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Science and Religion

Written on March 17th, 2016

Recently I attended a Cardus Hill Lecture Series event held in the Glen Gould Studio in Toronto where Father Raymond de Souza interviewed Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. The conversation was centred on Sacks’ recent book, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence. The evening’s conversation was fascinating and the audience broke into applause several times in appreciation of the wisdom and wit of Rabbi Sacks. For example, when asked to comment on Pope Benedict’s restatement of Pope John Paul’s description of the Jewish faith community as “our elder brother in the faith”, Rabbi Sacks smiled, paused a moment and then replied that only a pope can correct a pope! We roared with laughter. What a great evening to listen and learn from gifted individuals!

Towards the end of the evening, after many pithy epitaphs and observations had already been shared, Rabbi Sacks stated one more that caught my imagination. In a conversation piece about the troubled relationship between science and religion, he shared, “Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean.” As a lifelong Christian educator, this comment resonated deeply with what I believe about the nature of Christian education.

Education has long been about educating students to be enlightened scientists―students mastering the skills of literacy and numeracy to be able to pull things apart to see how they work. Public education holds high the ideal of fully mastering the world though scientific education and the result is the phenomenal growth in knowledge that leaps forward year after year. Public school education focuses on information and knowledge―laudable goals for educational institutions.

Mastery of basic skills that leads to advanced exploration and knowledge in sciences, humanities and the arts is central to the character of any school. However, this is where the limitations of a naturalist view of learning begin to appear. In the sciences, the facts are the facts! In the humanities, the story of human interactions cannot be understood by just the facts―something else is at play here. Worldview issues enter as life narratives compete for dominance. The Arts shift further away from “the facts”. Already in the primary grades, the Arts move quickly beyond mastery of technique and engage authentic artistic expression comes that from the inner person.

Rabbi Sacks caught the subtlety of the way religion and science operate. As science takes apart, religion puts together. The inability of public education to stay in its neutral, scientific mode as it engages in more than scientific work in all its curriculum areas underscores the reality that people are religious beings. We are so curious to discover HOW but always pine for resolution of WHY.

Our Christian schools are schools of learning about God’s world. From year to year, we dig in, pull apart, explore, measure and experiment to understand how God’s world works. We learn from the Master Builder how to be builders and creators ourselves. Just think of the variety of the careers that our graduates are engaged in today! Mastery of skills and beautiful work sustains our supporting families with income and satisfaction. However, in the midst of our playful digging, serious investigating and giving expression to our understanding, we have always incorporated “being still”. Being still is the reflective aspect in learning where we ponder the WHY and consider our faithful response. We are a people that have always affirmed the deep integration of our faith into our learning. We pursue the HOW through engagement with information and knowledge and discern understanding of the WHY to grow in wisdom and put them together faithfully before the face of God.