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.

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?

Laurie encouraged his students to see science as a place for debate about big questions concerning faith and values, and he challenged reductionist views of people.

He engaged students in reflecting on and researching questions about how faith connects to the work of scientists.

Laurie reshaped his practice by choosing the questions to raise, using stories, checking his display and planning for student reflection.

How do I do this myself?

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?'

Digging deeper

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.

Explore similar examples:

What if maths stimulated pupils to ask big questions?
What if a science hoax convinced students that honesty is vital?
What if a computer lesson helped us think about being human?

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1The earth and everything on it belong to the Lord . The world and its people belong to him. 2The Lord placed it all on the oceans and rivers. 3Who may climb the Lord 's hill or stand in his holy temple? 4Only those who do right for the right reasons, and don't worship idols or tell lies under oath. 5The Lord God, who saves them, will bless and reward them, 6because they worship and serve the God of Jacob. 7Open the ancient gates, so that the glorious king may come in. 8Who is this glorious king? He is our Lord , a strong and mighty warrior. 9Open the ancient gates, so that the glorious king may come in. 10Who is this glorious king? He is our Lord , the All-Powerful! (By David.) A prayer for guidance and help
1If you belong to Christ Jesus, you won't be punished. 2The Holy Spirit will give you life that comes from Christ Jesus and will set you free from sin and death. 3The Law of Moses cannot do this, because our selfish desires make the Law weak. But God set you free when he sent his own Son to be like us sinners and to be a sacrifice for our sin. God used Christ's body to condemn sin. 4He did this, so that we would do what the Law commands by obeying the Spirit instead of our own desires. 5People who are ruled by their desires think only of themselves. Everyone who is ruled by the Holy Spirit thinks about spiritual things. 6If our minds are ruled by our desires, we will die. But if our minds are ruled by the Spirit, we will have life and peace. 7Our desires fight against God, because they do not and cannot obey God's laws. 8If we follow our desires, we cannot please God. 9You are no longer ruled by your desires, but by God's Spirit, who lives in you. People who don't have the Spirit of Christ in them don't belong to him. 10But Christ lives in you. So you are alive because God has accepted you, even though your bodies must die because of your sins. 11Yet God raised Jesus to life! God's Spirit now lives in you, and he will raise you to life by his Spirit. 12My dear friends, we must not live to satisfy our desires. 13If you do, you will die. But you will live, if by the help of God's Spirit you say No to your desires. 14Only those people who are led by God's Spirit are his children. 15God's Spirit doesn't make us slaves who are afraid of him. Instead, we become his children and call him our Father. 16God's Spirit makes us sure that we are his children. 17His Spirit lets us know that together with Christ we will be given what God has promised. We will also share in the glory of Christ, because we have suffered with him. A wonderful future for God's people 18I am sure that what we are suffering now cannot compare with the glory that will be shown to us. 19In fact, all creation is eagerly waiting for God to show who his children are. 20Meanwhile, creation is confused, but not because it wants to be confused. God made it this way in the hope 21that creation would be set free from decay and would share in the glorious freedom of his children. 22We know that all creation is still groaning and is in pain, like a woman about to give birth. 23The Spirit makes us sure about what we will be in the future. But now we groan silently, while we wait for God to show that we are his children. This means that our bodies will also be set free. 24And this hope is what saves us. But if we already have what we hope for, there is no need to keep on hoping. 25However, we hope for something we have not yet seen, and we patiently wait for it. 26In certain ways we are weak, but the Spirit is here to help us. For example, when we don't know what to pray for, the Spirit prays for us in ways that cannot be put into words. 27All our thoughts are known to God. He can understand what is in the mind of the Spirit, as the Spirit prays for God's people. 28We know that God is always at work for the good of everyone who loves him. They are the ones God has chosen for his purpose, 29and he has always known who his chosen ones would be. He had decided to let them become like his own Son, so that his Son would be the first of many children. 30God then accepted the people he had already decided to choose, and he has shared his glory with them. God's love 31What can we say about all this? If God is on our side, can anyone be against us? 32God did not keep back his own Son, but he gave him for us. If God did this, won't he freely give us everything else? 33If God says his chosen ones are acceptable to him, can anyone bring charges against them? 34Or can anyone condemn them? No indeed! Christ died and was raised to life, and now he is at God's right side, speaking to him for us. 35Can anything separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, suffering, and hard times, or hunger and nakedness, or danger and death? 36It is exactly as the Scriptures say, For you we face death all day long. We are like sheep on their way to be butchered. 37In everything we have won more than a victory because of Christ who loves us. 38I am sure that nothing can separate us from God's lovenot life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, 39and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God's love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord! God's choice of Israel