as this. To create and distribute a top-notch curriculum or faith-and-science oriented program, people, processes and careful forethought are musts. But possibly the greatest stumbling block at the moment is the lack of access to fully vetted and time-tested materials that can be used in congregations, Sunday schools or in other public settings to open up a forward-moving dialogue in the arena of faith and science.

Sure the web is home to a number of free resources that have been developed by a number of groups over the years. We at the Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology have such a section on our website as well and recently have been discussing what it takes to put together a more comprehensive repository of information. As a group we are in the early stages, but perhaps there is something to be learned just in the process of gathering online and print information.

What’s important? This is always up for debate. Breaking it down into categories of information related to people across the faith/science dialogue is tricky. Of course curricula, essays and even educational videos are all of interest. What it comes down to though, is determining how such material can be adequately used. Going back to our Coleridge allusion, everyone is thirsty, but perhaps each water glass differs in size and what satisfies others thirst only mildly quenches other.

For our purposes today, let’s hypothetically break it down into three types of people with an interest in using religion and science resources — the educator, the couch scholar and the community builder/member.

The educator may be a Sunday School teacher, a pastor or even a deaconess. In fact, it was a deaconess I know who got me thinking about the versatility of the materials out there and the difficulty in some instances to adapt them to various audiences. It is great to have a bunch of ideas on a website, but actually applying them to differing age groups, educational levels and interests can be a challenge. For pastors, many whom lead adult education forums or confirmation, it is tricky as well. This is because while some congregations may be mostly made up of college-educated members, others perhaps outside of college towns or metropolitan areas may have a real interest in just what science is and how it works rather than the intricacies of physics or new technological implications.

The couch scholar is representative of a lot of passionate religion and science audience members. Some are science teachers and others seminarians. Others may just have an affinity for both theological and scientific matters. While they are often well read on a variety of topics, for this group it is all about finding new sources for the latest ideas on new scientific discoveries as well as historical information related to the faith and science dialogue. Scholarly papers on transhumanism, may be of interest but for the most part this group is interested in complex topics boiled down in layman’s terminology with footnotes for further reading.

Last but not least, the community builder/member. Some folks are just looking to join something larger than themselves and work on a project within a group. Just knowing that there is a dialogue provides enough excitement and material for learning that this group can easily be enriched. Still what they may need is a feel for uncovering the whole scope of religion and science in its entirety. Today many groups specialize on set topics or a grouping of topics at any one point in time — which can be off-putting if it isn’t a topic of interest.

So back to the drawing board. How can groups, such as the Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology, serve the broad needs of church communities? What materials already exist that can be combined and used for the greatest impact?

Is there a need for more development in the gathering of resources? Certainly. Are the resources available? Yes, for the most part. Where can one find them? All over the web, but a number of good offline materials are available too.

As with anything that is worth doing, it is a process. With enough interested parties in gathering and creating faith and science educational resources the job is likely getting easier.

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