Fairfield University and Diocese of Bridgeport team up to find common ground between science and religion


 

Image: Glenn SauerFairfield University biology professor Glenn Sauer, Ph.D., hates hearing religious leaders condemn scientific truths they don't fully understand. Then again, he also hates it when scientists pooh-pooh matters of faith or scoff at the idea of a higher power.
 
"I'm really interested in the way religious points of view intersect with science, seeing how different religions address the issues, such as Big Bang Theory, evolution, biotechnology," said Dr. Sauer, the Donald J. Ross Sr., Ph.D., Chair in Biology and Biochemistry. "I want people to be educated in what they're talking about."
 
To that end, Dr. Sauer created "God and Modern Biology," an educational enrichment program for Catholic parish leaders set to begin in February. With a $116,867 grant from the John Templeton Foundation, Dr. Sauer and other Fairfield faculty will meet with leaders from 29 parishes and schools in the Diocese of Bridgeport to develop instructional programs addressing religion and science that they can use in faith formation, youth, Bible study and other groups in their parishes.
 
Dr. Sauer anticipates the group will include about 50 to 75 parish priests, directors of religious education, youth group leaders and other lay volunteers from across Fairfield County. Chairs of the religion and science departments at all five diocesan high schools and some elementary school principals will be involved, said Dr. Margaret Dames, the diocese's superintendent of schools. She said the schools are working to create a new unit on the origin of man and this initiative will go a long ways to helping form that.
 
"We were very impressed with Dr. Sauer and his enthusiasm," she said. "It's critical everyone - all our teachers - know what religion says and what science says."
 
Sister Mary Grace Walsh, deputy superintendent of schools for the diocese, said she and Dr. Dames expect excellence in all academic areas, including science and religion. "And our teachers need to know their subjects and know the church's teachings as related to those subjects. A lot of the way we look at things has evolved over time - no pun intended - so we are very excited to be able to have an expert in the field work with us and have these conversations."
 
The cornerstone of the project is a five-day summer conference to be held at Fairfield in June/July 2012. Each of the first four days will include sessions devoted to specific scientific content and the religious or theological implications of the science. Discussions will allow participants to reflect on the issues in light of their own backgrounds and experiences. The last day will focus on development of strategies and programming to bring this knowledge back to home parishes. It's hoped that the new programs, which will be tailored to individual parish needs, would take the form of guest lectures, reading groups or planned discussions in Catechism classes.
 
The group will continue monthly meetings through 2012-13 and a public lecture by a prominent scholar in the science and religion field will highlight the second year.
 
God and Modern Biology dovetails with Fairfield's Jesuit and Catholic identity, said Robbin Crabtree, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. "After all, we are committed to demonstrating that science and reason are not necessarily divergent ways of knowing," she said, "but that they are compatible modes of inquiry that must be in dialogue with each other."
 
Dr. Sauer got the idea for God and Modern Biology through discussions with students in his class of the same name. When he first started teaching it about 10 years ago, he was surprised to find his students - many of whom were Catholic - didn't have a clear grasp of church teachings when it came to science. "A lot of them thought of the church as backwards and opposed to everything. And I thought, where are they getting this? I think it reflected on what they were being taught at home, what their parents thought or what they might have learned in a parish school."
 
So Dr. Sauer decided to take a shortened version of his course directly to local parishes. He hopes the pilot project will be a catalyst for developing educational materials and God and Modern Biology programs that can be used in parishes nationwide in the coming years.
 
"I'm really trying to integrate the two," said Dr. Sauer, "because both science and religion make a valuable contribution to our life here on Earth."

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Media Contact: Meredith Guinness, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2950, mguinness@fairfield.edu

Posted on January 5, 2012

Vol. 44, No. 124