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.

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