Elaine Howard Ecklund envisioned a conference as a way to bridge the gap between religion and science, two groups she said are typically not viewed as sharing the same values.
Then, COVID-19 happened, forcing her to move the event online and away from Rice University, where she is director of the Religion and Public Life Program.
The one-day conference’s schedule will include addresses by Cornell University biologist Praveen Sethupatha and Mark Labberton, president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. Local church leaders will also discuss issues such as race, social justice, human origins and human uniqueness.
To a certain extent, the move to an online platform been a blessing, she said. Hundreds of people have already registered online for the free June 5 event titled “How Science Can Strengthen the Faith of Your Church.”
That includes those from as far away as Kenya and India who, before COVID-19, would not have been able to attend.
And the timing could not have been more fitting, coming as churches mull whether to reopen their congregations. Those debates continue to play out across the country and, in Harris County, legal battles between officials and local church leaders.
For more information, go to https://events.rice.edu/ and click on June 5. The “How Science Can Strengthen the Faith of Your Church” conference takes place from 9:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. The event is free, but registration is required.
Some congregations, including many Catholic parishes in the area, have opted to resume dialed-back services. Health experts have been lukewarm on the in-person services idea, saying it could worsen the spread of the highly-contagious virus. And on Tuesday, a group of local faith leaders again urged houses of worship to remain closed.
Those involved in the message said it was in part a response to President Donald Trump’s declaration that churches, synagogues and mosques are “essential.”
Ecklund said the issue has too often been framed only as a constitutional, rather than a public health issue.
That, too, will be discussed at the conference.
“Everything related to science and faith now needs to be understand in the context of COVID-19,” she said.
In recent years, she said, there’s been a tendency to view science and religion as incompatible, and to think of the “religious scientist” as an “oxymoron.”
“That kind of thinking is, I would say, mildly annoying at best in non-pandemic times,” she said. “But it can even be deadly in pandemic times.”
Rather, she said, both groups need to better foster relationships so that they can work together to address the many issues on which they agree.