FASTLY - Faith & Science Teaching

Activity Map: Do Faith and Science Conflict?

Overview

What's the Focus

How does one respond FASTly when science and faith seem to disagree? When we encounter points at which faith and science seem to be making conflicting claims about the world, it can seem as if a stark choice is required: either abandon faith as old-fashioned and embrace science, or affirm faith in the face of apparent evidence and practice suspicion toward science. In reality the choices available are more nuanced and more complex.

This activity map aims to help students see this relationship in a new way and to consider why it may not be necessary to choose between faith and science and to realize and understand that the connection between the two is not as simple as it is sometimes made to seem.

It engages students in exploring an alternative approach to the warfare model and explores the need to practice courage and patience in challenging three common misunderstandings: (1) that science and faith are inherently in conflict and offer contradictory accounts of reality, (2) that science and faith disagree in predictable ways where science is based on empirical evidence and faith is based on opinion, and (3) that the relationship between science and faith is a zero-sum game, meaning that to the degree one is correct, the other must be incorrect.

It is not necessary to use every activity in your class. This activity map offers a range of possibilities to enrich your existing teaching resources. While some of the activities form a possible sequence, you can select the ones most suitable for your context and adapt them to connect to your own plan for learning.

Discover activities offer brief ways into the topic and are designed to set the stage and get students thinking.

Delve activities promote more extended learning. This is where the main substance of the lesson unfolds.

Debrief activities look at ways of bringing the sequence of the study to a thoughtful close by helping students reflect on how they have been invited to see science and faith anew.

You can mix and match these activities as you wish. It is not intended that all these activities should be used with the same class.

Quick Stop Lesson Plan

The best way to use this activity map is to explore all the activities and see which ones best fit together in your particular teaching context. If you just need a quick way to explore the themes of the map, you can use the links below to preview and download a sampler of three activities selected from this activity map.

PreviewDownload Files

Discover Activities

Discover activities offer brief ways into the topic and are designed to set the stage and get students thinking.

  • Activity 0:15

    Faith and Science at War?

  • Activity 0:15

    Multiple Outcomes

Faith and Science at War?

In Brief

This brief activity presents students with the question of how complicated the relationship is between science and faith and establishes the position that a simple conflict model does not describe the relationship well. Students are introduced to some contrasting ways of seeing the relationship between faith and science as a first step toward exploring the subject in more depth.

Goals

Students will understand that there are alternatives to a warfare model of science and faith and that such a model is not well supported by history.

Thinking Ahead

The notion that science and religion have long been at war (sometimes called the “conflict thesis”), is an idea popularized in the 19th century. It is still assumed by many to be correct. Two books published in the late 1800s did much to promote the idea: John William Draper’s History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874) and Andrew Dickson White’s A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1898).

Since that time, however, most historians have come to see the warfare model as, at best, simplistic. In contrast, the relationship between science and faith is understood to be more varied and complex, as in John Hedley Brooke’s Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives (1991). This activity introduces the idea that the interaction of science and faith is more complex than a conflict model suggests. Consider moving from this activity to Activity 3: Not Just Warfare.

The goal of this brief activity is for students to recognize the conflict thesis and realize its limits. The conversation about how science and faith interact is more complicated than they might have expected. Note that the goal is to engage students in reflection, not just to tell them better answers. Teaching practices that simply declare correct answers have the potential to undermine the focus of the activity which is designed to help students understand the complex relationship between science and religion.

Related Book Review: The Territories of Science and Religion by Peter Harrison.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Teaching the Activity

Display the first slide of Faith and Science at War, which presents five sentences about the relationship between science and faith. Ask students individually and silently to choose a word to complete each sentence. They do not need to share their choices at this point. The goal is for students to establish their own assumptions authentic to themselves.

  • It is always/often/sometimes/never necessary to choose between faith and science.
  • What Christians believe and what scientists believe are always/often/sometimes/never in conflict.
  • When a conflict between faith and science arises, it is always/often/sometimes/never necessary to make a clear choice for one and against the other.
  • If faith and science have conflicting claims, I think faith/science is usually right and faith/science will generally turn out to be mistaken.
  • It is impossible/hard/easy to be both a faithful Christian and a good scientist.

Ask students to consider: what do your answers tell you about what you assume concerning the relationship between faith and science?

Next display the first quotation from Thomas Henry Huxley:

Extinguished theologians lie about the cradle of every science as the strangled snakes beside that of Hercules; and history records that whenever science and orthodoxy have been fairly opposed, the latter has been forced to retire from the lists, bleeding and crushed if not annihilated; scotched, if not slain. — Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895)

Ask students to articulate the relationship that is assumed here between theology and science. Draw out that Huxley portrays them as involved in a battle, and that he thinks the winner is always science. Point out the violent language and reveal the warfare picture at this point. The relationship is imagined as a fight to the death. Note that Huxley here focuses on theologians, rather than faith in general. Mention that this was a view made popular in the 19th century that continues to influence popular views of faith and science. Mention also that present-day historians of science do not regard a simple conflict account of the history of faith and science as accurate, noting that conflicts have been the exception rather than the rule, and that religion has often supported science or peacefully coexisted with it. Note the useful summary here.

Then display the next slide that shows a quotation from Francis Collins, the geneticist behind the Human Genome Project, from an interview in 2015:

I am privileged to be somebody who tries to understand nature using the tools of science. But it is also clear that there are some really important questions that science cannot really answer, such as: “Why is there something instead of nothing? Why are we here?” In those domains I have found that faith provides a better path to answers. I find it oddly anachronistic that in today’s culture there seems to be a widespread presumption that scientific and spiritual views are incompatible. Science and faith can actually be mutually enriching and complementary once their proper domains are understood and respected. — Francis Collins

Ask students how this quotation portrays the relationship between science and faith differently. What is Francis Collins’ metaphor for the relationship? Collins offers the metaphor of a map with different paths and domains. Point out again that while it is still popular to present science and faith as at war, many current scholars see such a view as much too simple and most scientists do not accept the view that religion and science are inherently in conflict. Let the students know they are going to explore this topic further in the activities that follow, and give them a few moments to reflect individually on this question:

  • When you think of the relationship between science and religion, what images shape your thinking? Is it warfare, different paths, or something else?

Multiple Outcomes

In Brief

The aim of this brief activity is to help students to see that when apparent conflicts arise between faith and science, it is not always a matter of choosing one side or the other. Science and faith have interacted in many ways over the years. Students encounter a matrix of possible outcomes when science and faith conflict.

Goals

Students will understand that apparent conflicts between science and faith can have multiple outcomes.

Students will understand that science and theology can both be mistaken and that Christians hold to an underlying unity of truth.

Thinking Ahead

The popular warfare metaphor for the relationship between faith and science implies that in case of disagreement there must be a fight until one side wins and the other is eliminated. See Activity 1: Faith and Science at War? This brief activity aims to help students see that there are more possibilities. The interaction between science and faith over the years has been more complicated than a simple warfare model suggests.

Christians hold that God is the author both of the creation and of his revelation and that a true interpretation of either will therefore in the end agree with the other. If science is our fallible interpretation of the natural world and theology is our fallible interpretation of God’s revelation, then either or both may be at fault when there is conflict. It is not hard to find historical examples where both widespread scientific understandings and commonly accepted theological understandings have been overturned. Neither scientists nor Christians now believe that the sun orbits the earth, for instance.

This activity does not offer us a way to know the right answer immediately when there is conflict between science and faith. However, it points out that we may need to learn more on one side or the other, and that an automatic capitulation in one direction is often premature. It engages students in a process of reflection that moves them away from simplistic answers and encourages humility.

If you wish to explore this further with your class, note that the possibilities presented in this activity are not the only ones. In addition, it is possible that faith and science may agree about a matter, and both nevertheless may be wrong, as was the case when both science and theology believed in geocentrism. This additional variant has been omitted from the slides for the sake of simplicity.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Teaching the Activity

Introduce the activity by telling students that they are going to explore possible outcomes when there is an apparent conflict between faith and science. Begin by asking students to imagine two friends arguing about what is going to be served for school lunch today and to consider various ways the argument could go utilizing the opening slides of Multiple Outcomes.

  • Joe is sure he read in the bulletin that today was pizza. However, Mary thinks he is wrong and believes that there will not be any pizza today.

How many possible outcomes are there? Two: Joe could be right and Mary wrong, or Mary could be right and Joe wrong. This is a zero-sum game. (See Activity 4: Zero-Sum Games)

  • Joe is sure he read in the bulletin that today was pizza. Mary is convinced she heard a teacher mention that today was stir fry.

What new outcomes are possible now? There are now more possible outcomes: Joe could be right and Mary wrong because it’s possible that she misheard the teacher. Or Mary could be right and Joe could be wrong because it’s possible that he misread the bulletin. Or they could both be wrong since they both misunderstood and hot dogs are being served for school lunch today.

  • What if the school serves more than one option at lunch time?

Now they could both be right.

Next ask students what bearing this scenario has on debates about how faith relates to science. Draw out from the students that not all disagreements imply that one of the two sides is right and the other wrong and that misunderstandings can happen on either side or both sides.

Present this perspective more explicitly using slide number 3, which explores possible outcomes when science and faith disagree.

  • It may be that we conclude that science is right and faith is wrong. Christians have changed their views on many scientific questions, including some that seemed to be taught in the Bible, such as the sun circling the earth. In time, a new scientific view was accepted and the way we interpret the Bible was adjusted. The notion that medieval Christians believed the earth was flat is a myth propagated along with the late 19th century view that science and religion have always been in conflict.
  • It may be that we conclude that faith is right and science is wrong. When the Big Bang theory was first proposed, it was criticized for sounding too much like a Christian view in which the universe suddenly came into being. However, it’s currently the most widely accepted scientific account of how the universe began.
  • It may be that we conclude that both are wrong and that in time we will come to interpret both the world and our faith differently. There have certainly been times in the past when accepted views that were expressed in both science and theology later came to be seen as mistaken—for instance, views concerning the value of alchemy or the inherent inferiority of certain racial groups.
  • It is even possible that we conclude that both are right and that the thing we have misunderstood is the nature of the conflict between faith and science. This would be the position of Christians who hold that the currently accepted scientific view of the age of the earth is not in tension with the Bible’s account of origins properly understood.

None of these choices are infallible paths to a correct answer. In the examples listed above there are Christians who hold differing views. If science is our fallible interpretation of the world and theology is our fallible interpretation of Scripture, we may turn out to be mistaken on either side of the discussion. It is also difficult to know in advance which will be the case. When faced with a conflict we do not have to assume that we have to either give up faith or give up science because it’s very possible there is more we need to understand. In our work on the relationship between science and faith we need to engage in practices of careful, patient listening and thinking and maintain a humble stance of inquiry.

In conclusion, ask students to reflect for a few moments or journal about how the practice of patience and humility might help us deal with apparent conflicts between faith and science.

Delve Activities

Delve activities promote more extended learning. This is where the main substance of the lesson unfolds.

  • Activity 0:30

    Not Just Warfare

  • Activity 0:25

    Zero-Sum Games

  • Activity 0:30 - 0:50

    Galileo and the Sun

Not Just Warfare

In Brief

This activity provides a hands-on way of getting students to engage with the difficulties of a simplistic faith-versus-science view. It engages them in classifying claims about the world in increasingly complex ways in order to help them see the limitations of a simple two-view account of the world.

Goals

Students will understand that the relationship between faith and science is more complex than two sides.

Thinking Ahead

Students will attempt to categorize various statements as areas of agreement or disagreement between science and faith. This is not easy to do and forces students to interact with some ways in which the science-faith relationship is more complex than mere conflict. The frustrations involved in this process may support the reality of complexity better than simply being told. Students should be helped to see that:

  • Science and faith may disagree about some things but not most things.
  • Scientists and believers disagree among themselves, and there is not unanimous agreement on either side.
  • A scientist and a believer may be one and the same person.
  • The views of both scientists and believers change over time (e.g., the dispute over geocentrism, addressed in more detail in later FASTly activities, can be mentioned here because there was a time when both scientists and believers were geocentrists and also a time when the views of both shifted, and the position was denied by both scientists and believers.
  • It is often not clear what “science” and “faith” mean. For instance, do we mean individual people who are scientists or individual people who are believers? Do we mean the official views of particular churches and which churches or organizations? Do we mean a body of universally accepted conclusions, or do we mean different ways of seeking truth?

It’s very important to think about how to frame the last part of the activity. Since the activity aims to have students experience growing frustration with a simple two-category model, and to see how complex the issues can get, the activity risks leading them to a point of giving up the entire effort to understand complexity. Emphasize that the point is not that it’s all too complex to sort out, but that patience, humility, and courage, and a larger community of thinkers are needed to persevere with important questions and to attend carefully enough to arrive at good answers. Incendiary stances and witty one-liners will not get the job done. Teaching FASTly values thinking about the connections between truth, virtue, and community.

Related Book Review: Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think by Elaine Howard Ecklund.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Directions:

Make enough copies of the Agreement-Disagreement Statements of Not Just Warfare for each group of 2-3 students to have one. Cut each statement apart and place the statements in envelopes so that each group gets an envelope with one full set of the statements.

Teaching the Activity

Have students form groups of two or three. Give each group an envelope containing the agreement-disagreement statements. Tell students that they are going to sort the statements using a variety of criteria.

First, ask students to take a sheet of paper, draw a vertical line down the middle, and use it to sort the statements into those about which science and faith disagree and those about which science and faith agree. For this and subsequent steps you can display the visual templates in Not Just Warfare to give students a guide. Give them a few minutes to complete this.

Ask:

  • How much agreement or disagreement do you see?
  • Does this work as a way of sorting the information? Do you think it gives us an adequate picture of faith and science? What does it not show?

Allow discussion. Avoid discussion of whether the statements are true. Instead focus on the way of classifying and whether it works. Highlight the point that there are many issues on which people of faith disagree among themselves, and also there are matters on which scientists do not agree. “Faith” and “Science” are not monolithic blocks to be pitted against one another. Therefore, ask the students to try again. Now ask the students to take a sheet of paper and draw both a vertical line and a horizontal line to divide the paper into fourths.

Display the second slide, and have them sort the statements four ways:

  • Faith and science disagree
  • Faith and science agree
  • People of faith have varying views
  • Scientists have varying views

Ask how this exercise went. Did it work better? Does it now give us a clear picture? Is there anything that is still difficult or not represented clearly? Allow discussion and check, for instance, where students placed “prayer can help sick people to heal,” an issue scientists are still not unanimous on because different studies arrive at different conclusions. Next introduce an additional idea: does the chart we have made give any sense of how things change over time? For instance, was there a time when both believers and scientists disagreed about whether the sun went around the earth or the earth around the sun? (Yes, during the time of Galileo). So do the statements remain forever in the same category?

Ask students to have another go at the process. Have them take a sheet of paper and divide the area into eight spaces. Display the third slide and have them re-classify the statements using the following categories:

  • Faith and science disagree
  • Faith and science agree
  • People of faith have varying views
  • Scientists have varying views
  • Faith and science once disagreed but views have changed
  • Faith and science once agreed but views have changed
  • People of faith once had the same view but now have varying views
  • People of faith once had varying views but now have the same view

Students may notice that this is still an incomplete set of categories. For instance, it does not explore whether consensus among scientists has changed, and so the chart may need to expand even more. The students may notice that the exercise is becoming more confusing, and even a little ridiculous. It will be unclear where to put each statement, and one statement may belong in multiple places. Allow discussion of how this step of the activity went. Ask if there are still things missing. For instance, does the map imply that believers and scientists are two distinct sets of people? How could we represent the fact that many scientists are themselves believers so that people of faith and scientists are often the same people?

Ask students why the interaction between faith and science is so difficult to categorize neatly. Ask why it is tempting to settle for simple pairs of categories—like faith versus reason or the Bible versus science—to explain the relationship. Do our verbal practices meaning the way we talk about faith and science—contrasting “believers” and “scientists”—paint a true picture? Why is it easier to paint the conflict and choose one side rather than to articulate a more nuanced understanding of how complex the relationship can be? Why do we gravitate to simple slogans more easily than to careful reflection? What fears and prejudices might make the simple view more tempting? And what virtues—patience, humility, and/or courage—might be needed to stay engaged in a more complex conversation?

Finally, return to the warfare metaphor and show the final slide. Give students a few minutes to journal on the question:

  • What are a few of the problems with using a warfare metaphor to picture how science and faith relate to one another?

You will be able to use this piece of writing to check each student’s understanding of this topic.

Zero-Sum Games

In Brief

Sometimes apparent conflicts between faith and science are spoken of as if they were a zero-sum game where each side can only gain by making the other side lose. This activity challenges this assumption, and helps students to see that interactions between science and faith can also be win-win situations in which important truths are revealed through both disciplines.

Thinking Ahead

In game theory, a zero-sum game is a contest in which every gain by one side is a loss by the other. For instance, one player’s +1 is balanced by the other player’s -1, so the sum remains zero. A boxing match is a zero-sum game where one fighter can only win if the other loses. A decision about whether to grow flowers or vegetables need not be a zero-sum game because it is usually possible to grow both, even in the same plot. Many interactions are not zero-sum games. Parents who have a second child do not find that they have only half as much love to offer each child.

Regarding the science-faith interaction as a zero-sum game implies that when both science and faith have something to say about a given topic, to the degree one is correct, the other must be incorrect. Therefore, the only way for one to gain social status or explanatory power is at the expense of the other: if science gains, faith loses and vice versa. It is not surprising when Christians who assume science and faith to be in a zero-sum conflict thereby regard scientific claims with skepticism, and vice versa.

If science and faith are both gifts from God, their interaction cannot be a zero-sum game. Christian theologians often refer to two kinds of revelation: general revelation from God’s world and special revelation from God’s word. Both types of revelation bring truth to us from God, and both can be misunderstood, and there can seem to be conflicts. However, they work together to give us a more complete perspective on reality and a greater appreciation of God’s greatness.

The purpose of this activity is to challenge the assumption that we have to choose between faith and science and to suggest that another option exists in which science and faith both win. Both perspectives might be right; each tells a different but important part of the story. Teaching FASTly involves looking for ways both science and faith are given what is their rightful claim. Consider how this activity relates to your own rhetorical practices in class. How do you speak with students about faith and science issues?

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Teaching the Activity

Tell students that they are going to engage in some careful thinking about the relationship between science and religion. Show the first slide from Zero-Sum Games. This activity begins with pairs of statements. It asks students to consider the differences between the pairs in which one statement logically determines the other, and ones in which it does not. Reveal the sentences one by one and discuss as a class which of the pairs allow us to predict the second sentence. These are not trick questions. Students should assume that the pair of sentences describe the same event.

  • Jose won the game of chess against Ben; Ben ………… the game of chess against Jose.
  • In the school production, Herbie played Macbeth very well. Laura played Lady Macbeth very ……………
  • Jenny played superbly for her soccer team in the last game. Rachel played ………….. for the same team in the last game.
  • Micah beat Tony in their wrestling contest. Tony …………. Micah in their wrestling contest.
  • Kari’s painting of the house captured it well. Akira’s photo of the house captured it ………….

On the next slide show the definition of zero-sum games, and ask students which of the pairs of sentences from the preceding discussion represented zero-sum games and which did not. Confirm that the students understand the concept. Point out that many relationships are not zero-sum games. In contrast many relationships are “win-win situations,” in which both parties can gain. For instance, when parents have a second child, they do not have to love the first child half as much as before or choose which child to love. Questions whether I should eat carefully or exercise are usually answered by “both.” Allow students to brainstorm some further examples of win-win situations and zero-sum games.

Project and discuss the third slide with a focus on faith and science. Start the discussion with the statement:

  • The scientific view of the issue under debate turned out to be true. The theological view of the issue under debate turned out to be……….

Ask whether this is a zero-sum game. Allow debate understanding that the discussion itself may clarify that there is more than one possible outcome—true, false, uncertain. This is not a zero-sum game.

After brief discussion, move on to further examples, in each case asking whether we have a zero-sum game or whether both claims could be true. Encourage discussion. It is not necessary to assume that all Christians would accept that both statements are true. Christians may disagree. However, the question here is whether one claim necessarily excludes the other. It is good to acknowledge complexity throughout this discussion.

  • The Sistine chapel ceiling is made of atoms. The Sistine chapel ceiling tells the story of creation.
  • Biology says all humans are mammals. Theology says all humans are made in God’s image.
  • Meteorology says that rain comes from water vapor cooling and condensing. The Bible says that God sends rain as a blessing.
  • Chemistry says water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen. Theology says the water of baptism means death, cleansing and rebirth to a new life.
  • Physics says the universe began with the Big Bang. Theology says that the universe began because of God’s act of creation.
  • Science says that dead people do not come back to life. Theology says that God raised Jesus from the dead.
  • Some scientists believe that faith in God is misplaced. Believers hold that faith in God is well placed.

With the first four statements, it seems possible to affirm both sides at once since one statement does not rule out the other necessarily. A number of the students might feel the statements to be in tension when interpreted in particular ways. Even with the sixth statement, which looks more like a conflict, Christians do not deny the scientific view. It is precisely because in the normal order of things dead people do not come back to life that the resurrection of Christ is regarded as a startling exception that signals something more than a normal process at work. The fifth is more controversial for some Christians. The last one is more like a zero-sum game, not between science and theology per se, but only between the views of particular scientists and believers.

If you have time, discuss these or other examples in more depth. For example, from the Bible alone, we would not classify bats and dolphins as mammals. The Bible does not discuss the usefulness of hair, mammary glands, warm-bloodedness, DNA, and so on for grouping animals, nor does it discuss how cellular and biochemical similarities between mammals make organ and tissue transplants between them possible.

Based on our bodies alone, science classifies us as mammals, and lives have been saved by the medical use of products from other mammals including organs, tissues, proteins like insulin and immunoglobulins. On the other hand, the claim that humans are made in and called to be the image of God is not a matter open to scientific methods of study. It is not based on particular biological characteristics or the capacities that humans possess. Taken together, science notes that humans have mammal bodies, and faith affirms that we are more than bodies and that our lives have particular meaning and purpose.

Point out that recognizing the complementarity of science and faith does not mean they never disagree, especially when science and faith are taken to mean individual scientists and individual Christians, since particular Christians and particular scientists may hold beliefs that are incompatible. However, many scientists are Christians. Faith and science are not necessarily a zero-sum game. Disagreement and conflict is not the only, or even the primary way that science and faith interact.

Conclude this activity by asking students to consider how it might affect our character if we refuse to assume a conflict when we hear different perspectives and opposing claims. How might it change the ways in which we respond to others? Why is it tempting to settle for zero-sum debate rather than pursuing more nuanced answers? How might patience, humility, and courage be involved in pushing past zero-sum answers?

Galileo and the Sun

In Brief

This activity explores the notorious Galileo affair and engages students in questioning whether or not it was a simple matter of innovative science versus religious dogma. The episode offers a case study for students to consider the complexity of the ongoing relationship between faith and science.

Goals

Students will be able to critique popular misconceptions of the Galileo affair.

Thinking Ahead

What do we see when we look at the sky? For most of human history, people looked at the sun, moon, and stars moving across the sky and assumed that Earth was stationary and circled by the heavenly bodies. This assumption also seemed to be reinforced by statements in the Bible (e.g., “The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises,” Ecclesiastes 1:5). Geocentrism seemed to fit the observable evidence and continued to enjoy scientific support from astronomers at the time of Galileo. The notion that medieval Christians believed the earth was flat is a myth propagated along with the late 19th century view that science and religion have always been in conflict.

How do we see Galileo’s role in the history of faith and science? The story of Galileo’s conflict with the Roman Catholic Church has become iconic in certain strands of popular culture as an instance of scientific progress triumphing over backward-looking religious dogma. It can seem like a paradigm example of conflict between science and religion. Students may have encountered this version of the story, and so this activity begins by asking them to identify their own assumptions. Making one’s assumptions explicit is an important first step toward questioning them.

As you teach the activity, be careful not to belittle student views that may at first be too simplistic since such views are common. Think about how to help students experience the unit as a time to deepen their understanding and also as a gentle way to reveal their shortcomings and misunderstandings. Your role as their teacher is to give the invitation, “let’s look closer,” but not to communicate, “see, you were wrong.”

Related Book Review: Galileo Goes To Jail and Other Myths About Science and Religion edited by Ronald L. Numbers.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Directions:

If you include the Bible activity you will need to display Galileo and the Sun.

Teaching the Activity

First, display the terms “geocentrism” and “heliocentrism,” and establish that the class understands the meaning of these two terms. Draw out the students’ initial assumptions by asking them to choose which of the following statements accurately describe what was happening at the time of Galileo with regard to science and religion.

Give students a copy of the statements on Galileo and the Sun 1 and have them mark each as “true,” “false,” or “don’t know,” and then keep this sheet for later reference. The goal is to make students aware of their existing assumptions.

  • Galileo was a scientist who was persecuted by the church for his scientific findings.
  • Galileo was a scientist who got into trouble for attacking the Pope.
  • At the time of Galileo, the church believed in geocentrism and scientists believed in heliocentrism.
  • At the time of Galileo, most scientists as well as theologians believed in geocentrism.
  • Heliocentrism was a controversial new theory that the church rejected because it went against the Bible.
  • Heliocentrism was uncontroversial and seen as a possibility but had not yet been proven, and some scientific arguments counted against it.
  • The Galileo story is all about having to choose between religion and science.

Next, ask the class: “Is the surface of a sheet of sandpaper smooth?” Then ask the class: “Is the surface of a sheet of glass smooth?” Draw out the opinion that the former is rough and the latter smooth. Ask students how they know. Chances are most students have run their fingers across both surfaces at some earlier time. Then ask the students:

  • If you went outside and asked a hundred people whether the surface of glass was smooth, what responses do you think you would get?
  • How would you respond if someone—maybe the hundred-and-first person—came to them and said that the surface of glass is in fact extremely rough and not smooth at all?
  • Furthermore: this person says that the way know that this is true is that they have invented a special device that no one else has. If you look at glass through this device, it is obvious that it is very rough, even though no one else but they can see it. Would you accept the idea immediately, or would you want to wait for additional evidence?

At this point, show an image of glass shown through an electron microscope (e.g., http://bit.ly/1VXvXom). Explain that this is a little like the situation of Galileo, who had developed a telescope that allowed him to gather new data.

Next, group students into pairs or groups of three and give them copies of Galileo and the Sun 2. Allow time for students to read through the article and then conduct a brief class discussion to ensure that students understand the main points. Then ask students to return to the list of initial assumptions from the first handout and test them against the article. How would they now rate the truth of each statement in light of the additional information?

Optional Extra

Display the slide showing Bible verses that were once taken to support geocentrism in Galileo and the Sun. Discuss with students: What might we conclude from these verses about the movement of the earth and the sun if we had no other evidence?

When it became clear that the heliocentric view is correct, how might people have begun to interpret these verses differently? It might be wise to help students explore the idea of accommodation—revelation communicated using the language and pictures of the culture into which it came—and the language of appearance—when we say that the sun rose, what do we mean? Are we making a scientific claim or describing what we see? Are our words not true because they are scientifically inaccurate, or are they true within the conventions of our conversations? Scientific advances have required some rethinking of how certain Bible passages are interpreted, however, reinterpreting these passages has not entailed abandoning the authority of the Bible itself.

Next, ask students to investigate the role of stellar parallax observations in arguments against and for heliocentrism. This is discussed, for example, here and explained in more detail here.

Draw students’ attention to the fact that the heliocentric theory predicted that an annual stellar parallax should be observable, and yet none was seen or measured until the 19th century due to the gradual improvement of equipment. Ask students to consider, if at the time of Galileo you realized that accepting heliocentrism meant having to explain away the problem of equipment, would they have found the theory persuasive?

Draw students’ attention to the parallels of both science and religion undergoing change. As heliocentrism became established it was necessary to develop 1) new ways of reading certain Bible passages, and 2) new techniques and instruments for observing the stars before everything made sense again.

Finally, discuss the following questions with the class:

  • Why do you think many people still view the contest between geocentrism and heliocentrism as a battle between science and faith? How is this story used?
  • In what ways was the contest between geocentrism and heliocentrism a battle between science and science, not science and faith? Consider that geocentrism had been accepted by religious people as the best science of the day. Now, one scientific view—geocentrism—was being displaced by another—heliocentrism. Yet it took many years for the evidence to be compelling and widely accepted. However, the Church had not accepted geocentrism for religious reasons in the first place, but rather as the best scientific theory and one that accorded with familiar biblical texts.
  • What does Galileo’s story teach us about how we should approach the relationship between science and faith?
  • How might it have required courage, humility, and patience for Christians and scientists, and Christians who were scientists to think these issues through at the time of Galileo?

Debrief Activities

Debrief activities look at ways of bringing the sequence of the study to a thoughtful close by helping students to reflect on how they have been invited to see science and faith anew.

  • Activity 0:20 + HW

    Reaching Out

  • Activity Homework

    Faith and Science at War? Revisited

Reaching Out

In Brief

This activity invites students to personalize what they have learned about the relationship between faith and science, and to do so in a way that focuses not just on their own questions and feelings, but also uses their learning to care for others.

Goals

Students will articulate a personal response to the material studies. They will reveal their growing understanding that science and faith questions are complex, and also that they are equipped to care for others with differing perspectives.

Thinking Ahead

Teaching FASTly recognizes that for young people, and many adults, the struggle to understand apparent conflicts between faith and science is not an abstract philosophical matter, but a personal and existential issue that impacts what is held dear and affects key relationships. This activity gives students space to respond to what has been discussed, and invites them to think not just about their own struggles, but also about how they can be sensitive to the needs of others. It makes space for considering the practical and relational consequences of ideas.

Discussions of faith and science are sometimes conducted as pitched battles with the goal of beating down opponents. Approaching these discussions, FASTly will involve not just knowing how to answer objections, but placing the whole discussion in the context of love of neighbor and compassion for others. This activity invites students to see that truth and virtue may be connected.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

  • Consider how you can establish a supportive and reflective environment for this task, by, for instance, supplying quiet music while students write.

Teaching the Activity

Ask students to discuss with a partner what current questions they can think of that make people feel as if they have to make a difficult choice between their faith and scientific claims.

Once they have made a brief list, ask them to discuss how, based on what they have learned in these activities, they would respond to someone who was struggling with one of these questions? Ask students to think not just about how they might help answer the person’s questions, but about how they could show care and humility in the way they communicate.

Finally, either in class or for homework, ask each student to write a letter to a friend struggling to process a particular faith-science conflict. As the students compose the letter they should consider the questions below as guidelines assuring their understanding of the issues and their compassion for the person to whom they are writing.

  • Does the letter show understanding of the complexity of faith-science interactions studied during this activity map?
  • Does the letter appropriately communicate care and humility?
  • Does the letter show a good understanding of what is at stake in the particular faith-science question addressed?
  • Does the letter avoid an all-or-nothing warfare approach and also avoid suggesting that the questions or true answers do not really matter?

Faith and Science at War? Revisited

In Brief

This is an alternate debrief activity. See also Activity 6: Reaching Out that revisits Activity 1: Faith and Science at War? It allows students to reconsider their response to the warfare model of faith and science in light of what they have learned in the intervening activities.

Goals

Students will explain what they have learned about the weaknesses of the conflict thesis and the complexity of the relationship between science and faith.

Thinking Ahead

This activity map began with a brief activity focused on the picture of science and religion as having long been at war, an idea popularized in the late 19th century. The activities explored weaknesses in that idea noting that even when there are disagreements between science and faith that a two-sided fight to the death is not the most constructive response. It is not necessary to abandon faith in order to take science seriously, or vice versa. The goal of this activity is to engage students in expressing what they have learned and considering how it helps them evaluate the warfare model. This debrief activity helps students draw the threads together in their own minds, and also allows the teacher to assess what has been learned during the course of the activities.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Teaching the Activity

Display the second slide of Faith and Science at War, the quotation from Thomas Henry Huxley:

Extinguished theologians lie about the cradle of every science as the strangled snakes beside that of Hercules; and history records that whenever science and orthodoxy have been fairly opposed, the latter has been forced to retire from the lists, bleeding and crushed if not annihilated; scotched, if not slain. — Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895)

Ask students to write a short essay articulating their view of the relationship between faith and science as is expressed by Thomas Henry Huxley, and respond to it by drawing on what they have learned. Students should explain why Huxley might hold such a view and what its weaknesses are. Students may draw upon additional online resources concerning the conflict thesis and should propose and describe their own metaphor for the science-faith relationship.