New Directions for Science and Religion Dialogue
As a Center, we exist to promote education and research at the interface of science and religion. This project, funded by the John Templeton Foundation and Samford University with additional support secured with assistance from the Issachar Fund, furthers that mission by:
1. Bringing constructive science and religion dialogue into the church, with special emphasis on both top-down approaches (aimed at pastors and other ministers) and bottom-up approaches (targeted at members and prospects). This project will expose a diverse audience to major science and religion issues and provide insightful and helpful ways to approach them.
2. Building bridges between the Center for Science and Religion, Beeson Divinity School, and the Resource Center for Pastoral Excellence at Samford University. Beeson provides interdenominational graduate education for students interested in pursuing theological and ministerial careers. The RCPE provides training and support for pastors. We believe it is important to involve both Beeson and the RCPE in our long-range objectives and are using this project to begin to build the necessary links.
3. Creating a strong foundation for the Samford University Center for Science and Religion for ongoing work with churches as well as in academic and public arenas. This project raises center activity to a new level in terms of both the quantity and quality of supported events, represents a natural merger of educational and research components, and strengthens the foundation for long-term center visibility and viability.
Project Dates: August 2014–July 2016
Activity: Visiting Professor in Science and Religion
Purpose: To help Beeson Divinity School to strengthen its academic programs for students and pastors in the area of science and religion and to assist with other Center for Science and Religion activities targeted at students, church members, and prospects.
Description: The Center for Science and Religion will partner with Beeson Divinity School at Samford University to bring in a visiting professor with significant academic credentials in science and religion for two standard semesters nine months). Responsibilities for the visiting professor in Science and Religion will include:
1. Teaching science and religion courses each semester in Beeson Divinity School and Howard College of Arts and Sciences.
2. Presenting public lectures and presentations, and participating in other project-related events over the course of the year.
3. Collaborating with Samford faculty members on research.
4. Helping promote the Center for Science and Religion.
Activity: Science and Religion Course and Lecture Series
Purpose: (a) To bring to pastors’ attention the potential importance of addressing science and religion issues in their congregations and to open the door to assisting them in that effort; (b) to educate church members and prospects with respect to some of the key issues at the interface of science and religion.
Description: The Center for Science and Religion will partner with Beeson Divinity School and the Resource Center for Pastoral Excellence to host major figures in the science and religion arena on six occasions during the grant period (three per year) at Samford University. Each guest will conduct an afternoon class in their specialty for pastors and other ministerial staff to be followed in the evening by a public lecture (with special emphasis placed on attracting church members). A meal will be provided for class participants following the classroom session and prior to the evening lecture. The public lectures are an important component in our planned use of this grant to meet a specific educational need among church members and prospects in the context of events which can also bring added visibility to the Center for Science and Religion. We note that by hosting these on campus we will be able to attract students, faculty, and staff (who are potential catalysts for change in their home churches) while simultaneously attracting to a neutral location ministers and church members (not affiliated with Samford) from a variety of denominations.
Activity: Pastor Workshops
Purpose: To enhance pastoral awareness and appreciation of the advantages of bringing science and religion dialogue to their churches, to help them understand the key issues, and to equip them to productively carry the dialogue into their respective congregations.
Description: The Center for Science and Religion will partner with the Samford University Resource Center for Pastoral Excellence to conduct three one-day science and religion workshops targeted at pastors. In order to serve a larger audience and broaden appeal, these will be held at different locations throughout the state. Sites include Huntsville, Auburn, and Birmingham, pivotal locations where there is significant professional interest in the sciences and where the RCPE has had prior contact. Each one-day workshop will involve presentations on key science and religion topics by Senior Center Fellows and other Samford staff as appropriate and include time for participant interaction. Sample sessions include how to conduct difficult conversations, identifying the crucial issues in discussing science and religion in church settings, and special sessions on specific topics such as randomness and purpose, mind/brain/soul/consciousness/freewill, origins, transhumanism, etc. Each participant will receive at least two books on science and religion (mailed to early registrants prior to the workshop) and a meal.
Activity: International Conference on Transhumanism and the Church
Purpose: To explore how radical changes to human physical and cognitive capabilities enabled by emerging technologies will affect conceptions of what it means to be human, influence views of spirituality and deity, impact the church, and modify ways of living and interacting.
Description: A two and one half day conference open to an international audience of scientists, theologians, and philosophers will consist of morning keynote addresses by noted speakers, followed by paper presentations from participants. Meals and additional keynote addresses will round out the conference. The best papers will be selected for inclusion in an edited book with themes covering the scientific, philosophical, theological, ecclesial, historical, and psychological ramifications of a transhumanist future, particularly as it impacts religious perspectives of meaning and value. We are particularly interested in considering the potential impact on the church, exploring how to communicate relevant insights to a broader audience, and contemplating what doing so might mean.
Questions: How might radical changes to human physical and cognitive capabilities enabled by emerging technologies affect conceptions of what it means to be human, views of spirituality and deity, and ways of living and interacting? What are the potential ramifications for the church? Can a climate be created in which churches and people of religious faith engage a transhumanist future positively or must the church resist? Is resistance futile? Recognizing that differences of opinion on the merits of technological enhancement do not necessarily depend upon religious perspective, can the church actually lead the way toward common and beneficial perspectives?
Activity: Project Coordination and Center Development
Purpose: To staff a full-time position for project administration and pursuit of other items essential to extending the influence, visibility, and financial support for the Center for Science and Religion.
Description: This position involves coordinating all project related activities identified in this proposal including:
1. Working with Beeson Divinity School to identify the Beeson Visiting Professor in Science and Religion and taking care of all logistics involved with bringing that person to campus.
2. Organizing public lectures and other activities associated with the visiting professor.
3. Arranging and coordinating events and associated curriculum in conjunction with the Resource Center for Pastoral Excellence.
4. Arranging for speakers and managing the science and religion course and lecture series.
5. Preparing for and running an international conference on transhumanism and the church.
6. Supervising publicity for project events.
7. Working with Beeson and RCPE to prepare and administer surveys (e.g., to evaluate event effectiveness, visiting professor impact, etc.).
8. Handling all grant reporting and logistic details.
Other duties pertain to activities specifically devoted to furthering the development of the Center for Science and Religion and include:
1. Securing additional funds for ongoing Center activities.
2. Helping to develop and coordinate Center events that are not part of activities 1-8 (above)
3. Publicizing the Center and its activities.
4. Maintaining the Center website.
5. Developing web-based science and religion materials to supplement those already available on the Center website.
7. Leading student cadres.
Project Leader: Dr. Steve Donaldson
Co-leader: Dr. Tom Woolley
Project Administrator: Dr. Josh Reeves