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Millennials bring fresh views to religion-science debate

Greg Cootsona talks at Upper House (Photo by Phil Haslanger)

When Greg Cootsona was a student at the University of California-Berkeley, he made an unusual migration. He had grown up in a secular household and was now a student at a very secular university. Yet it was there he became a Christian.

His friends would ask him, “How can you believe in God in the light of science?”

That question has helped define his career as a pastor, author, blogger, speaker and college lecturer, now at Chico State University in California. He leads a program called that engages 31 Christian ministries across the nation in exploring issues of science and faith with 18 to 30 year olds – emerging adults, he calls them.

What he has learned from those emerging adults suggests there are some new frontiers in this old debate and that formed the basis of his talk at Upper House just off the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus on Thursday evening.

People in that age range – think of them as millennials, if you will – increasingly put together the elements of their spirituality through conversations with friends and often take elements from several aspects of the Christian tradition as well as other faith traditions to assemble what he called a “spiritual bricolage.” (Bricolage is a literary and artistic term for the creation of a work from a diverse range of things that happen to be available.)

In that context, there is less interest about the classic debates between religion and science over things like Creation versus the Big Bang or evolution. And there is also less reliance on either religious institutions or the classroom for insights into the distinctions between faith and science. Google provides the resources for that for many students, Cootsona observed.

“Undergrads hear about the conflict between religion and science,” he said, citing some survey data, “but they want independence or collaboration between religion and science.” They are less interested in the old fights.

What they are interested in, according to Cootsona, are things like the tech issues – very concrete things. They are things like sexuality, where emerging adults think that churches not acknowledging the science around LGBT+ issues are not just uninformed, but immoral for ignoring the science. Or things like climate change, where young people accept the scientific consensus about it reality and humanity’s role in accelerating it and look to faith traditions for ways to address it.

Cootsona is exploring all this in more depth in his forthcoming book Mere Science and Christian Faith: Bridging the Divide with Emerging Adults, that will be published by InterVarsity Press in March 2018.

And the issue will be explored further in Madison on Oct. 10 at a program called “Is There Truth Beyond Science” that will bring together a Christian mathematician from Oxford University and an atheist philosopher from UW-Madison for the discussion.