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Science and the Church

Monday March 2 2015

Dr Andrew Torrance highlights the work of a group seeking to bridge the gap between science and faith.

It has become commonplace for people in Scotland to assume that belief in God and belief in science are mutually exclusive.

In response to this, Scientists in Congregations, Scotland is seeking to recover an appreciation for the fact that the Christian message concerns the real world, which is also the arena for the sciences. The Church, therefore, is called to recognise a positive relationship between science and Christianity.

So what is Scientists in Congregations, Scotland? SICS is a new grant programme, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, which is exploring the interface of contemporary science and faith, and seeking to foster a much deeper and better-informed conversation between scientists, clergy and congregations.

To do so, SICS is currently providing nineteen grants, of up to £10,000, to twenty-five congregations across Scotland: congregations that are eager to promote a constructive conversation about science and faith within the life of the church.

So what are some of the reasons that it is so important to integrate science into the ministry of the Church?

An obvious answer is that our understanding of God’s creation is massively informed by the insights of the natural sciences. Also, so much of what we know about what it means to be human is informed by modern science.

Another reason is that scientists in the Church rarely have the chance to contribute their expertise to the mission of the Church. Meanwhile, certain scientific voices outside the church are challenging the warrant for Christianity.

One does not need to look far to see how much society has taken in the view that there is a serious tension, or even essential incompatibility, between Christianity and modern science.

The more that Christians hear their faith being ridiculed in the name of “science”, the more likely they are to avoid science, approach science defensively, or begin to deviate from the central tenets of their faith.

In turn, the more Christians seem ignorant of science, and the more that some popular Christian voices publically denounce contemporary science, the more it seems to the secular world that Christianity is intellectually naive. All this creates another turn in the spiral of disengagement between the church and the scientific world.

This downward spiral is so easily challenged by giving scientists, as scientists, a role to play in the mission of the Church. Many scientists in the Church have thought hard about how their vocation relates to their life of faith. Yet few of them have had the opportunity to help foster a constructive dialogue about science and faith. As such, these scientists have been present in churches as a vital but often latent resource for helping to create an environment where science and faith can be seen to have a positive relationship.

To help turn things around, SICS is helping scientists and ministers to work together to create projects that will communicate the important ways in which faith and science can be seen to relate to one another.

By developing projects that engage with questions of science, the funded churches are creating a conversation that is not only stimulating for the congregation but also for the surrounding community. By so doing, they are establishing a context where they can repudiate the myth that science has made the Church redundant and, at the same time, demonstrate that the Church is a centre for meaningful intellectual dialogue.

There are many exciting things happening with the SICS congregations, and further information about the SICS projects can be found on our website. We would strongly encourage people to check out what SICS events and activities might be happening in their area.

Dr Andrew Torrance is Programme Leader for Scientists in Congregations, Scotland.

This is an abridged version of an article in March's Life and Work. Subscribe here.