Interview with David Wood: “Talk of God, Talk of Science”
David Wood is no stranger to the science and faith dialogue, serving as co-director of Scientists in Congregations (a project of the John Templeton Foundation) and Senior Minister at Glencoe Union Church in Illinois. We sat down to ask him a few questions about his experiences as a pastor discussing science with his congregation. David will be a facilitator at "Talk of God, Talk of Science" at Fuller Theological Seminary, a three day conference on science and faith for pastors, scientists, and church leaders. You can learn more about the conference here.
As a minister, how do you approach the at times delicate topic of science among your congregation?
In my congregation, folks are not at all in crisis about evolution and Genesis. They do wonder what it means for the Bible to regarded as an authoritative document given what we know to be true about the physical world and it's history. Or, more accurately, they worry that to be identified as a Christian is to be identified with a faith tradition that is intrinsically anti-science. In my congregation there is a marked tendency toward a non-interactive relationship between science and faith. Folks want their faith and their science too and they tend to assume that to have both requires keeping them separate--which means, identifying faith with value and moral sentiments and science with fact and physical reality.
This year, as part of the Scientists in Congregations' initiative, I have launched a series of encounters designed to call into question this default position of the non-relationship between science and faith. These initiatives have included creating a working group of my resident scientists (or science related professionals) which, my case, means gathering the six or so physicians who are members of my congregation. We have met for conversations about how they understand the relationship between science and faith and we have convened, so far, two gatherings where they share this conversation with the congregation as a whole. I preached a series of sermons on "The Anatomy of Spirituality" which was, in essence an extended meditation on the physicality of spirituality. We have had events featuring keynote speakers on such topics as: The Wonder of Evolution; the History of Religion and Science, What Cognitive Sciences Teaches us about Belief and the Brain, How Ignorance Drives Science, and Reading the BIble in a Scientific Age. All of this is aimed to create a space at the center of congregational life in which the domains of science and faith are experienced as thoroughly interactive and anything but oil and water.
Have you ever had members of your church express concern about your views on science and Christian faith? How do you handle those concerns?
If my congregants ever had concerns about my views on science and Christian faith it would be along the lines that I held some version of an anti-science perspective. In other words, their concerns were rooted in a stereotype of Christianity that assumed, for example, that anyone who took the BIble seriously was bound to a literal reading of creation as a one week affair in the not too distant past. It took me a while to realize that this stereotype of Christians and Christianity existed to the degree that it did. In response to this dawning realization that I was being heard through a filter of assumptions I regarded as thoroughly alien to my own convictions I took every opportunity in my teaching and preaching to make explicit the natural, positive connections between science and faith. One of the most constructive approaches to the concerns of my congregations along these lines was the teaching of short term courses on interpreting Scripture and the history of Christianity.
You’re also co-director of Scientists in Congregations, an initiative that calls for more collaboration between scientists and pastors/theologians. What sorts of resources do you hope can come from these collaborations, and how can they help everyday pastors?
We are hopeful that by this Fall we will have an array of resources and narrative accounts of how pastoral and lay leaders are creating the conditions in their congregations for a sustained and enriching engagement between science and faith. Among the resources we will make available will be curricula for adults, youth, and children; a wide range of sermons and sermon series; accounts of the wonderful things that emerge when pastors collaborate with scientists (and science related professionals) in their pews to lead conversations on science and faith; and a variety of models and practical wisdom of how congregations can become sites of exploration of the science and faith.
Can you give us a quick preview of about the upcoming "Talk of God, Talk of Science" conference at Fuller Theological Seminary, which you'll be helping to facilitate?
We have an incredible line up of speakers who help us see just how rich the conversation between science and faith can be for pastors and congregations. Here is just a glimpse of the lineup: Jennifer Wiseman (NASA Astronomer and known for her work on the Hubble telescope); Mark Labberton (a teacher of preachers and recently appointed to be the next President of Fuller Seminary); Richard Mouw (outgoing President of Fuller); Ron Numbers (one of the leading authorities on the history of religion and science); Philip Clayton (Provost of Claremont Lincoln University and known for his speaking and writing on religion and science); Karl GIberson (one of the leading voices in the world of religion and science); Greg Cootsona (my co-director of the Templeton funded Scientists in Congregations grant program and a pastor who has been working this out in congregational life for years); and Andy Crouch (recently appointed as Executive Editor of Christianity Today). Andy will serve as the worship leader for our conference. One thing is for certain, any full orbed exploration of science and faith inspires worship.
What one piece of parting advice do you have for Christians as they explore the harmony of science and their faith?
Prepare for surprise. For too long, too many Pastors (myself included) viewed the religion and science conversation to be an intellectual hobby of those geeks who loved science class in high school and have a high tolerance for esoterica. Few things have enriched my own spiritual life, not to mention my preaching and teaching, more than becoming caught up in the exploration of what we are learning about our existence and the existence of the universe. In between the celebrity scientists who proclaim the utter contradiction between science and faith and those celebrity religionists who want us to believe that science is intrinsically atheistic...there is a world of wonder to be discovered.