Michael Berks, BHP Teacher, Missouri, USA
Tom Manning, BHP Teacher, Missouri USA

Father Emmanuel Carreira at the Vatican Observatory in Castel Gandolfo in 2005
Credit: Father Emmanuel Carreira at the Vatican Observatory in Castel Gandolfo in 2005 © Tony Gentile / Reuters / Corbis

In October of 2014, Pope Francis told the audience at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, that the Big Bang theory and evolution are real. When the news hit the wire, the BHP Yammer community lit up with excited discourse about progress and plans to discuss in class. Based on the ongoing discussion still alive on Yammer, I think we can all agree this is a hot topic from a Big History perspective.

We teach Big History Project to 9th grade students at Bishop DuBourg High School. It was an exciting announcement, but maybe more so if you’re NOT teaching in a Catholic school like ours.

The funny thing is, the Church and Big History are not at odds when it comes to the Big Bang or evolution, even prior to October 2014. The Church has affirmed the science behind the Big Bang and evolution since 1950 with Pope Pius XII. In fact, it was Catholic Priest, George Lemaitre, who originally proposed the Big Bang Theory. Perhaps Pope Francis was able to put it in more interesting terms with the statement “God is not a magician with a magic wand.” And to many Catholics, his stance is not controversial.

We put the perceived conflict between religion and science on the table for discussion early in our Big History journey—in a way that reflects the Big History narrative. Introducing Threshold 0: The God Factor.

At Threshold 0, students are assigned an essay paper based on two driving questions:

  1. Is the Catholic Church and Science always at war?
  2. Does Big History conflict with Church teachings?

Research topics include:

  • Evolution and the Church (Creation)
  • The Big Bang and the Church
  • Church and Science
  • Galileo and the Church

You can download the full activity here. For this activity, the gcatholic.org website allows students to search tagged papal documents and research the Church’s current or past stance on any topic. Many students are surprised by what they find out. It allows them to work out any preconceived notions about what they should believe or what they’ve heard the news media relay on the topic. Finally, it allows students to approach the issue objectively, so they’re open to engage with the lessons and learnings ahead.

We also Skype with the Vatican Observatory (one of our alums is a Jesuit Brother who is the curator of the meteorite collection with the observatory). This gives the students the ability to ask religious, scientific, or just plain fun questions.

The interview really brings it down to earth for them. For some reason people believe that science and religion cannot coexist. I think in our Big History class we show that it is possible. Science explains the how and religion explains the why.

3 thoughts on “THE GOD FACTOR – THRESHOLD ZERO

  1. “Science explains the how and religion explains the why.” This is a slogan I hear often on the nature of a bridge between science and religion, but I have not yet heard a satisfactory explanation of it. I was hoping you could explain a little more your and perhaps your students’ perspective. To be a little more pointed where my own contention arises, science clearly explains the how but in my understanding, it also addresses the why. What ‘whys’ do you see religion offering that adds to our conversation of the big history and reality of the universe?

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  2. I use Big History for my homeschooled granddaughter. Religion should be left out of academic learning (hence: seperation of church and state). It’s good for these religous students to feel engaged, but I believe that this is because they were given the ok so to speak to learn more about evolution that they were interested in to begin with but felt that it would go against what the church and family was teaching through the bible. Is it just me that that believes that evolution is the opposite ? No it’s not. Myself and a lot of people that were brought up religous dropped it in favor of evolution because evolution can be proved by scientist through studies that make sense. The bible on the other hand is a book consisting of 66 individual books, some are the same writers of more than 1 book. Now I do respect other peoples beliefs but you have to consider the many years of translations. And there have been so much omitted each time, mostly by the church counsels themselves to keep people in a kind of fear to keep them in line so to speak and continue to go to church. And those that didn’t go with that flow would be shun by their communities as being evil. Through the dark ages were the worst bcause if people ate some moled wheat and had hallucination were said to have the devil in them and would be burned at the stake. I know I would have been very scared to say anything against the church during that time. And it was during those times when most of the translations and the omitting were taken place. Church was law back then and still is in some communties. Now today some people are waking up and questioning the bible’s accuracy, not just being lead blind anylonger. The last time I went to church I felt like a child again nothing has changed, the words, sentencing and bible quotes are still repetitious. I had a asked a very religous person to explain some bible text to me from parts of the bible that I had never heard spoke of in church and she could not expain what those text meant. She said there must be a reason why the church doesn’t speak of such things. And I said that I thought the bible was gods words written by the chosen men to teach us. Why have something in the bible if we we not to learn from it. This takes me back to the omitted parts. I asked and asked throughout my adult life why there isn’t any mention of jesus between the ages of 12 and 28 (manhood). Where was he? What was he doing? I am 54 yrs. old and have yet to get that answer. Of course I’ve heard several attempts of explanations, but none made any sense to me and I think the person that was trying to explain it also.

    Man I’m tired of typing.
    But bottom line is evolution is proven and creationism is not. But I’ve always let my children make their own decisions based on facts not fictions. 1 of my 3 children chose to believe in creationism and I respect that. The other 2 sit on the fence and are confused, probably due to the conflicts like that in this article. But these are just a small handful in the catholic church that support the claims in this article. You can bet that if this article becomes mainstream the catholic church would denounce it’s backing.

    Do the research people. I like to watch documentaries and also read articles much like this one. And I base my conclutions on the facts and collaborations of the many different field scientist that are presented. Not just only 1 source, the church.

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