Sunday Scientists: Lutherans Discuss Science and Religion During 3-Day Symposium

Some 45 scientists, pastors and members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) gathered at the ELCA’s headquarter in Chicago, to study the relationship between the Christian faith and science and technology, Sept 17-19, 2004.

"The aim was twofold," said Dr. Kevin Powell, a member of the Alliance, symposium organizer and a pediatrician, College of Medicine, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "One was to improve how Lutheran congregations relate to science, and the other was on a more personal level.”

"The symposium was to give people cognitive tools, emotional support and some affirmation from the institutional church that yes, what they are doing is in fact God's calling," he continued. "For many of these people there's been a conflict between science and religion, and they are people who really want to integrate the two. They feel that what they are doing with their vocation is what God has called them to do.”

The gathering, entitled, "Sunday Scientists! Symposium,” gave the participants a chance to deeply reflect on what it means to be both a scientist and a Christian.

"This was a great opportunity for people to come together to think about what it means to be a scientist and a Christian and how to live this out in their daily lives," said Gail Bucher, retired pharmacologist and chair, ELCA Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology, Belmont, Mass. "It met all of our expectations and probably exceeded them," she said.

Bucher was among the dozens of participants who traveled from across the states to attend the gathering. According to the ELCA, the symposium attracted attendees from California, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin. Their ages ranged from early 20s to 80s.

"If nothing else happened, we have now a great network of folks from within the ELCA" who can be a resource for the church and a support system for each other, Bucher said.
In addition to the fellowship, the symposium offered worship, discussions and activities, and featured lectures from renowned Christian scientists.

Lecture topics included a history of the interaction between science and religion, neuroscience and theology, and genetically modified organisms.

"[Speakers] George Murphy and Antje Jackelén handled the topic of evolution and creation," Bucher said. "These are very difficult issues for Christians who are scientists to get their heads around" and to explain how creation and evolution can co-exist in the faith life of a Lutheran scientist, she said.

Following the lectures, the participants broke up into small groups to discuss the topics with more depth. Throughout the discussions, the groups encountered topics such as the scientific and theological understandings the modern Christian needs, a Bible study of the book of Genesis, and the United Methodist Church's position on science and creation theology.

According to Powell, these participant-led discussions were among the most interesting events.

"Our aim is to make congregations friendlier to science so they can understand the world they are living in, which is so profoundly influenced by science," Powell said. "People in the congregations, especially the non-scientists, recognize how much their lives are affected by science, but they can be very frustrated trying to figure out how to impact that change.”

The following is the list of speakers to the Sept 17-19 symposium:

+ Sarah Fredericks, a doctoral student in science, philosophy and religion, Boston University, Mass.
+ Dr. Theodore Hiebert, professor of Old Testament, McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago
+ The Rev. Antje Jackelén, associate professor of systematic theology, religion and science, and director, Zygon Center for Religion and Science, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
+ The Rev. George L. Murphy, ELCA pastor and trained physicist, pastoral associate, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Akron, Ohio, and adjunct faculty, Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio
+ Dr. Scott Nichols, scientist, Dupont, West Chester, Pa.
+ The Rev. Patrick Russell, associate pastor, St. Peter's Lutheran Church, Lafayette, Pa.
+ Roger Willer, part-time associate for studies, ELCA Division for Church in Society, and doctoral candidate in theology, University of Chicago

The symposium was sponsored by the ELCA Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology.