THE popular image of science as providing reliable, useful, and
objective knowledge, while theology offers only speculative and
subjective opinion, is remarkably persistent. Such caricatures have
a profound effect on the way many people view the Christian faith
and its credibility. This remains so, despite a large and growing
body of academic literature which presents a different view.
One of the most important apologetic tasks today is to find ways
of making this deeper understanding more widely known, in both the
Church and the wider world. If we do not engage actively in this,
then the field is left wide open for either the Creationists or the
New Atheists (both of whom take communication seriously), with the
result that many are put off any serious consideration of Christian
In our churches, there are several excellent study courses on
science and religion, but this is still a minority interest,
usually led when a minister gets enthusiastic about such questions.
All too often, we hear little or nothing in sermons, Sunday
schools, or youth groups about the interface between science and
religion. This is partly because, for those without much background
in science, the issues can appear complex and technical. It is
vital, however, for all thinking Christians, and especially those
who preach and teach, to seek to engage much more seriously with
these issues, because of the importance of science to our
Fortunately, there has been an explosion in the amount of
academic study of science and religion in the past 30 to 40 years,
and the quality of this is high. There are a number of centres
around the world that have advanced the scholarly understanding of
the issues. There have been some good attempts at communicating
this material more widely, but they are still fairly limited. We
now need a much bigger push on the communication of this material -
into schools, colleges, churches, the media, and elsewhere.
THERE is much that we can do to build a bridge of communication,
and especially for those who do not feel confident in dealing with
We must use the existing organisations. There are distinguished
study centres, including the Ian Ramsey Centre in Oxford, and the
Faraday Institute in Cambridge, and also networks such as
Christians in Science, the Science and Religion Forum, and the
Society of Ordained Scientists. All of these have on their websites
links to a mass of helpful, easily digestible material.
The Faraday Institute site (www. faraday.st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk),
for example, has short briefing papers on topics such as "Has
Science killed God?" and "Is the Universe designed?" These are
written by experts in the field, and are accessible to the
non-scientist, and so provide easy background material for sermons.
There are also some excellent introductory videos on the Test of
Faith site (www.testoffaith.com), which provides a book and course
material. Professor John Polkinghorne has a Q&A website
(www.starcourse.org/jcp/qanda.html) on common questions, such as
incarnation and evolution.
GOOD-QUALITY science education and religious education is another
vital part of communicating a well-balanced understanding of the
science-religion relationship. This needs to include study about
the nature of scientific enquiry. The Faraday Schools section (www.faradayschools.com) includes, for example,
video clips addressing topics such as "Why are there natural
disasters if God created the world?", and "Your quick guide to
Creationism, Atheism and Theistic Evolution", in which leading
academics offer their reflections in a way accessible to young
people. There are also several computer games and apps.
But teachers and others need to be aware of all this, and ready
to use it creatively and enthusiastically, which depends in part on
how curricula are framed. That is why that debate matters.
We also need confidence among clergy and other leaders to deal
with these areas. This year, an imaginative series of conferences
is being run at St John's College, Durham, with the explicit aim of
equipping religious leaders in an age of science. There is also
some good material - for example, in the Science for Ministry
initiative at Princeton - but which is hardly mainstream. We need
to find ways of getting this into systematic-theology and seminary
I have been impressed with the idea of the Scientists in
Congregations initiative (www.scientistsin-congregations.org). It
involves identifying a church leader, plus one working scientist,
in a congregation, and giving them some training and ideas for
activities in their church, which would make the whole congregation
We need to get more scientific imagery and ideas into our
liturgy. This means encouraging liturgists, intercessors,
musicians, and hymn-writers to do just that - and to have a
liturgical season, possibly linked to harvest, which would look
more closely at questions of creation and providence. For example,
the Eco-Congregation website has a sec- tion on "greening worship",
which links liturgy and environmental concerns, as well as one on
celebrating creation. The BioLogos site (www.biologos.org), set up by Professor Francis
Collins, has sections on worship, as well as sermons.
Ultimately, all this matters because both science and theology
make important truth-claims about the way things are; and what we
believe about this shapes the way we live.
The Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences in Berkeley,
California, has used the Golden Gate Bridge as an image for the
need to build the conversation between science and theology. The
past 30 or so years of academic study in this field has built a
pretty good bridge. What is missing, however, is the communication
of that literature in a much more popular manner. In this exercise,
we have only just begun to build the foundations.
Dr Richard Cheetham is the Bishop of Kingston, and an Hon.
Research Fellow at King's College, London.