Ciara: Can you tell us a little bit about your journey into science? How did you get interested in astronomy?
Faith: As a kid I found the natural world fascinating. I would play with snails in the yard and try to light leaves on fire with a magnifying glass. I remember learning that some lizards can regrow their tails if they get pulled off, and I thought that earthworms would work the same way… I’m sorry to say they do not. This put an abrupt halt to my budding biology career, but marked the beginning of my journey into astronomy. The night sky first caught my attention in elementary school when my granddad showed me the Moon and Jupiter through his telescope. I was hooked. When I was 16 I saved up enough money to buy my first telescope, and by the end of high school I knew I wanted to study astronomy in college.
The God who created each of those distant, massive galaxies also created me. And he knows me and loves me.
Ciara: In college you double majored in astronomy and religion. Did you ever experience conflict between these two different paths of study? How did you find peace?
Faith: Growing up, my Christian schools taught a Young Earth Creationist (YEC) perspective. It always seemed odd to me that as Christians we were encouraged to study God’s creation through science, but that there were a handful of topics (evolution, the Big Bang, etc) where science was suddenly deemed unreliable and dangerous for Christians. I remember walking past my biology class in high school one day and wondering, “Why couldn’t evolution just be the way that God chose to create?” But since none of the teachers ever offered that as an option, I assumed there was some good reason that it wasn’t possible.
I arrived at college knowing that I wanted to study either astronomy or religion. Ultimately, I couldn’t decide and wound up studying both! Despite being taught from a YEC perspective, I never experienced a deep conflict between science and faith. I believed that God created the universe, I found science to be fascinating and compelling, and I functioned on the assumption that somehow those two truths could work together even if I didn’t know exactly how. My experience with YEC growing up left a bitter taste in my mouth, so I largely avoided questions about the relationship between science and faith in college and kept the two disciplines fairly compartmentalized.
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If anything, studying religion at a secular college presented a greater challenge to my faith than studying astronomy did. My religion courses challenged me to consider how other religions answered many of the same big questions as Christianity and to come to terms with the ways that the Church has not always lived up to its high calling. But when my religion courses left me grappling with hard questions about God and faith, I would walk to the Astronomy department, where they had a large poster of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field hanging on the wall. I would stare at that image showing tens of thousands of galaxies collected in the tiniest patch of the night sky and think, “The God who created each of those distant, massive galaxies also created me. And he knows me and loves me.” And that would help keep me rooted in my faith.
…I never experienced a deep conflict between science and faith. I believed that God created the universe, I found science to be fascinating and compelling, and I functioned on the assumption that somehow those two truths could work together even if I didn’t know exactly how.
Ciara: Can you share a little about your Christian testimony?
Faith: I grew up in a great Christian home near San Jose, CA and attended evangelical non-denominational churches and Christian schools throughout my childhood. Like many Christian kids, faith was a very natural part of my life (I mean, it is my name after all!). As I got older, various experiences forced me to scrutinize what I truly believed. In particular, a major knee injury my senior year of high school abruptly ended my hopes of playing collegiate soccer and forced me to take a hard look at whether I truly rooted my identity in Jesus as I claimed or in my own accomplishments.
By the end of college, I found myself in a season of what I would now call deconstruction. The Sunday school answers that had served me so well as a child were no longer adequate to answer the questions that life raised. I never lost my faith or my belief in God, but I felt spiritually untethered. Reading NT Wright’s Surprised by Hope provided the much needed foundation and framework around which to reconstruct my faith. Wright affirmed the inherent disconnect I had always felt between the way that Jesus lived his life healing people’s bodies, lives and communities and the evangelical emphasis on escaping this broken world for a disembodied heavenly paradise. Instead, Wright laid out a compelling vision for what the Christian hope in Jesus truly is and how we are called to live in response to it:
“The whole point of what Jesus was up to was that he was doing, close up, in the present, what he was promising long-term, in the future. And what he was promising for the future, and doing in that present, was not saving souls for a disembodied eternity but rescuing people from the corruption and decay of the way the world presently is so they could enjoy, already in the present, that renewal of creation which is God’s ultimate purpose—and so they could thus become colleagues and partners in that larger work.” (Surprised by Hope, p. 192)
It felt like something clicked for me, bringing the disparate pieces of my faith back together in a new, more complete way. Ever since then, I have been working to find ways that my fascination with the universe and my love of teaching can contribute in some small way to the building of God’s kingdom.
Ciara: Between college and graduate school, you were part of the DoSER program at the AAAS where you served as Project coordinator. What type of work did you do while you were there?
Faith: Well, like many millennials, my first job out of college was based as much on my innate knowledge of social media as on my academic preparation! I joined DoSER to develop a social media presence for the program and to redesign their website. Later on, I got more involved in organizing DoSER events and collaborating with other science and faith organizations, which is how I heard about BioLogos in the first place. My favorite DoSER event, which I got to design and organize, was called “Losing the Night Sky.” We screened a film—“The City Dark”—about the ways artificial light has created vast amounts of light pollution and reduced our ability to see the night sky. After the film, we brought together an astronomer, a National Parks Service Ranger, a sleep scientist and a professor of religion to discuss the ways the loss of the night sky has fundamentally altered our society and even our bodies. It was a great event and opened my eyes to just how vast the field of science and faith really is—it’s more than just a conversation about origins!
Ciara: You have an MS in Science Education and an MS in Astronomy. What were your Masters theses on?
Faith: Both of my Master’s degrees are a little unusual. Even though I knew I wanted to teach in the classroom, I was also intrigued by the idea of doing education research, which most teacher training programs don’t include. So I found a program that allowed me the flexibility to do some original research while also taking traditional pre-service teacher training courses.
For my research, I interviewed four science teachers at a local Christian high school and tried to understand, first, how each of them understood the relationship between science and faith and, second, how that understanding influenced what and how they taught their students. Or, in fancy academic language, how their epistemologies of science and of theology informed their pedagogy. It was fascinating to see what a wide range of views on science and faith can be found even within just four teachers at the same school. And it will come as no surprise to hear that what a teacher personally believes has a big impact on what and how they teach their students.
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As for my Masters in Astronomy, I didn’t do a formal thesis, but like a true liberal arts student, my favorite project during the program was a paper I wrote on the ways that the religious and philosophical beliefs of Albert Einstein, Georges Lemaître and Fred Hoyle influenced the early years of cosmology. Einstein, for example, was so deeply committed to an eternal and immutable God (though not the traditional Judeo-Christian God) and universe that when his theory of General Relativity implied that the universe was dynamic and may have had a beginning, he chose to arbitrarily add an extra term to his equations to make them align with his philosophical views. Georges Lemaître was the Catholic priest who first proposed that the universe began in a small dense state that expanded outward rapidly, which went on to become the Big Bang theory we are all now familiar with. Given its reputation among many Christians today for being a fundamentally atheistic idea, it is surprising for many to hear that it was actually first conceived of by a priest!
But what’s even more surprising is that some in the scientific community at the time actually rejected the Big Bang model precisely because it seemed too “theistic” and too conveniently aligned with the biblical creation account in Genesis. Fred Hoyle was one of the most famous detractors of the Big Bang model; he even coined the term “Big Bang,” intending to poke fun at the idea! While his alternative model, the Steady State model, initially had similar plausibility and observational evidence as the Big Bang model, Hoyle’s strong anti-religious views appear to have caused him to hold on to his Steady State model long after the preponderance of the evidence had shifted in support of the Big Bang. The entire story of our understanding of the early universe provides a great example of the nuances of the nature of science and a fascinating case study in how our personal beliefs and biases as scientists can so easily become entangled with our science.
Ciara: You’ve taught physics and astronomy for several years in high schools before coming to BioLogos. Recently, you’ve exchanged the classroom and set down your “proverbial chalk” as you’ve described it, to work at the intersection of faith and science. What inspired this transition and career change?
Faith: A lot of things coalesced in life about a year ago to make the shift from the classroom to BioLogos a perfect fit for me. My goal has always been to point my career toward the intersection of faith, science, and education. My dream is to see Christian schools convey the harmony of science and faith to their students and to raise up a generation of scientists who are Christian and who are empowered to use their work to love God, serve others and bring a little bit of heaven to earth. As a 22 year old fresh out of college, I had no idea what pursuing that dream would look like, but I knew that having experience teaching science in Christian schools would be vital preparation no matter what the future held.
After getting Master’s degrees in both education and astronomy, and teaching physics and astronomy for seven years at one of the largest Christian high schools in the country, I was starting to feel that the time might be right to take a step back from my own classroom and start thinking and working in Christian education on a larger scale. Around this same time, my husband and I welcomed our first child into the world, and the realities of teaching during COVID while also adjusting to parenthood proved to be untenable for us as a family.
So during finals week last Spring I let my school know that I would not be returning in the Fall despite not having a new job lined up yet. It was certainly a leap of faith, but God had given us confidence that he had something new for me on the horizon. Sure enough, two days later Kathryn, Program Director at BioLogos, called me and asked whether I’d be interested in joining the Integrate team! Three months later my family and I had moved from California to Grand Rapids, MI, and I can safely say that it was one of the very best decisions I’ve ever made.
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My dream is to see Christian schools convey the harmony of science and faith to their students and to raise up a generation of scientists who are Christian and who are empowered to use their work to love God, serve others and bring a little bit of heaven to earth.
Ciara: You are working closely with Kathryn Applegate to help launch and adapt the Integrate curriculum for use in churches and beyond. What types of projects have you been working on so far, and what are you most looking forward to contributing to?
Faith: First, let me just say that the Integrate curriculum is truly incredible! Kathryn and the author team of rockstar biology educators have woven together cutting edge science, thoughtful and nuanced biblical reflection, and research-based science pedagogy into one easy-to-use package. Speaking from the perspective of a former teacher, it is such a wonderful and much needed resource! Kathryn and the authors did the hard work of designing and writing the curriculum, which was a massive undertaking.
I get to jump in now that it is complete to help get the word out about its existence and adapt it to be useful in as many settings as possible. So in addition to promoting the curriculum at education conferences, I’m leading our teams who are translating the curriculum into Spanish, adapting it into an online course and a Bible study for church small groups, and creating professional development workshops and resources for K12 teachers and schools. I’m also building relationships and partnerships with other great Christian education and homeschool organizations. So it’s definitely a lot to juggle, but I simply could not have imagined a more exciting and inspiring job if I tried.
Ciara: Outside of science, what other hobbies do you enjoy?
Faith: Right now, my non-work life mostly consists of wiping food off my one-year old’s face and slowly working my way through an endless list of fix-it projects around our house. Being a new parent and a new homeowner is truly a glamorous life! But every once in a while I get to indulge in some rock climbing, find my way to an observatory, and keep up with my favorite soccer team, Liverpool FC.
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At BioLogos, “gracious dialogue” means demonstrating the grace of Christ as we dialogue together about the tough issues of science and faith.