Scientists in Congregations Scotland is a new grant programme, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, that seeks to encourage a deeper level of conversation about faith and science in churches throughout Scotland.

To do so, the programme is looking for congregations in which there are one or more scientists who participate faithfully in church life and who are also vocationally engaged with the scientific world. It is our understanding that there are many scientists in churches across Scotland who have spent a great deal of time thinking about the integration of science and faith.

Through around fifteen grants of up to £10,000, this programme will help to support scientists and ministers to work together to develop projects that can communicate the important ways in which faith and science can be seen to relate to one another. 

The programme is offering around fifteen grants of up to £10,000 to churches across Scotland.

One of the biggest obstacles facing churches in Scotland is the public assumption that there is a serious tension or essential incompatibility between Christian faith and modern science. At the same time, there have been few issues in recent years that have prompted as much public curiosity and interest in Christianity than questions of science and faith.

By developing projects that engage with questions of science, churches will have the opportunity to create a conversation that is stimulating not only for the congregation but also for the surrounding community. This will establish a context where churches can repudiate the myth that science has made the Church redundant and, at the same time, demonstrate that the Church is a centre for meaningful intellectual dialogue. In the midst of this conversation, there is incredible potential for the gospel to be proclaimed in ways that could prove highly fruitful for the mission of the churches in Scotland.

To help accomplish this, the programme will also be holding major conferences and lectures that will bring together church-leaders and scientists from all over Scotland to engage with world-leading figures in the dialogue between faith and science. For those who are awarded grants, full support will be provided to enable the lead minister and lead scientist to attend and take part in these major events.

The programme will be keen to support projects that involve more than one congregation. However, these projects will still need to have one lead minister and one lead scientist who are willing to head up the project, preferably from within the same congregation.

The Science in Congregations Scotland programme is ecumenical, calling for proposals from any Christian congregation in Scotland who is committed to fostering a sustained, rich, generative engagement between science and faith.

Central to any successful proposal will be a pastoral leader and a science-related professional who are highly motivated to collaborate in this effort. The latter could be a scientist, a philosopher of science, an historian of science at a local college or university, a scientist working in industry, a doctor, or a secondary school science teacher who holds at least an undergraduate degree in the natural, human or social sciences. Therefore, the programme is not only interested in professionals with a background in physics, chemistry and biology. It is also interested in professionals with expertise in the areas of medicine, psychology, scientific study of human behaviour, scientific study of religion, and a range of human and social scientific approaches to questions that hit upon human nature, culture, and traditional theological topics.

The scientist must be an active participant in the life of the congregation with an existing interest and capacity for this kind of an undertaking. Participants are not expected to be world-class scientists, or even experts on issues of science and faith, but do need an understanding of what science is, how it works and an ability to engage and evaluate the kind of popular science literature most fellow congregants use, often uncritically, to learn of the subject. Also, a background interest in science-faith interaction is important, as demonstrated by a well-thought-out proposal. Equally, the pastoral leader will need to demonstrate an existing interest in the integration of science and faith, even if he or she has not pursued that interest in any measurable way before now.

Because we would like, in time, to foster a deep and lasting change throughout Scotland in how Christian communities relate to the sciences, and because we can offer grants to only a very small fraction of the churches in Scotland, we are especially interested in ideas that could be taken up by other congregations without the benefit of grant support for the planning. For the same reason we are interested in a wide range of ideas which are potentially valuable for large or small congregations, rural or urban groups, for churches in university towns and for those with very few scientists among them.

An official member of the pastoral staff is preferred. In instances where a project plan is particularly compelling, we will also consider individual cases where the theological / pastoral part of the team is represented by a theologically and biblically literate congregation member with a substantial record of lay leadership in the congregation. But please recognise that this is not the preferred approach. To help ensure that programmes can be implemented smoothly, such applications must be accompanied by a letter from the minister of the church expressing enthusiastic support for the plans. In instances where a member of the clergy has scientific training we still request that proposals be submitted by a team of at least two individuals; in this case the second person could either be a scientist in the congregation or a second member of the clergy.

Following the Scientists in Congregations programme in the United States and Canada, the Scottish programme calls for a sustained, creative collaboration between practitioners in the fields of science and pastoral leaders who are already engaged with one another through shared participation in the life of a congregation. The purposes of this effort include the following:

  • To identify existing resources of congregations in Scotland and to stimulate conditions for a sustained, rich, generative engagement between science and faith.

When ministers and other church leaders set out to generate a deeper engagement between science and faith in the lives of their congregations, the impulse is to reach beyond to tap the expertise that resides beyond the life of their congregation. This initiative is intended to focus attention on the potential resources that are intrinsic to the life of congregations—specifically, scientists and science educators who are active participants in the life of the congregation. While not all churches have these science related professionals in their midst, many do. But to our knowledge, there are very few congregations who have recognised and drawn upon the insight they often possess from a lifetime of holding together their love and knowledge of science and of God. Indeed, many of these science professionals themselves may not recognise the wisdom they possess because they are rarely if ever called upon to articulate it. When there is such a science professional, a minister who recognises the importance of the engagement between these two worlds, and a congregation with a readiness to grow their encounter with science and faith, this programme will serve as a powerful catalyst to draw these elements into a creative collaboration that could have a sustained impact in the life of a congregation. This more internally grounded strategy also enhances the likelihood of a cultural shift in a congregation that will be sustained over time in a way that one-off events and conferences, however good the outside speakers, cannot.

  • To provide ministers with the means to call scientists into a sustained collaboration that would enrich a scientist’s engagement with theology and a theologian’s engagement with science, and their shared participation in church life and leadership.

Many ministers are highly motivated to encourage a deeper engagement with science in the life of their congregation but feel unprepared to do so—and lack the time necessary to grow their expertise in this area. Many science-related professionals would welcome the challenge of contributing to a more robust integration of faith and science in their church, but are rarely called upon to do so and, if and when they are, often feel theologically unprepared. This programme provides the means to establish a context where ministers and scientists can enter into a mutually enriching collaboration that would overflow to the benefit of the congregation.

  • To develop a range of locally grown models of how Scottish congregations can draw deeply from the well of their own congregational life to become communities where the life of science and the life of faith are experienced as spiritually enriching and intellectually stimulating, and to find ways of encouraging a multiplying number of other congregations to also implement, and improve on these models.

While it is not uncommon to find among ministers a high level of interest in encouraging engagement between science and faith in the lives of their congregations, it has been difficult to provide them with a range of models of how individual congregations have actually done it and qualitative change they have experienced. For many, it is not even entirely clear what it would mean, or how precisely it would enrich congregational life. The intent of this programme is to develop several models of how this impulse has been translated into a course of action that have measurable and enduring results. The models will be communicated as narratives and will provide concrete resources that can be used in the lives of congregations across a wide spectrum. The intention of this programme is thus twofold:

1. To support up to fifteen congregationally based efforts to develop and test models.

2. To take the most workable and transformative of these efforts as examples that can be taken up by hundreds of other congregations who, with concrete project ideas to hand, do not need project development grants to get started.

  • To mediate into congregational life many of the existing resources, as well as those now under development, that are intended to cultivate a generative encounter between science and faith in the life of congregations.

The field of science and Christianity has developed in extraordinary ways over the past thirty years, generating a rich body of scholarly literature on the relationship between science and theology. These resources will be directly relevant to the congregational initiatives that will be developed in this programme. But surprisingly little work has been done to either popularise these scholarly ideas and findings, or to explore their relevance for personal spiritual development or congregational life. It is anticipated that this programme will, in the course of its implementation, result in a whole new range of resources especially relevant to congregational life.

  • To help overcome the wider social issues which grow out of the troubling ways in which some Christian communities relate to science.

This programme seeks to help churches avoid either unnecessarily watering down their message on the one hand, or unnecessarily dismissing large areas of well-documented science on the other, out of a sense that faith is somehow incompatible with science. Projects supported by this programme have the potential to catalyze a new willingness on the part of Christian communities to engage with the intellectual side of our culture. In time this could help break down the current separation of faith from thought. To put it starkly, we have allowed our institutions to mirror the faith-thought division in modern life – seeing universities as being just for intellectual life, and churches for spiritual life. In time, the projects initiated by this programme could expand our sense of the importance of the church for all aspects of our lives by exploring the relevance of the sciences for the church.

Many possible projects are eligible. We are seeking creative, high-impact means of achieving the goals mentioned above, in ways that meet the criteria of merit described below. The following is simply one set of ideas and is not meant to constrain your creativity. In fact, we welcome your creative alternatives.

All projects will need to provide a way for a science-related professional to be available to assume a level of involvement in the life of a congregation that would otherwise not be possible. For some, this might mean arranging for a course reduction or some alternative plan for release time from his or her institution. The amount of time will vary according to circumstances and the activities envisioned in the proposal. Potential activities include the following:

  • Minister and Scientist chart out a course of mutual exploration of one another’s field of expertise. Others from the congregation may or may not be incorporated into this exploration of theology and science. This should include a plan for impact – for example, the scientist or small group might be involved in advising during sermon preparation.
  • Plan a series of seminars or conferences that will explore themes and topics relative to the interaction of science and faith and their significance for specific church related concerns. These would be congregation-based rather than being primarily for a nearby academic community, but of course they could also be used for outreach to the community.
  • Develop and or teach an adult education course (or series of courses) that could become a part of the congregation’s curriculum and thus be repeated and improved over time.
  • Design a series of worship services that could take place periodically over several months that bring to the foreground the way in which a scientific reading of the world relates to one that is informed by Scripture, the way in which scientific progression can help persons to live out the Christian life, and the way in which the mystery of God and the wonders of science can humbly be embraced together.
  • Develop a library of up-to-date books, articles, audio-visual resources. This could be a library that occupies a space in the church building, or it may be entirely web based. A plan for impact, how it will be used in the near and longer term and the difference it would make for the congregation is, of course, needed.
  • Create a book group that could involve laypersons who want to engage science and faith issues at a higher level. For example, this could take the form of a Bible study that looks at how Scripture can be read in harmony with a scientific vision of the world. It could also involve a study that looks at the historical relationship between science and faith – considering, in particular, some of the unhelpful moves that both scientists and Christian leaders have made to distance their respective vocations from one another. Furthermore, it could also look at how some of the key historical figures in both science and faith have sought to hold the two together. (Any study of the history between faith and science will need to be directly relevant for a contemporary understanding of the relationship between faith and science).
  • Develop materials on the relationship between science and faith that could be incorporated into a confirmation class for youth.

Again, these ideas are intended to spark imagination, not constrain it. We anticipate that the particularities of the individuals and congregations involved will bring forth an interesting and creative array of activities and outcomes we could not possibly envision. What is most important is the potential for wide-ranging impact, and the possibility of the programme’s activities leading to enduring change.

For further inspiration, please see the list of the awarded congregations from the Scientists in Congregations programme in the United States and Canada.

There are numerous topics and themes that this programme could generate. Phrased as questions, here are a few possibilities:

  • What is the right relationship between science and the Christian faith? What does it mean to believe in the triune God in an age of science? What is the difference between scientific and Christian thinking? What are the similarities?
  • Does the Bible say that we have a soul? And what does contemporary neuroscience say about that? What is the relationship between body and soul? How do we understand the work of the Holy Spirit with relation to physical brain function?
  • How do we read Genesis 1 in light of evolutionary science and Big Bang cosmology? Can we subscribe to the theory of evolution through natural selection and the doctrine of God’s creation of the world? Can this exploration enrich our understanding of any Biblical texts or Christian doctrines that have otherwise seemed more difficult to fathom?
  • Scripture describes the human as being a slave to sin. What does science tell us about the limits of human beings to live lives of obedience to God, to live as disciples of Christ? How might scientific insight into the human’s “natural” state of existence stress the human being’s need for God’s grace?
  • How critical is an appreciation for the virgin birth in the engagement between faith and science? What are the implications for science of the incarnation, of God becoming human?
  • Can a scientist believe in the resurrection? What does it mean for a scientist to embrace the fact that Jesus rose from the dead?
  • What does it mean for a scientist take Jesus’ miracles seriously? Should a scientist believe that God is still miraculously involved in the world today?  How important is this for the Christian faith?
  • How can the biblical accounts of the end of the world be taken seriously alongside alternative scientific cosmologies? Do the insights of science have anything to say about life after death, about the physical resurrection of the dead?
  • What resources are available from psychology and the human sciences to help Christians think about discipleship? How might recent work on self-control or the growing movement of positive psychology engage in a constructive conversation with the church’s concern to encourage obedience and service amongst the faithful?
  • How might recent scientific research on human uniqueness (how we are both similar and unique from animals) engage with the theological questions of what it means for a person to be created in the image of God
  • A number of areas of research suggest that there are health benefits for church members and persons who are able to be grateful, generous and forgiving? How might these observations affirm a Christian understanding of what it means to be human?

Questions that focus primarily on ethics, including medical ethics and environmental stewardship, as well as approaches that are primarily historical (without clear relevance for the current situation) or which deny large areas of well-documented science or diminish theology are not eligible.

It is important to note that this programme is interested in a rich, productive and forward-looking engagement between science and theology.

Approaches that deny large areas of well-documented science do not fit this criterion, nor would, of course, approaches that deny the importance of faith and theology.

In addition projects concerned primarily with ethics will not fit because, important though they are, and while ethical discussions sometimes touch on or even use science, they are not themselves either science or theology.

The following are the primary criteria of merit by which the judges will assess each proposal:

  • Congregational Ownership 

The proposal needs to demonstrate a resonance with the interests and capacities of the congregation to take on this kind of an effort. Is the congregation fully supportive of the commitment of time and energy the minister will need to make if the project is to succeed?

  • Intellectual quality

It is not assumed that the key personnel in the proposal already possess a high level of knowledge of the faith and science dialogue. The proposal, however, will need to demonstrate a commitment to intellectual quality: at least some knowledge of key themes and topics along with an awareness of the leading figures in science and faith. Conversely, avoidance of flakiness or perspectives that fail to give due regard either to pertinent and widely accepted science on the one hand or solid theology on the other.

  • Key Personnel

Are the key people involved in the project, namely the pastoral leader and the science educator, uniquely invested in the project? Is there promise of meaningful, sustained, and productive collaboration between them? While a range of other individuals will be critical to the project’s success, the proposal will need to demonstrate the potential for a creative, collaborative, and productive partnership between the key personnel.

  • Clarity about the “target market” and its needs

It is assumed that the target audience of this proposal will be an actual congregation or some important part of it (young adults, or Christian education, or small groups). It will be important to describe the congregation in view, and how the proposed project will fit the make up and character of the congregation. As important as the project’s fit with the minister and scientist is, it is of equal importance that the proposal demonstrates the fit between the project as a whole and the particularities of the congregation. Reviewers will give serious attention to the project’s strategy in the sense of whether the actual plan represents a viable means of achieving high impact with the group it is meant to reach.

  • Likelihood of continuing beyond the life of the grant itself

Can the activities outlined in the proposal become self-sustaining, if not during the course of the grant itself, at least without an enduring dependency on grant funds? While it may not be practical or necessary for the actual project activities to continue, it is important (as elaborated in the next bullet point) that there be a great potential for some real and concrete enduring change in how the congregation engages science and intellectual life broadly.

  • Promise of producing a genuine and lasting benefit

Will this project make a genuine difference for those who participate or is it more likely to be an interesting experience that however intellectually solid and professionally carried out, too easily gets lost in our busy world? More broadly, does the strategy consider impact on church life in your town, region or denomination generally and not just on the individual congregation in view?

  • Creative and effective evaluation plan

Is there an evaluation plan that promises to get at the heart of project’s effectiveness without being administratively burdensome? This need not be elaborate, but it does call for being sufficiently concrete and specific about what will be accomplished so as to make evaluation possible. What will success look like and how will you know if you have accomplished your goals?

  • Contribution to a widespread and diverse network of churches in Scotland

While the selection process will be based primarily on the strength of the proposal, it will also take into consideration the potential for an awarded project to contribute to the wider network that the main project seeks to develop across Scotland. In light of this latter criterion, congregations will be selected with a view to cover a wide urban/suburban/rural and geographical spread. This means, for example, that the programme will be very interested in ideas that will potentially be of value for large or small congregations, rural or urban groups, for churches in university towns and for those with very few scientists among them. That is, the programme will be interested in how the projects of particular congregations will be of benefit not just to that particular congregation but also to other unfunded congregations. Again, however, the programme’s concern for spread will be tied to the strength and potential of the proposals.

Acceptable use of grant funds can include the following:

  • Stipends, course releases, and other modes of compensation for science-related professional, as well as for special resource persons who may be brought in for consultation or to deliver a presentation.
  • Website development and maintenance expenses.
  • Costs for continuing education events for key personnel.
  • A range of direct costs for the project itself, which will vary considerably from project to project. However, the John Templeton Foundation does not support costs for building, renovation, endowment or tuition and fees toward achieving an academic degree.
  • Indirect costs for the host institution in recognition of expenses incurred which are not easily quantifiable for the direct cost budget (eg. photocopying materials for programme participants).

If your project-related support needs are not listed here, please contact Andrew Torrance for advice – sicscotland@st-andrews.ac.uk.

The application process is straightforward and all the details of the grant can be found in the Request for Proposals document. Below are a few key things to remember:

  • Proposal application deadline for the Scientists in Congregations, Scotland initiative is 5PM on April 18, 2014.

  • Completed proposals must be received via an email attachment, in either PDF or Word format, by 5 PM on April 18, 2014. Also, a signed hard copy must be received via post by 5 PM on the same day.

  • Attached proposals should be emailed to sicscotland@st-andrews.ac.uk, and hard copies should be posted to: 

Scientists in Congregations, Scotland
St Mary’s College
The School of Divinity
University of St Andrews
South Street
St Andrews
Fife, KY16 9JU
Scotland, United Kingdom
  • Awards will be announced by May 23, 2014.
  • No late submissions will be accepted. Also, no revisions or supplementary information will be accepted after the submission of the full proposal. The programme leaders may, however, request additional information.