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Going beyond the How and Why of Science-Religion? Senior Christian Leaders on Science and Personal Faith

S & CB 28 (2)
October 2016


In popular discourse today, ‘science’ versus ‘religion’ is a common binary opposition and science and faith are often defined by their assumed opposition to one another. Religious believers are often assumed to be anti-science on the basis of their faith. But how do people of faith actually relate to science? This pilot study addressed this question by focusing on a particular segment of faith communities: senior Christian leaders in England, who have significant influence on values in their organisations as well as in the wider British society. As part of our preliminary data collection we interviewed fourteen leaders, Anglican bishops and directors of other Christian denominations and organisations, exploring how they actually relate to science and conceptualise various science-religion questions. This article considers the implications of science for personal Christian faith. We explore how the interviewees understand the relation between faith and science, how they deal with the difficult questions of evolution and creation and the interpretation of Scripture. We show how the main tension in the conversations about science and faith with Christian leaders is between scientific claims on the one hand, and Christian faith and especially Scripture on the other. A key theme which emerged is an opposition, shared by a majority of the interviewees, against fundamentalism and biblical literalism. We also look at the role of the ‘how/why’ distinction in their approach to science-theology questions (‘science and religion are separate but equal: science answers ‘how’ questions’, religion answers ‘why’ questions.’) We suggest that while many of the senior leaders find this model too simplistic, some may use it as a strategy to avoid the difficult theological and scientific questions in the intersection between science and theology. We conclude that further exploration of these tensions, and research into effective ways to equip Christian leaders to engage with science, is necessary if we want to encourage a deeper, richer science-faith dialogue.

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