• Faithful science: Teaching intelligent design to Evangelical students

      Fulford, Ben; McKitterick, Alistair J. (University of Chester, 2021-01-03)
      This research project addressed the question ‘to what extent, if at all, does teaching intelligent design to evangelical students contribute to their confidence and ability to share their faith?’ The context of the professional doctorate is my role as an evangelical theology lecturer at Moorlands College. The problem that motivated the research was feedback from students relating their Christian faith to questions and objections presented to them in their ministry context about science generally and Darwinism in particular. I locate the intelligent design argument within the broader debate over the relationship between science and religion. Intelligent design is an expression of concordism, the most integrative of Tenneson et al’s paradigms (conflict, compartmentalism, complementarianism, and concordism). The approach adopted for this professional doctorate was Norton’s pedagogical action research and Osmer’s model of practical theology. During the first cycle of action research, I piloted the Discovering Intelligent Design course covering a range of scientific topics supporting the design argument for full-time students on campus. The second action research cycle involved teaching the course again as a more formal Saturday School event for part-time evangelical students off campus. Eight participants took part in semi-structured interviews, and a further seven formed a focus group. I undertook thematic analysis of the interview transcripts and triangulated the results with the focus group transcript. The narrative analysis of participant responses described the pressure felt from the hegemony of a materialist worldview that presented Darwinism as ‘fact’, especially within a school environment. Participants felt the DID course enabled them to challenge the dominance of that worldview with scientific evidence supporting a theistic worldview. They believed there was a need to think about the relationship between science and faith within the church to equip young people to retain their Christian faith. I initiated a cycle of Osmer’s model of practical theology to reflect christologically on the thematic analysis and generate theologically-laden praxis. These themes were critically correlated within Osmer’s sagely wisdom phase to understand more deeply what was going on. Critical insights were gained through transdisciplinary reflection including discourse analysis, sociology and philosophy of scientific worldviews, critical consciousness and political hegemony, forces of marginalization, and anti-teleological child-psychology. The democratic, liberative nature of teaching intelligent design was framed as ‘common science’. An important theological disclosure was identified in Osmer’s prophetic discernment phase: teaching intelligent design was discerned as teaching a contemporary parable and an extension of Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God. Like the parable of the sower, intelligent design provokes different reactions; it empowers the marginalized and challenges institutional power that denies God’s presence and power. The revised praxis of Osmer’s servant leadership phase included locating teaching intelligent design within a broader biblical ministry, identifying the conflict between materialistic and theistic worldviews rather than between science and faith, communicating this transformed perspective at conferences to encourage churches to engage more with science, and developing intelligent design as part of an apologetics module. Support was offered for the CoRE policy to restructure RE classes as ‘Religion and Worldviews’, and a development of the DID course to teach others to lead it was proposed as an expression of proclaiming the kingdom of God and sowing seed on good soil.