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  • Religion and the Science Classroom
  • Kenneth W. Kemp (bio)

What relevance could theology have to the work of the science teacher? Some people say that the answer is obviously "none," but I think that that answer is not entirely correct. Drawing on the Catholic intellectual tradition, I want to propose six principles of science teaching, principles which, I think, should guide practice in our Catholic schools and which could also, perhaps with some adaptation, be of good service in other Christian, and even in public, schools as well.

What are those principles?

  1. 1. One goal of education is an integrated understanding of reality.

  2. 2. The correlation between intellectual discipline and real subject matter is complex.

  3. 3. The nature of each discipline gives the discipline its power and sets its limits.

  4. 4. Natural science (as a discipline) requires only a modest methodological naturalism, not a metaphysical naturalism.

  5. 5. Conflict has not been the characteristic feature of the historical relationship between science and religion.

  6. 6. Conflict between the best results of contemporary science [End Page 36] and the best results of contemporary theology is not impossible in principle.

I will elaborate on each of these principles in turn.

1. The Goal of Education

"one goal of education is an integrated understanding of reality."

What does the phrase "an integrated understanding of reality" mean? The meaning becomes clear when one imagines the alternative. What is man? A being "made in the image and likeness of God," says the book of Genesis. "A product of evolution," said Darwin. "A rational animal," said Aristotle in one place, and "a political (or social) animal" in another. "A being who invariably does that by which he may obtain the greatest amount of necessaries, conveniences, and luxuries, with the smallest quantity of labour and physical self-denial with which they can be obtained," said John Stuart Mill.1

Let Mill be the first to object: That passage was drawn from his work on political economy, a field that, he emphasized, "does not treat the whole of man's nature as modified by the social state, nor of the whole conduct of man in society." It is concerned with him solely as an economic agent.2

It would be an educational failure of the first magnitude were a student to be presented with only one aspect of human existence. It would be a failure of the second magnitude were a student to be presented with several of these aspects without any clue as to how the various aspects were to be integrated into a single comprehensive account of the subject.

Philosophy has traditionally claimed for itself the responsibility for carrying out this integration. Alfred North Whitehead once wrote: "Philosophy is not one among the sciences, with its own little scheme of abstraction which it works away at perfecting and improving. It is the survey of the sciences, with the special object of their harmony and of their completion."3 [End Page 37]

C. D. Broad made the same point: "The object of philosophy is to take over the results of the various sciences, add to them the results of religion and the ethical experiences of mankind and then reflect upon the whole, hoping to be able to reach some general conclusions as to the nature of the universe and as to our position and prospects in it.4

Our topic here is the science classroom, not the philosophy classroom, of course, but the idea that such an integration is an end of education has implications for how each component of the curriculum should be taught. We can hardly expect our students to undertake, much less to accomplish, a task that their teachers ignore. One role of the teacher, therefore, is to be, to the extent possible, a model integrator and not merely a narrow disciplinary specialist. Any teacher's primary task is, to be sure, to teach the assigned subject and discipline, but teachers must also be prepared to comment on interdisciplinary issues as they arise and even to suggest them when they do not. This has always been a theme in Catholic education. It was, indeed, the lifework of the patron of the schools, St. Thomas Aquinas...


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