As you recall, in January we held the first of what we hope to be an annual series of Faith and Astronomy Workshops. The 25 participants, educators, priests, and deacons from parishes from across the US and Mexico, gathered to learn a little astronomy from the inside while chatting about how we can combine astronomy into our ministries.
In the first of these posts, I summarized how the participants described their experiences dealing with science and religion in their home parishes. In this post, I want to talk about their reflections on strategies that work... and don't work. By the way, the participants all get a one-year membership to The Catholic Astronomer. I encourage them – and everyone else – to comment on this posting. Let's keep the conversation going!
The second day, we addressed the question: What are basic strategies that have worked (or not worked)?
The assumption is this: you are a scientifically literate member of a parish. How do you help others in your parish appreciate science and what science can teach us?
The first point was simple: Tell your story! Show and share your expertise. Show the flag – indeed, wave the flag – by talking at church about your science or tech interests. It's important for people not just to know that science and religion help each other, but to see that happening in the lives of people they know. Be excited by what you do!
Find good role models, in the history of science, who embody faith/science; and recognize that you yourself may be such a role model for someone else in your parish or community.
Develop a community of people who are open to new ideas. Start with the questions that people have all the time – Star of Bethlehem talks, which people always love, are a good place to introduce the bigger issues of how science and religion actually work.
A useful approach to keep in mind is to illustrate that what sounds like the same question – “why is the water boiling?” – has in fact more than one legitimate meaning. (Do you say, the water is boiling due to the heat of the boiler, or the water is boiling because someone wanted a cup of tea? Both can be completely true!) From this, you can demonstrate that there are different types of questions, and different types of answers, that can be true; it’s not an either/or choice.
Know and be willing to share the limits of our own understanding. One of the limits is the limits of human language. Therefore it is good to talk about the role of metaphors in both science and religion. We can use the metaphors of science as a parallel for issues in religion, and vice versa. For example, look at the roles of symbols both in The Covenant and in science.
One important point: don't argue with convinced fundies, and don't stage debates. The mere fact of the debate turns the question into an either/or, and sets up one side or the other as "wrong" when in fact both sides have the truth... like the boiling water illustration shows. Furthermore... no one was ever saved by a syllogism. The arguments only cement bad ideas.
Compare the many different Genesis stories’ details to emphasize how one can sort out the essential meanings of a passage from the "accidents" of a given story.
Don't fall into the trap of the God of the gaps! You can never use some "mystery of science" as a proof for the need for God. That makes science have dominion over God, by giving science the power to prove God, and shrinks God down into a nature god. And of course, once you understand how to fill that gap, then you are tempted to think that there is no need for God – when all you have really done is shown that there is no need for a nature god.