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Evolution, science and religion: Some thoughts for Lent

To leave the students with questions about evolution and about how science and religion mix.

by The Revd John Challis

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)

Aims

To leave the students with questions about evolution and about how science and religion mix.

Preparation and materials

  • Download ‘Fragile’ by Sting (for the concluding song).
  • Some meditative music (for the ‘Time for reflection’).
  • Make a paper plane in the shape of a cylinder, as follows:

    Fold a 1-inch strip along the long edge of a sheet of paper. Continue to fold over this 1-inch strip until about half of the paper is contained within the 1-inch fold.

    Bring the two short edges of the paper together to form a cylinder (you may use a large tin of soup here, if you like). One edge of the paper should overlap the other by about 2 inches.

    Tape the cylinder together with a strip of clear tape on the inside and outside of the cylinder.

    Grip the cylinder with the thick rim facing away from you and throw the cylinder like a football to make it fly.
  • Have a piece of A4 paper that you will later fold as below:
    Folding the paper

Assembly

  1. Theologians and scientists often try to prove or disprove the existence of God. Today I have this bishop’s mitre (hat) (hold up the pre-made cylindrical paper plane, which also looks like a bishop’s mitre) to represent the Church, and a piece of A4 paper to represent science.

    Science and religion often seem opposed to each other.
  2. Recently I heard of a scientist who asked why animals have not evolved to protect themselves from human beings.

    We all think that evolution explains how life on earth has developed from the first organisms to human beings. But why have animals seemingly not evolved ways of defending themselves against human beings?

    Take the humble fish, the cod. (As you talk, take your A4 piece of paper and fold it as above.) Humanity has managed to eradicate many animals of this world, from the dodo to the North African bison and seems to be about to eradicate the cod. Animals have great ways of defending themselves from each other, and these ways sometimes work against us. But while we seem to be able to overcome the defences put up by animals, they simply have no defence against us.

    The cod eats its prey and we eat the cod but, and here’s the really interesting part, as cod numbers go down, the food that the cod eats no longer has a predator and so it can eat more and more of its favourite food, the sea snail. In the last hundred years the sea snail has evolved in areas where there are no or very few cod and protects itself with a much thicker shell. However, in places where there are lots of cod it hasn’t needed to develop this protection.

    So animals evolve, and quickly, and yet they don’t evolve against us. I am not going to offer you a reason: it is something worth thinking about.
  3. Now take this bishop’s mitre. When I was your age I spent weeks trying to perfect the ideal paper aeroplane. Today scientists have developed the ideal paper aeroplane – and it can fly and fly. (Let it fly over the heads of the students.) 

    The bishop’s mitre, which I said represented the Church, is also a paper plane.

    I’ve folded my piece of paper, which I said represented science. But all I’ve managed is this. It’s rubbish. I’ll rip it up. (Tear it down the centre.)
  4. As I ponder upon evolution and science, I also ponder on religion. For what is seemingly rubbish and unable to achieve anything is often of the greatest importance. It’s just that we don’t think that is possible.

    When I was young it was a firmly held belief that you cannot fold a piece of paper in half more than seven times. This myth has been debunked in America.

    Could we fold paper in half more than seven times?

    Could a tube fly?

    Why don’t animals evolve against us?

    (Unfold the torn paper. What is left in your hand should be an A4 paper cross.) What if the Bible were right after all?

    Could science and religion be mixed up together?

Time for reflection

Play some music and let the students ponder quietly for a moment.

Music

‘Fragile’ by Sting (widely available to download)

Publication date: February 2013   (Vol.15 No.2)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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