FASTLY - Faith & Science Teaching

Activity Map: Wonder and Wisdom

Overview

What's the Focus

When you think of the role of the Bible in conversations about faith and science, do you find yourself thinking of only a few key passages?

Discussions about how to read Genesis have tended to loom large in faith and science debates, to the degree that students might be left with the impression that the Bible’s contribution to the conversation is limited to those few chapters.

This Activity Map offers a selection of activities. These are intended for Bible class, but some could be used in a science class, if desired. The activities approach the Bible’s relationship to science from less familiar angles, ones grounded in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, focused on themes of wonder and wisdom in relation to the natural world.

This map helps students see the relationship between the Bible and science as rich and intriguing, and not as contending a few key issues. It tries to engage them in thinking carefully about what a wider range of Bible passages might have to do with how we think about the natural world.

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

 

  • Activity

    10 min

    A Map

  • Activity

    10 min

    Watching the Wave

  • Activity

    This activity occurs over multiple class periods

    Walk of Wonder

A Map

In Brief

This is a short introductory activity designed to help students identify what they already know about the relationship of the Bible to discussions of faith and science. It engages them in identifying the passages, topics, and questions that they associate with those discussions. Students will work in groups to create lists of topics, passages, and questions about the Bible and faith and science questions.

Goals

Students will articulate their existing awareness and assumptions regarding the range of connections between the Bible and science.

Thinking Ahead

This activity offers a general introduction to a sequence of work on the Bible and science. Students articulate what they already know, whether that is a lot or a little, and discover which passages, topics, and questions seem familiar and relevant to their peers.

As a way of demonstrating and assessing learning, this exercise can be repeated after further study. A second version is provided in the activity A Map 2.

Pause to consider which Bible passages you instinctively associate with faith and science. Does the list in your mind offer too limited a perspective?

As you think about how to use this activity, consider previewing not only the remaining activities in this Activity Map, but also the activities in Resurrection and Unity and Diversity, both of which explore the relevance of biblical texts that are less frequently associated with faith and science discussions. If you wish to explore this theme in more depth, you could combine activities from all three maps.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Teaching the Activity

Tell students that they will be relating faith and science questions to the Bible. In preparation, they are going to explore their current thoughts and ideas on this topic. Emphasize that this is not a test; the goal is simply to map what they already think they know.

Ask students to work in groups of three or four, and give each group a copy of A Map Handout.

Have them create lists on the map, as follows:

  • By the word “Passages,” list any Bible passages that they think are related to faith and science discussions (e.g., “Genesis 1”).
  • By “Topics,” list the topics they expect to be discussed when science and faith interact (e.g., “the age of the universe”).
  • By“Questions,” list key questions at the interface of faith and science (e.g., “Did humans evolve?”).

Give the groups five minutes to discuss and record their ideas on the sheets.

After the small group discussion, gather ideas from the class. As you do so, focus on which ideas the whole class shares, and which ideas are outliers, put forward by only one or two students. Ask the class to reflect on what this pattern shows about how we think about faith and science discussions:

  • Does it suggest which topics are important? Or does it show that we tend to see a very limited picture of what is involved in these discussions?
  • How much of the Bible did we draw from?
  • Do you think the rest of the Bible has anything to contribute to thinking well about faith and science?

Tell students that they will explore some passages that may seem less obviously related to faith and science discussions.

Collect the groups’ completed maps (with names on them), and keep them for comparison when students work on the activity A Map 2. Record the groups that students worked in, so that you can reassemble these same groups for the later activity.

Watching the Wave

In Brief

This is a scene-setting activity designed to get students thinking about wonder, wisdom, science, and faith. It asks students to respond to a video of a pendulum wave, and to think about the relationship between responses that focus on beauty and those that seek scientific explanation.

Goals

Students will reflect on how beauty and wonder can motivate scientific investigation.

Thinking Ahead

Sometimes we have the impression that discovering scientific explanations for phenomena reduces the space for wonder. Yet many scientists find their motivation from a sense of the beauty and order of the world; they see beauty and wonder as increasing when we get a more detailed sense of how things work. For some, this sense of the beauty of the world displaces a sense of a place for God in the universe (e.g., see The Beauty of Science). For others, the study of the intricacy of the world is part of glimpsing the beauty of what God has created.

Several activities in this map explore the question of whether increased scientific understanding can enliven our sense of wonder and be a response of faith, rather than a replacement for it. Consider how often your teaching practices make space for reflecting on beauty and wonder as things that can coexist with study and explanation.

Related Book Review: The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions by Karl W. Giberson, Francis S. Collins

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

  • Capability to show online videos

Teaching the Activity

Give students a few moments to jot down a response to the following question:

  • If you were told you were about to look at a video showing something of the beauty of creation, what kinds of topics and images might you expect to see?

When students have had a minute or two to reflect, show a video, such as Pendulum Waves, depicting a pendulum wave. Then ask students to write down any words that express their reactions to what they saw in the video.

Next, point out that we can use physics and mathematics to explain how the motion of the pendulum balls makes the changing patterns that we see (e.g., see Pendulum Wave: Seems Like Magic, But It’s Physics!). Explain that the period is a complete movement cycle of a pendulum. Length of the pendulums is one of the factors that determine the period. In this case, the result is different, but regular, time periods for each pendulum to complete a cycle. This means that the pendulums move in and out of phase in a regular way.

Discuss the following questions with students:

  • Do we have to leave behind our initial sense of beauty or wonder as we begin to use physics to explain scientifically what is going on in the pendulum wave?
  • Could we retain a sense of wonder at the beauty and intricacy of how the universe works, even when we are looking at the details of motion rather than sunsets and flowers?
  • Are there any ways in which paying close attention to the patterns in reality could be seen as an act of faith? Could it be part of what the Bible calls “wisdom”?

In closing, you might read aloud 1 Kings 4:29-34, in which Solomon’s great wisdom is related to his attentiveness to the natural world:

God gave Solomon wisdom and very great discernment; the breadth of his understanding was as infinite as the sand on the seashore. Solomon was wiser than all the men of the east and all the sages of Egypt. He was wiser than any man, including Ethan the Ezrahite or Heman, Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol. He was famous in all the neighboring nations. He composed 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs. He produced manuals on botany, describing every kind of plant, from the cedars of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows on walls. He also produced manuals on biology, describing animals, birds, insects, and fish.  People from all nations came to hear Solomon’s display of wisdom; they came from all the kings of the earth who heard about his wisdom.

Do not force a long discussion here—the goal is simply to sow the idea that science can add to wonder and that this might be related to wisdom. Tell students that they will continue to explore this theme of wisdom and science in subsequent activities.

Walk of Wonder

In Brief

This activity introduces the idea that there are connections linking careful observation of the natural world, science learning, and the biblical call to wisdom and worship. It engages students in exploring their immediate environment with a family member or other adult. Students will go on a walk with an adult partner, make observations, and record these to share with the class.

Goals

Students will understand that attentiveness to the natural world can be connected to both faith and science.

Students will consider the relationship between biblical texts about creation and wisdom, and their own relationship to the natural world around them.

Thinking Ahead

This activity is about making connections and asking how things that may appear separate are related:

  • Is science related to what we see in our own neighborhood?
  • Is paying attention to our surroundings related to biblical wisdom and worship?
  • Is science related to wisdom and worship?
  • Is school homework tied exclusively to books and online research, or can it draw on relationships and the world around us?

The goal here is not to provide definitive answers, but to begin a process of reflection that can be deepened in subsequent activities (such as in the activity Where is Wisdom?, which pairs well with this opener).

Consider how often your regular teaching practices help students make connections between different aspects of their learning and experience.

Related Book Review: From Nature to Creation: A Christian Vision for Understanding and Loving Our World by Norman Wirzba

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Teaching the Activity

For homework, assign students to recruit a parent or another adult to go on a neighborhood walk with them. The walk should not be long, and the pair should remain close to home. Students should explain to their adult activity partner that the goal is for each of them to notice something interesting or beautiful in the surrounding environment that they had not noticed before, or that they might not have paid attention to normally. This could be an animal, bird, or insect, some variety of plant in a yard or cracked sidewalk. It could have something to do with light or water, a sound, or a smell.

Each should find something to notice, and share this with the other. Together, they should pause for a closer look, and try to observe it as carefully as possible.

After the walk, students should record what they each saw and their observations. In particular, they should focus on what they noticed as they stopped and observed more carefully. For each of the two things noticed, students should research online and find one piece of scientific information about it that they did not know before, and record this.

In class, have students work in groups of three to share their reports. Then have them read together Psalm 8 and Proverbs 8:22-31 (from Bibles or from the handout Walk of Wonder). When they have had a chance to read the passages, discuss with students:

  • What might these Bible passages have to do with your walk?
  • What does paying close attention to the natural world have to do with God, according to the passages you read?
  • Is that connection only relevant to your initial response of curiosity, or could engaging in more detailed scientific inquiry also be part of a worshipful response to the natural world?

Finally, explain to students that in subsequent activities, they are going to explore how the Bible connects wisdom with taking delight in creation. Mention that the acts of slowing down, observing carefully, and investigating further are integral to science, but that they are also connected to faith. Tell students that they will be thinking more about how science and biblical wisdom might be related.

Delve Activities

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

  • Activity

    45 min

    The Pillars of Creation

  • Activity

    25 min

    Cosmic Zoom

  • Activity

    40 min

    Explain It!

  • Activity

    30 min

    Where is Wisdom?

  • Activity

    This activity occurs over multiple class periods

    Asking Around

The Pillars of Creation

In Brief

This activity engages students in thinking about how biblical language relates to scientific language. It asks them to think about why the use of language in the Bible does not always match scientific descriptions of the world. Students will read passages from the Bible and discuss ways of approaching the text to give it context and create deeper understanding.

Goals

Students will understand the cosmology implicit in Old Testament texts, and how this cosmology differs from a scientific one.

Students will understand how attention to figurative language and everyday perspectives of the world, as well as accommodation to ancient cultures, can place this difference in context, allowing for continued respect for the biblical text.

Thinking Ahead

The language of the Bible and that of scientific inquiry do not always seem to meet.

In the numerous debates about the Bible and science that fill comments sections on the internet, a prevalent move by critics of the Bible has been to point to passages that suggest a hopelessly outdated cosmology:

  • Psalms and Job speak of the earth as having corners, pillars, and a solid dome over it to which clouds and stars are attached.
  • Revelation has the stars falling from the sky onto the earth like figs from a tree, which is pretty hard to imagine, since we know that stars are much larger than the earth.

Thinking about faith and science in relation to these passages is more difficult if we start from an unspoken assumption that language has to be literal and scientifically descriptive, in order to communicate anything true.

This activity seeks not just to offer information about biblical passages, but also to help students see the problems inherent in that basic assumption. It engages students in exploring apparent tensions and multiple ways of resolving them.

Consider how this fits into your regular teaching practices:

  • When discussing faith and science, do you tend to imply that there is always a choice between a right and a wrong answer?
  • Do you help students see that some kinds of questions need to be placed in larger contexts to open up more possibilities?

These themes are explored further in the activity God’s Nostrils in the Activity Map on God and Natural Causes.

Related Book Review: The Bible Among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature? by John N. Oswalt

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Teaching the Activity

As a homework activity, or in class if there is internet access, have students research answers to the following questions:

  • How many stars are there in the universe?
  • What is the distance from the earth to the nearest star?
  • What is the average size of a star?
  • How fast does the earth travel through space?
  • How dense is the earth’s atmosphere?
  • How thick is the earth’s crust?
  • What is the earth’s diameter?
  • How many inches does the earth curve in one mile?
  • What holds the earth in place?

Once students have gathered their answers, compare notes as a class. Ask which question is not like the others, as a transition to looking more closely at some psalms.

Give students copies of the handout Pillars of Creation, which asks them to explore the picture of the cosmos presented in various passages in the Psalms. Mention that the Psalms are an ancient text, written well over 2,000 years ago.

Ask them to read the passages in groups, and to create either a paragraph or a diagram that describes the picture of the cosmos presented in these passages:

  • Psalm 19:4-6 – the sun moves across the sky, which is like a tent.
  • Psalm 104:5-6 – the earth is firmly fixed in place.
  • Job 38:4-7 – the earth’s foundation can be measured across a plane, and is built on a cornerstone.
  • Psalm 75:2-3 – the earth rests on secure pillars.
  • Job 37:16-18 – the clouds balance on the sky, which is a solid metallic surface.
  • Job 22:13-14 – the sky is a vault, a solid container.
  • Job 26:7 – the skies enclose space; the earth is suspended on nothing.
  • Psalm 136:3-6 – the earth is spread out over water.
  • Psalm 65:5 – the earth has ends.
  • Job 38:12-13 – the earth has corners.
  • Revelation 6:12-13 – the stars are fixed to the sky and can be shaken loose and fall; they are smaller than the earth.
  • Deuteronomy 10:21-22 – the number of stars is smaller than the number of Israelites.

When students have had time to complete this, discuss with them the ways in which the resulting picture is different from the modern scientific view of the universe (e.g., a round earth that moves, a sky that is not solid, a vast number of very distant stars all larger than earth).

Show the image of the ancient Hebrew cosmology on Slide 1 of Pillars of Creation. Let students know that the differential between biblical language and observational knowledge of the natural world is not a new issue that arose because of modern science. Theologians have been aware of questions about this relationship since the early church. Yet Christians have continued to affirm the Bible as the Word of God.

Ask students to suggest how we might make sense of having a Bible that claims to be the Word of God and contains descriptions of the world that are not scientific. Are there options other than concluding that the Bible is just out of date?

After taking a few suggestions, show Slide 2, which displays the terms:

  • Figurative language
  • Everyday perspective
  • Accommodation

This visual can serve as a way of summarizing the concepts and/or adding to them.

Explain that these are three key ways of understanding the Psalms, and explore each sequentially.

Figurative language:

  • Note that if we say that a home run was a bullet, or that we have butterflies in our stomachs, we do not mean these literally; we are using “figurative language,” yet we are still referring to real states of affairs.
  • Show Slide 3 of Pillars of Creation. Ask students which of the two conversations uses scientific language. Then ask which of the conversations represents more successful communication and why?
  • Connect this to the Psalms. When the Psalms talk of the earth being established on pillars, is it a scientific description of the planet, or is it making a point about God’s power and faithfulness using figurative language? (This would be no different from saying that a home run was a bullet in order to say something about its speed, without intending to imply that it was actually fired from a gun).
  • Ask students if we should view the person on the left as somehow less trustworthy than the person on the right because they did not use scientific terms?

Everyday perspective:

  • Ask students what time the sun rose this morning and whether they have seen any particularly striking sunsets recently. Remind them that, scientifically speaking, the sun did not rise or set, rather the rotation of the earth made it visible.
  • Show Slide 4.
  • Ask students which of the two conversations uses scientific language. Ask which represents more successful communication and why? The issue here is not figurative language, but talking about the world as we see it.
  • Is it a problem that in everyday speech, we use language that describes the world the way we experience it, rather than the way natural science describes it? For example, “flu” comes from the term “influenza,” which came from a belief in the “influence” of the stars on human behavior. If you mention in conversation that a friend has the flu, are you failing to be truthful, because you did not use the scientific term for the virus causing the illness? Would it be more effective communication to say that your friend had become infected with a virus of the family Orthomyxoviridae? What might the effect have been on the conversation?
  • Explain that a second answer to questions about biblical language is that at least some of it works at the everyday level—it describes the world we experience, in which the sun does indeed travel across the heavens, and the stars seem fixed in the sky. It is not intending to offer a scientific account. To insist that it do so would be a bit like interrupting our friends every few minutes to insist that they rephrase their speech in strictly scientific terms.

But a question still arises: Did the ancient Israelites see this language as figurative or convenient, or did they really believe the world was flat and had corners and pillars? On the one hand, the texts are poems; on the other hand, ancient Israelites had no basis for knowing modern cosmology.

Accommodation:

  • Tell students to imagine receiving a visitor who has only ever lived in a remote village with no modern technology. This visitor knows no technological terms and does not understand the scientific processes behind technology.
    • How might you explain things to them?
    • Might you use terms they were familiar with?
    • Might you tell them that the microwave oven was a kind of fire for cooking food, even though that is not quite true?
    • Or that your phone was a kind of bag full of messages?
  • Show Slide 5.
  • Ask which of the two conversations uses scientific language, and then which one represents more successful communication, and why? Relate this to the word “accommodation,” and explain that it describes the idea that if God chose to speak to people at a particular point in time, then we would expect that communication to take place in terms that were familiar to them. So even if the Bible is the Word of God, if it is not intending to offer a science class, we might reasonably expect it to reflect the picture of the world current at the time when it was written. (This option is explored further in the activity Explain It!)

Ask students what all three explanations have in common. One key commonality is that all three explanations suggest that it is a mistake to treat the Psalms as offering us scientific language, and that just because the language is not scientific, does not mean that it might not be communicating truly.

Finally, show Slide 6 and again consider which communication is the most successful. When is scientific language the best form of communication? Why do we need it?

Optional Extra

Ask students to return to their groups and look again at the different texts they read. Ask them to consider which of the three explanations might fit or not fit each of the passages. Have them choose a passage and write a paragraph about how we should interpret it today in light of a modern scientific view of the world.

Cosmic Zoom

In Brief

This activity engages students in examining the structure of Psalm 113 and considering how its picture of God relates to the expansion of our picture of the universe brought about by modern science. It asks students to reflect on how they see the relationship between the language of the Bible and modern scientific descriptions of the world. This activity would fit well with the activity The Pillars of Creation.

Goals

Students will understand ancient Hebrew cosmology as the context for Psalm 113, and consider its relationship to modern science.

Students will understand that reading texts that reflect an older cosmology in light of modern science need not lead to the conclusion that those texts no longer speak truly.

Students will engage with the text of the Psalm in rich and varied ways, moving beyond a cursory reading.

Thinking Ahead

Psalm 113, a festival Psalm, has a structure that first zooms out into space and then zooms back in to focus on a vulnerable individual.

The first verse begins on a specific occasion in the temple in Jerusalem—this is a Psalm used at the beginning of the festival. The Psalm then expands our view out across time to now and all past and future festivals, and then across space.

In verse 2, the reader’s eye is drawn to the horizon, bringing the rest of Israel into view. We zoom out to encompass the surrounding nations in verse 3. Even the nations recede by verse 4, as we move beyond the sky. The vantage point becomes so lofty, that even the all-seeing God has to stoop down to take a closer look, as it were, to catch a glimpse, in verse 6, not only of the earth, but of the sky.

The picture of God offered here is of one so transcendent, so beyond the scale of our imagination, that our whole cosmos is a tiny speck that God strains to see.

At this point, there is a sudden reversal. We zoom all the way back down to ground level, and find the same God lifting poor people from the dirt, paying attention to the least conspicuous and lofty people in the least glorious environment. Then God’s attention comes to rest on a single childless woman, echoing Hannah’s prayer from 1 Samuel 2.

Spend time considering how this Psalm intends us to see God and the world, and how to engage students in this way of seeing. The Psalm was written in the context of an ancient cosmology—we now see the universe as vastly bigger than the way it was imagined in the mind of an ancient Israelite. Reflect on how that relates to your reading of the Psalm. In preparation for this activity, it will be important that you have thought through the discussion questions at the end.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Teaching the Activity

First, familiarize students with the text of Psalm 113, using Bibles or copies of the handout Cosmic Zoom; or display the text from the first slide in the presentation file Cosmic Zoom.

Since one of the goals of this activity is to have students engage deeply with the text of the Psalm, consider how you would like to conduct a first reading. For example, you could have the class read the Psalm aloud together and then read it again silently.

Once students have read through the whole Psalm two to three times, ask the class whether anyone has ever looked up into the sky and tried to imagine how far it goes. Does it end? What is beyond that? And beyond that? If you ever did this as a child or more recently, you could share your own experience. Allow a few students to voice their own questions or thoughts about this, if they are ready to offer them.

Next, show students a video sequence in the “cosmic zoom,” “cosmic eye,” or “powers of ten” genre. There are many of these available through a search for these terms on the internet. For example:

It is important that the part shown includes a sequence that begins in a specific spot on the face of the earth, and gradually zooms out into the far reaches of space, before returning to earth.

After students have watched the video, ask them to look at the Psalm again in pairs, and discuss what the Psalm has to do with the video. Allow a few minutes for discussion and for taking some suggestions. Then use Slides 2 through 8 to narrate the progress of ideas in the Psalm.

The process of zooming in continues as we arrive at the barren woman who becomes a happy mother. It is tempting to read this as a general promise, but pause at this point to ask students if they know the name of the barren woman here.

Allow a moment to see if any students remember earlier Old Testament stories of barrenness. Then show Slide 9 (1 Samuel 1:10-11) and see if students can identify the story. Using either Slides 9 through 11, or Bibles, recount the story of Hannah, who prayed in anguish because she was childless and humiliated even within her own family, and read her prayer in 1 Samuel 2. Invite students to spot the connection between Psalm 113:7-8 and 1 Samuel 2:8, suggesting that we should have a specific barren woman in mind here. The image of God stooping to see the skies has switched to an image of God hearing the prayer of one childless woman, a figure of marginal status, and an object of ridicule in her society. Allow a few minutes of discussion for students to articulate what this dual picture of God is claiming about what God is like.

Finally, show Slide 12, and ask students which of the responses to the Psalm, read in the light of modern science, they find most plausible and why. Use some or all of the following questions for class discussion as time allows:

  • Were the Psalms intended to offer their original hearers a science lesson about the size of the cosmos, or a theology lesson about God’s relationship to the cosmos?
  • If our picture of the cosmos has become massively bigger as a result of inventions such as the telescope and advances in science, how does that change our view of Psalm 113?
  • Does modern science make the Psalm old-fashioned and irrelevant, or does the Psalm’s confession that God transcends the cosmos, yet cares for each creature, become still more awe-inspiring as our sense of the cosmos expands?
  • If there had been knowledge of DNA and atomic structure in ancient Israel, do you think the second half of the Psalm would have continued zooming down into cells and atoms, or would it still have ended with God’s care for the poor and marginalized? Why?
  • Does science demand that we view the Psalm as outdated? Is that a more “scientific” view? Or is it an act of faith, just like the alternative response of viewing God as even more worthy of praise? Are both responses compatible with respect for science?

Optional Extra

As an optional closing activity, have the class read the Psalm aloud again using Slides 13 through 19. In preparation for this, you will need to find photographs of your school, area, and region to add to the slides. This will allow students to connect the Psalm to their own context.

Explain It!

In Brief

This activity engages students in exploring the concept of cultural accommodation and its relevance to understanding how the Bible speaks about the natural world. Students will watch videos of modern processes and attempt to explain them for an audience from a “prescientific” culture.

Goals

Students will understand the concept of cultural accommodation and how it is applied to explain apparently unscientific assertions in Scripture.

Thinking Ahead

Internet debates about faith and science can descend into arguments about whether particular biblical texts are scientifically accurate or inaccurate. This may reflect a simplistic approach to the text of the Bible, as if all language that is true must also be scientific and aim at technical communication.

Previous activities have explored the role of figurative speech, and the appeal to everyday experience, in understanding biblical language about the natural world. This activity takes a closer look at cultural accommodation and the purposes of Scripture.

As you work through these activities, consider your own use of Scripture with students—when you cite Scripture, are you ever tempted to push the language of the text into saying something that may not have been intended?

Related Book Review: The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins by Peter Enns

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Teaching the Activity

Show students in class, or assign them to watch for homework, a video explaining how a recent technology works. Choose a video that includes scientific references—not just how to operate a device. Some examples that you could use include:

There are many others. Try searching YouTube for “how it works,” or look for a video connected to a topic that students have covered recently.

As students view the video, ask them to make a list of concepts that it assumes we already know about and, therefore, does not explain (such as the planetary system or the idea of electric current).

Assign students to small groups, and ask them to come up with a short presentation that explains how this technology works to a new audience. Specify that the audience is made up of members of a prescientific culture, who live in an agricultural village with basic hand tools and a simple social structure. They are not familiar with any of the background concepts in the video. The presentation must be understandable to the audience, and so should not make explanatory use of any terminology or concepts that have emerged since the rise of modern science. The explanation should make sense to the audience, and offer them a basic way of understanding what the technology does and how it works.

As students work on this, circulate and check to see if they are using any modern scientific concepts or terms. Give students some time to wrestle with the problem of how to represent scientific information in non-scientific language, and then have a few groups present their explanations to the class.

When the class has heard several, or all, of the presentations, if class size and time allow, discuss the kind of language they used and their strategies for translating concepts. Ask students to consider:

  • Did they use any figurative language, such as similes (describing something as like something else) or metaphors (talking about something as if it were something else)?
  • Did they find themselves having to approximate, giving a general sense rather than a precise one?
  • Did they try to use concepts and ways of arguing that would make sense within the audience’s mental world, even if they were not the best fit for the scientific information?

Return students’ attention to the question of whether the Bible can be the “Word of God” if it does not provide modern scientific accounts of how things work. Raise the question of why God would not avoid all of the debate around science and faith by making the Scriptures offer a clear and definitive scientific account of how everything works. Is it reasonable to expect modern scientific accounts of the world in Scripture?

Ask students:

  • Even if God had wanted to provide an account of how the natural world works, what kind of communication might have been needed in a text first addressed in a prescientific context?
  • If God wanted to speak to people across different ages and cultures, would an attempt to explain future scientific findings be a good strategy? Or would any resulting communication be more likely to appeal to everyday experience?
  • Is the goal of the Bible to provide a manual on how the material world works?

Explain that one approach to certain details of the biblical text is to suggest that God was accommodating a particular time and culture. The Scriptures, according to this line of thought, do not contain modern, scientific language, and were not trying to give technical, scientific explanations; rather, they were aiming to communicate in ways that made sense to the recipients.

Finally, ask students to read the following passages in groups, using Bibles or copies of Explain It:

  • Genesis 1:14-18 – This passage implies that the moon is an independent source of illumination, rather than reflecting the sun’s light.
  • 1 Kings 7:23-26 – This passage implies the value of pi to be 3.
  • Revelation 6:12-14 – This passage speaks as if the stars, which we now know to be much larger than the earth, could fall from the sky to the surface of the earth.

Ask the groups to identify why modern scientific thought might be at odds with these passages. Have them explain how the idea of accommodation—that this information makes sense in its own cultural context, and is not intended to reflect modern scientific knowledge—might offer a way of understanding them. (For the second passage, simple approximation may be a better explanation.)

Discuss with students:

  • Why does the Bible not take these opportunities to give a clearly correct lesson in science or mathematics?
  • Would it be better if the Scriptures were written like a science book?

Close by referring students back to the other approaches to biblical language explored in the activity The Pillars of Creation—the use of figurative, literary language and the use of phenomenological language that intends to describe only how things appear, rather than how they work. Discuss whether either of these approaches fits the passages students considered, either in addition to, or instead of, accommodation.

Where is Wisdom?

In Brief

This activity engages students in comparing current cultural images of wise people with the concept of wisdom presented in Proverbs 8. It also invites them to see how the understanding of wisdom in Proverbs 8 might connect to possible motivations for learning and practicing natural science.

Goals

Students will explore the concept of wisdom and how it differs in the biblical wisdom literature and popular imagery, which often equates it to solitary withdrawal from the world.

Students will understand that delight in the natural world can be connected to both biblical wisdom and to natural science.

Thinking Ahead

In popular cartoons, the wise person is frequently pictured sitting alone atop an inaccessible mountain, separated from normal human tasks and relationships and thinking deep thoughts. Seeking wisdom seems a lonely and solemn affair. The biblical wisdom literature situates wisdom in the midst of human affairs, and ties it to joy as well as to holiness.

As you prepare for this activity, consider your own unconscious assumptions:

  • Do you picture wisdom in a way that connects it to taking joy in creation?
  • Do you see scientific fascination with the natural world as overlapping with the joy in creation called for in Proverbs?
  • How do the practices of your classroom model wisdom?

Related Book Review: God in the Lab: How Science Enhances Faith by Ruth Bancewicz

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Teaching the Activity

Display the first slide of Where Is Wisdom, which shows the word “wisdom” and the phrase “A wise person…”

If students have internet access, have them conduct an image search for “wise man,” “wise woman,” and “wise person,” and look for commonalities in the kinds of images that appear. If students do not have internet access, you could show your own search results on the screen and look for commonalities.

Discuss what these images suggest about how our culture views wisdom. Focus on the following questions:

  • Are the people mostly old or young?
  • Are they mostly alone or in interaction with others?
  • Are they down-to-earth and practical, or mystical and otherworldly?
  • Are they solemn or joyful?

You could explore what happens if the search is limited to clipart:

  • Why are wise people in cartoons so often sitting atop mountains alone, outside of all everyday tasks and relationships?
  • What picture of wisdom does that suggest?

Ask students to discuss in pairs how they might complete the phrase “A wise person…”

  • What do they think of as the key characteristics of wisdom?
  • What does a wise person do, or what qualities does he or she possess?

Ask pairs to share their examples, and discuss any commonalities in the class’s picture of what is involved in wisdom.

Next, hand out copies of Where Is Wisdom and display the text of Proverbs 8 using Slides 2 through 5 of Where Is Wisdom. Each slide has a section of a text and shows three oppositions based on the above questions (Practical/Mystical, Alone/Relationships, Solemn/Joyful).

As you display each slide:

  • Read the section of text aloud.
  • Pause and ask students to read it over again silently.
  • Ask a student to read it aloud a second time.
  • Ask students to make a few notes on any details in the passage that describe wisdom more as a practical or a mystical matter, more about lonely meditation or life with others, and more solemn or more joyful.

Once this is complete for all four sections of text, discuss the picture that has emerged. How does it differ from the images found in the initial search? Make sure students notice the connections of wisdom to the city gates (a public place for meetings and transactions), government, justice, the natural world, and pleasure in the company of others.

Next, focus on verses 30 and 31, and ask students to identify what wisdom, here personified, enjoys. These verses present wisdom as taking delight in God, in the natural world, and in other people. Ask students to consider why each of these would be wise—why might it be wise to enjoy God, to enjoy the natural world, and to enjoy other people?

Show Slide 6, which presents a quotation from Walter Brueggemann about the biblical wisdom literature.1 Explain that Brueggemann is a prominent Old Testament theologian, and that he is describing here the characteristics of wisdom books such as Job and Proverbs. While the books of the law state the boundaries of the covenant revealed by God, and while the prophets speak out with a “thus says the LORD,” the wisdom literature invites us to go and observe ants or to consider the fate of the lazy.

Give students time to read the quotation and ask them how it connects to the Proverbs 8 passage.

Finally, remind students that they have been exploring (through other activities in this map) unexpected points of connection between the Bible and science.

Ask what the Brueggemann quotation might suggest about the relationship between wisdom and science.

Present Slide 7, which shows a quotation from the book God in the Lab by Ruth Bancewicz. Explain that Dr. Bancewicz is a scientist who writes about science and religion, and that here she is describing the start of her doctoral studies.

Ask students how this passage relates to Proverbs 8:

  • What is wise about this response to zebra fish?
  • Surely, being excited about zebra fish is not the whole of wisdom, which also includes things such as virtue and the ability to make good choices, but could it be a part of wisdom, or a response that reflects wisdom in some way?
  • Can natural science, with its more disciplined forms of observation, be approached in a way that makes it a part of becoming wise?
  • Can combining scientific investigation with a sense of wonder and gratitude be a part of becoming wise?

Conclude by asking students to write a reflective journal entry considering the following two questions:

  1. How is the picture of wisdom in Proverbs 8 similar to or different from your ideas about wisdom at the start of this class?
  2. In Proverbs 8, wisdom includes finding delight in God, in the natural world, and in other people. Can you identify times in your past week that reflected wisdom or lack of wisdom? How could you respond to the call in Proverbs 8 to “not neglect” wisdom?


1
Walter Brueggemann, The Creative Word: Canon as a Model for Biblical Education (Fortress Press, 1982), p. 105-106. Used by permission of Fortress Press.

Asking Around

In Brief

This activity actively engages students in considering different perspectives on a biblical text by having them interview readers with different training and interests. It aims to help them see how readers with different perspectives, including perspectives more rooted in science, the arts, or theology, can connect in different ways with the same Psalm.

GOALS

Students will interact with a range of community members around interpretation of a Psalm.

Students will explore how the training and interests of a range of community members can affect their interpretation of a Psalm.

Thinking Ahead

This activity engages students in investigating biblical texts within the wider community, and in getting a concrete sense of how different community members read the same Psalm.

Since students will need to interact with other teachers and with parents or other adults, obtain the cooperation of your colleagues before assigning the task, and consider informing colleagues and parents when the task is assigned. Be sure to allow enough time, with reminders, for students to complete the interviews.

If you plan to regularly involve parents and other adults in homework activities, it is advisable to communicate with them early in the school year about why this is happening, so that expectations are clear. (See the Activity Map on Engaging Parents.)

Notice that the activity asks students to engage in community interaction around the Psalm on two levels: their interaction and accountability within the group, and their engagement with other community members. As you teach the activity, help students see that you are interested both in what they learn as they investigate and in how they learn as they interact with others in community.

Related Book Review: The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution by C. P. Snow

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Teaching the Activity

Assign students to groups of three for this investigation. As well as allowing interaction and making it easier for students to find people to interview, this will reduce the burden on other members of the school community as students conduct interviews.

Give students copies of the handout Asking Around, which contains the text of Psalm 139 and some interview prompts. Ask students to read the Psalm silently, and then tell them that they are going to be investigating how different people respond to the Psalm.

Explain to students that they are going to ask the same questions of people with different types of vocations, and that each group is responsible for covering the different categories listed on the interview sheet. Make sure that students understand that each student only needs to conduct two interviews, and that the group will pool their findings to complete the whole list.

The categories that they need to cover include:

  1. A science teacher or professional scientist
  2. An English teacher, or other person deeply engaged with poetry/literature
  3. An art teacher, or someone involved in the visual arts
  4. A parent (not necessarily your own)
  5. A physical education teacher, or a doctor, nurse, physical therapist, or other medical professional
  6. A Bible/religion teacher, or a pastor or other church leader

Students are to ask each of these people to read Psalm 139, and are then to interview them using the following questions:

  1. What is your first reaction to this Psalm?
  2. What most stands out to you in this Psalm? What seems particularly important in it?
  3. What do you think this Psalm has to say to you as a science teacher/artist/parent/etc.? How does it connect with your concerns?

Discuss with students that they will need to track which interviews their group has done to make sure that all of them are concluded by the time the information is due. Ensure that groups have strategies in place for successful completion.

Ask students to articulate the challenges that arise with a collaborative task such as this. Some challenges include one person ending up with most of the work, and one group member causing stress for the others by not meeting commitments. Have students name concrete strategies for dealing with these challenges. Make it clear that the task is not only about collecting the information, but also about practicing working in community and being responsible toward one another.

Allow a few minutes for groups to discuss strategies and commit to completion.

Set a date for completion; allow enough time for students to find people to interview and conduct their interviews.

When the interviews are complete, ask the groups to discuss the following:

  1. What similarities do you see in different people’s responses?
  2. What differences do you see in their responses?
  3. Why do you think people noticed different things? Were any of the differences related to their particular interests or areas of expertise?
  4. What do you think allows the Psalm to speak to people with a range of different interests?

When groups have spent time on these questions, bring the class back together to share their findings. Allow groups to use examples from their notes. As the discussion develops, focus on question 4 above and ask students whether they think the Psalm belongs more to one kind of interviewee than to the others:

  • Is it more legitimate to read it through the eyes of a parent than a theologian, or of a scientist than a literary specialist?
  • Is the Bible just for one kind of person?

Discuss also what each person might miss if they never heard from the other readers of the Psalm:

  • How might any one of these perspectives bias our reading so that we miss things in the text?

To conclude the activity and check on what students have learned, assign each group to turn in a two-page written report that:

  • Summarizes the similarities and differences they saw in people’s responses
  • Discusses why they think the various people read the Psalm the way they did
  • Draws some conclusions about how the Psalm can speak to us in our various callings

Debrief Activities

Debrief activities bring 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.

  • Activity

    15 min

    A Map 2

  • Activity

    35 min

    Write a Psalm

  • Activity

    This activity occurs over multiple class periods

    An Essay

A Map 2

In Brief

This activity revisits the introductory activity A Map in order to assess student learning and make students’ learning visible to them. It again engages them in identifying the passages, topics, and questions that they associate with faith and science discussions—this time in light of the new work on the topic in the preceding activities.

Goals

Students will show how their understanding of the relationship of the Bible to questions of faith and science has developed over the course of their learning through the preceding activities.

Thinking Ahead

This activity is intended to return to the brief starter at the beginning of work on the Bible and science that was provided in the introductory activity A Map. It asks students to articulate what they now know about passages, topics, and questions relevant to faith and science.

In preparation for this activity, take a copy of the handout A Map and fill it in based on the particular activities that you have used in class since students completed the initial activity A Map. This list of the passages, questions, and topics covered in your class will give you a basis for assessing student learning.

Related Book Review: Science & Theology: An Introduction by J. C. Polkinghorne

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Teaching the Activity

Prior to this activity, ask students to review the work they have done on the Bible and science, and tell them that you are going to assess their knowledge of the passages, topics, and questions that have been explored.

Give each student a copy of A Map Handout. Explain that they should create lists, as follows:

  • By the word “Passages,” list any Bible passages that they think are related to faith and science discussions (e.g., “Genesis 1”).
  • By “Topics,” they should list the topics they expect to be discussed when science and faith interact (e.g., “the age of the universe”).
  • By “Questions,” they should list key questions at the interface of faith and science (e.g., “Did humans evolve?”).

Give students time to complete the sheet individually and silently. (The amount of time needed will vary depending on how extensive the work is that you have done with them on this topic).

When students have had time to complete this, collect their sheets. Then group the students into the same groups as in the activity A Map. Hand each group their completed copy of A Map Handout from the earlier activity. Allow a few minutes for them to compare this with their current thinking, and conduct a brief class discussion of what they think are the most important new things they learned.

As you wrap up this discussion, prepare the way for further learning by briefly indicating some other areas that have not been explored in these activities, yet may be part of faith and science explorations. These may include, for instance: bioethics, equity in healthcare, artificial intelligence, cosmology, species extinction, climate change, responsible use of technology, genetic engineering, brain science, etc.

Make sure students realize that the topic has been opened up by these activities, but not exhausted. If you wish to assess learning more formally, you can collect and compare both sheets.

Write a Psalm

In Brief

This activity engages students in composing a psalm in light of what they have been learning about the relationship of biblical and scientific language. It offers an opportunity for personal response to what has been learned, and space for prayer and worship.

Goals

Students will engage in close reading of extracts from several psalms, and respond personally in the form of their own psalm composition.

Thinking Ahead

This activity allows space for more personal responses to some of the themes explored in this map. You will need to consider the range of beliefs and experience of your students, and whether it is appropriate to invite prayer and worship as part of students’ response, or whether associating this with homework could be coercive for some students. Make clear to students that a variety of forms of personal engagement is appropriate. Be sensitive to whether or not students would like their work to be displayed or shared further.

Related Book Review: Song of a Scientist: The Harmony of a God-Soaked Creation by Calvin B. DeWitt

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Teaching the Activity

This activity allows students to author a personal response to their reflections on wisdom and wonder, to consider the genre of psalms in the Bible, and to think about the relationship of biblical and scientific language.

Begin by briefly reviewing what has been learned from previous activities about the relationships between biblical wisdom and scientific attention to the natural world. Then hand out copies of the handout Write a Psalm, which includes the instructions below as well as extracts from several psalms that focus in some way on the natural world. (If you wish, you could also show students an example of a modern psalm, such as this one written by John Hammersley.)

A. Read and reflect:

  1. Read the extracts from the Psalms below, and think about what their main themes are. What do they express about God? How do they view the created world?
  2. Look at how the Psalms are structured. Look for repetition of words, phrases, or sentence patterns. Look for how the ideas develop through the Psalm.
  3. Consider the length of each passage. How might its effect be different if it were twice as long? Or half as long? (Check the context in the Bible to see how long the original Psalm was.)

    Write a short paragraph summarizing what you noticed about these Psalms.

B. Engage:

  1. Think about what parts of the created world (nature and the world of human relationships, for both are seen as part of creation in the Bible) most interest or impress you. Think also about aspects of the world that grieve you. Make a list.
  2. Look back at the items on the list. What is it that intrigues or impresses you about each one? Is it particularly intricate, for instance, or powerful, or beautiful, or challenging? Make a note next to each item about what draws your attention to it.
  3. Consider how each item on the list might suggest or call out to some facet of God’s character—wisdom, power, mystery, care, or something else.

    Write a short paragraph summarizing your ideas.

C. Write and respond:

  1. Using the Psalms that you read as a loose model, write your own psalm based on your notes and your own list of items.
  2. Consider what kind of language to use. If the psalm is to be a prayer, should its words be simple and direct or detailed and descriptive? Is there a place in the psalm for both poetic and scientific language for describing things? Why/why not? How can the language of your psalm reflect our present world and what we know about it?
  3. Consider how to use your psalm as a personal response to what you have been learning. You may wish to pray your psalm, read it aloud together with a family member, share it with someone else, or add visual elements.

    Add your psalm to your earlier paragraphs, and close with a brief comment on what you think makes your psalm similar to, or different from, the biblical psalms.

An Essay

In Brief

This activity provides a substantial assessment of learning from the previous activities in this map that also fosters family conversation about faith and science questions. Students will write an essay that addresses two examples of faith and science questions and then discuss these examples with a parent or another adult.

Goals

Students will show that they understand that there are significant conversations about the relationship between Bible passages and science, aside from origins debates.

Students will engage in family conversation about faith and science.

Thinking Ahead

It is not necessary to use every activity in this Activity Map in your class—the activities offer a range of possibilities to enrich your existing teaching resources. However, if you have decided to focus in-depth on one question implicitly raised in these activities (i.e., how the Bible relates to science outside of debates about Genesis), you may wish to have a more substantial assessment of student learning than can be provided by the reflection opportunities at the end of some activities. This essay provides that, and also invites students into the practice of sharing their learning with family members, as well as listening to, and fairly representing, the views of others.

You may wish to notify parents ahead of time that this homework will call for some family participation.

If you plan to regularly involve parents and other adults in homework activities, it is advisable to communicate with them early in the school year about why this is happening, so that expectations are clear. (See the Activity Map on Engaging Parents.)

Related Book Review: Emerging Adulthood and Faith by Jonathan P. Hill

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

  • No special resources are needed for this activity.

Teaching the Activity

Ask students to write an essay (you can determine the length according to your usual norms and the time allocated for the assignment) using the following prompt:

We have been studying various passages in the Bible that might be related to science, but that do not focus on familiar debates about origins and how we should read the first chapters of Genesis. On the basis of what you have learned, write an essay explaining at least two examples (outside of origins debates) of how the Bible could inform the way we think about science. You can draw upon any text we have studied, or another similar text. In your conclusion, reflect on how the two relate to one another. Do they pull in different directions, or make a coherent picture? Why might we need to consider more than one kind of connection or relationship between the Bible and science?

Preface this task with a brief discussion of the wider range of science topics that might invite faith-informed engagement, such as: bioethics, equity in healthcare, artificial intelligence, cosmology, species extinction, climate change, responsible use of technology, genetic engineering, brain science, etc. This may help remind students not to focus only on one or two familiar controversies.

Upon completion of their essay, students should then initiate a conversation with a family member or another adult, in which they orally describe the two examples they have discussed in their essay. Were either of the examples new to their family member or adult conversation partner, and what was this person’s reaction to these examples? Students should then add a paragraph at the end of the essay describing their adult conversation partner’s reaction, and ask the conversation partner to sign it to indicate that the conversation took place, and that his or her thoughts were fairly represented.

As you grade this assignment, your criteria should include:

  • Are two distinct examples of Bible passages that relate to science included?
  • Is the relationship accurately described in each case?
  • Has the student thought carefully about how each case might be part of a bigger picture?
  • Is there evidence of serious interaction with a family member or other adult, and thoughtful recording of their response?