In July, Dominican co-hosted with Notre Dame Seminary the Foundations New Orleans Seminar, presented by the McGrath Institute for Church Life of the University of Notre Dame and funded by a three-year grant from the John Templeton Foundation. Ten schools were chosen from 70 applicant schools to send three teachers per school (one chemistry or physics, one biology and one religion/theology). Teachers received a Library of Works on science and religion and undertook an eight-week online reading phase from February-April in which they discussed important writings on science and faith, including addresses of St. John Paul II, important documents involved in the Galileo Affair, and contemporary works on the relationship between the Catholic Faith and modern physics, evolutionary biology and human origins. In the July seminar they continued the discussion, attending three lectures from Team Members and engaging in three major science experiments connected to the Big Questions that modern science raises for believers. The experiments were conducted in the chemistry lab of Dominican’s Gayle and Tom Benson Science and Technology Complex. Seminar attendees will produce two lesson plans per school that integrate science and Catholic Faith that they can use with their students.
The Science and Religion Seminar offered Religion and Science teachers from ten different participating Catholic schools the opportunity to come together for a week of collaborative learning. It was wonderful for these teachers to learn from professors in the disciplines of Theology, Physics, Chemistry, and Evolutionary Biology as they spoke about how the different disciplines each contribute to our understanding of the universe in a unique way. Rarely would a high school teacher be given an opportunity to read and discuss with their educational peers, the synthesis of knowledge that the various areas offer. This seminar allowed the participants to discover the ways that our Faith informs our Reason and actually leads to a fuller understanding of who we are as human beings. It also presented an historically accurate depiction of the prominent role that the Catholic Church has played in the progress of scientific discovery over the centuries, thereby equipping the teachers to be able to convey to their students the harmonious relationship that exists between the Church and modern science. Oftentimes, secular society speculates that there is a conflict between the Church teachings and modern science. Faculty are often challenged by students to help them reconcile the “apparent” conflict and this seminar gives teachers the tools to skillfully address the tough questions posed by students. Additionally, by the end of the seminar the teachers had developed several lessons plans that would allow them to address the tougher issues directly.
It is essential for high school students to be able to understand that our Catholic faith is not in conflict with modern scientific tenets in order for them to hold on to their faith as they progress in their understanding of the world around them.
Stacy Trasancos, Ph.D.
Foundations New Orleans Chemistry Lab Instructor, Lecturer
Author of Science Was Born of Christianity: The Teaching of Fr. Stanley L. Jaki and Particles of Faith: A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science
Sometimes innovation is found by returning to first principles, and that is what the Foundations seminars were about. Religion teachers went into the lab to see for themselves the order and symmetry created in nature. They discovered the atom and quantum mechanics in physics and chemistry labs, and they reasoned through the mechanisms of evolution in a biology lab. Likewise, science teachers returned to the ancient truth that binds the people of God in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created…” The teachers simply learned to see science as the study of the handiwork of God.
It can seem daunting for teachers to dive into disciplines that are not their own expertise, which is why it is so important to be confident in the primal truths of faith. I really think we are witnessing a revolution in education and modern science. The more parents and educators instill in the minds of youth that science is only rightly understood in the light of faith, the more these future leaders will be inoculated from atheistic emptiness. Faith in the Triune and Incarnational God—a reasonable faith that both exalts nature as creation yet keeps science in its place by avoiding nature worship—makes sense of science. The Christian worldview is, and always has been, necessary for scientific progress. Thanks to this program a whole lot of students are going to learn just that.
It was exciting and rewarding to be part of the Foundations New Orleans seminar and serve as lab coordinator for the experiments. Participants read many great works, including books, scholarly articles, papal letters, and documents from the International Theological Commission integrating the topics of science, philosophy, and theology. Attending lectures, participating in seminar discussions, and conducting experiments led by experts in these fields, we gained a deeper understanding of science in the light of our Catholic faith. Our students will benefit from the seminar experience because each participating school generated two lesson plans designed for high school use, based on topics presented at the seminar. The participants will continue to collaborate and share their experiences implementing the various lesson plans via an online community.
What made Foundations New Orleans unique and unprecedented is the emphasis on science experiments. Each experiment required the teachers to become lab partners and apply the scientific method to scientific problems. It offered science teachers experiments that fit new approaches to science education but that also raised theological and philosophical questions that show the harmony between science and the Catholic Faith. It brought religion teachers into the lab and gave them a better understanding of how science works and the power it has for understanding the world God created.
St. Mary’s Dominican High School’s commitment to integrating science and religion in their curriculum, and their fabulous Gayle and Tom Benson Science and Technology Complex, made it an excellent host institution for the Foundations New Orleans labs and the seminars.