That’s a consistent refrain in these weekly newsletters. Faith is complicated, both in terms of theology—faith seeking understanding—and in terms of ministry. Science is every bit as complicated—and moreso for those of us who struggle with math. And when you bring them together—well, let’s just repeat the refrain.
The conflict narrative is well-trodden. Many people feel it. You see it in survey after survey. But it too is more complicated if you seek more nuance. Surveys like Gallup give you numbers—like 38% percent of Americans in 2017 believed God created humans in their present form. But with that nuance—as sociologist Jonathan Hill and others have done—there is new insight. Only a small percentage are confident in their belief in a Young Earth. They simply prefer Young Earth over the other options in the survey.
Pew has added nuance as well. They (and others) have found that for the person taking the survey, there is much less sense of conflict. We all perceive tension for how others view faith and science, but most of us don’t see science as a challenge to our own faith. There is that refrain again—a layer of complexity when you dig a bit deeper.
So what’s the church’s role in all this? Let me offer a simple suggestion that comes from our evaluation of the Scientists in Congregations (SinC) grant program.
One of the SinC groups applied for a grant because many in their congregation perceived a tension between faith and science. They weren’t sure the conflict was real and wanted a grant to dig deeper.
With their grant, they engaged with theologians at a nearby seminary, with historians of science, and with scientists. After 12 to 18 months of regular programming—book groups, Sunday school programs, visiting lectures, and longer workshops—they came to the realization that there was indeed no necessary conflict between science and faith.
That is all fine and good. Tension relieved. However . . .
When we evaluated their project about five years after the fact, they really weren’t doing any engagement with science anymore. For them, “no conflict” meant no need to consider it.
Their project—as successful as it had seemed in their final report—was one of the more disappointing projects we evaluated. Our hope was that once they’d gotten past the conflict narrative for science and faith, they would engage more deeply on topics exploring the intersection of science and faith.
- Faith and science conflict, but not with “my” beliefs.
- See the Gallup trends on creation vs. evolution.
- A Christian sociologist reconsiders the usual evolution vs. creation survey.
- The conflict narrative is considered historically in this BBC Radio 4 series.
- These Science for Seminaries videos offer areas for deeper engagement.
- STEAM grantees share some insights for ministries engaging science.
- Here is a small group ministry resource on origins.
- Visit our newsletter archive for many specific topics and resources.
Part of our SinC evaluation tried to decipher factors that associated with strong and enduring projects. Some were pretty obvious—consistent leadership teams, involvement by the ministry staff, and proximity to a university were among them. But one stuck out.
In contrast to the church above, those ministries thriving in their engagement with science were no longer battling against the conflict narrative of science vs. faith. They’d been there, done that.
But the most successful churches were also looking at specific topics in science and faith. They were trying to understand aspects of medicine to support their parish nursing program. Or they considered agricultural science as they added gardens to their hunger ministry. Or they tackled current events in science—like the Higgs boson, gravitational wave discoveries, or the CRISPR twins born in China. Or they looked at science as related to prayer and meditation. The list of possibilities goes on.
So this is our simple suggestion: Address the conflict narrative, but then get specific. Take up one of the many topics we address in this newsletter, or one that matches the interest of key leaders in your congregation.
Why? Because that is where the real fruit is harvested. Our appreciation of creation and the Creator come less from understanding the Galileo affair or responding to Richard Dawkins’ anti-religious screeds, and more from looking at what science can tell us about the glory being told by the heavens and how fearfully and wonderfully life has been knit together.
Spiritual growth comes in the nuance and complexity of merging faith with specific discoveries in science. I have felt that growth in learning new areas of science, wondering what kind of God would create a world like it appears to be. My prayer is that you and your ministry will experience that same growth from engaging with science.