Session 1: Beyond Barbour

Dr Tuomas W. Manninen, Arizona State University – West, USA

Turning Barbour’s model Inside Out

According to Ian Barbour’s model, there are four main categories of how science and religion might relate to one another: Conflict, Independence, Dialogue, and Integration. Although Barbour’s has become the most influential view in the discussions of the science-religion – relationship, it has also received a fair share of criticism.  Moreover, Barbour’s is by no means the only model out there; many a competing and more nuanced views are easily found.

All this notwithstanding, this paper will defend the usefulness of Barbour’s proposal, by making a modest proposal. In light of the criticism abound, Barbour’s four-category view remains suitable for conceptualizing the science-religion – relationship, especially in ways that are accessible to younger audiences.  To accomplish this, we turn to the recent Disney/Pixar animated movie Inside Out.  In the movie, the actions of the 11-year-old Riley are controlled by anthropomorphic personifications of emotions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear.  As Riley experiences situations in life, one of these five emotions is in charge.  Depending on who was is in charge, the corresponding memory (yellow for Joy, blue for Sadness, red for Anger, etc.) gets stored as a concrete token with that hue.

In Act Two of the film, two of the main characters (Joy and Sadness) get whisked away, leaving the other three in charge of Riley’s emotional output. Needless to say, this has nearly disastrous consequences that are not resolved until Act Three: Fear, Anger, and Disgust alone cannot replicate the responses of Joy and Sadness, and inevitably, Riley’s emotional stability is left unbalanced.  Ultimately, the five main emotions are reunited – with the dual realization that, first, Riley’s memories – and emotions alike – are multi-faceted, and second, that no one emotion can be fully in charge.  Visually, this is shown by the change in the memory tokens: whereas the tokens in the beginning were unicolorous, the post-realization ones are represented by dual-tone tokens at the final act.

By analogy (and with all the accompanying difficulties therewith), the science-religion—relationship follows along a similar process, and the anthropomorphic emotions can be mapped onto Barbour’s model. Hence even if the five-emotion control of an individual (as depicted in Act One of Inside Out) was adequate in her pre-adolescence, it was inadequate for Riley’s adolescent world.  Similarly, Barbour’s four-category model for the science-religion relationship may – or, does – serve as a starting point, even if it cannot survive the subsequent criticism that is both unabated and nuanced.  Moreover, given the multifarious nature of specific religions, we see that just as all the five emotions were needed, so are all the four categories in Barbour’s model.

Dámaris Fuente1, Eduardo Riaza2, Daniel Casado1, Toñi Manzaneque3, Antoine Bret4, Daniel Fernández5 and Pablo de Felipe5

1El Porvenir, Fundación Federico Fliedner (Madrid, Spain)

2Retamar School (Madrid, Spain)

3Archivo Fliedner, Fundación Federico Fliedner (Madrid, Spain)

4ETSI Industriales, Universidad Castilla La Mancha (Ciudad Real, Spain)

5Centro de Ciencia y Fe, SEUT School of Theology, Fundación Federico Fliedner (Madrid, Spain)

Engaging students in science and faith at the Fliedner schools in Madrid

Models to explain the science and faith interaction abound. The classical four-fold division by Barbour has been a very helpful tool to organise a field full of disparate views. Of course, critics have proposed modifications and a range of alternatives, invoking other models of interactions.

In any case, it is important to separate the models we can use to describe the history of science and faith interactions, from our own preferred model for these interactions. In this regard, a range of models are likely to help explain the complexity of the historical relations, as we can have examples of these four models throughout history. Indeed, it is by historical examples that these and other models have been studied. However, we could also hold particular preferences for an ‘ideal’ model of relations that we consider should be pursued.

Between 2013 and 2015, the Federico Fliedner Foundation (FFF, Madrid, Spain; www.fliedner.es) was awarded a grant from the BioLogos Foundation for public dissemination activities on science and faith. As part of this project we devised some activities (Science and Faith for Schools, S&F4S) to be delivered at one of the two schools run by the FFF: El Porvenir school. Starting in the academic course of 2013-14, we have arranged three talks for 15 years-old students, one per trimester, on three key individuals in the history of science, but also with importance for the science and faith interactions: Galileo, Darwin and Lemaître.

Our methodology is to use the life and work of these individuals to teach key science in itself (heliocentric astronomy, biological evolution and Big Bang cosmology), history of science (how these innovations came about) and, finally, how science relates to society. Science and faith interactions appear in a natural way in this last context:

  • In Galileo we study how his views on astronomy introduced him in the complex topic of philosophy of science and in the polemical topic of biblical interpretation that finally led to his conflict with the Vatican theologians that held a concordist integration of Christianism and Aristotelianism. His own Christian convictions and his views on how best relate science and faith are presented to the students.
  • In the case of Darwin, the polemic around his views on evolution is described. His own nuanced views on religion (sifting between theism and agnosticism) and his denial of a science and religion conflict are considered. The origins of creationism and intelligent design are also introduced as well as alternative ways to read Genesis: framework interpretation and evolutionary creationism.
  • With Lemaître, several quotes from him show his rejection of the conflict model to relate science and religion. His double condition as scientist and priest led to his theological optimism regarding the scientific enterprise that inspired his bold proposal of the Big Bang.

Hands-on activities, discussions, hand-outs, visual resources (like videos, roll-ups), etc. complete this program that reinforces scientific teaching and introduces students to topics on philosophy of science and science-religion interactions. These talks and workshops are designed for students of both, sciences and humanities. The use of historical figures, the introduction of elements of science and philosophy as well as of science and religion, etc. help to engage with the students of humanities in topics that are usually considered the province of science.

Some of the most innovative resources, specific for this project, were developed during the above mentioned BioLogos project: translation of materials used as hands-outs, roll-ups, web, etc.

This project uses history of science to teach realistically how science and faith have been interacting in different historical episodes (that illustrate all Barbour models), while inspiring students to seek peaceful and fruitful interactions between science and faith.

Future developments are currently under consideration to expand these activities to 16-18 years-old students (right up to university level), collect feedback from the students to adjust the contents to their needs and demands and to include the other school run by the FFF: Juan de Valdés school.

Professor Tom McLeish FRS, Durham University, UK 

Beyond Barbour: A Theology of Science from ancient and modern thinkers

One problem with Barbour’s categories is that they are all framed in terms of the ‘relationship between religion and science’.  The conjunction does more work that we give it credit for – is the ‘and’ really appropriate here?  I will challenge this framing of the question as intrinsically unfaithful to the universal nature of both science and religion, arguing instead that it is more fruitful to ask what a ‘theology of science’ might look like.  ‘What does science do, and what is it for, within a theological worldview?’

This approach works very well in a teaching context when developed in two ways: (i) historically there are deep examples, accessible by short texts, of remarkable scientific thinking in the late classical (Gregory of Nyssa), medieval (Robert Grosseteste) and early modern (Robert Boyle, Francis Bacon) world that are explicitly motivated by a theological framing; (ii) source-material for very early questioning of the structure of nature appears simultaneously but in different forms in ancient Greece, and in the middle eastern semitic tradition. The Book of Job, in particular, contains a nature poem (the ‘Lord’s Answer’) that can be read to make the case for science as a deeply human, social and ancient activity, embedded in some of the oldest stories told about human desire to understand the natural world.

A discussion nourished by this material challenges much of the current ‘science and religion’ debate as operating with the wrong assumptions and in the wrong space. Pupils start to think in new ways and to ask new questions. Such a narrative approach also develops a natural critique of the cultural separation of sciences and humanities, suggesting an approach to science, or in its more ancient form natural philosophy – the ‘love of wisdom of natural things’ – that can draw on theological and cultural roots.

I suggest that deriving a human narrative for science in this way can transform the way political discussions of ‘troubled technologies’ (genetic medicine, GMOs, Fracking etc.) are framed, the way we approach science in education and the media, and reframe the modes in which faith traditions engage with science.

Monir Ahmed, Durham University, UK  

The Transcendent Mind of Science and Religion

Science and Religion appear to be two separate identities; the former is based on facts, evidences, discoveries whereas the latter is centred at faith, rituals, doctrine for divine (Dashboard and Picks). Although there appears different focus and identities, both the Science and Religion share a congregation of ultimate truth and purpose of everything around us, the existence and destiny of human beings as well as the universe. Science for example uses laws of Nature/Physics i.e. gravity, relativity to understand the creation and purpose of the universe. Similarly for Religion, the existence of God provides a direction and guidance towards the search for sacred. This could indicate that both the Science and Religion are in a journey for a common goal, i.e. discovering the ultimate truth. However, discovering the ultimate truth appears to be continuous and perhaps could be enhanced by developing and promoting the relationship of Science and Religion. Interestingly, there is a biological basis to suggesting a relationship between brain function and religion. For instance, neuroscientific evidence suggests a mechanism of human cognitive as well as intellectual functioning and that there is indication from brain function that Temporal lobe produces greater emotional reaction to religious words and intense religious experience in recognition of the presence of God.

The relationship of science and religion could be explored further by enhancing existing collective resources, capabilities and wisdom for new creation. Moreover, this relationship is likely to promote collaborations, partnerships, and wider collective efforts among the scientific world and faith community towards an integration for a common purpose. The development of this relationship however is likely to require a collective faith i.e. transcendent mind for discovering the ultimate truth and purpose of everything around us. Furthermore, well-being of this collective faith involving mind, body and free will appear crucial and likely to determine the progress of enhancing this relationship. Existing literature suggests a strong relationship between psychology and religion and that religion could be an active partner with psychology as a science (Jones 1994). The paper will outline mechanisms and processes involved in integrating Science and Religion.


Dashboard, M. and T. Picks “Relationship between science and religion.”

Jones, S. L. (1994). “A constructive relationship for religion with the science and profession of psychology: Perhaps the boldest model yet.” American Psychologist 49(3): 184. 

Dr Emily Dumler-Winckler, University of Notre Dame, Indiana, USA

The Virtues of Reconceiving Religion and Science as Social Practice

The conflict thesis, the idea that science and religion compete for the same territory, that science is the modern religion par excellence or theology is queen of the sciences, remains pervasive in education as in the public realm. But this view rests on mistaken assumptions about the nature of both science and religion. I argue that religion and science are best understood as social practices which require the virtues for their perfection.

Unfortunately, while Ian Barbour’s models for understanding the relation between science and religion moves beyond the mere conflict thesis, it does not offer much help. For all four models depend on the same mistaken epistemological assumptions that undergird the conflict thesis. The main assumption is that science and religion are characterized by entirely distinct epistemological methods. Given this epistemological focus, the question becomes how do science and religion, facts and values, empiricism and traditionalism relate. But this is to reduce both science and religion to bad epistemologies from the outset.

Even recent attempts like those by Peter Harrison to remap the The Territories of Science and Religion, fall short. Harrison charts a conceptual history of science and religion from scientia and religio, which he characterizes as interior virtues, in the medieval period to the modern notion of science and religion as external practices. The former enable us to gain dominion over our interior lives, whereas the latter enable us to have dominion over nature and the external world. But this narrative, which echoes Alasdair MacIntyre’s story of the virtues’ modern demise, rests on a mistaken understanding of medieval virtues, modern practices, and the persistence of virtue in the modern period. While Harrison’s story improves upon the narrowly epistemological depictions of science and religion, he creates new false dicotomies between the pre-modern and the modern eras, between internal virtues and external practices. Both Harrison’s and Barbour’s offer less than ideal ways of depicting the nature of and relation between science and religion.

In this paper I argue that science and religion are best understood as imperfect social practices with distinct (but compatible) aims or internal goods, and distinct (but compatible) means for achieving those aims. As such, participants perfect both sets of practices insofar as they cultivate the virtues needed to attain these goods. The internal good, the highest value, of modern science is a particular sort of knowledge about ourselves and the world we inhabit. To some extent, this knowledge enables us to control and predict nature. For this reason, like a good road map, it can be quite useful for helping us to find our way about the universe we inhabit. But science is not the only sort of knowledge we attain about ourselves and the world. Religion also has as its internal good a certain sort of knowledge and sensibility about ourselves and the world we inhabit, about the good life and the virtues needed to make a home of the world. If science serves as a helpful roadmap to certain features of our world, it does not in any straightforward way tell us how to live as moral agents. It may help us to navigate the world we inhabit, but it does not thereby make it habitable. Only we can do that by cultivating the virtues needed to use science and religion well.

Visual models can help to educate children and the public, as well as practitioners about the interconnections between science and religion. One of the most effective visual models may be one of the oldest: the tree of knowledge, as Manuel Lima has shown in The Book of Trees. Raymon Llull’s (1295-96) trees of knowledge, meant to educate the non-university public in his own time, provide a particularly interesting aid, albeit one that needs modern renovation. Half of the branches of the master tree represent the profane or non-religious sciences, and the other half represent religious knowledge or scientia. Today, the tree as a visual model is rapidly being replaced by that of networks and webs. But trees, which convey dependency on the environment, growth, and eventual fruit in season, still serve as a powerful organic visual model for the relation between science and religion and the cultivation required of both. Emily D-W Conference 2016

Tree of Science (Arbre de la ciència, Arbor Scientiae) by Ramon Llull (1295-1296)

Revd Nathan White, Durham University, UK  

The Mediated Nature of Knowledge: Paul Ricœur’s Philosophy as a Means of Teaching Students about Science and Religion  

Many in modern Western culture believe that science and religion are pitted against one another, at an impasse due to mutually exclusive and divergent worldviews. Yet a difference in epistemological outlook, in which scientific knowledge is understood to be concrete and certain while religious knowledge is viewed as existential and experiential, seems to lie at the heart of this disagreement. I suggest that such a distinction misrepresents both the nature of science and the nature of religion. By providing insight into the mediated nature of human understanding of the world, Paul Ricœur’s philosophy puts science and religion on a level playing field wherein both are understood as ways of pursuing knowledge with compatible epistemological commitments.

For Ricœur, knowledge of the world is always mediated by signs and symbols. Visual depictions, conceptual models, and language itself are all based upon semiotics and symbolic representation. Both science and religion use these tools as ways of expressing and more closely approximating an understanding of truth. Thus, science relies upon symbolic representations of the objects of its study just as religion, through the mediation of language and ritual, seeks to understand and articulate the truth of the Divine. Beyond displaying how science and religion can mutually aid in the pursuit of truth, an epistemology based upon Ricœur’s thought also indicates certain teaching methods that may be particularly effective for explaining this relationship.

Ideally, teaching methodology should arise from an understanding of the subject matter itself. In this regard, viewing science and religion through the lens of Ricœur’s philosophy suggests that teachers should be encouraged to use creative means, such as pictures, stories, and other metaphorical means of communication, in order to explain scientific concepts, religious concepts, and the interaction between these two disciplines. This method of teaching, far from detracting from scientific and theological enquiry, in fact mirrors the ways in which we already learn and communicate about the world we inhabit. It is also indicative of the means of learning already employed by children and young adults, thereby drawing upon strengths already implicit in learners.

Dr Sally Riordon, Soham Village College, Cambridge, UK

 The Values of Science and the Facts of Religion 

I  suggest that we extend the debate about science and religion (in academia, school and public life) to questions of morality. Traditionally, science and religion are compared on metaphysical grounds (e.g. do they talk about the same things?) or on epistemological grounds (e.g. which has the more reliable methods?)  Barbour’s four models of interaction are usually considered from these two perspectives.  This framework limits the ways in which science and religion can be understood to be in dialogue.

My first claim is that undertaking scientific training and scientific work alters a person’s immediate moral outlook. Thus, science and religion have the potential to disagree on moral grounds.  I give some illustrations of how daily work in science may change the way a person interacts with others, for better or for worse.  My focus is on ordinary decisions of everyday life and not the bigger questions of law and order.  I outline my research plans to follow students through their A-level studies, comparing everyday moral tendencies of those studying scientific subjects with those studying other subjects.

It is possible to come to the claim that science affects morality from developments in philosophy. The philosophical community has been building a much deeper appreciation of the subjective nature of science in the last fifty years.  This work has so far focussed on how a scientist’s values affect the design, execution and interpretation of a scientific investigation.  One natural progression from here is to ask how conducting scientific investigations affects a person’s values.  Instead of considering how values contribute to the generation of facts, then, my research explores how facts contribute to the generation of values.  My work attacks the distinction between fact and value from a different angle.

The reason I am interested in this research is the resulting impact it may have upon our understanding of the relationship between science and religion. There are indications that the academic arguments for the subjectivity of science correspond with changes in public opinion.  I present the results of questionnaires I have administered to Year 7 and Year 8 classes, indicating that young people have a deeper appreciation of the subjectivity of science than they did 20 years ago.  This raises the question of why a rising appreciation of subjectivity has not resulted in a corresponding decrease in the belief that science and religion are in conflict.  I nevertheless argue that a deeper understanding of the interplay between moral beliefs and scientific knowledge has the potential to open a new form of dialogue between science and religion.

Mark Gilbert, Brasenose College, University of Oxford, UK

Being Biographical: Learning about science and religion by studying famous scientists.

When discussing science and religion and the relationships between them, there is a danger of focusing solely on abstract concepts and propositions. While these ideas are important, the connections between them and the actual practice of faith and work of scientists may not be obvious. Studying famous/character scientists provides a balance against this abstract tendency by focusing on a particular individual, their scientific work, their religious or non-religious world-view, and how these two facets of their lives interact.

In a secondary school context, discussing the lives of scientists and their approach to moral and existential questions and to religious practice allows pupils to put a personal face on the issues encountered in their Religious Studies, Science, History and Citizenship classes. Specifically, incorporating biography offers several important opportunities for developing pupils’ understanding, by helping them to:

  • Learn that as with the general population, scientists have a range of religious beliefs and secular world-views. There are scientists who are Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Humanists, Atheists and Agnostic. Scientists’ beliefs may conform to the teachings of organised religious authorities or differ from established doctrine.
  • See faith and science issues through the lens of a different individual, developing empathy and the ability to understand different points of view from people in different historical and cultural contexts.
  • Learn that scientific skill doesn’t necessarily correspond to insight into religious questions. However, many scientists have been interested in these questions.
  • Understand that science and religion do not necessarily conflict. By exploring how science and religious faith relate in particular individuals, pupils can see how the relationship between religion and science has taken many forms in different contexts, including the typologies of conflict, independence, dialogue and integration described by Barbour (2000)
  • Encounter scientists with the same culture, background and outlook as them, which may help to encourage further study in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects.
  • Learn that rather than being an idealised concept, science is the product of hard work, creativity and collaboration. As in almost all occupations, scientists’ work is affected by their character, background, funding, personality differences and the culture in which they work. That science exists in a historical context with research depending on work carried out decades or centuries before.
  • Consolidate their understanding of the science itself. Learning about the individuals connected to scientific concepts may aid learning about the concepts themselves.

I will discuss these opportunities while considering the specific example of Sir Isaac Newton. I will also discuss the potential dangers and abuses of scientific biography found in overemphasising certain aspects of scientists’ lives, and in downplaying others.

Adrian Brown, Faraday Institute, Cambridge, UK

Using world-views as a pedagogical framework for clarifying issues in learning about issues in science and religion

Successful education offers students framing devices to make sense of subject matter. Often these are implicit and learned during a hit and miss process. Explicit frameworks can help students navigate the complexities of issues they encounter. In making clearer the difference between key notions and incidental ones, students can make connections between topics which initially appear discrete and locate them within a larger framework of understanding.

Historically science education has not majored on the metaphysical underpinnings of the disciplines and has marginalised questions of the history and philosophy of science. For example, it is rare to find students of science in secondary education who are aware that the subject uses naturalism as a methodological default position but that this does not exclude the possibility that science can be reasonably embedded within a theistic view of the world. Hence a tendency for students to misunderstand the status of scientific thought vis a vis religious understandings of the world. We all know of the pseudo conflicts that ensue.

In religious studies two parallel themes are prevalent. One is the study of named religions with little engagement between them in terms of deeper metaphysical understandings. A student may study Islam, Hinduism and Christianity without ever necessarily looking at where the theistic or pantheistic themes lie in any set or subset of them. Comparative religious studies still lacks a critical engagement at a deeper level than observable practices and creedal highlights. The second major theme dominating current practice, certainly in the UK, are studies in the philosophy of religion. Here the God of the philosophers takes centre stage and the elephant in the room is the question of what if any relationship this deity has to the one(s) worshipped by those who are at home in a particular religious tradition.

This presentation will suggest, with examples, that it is helpful to use the terminology of world- views as an explicit framework for considering where science is situated in respect of our deep beliefs about ‘the universe and all that surrounds it’. That world-views can offer a powerful device within religious studies for unpacking and reframing core concepts and showing how they make sense, or not, within different world-views. Hence we have a tool which can be deployed in the conversation between the realms of the sciences and of religions to frame and thus clarify issues pertaining to both. Examples will be offered for the topic of miracles and a discussion of prayer. I will also make available electronic copies of my game Weltanschauung, which is an introduction to world views. Bring a USB stick or an email address!

Dr Ben Trubody, University of Gloucestershire, UK

‘About’ and ‘Of’ Languages: A New Way of Framing Religion and Science

Borrowing ideas from the existential philosophy of Kierkegaard, one way of understanding the conflict between science and religion is to frame each discourse in terms of an ‘about’ and ‘of’ language or between an explicit/ tacit distinction. What I have termed about languages (AL) is simply any discourse that is about something else. It is about the objects or things of that practice, that can be stated explicitly in unambiguous terms. So at a generic level the AL of science is nominally about technical jargon, experiments, peer-review, falsifying theories, verifying assumptions, observations, evidence and so on. We can be more specific, as science is a broad church, the AL of classical physics is about, among other things, bodies in motion, the AL of anatomy is about the structure of organisms and their parts and so on. AL are about the things/objects of that field that can be stated explicitly.

The conceptually more difficult discourse is the of language (OL) which refers to the tacit elements of a practice, those things that cannot be explicitly stated without either being vague or ambiguous (ineffable), yet we understand them and can point them out. As the OL is tacit we are forced to  represent it in the AL of everyday speech. An OL is a discourse, a way of acting or practice that is of that domain, but is beyond explicit qualification. So for example, the actual playing of football is the OL of football, whilst we can read the rule books and be told about it that is not playing football and even if we get close, we may not be playing it well, which only comes from doing it. So the OL of science is the actual measuring and doing of science, not just explicit talk about it.

In contrast, the AL of Christianity, for example, is about Jesus, Love, the Gospels and so on, and depending on your denomination the AL will be slightly different, just as the AL of science are slightly different depending on your field. Here we could explicitly write down the central tenets of Catholicism or Methodism but we might be unsatisfied in saying that is all religion is. The OL of religion is the doing of religion, which means acting a certain way and reflecting on one’s own existence and mortality and what that means for the individual in relation to how they live. As this is tacit, it cannot be judged from the outside as it is beyond the explicit, so I could view someone who is acting according to Christian principles but they may not be a Christian as that is a personal commitment, equally someone may claim to be religious (explicit), but never wrestles with the idea that they may not be a good person or living an ethical life (tacit).

On its own terms it is fine for science to speak about religious things and its fine for religion to speak about scientific things, but it is when we metaphysically confuse the OL and AL that conceptual problems arise. For example, if a scientists thinks that ‘ethics’ or ‘morality’ is really about brain-states, firing synapses, or genetics (the AL of neuroscience or evolutionary theory), rather than the OL of religion it has unknowingly put the two in conflict. Equally, if a religious person thinks that the book of Genesis is in conflict with the theory of evolution or the second law of thermodynamics, they have confused the OL of religion (drawing out symbolic meaning of the text), with the AL of science (how the universe began, where humans came from).

Session 2: Beyond bare statistics

Christina Easton, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK

Truth in science and ‘truth’ in religion:  An enquiry into student views on different types of truth-claim

This paper discusses the findings of a study investigating how students think about religious and moral truth-claims as compared to other types of truth-claim. Quotations from three focus groups are used to present the main findings of relevance to understanding student views on religious, moral and scientific truth-claims.  An emerging theme of the study was the authoritative status given to science by the student participants.  Students characterised science as giving certain, indisputable ‘facts’, holding a different status to the ‘opinions’ of religion and morality.  If these findings are representative of student attitudes more generally, then there are implications for the ongoing theoretical dispute over the extent to which truth should be a focus in the Religious Education (RE) classroom.  The tendency for students to see religious claims as subjective rather than objective lends support for a critical pedagogy that gives evaluation of truth a central place in RE.  The findings also suggest a need for RE and Science teachers to counter-balance the attitudes of their students by including more reflection on the nature of the scientific method in their schemes of work.  In particular, students should be encouraged to reflect on the existence of disagreement within science and the nature of science as making inductive arguments leading to probabilistic conclusions.

Dr Jostein Sæther, NLA University College, Bergen, Norway

Three perspectives on the science -religion issue in the context of science education: Interdisciplinarity, value-or ideology orientation, and responsible personalization

Efforts to handle science-religion issues in education should have a starting point not only in science, philosophy and religion but also in educational theory by asking questions as: Should education focus on “personal formation in … the widest sense” (Pring 2015, p. 30) by, for example, highlighting “subjectification” as a fundamental idea, i.e. the process towards a more free, independent and responsible human being (Biesta 2014, p. 18)? Or should more weight be on fragmented learning outcomes without much of personal-existential elaboration? This paper is based on a “Yes” answer to the first question combined with a focus on world view-, ideology-, and value- oriented elaboration of the subject matter. I discuss consequences of different educational strategies that are thought to, more or less, support this ideal (Saether, Reindal, Skrunes & Toft, submitted).

The first step is to discuss four general strategies for how to handle science-religion issues in education. These strategies can be placed on a continuum that ranges from “The narrow single academic strategy” to the “The interdisciplinary value- and ideology oriented strategy”. Four subtypes can be identified: (1) To ignore questions about values or ideology; (2) The ‘hand-over strategy’: to accept or raise value-related or ideological questions, but hand them over to other contexts to deal with; (3) To encourage value-related or ideological questions in science education without systematically involving other disciplines or subjects; (4) To encourage value-related or ideological questions in science education by systematically collaborating with other disciplines or subjects. The contexts for science teachers are diverse and teachers have therefore different opportunities for practicing these strategies.

Although to some extent included in The interdisciplinarity perspective I introduce the overlapping second perspective called value- or ideology orientation, which includes world view and religion-related issues. The third perspective is related to the “personal” dimension in education labelled as for example “subjectification” in Gert Biestas terminology.

I argue that the religion-science issues in education should be related to these three nonexclusive perspectives (dimensions): (1) The single discipline strategy vs. inter-disciplinarity, (2) Focus on values or ideological aspects vs. values or ideological aspects overlooked, denied or suppressed; (3) Responsible personalization (more or less).

Science education necessarily involves values or ideologies. Interdisciplinary approaches should therefore, to some extent, be included in programs that prepare science teachers for their profession. Science education has the natural sciences as the fundamental knowledge base but should be challenged by value or ideology oriented discussions rooted in religion, philosophy, social science and educational theory. Arguments for these claims will be elaborated in the paper.


Biesta, G.J.J. (2014). The beautiful risk of education. London: Paradigm Publishers.

Pring, R. (2015). Philosophy of educational research 3rd ed. London: Bloomsbury.

Saether, J., Reindal, S. M., Skrunes, N., Toft, G. O. (submitted) A model for analysing genetics and values in textbooks and teaching practices with focus on teacher education

Revd Dr Roger Abbott, Faraday Institute, Cambridge, UK

‘Sciencing’ the Humanities, and Humanising the Sciences.

An essential ingredient to capturing the attention of young students today is relevance and ethical/environmental urgency. Contemporary students can demonstrate surprising levels of care and concern for both the natural and human worlds we inhabit. Capturing these concerns in a way that young people can actively understand and make a difference to is the key to an education process that is effective. So-called natural disasters are one context that captures the attention, the care and the concern from young people globally, and which can spur their contribution for change (witness the huge volunteering from faith groups and others internationally into contexts of natural disaster, such as occurred in Southern Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina [2005] and in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

Referencing my research work following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, my aim in this presentation will be to demonstrate / illustrate on the one hand how the role of Practical Theology can be utilised to revolutionise Religious Education by ‘earthing’ the subject of religion in the wonderful, yet at times also catastrophic, contexts of nature and real life. I will then demonstrate how Practical Theology and Geoscience can work in collaboration to create mitigation strategies for both reducing future loss of life and for addressing the traumatic sequelae that will inevitably follow when natural hazards turn into human disasters.

In this presentation I will briefly explicate how the discipline of practical theology (a discipline in theology that has been too often suppressed under the dominance of biblical, systematic, and philosophical theological paradigms) is best suited to combatting the ‘conflict theory’ regarding the relationship between science and religion. Using a case study of my field-work, carried out between 2012-2015, in the worst earthquake affected areas of Haiti, I will present evidence for the essential role of geoscience for earthquake plotting and tracking and for seismic resistant infrastructures. I will also present how evidence from in-depth interviews of survivors shows the pastoral contribution of historic religious beliefs and practices in helping survivors cope with trauma, a conclusion I have also found from my field work in New Orleans (Katrina flooding) and in the Philippines (Super-typhoon Yolanda).

From the above method I shall conclude that both science and religion are essential ingredients to a twenty-first century school curriculum if education is to contribute with integrity to human flourishing for individuals and communities living in the natural and human worlds. Such a conclusion can revolutionise the equal relevance of both the sciences and the humanities.

Dr Christian Hoeger, University of Education Freiburg, Germany

Changes in the attitudes of German secondary school students on the origins of the world and of mankind from the ages of 12 to 14 and 16 (first results of a qualitative-empirical longitudinal study)

Based on the empirical data which will be analysed in my postdoctoral thesis (in progress) I want to describe some changes of knowledge and attitudes of students in secondary school on the origins of the world and of humans (Hoeger, 2015a,b). In these attitudes, religious as well as scientific perspectives interact: the belief in God as creator on the one hand and the trust in the theories of the big bang and evolution on the other. My study presents a new theory concerning the ways that young people combine these two perspectives and how their combinations change through the ages of 12, 14 and 16.

The collection of data started in 2010, when I had invited 20 catholic pupils (attending 5th form in one class in grammar school in South-Western Germany) in seven small groups to draw a picture and write a text to show their ideas about the origin of the world. Two years later in 2012, I came back to interview the same students now attending the 7th form (15 persons have been reached again). In 2014 I got the chance to interview 11 students a third time (10 attended the 9th form, one the 8th form).

Meanwhile I have transcribed all the interviews and have fed the data into the program Maxqda. Using the methodology of Grounded Theory (Strauss & Corbin, 1996), the open coding and the selective coding is in progress. Some cases have already been analysed: So I will present two individual cases of students: Their pseudonyms are Nico and Lena respectively, whose attitudes have undergone some interesting changes.

Concerning the origin of the world Nico’s development (at the age of 12 years and 4 months) starts with an almost creationistic belief in God as the one and only creator of man and the world, what automatically means, that there was no big bang. The picture he has drawn shows the big influence of Genesis 1,1-2,4a, which is understood in a quite historical way. Two years later Nico (14; 4) has converged to the position of a ‘natural creation of man’, which includes a combination of science and creation. In 2014, Nico (16; 4) has reached a mean position between a ‘natural creation of man’ and a ‘naturalistic human evolution’. The whole process of changing is shown in this figure:

CHo conference

Figure: Changes of Nico’s attitudes about the origin of mankind

Lena started (aged 11; 10) with the belief in creation of man, maybe – what is not sure – in a creationistic way. After two years, Lena (13; 10) changed to an almost purely naturalistic attitude concerning the origin of mankind, because she is positive about the truth of evolution and does not believe in creation as told in Genesis 1. Two years later Lena (15; 11) is convinced of a ‘natural creation of man’: She believes in God as creator of man by the means of evolution.

These two examples may suffice to show, how young peoples’ attitudes can change or ‘develop’. When reading older studies about the development of thinking and believing (e.g. Reich, 2002), I suspect that they do not always draw a clear distinction between different questions of origin: origin of the universe, the earth, life on earth, plants, animals and humans (Rauch & Hoeger, 2016). So I hope that my new approach will help teachers to understand better what their pupils are believing and how their specific and potential developments could be described. The results will be important for religious as well as scientific education. They may help young people to combine religious and scientific paradigms of worldviews in a reasonable way.

The Right Rev Dr Richard Cheetham, Bishop of Kingston in the diocese of Southwark, London, UK 

Lies, damned Lies, science and theology – Why everyone needs to know the truth about science and religion.

This paper will argue that a deep concern for the pursuit of truth needs to underlie both the philosophy and practice of education if we are to enable students to move beyond the widespread and prevailing caricature of the conflict model of the relationship between science and religion.

It will begin by illustrating the conflict caricature, using examples from the Twitter sphere, comedians, popular novels, films and documentaries. It will then argue that the failure of science education to include any significant amount of the history or philosophy of science has allowed students to persist in their belief in the conflict model. It will further be argued that some religious education effectively capitulates to an understanding that true knowledge is only properly defined through empirical science. In order to move beyond this, we need a more holistic philosophy of education, which places the pursuit of truth much more centrally. This involves the interaction of multiple languages – scientific, mathematical, musical, poetic, artistic, philosophical, and theological. These languages are not directly translatable from one to another, nor are they reducible to a single basic language. But it is both possible and vital to relate them one to another.

I will also point to the insight of Aquinas that religio and Scientia are essentially virtues, mental habits which both assisted in the pursuit of truth rather than being seen as objectivised intellectual systems.

This can be illustrated by trying to describe what it means to be human using multiple different languages and exploring how they relate to one another in building up the fullest picture of reality and truth.

João C. Paiva1*, Carla Morais1,  and Luciano Moreira2

1Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade do Porto, CIQUP, Unidade de Ensino das Ciências, Rua do Campo Alegre, 4169-007 Porto, Portugal // 2Faculdade de Engenharia da Universidade do Porto, CIQUP, Rua Dr. Roberto Frias, 4200-465 Porto, Portugal // jcpaiva@fc.up.pt // cmorais@fc.up.pt // lucianomoreira@fe.up.pt

If not from evolution neither from the Bible, where does tension come from? Insights from a survey with high education students in a Catholic society

In this paper, we present and analyse the attitudes of High School students towards the relationship between scientific culture and religion, in order to identify eventual sources and areas of tension that emerge in a society with a Catholic cultural background.

The sample consists of 308 High School students (110 males and 198 females – including 200 Catholics and 49 atheists), from two Portuguese schools (one private and one public). Students’ mean age was approximately 17 years-old (SD = 0.898). The questionnaire included two pre-existent scales on science and religion (scale 1 and scale 2); an original scale specifically conceived for covering topics such as scientific culture or catechesis (scale 3); and a set of sociodemographic items. Scale 3 originally consisted of 26 five point Likert scale items (plus an “I don’t understand” option). Seven items were found to be problematic and were deleted, because 20 respondents or more did not understand. Despite this however, internal consistency for the 19 scale items was still found to be low (α = .60). A principal component analysis (with varimax rotation) suggested the existence of six components, but given that they were statistically weak and theoretically inconsistent they were dropped and each item was considered separately.

The items with the highest level of agreement were about acceptance for the theory of the evolution of species (M=3.80, SD=0.902) and about the impossibility of a literal reading of the Bible (M=3.74, SD=1.108). Paradoxically, while non-believers expressed stronger support for the view that the Bible cannot be read literally, Catholics expressed higher support for the acceptance of the theory of the evolution of species, despite that in this last case the difference was not statistically significant. Items which affirmed that magic and superstition are part of religion (M=2.74, SD=1.062) and that God is an invention of religion (M=2.77, SD=1.157) were rejected by the respondents. In these two items, non-believers revealed stronger criticism than Catholic respondents.  Differences were also found in other items: non-believers were more prone to think that religion was losing importance as science developed; scientists were not likely to have faith; catechists should learn more about science to support their faith; yet paradoxically, catechesis did not need scientific culture. On the other hand, Catholic believers were more prone to think that science does not have and will never have the answer for everything; and they recognize the merits of saints’ lives and their miracles. Interestingly, saints were given more importance for their example of life than for their miracles. No systematic differences were found between male and female respondents nor between schools.

In a Catholic country such as Portugal, the Bible and the theory of the evolution of species do not seem to be the reasons why science and religion are still perceived as conflicting among young believers. It is as if conflict was pushed (projected) into other people or other groups, while apparently students chose to think that religion and science are absolutely independent realms. At the same time, non-believers seem to be more prone to think that scientific culture is important to support the principals of faith, yet at the same time they admit that science does not need to play a strong role in catechesis. The fact is that at least conflict, independence, and dialogue ways of conceiving the relationship between science and religion seem to be adopted by respondents. Further research is necessary to understand the stability or patterns of fluctuation of the models across levels of analysis (intrapersonal, interpersonal, positional and ideological), since tension between science and relation may not only vary across levels of analysis but also be caused by paradoxes or inconsistencies across these levels where human beings move. For this reason, educators need to convey a coherent, yet complex, vision of both science and religion and help students to develop an “enlarged mentally” in Kant’s words, according to which oneself can understand and represent the other in one’s own mind. Since the statistical properties of the questionnaire are too far away from what would be desirable and since nonbelievers in our sample are a minority results must be considered carefully. New items must be added to address relevant dimensions (e.g., perceptions on religious practices and contemporary expressions of faith). Data collected from a survey given to religious educators is being compiled, and a set of conferences where students can talk with a believer and nonbeliever about the topic is being planned based on past experience.

Dr Mehdi Nassaji and Professor Berry Billingsley, Canterbury Christ Church University and University of Reading, UK

Troubled souls: teenagers reasoning about apparent contraction between the sciences and the humanities on what it means to be human

Advances in neuroscience and genetics have dominated media coverage of the biological sciences over the last two decades and present many challenges to conventional notions of what it means to be human. The idea of the soul is one belief that can seem to be contested by biology while being central to the teachings of many faiths and an idea that is frequently endorsed by popular culture. In secondary schools teaching is delivered by subject specialists, squeezing out opportunities for children to develop the attitudes and insights they need to make reasoned arguments about the power and limits of science and to critically examine popular accounts of what these advances reveal. Existing research also shows that students frequently hold back questions which bridge science and religion if they perceive a risk of raising issues that are culturally sensitive.

The paper explores a questionnaire survey (n=625), conducted on a mixed sample of English secondary school students in which their beliefs and concepts regarding the soul and the nature of science were investigated. What we found was that many young people are wrestling with the implications of contemporary science when thinking about what it means to be human. The survey indicates that a majority of students believe in some form of soul and that most see the soul as somehow separate to the rest of the person. Comments entered into the survey revealed that many students have reluctantly dismissed the soul as a nice story which is incompatible with scientific facts. We also found that a majority of students perceived science and religion to have conflicting stances on what it means to be human and a tendency in this age group to articulate scientific ideas in reductionist and deterministic terms. Even so, and regardless of whether they identified as religious, most students were committed to a belief that human persons cannot be fully explained scientifically while also believing this stance to be in conflict with a scientific worldview.

On the basis of the findings, the project developed and trialled a series of workshops for students which explore relevant themes. These workshops revealed some of the pressures and assumptions that students adhere to when they contemplate the implications of science for what it means to be human and also provided indications of how scholarship can inform students’ thinking. 

Dr Berry Billingsley and Dr Keith Chappell  Canterbury Christ Church and Reading Universities, UK

‘Nature vs nurture’: workshops for teenagers to critique scientific determinism and other perspectives on personality and behaviour.

The study of genetics is an increasingly important part of biology curricula throughout Europe and globally and faces many challenges in remaining up to date in a fast moving field. Challenges include conceptual understanding, technical developments and social/moral attitudes.  Amidst these developments in genetics, and indeed the whole of the biological sciences, the understanding of the nature of science itself and the relationship between biology and other subjects can easily be lost.  This paper is concerned with the broader notion of ‘being human’ and the impact that reductionist presentations of genetics have on the perceptions and understandings that students and teachers have of the human person.

Our research suggests that secondary students are keen to know more about what shapes human personality and behaviour. At the same time, these questions are also an area of growing science research, particularly in genetics. Too often, however, this sort of research is portrayed, in the media and the public discourse, in over-simplified ways. Deterministic arguments suggesting that “it’s all in the genes” seems to negate subjective experience and students’ intuitive understanding of what influences their own and other people’s behaviour and personality. Furthermore, they appear to contradict and invalidate other discourses on these topics.

This paper presents the outcome of research involving secondary school students and their teachers in which notions of genetic determinism and broader concepts of reductionist views of the person are considered and challenged through exposure to alternative views. Results were gathered through survey data and interviews with students and teachers prior to and following workshops presenting alternative concepts of the role of genetics in the development of human personality and behaviour. Results indicate a broadly deterministic assumption amongst both groups prior to encountering alternative notions but that these could be challenged and a broader understanding of genetics and the human person can be developed with relatively short interventions.

This research has implications for the way in which genetics in particular, and biological sciences more broadly, e.g. evolution, neurobiology and molecular biology, are taught and raises important questions regarding desired learning outcomes. Challenging reductionist positions in biology is important not only for the relationship between the science and society more generally but also for a deeper understanding of the biological sciences, and all sciences.  We thus propose some important shifts in emphasis in the teaching of genetics and present some ideas for useful interventions.

Dr Sharon Fraser, University of Tasmania, Australia 

“Yeah now that I’ve thought about it I’ll probably think about it more” 

Research conducted collaboratively by researchers from the University of Reading, UK and the University of Tasmania, Australia in the Being Human project (Being Human: Discovering and Advancing School Students’ Perceptions of the Relationships between Science and Religion) has revealed ways in which primary (year 6) and secondary (years 10 and 11) school students perceive science and religion. To find out how children think about science and religion, the project has carried out surveys and interviews with over 500 primary school aged children in England and Australia. The perspectives of Australian students from year 6, gained through 20 initial interviews and supported by 64 surveys, will be the focus of this short paper, with data being presented in relation to three emerging themes.

Unlike in the UK, religious education is not part of the ordinary secular curriculum in Australian state and non-denominational private schools. Rather, it is regulated (no more than 30 minutes a week) and provided by school chaplains or their equivalent. In these schools, parents must give permission for their child to take part in religious education and expect other activities to be provided for their child if they do not want them participating (e.g. values/ethics classes). Hence opportunities for students to participate in discussions about religion vary between schools and states throughout Australia. For many students, the research reported upon here provided them with the first opportunity to consider their ideas about science and religion together. Three key themes emerged from these data.

  1. Science is proof and religion is belief

Students believe that science is dynamic, and all about facts that help us live in and impact upon the world, while religion is something you just believe in. Science proves things, and it will continue to prove more and more things as we keep asking questions and technologies develop. The importance of proof, and supposedly evidence in science, is well understood but children struggle with their being any proof supporting religious ideas. Some recognise artefacts such as the Bible as being a sort of evidence, although admit that it could also have just been made up stories. These perceived differences are often given as reasons to reject one or other account, or to admit that they just don’t know yet.

2. Compartmentalisation of science and religion

The majority of children recognise science and religion as being different, although they talk about these differences solely in terms of the explanations they provide rather than the questions they ask or purposes they serve. Children perceive the people they know to be committed either to science or to religion and categorise them as being sciencey or religious, depending upon their job or how they behave (e.g. in Chapel). Children would talk to sciencey people about science but not religion and vice versa, and this rigidity extends into the classroom. One child recognised a dichotomy between the ideas portrayed in science/scientists and religion/religious people, and felt that he needed someone in the middle between science (e.g. science teacher) and religion (e.g. Chaplain) to help him come to understand the truth.

3. Ideas emerging not previously considered together

During the interviews, a number of children contradict themselves as they respond to the different questions, indicating how emergent their ideas are about science and religion. The children indicate that they rarely think of science and religion together, but recognise it as an interesting thing to do and welcome the opportunity to do so. One child mentioned that it is when he struggles with concepts/ideas that are hard to imagine or explain, for example the Big Bang, that he might think of science and religion together. A large proportion display a thirst to ‘find out’ about things they don’t know and how science and religion ‘fit together’.

These initial data suggest that there is value in providing opportunities for children to articulate their ideas about science and religion (beliefs and/or world views) both separately and together. They also highlight the challenges this presents for both religious and science education in Australian state and non-denominational private schools.

Session 3: Beyond chalk and talk

Dr Christian Hoeger , Christiane Konnemann, Dr Roman Asshoff, Dr Christian Hoersch, Prof Dr Marcus Hammann and Prof Dr Werner Riess, Freiburg, Germany 

The seminar “Pupils’ conceptions of Evolution and Creation: Foundation and empirical results” for students at the University of Education at Freiburg/Germany

In this short paper session we would like to present the plan of the seminar “Pupils’ conceptions of Evolution and Creation”, which we will hold in the summer term 2016 (as we did in the last two semesters) for students in biology and theology at the University of Education in Freiburg.

In this presentation we (Christian Hoeger, Christian Hoersch and Werner Riess) first will report the topics of the seminar, i.e. its fundamental content: evolution theory (Darwin’s discovery and theory of the origin of species, modern biological studies on the evolution of man), biblical creation narratives (Genesis 1,1-2,4a, Genesis 2,4b-3, Book of Job 38), Barbour’s (2003, 113-150) four models on the relationship of science and religion, basics of the theory of science, students’ conceptions of evolution and creation (Riess & Hoeger, 2015), lesson plans for biology and religious education. Secondly we would like to report the learning objectives of the seminar and the learning methods used (e.g. lectures, text analysis, role plays, panel discussions, etc.).

In the evaluation of the seminar we cooperate with the research-group of Marcus Hammann from the University of Muenster (Hammann & Asshoff, 2015). This research-group has already developed and tested some instruments for measuring attitudes towards evolutionary theory and theology (Konnemann et al., 2016).

In the last part of our presentation Christiane, Roman and Marcus will present some empirical data on the outcome of the seminar concerning the attitudes towards evolution on the part of the students. The outcome of the seminar will be measured in a pre-post-intervention control group design. We suspect that there will be at least an effect of the seminar on the perception of the conflict between science and theology. We hope that the students will a) recognize the possibility of a fruitful dialogue between theology and science and, b) realize that there is room for thinking beyond a pure conflict model.

César Navarro

A practical and missional model for science/religion in evangelical educational institutions in Latin America

Most of the debate in science-religion models has been focused in the epistemic reasons for why they should or not be reconciled. Furthermore, new research in the interaction of worldviews and science education and the role that plays faith as a powerful positive resilience for disadvantaged populations, show that there are good reasons to consider more pragmatic models in science-religion concern. In fact, we should not need to expect the compatibility in science and religion in order to appreciate and accept the more practical relationship.

As we move more to an education with greater emphasis on the market economy, globalization and multicultural awareness, we see how this provides new ecologies to nurture education policies that allow reconciliation between science and faith in educational institutions in Latin America and around the world. Christian and non-Christian schools and universities with great emphasis in values and religious principles are growing faster and somehow even embrace a social and multicultural approach to education in general. This kind of environment provides great opportunities to advance science education in the region from a Christian worldview.

Latin America presents a low average of scientific production unlike Europe, the United States and some countries of Asia. In 2010, the Organization of Ibero-American States for the Education, Science and Culture (OEI) reported that 5.3% of the students of this geographical region graduate from natural and exact sciences, 2.5% engineering and technology, while 14.2% graduate from humanities and 56.4% from social sciences. This demonstrates the great interest in social sciences as opposed to the natural sciences. Although there is some evidence to think that young people in the developing world perceive science as more exciting than young people in developed countries and there are other underlying and problematic reasons that affect student enrolment in science and technology.

In comparison to the scarce scientific context, Latin America is extremely religious. There were 498 million Christians in 2005 and it is expected to be the second largest continental block of Christians in 2025 in the entire world. The context for Latin America is prominently religious and superstitious, where the universal asseverations of sciences are often refused in support of spirituality and faith. In addition, researches show that the Catholic Church has experienced net losses from religious switching, as many Latin Americans have joined evangelical Protestant churches or rejected organized religion altogether. For example, roughly one-in-four Nicaraguans, one-in-five Brazilians and one-in-seven Venezuelans are former Catholics. Evangelical churches are rapidly increasing in number, and while Catholics church agrees with mainstream scientific beliefs in evolution, the evangelical counterpart hold different positions, from creationism to theistic evolution.

In this panorama, we might work in improving the status of science education in our region, by promoting a Christian missional model to advance science, especially in evangelical circles. Michael Roberts considers that the evangelicalism can be defined by the following characteristics: activism, bible, conversion, death of Christ, enthusiasm and fellowship. Furthermore, its elevated growth in the world suggests that evangelicalism is strongly connected to Christian mission.

These three major opportunities – the multicultural awareness in educational national and privates policies, the importance and necessity to improve our scientific literacy, and the fascinating growth of evangelical Christianity, both, in churches and educational institutions, encourage a much better integration of faith and science that could serve as apologetics for sciences in general, and for the theory of evolution in particular.

By using an evangelical’s theology of creation as a starting point and the characteristics proposed by Roberts, we could reformulate the latter for advancing science in Latin America as: a) a fervent activism for this type of Christian mission for science; b) a biblical centralism from new literary approaches; c) Christ’s death, but also incarnation, life and resurrection; c) a conversion that includes the dimensions of restoration and redemption of everything; d) an enthusiasm to experience new encounters with nature; and e) a fellowship of faith that feeds spirituality, significance and sense of the natural world founded from God’s reality.

Dr Siew Yap, Kingsway Christian College, Perth, Australia 

Australian Curriculum – Science as a human endeavour: a focus on socioscientific issues, movies and values education

With the re-emergence of values education and the need for critical information literacy as a core skills in the school curriculum in the past decade, science is viewed as one of the key teaching domains, and in particular, socio-scientific education is increasingly perceived as instrumental in authentically connecting students’ worlds to scientific worldviews, engage them in the activity of science, develop nature of science understanding, foster evidence-based reasoning, facilitate scientific literacy, foster a sense of ethical caring and promote character in thinking about the social and natural world. In recognising these trends as vital to strengthening learners’ 21st century skills, the Australian Curriculum added `Science as a Human Endeavour’ (SHE) strand to two others, of equal importance, and traditionally known as `Science Understanding’ and `Science Inquiry Skills’ (2009). The Science as a Human Endeavour strand refers to the nature and development of science, and in society the use and influence of science.

This study is unique in that it presents one of the few studies that demonstrates how the Australian curriculum SHE strand is implemented and how socio-scientific issues in movies can be used as tools for remediating science misconceptions as well as stimulate evidence-based reasoning, ethical thinking about societal issues and encourage reflection on values promoted through the use or misuse of science and technology. Movies explore a range of complex topics in vivid and accessible ways from space travel and laser technology to genetic engineering, global warming, and the consequences of nuclear weaponry.  Movies also provide an engaging yet powerful medium where students can explore science concepts and consider some of the pressing issues and ideas of our time. Thus, the widespread use of popular entertainment media could help to foster critical thinking and appraisal of media content by addressing the misconceptions and distinguishing ‘good’ and ‘bad’ science.

At a Christian college in Perth, Western Australia, case studies based on two classes of 15-year-old secondary school students’ evaluation of the movies `GATTACA’, `Jurassic World’ and `The Day After Tomorrow’ are undertaken to explore student’s critical thinking and ethical reasoning in the field of biotechnology, genetics and climate change. The activities conducted are based on a recently published teacher resource book, Science at the Movies – Remediating the Misconceptions, written by the author/researcher.

This study takes into earnest consideration that the fundamental forms of science learning must bear close relation to the foci and nature of science in this 21st century and hence, curriculum and pedagogy needs to accept, embrace and promote powerful and multi-faceted ways in which both formal and informal learning of science occurs. Hopefully, this outcome from this study can serve as a stimulus to encourage a form of science teaching and learning that is relevant, engaging and effective.

Dr Elisabetta Canetta, St Mary’s, Twikenham, London, UK 

Physics and Faith synergy: How to engage audiences of different ages, backgrounds and beliefs

What do Physics and Faith have in common? Is it possible to engage with both viewpoints of physics and faith in a meaningful way?  Can faith be used as a hook to engage with those who normally wouldn’t be interested in physics?

To answer these questions physicists and theologians at St Mary’s University – Twickenham, London joined efforts and organised a series of events consisting of talks in physics and theology followed by an informal audience-led discussion.

This paper will focus on how these events were organised and delivered. Particular emphasis will be placed on the methods used to engage mixed audiences with such a delicate and controversial topic as the relationship between physics and faith.

The audience at these events was broad, from professional scientists, school teachers, and GCSE- and A-level pupils studying philosophy, theology or physics to clergymen, active members of local parishes, and members of the local community. Interestingly, some members of the audience had never attended a science event before and found faith a safe medium to explore complex concepts such as the Big Bang theory and quantum physics through more familiar concepts such as creation and human consciousness. Among the audience there were also atheists and agnostics who found the talks and discussions pitched at the right level for believers and non-believers to actively engage with and explore safely and constructively the controversial relationship between physics and faith. These events also helped to dismiss the misconception that physics and faith do not have anything in common and that physicists are always atheists and dismissive of faith. In fact the audience was shown that some concepts in physics needed a “leap of faith” to be first accepted and then understood. For this reason particular emphasis was placed on those topics in cosmology and quantum physics that were based on fundamental assumptions that physicists needed to accept and believe. One event told the “story” of the creation of the Universe as per the “Big Bang Theory” and biblical cosmology. The relationship between the physical and Christian theological views on creation was explored through an open discussion between a cosmologist, a Biblical scholar and the audience. Another event explained the concepts of quantum states superposition and entanglement and then used them as a tool to explain human consciousness. An open discussion between a quantum physicist, a bioethicist, a philosopher of science and the audience facilitated the understanding of the quantum superposition-human consciousness relationship.

The feedback obtained was excellent showing that we had been successful. This has encouraged us to start new series of “Physics and Faith” in 2016.

Lizzie Henderson, The Faraday Institute, Cambridge, UK

The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion – Youth and Schools Outreach Programme:   Engaging Young People in Positive, Interdisciplinary Exploration of Science and Religious Faith

The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion is an academic research enterprise based at St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, engaged in promoting the positive interaction of scientific and religious thinking (www.faradayinstitute.org).

In response to the early development of misleading ‘conflict thinking’ about sciencereligion interactions, The Faraday Institute has developed a thriving youth and schools outreach programme. This programme supports national curriculum teaching whilst helping young people from the age of 3 to 18 to explore their assumptions and questions concerning the interactions between the traditional teaching areas of science and religious studies.

The Faraday Institute’s schools programme brings high academic standing and experience into the classroom through trained, experienced communicators with extensive knowledge of a variety of scientific and religious areas. Topics covered include: the interactions of science and religion; the role of religion in the history of science; the philosophy, reach and limits of science; compatibilities and differences in thinking about creation, evolution and Intelligent Design; exploration of scientific and religious ideas on: human origins, ethics and morality, conservation and sustainability, evil and suffering, stem cells and biotechnology, artificial intelligence and many other areas.

This programme and its interdisciplinary approach have received a universally positive response and reports of a strongly positive impact on young people’s thinking.

In this session Lizzie Henderson, The Faraday Institute’s Youth and Schools Outreach Officer, will share first-hand experience and feedback from engaging students of all ages in questions and exploration of science-faith interactions. Lizzie will also outline some of the opportunities available through the Faraday Institute, including provision of speakers for specific events, lessons in RE or science subjects, and interactive workshops.

Cara Daneel, The Faraday Institute, Cambridge, UK

Wonders of the Living World: A resource to engage pupils in positive discussions about biology and religion

The ‘Wonders of the Living World’ project seeks to promote positive discussions about biology, faith, and the questions about meaning and purpose that science can raise. For example, how important is cooperation in the evolution of organisms? What is the value of an ecosystem? Is evolutionary convergence compatible with the idea of a purpose for the living world? One of our aims is to provide religious education teachers with materials and support necessary to run lessons on these topics. This method will bring scientists into the classroom via purpose-made videos, satisfying both the intellectual and relational aspects of the science and religion discussion. The theologian Alister McGrath has commented that, “when people are asking questions like [whether religion and biology are compatible], very often they don’t think about the intellectual issues, they think ‘I know someone who’s both a Christian and a biologist and they hold them together and that shows it can be done.’ In other words, it’s not so much the arguments; it’s the personal example of someone who’s done this which is really important.”

The scientists will explain their work, what questions it raises for them beyond science, and how each of them successfully integrates science and faith in their lives. A religious education teacher is creating lesson plans and reference information so that the resource is presented at a level the RE teacher feels comfortable with, taking the pressure off them to explain the science. This project will create a space where students can think about questions beyond the bounds of both the science and RE syllabi; possibly introducing them to religious scientists for the first time. We intend that the science itself will speak to their curiosity, drawing them into a deeper appreciation of the natural world, and into the deeper questions about meaning and purpose in the biological world. This approach is complementary to programmes such as ‘God and the Big Bang’ or ‘The Faraday Schools outreach programme’, which introduce students to scientists in person and are producing more general classroom resources. Our material could be used as a preparation or follow up to such conferences and lessons.

Stephanie Bryant, God and the Big Bang Project, Cambridge, UK

Changing the Narrative: Exploring Science and Faith with Secondary School Students

The God and the Big Project (GatBB) aims to address research findings of the LASAR (Learning About Science and Religion) Project which indicated that young people in England commonly struggle to access the view that science and religion are not necessarily incompatible. One way of achieving this aim has been to offer full-day school events for 14 – 18 year olds across the UK to allow exploration of the compatibility of science and religion.

GatBB events were hosted by over 40 schools between July 2014 and July 2016, the majority of which were Church of England secondary schools. More than 3000 students from Years 10 -13 have had the opportunity to share and explore ideas of compatibility in the presence of experts on this topic.

The impact of the project’s school events has been explored through analysis of students’ answers to survey questions and collation of written feedback. With a robust, high-quality data set of over 1100 students from 15 schools, and survey statements shown to be reliable and effective at addressing the relevant research questions, initial findings are both strong and elucidating.

In this session Stephanie Bryant, Co-ordinator of the God and the Big Bang Project, will provide an overview of how the project approaches and creates space for exploration of science and religion with teenagers, and share initial research findings on the shift in perspectives

Dr Matt Pritchard, Science Magic Shows, UK

Wow! How? Now…

The curiosity, mystery and wonder evoked by magic illusions are great ways to engage an audience; particularly passive teenagers. The use of illusions and interactivity in a school setting to open up an active dialogue will be discussed during the session. Along with some of the pitfalls.

Furthermore, illusions are an ideal tool for highlighting how our beliefs and free thoughts are not always as fool proof as we’d like to think. They can easily be shaped by outside influences. The picture scientists paint of reality is just a practical and persistent illusion of the universe’s workings. Science claims to be definitive, logical and above biased thinking but each new discovery is reliant on the researcher making ‘leaps of faith’.

A free thinking person of faith also uses some of the scientific method to grow their faith. For example the use of evidence, the predictive power of scripture and iteration. In this interactive session we will explore through magic and mind games how some of our beliefs are formed, how they can be manipulated and how science and faith are not too dissimilar.

Dr Kleio Akrivou and Jose Victor Oron, University of Reading, Henley Business School and University of Navarra Institute of Enterprise and Humanism, UK and Spain 

Autonomous self and Inter-processual self: Two different backgrounds that explain how people “see” and live the relation–two ways of dialoguing between science and faith.

The relationship between science and faith is not a given but depends on personal way of understanding/seeing and living this relation. Accordingly, this relation can be lived as a conflict, as agency on to independent and separate domains. Or it can be lived as a dialoguing process, or an integral relation. We suggest in this paper that adopting any of the above ways to “see” the relation between science and faith depends on factors that go beyond the rational assessment that a person can make about science or faith. We think a decisive factor to explain the perspective adopted is based on philosophical and psychological theory insights relevant to human beings and their (human) development are being understood.  Two paradigms of conceiving the self and human development have been proposed: “autonomous self” (AS) and “inter-processual self” (IPS). From these two corresponding backgrounds that explain how people “see” and live the relation–dialogue between science and faith emerge.

In the AS the subject is defined in confrontation and opposition with any (human or other) object. This is because AS understands the human being as an autonomous subject that strives to grow in increasing autonomy, thanks to maintaining self-control and accumulating expertise. The other background  from the IPS values the personal nature of every human being, its uniqueness and its internal relationship quality with others. In IPS personal growth is through the improvement in the quality of relations between a person and other persons as well as other beings, and nature. These two background positions, AS and IPS can be supported by proponents and opponents of both religion and science. We think that people that support an understanding of the human being modelled upon the AS, are more likely to experience the relationship between science and faith in terms of conflict or mentality, as two independent “cognitive” domains. Instead, people who support an understanding based upon IPS, are more likely to experience and value the relationship science-religion in genuine integrative terms: part of an inseparable whole and always a union whereby each part completes the other part while maintaining its distinctiveness. The position of dialogue can be sustained from the AS and from the IPS but what changes is how to understand the quality and dialogue itself. We show with examples how the quality of dialoguing between science and religion differs in AS and IPS.

Matt Bawden, QEGS Ashbourne, Derbyshire, UK

@QEGS_Drone: An Exploration of Character Development

The QEGS Drone Challenge is a largely student led initiative to introduce others to the wonders of coding and engineering through building drones. The Year 11 students who designed, and lead, this in-school initiative enable a group of others to create their own unique racing quadcopters. They then conclude by navigating a virtual course capturing images rather like reimagined orienteering.

During the year-long programme the group consider appropriate materials, make detailed choices and reflect on the nature of their drones. The approach incorporates elements of the DfE Guidance on PSHE and RE.

This presentation covers our preliminary research into this initiative. It highlights the character development of those who now lead the project in terms of their increased knowledge/understanding of character virtues.[1] It demonstrates their relevance to how they equip ‘them with the behaviours and attitudes necessary for success in the next stage of education, training, or employment.’[2] It shows their application of these virtues in their current developmental role, as they devise ways to bring science, engineering and philosophy together through discussions over personhood. These discussions are guided by the desire to build the most effective drones, approaching several areas including reflections on AI, autonomy and thoughts on what makes a human ‘human’ and a drone ‘a drone’. Finally, it proposes new directions for other clubs and activities seeking to make similar connections and bring the formal curriculum alive.


[1] Using the key principles from Jubilee Centre for Character & Virtues Framework for Character Education in Schools

[2] School Inspection Handbook August 2016 P51

Revd Jennifer E Brown, Diocese of Oxford and Ian Ramsey Centre, Oxford University, UK

Teaching Science and Religion in a Primary School RS Class

Science and religion are not often brought together in primary school teaching. Yet there are opportunities in Religious Studies lessons to introduce scientific concepts and to discuss the relationship between science and religion. This paper will describe the experience of delivering three lessons on science and religion at a Church of England primary school. Each lesson was aimed at a different year group, and the lessons were designed to fit into the broader RS curriculum for that year group. Lessons aimed to demonstrate to the students that science and religious belief are not incompatible, and that religious believers can and do engage in scientific enquiry. Introducing this idea at primary level may help to prevent children developing the idea that science and religion are ‘either-or’ worldviews as they get older.