Exploring Science and Theology:
I first started studying and developing youth workshops on this topic in 2000, in connection with my work at Huron University College in London. With a background in mathematics and engineering, (and more recently, theology and education) I have long had an interest in this subject. More particularly, I have always been a seeker, with a desire to integrate my knowledge of God and my faith with what I knew and saw in the world around me. It was studying science in an integrated way that lead me to incredible new insights and a deeper faith than just theology could give me.
The starting point for me is to explore an integrated approach to both theological and scientific thought. To begin this process, one must look at our “worldview”, that is, the set of lenses or the window through which we see our lives and the world around us. Our worldview is informed by things like gender/culture/socio-economic status/education/family of origin/religion and more. It is the way our worldview intersects with other worldviews or perspectives that is of critical importance in this discussion.
In a conflicted worldview, such as is offered by scientific materialism vs. biblical literalism, the two cannot co-exist, and one must cancel the other out. In a compartmentalized worldview, we understand science and religion as being schools of thought which operate in totally separate realms, but have nothing much to say to one another. In a conversational worldview, our views and ideas complement and inform, rather than contradict each other. Albert Einstein’s oft repeated quote “Science without religion is blind, but religion without science is lame*” illustrates this complementary way of understanding.(*the traditional meaning of this word, ie, ‘cannot walk’)
But how often do we find ourselves operating in a conflicted worldview? One high school teacher at this workshop commented “So often, when I go to church, I feel like I have to leave my intellect at the door; that I have to put part of my thinking ‘on hold’. And when I teach in the high school classroom, I feel like I have to leave behind or ignore my faith, my awareness of the transcendent and spiritual realities of life”.
One of the common misperceptions about science is that it is all based on objective facts, where theology and faith is based on subjective assumptions and is, by its very nature, unable to be conclusively ‘proven’. The idea which we need to grasp is that all ideas, concepts, data, must be interpreted to give them meaning. Our lived faith experience, scripture, our stories must all be interpreted to make them meaningful and relevant for us. Likewise, what a scientist (or any observer of creation) must do with what she sees is to interpret the observed or experienced phenomenon, and make meaning of it. Often we hear evolutionary theory as a proven concept which refutes what is (literally) interpreted in the bible. Both are false assumptions. Evolution, as any scientist could tell you, is not actually a theory, since a theory is a hypothesis (idea) which can be repeatedly proven with experimentation. Since it is not possible to prove evolution by repeating it (we can’t make another creation, or at least – if we could, we wouldn’t be around to see the results!), the concepts of evolution are merely an idea which Darwin (and others) proposed after interpreting what they observed. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that evolution is complete bunk, in fact, given the data available, Darwin came up with some fairly reasonable ideas and conclusions. But don’t let anyone tell you that evolution is an absolute fact, as it is — purely and simply – an interpretation of a set of evidence.
In the same way, an absolute literal reading of scripture also gets us into difficulties. Scripture was written in a particular time, place, to a group of people for a particular reason. I think many writers of scripture would be horrified to think that people a couple of thousand years later actually read their texts (poems, allegories, myths and metaphor) as literal, factual accounts. Scripture, like our personal spiritual experiences, needs interpretation to be understood. Scientific evidence often leads scientists to widely differing conclusions, so too theologians and seekers make different interpretations of texts or religious experience.
Another part of the science and theology workshop included the young people exploring creation stories from different cultures and religions. Creation stories exist in all cultures, religions and times and are written as myths. The word ‘myth’ does not mean ‘false’ or ‘made up’, but rather, a story which bears truth. Truth is not necessarily a literal fact, rather, truth (of our nature, of what is significant or important to us) can be imparted through allegory. Creation stories attempt to answer the questions “where did we come from?” and “why are we here?” The scientific creation story also is an interpretation of the evidence which suggests (but cannot ultimately prove) how we got to us right here out of that whole-lot-of-nothing out there!
We also explore the history of the relationship between science and religion throughout the last 3,000 years of western culture. Finally, the workshop explores Quantum theory (for lay people!), and how the new physics (not so new, as it is nearly 100 years old!) informs our lives, our ways of being with one another and ultimately our theological ideas, how we pray and how we engage with the world around us.
If you are looking for a presenter in Science and Theology (or ‘religion’ as many youth don’t readily connect with the word ‘theology’) please contact me. This is a very youth-friendly and highly interactive seminar which will expand the mind and deepen the faith. It is perfect for a weekend youth conference, camp or retreat, This four or five session workshop (each session is 1 ½ hours) can be easily integrated into a weekend program.
For further reading:
(all of these books are available through the Anglican Book Centre, and possibly through Chapters or Amazon.com)
The Luminous Web: Essays in Science and Religion
Barbara Brown Taylor
Written by an Episcopal priest, this short book of essays is thoroughly readable by the lay person and gives an exciting and intriguing introduction to the dialogue between science and theology.
Quarks, Chaos and Christianity
Polkinghorne is one of the ‘big names’ in the science/religion discussion. A former Cambridge mathematician, Polkinghorne is now and Anglican priest in England and writes extensively on this topic. The book is a wonderful read but is hard going by times and I found myself reading the same paragraphs several times occasionally to understand what he was saying. But it’s worth the effort – I found this book life-changing (and worldview expanding)!
Highly recommended as a good look at how Quantum theory and the nature of reality informs our understanding of God.