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Scots bid for £½ million to impress scientists

30 May 2014


A £500,000 project to challenge the assumption that Christian faith is incompatible with modern science has been launched in Scotland.

The Scientists in Congregations venture, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, is modelled on a similar project in North America. It will be run by the School of Divinity at the University of St Andrews, and hopes to foster dialogue rather than suspicion between scientists and Christians.

About 20 churches of all denominations will receive grants of up to £10,000, to be used in creating resources, lectures, and debates that explore the relationship between faith and science. These will primarily be led by scientists who attend each church. Among the churches receiving grants, two are Episcopalian: St Peter's, Edinburgh, and St Andrew's, St Andrews, as well as St Andrew's Episcopal Cathedral in Aberdeen.

Professor Andrew Torrance from the School of Divinity at St Andrews, who is leading Scientists in Congregations Scotland, said: "There is not the same perceived tension [between science and faith] in the UK as there might be in the United States, but I still think we see a compartmentalisation in church. Christian faith is seen as something that is to do with your ethical beliefs, whereas science is engaged with the real world. We really want to challenge that."

It is this perception that Professor Torrance hopes that the individual church projects can address, and he said that he was impressed with the ideas that they had come up with.

"There's a real diversity, and a diverse range of denominations," he said. "Some are going to be developing lecture series; some are looking to get their congregations involved in various scientific activities; some are trying to bring science into their liturgy."

One successful application for a grant was from three Christian Brethren churches in western Scotland: Cartsbridge Evangelical Church in Glasgow, Lennox Evangelical Church in Dumbarton, and Westwoodhill Evangelical Church in East Kilbride. Professor David Galloway, a consultant surgeon and a member of Lennox Evangelical Church, who is involved in their joint project, said that the interface of science and Christianity covered many of the issues that arose for churchgoers.

"The question is: How can we be intellectually fulfilled these days in a secular world where Christianity has been marginalised because the assumption has been made that it is not a tenable position to hold?" he said.

The aim of the project was to encourage churchgoers to believe that Christianity could hold its head high on the intellectual scene, without appealing to holy texts. "We want to have a programme of seminars and debates and discussions, some hosted in neutral locations, and involving not just the congregations, but undergraduate students as well."

Some of the money will go to transporting people to lectures and events in St Andrews.

Besides building the confidence of believers, Professor Torrance said that Scientists in Congregations was an opportunity for mission. "There are people outside the faith who think that they have to make a choice between science and faith," he said: success in the project would mean making the Church a place of serious intellectual discussion.

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