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The Sciences

A Church That Wants to Teach Science

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneySeptember 8, 2011 9:59 PM


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This is a guest post by Tim Broderick, a Chicago resident with a keen interest in science and science education. One of the most painful moments in the film "Jesus Camp" (and there are many) comes when a parent homeschooling her children talks about evolution. The kids are shown watching creationist videos mocking science, and are then led, in a lesson, to reject and question science for no other reason than for a religious fundamentalist view of the world. Contrast that with the image of a church congregation whose members join together to honestly explore their faith through exploration of science. Now, think about at least 90 congregations wanting to do that. St. John's Episcopal Church, located on the northwest side of Chicago, is one of those 90 congregations. It's a church that's diverse in its politics as well as in beliefs. Yet St. John's also blessed same-sex unions before they became legal in Illinois, promotes environmental causes, works with a local homeless mission and hosted two Darwin Day celebrations in the past three years. As one of the instigators of those Darwin Day events, I was approached earlier this year by Rev. Kara Wagner Sherer, the pastor of St. Johns, to help put together a grant proposal. The grant - Scientists in Congregations, sponsored by the Templeton Institute - sought to help congregations identify scientists among them interested in teaming with a religious leader to design a program to explore science and inform a dialogue about faith. The long-term aim of the the grant was to create a model program that other congregations could use as well. We put together what we felt was a pretty interesting program - looking at the Dover evolution trial, global warming, cosmology and neuroscience. And then an interesting thing happened last week. We didn't get the grant. It turns out we were one of about 90 churches interested in elevating the voices of scientists in our congregation. Looking back, I suspect we likely drew too much on the opportunities afforded us by the world-class museums located here in Chicago. It's not something that a small church in Mississippi, for instance, could easily adopt. But what's interesting isn't that we didn't get the grant, it's that after our proposal was turned down, the people involved in putting it together expressed an interest in going ahead with our program anyway. The first portion - centered around a reading drawn from the exerpts of the Dover evolution trial transcripts - is planned for our 2012 Darwin Day celebration. As we go forward, we'll see what we can pull from the other modules. Funding will be a challenge, but there are likely other opportunities for grants that we can explore. I'm particularly interested in doing something with global warming because there has been some skepticism expressed about the science. I think it would be an interesting discussion. In the raging debate online about science-religion compatibility - a debate I've participated in - these kind of efforts gets lost. It's important to remember that for many people, the question of whether science and religion is compatible isn't very interesting. Exploring how they're compatible is, even if it means challenging one's own beliefs.

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