INTRO BY CHRIS: Today I’m pleased to share Faith’s story. When she was young, she received mixed signals from her faith community when it came to science, but its study has become for her a place of spiritual reassurance and strength.
My experience with science and faith has had no great moment of crisis. I never had a pastor tell me that anyone who accepted evolution would be rejected from the pearly gates. And I never sat in my college dorm room feeling as if I had to choose between my faith and my love for science. My process has been much more gradual and simmering. But that does not mean it has been without challenge, confusion, or discomfort. We often hear dramatic stories of personal crisis, but there are many of us who are processing these questions in quieter but no less meaningful ways.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about science and faith as a student, as a teacher, and as a member of the Christian community, it is that we should have no fear in studying God’s creation.
However, growing up in a Christian home and attending Christian schools and an evangelical church, the pervading sense I got from the Christian community regarding science was just that: fear. It was never explicitly stated, but there was a palpable wariness, defensiveness, and stubborn confidence in regard to science.
I was never taught exactly what evolution or the Big Bang entailed. But I was taught how to debate an “evolutionist,” and I did learn to retort proponents of the Big Bang with sayings like, “God said ‘Let there be light’ and BANG there was light!”. Got-ya questions and pithy comebacks were prioritized over deep understanding or critical thinking. Although less explicitly denounced than sex, drugs, or alcohol, science was deemed part of the “secular world” that I was warned to avoid and defend myself against for fear of it undermining my faith.
I have always been drawn to science. In fifth grade, I proudly proclaimed that my dream job was to be an astronomical engineer—whatever that was—and by the time I was a sophomore in high school, I had saved up enough money to buy my own telescope. I was not only fascinated by science, but I met God in science. In times of sadness and uncertainty as a child, seeing a shooting star assured me that God was present with me and powerful. When I got older, I learned that the light I saw was actually a fleck of dust emitting thermal radiation caused by friction in the atmosphere, but this didn’t change the sense of peace the sight inspired.
And yet, I was confused by the mixed signals my church and Christian school were sending me. I was encouraged to study God’s creation and told that science was an important part of my education, but in the same breath I was also warned of how science and scientists might attack my faith. I lost count of how many cautionary tales I heard of good Christian kids going to college, studying science, and consequently losing their faith.
Through high school, I was curious about how to make sense of this combination of support and fear for science. I had questions, and I wanted to get to the bottom of them. But the tenor of the discourse on the subject could be so vicious and territorial that I felt there was no safe space for me to voice my questions. So instead, I kept them to myself, unresolved.
As college approached and I considered where I wanted to spend the next four years, I realized that I had lived the entirety of my life surrounded by people who generally thought all the same things, viewed the world in all the same ways, and came to all the same conclusions. I valued my upbringing, but I wanted to challenge myself to engage with other ways of thinking.
So I left my evangelical bubble and headed to a tiny, secular liberal arts college to study the two things I loved—Astronomy and Religion. I knew that both would likely be challenging to my faith, but I had a hunch that a little challenge was probably a good thing. If God is real, I thought, and if he is indeed the all-powerful, loving creator and redeemer of life that I’ve been taught that he is, then I have nothing to fear in learning about other perspectives. And if he’s not who I believe him to be, then I’d prefer to figure that out sooner rather than later.
My faith was indeed challenged in my studies. My religion classes prompted real questions about the nature of God and how he works in the world to which my Sunday school answers were woefully insufficient. My science classes revealed an ordered, stunningly beautiful, and convincingly old universe that inconveniently diverged from the views of my pastors and teachers growing up. And the circumstances of life challenged my confidence in God’s goodness and faithfulness. I encountered serious, terrifying doubts and spiritual turmoil during those years.
But contrary to the expectations and assumptions of my community at home, science was not the source of the waves that battered my faith but the anchor that steadied it. When God seemed distant, when my own brokenness was too much to carry, when prayer felt like yelling into an empty cave, I would stand in the science building hallway in front of a massive poster of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field showing thousands of galaxies and think, “All this was created by the God that not only created me, but who knows me and loves me.” I found that the study of creation drew me closer to God and to a deeper understanding of his love for me.
Eventually, graduation approached and brought with it the inevitable angst of determining what I would do with my life. The future was a blur, but after my experience in college, I knew that whatever it held I wanted it to fall in the intersection of science, education, and faith. Since then, I have had the privilege of working with scientists, curriculum developers, pastors and their congregations, teachers, and now with high school students to create safe spaces where faith and science can intermingle. There may not be a well-defined career path before me, but every step I have taken has further convinced me of the value and joy of this work.
I have learned ever so gradually that while science does raise difficult questions for Christians to grapple with, these questions are never too big for God. Science can deepen our understanding of God and draw us together as a people seeking to know him more. My hope for the church is that we can approach the study of God’s creation without fear and with confidence that the God revealed in Scripture is the same God revealed in creation. My hope for my students is that they do not feel they have to choose between believing in God and studying his creation. And my hope for you, whatever your views or expertise, is that you come to the table and join the discussion as we seek to know and serve God more fully through science together.