COVINGTON, La. — What do high school teachers do for summer vacation? At least 32 of them just spent a week in Covington pondering the relationship between theology and science.
The teachers – 16 science teachers and 16 theology teachers from across the country – gathered at St. Joseph Abbey and Seminary College for the Steno Learning Program's third annual institute, held June 16-22.
For more information on Steno and the relationship between faith, science and reason, visit Baglow's website: pelicanconnection.net.
The institute's goal is to educate teachers about the relationship between faith and science in the Catholic tradition, empowering them to share this knowledge with their students.
"We have set the standard high and exceeded that," said Chris Baglow, professor of dogmatic theology at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans and the director of the Steno program.
Steno is named after saint and scientist Nicholas Steno (1638-86) and is sponsored by the Pope Benedict XVI Institute for Faith, Ethics and Science of McGill-Toolen Catholic High School in Mobile, Ala., where Baglow also teaches.
The program is funded by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation, said Baglow, author of "Faith, Science and Reason: Theology on the Cutting Edge."
Steno came about when Baglow was using his textbook to teach high school students at McGill-Toolen. He said he realized that teachers did not have a background in the relationship between faith and science in the Catholic tradition, and so he did a seminar at the school in 2011 in the science and theology departments. That evolved into the grant that has made the Steno program possible.
Baglow said the idea of dialogue is pre-eminent in the program, helping both sides understand each other. "The Catholic relationship (between faith and science) provides a beautiful dialogue between the explanation of the natural world and what God has revealed to us in Christ," he told the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
Baglow added that teachers apply for the program and are given a list of readings to do before arriving for the week of instruction and discussion. The reading list is full of writings from the likes of Blessed John Paul II, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas and contemporary authors of both science and theology.
"We want to open their eyes and build a culture of relationship," Baglow said.
In addition to dialogue and building relationships, the weeklong program includes instruction on implementing the program when the teachers return to their schools.
Each school sends one theology teacher and one science teacher, Baglow said. From the teachers' perspectives, the program is a blessing.
David Maciborski of Immaculate Heart High School in Tucson, Ariz., said the week was more profound than he imagined.
"I learned a lot about working with these great minds," he said. "It's great to see different perspectives, to see how the two (faith and science) are not in a war; they work together."
"They fulfill each other," added Judy Carney, a theology teacher at Bishop Thomas K. Gorman Regional Catholic High in Tyler, Texas. "We are learning to understand some of the scientific language. It helps me to understand who God is and what my relationship with God is."
Most importantly, she said, the teachers are learning how to share this new knowledge with their students.
"This has broadened my vision," Carney said. "I won't go home with the same vision I came here with."
Mary Tong, a science teacher at St. Augustine Academy in Southern California, said her school is already working to deepen the relationship between faith and science – "we are fully convinced of the parallels" – but the Steno program has helped to reinforce that philosophy.
"I am learning new methods of expression," she said. "Faith and science are not contradictory. … It's all the same faith. It's all truth, and truth cannot be in conflict."
Maciborski pointed out that the Steno group discussed the two extremes – scientific materialism, which holds that there is nothing beyond the material world; and fundamentalism, which dismisses the role of science in faith.
"But faith is reasonable, and science is reasonable," Tong said, "just in different ways."
"I teach science," she said. "But that doesn't mean my desire doesn't extend beyond that. … We learn to understand God through understanding the world. God uses all of it to bring us to him. He is over all, and greater than all."
Baker writes for the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.