MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Faith and science can often seem at odds in the public imagination, but some churches have made it their mission to lessen the tension. These churches are bringing science into congregation book clubs, lecture series and Bible study.
Irina Zhorov from WHYY's science podcast, The Pulse, has this report.
IRINA ZHOROV, BYLINE: At an adult Bible study class at Nashville's First Baptist Church, Matthew Groves directs about a dozen students to prayer.
MATTHEW GROVES: Bow your heads.
ZHOROV: He asks God for guidance during the class.
GROVES: I pray that we all remember that other people are made in the image of God.
ZHOROV: And for people to be quick to listen and slow to anger.
ZHOROV: Groves is a divinity student. He also has a physics degree. He combines his faith and his love of science by teaching everything from evolution to climate change in Sunday school. For some students, like Diana Chandler, it's the first time she's encountering science education since childhood. And she's a little wary.
DIANA CHANDLER: As a Christian, I don't want anything to get in the way of my scripture.
ZHOROV: Chandler says, as a black woman, she takes the Bible very seriously.
CHANDLER: We could not have made it through slavery without faith. We could not have made it through people telling us that we were three-fifths of a person without faith and without prayer.
ZHOROV: Chandler says faith is a stronghold for her.
CHANDLER: But for others, I think science could sway them, make them question scripture.
ZHOROV: But teacher Matthew Groves says science doesn't have to be about questioning scripture. To illustrate, he draws a Venn diagram on the board - two big circles.
GROVES: Venn Diagram - we have one for science, one for faith.
ZHOROV: They overlap in the middle. He asked the students to throw out words and concepts and where they'd fit in the diagram.
GROVES: And belief under faith, great.
ZHOROV: Under faith, go the words Bible and subjective. Under science, go objective and observable and testable. That's when Diana Chandler speaks out.
CHANDLER: I would say my faith is based on facts.
CHANDLER: It is observable as I interact with God. And it is mostly testable.
ZHOROV: The tension that Chandler is describing is borne out repeatedly in surveys. One shows that evangelical Christians are twice as likely than any other religious group, like Catholics, Protestants or Jews, to see science and religion as being in conflict. But sociologist Elaine Ecklund, who collaborated on that survey with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, says that one figure doesn't tell the whole story.
ELAINE ECKLUND: On most issues, religious people and non-religious people seem to be very science-friendly.
ZHOROV: The exceptions surface over specific issues like evolution.
ECKLUND: When you get to scientific research that seems to challenge conceptions that religious people have about who God is or who human beings are, then you see some tensions arising.
ZHOROV: Pew Research found that people who leave their religion, often cite science for their lack of faith. Sunday school teacher Matthew Groves says for churches to be relevant cultural institutions, they have to engage with the things people are struggling with today.
GROVES: Climate change is a substantive issue. Artificial intelligence, bioethics - a lot of big issues humanity is going to face in the next hundred years are focused on science and technology.
ZHOROV: He says if the church wants to be a part of shaping the direction humanity takes, it needs to have a seat at the table.
GROVES: And you can't have a seat at the table if you don't speak science.
ZHOROV: During each class, in addition to pushback, Groves also gets a lot of people like Carol Butler, who don't see an inherent conflict.
CAROL BUTLER: We don't understand all the mysteries of science. We don't understand the mysteries of creation. But we know that they're one and together.
ZHOROV: Butler says she doesn't think the study of science necessarily belongs in church but that churches should be open to what science is discovering.
BUTLER: There are stories in the Bible - from my upbringing, I understand that, as literature, sometimes they weren't exactly, literally happening as they were stories to help teach a truth.
ZHOROV: And that's the goal of this class - to help figure out the stories' lessons in the modern world.
For NPR News, I'm Irina Zhorov.
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