Science and Religion: A School and Church Project in Denmark 2009

Of the Danish population, 82% considers Darwin’s theories of evolution to be true. 83% of the population are members of the Danish National Church. On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species and his own 200th anniversary, the School Services of the Danish National Church have decided that the national project in 2009—for all school levels from primary to secondary—will be “Science and Religion”.  This will naturally cast a spotlight in Danish schools on Darwin and issues at the interface of science and religion, and it is the task of School Services to qualify the subject and the discussion.

The aim of the “Science and Religion” School and Church Project is to facilitate students gaining a nuanced understanding of the origin and development of the world and life by examining scientific (physical, chemical, biological) explanations as well as religious points of view. They will experience how this process can be described using different methodologies and from varying worldviews and discover the relation between these different descriptions: do they exclude each other, supplement each other, or will there be a special rank between them, so that one is based on the other?

The School-Church-Collaboration of the Danish National Evangelical Lutheran Church is an informative undertaking with the goal of transmitting the fundamental values of Danish and European culture to the rising generation. Therefore all pupils of the non-confessional Danish National Schools—regardless of ethnic, cultural or religious background—can attend the educational projects.  For the “Science and Religion” project, a working group from different local School Services (theologians and teachers) together with scientists have begun work on four projects addressing the theme for different school levels. They will be tested in select classes in 2008-09 before being presented to all schools.

For the youngest pupils (6-10 years) the trial project was already run successfully in autumn 2007 in 37 classrooms. It has been titled “Heaven Seen from Earth” (based on the famous series of awe-inspiring photographs ‘Earth Seen from Heaven’ by Arthus-Bertrand). The project uses the biblical story of Creation as its frame, but it is based on the five senses as ways both to study the world scientifically and to explore, what the Christian religion together with other religions will call God’s creation. The aim is to get pupils at this age to wonder and be engaged in the world around them and to be able to use both the scientific and the religious language in their experience and understanding. Each day of the week, one of the five senses is presented at a common morning assembly by story telling—biblical and scientific—music/songs/hymns, and information. Back in the classroom, the pupils explore part of their world by engaging in experiments and philosophical thinking (asking basic questions about life and the world) and end up in one of four workshops across the class levels, all based on the sense of the day: The Studio of Light and Sound, The Kitchen (to use smell and taste creatively), The Observatory, and The Laboratory. At the end of the week the local pastor joins the classes for a lesson of theologization, i.e., his or her job is to guide the pupils in formulating their own theological considerations—using their own language—on the origin of world and life.  Evaluations from this trial project are now being gathered in order to optimize the revised version for the national project in 2009.

The remaining three projects are in development and will be ready for trial in autumn 2008/spring 2009. For students between the ages 11-13 years the project will be based on aesthetic approaches, and is being called “Pieces of Heaven” in reference to St Paul (1 Corinthians 13) and the stardust that humankind is composed partly of. In this project, structural DNA will serve as both a main subject of study in the informative classroom work and as a creative inspiration for the pupils’ paintings and sculptural works. Their own aesthetic efforts will be a way of expressing their unique religious approach to the subject, and their works will ultimately be exhibited in public places.

For the oldest students in the Danish Primary School (14-16 years) and the Danish Secondary School (16-18 years) or “High School” the project will be titled “The Origin of Life” in a clear nod to Darwin. This effort will constitute the first School-Church-project targeted to high school classes, and is an attempt to establish similarly good relations to this part of the school system as the School Services of the Danish National Church have developed over the past 15 years with Danish Primary Schools.  “The Origin of Life” project will rely on material of high scientific standards and will explain and explore evolutionary theory using articles written by scientists and teachers. It will introduce ways to consider, how scientific paradigm of evolutionary theory can encounter religious beliefs about creation and religiously based ethics. It will also give pupils an opportunity to critically examine views contrary to Darwinian evolution, for example Intelligent Design and biblical Creationism.

The National Committee of The School Services has given seed money to develop materials for the “Science and Religion” project, and the project also seeks to collaborate with Danish national museums. The national museums in Denmark, for example of Natural History and Science and Art, have an obligation to develop school projects. This common engagement would provide a basis for partnership between Danish museums, schools and churches around the theme of “Science and Religion”. This would serve to underline the broad, informative purpose of the project in a country where most people (as evidenced by the statistics cited at the beginning of this article) are able to combine in their practical daily life both a scientific view of world and religious belief.

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