Confronting Conflicting Views as a Biology Undergraduate
I was raised in the Southern Baptist Church, and my mother reared my brothers and me in God’s Word, for which I am grateful. I always learned that the creation story in the Bible was literal; I knew the Who (God) and I knew the how (God spoke) of the creation of the world and all that was in it. I never doubted this—until college.
One of the last courses I needed to complete before graduating with a bachelor’s in biology was Evolution, of course. I inwardly revolted, though I never confronted my professor or spoke out. As a current teacher and teacher educator, I’m ashamed to admit it, but I rarely studied for any of the tests, as part of my silent “righteous rebellion”.
One day, my father (who knew my stance but was a retired administrator and more open to other perspectives, always being systematic and logical in his approach to controversial issues) said to me, “Regina, stop trying to preach, and just get through that class!”
It’s so funny to think of his tone now, but then it was like a wake-up call, and I said to myself “You are one class away from getting your bachelor’s degree. Do you really think God brought you this far to want you to fail this class and repeat it and not graduate?”
I used my writing ability to write an amazing paper on antibiotic-resistant bacteria, for which I received an A. This helped me pass with a C-. This 4.0, straight-A, high-achieving, school-loving student had never been so happy for a C in her life!
A Science Teacher’s Crisis of Faith
A few years after graduating, I started teaching high school biology and environmental science. When it came time to teach evolution, I quickly glossed over the unit to my students, mostly only covering vocabulary terms. I was not comfortable teaching it as I was so opposed to it and what I thought it meant.
When I started teaching middle school life science or integrated science, I did a little bit more teaching of the unit with them, as I was beginning to feel guilty for allowing my biased view to limit my students’ knowledge and learning requirements. Occasionally, I would research commonly-cited evidences for evolution while also trying to refute them with Scripture or other evidence.
After a few years, I started to question myself as a science teacher: I was allowing my viewpoint to hinder me from thinking scientifically, which was what I wanted my students to do. Part of being scientific is being open and willing to hear opposing views, results, evidence, and theories, and I needed to practice this if I were to call myself a science teacher.
Doubts about the biblical account of creation arose in me more frequently with each year I taught. I’d hear about a discovery on the news or see a presentation at a science conference, and I started to get scared.
Shouldn’t I believe every word of the Bible? What kind of Christian would I be if I began to think or believe that evolution was true? How could I read the Bible from then on? Would God reject me? Why wasn’t the Bible clearer on this? Would investigating and considering aspects of evolution mean that I didn’t believe God or that my salvation was in jeopardy?
These questions were eating me up inside more and more.
BioLogos and My New-found Freedom in Teaching
One Sunday morning at Northland Church, I heard Pastor Joel Hunter talk about aspects of the created world. He spoke about his wife having been a science teacher for years, and how science and faith in God are not in opposition to each other. In fact, science testifies to God’s creativity, beauty, and order. He mentioned his friend, Francis Collins, who spearheaded the Human Genome Project. Then Pastor Joel mentioned BioLogos as a place where these types of discussions can happen and where there are resources to build one’s faith while engaging accurate science. I was listening so intently. I wrote down the title of Francis’ book The Language of God and “BioLogos.”
That afternoon, I read as much as I could and watched videos on the BioLogos website. That led me to YouTube videos of writers, religious leaders, and Christian philosophers who were authors or references on BioLogos. I went through another period of questions, but this time, I prayed amid my doubts: Lord, I know you know what I’m thinking and going through. I believe You are guiding me, but please help me make sense of it.
It was not easy, and I still had (and have) many more questions than answers, but I was eager to teach the unit on evolution the following school year with what I was learning and understanding.
I used a couple of the video resources to teach my students about micro- and macro-evolution. One of my students said he went to the BioLogos website to do some more reading/watching. In fact, the interest this whole group of students had was very high. I’d say it’s because I was excited about teaching it. I felt a huge release and freedom inside, which I had never had with this topic before. I did not have to approach it in a sterile way or in a way that compromised my beliefs in God.
Peace Amidst the Productive Struggle
Fast-forwarding a bit, I believe that God knew I would be pursuing my Ph.D. in Science Education. If I was still uncomfortable and living in spiritual and scientific fear about evolution and the creation of the world upon entering such a rigorous science program, I would be struggling spiritually, academically, and professionally. Instead I am thriving.
In educational circles, the phrase productive struggle describes the point at which students are in the midst of solving or analyzing a complicated problem, concept, or process, and they are on the verge of either giving up or pressing on to the end. There’s a sense of frustration and perplexity but also a sense of being on the brink of “getting it.” As a teacher, this can be a tenuous moment, because we want to throw out a lifeline while also anticipating the exhilarating moment when the students put the pieces together themselves…fully aware that their teacher was joyously facilitating and guiding them throughout the whole process all along.
What would I share with other Christian teachers who teach science and/or evolution? God does not want us to be uninformed or in the dark, but He invites us to enter this productive struggle with Him as our caring, loving Teacher and Guide. He has given us the ability to think, question, reason, analyze, and critique, and all for His glory.
When the Bible speaks about worshiping God with all that we are, He included our minds as well! Being a science teacher of faith means using all the gifts, talents, and mental capabilities that God has given us to help explain and uncover His created world with excellence, compassion, and understanding. He delights in the discoveries we make about the world and wants us to bring our questions to Him. Through the Bible we read how many faithful men and women asked God tough questions, hard questions, and struggled with doubt and fear.
For me, I had to step out in faith and ask Him for direction, help, and a sense of peace with not having all the answers (a reality many science teachers do not want to admit to having) but appreciating the process all the while.
Intersection of Science Education and the Biblical Text
One aim of my current research focuses on the context of science teaching and learning in the school classroom. The curriculum, instructional methods, and the classroom environment influence how science is learned, perceived, and understood by students, who often come from varied socioeconomic levels, races and ethnicities, and religious backgrounds. The more science teachers are aware of their own cultural perspectives and worldviews, the cultural context from which science texts are written, and the diverse backgrounds of their students, the more effective they can be in developing and supporting students’ interest in learning science.
The potential implications that cultural context has in the science classroom is powerful. Just as effective science teachers aim to understand their students’ cultural backgrounds to shape their instruction for students’ learning, so understanding the cultural context (worldview) of the biblical writers enables us to unlock the rich meaning of Scripture, realizing the Bible’s goal is not to address our current scientific questions, but to convey the width and depth of God’s love and redemptive work for all mankind.
BioLogos and other credible theological sources have been instrumental in enabling me to view the Bible outside of my cultural and 21st century societal lens. The authors of Scripture were writing to a people whose culture, perspective, global understanding, and experience of the natural world were starkly different from ours. Understanding this may allow us as teachers of science to discover how beautifully scientific insight complements the truth of Scripture, providing a view of God and His creative work that is mind-blowing!
Delighting in God’s Good Work
Despite my remaining questions, what I know for sure is that God created the world, and through Christ, the Word, all things were made that were made. I know that the heavens declare the glory of God and the world shows off God’s handiwork. I know that how God shaped and designed the world may never fully be known on this side of Paradise. Nevertheless, I believe that, as with anything of value and worth, He took his time, gradually unveiling elements of His design over eons. And God, the holy, almighty, eternal Creator of the world, saw that what He had made was good.
With every discovery made, with every fossil or bone excavated, with every calculation of a new star’s location, with every genetic link made between species, I am confident that God’s good work points to Him as both the Author and Designer of the world. Science continues to enrich my curiosity about the mysteries of the natural world. So, as a science teacher, I’ll continue to question how it all came about. And as a Christ-follower, I’ll continue to allow these tough how questions to deepen my trust in and awe of the Who that began it all.