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New research has shed light on attitudes towards science among church senior leaders

by Alex Collett

New research from Equipping Christian Leadership in an Age of Science (ECLAS) has shed light on attitudes towards science among senior church leaders in the UK today.

The new paper called: “Building Enthusiasm and Overcoming Fear: Engaging with Christian Leaders in an Age of Science” was published in Zygon this week and offers a compelling look at how church leaders’ attitudes towards science are influenced by media representations of conflict between science and faith.

It is co-written by Dr Lydia Reid, formerly a researcher at ECLAS, and Revd Prof David Wilkinson, ECLAS Project Co-Director and Principal of St John’s College, Durham University.

Dr Lydia Reid said: “One of the key observations to emerge has been that despite the relationship between science and religion being framed as one of “conflict” in the media, this was not the prevalent view among the church leaders and educators I surveyed and interviewed. Indeed, many church leaders were enthusiastic and complimentary about science; viewing the relationship as one of “integration” or “dialogue.” Nevertheless, the conflict thesis had framed the way in which church leaders related to science—with expressions of fear and uncertainty being reported by church leaders, and in the clear omission of science topics in ordination training in a UK context.”

Revd Prof David Wilkinson said: “Overcoming fear can be replaced by an expectancy that God is at work at the boundary and by a humility that we do not know and do not need to know all of the answers. The skill of a theologian and indeed a scientist is to be able to discover the right questions.”

Through a survey of over 1,000 church leaders from various denominations and interviews with 32 senior church leaders and church educators, the authors found that although this group has enthusiasm for and interest in science, this does not translate into confidence in talking about science in the public domain.

Data collection, carried out in 2015-18, found that over 90% of church leaders were having conversations about science, on topics including climate change, evolution, and origins of the universe.

Moreover, 85% of church leaders had researched, read, or watched a TV program on science in the last year, suggesting a strong interest. However, the prevailing characterisation that science and faith exist in conflict was a key reason that church leaders did not feel confident speaking about science publicly, despite their interest, with many turning down requests for media and research interviews.

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