Jesus Hugging Dinosaurs: Talking to Kids about Science…at Church

You may have already seen the above test, given to 4th graders at Blue Ridge Christian Academy in Greenville, SC (as confirmed by Snopes, where you can also see the second page of the test and read the backstory). Yeah, that’s pretty bad.

On the other hand, you’ve got these three amazing teenage girls who won the 2011 Google Science Fair and gave a talk at TEDxWomen.

It is those two juxtaposed images of youth engaging science with which I’m going to start my talk tomorrow at Fuller Seminary’s conference, Talk of God, Talk of Science, which is described thusly:

Every sermon is preached to people who both bear the image of God and live science-shaped lives. Preaching today must be an agent in helping integrate, encourage, and challenge our understandings of how faith and science can be understood together.

The problem is obvious: many teenagers see Christians as anti-science, and this isn’t just because of right-wing fundies. Even centrists — even, gasp, libruls — often don’t know how to talk intelligibly about science from the context of faith. My kids learn about science in school, of course, and they learn about religion in school. This year my middle schoolers have told me about Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism, all of which they’ve learned about in social studies when studying other countries and cultures.

But they haven’t learned about science in church. Not once that I can think of, and that includes that many churches I’ve attended with them over the past 13 years.

So, I’m asking you, dear readers, how do you think we should talk to youth about science in our communities of faith? Have you seen good examples of this? Have you done it yourself, at home? Drop me a comment with ideas about how we can catalyze healthy conversations about science at church.

And now, a gratuitous image of Jesus hugging a dinosaur:

  • Rob Davis

    My only real “regret” as a parent was that I didn’t teach my kids critical thinking at a much younger age. Of course, they were getting that at school, but they weren’t getting that in any of the church circles we ran in. I think teaching “how to think” is more important than teaching science.

    • Rob Davis

      I also think that teaching kids to better understand the philosophy OF science is as important as teaching the facts.

      But, I don’t know that if you actually taught kids these topics from birth that many would come to any sort of “orthodox” Christian conclusions about anything…

      • Lausten

        Couldn’t agree more. The story of how we figured out how to figure stuff out is a great story, and just having the proper understanding of words like “theory” would end so many pointless arguments.

    • Rob Brink

      The best science IS how to think, or maybe rather, how to find things out. Or put another way, it’s the surprisingly difficult work of forcing yourself to seek and accept ever deeper and more complete truth.

  • Kevin Glenn

    Thanks, Tony! I’m fortunate to have Richard Carlson, Fuller grad and respected physicist as a member of the church I pastor (he has edited and authored books on the relationship between science and faith). He led a small group last month that helped many of our people understand the difference between Evolution as a legitimate scientfic mechanism, and the philosophy of Naturalism. His most recent work is an article for Fuller’s Theology News and Notes magazine entitled “What About Dinosaurs?” It’s an approach that demonstrates one can take science and the scriptures seriously without having to think Jesus got cozy with a velociraptor.

    Will you publish the speech you’ll give at Fuller?

  • Kenneth Justice

    Tony, when I talk to my children about science I don’t give definitive’s;
    Q. “dad, how old is the earth?”
    A. “I really don’t know, here’s a book by Stephen J. Gould where he postulates it to be X years old, here’s a book by Ross where he says X….etc”

    Where the Evangelical’s go wrong is that they have bought into the lie that if six day creationism isn’t true; then Christianity must not be true.

    I’ve always preferred Francis’s Schaeffer’s approach where he just wasn’t very dogmatic about science, homosexuality, fill in the blank; Preaching the Love of Christ and the Resurrection are more important.

    Have you read Professor Bruce Waltke’s commentary on Genesis?

    Isn’t it funny how one of the foremost hared-core Calvinist Hebrew Theologians of our day clearly teaches that the First Chapter of Genesis appears to be a song/poem and not meant to necessarily be literal…..and practically all of the Calvinists and Conservative Evangelicals ignore Waltke’s commentary.

  • Kevin Glenn

    Sorry to jump in again…Richard Carlson and I are interested in creating cirriculum for youth groups, and even children’s groups on this issue. We actually applied for a grant from Biologos, but were unsuccessful. We’re still working on it!

  • Derek M Larson

    This is something that I have been reflecting on as well as an Episcopal youth minister. I have a friend who is very much involved with the overlap of science and faith who pointed out to me a wonderful resource that I may use in the future. A Catechism of Creation: An Episcopal Understanding. I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but at first glance its pretty impressive. Check it out online here:

  • Stephen Hood

    As part of our confirmation preparation we spend considerable time discussing science and faith. At least one session is led by a scientist and the youth explore scientists that are/were people of faith, discuss the differences between scientific inquiry and theological inquiry, and I lead a session on the historical relationship between science and faith and why Christians have often resisted scientific inquiry. Thankfully, my faith tradition has a long tradition of embracing scientific inquiry and my particular faith community includes a number of scientists including several academic faculty and a nuclear physicist. Unfortunately, the school system in our community sends mixed messages about scientific inquiry, so I have to spend more time defending scientific inquiry than theological inquiry. I guess this is one of the joys of living in the land of fundamentalists.

  • JoeyS

    Ken Williams, of Ann Arbor Vineyard, has done a lot of work in this area. Here is an article here wrote about some of his experiences:

  • Scott Stephens

    I’m a youth director in a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and I talk to the kids in my youth group frequently. Essentially we talk about evolution as a scientific theory that can teach us a lot about how the world has and will develop. Evolution doesn’t pose a threat to these children, but gives them tools to better understand their world. In fact, most of the kids in my youth group are pretty outspoken with their arguments against a more “creationist” view of science.

  • Dan Wilkinson

    The Biologos film “From The Dust” is a great resource:

    But I don’t know that we need to talk about science anymore than we need to talk about art or about literature or about politics or about philosophy. Rather, the church should seek an integrative approach (easier said than done) to all of these areas, trying to accurately reflect how these different modes of inquiry and exploration relate to Christian belief.

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  • Ric Shewell

    I fricken love science. I didn’t get a real heavy does of science in college and I’m sad about that. I usually get my fix of science from youtube channels like veritasium, vsause, scishow, minute physics, TEDed, etc. In fact, I use a lot science videos as filler before, after, and between youth events, because they are fascinating! Teens love them, and it doesn’t seem out of the norm in there world. I think whatever we can do to help erase the stigma of Church vs Science is good. Growing up, we would also have other professionals teach the children and share how their field of study informed their understanding of God’s world. We often had scientists and researchers share. Always had the kids blown away.

    It seems to me that modernity did its best to classify and separate fields of study, often putting disciplines at odds with one another needlessly, creating experts who were experts of only a few areas, and pretty much destroy the university student. That’s all breaking down as these artificial categories of disciplines continue to crash into eachother in a beautiful chaotic mess. Schools that try to stave off disciplines that they think are inherently anti-gospel will probably hold on to some constituents for the long haul, but will eventually be irrelevant.

  • Lausten

    I don’t think you can do better than Michael Dowd at
    As for me, I did a parallels of the 6 days of creation to science, populating the earth with animals = precambrian explosion, stuff like that. I would have a lot more trouble doing that today.

    I think religion needs to figure out how to come to science, reasonably and respectfully, not demanding that it accept the leaps of faith or believe the anecdotal evidence.

  • Andrew Martin

    Comments about critical thinking and good scholarship are important – but they’re just half the story. Christians have – with varying degrees of puritanical revulsion – long embraced literature, fine art, music as means of touching the divine. All too often enlightenment thinking, however, got the cold shoulder. Medical science may be a partial exception.

    So though I didn’t enjoy his book much, I’m wholeheartedly behind Michael Dowd’s *rejoicing* in the work of the creator *in* evolution. I want to like Louie Giglio’s breathless video tours of the wonders of creation likewise (but his tour of the cosmos was strong on big distances and silent on big periods of time, which seemed intellectually dishonest). We who get to study science at an advanced level have a tremendous privilege of being able to see immense beauty there; not as something in opposition to faith, but wholly and fully part of it. Would that there were more ways to share that, and inspire rising generations to get stuck into it because it’s really, really good.

  • Sven2547

    Since I was very little, I sorted the things I read into three categories: fiction, nonfiction, and the-stuff-they-taught-us-at-Sunday-school, which sounded a lot like fiction, but they told me it was true. Trying to reconcile that third category into the other two was a primary factor in me turning away from religion.

    I’m not saying this to be a snarky atheist lurker, I’m saying this because Tony’s right: failing to address this issue makes Christianity look bad.

  • Lana

    seriously? haha! That looks like the textbooks we used as a kid, only minus the tests.

  • Sarah Bigwood

    Took my teenagers to Boulder last summer where we did environmental studies and theology. Visited NOAA (sadly they were surprised to see us) used Paul and theology of reconciliation to talk about our faith that week. Mystery became a central theme. Both science and religion deal with God’s incredible gift if mystery!

  • Freeman Hunt

    We emphasize to our children that the natural world is part of general revelation, and science helps us to find out more about it. Exploring science is exploring the awesome creativity of God. I can’t relate to the Science Versus Religion mentality on either side.

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  • Rob Brink

    I talk science in my sermons, but I think you’re right. I don’t think we talk about it with the kids. That’s a rotten double standard. I sense a science Sunday coming on!