Grant Received from the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Published: October 15, 2014

Wake Forest University’s School of Divinity has received one of ten grants awarded to theological schools by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)’s “Science for Seminaries” program. The project, “Moving Science to the Forefront of Theological Education,” will enhance the school’s leading interdisciplinary Master of Divinity curriculum by integrating science into three different areas: biblical studies, historical studies, and theological studies.

Several introductory courses in the Master of Divinity curriculum will undergo revision in order to raise awareness of the relevance of science and increase the competency of future religious leaders who can integrate knowledge and understanding of science into the public discourse of the faith communities they will lead. Among the courses include:

  • “Myths of Creation” – Neal H. Walls, associate professor Old Testament interpretation, will develop a section within this course – which explores mythological texts concerned with the origins of the cosmos, gods, and humanity –  that surveys the recent scientific understandings of cosmology, cosmogony and the evolution of human life.
  • “The Scopes Trial: Darwinism and Anti-evolution in American Religion” – Bill J. Leonard, professor of church history, will develop this new course that will utilize the Scopes Trial of 1925 as a case study for examining the evolution/anti-evolution debate that continues to impact religion in the United States, public school education, and politics.
  • “Foundations of Christian Ethics” – Kevin Jung, associate professor of Christian ethics, will revise several components of this introductory course to include contemporary scientific studies from evolutionary psychology, sociobiology, and neuroscience so that religious leaders can discuss major scientific issues that inform ethical decision-making in our day.

So that the impact of science education is felt beyond individual courses, the grant will also enable the School of Divinity to offer lectures by leading scientists and to host a conference on an issue of science and religion that is pressing for today’s religious leaders and the communities they serve.

The project’s first public lecture will be held later this month. Jed Macosko, associate professor of physics, will present on “Understanding Biophysics through the Lens of Darwinism.” This lecture is free and open to the public. More details can be found at divinity.wfu.edu.

Jennifer Wiseman, director of the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion, said that, “Many people look to their religious leaders for guidance on issues relating to science and technology. The Sciences for Seminaries project aims to equip religious leaders with a solid scientific foundation from which to address these questions.” The project is being carried out in consultation with the Association of Theological Schools.

“The need to bring science and religion into a constructive dialogue is both urgent and serious, especially for communities of faith,” said Kevin Jung, associate professor at the School of Divinity and grant project leader. “We are in a time when the compatibility of science and faith is called into question by some scientists and when some religious believers simply refuse to accept the validity of scientific facts or deny the moral and theological significance of these facts.”

Wake Forest University has long been a leading advocate for constructive dialogue between science and religion. William Louis Poteat, seventh president (1905-1927) of Wake Forest College and professor of biology, wrote a number of articles and books and delivered several speeches in which a persistent theme was that science and religion are reconcilable without compromise to the other. President Poteat was also one of forty scientists, clergy, and prominent educators who in May of 1923 signed a joint public statement holding that science and religion “represent a deep and vital function of the soul of man, and both are necessary for the life, the progress and the happiness of the human race” (“Deny Science Wars Against Religion,” New York Times, May 27, 1923).

“This grant is a wonderful opportunity for the School of Divinity to make the most of its location at a great university like Wake Forest,” said Gail R. O’Day, dean of the School of Divinity. “Our students will be even more creative and effective religious leaders because they will be informed and articulate about the scientific perspective and contributions to the issues of our day.  And it is so fitting that through this grant we can carry on the deep commitments of President Poteat and the strong history of the University in this area.”

This grant enhances two existing joint degree programs at the School of Divinity –  in bioethics and sustainability – that work at the intersection of science and religion. These programs position the School of Divinity as a leader in educating students for our rapidly changing times.

For more information on the grant project, its requirements and the resources it will provide, review the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s press release.

Links of Interest
Science for Seminaries Program
Washington Post Article

About the American Association for the Advancement of Science
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world’s largest general scientific society. AAAS was founded in 1848 and includes 261 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science, one of its publications, has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of 1 million. The nonprofit AAAS (www.aaas.org) is open to all and fulfills its mission to “advance science and serve society” through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education, public engagement, and more.

About Wake Forest University School of Divinity
The Wake Forest University School of Divinity is a growing, dynamic and ecumenical theological institution that prepares men and women to be religious leaders in a changing world. The School currently offers the Master of Divinity degree and several dual degrees in law, bioethics, counseling, education, and sustainability offered jointly with other schools of the University. Through imaginative courses and diverse programs of community engagement, students are equipped to be agents of justice, reconciliation, and compassion in Christian churches and other ministries.

Media Contact: Mark Batten; 336.758.3959