Science for Youth Ministry

An IYM Blog Series

Amid a larger cultural narrative filled with false dichotomies, faith and science have been pitted against one another, assumed to be incompatible and mutually exclusive. In this black-or-white worldview, one must decide either to be a person of faith (thereby rejecting science) or to be a person of science (thereby rejecting faith). To attempt to hold a position anywhere in the middle of these two imaginary poles is to risk the ire of the true believers on either side. If a person of science confesses also to a belief in God, she opens herself to the possibilities of ridicule, rejection, or even, the undermining of her career. Likewise, if a person of faith confesses also to a belief in science, he might be ostracized, viewed with heavy suspicion, or even, face accusations of heresy.

This circular argument is often self-defeating and appears destined to be so as our culture descends deeper and deeper into ideological “echo chambers.” Meanwhile, we risk missing the forest for the trees, for throughout both scientific and religious history, many prominent thinkers and ideas have emerged out of the cooperation—or at least the coexistence—of science and faith. Galileo Galilei famously upended his contemporary scientific and religious world by reporting on his observations with a telescope that supported the Copernican theory of heliocentrism—among his other revolutionary work.

Though he faced investigation and sentencing by the Roman Inquisition, he appeared to be a man of profound faith, writing, I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them.” While the Catholic Church eventually agreed with Galileo and issued a 350-year belated apology, the episode has left its stain on the historical reputation of the Church. And yet, a closer examination of current conversation between faith and science reveals much more nuance and complexity than a casual observer might note. Remember the summer of 2015 when Pope Francis issued his encyclical, Laudato Si, calling for an “ecological conversion” and demanding action to combat human-driven climate change? Science, it would seem, is hardly an enemy of faith.

Not that science itself has ever been infallible, and we do as much a disservice to science by deifying it as we do demonizing it. In fact, it is essential to science’s progress to remember its mistakes, some of which have resulted in tragic disasters, like the Chernobyl accident and the Challenger space shuttle explosion. Other mistakes have been extremely expensive and even retrospectively foolish, such as the Y2K problem. And still other mistakes of science have lent credibility to ideologies that have resulted in the oppression of entire populations and communities, such as the supposed neuroscience of phrenology and the claims of certain interpretations of genetics following the work of Gregor Mendel.

As youth ministers called and committed to the formation of young people, we have a responsibility to engage the big questions of life, meaning, and mystery—especially with our awareness that these questions do not have simple answers and even when these subjects are challenging. Many of today’s teenagers are exploring high-level scientific concepts and are hungry for open and honest conversation about a life of faith in a scientific era.

In partnership with Luther Seminary and the John Templeton Foundation, the Institute for Youth Ministry is proud to present these eight articles (posting through January 2017) on the relationship between science and youth ministry from a diverse array of voices and perspectives. We hope they will spur your imagination, prompt your curiosity, and deepen your commitment to engage young people in honest conversation about faith and science.

Kevin Alton

Kevin Alton is a youth ministry veteran and a writer, author, and speaker on all things spiritual and age-level Christian ministry. He’s the co-creator of the Wesleyan lectionary curriculum website Youthworker Circuit and serves as content curator for the Science for Youth Ministry grant. Kevin lives with his wife and two boys in the Georgia woods just outside of Chattanooga, TN. You can connect with him on most social media as @thekevinalton.

Megan DeWald

Megan DeWald is the Assistant Director of the Institute for Youth Ministry. Prior to this, Megan served as the Site Coordinator of the PCUSA’s Young Adult Volunteer Program in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a 15-year veteran of youth and young adult ministry in a variety of contexts and traditions, from camps and congregations to nonprofits and social movements across the denominational spectrum. Believing in the power of personal story to transcend the boundaries we build between us, Megan is also a writer, poet, activist, and musician.

Emily Dumler-Winckler

Emily Dumler-Winckler is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Notre Dame in the Center for Theology, Science, and Human Flourishing. She earned her M.Div., Th.M., and Ph.D from Princeton Theological Seminary. She specializes in moral theology (historical, doctrinal, and systematic) with a particular interest in virtue, moral philosophy and psychology, aesthetics, politics, science, and social change in the modern era. Her research brings ancient and medieval thought to bear on modern and contemporary debates in religious ethics. 

Kristin Franke

Kristin Franke serves as the Director of Youth Ministry at National Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C. Prior to this, she provided student staff support to the IYM while completing her M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary in May 2015. The author of the IYM blog series, “Sports on Sundays,” Kristin she plays and coaches Ultimate Frisbee. Her passion for youth ministry began during her five-year tenure as the youth director at Union Church in Hong Kong prior to seminary.

Jeffrey Kaster (Part One & Part Two)

Jeffrey Kaster has served as the Director of the Youth in Theology and Ministry program at Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary in Collegeville, Minnesota since 2000 and the Coordinator of the Lilly Youth Theology Network since 2013. He teaches practical theology courses at Saint John’s University and the College of Saint Benedict in Christian education and youth ministry.  Prior to his work at St. John’s, Jeff served as the St. Cloud Diocesan Youth Consultant for ten years and as a parish youth minister for twelve years. Jeff’s publication, Youth Ministry, Revised Edition (2016) was published by the Liturgical Press.

Sarah Lane Ritchie

Sarah Lane Ritchie is currently completing her Ph.D. in Science and Religion at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. A Michigander by birth, she completed her undergraduate degree in philosophy and religion at Spring Arbor University, her M.Div. at Princeton Theological Seminary, and her M.Sc. at the University of Edinburgh. Her research focuses on theology and the science of human consciousness, with the focus of her dissertation on divine action and the human mind. Sarah also loves running, devouring podcasts, hiding out in bookstores, and debating politics with her Scottish husband.

Kermit Moss

Kermit Cornell Moss, Sr. is a Ph.D. student in Practical Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. His research interests include Black liberation theology, critical race theory, philosophies of practical reason, pneumatology, and the spirituality of urban youth and hip-hop culture. He holds an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary and a B.A. in political science (summa cum laude) from Long Island University-Brooklyn Campus. Kermit currently serves as senior pastor of Manhattan Bible Church, located in the Inwood neighborhood in Northern Manhattan. He is married to Antoinette Gaboton-Moss, and they have three wonderful children: Kermit Jr., Sebastian, and Chloe.

Tim Suttle

Tim Suttle is a pastor, writer, and musician. His latest book is called Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church Growth Culture. Tim often writes for the Religion Section of The Huffington Post, and his work has been featured at The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Sojourners, and Immerse Journal. Tim is also the author of An Evangelical Social Gospel? and Public Jesus. He is the founder and frontman of the popular Christian band Satellite Soul, with whom he toured for nearly a decade. Currently serving as the senior pastor of Redemption Church in Olathe, Kan, Tim and his wife, Kristin, live in Kansas City with their two boys, Nicholas and Lewis.

Science for Youth Ministry

The Science for Youth Ministry project hopes to kickstart a vital conversation about what faith—and especially what faith formation of young people—can look like in this contemporary era of scientific and technological advancement. Contrary to popularly-held assumptions about the clash between faith and science, the project’s researchers have discovered that young people today do not necessarily view faith and science as incompatible. Rather, these young people have deep questions about how to speak of God in our present time. Supported by The John Templeton Foundation, the SYM project is creating a constellation of resources and opportunities for further engagement with these questions.