FASTLY - Faith & Science Teaching

Activity Map: Faith and the Nature of Science

Overview

What's the Focus

It’s the start of the school year. How will you introduce the nature of science while cultivating the culture and values of your classroom? What will you implicitly teach students through how you shape your practices? What do you emphasize, omit, or gloss over in the examples you use or in the questions you make central or squeeze to the margins? How will you set the tone for the course?

This activity map is intended to supplement your regular resources for teaching the nature of science. It expands the conversation to include the relationship of science to faith. As we teach about the nature of science, it is possible to unwittingly reinforce various “isms” – naturalism, scientism, reductionism – that can keep students from seeing constructive connections between faith and science. This may weaken their relationship to their faith or their interest in science. How might we teach the nature of science FASTly, preserving room for both science and faith?

This activity map offers fresh ways of approaching faith and science by helping students see the topic anew and move beyond dated, simplistic faith-versus-science categories. It does not replace standard textbook information on the nature of science, but offers ways of engaging students with faith and science questions. It is designed for a science classroom, but some activities could also be explored in the Bible classroom. Learning deepens when collaboration between departments is possible.

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 bring the sequence of 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 preview all of the activities and see which ones best fit in your particular teaching context. If you just need a quick lesson outline, you can use the links below to preview and download a lesson plan based on 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

    10 min

    The Good Books

  • Activity

    10 min

    The World Before Our Eyes

  • Activity

    10 min

    Science in Words

The Good Books

In Brief

This short activity is designed for the first day of the semester and aims to grab students’ attention and unearth some of their assumptions about science and faith. It uses first-day administrative tasks such as seating charts and passing out books as part of the learning experience. Teaching FASTly encourages students to reflect on how they see the science-faith relationship.

Goals

Students will articulate what they have heard from others about the relationship between faith and science.

Thinking Ahead

In preparation, for this activity think about how you would answer the following questions:

  • How do the Bible and a science textbook describe the world differently?
  • Do they make rival claims about the same subject matter, forcing us to choose between them?
  • Do they look at the same things from different angles, viewing the world in relation to God or simply regarding its physical makeup?
  • Do they address different matters entirely, so that they are not really in the same conversation?
  • What has shaped your views, and how might your own position affect your participation in class discussion?

It is not necessary for you to have fully resolved these questions before teaching the activity, but thinking them through will help you to connect with students’ learning and identify your own biases as you encounter their responses. Some students will immediately think about controversial issues, such as creation versus evolution, whenever science and the Bible are mentioned together. In preparing for this discussion, consider how to point students to broader questions of the nature of science.

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

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

  • Science textbooks and Bibles, or presentation slide

  • Optional: name cards, water bottles, and student journals

Directions:

Place a science textbook and a Bible on each desk. Alternatively project an image of a Bible alongside a science textbook. See The Good Books.

Optional: make name cards and put a bottle of water at each desk to create the atmosphere of a conference conversation. Set out the name cards before class to control the seating plan, or provide blank cards for students to complete as they choose where to sit. Consider how the desks help set the tone for the discussion. For example, a horseshoe shape for the desks may reinforce a seminar feel. How you shape the learning environment will frame how students see and engage with the activity.

Consider having students keep a reflective journal throughout the semester or the year in which they explore big questions about faith and science. Begin the journal with this activity.

Teaching the Activity

Tell students that you did not place the two books side-by-side to imply that they are equal or identical, but to help them begin to think about how they are different and how they relate to one another. Ask students to spend five minutes silently writing in response to the following questions:

“What ideas have you heard concerning how these two books relate to each other? What do you think are the most common views concerning what each book tells us about God, about the world, and about ourselves?”

This activity aims only to get reflection started. The questions focus on what students have heard to allow them to raise ideas without being put on the spot. These questions also allow you to get a sense of awareness of your students. At this point in the semester, accept all student ideas without looking for “correct” answers. Remember that answers to these questions are disputed inside as well as outside the church. Let students know that as you go forward there will be opportunity to examine these views more deeply. Sitting within the circle with the students, rather than standing at the front, helps elicit discussion and reduce a focus on right answers.

The World Before Our Eyes

In Brief

Activity 1: The Good Books raised initial student assumptions about how the Bible and science are related. This activity focuses on how students imagine the subject matter of science. Does studying the natural world call only for dispassionate analysis, or could it also call us to wonder and worship?

Goals

Students will reflect on the connection between science, wonder, and faith.

Thinking Ahead

How have students’ experiences in science classes reflected a particular way of seeing the world? This activity engages students with that question and may lead to some critique of their past science learning experiences. Plan ahead for how you will respond to this. An honest acknowledgement that schooling is imperfect, along with a commitment to explore with students how we can do better, and thinking ahead to the learning experiences you will offer in response to this discussion will all be helpful.

Consider how you can shape your practices so that students will be able to answer this question positively in future. Avoid letting students criticize the teaching of particular colleagues, making it clear that talking negatively about others who are not present is against the values of your learning community. A FASTly approach includes modeling honest conversation about science and faith without attacking others.

Related Book Review: From Nature to Creation by Norman Wirzba.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Directions:

Sit among the students in a circle or horseshoe to promote conversational exploration rather than adversarial critique of past science classes. Consider having students keep a reflective journal throughout the semester or the year in which they explore big questions about faith and science.

NOTE: The focus sentence on the presentation slide is taken from the Belgic Confession, a Protestant confession of faith from the time of the Reformation. See the Belgic Confession online1 for more information.

Teaching the Activity

Tell students you want them to think about the relationship between science and faith and the various forms that relationship can take. Mention that while part of the relationship involves discussions about what is true, there are other important factors such as our basic way of seeing the world. Present the following description of the natural world: “The universe before our eyes is like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters that make us ponder the invisible things of God.” – Belgic Confession, Article 21

Ask students to discuss with a neighbor, and/or write in their journal, times they remember when learning science helped them see the world in this way. Ask them: “Think of a time when you realized that something in the natural world was beautiful or evoked wonder.”

Then ask: “Think of a time when you realized that something in your science learning was beautiful or evoked wonder.”

You may need to suggest an example from your program of when this might have happened. Ask a few students to share their responses with the group. Be careful not to respond with incredulity, defensiveness, or criticism if some students report never having experienced science in this way. Instead, suggest this might be a possibility for them to explore in the future. Consider returning to this activity later in the semester to reevaluate whether students have gained reasons to connect science with beauty or wonder.

1Used with permission from Faith Alive Christian Resources

Science in Words

In Brief

This activity uses a graphic representation to help students see in a fresh way how science and faith are talked about in the world at large. Teaching FASTly involves critical reflection on popular cultural ideas of how faith and science relate.

Goals

Students will use word clouds to consider similarities and differences between the ways science and theology are described.

Thinking Ahead

Read the Wikipedia articles on science and theology to understand the context for the word clouds. Reflect on your classroom practices, especially how you talk about science in the classroom. Does your habitual choice of words focus on facts and findings or on models and hypotheses? Does it include virtue language such as humility and gratitude, as well as a frame for wonder and service? Spend time before class considering what the word clouds show about the language we use when talking about science and theology and how words reflect the similarities, differences, assumptions, and biases of our culture. Think about how you can engage students in critical reflection, moving them beyond stereotypical views.

Related Book Review: The Two Cultures by C. P. Snow.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Directions:

Bear in mind that the source articles on Wikipedia change over time, but the word clouds can easily be generated afresh and customized at www.wordle.net. Be prepared to offer students a brief explanation of how the word clouds are generated.

Teaching the Activity

Explain briefly how word clouds are generated, with the most frequent words appearing largest. Make clear that these images are not prescriptive, showing how we should talk about science and theology, but descriptive, showing how widely accessible texts do currently talk about science and theology.

If you are using handouts, have students work in pairs to mark words on each tag cloud that surprised them as being more or less prominent than expected or by being absent. This brief pair activity will help prime and focus the discussion.

Discuss briefly with students what the word clouds reveal:

  • What are the key words and dominant themes?
  • What are the similarities and differences between the two clouds?
  • Does anything seem to be missing? For example, do curiosity and wonder get any attention as the frame for facts and findings?
  • How might the ways we talk about science affect the way we see and do science? Would it make any difference if words like humility or service were more prominent?

Delve Activities

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

  • Activity

    25 min

    Here Kitty, Kitty

  • Activity

    20 - 30 min

    Confessing Faith and Studying Nature

  • Activity

    30 min

    Images of Science

  • Activity

    30 min

    Not Just Warfare

Here Kitty, Kitty

In Brief

This activity prompts students to think about how different disciplines and different questions help us see the world in different ways. It explores how scientific and non-scientific ways of seeing may be parts of a complex whole, rather than at odds with one another.

Goals

Students will understand that different disciplines use different questions to examine the same world in different ways and that these perspectives may be complementary.

Students will understand that faith-informed ways of seeing the world are not limited to theology.

Thinking Ahead

Thinking about your own preferences and biases will help you to prepare for the discussion in this activity. Do you have a strong affinity for, or aversion to, poetry? Do you have a preference for clean, orderly facts, or a bent toward big picture thinking? Consider how to shape your teaching practice to avoid having your comments or tone imply that your own most comfortable ways of seeing are the only valid ones.

Give thought to how you will communicate that natural science is both a valuable and a partial way of seeing the world. Teaching FASTly involves honoring the place of both science and faith. Consider your own answers to the questions in the activity so that you can prime the conversation in case students get stuck. As you consider the different disciplinary perspectives, note that the theologian is not the only one who may be working from a faith perspective; there are Christian thinkers in all disciplines.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Directions:

Almost any kind of example, living or otherwise, can be substituted in this activity; the kitten is just one example. Choose something that will engage your students’ attention and care, and lend vividness to the discussion. Check whether you need permission to bring a live animal to class.

Teaching the Activity

Present the kitten (or its substitute) to the class, and ask them: What do you see?

Depending on time available, select from the following questions. Include some questions from each cluster and move through the clusters in order.

Cluster 1: Disciplines Seeing Differently

Looking at this same kitten…

  • …what does a painter see?
  • …what does a poet see?
  • …what does a theologian see?
  • …what does a pet store owner see?
  • …what does a chemist see?
  • …what does a biologist see?
  • …what does a physicist see?
  • What questions would each of these people ask about the kitten?
  • What tools would each use to see the kitten more fully?
  • Is the theologian the only one who might be seeing with the eyes of faith?

Cluster 2: Partial Perspectives and the Whole

  • Is it appropriate to see all of these different perspectives as showing us truth about the world?
  • Does any one way of seeing offer the whole truth about the kitten?
  • What can each perspective see that the others might miss?
  • What would be lost if we adopted only one of these ways of seeing and did away with the others?

Cluster 3: Knowledge and Virtue

  • As we gain knowledge of the world within a particular discipline, how might we be tempted to be prideful and look down on others?
  • How could our knowledge foster humility?
  • How do you respond to someone who seems proud of their favored way of seeing and thinks it is the most valuable?
  • Which of these ways of seeing can be expressions of care for, or appreciation of, the kitten?
  • How can learning science deepen our care for the world?

Either as a whole class discussion or with students first discussing briefly in pairs, draw the activity to a close by reviewing:

  • How can different disciplines help us see different aspects of what is there?
  • How is science an important part of the whole, but only a part?
  • How does a larger community of inquirers let us see more of the world?
  • How can humility allow us to appreciate the value of different perspectives?

At the end of the discussion ask students to journal about what science can and cannot help us see as we look at the world. What does this mean for how science and faith fit together? Remind students of this discussion later in the semester.

Confessing Faith and Studying Nature

In Brief

This activity asks students to delve further into how careful reflection on the history of Christian faith is relevant to how we see the relationship between faith and science. It enables students to see that theology can affirm the study of the natural world and that thoughtful engagement on this topic is not just a recent phenomena. This activity expands the brief opener in Activity 2: The World Before Our Eyes.

Goals

Students will understand that theology and Christian confessions can affirm the study of the natural world and can help them grow in their understanding of it.

Thinking Ahead

This activity is based on an extract from the Belgic Confession, a Protestant confession of faith from the time of the Reformation. This confession was written in 1521 primarily by Guido de Brès, a Reformed preacher in the Netherlands. His purpose was to articulate the key doctrines of his church and show how they were in keeping with ancient Christian belief. The confession is still used as a standard for doctrine in some Reformed denominations.

While parts of the confession are intended as a polemic against Catholic and Anabaptist positions, the section considered here is not focused on denominational differences in church teaching, but on how we relate to the created world. You can read the whole confession here1. Your students may or may not be familiar with formal confessions of faith. Consider how you might answer a student who asks why they are valuable or relevant. If possible collaborate with a Bible or Religion teacher at your school. Teaching FASTly means looking for constructive cross-curricular partnerships that strengthen connections between faith and science.

Relevant Book Review: God in the Lab: How Science Enhances Faith by Ruth M. Bancewicz.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Directions:

You will be asking students to engage in thoughtful reflection, so consider how you will support this mode of engagement through your classroom practices. How can the arrangement of the classroom and the manner in which you introduce the activity set the tone?

Teaching the Activity

Display the title of Article 2 of the Belgic Confession, “The Means by Which We Know God,” and ask students to silently list the things they anticipate this section will mention concerning how we know God? Consider having students keep a journal of reflections on key questions; this journal could be used here.

Display or hand out the text of Article 2. Read the text aloud to students and then have them read it a second time, slowly and reflectively. Ask them to notice any ideas that surprised them or caught their attention.

Ask students what image is used to describe the universe (a book, letters), and what that image implies (the universe is something with meaning that can be interpreted; it has an author and an audience). Ask if this is a new idea for students, and whether it resembles how they think about the universe.

Have the students discuss with a partner:

  • Has learning science helped you see “the universe before our eyes like a beautiful book”?
  • Why or why not? Can you think of specific examples when this clearly did or did not happen?
  • Could learning science lead to this?
  • Is it appropriate to “ponder the invisible things of God” as we study nature in a science class? In what way have we then stepped beyond science (by no longer using scientific method), and in what way might this pondering be connected with science (since it frames and motivates scientific investigation)?

Give students 5 minutes to discuss, then ask them to share.

Optional extension: This extension activity goes into more depth and is a good candidate for cross-curricular collaboration with a Bible teacher if you can coordinate your classes. Display or hand out the following list of statements and ask students to work with a partner to sort them into the following categories on the basis of the article from the Belgic Confession:

A. Statements that agree with this Confession.

B. Statements that conflict with this Confession.

C. Statements on which the Confession takes no position.

List of statements:

(i) People of true faith should get their knowledge from the Bible alone.

(ii) Scientific investigation alone can give us a complete understanding of the world.

(iii) What we discover through science and what we read in the Bible will probably conflict.

(iv) Science is the most important way to study the universe.

(v) It is easy to see exactly what God intended by looking at the things he made.

(vi) “Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.” – Stephen Hawking

(vii) “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” – John Muir

(viii) We may discover things through science that require us to rethink how we have understood our faith.

(ix) People of faith should study the natural world.

(x) There is no connection between science and faith.

Review students’ findings with the whole group, focusing on the space provided in this confession for confidently studying the “universe…before our eyes.” There are grounds for seeing the confession as agreeing with vi, vii, and ix, and it at least allows for the possibility of viii when it says that God reveals to us as much as we need, not that God gives believers full and perfect understanding of either faith or nature. The confession is in tension with i – v, and x. Note that it allows for inquiry and growth in understanding, and is in tension with views that close faith off from learning. Help students see this is one of the goals of this activity.


1
Used with permission from Faith Alive Christian Resources

Images of Science

In Brief

This activity enables students to investigate ways in which the wider culture sees science by looking at how science is represented in images and how the word “science” appears in published material. Teaching FASTly raises student awareness of how cultural stereotypes affect our view of science, and how that relates to faith.

Goals

Students will critically examine what popular images communicate about the nature of scientific work and consider how these images affect perception of the relationship between faith and science.

Thinking Ahead

This activity will work best if you have given some thought to how science is represented in popular media. Students may underestimate the benefits of modern science, taking its role in everything from medicine to transportation to communication for granted. Or they may overestimate the trustworthiness of results labeled “scientific” and the immunity of science from human fallibility. They may imagine the practice of science in distorted ways mediated by iconic cultural images, for instance seeing the scientist as a lone, male genius making startling discoveries, or as the modern opponent of old-fashioned faith.

This activity asks students to see more critically how science is represented in popular culture by engaging them in inquiry. Some issues to think about in preparing this activity include whether science is practiced individually or in collaboration with others; what kind of authority scientific findings should have; whether science is dispassionately technical or something that draws on human imagination and virtues such as honesty, humility, patience, and courage; and whether all science happens in laboratories.

Relevant Book Review: God in the Lab: How Science Enhances Faith by Ruth M. Bancewicz.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

  • Students will need a computer or tablet and internet access.

Directions:

Consider how to set safe boundaries for searching. Will searches be filtered on the school network, or do you need to check safe search settings on devices?

Teaching the Activity

First show students an Ngram graphic generated from Google (see Images of Science and presentation slides Images of Science) and explain that it shows the prominence of the word science in all of the books Google has in its database, plotted against the year of publication. Ask what the graphic shows about the place of science in society, pointing out that it is a relatively new endeavor whose importance has risen significantly over time. Discuss with students how this rise could be both a good and bad thing:

  • What are the benefits of the rise of the importance of science?
  • Are there any risks involved, such as other avenues to knowledge and areas of human experience becoming undervalued?

The goal is to promote reflection on this question, not for the class to arrive at a uniform view.

Ask students to discuss briefly with a partner what kinds of images they would expect to see if they searched online for the words “science” and “scientist.” If time allows, ask them to sketch their own picture of a scientist at work. Gather their predictions and write them on the board, noting implied beliefs about science. Allowing students to voice their assumptions before investigating will sharpen their awareness of what might be new or interesting in their search results.

Ask students to conduct an online search for images using the search term “science,” ensuring safe search settings are used. Ask them to note any images that were not what they expected to see, what kinds of images are most frequent, and what they think the images are communicating about what science is and how we should view it. This should take about five minutes and can be conducted individually or in pairs. Consider asking different groups of students to use different search engines to broaden the inquiry.

Follow this with a discussion of the students’ findings. Consider what clothing, objects, actions, and settings are portrayed. The inquiry will be helped with some critical questions included on a handout and a presentation slide in Images of Science 2 and Images of Science 2.

  • Are scientists shown more often working alone or collaborating with others? (The average working scientist has 13.8 collaborators.)
  • Is science shown more often connected with one gender?
  • Does science appear as authoritative and infallible or as a fallible process of inquiry?
  • Is science tied to laboratory work or are other kinds of science represented?
  • Is there any indication that virtues or questions of ethics are part of the practice of science?
  • Is there any indication that scientists might be people of faith? (A third of working scientists are theists according to a recent survey.)
  • Are scientists shown as having relationships and responsibilities to people outside the lab or to the broader society?
  • Is science connected more with precision and technique or with imagination and wonder?

Return to the earlier discussion about the place of science in society:

  • In what ways do the internet images help us see the benefits of science? Do they raise any concerns?
  • Do any of these images make it easier or harder to imagine how science might be connected to faith?
  • Do the images enable us to see how science might require virtues such as patience, humility, and care for others?

Share with students your own view of science, what attracted you to it, and how well you think it is represented in popular images. Consider what view of science is implied in your everyday classroom practices and whether it is a helpful view.

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.

Debrief Activities

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

  • Activity

    20 min

    Through Different Eyes

  • Activity

    20 min

    Does Science Need Virtue?

  • Activity

    30 min

    Identifying Assumptions

Through Different Eyes

In Brief

This activity provides a way of reviewing themes from earlier activities in this activity map and allows students to reflect on their own assumptions about the value of scientific and non-scientific perspectives. It asks students to articulate their understanding of the nature of science and how it differs from, and relates to, other disciplines.

Goals

Students will reflect on the differences between and contributions of scientific and non-scientific perspectives on the world.

Students will understand that faith-informed ways of seeing the world are not limited to theology.

Thinking Ahead

This activity invites students to see how scientific and non-scientific ways of seeing the world reveal different facets of what we see without each canceling out the other. This is an important aspect of thinking about the relationship between faith and science, which is the goal of teaching FASTly. The focus of Activity 4: Here Kitty, Kitty overlaps with this activity, so consider using them a few months apart for review and reinforcement.

Think about how to engage students in the discussion without either over- or under-promoting the importance of the scientific perspective. Consider how to guide the discussion if some students are dismissive of particular perspectives. Consider how this activity allows students whose first love is outside the natural sciences to see their own perspectives valued and to see how scientific perspectives add to their understanding. Reflecting through your practice on how science relates to other ways of knowing communicates that such questions matter.

Relevant Book Review: God in the Lab: How Science Enhances Faith by Ruth M. Bancewicz.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Teaching the Activity

Show images of a physicist or a chemist, a biologist, an agricultural engineer, and a poet. The provided slide shows Marie Curie, Carl Linnaeus, an agricultural engineer, and Maya Angelou. Ask students to explain what each does, noting the distinction between the two scientists, the person involved in technology, and the artist. Be sure to communicate equal respect for each vocation.

Next show a picture of a beautiful natural scene (one is provided in Through Different Eyes or you can choose your own). Ask students to imagine each of the four famous people looking at the scene through the eyes of their chosen discipline.

  • How would each go about expressing what is important about this scene?
  • Why would each pick out the aspects they do?

Note that the point is not that beauty belongs to the humanities and facts to the sciences. Consider how the work of each discipline might be framed or motivated by aspects of the beauty and wonder of the scene, as well as how the discipline teaches us something distinctive about the scene.

After discussing the different perspectives, ask students to consider:

  • Is one of the perspectives more “correct” than the others?
  • If we ignored one or more of the perspectives, would we have more truth or less truth about what we are seeing? Would we have a richer understanding or a poorer one?
  • Why might each perspective be important?
  • If we add a theologian, would we only now have added a faith perspective, or could someone in each of the other categories be responding as a person of faith?

After interaction with the whole class, ask students to discuss in small groups:

  • Which perspective is easiest for you to identify with?
  • How might giving attention to the other perspectives help you grow?
  • Could your response to perspectives that you find less appealing reflect pride or humility?

If you are using student journals, this would be a good topic for a reflective journal entry.

Does Science Need Virtue?

In Brief

This activity reviews students’ developing understanding of the nature of science and asks how learning and practicing science might be related to virtues that are pursued in the life of faith. Teaching FASTly involves approaching student growth holistically.

Goals

Students will understand what virtues are and how they can relate to both Christian faith and the practice of science.

Thinking Ahead

The discussion in this activity invites students to see science in its relationship to virtues. See here for more explanation before teaching this activity. Virtues, as opposed to vices, are mature positive character traits that embody moral good. They are also an important aspect of how both faith and science have been understood historically.

Good scientific work draws upon patience and attentive care. It involves collaboration and so demands that our treatment of others be taken into account. It requires the humility to carefully measure our claims, the courage to question cherished assumptions, and the wisdom to know which questions matter.

The Christian tradition emphasizes the three “theological” virtues of faith, hope, and love (1 Corinthians 13:13) as lying at the heart of a longer list of virtues that include kindness, humility, temperance, patience, diligence, chastity, and charity. Some of these terms may be unfamiliar to students. Words such as “love” (charity) and “restraint” (temperance) are more accessible, but may be colored by students’ assumptions. For example, “love” might be thought of as a romantic feeling rather than a disposition of care. Take time to explain to students that virtues are mature dispositions, not feelings or momentary bursts of enthusiasm. They describe character and are established over time through practice.

In preparation, consider how virtues are relevant to both learning science and practicing science. It is easy to think of science as mostly a technical or cognitive affair; how might the practice of humility or patience or diligence make a difference to how science is learned and to its successful practice? How does diligence affect experimental work? How are charity and temperance related to debates about scientific claims or to how we collaborate with others? What kinds of virtues could students be intentionally practicing in the science classroom?

Relevant Book Review: After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters by N.T. Wright.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Directions:

The first presentation slide provides a visual link to Activity 1: The Good Books in this activity map, so may be a good way to conclude, if you began with that activity.

Teaching the Activity

The goal is to engage students in reflecting on how science relates to virtue, rather than to deliver a moral lecture, so focus more on prompting students to make connections than on exhortation. First, explain that in this activity students are going to explore how science relates to virtues as one part, not the whole, of how faith relates to science. Explain that a virtue is a steady, positive part of a person’s character, which is consistent across the various contexts in which that person lives. Virtues focus not on rules for behavior but on what kind of people we are. Vices are the opposite; they are negative traits that show in our lives across our various kinds of activities.

Next display the list of virtues and vices and briefly explain the meaning of each. Ask students whether they associate these lists of words more with faith or with science — asking for a show of hands will help generate investment in the topic.

Then ask students to reflect silently on their thoughts and make notes on how the vices and virtues are relevant to learning and practicing science. Including regular pauses for reflection as part of your classroom practices helps foster a thoughtful response from students, rather than a rush to quick answers.

Next ask students to work in pairs. Each pair is to choose three virtues and three vices, and for each, think of specific, concrete examples of how it could impact the learning of science or the work of a scientist. Encourage students to be specific by telling them that you are looking for examples such as: “Impatience could lead you to decide your experimental results were good enough to settle the question you were asking when in fact more work was needed,” rather than “Impatience could make you do bad work.”

After students have had time to generate their examples, discuss them as a whole class, collecting a couple of examples for each virtue and vice. If you would like to extend this discussion you could discuss questions such as: Are any of the virtues more clearly involved in applied science than pure science? How might virtues relate to the broader workplace of a person involved in scientific work? Does a focus on following scientific procedures remove the need for virtues, or might virtues affect how we follow procedures, and/or be the result of following procedures?

Step back from the application to science and invite students to discuss what role virtues have in relation to faith. Christians are called not only to believe, but to grow in Christlike character as they respond to God’s grace. Central Christian virtues include love, hope, and faith, as well as wisdom, self-control, courage, and justice. Faith is more than growing in virtues, but it is related to virtues because Christian faith implies a commitment to pursuing Christian character. If character is who we are, not just a behavior put on for certain contexts, it must also inform our work in science.

Finally, ask students to consider how the connection between science and virtue should affect your work together as a class. Mention that virtues are formed, and vices weakened, over time, not through a sudden act of will. Ask for suggestions of ways the class can help one another remember during the year that they should be growing spiritually and morally as well as intellectually. You will need to adopt some of the suggestions and return to this question at intervals throughout the year in order for development of virtues to become effective.

Ask students to record in their journals, or on a card, one way in which they would like to grow in character in connection with their science studies during the year ahead. If appropriate, you may wish to conclude with prayer.

Identifying Assumptions

In Brief

This activity reviews student understanding of the nature of science, gives you a chance to diagnose problematic assumptions that students still hold, and provides a way of engaging the school community beyond the classroom through a survey.

Goals

Students will check and clarify their own understanding against a set of common misconceptions about scientific practice and its relationship to faith.

Thinking Ahead

Our often untested assumptions about the nature of science and the behavior of scientists can have a strong influence on how we see the relationship between faith and science. This activity engages students in examining their own assumptions. By framing the activity in terms of surprise, it seeks to reduce the tendency to focus on simply being right or wrong.

There is no shame in being susceptible to widely held views. Be careful to adopt a supportive tone throughout this activity. The focus should not be on calling students out and smiling at how wrong they are, but on communicating solidarity with them in terms of how hard it is to check all of our assumptions and on sharing their surprise that some things that seem plausible can be wrong. Consider whether any of the problematic assumptions listed might inadvertently be encouraged by your teaching practices.

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

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

  • A set of statement cards and copies of the continuum sheet for each student. See Identifying Issues.

Directions:

To save class time, plan to cut the statement cards in advance and keep collected with a paperclip or envelope.

Teaching the Activity

Talk with students about how misleading assumptions about science can be hard to shift, and tell them that they are going to consider some common assumptions about faith and science. Give each student a continuum sheet and a set of cards provided in Identifying Issues. Tell students at the outset that all of the statements on the cards are in some way false or misleading. Ask students to read each statement and place it on the sheet based on how surprised they are to be told that the statement is false. If the card seems like is should be true, they should place it at the “Very surprised” end; if it is obviously wrong, place it at the “Not surprised” end.

The statements used are as follows:

1. Science works by making hypotheses which then become theories that in turn become laws.

2. Scientific findings are facts that we know to be 100% true.

3. All scientific work follows the steps of the scientific method.

4. If evidence is carefully collected we can be sure that our conclusions are correct.

5. Scientific ways of describing the world are inherently more true than other ways of describing the world.

6. Science is about following a procedure and requires very little creativity.

7. Science is the surest way to answer all our questions about the world.

8. Scientists are very unlikely to be people of religious faith.

9. To be a scientist means finding things out by doing experiments.

10. New scientific findings are always reviewed for accuracy.

11. Science gives us a true, objective description of reality and is not affected by beliefs and assumptions.

12. Science and technology are basically the same thing.

13. Scientists mostly work alone, rather than in groups.

14. Once something is proven scientifically we can be confident it will not change.

15. Science and religion are competing ways of answering the same questions.

As students work on this, walk around the room and note which statements students are most inclined to agree with. All the statements are problematic, so this will enable you to discover student assumptions that may need to be addressed in further teaching.

When students have had time to arrange the cards, ask them to take the ones that surprised them the most and spend a few minutes making notes on reasons why those statements might be problematic. When students have had a chance to do this, review each statement in turn, asking the class why each might be false or misleading.

Through discussion, adding your own input as necessary, review the reasons for regarding each of these statements as false or misleading. The actual process of scientific discovery is messy and does not always following the same sequence. It often involves considerable creativity and imagination in forming models, developing new explanations, and creating ways of investigating. Scientific findings are fallible and dependent on explanatory models that may prove limited and are often revised. Science is commonly collaborative, with many projects requiring teams and scientists building on one another’s partial findings.

Not all scientific work is experimental, and scientific study is distinct from technological application. There are many important questions that natural science is not well-equipped to address, including ethical, philosophical, and theological questions. Surveys show that many practicing scientists are people of religious faith. In one recent survey of over 9,000 scientists, 35% agreed with the statement “I know God really exists and I have no doubts about it.” 

Conclude with a brief discussion of how much of what we think about science and faith can be based on untested assumptions and that becoming clearer about the actual nature of science can help.