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“Yeah now that I’ve thought about it I’ll probably think about it more”


Fraser, S, 'Yeah now that I've thought about it I'll probably think about it more', Science and Religion in Education Conference 2016 - Abstracts, 28 October 2016, Oxford, UK, pp. 1. (2016) [Conference Extract]

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Research conducted collaboratively by researchers from the University of Reading, UK and the University of Tasmania, Australia in the Being Human project (Being Human: Discovering and Advancing School Students’ Perceptions of the Relationships between Science and Religion) has revealed ways in which primary (year 6) and secondary (years 10 and 11) school students perceive science and religion. To find out how children think about science and religion, the project has carried out surveys and interviews with over 500 primary school aged children in England and Australia. The perspectives of Australian students from year 6, gained through 20 initial interviews and supported by 64 surveys, will be the focus of this short paper, with data being presented in relation to three emerging themes.

Unlike in the UK, religious education is not part of the ordinary secular curriculum in Australian state and non-denominational private schools. Rather, it is regulated (no more than 30 minutes a week) and provided by school chaplains or their equivalent. In these schools, parents must give permission for their child to take part in religious education and expect other activities to be provided for their child if they do not want them participating (e.g. values/ethics classes). Hence opportunities for students to participate in discussions about religion vary between schools and states throughout Australia. For many students, the research reported upon here provided them with the first opportunity to consider their ideas about science and religion together. Three key themes emerged from these data.

1. Science is proof and religion is belief

Students believe that science is dynamic, and all about facts that help us live in and impact upon the world, while religion is something you just believe in. Science proves things, and it will continue to prove more and more things as we keep asking questions and technologies develop. The importance of proof, and supposedly evidence in science, is well understood but children struggle with their being any proof supporting religious ideas. Some recognise artefacts such as the Bible as being a sort of evidence, although admit that it could also have just been made up stories. These perceived differences are often given as reasons to reject one or other account, or to admit that they just don’t know yet.

2. Compartmentalisation of science and religion

The majority of children recognise science and religion as being different, although they talk about these differences solely in terms of the explanations they provide rather than the questions they ask or purposes they serve. Children perceive the people they know to be committed either to science or to religion and categorise them as being sciencey or religious, depending upon their job or how they behave (e.g. in Chapel). Children would talk to sciencey people about science but not religion and vice versa, and this rigidity extends into the classroom. One child recognised a dichotomy between the ideas portrayed in science/scientists and religion/religious people, and felt that he needed someone in the middle between science (e.g. science teacher) and religion (e.g. Chaplain) to help him come to understand the truth.

3. Ideas emerging not previously considered together

During the interviews, a number of children contradict themselves as they respond to the different questions, indicating how emergent their ideas are about science and religion. The children indicate that they rarely think of science and religion together, but recognise it as an interesting thing to do and welcome the opportunity to do so. One child mentioned that it is when he struggles with concepts/ideas that are hard to imagine or explain, for example the Big Bang, that he might think of science and religion together. A large proportion display a thirst to ‘find out’ about things they don’t know and how science and religion ‘fit together’.

These initial data suggest that there is value in providing opportunities for children to articulate their ideas about science and religion (beliefs and/or world views) both separately and together. They also highlight the challenges this presents for both religious and science education in Australian state and non-denominational private schools.

Item Details

Item Type:Conference Extract
Keywords:nature of science, proof, belief,
Research Division:Education
Research Group:Curriculum and pedagogy
Research Field:Science, technology and engineering curriculum and pedagogy
Objective Division:Education and Training
Objective Group:Teaching and curriculum
Objective Field:Assessment, development and evaluation of curriculum
UTAS Author:Fraser, S (Professor Sharon Fraser)
ID Code:113644
Year Published:2016
Deposited By:Education
Deposited On:2017-01-11
Last Modified:2017-01-16

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