Example #46 Faith and Science
What if science raised big issues about faith and values?
Laurie’s science class were looking at DNA and he wanted to raise some important values issues and big questions about faith for students to think about.
"As well as learning about the structure of DNA I told the story of Crick and Watson and the Human Genome Project led by Francis Collins. At the end of the story I put up a series of statements and questions.
- Francis Crick was an atheist, as is James Watson. Francis Collins is a Christian. How do you think their differing attitudes to faith might influence them as scientists in their work and their response to their findings?
- Scientists, such as Francis Collins, working on the genome project wanted the mapping of the human genome to be accessible to all, not the property of the funders. Why might they want this? Do you think this was right? Did their reasons for this come from science itself or from outside science?
- Do you think that mapping the human genome can tell us everything about how human beings work? Can everything be reduced to our genetic makeup?
"I asked the class to think about these questions as they researched the Human Genome Project further, and post their responses in a box. I then went through these and typed up some to add to the display board and to share with the class the next day. We talked about how science raises questions that draw in faith and ethics. I checked the display about DNA and added pictures of Crick, Watson and Collins."
What’s going on here?
What does this have to do with faith, hope and love?
For the believer, there is no neutral ground. All life is God’s and faith affects everything. The Bible sees the entire world as God’s and it can reveal him to those who view it with the eye of faith. All of life can be lived to the glory of God, be it as a scientist or parent, artist or factory worker. The theologian and the geneticist are all engaged in the same work – exploring God’s world – even if they do not know it. The material world is a door to the sacred and God is experienced through the things of this world, including science. This view of the world means that faith and values are seen as an integral part of any subject.
What difference does it make?
By raising issues of faith and values, Laurie signalled that this was a legitimate thing to do in science. It is part of breaking down the sacred-secular divide. He also challenged reductionism by pointing to how work in genetics raises questions that concern faith and ethics.
Where could we go from here?
Other issues of faith and values could be raised in science such as ‘Does the source of funding for scientific research matter?’ or 'Why do we research some diseases more than others?'
Laurie discussed issues of values and belief in science; he signalled that science was not a realm free of faith and values. He implied an integration of the sacred and the secular. This sacred-secular divide is the idea that there is a secular world that is the setting for our public lives and is guided by reason, and then there is personal religious belief which is viewed as a private hobby. This view implies that religious belief does not affect public life or any parts of the curriculum except RE. Biblical perspectives are different; the Bible sees the whole world as God's (Psalm 24:1). It is not now as God intended for it is marred by sin (Romans 8:21-22) but it still bears the stamp of a good creator. Scientists such as John Polkinghorne (priest and former professor of mathematical physics at Cambridge) and Francis Collins (former head of the Human Genome Project) do not divorce faith, values and science.
Science is the only reliable way to understand the natural world [but] is powerless to answer questions such as 'what is the meaning of human existence' … We need to bring all the power of both scientific and spiritual perspectives to bear on understanding what is both seen and unseen. Francis Collins, Time Magazine article quoted in Reconciling God and Science, David Van Biema, July 10 2006
To accept no divide between sacred and secular means faith is integral to all subjects and all areas of life. It is seeing a whole subject differently not just tacking something religious onto a basically secular subject. Exploring a subject from a Christian perspective might involve exploring the big issues, asking ethical and religious questions and making connections across a range of areas. This holistic view of the world means that not only religious jobs are holy; science, parenting, computing can all be ‘holy’ jobs. In St Augustine’s terms, all truth is God’s truth, for there is a deep interconnectedness in the world.
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This example draws on:
- Strategies for Seeing Anew #3
(…towards curiosity about life's big questions)
- Strategies for Seeing Anew #5
(…towards seeing people holistically)
- Strategies for Engagement #7
(…to pursue big questions)
- Strategies for Engagement #8
(…to learn from as well as learning about)
- Strategies for Engagement #9
(…to reflect carefully on ideas and experiences)
- Strategies for Engagement #10
(…to consider contrasts and dissonance)
- Strategies for Engagement #11
(…to explore possibilities for active commitment)
- Strategies for Engagement #14
(…to trace connections between faith and learning and life)
- Strategies for Engagement #15
(…to explore the coherence of God's world)
- Strategies for Reshaping Practice: The habits of the classroom #1
(Change the layout of the room)
- Strategies for Reshaping Practice: The habits of the classroom #2
(Make tangible changes to the environment)
- Strategies for Reshaping Practice: The habits of the classroom #3
(Change or create displays)
- Strategies for Reshaping Practice: The habits of the classroom #18
(Change your planning: timing, sequence and lesson structure)
- Strategies for Reshaping Practice: The habits of the classroom #19
(Check what you give significance to, test and reward)
- Strategies for Reshaping Practice: The habits of the classroom #20
(Plan time and space for reflection)
- Strategies for Reshaping Practice: The habits of the classroom #21
(Change the student interaction)
- Strategies for Reshaping Practice: The habits of the classroom #22
(Ask big questions / change your questioning)
- Strategies for Reshaping Practice: The habits of the classroom #23
(Provide contrasts and set up dissonance (clashes))