What Faith Has to Offer Science

In my class, we end the semester by reflecting together on what we have learned and what we hope to carry forward. As part of this reflection, one of my students wrote:

Being humble has elevated my learning experience because now I get the chance to hear other people’s thoughts and ideas, as well as how they have come to their conclusions.

Humility may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of science, but it comes up frequently when I teach biochemistry. I think that humility, along with other practices like hospitality and gratitude, should be front and center in classrooms. These practices have immense value for helping students engage well in conversations and learn with each other. Discussing these practices also creates opportunities to help students think about how they want to approach future work in areas like the sciences. But in order for students to authentically engage, it is important to convince them that these practices matter for their learning.

Today, collaboration is an important part of scientific work, with people who have diverse ideas and experiences from various disciplines working together to solve complex scientific problems. While scientific teams have significant opportunities to address important problems in our society, they also face a myriad of challenges. Doing science in an interdisciplinary setting requires a distinct set of skills. As teachers, we should be thinking about how we prepare our students to work together to solve problems. 

At this moment in science, when people are interested in understanding how to work together well in teams, we have an exciting and unique opportunity at Christian schools to be an important part of this conversation. In David Smith’s article, we explore the importance of building communities in our classrooms and the impact they have on learning, regardless of discipline. As Amy Wilstermann discusses in her article, Christians—who have been living and working together in community for a long time—have developed and use a variety of practices to foster thriving community. A thriving community, characterized by safety, trust, productivity, and member well-being, can help teams tackle problems together.

A practice like humility fosters a thriving community and mitigates the challenges that can come with working together. Telling an accurate story about how scientists solve problems and how Christian practices can contribute creates new space for students to think about the intersections of faith and science. In this framework, faith adds value to the practice of science in rich and important ways. Students can develop a vision of how they can carry their whole selves forward in the field of science. Consider the following reflection on humility from another student:

The reading about humility resonated with me because I’ve been thinking about how God does not call us to be perfect—in fact, he knows that is impossible for us. I think this perspective is really important to have, because the realization of our imperfection creates room for his grace. I love how this concept of humility can relate both to complex problems in a biological context, and to our Christian faith.

So how do we get students ready for this work? We shape our conversations and learning experiences to bring community and learning together, front and center. We need a thriving community in our classroom, and for that we need to teach students how to build and participate in a thriving community. In my own article, we explore various Christian practices and the ways they can shape our learning processes and spaces. 

When we are discussing a practice like humility, students often wonder what place they will have when they leave their Christian environment and move out into the working world. We explore ideas like how a genuinely humble person is more confident than a proud person because the confidence of someone with humility is rooted in what is real and what they know to be true about themselves and others. When we engage these Christian practices with students, we are helping them see how the practices they choose and the habits they develop contribute to forming their character. In Julie Yonker’s article, there is a practical example of how this is done in a classroom. Faith Stults’s article describes a curriculum project created by BioLogos that has been used in many Christian schools to help teachers incorporate Christian practices in the science classroom.

What excites me most about this project is that students see their faith as a resource that can help them be successful in a scientific field. The practices create space to talk about vocation with students both as what they would like to do and how they can live into being the person God has called them to be in the work that they do.

Rachael Baker is a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Calvin University. Her scientific research in the highly interdisciplinary rare disease field led her to focus on how to prepare students to be effective collaborators and team members in the classroom and in their future careers.