This summer, I had the privilege to attend the Society of Catholic Scientists annual conference. As a Catholic paleontologist, it was very exciting to be able to spend time in fellowship with other scientists of faith.
I learned about topics as wide-ranging as recognizing caritas in the fossil record of early hominids and the nature of dark matter and the structure of the universe. I also attended a lecture entitled “Does Artificial Intelligence Need the Gospel?”
When Catholic scientists attend a conference like this, it allows us to ask and explore questions that aren’t usually encountered within a secular scientific context. Questions of ethics and morality and truth as they relate to God are not typically included in professional scientific circles. They are explored at an SCS conference.
This is important because our church needs Catholic scientists as role models for demonstrating the compatibility of faith and science. According to the 2018 Georgetown University/St. Mary’s Press study, “Going, Going, Gone: The Dynamics of Disaffiliation in Young Catholics,” more than a third of young adults and teens who disaffiliated from the Catholic faith, who abandoned Catholicism (and often religion altogether), cited a conflict with scientific beliefs as a somewhat or very important factor for why they left Catholicism.
According to that study, the median age for leaving the church was 13. Middle school. A time when young Catholics are discerning confirmation and coming of age. They raise big questions, like how to reconcile scientific knowledge with the biblical stories of creation in Genesis that were likely their entry point to Scripture.
Those 13-year-olds who are in Catholic school or enrolled in CCD might be able to seek answers with help from their teachers or members of the clergy. If they are lucky, their teachers, deacons or priests have a clear understanding of the compatibility of faith and science within the Catholic faith.
However, after doing some faith and science outreach in the Archdiocese of Louisville, I’ve also discovered that our educators and clergy do not always have a clear understanding of church teaching about the compatibility of faith and science.
The topics end up being completely separated in our classrooms, with science teachers teaching science, religion teachers teaching religion, with no intersection, dialogue, or integration.
There is an opportunity for approaching this problem that holds a lot of promise. Last year, through the archdiocese’s Office of Faith Formation, Deacon Ned Berghausen and I began offering professional development workshops for K-12 teachers and parish catechists on the topic of faith and science.
Participants received training in what this relationship looks like, according to Catholic teaching, what church history and Scripture tells us about faith and science, and how to best implement this topic in the classroom.
After two years of running these workshops, it is abundantly clear that faith formation in this topic is essential. Anyone educating our young people in the church needs to know that faith and science do not need to be kept in separate religion and science classes but that they actually can enhance one another in a way that provides clarity to our children.
As far as I can tell, not many dioceses are taking these steps, but there are other places to find this kind of educational professional development, most prominently the Science and Religion Initiative through the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.
If you are a teacher or catechist and interested in learning more about faith and science and the church, be sure to check out next summer’s offerings from the Office of Faith Formation. You will hopefully learn some new ways to engage our young people using science and faith.
Kate Bulinski is a paleontologist and an associate professor at Bellarmine University.