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Ross Hastings Receives Grant for Science and Theology Initiative

June 23, 2016
"If anybody should be fearless in the pursuit of knowledge, it should be Christians."

Regent College is pleased to announce that Ross Hastings, Sangwoo Youtong Chee Associate Professor of Theology, has received a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. Reflecting the Foundation’s interest in the area of “Science in Dialogue,” the grant will support the development of fresh forms of communication with students and the general public about the mutually enriching relationship between science and theology. We sat down with Ross to discuss his hopes for this new initiative.

First of all, tell us about what this grant will enable you and the College to do.

The key piece will be the hiring of a new post-doctoral fellow in science and theology for about two and a half years, who will have expertise in the theology and science area and can help raise exposure in that field here at Regent. He or she will do some writing and publishing, and co-teach a course with me on science and theology. We’ll also have a major conference on the topic, and develop a web presence for distribution of resources.

By raising the profile of the science and theology discussion at Regent, I hope that Regent students grow in their awareness that this is a conversation, and increase their confidence to join in. I have an ambition for every M.Div student to take the science and theology course, because I can’t imagine a pastor going into the pastorate without some knowledge of science and theology, including the controversial area of human and cosmic origins. So I hope this will be an increasing area of emphasis for us here at Regent.

How does this initiative tie into your own interests and previous work?

Having worked in chemistry research before becoming a pastor and theologian, I’ve always kept up on the science and theology dialogue. Then when I came to Regent, we received a grant from the John Templeton Foundation for the “Pastoral Science” program. It helped pastors understand more about the science and theology narratives, know how to encourage scientists in their congregations, and learn to enable young people in their congregations to overcome their fear of science. If anybody should be fearless in the pursuit of knowledge, it should be Christians!

That grant strengthened my interest in this area, so I began to lecture on it more, and now I’ve developed a course and am writing a book about it. I’ve advocated for a relationship between these disciplines that is co-inherent—not just that the fields have “overlap” but that they are each “in the other,” in terms of ontology, epistemology, vocation, and in all sorts of other ways. The grant will help us unpack more of what that means, and explore the power of that model for helping Christians navigate the science and theology conversation today.

Beyond these connections to your own work, what makes Regent a good environment for this conversation?

Well, I’m biased, but I think there’s no better place! We are a graduate school of theological study for the whole people of God. We have this general orientation to theological learning in every area of life. Regent’s known for its strong theology of creation and the goodness of the created world, and our attention to narratives and the history of ideas, and those are key elements of the science and theology discussion.

We also have this strategic location on a major campus, with plenty of scientists on it. We’re on the campus of UBC, and we’re always seeking opportunities for further engagement with the UBC community and the wider academy. I think the initiatives of this grant will be helpful in that regard.

There’s always been this strand of openness to science in our ethos, going back to Jim Houston, J.I. Packer, Loren Wilkinson and guest professors like Walter Thorson—a theoretical chemist from Alberta who used to come and teach here.

You mentioned your own experience as a pastor, and your conviction that pastors should know something about the relationship of science and theology. Can you say more about the pastoral angle to the science and theology dialogue?

Often young people in the church who encounter scientific questions, especially the origins discussion, don’t have a theological framework within which to process those questions. So they assume, “The church is out of touch, my pastor is out of touch, science and faith are at loggerheads, and I have to make a choice here.” But there’s no need to make such a choice.

The church desperately needs pastors who read the Bible well and are scientifically informed. They don’t all have to be scientists, but they do all have to be curious, because that’s part of being human. They owe it to themselves and to their congregations to live as embodied persons, living within a created world, who want to know something of that creation and live in it well. Science is a necessary part of that.

Executive Summary of the Grant

This initiative takes up the theme of Science in Dialogue by addressing the following Big Question: “How can the relationship between Christian faith and scientific endeavor be conceptualized and communicated in a way that effectively engages diverse audiences?”

Sir John Templeton recognized that science and spirituality should be neither sealed in separate boxes nor positioned at opposite ends of a battlefield, yet even a cursory glance at contemporary culture reveals that the supposed incompatibility and even hostility between faith and science is something of a truism in much of Western society. Regent College believes that this widespread perception is a significant threat to the development of theology and science alike, as well as to the spiritual and intellectual flourishing of countless individuals.

The project team proposes an alternative model for the relationship between faith and science: mutual coinherence, or existence within one another. The goal of each project activity is to explore the implications of this model and to communicate it in an accessible form that encourages and enables further exploration of science, theology, and their interaction. The project outputs—academic publications, public lectures, two graduate-level courses of study, and an online hub for content and resources related to faith and science—will target different audiences with the same basic narrative, a story of one world, created by one God, who can be known and worshiped through both theology and science, and who is best known and best worshiped when theology and science work together.

By introducing this narrative to present and future thought leaders in faith communities, scientific communities, and the wider world, Regent College hopes to contribute thousands of critically engaged, spiritually committed, and graciously inclined participants to the ongoing dialogue between faith and science.

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