Forums
Featuring guest April Maskiewicz Cordero

April Cordero | Teaching in the Tension

April Maskiewicz Cordero joins Jim Stump and Kathryn Applegate to discuss what it’s like to teach college biology at a Christian college.


Share  
Twitter
Facebook
LinkedIn
Print
2 Comments
2 Comments
students in rows in classroom auditorium

April Maskiewicz Cordero joins Jim Stump and Kathryn Applegate to discuss what it’s like to teach college biology at a Christian college.

Description

A podcast that shows the harmony between Christian faith and current scientific discoveries by sharing the stories of interesting people who have found a better way of understanding science and Christian faith.

April Maskiewicz Cordero joins Jim Stump and BioLogos’ Resources Editor, Kathryn Applegate, to discuss what it’s like to teach biology at a Christian college. She touches on her personal experience with the climate of conflict between science and religion, and how that helps her to meet her students where they are. She shares some stories of students that give her hope and touches on her research that looks at teaching controversial issues like climate change and evolution to Christian students. April and Kathryn also talk about BioLogos INTEGRATE, the high school biology curriculum supplement that they’ve been working on.


Related Resources


Transcript

April Maskiewicz-Cordero:

There’s so much of a person’s, they call it a conceptual ecology. A lot of inputs they get. Their association with other people, their in-group feeling, their fear, their existential questions, the role that authority plays in their life. I’m going to say, did I say their fear? Can I say that three or four times? Their fear. So we need to address those and think about those in the classroom. And it’s a science classroom. I’m a biologist. I want to teach the biology. I don’t, I don’t want to be a pastor. I don’t want to be a philosopher. I don’t want to be a theologian. I don’t want to be a biblical scholar in my biology class cause that’s not my field. Yet, I have to be those things when I teach evolution or I’m doing a disservice.

My name is April Maskiewicz-Cordero I am a Professor of Biology at Point Loma Nazarene University.

Jim Stump:

I’m Jim Stump. This is Language of God. For this interview with April Cordero, I was joined by Kathryn Applegate, who is the Resources Editor and longest serving staff member at BioLogos. Kathryn is in the studio with me today. Welcome.

Kathryn Applegate:

Thanks Jim. Good to be here.

Stump:

April has been connected to BioLogos for a while now. How did you get to know her?

Applegate:

She has. I first got to know April in 2010 when BioLogos and Point Loma, April’s college, began hosting week-long summer workshops for high school biology teachers from Christian schools, and right away I could see how well she both understands and communicates about science, especially in evolutionary biology.

Stump:

And more recently you’ve been working with her on another project.

Applegate:

That’s right, she’s part of a small team that’s developing a science and faith curriculum supplement for high school biology, called BioLogos INTEGRATE, and it will be released in the fall of 2020. We’ve had a blast. She has so much energy and humor, as you’ll hear.

Stump:

Like many of our guests, April has her own interesting story of coming to terms with faith and science and we talk about that some, but spend most of our time in this conversation talking about her current work as a biology professor at a Christian college.

Applegate:

And she has a lot of great stories to tell from her teaching and tells a few of them on the episode. And it’s just so clear when I listen to her that she has a passion for teaching and a real love for these young people that come into her classroom. 

Stump:

And what can you tell us about her current research?

Applegate:

April’s research these days is primarily focused on effective teaching and learning of controversial topics for Christian students in the science classroom. She’s looked at both evolution and climate change and while there are some similarities, she also found some real differences between those two subjects.  

Stump:

Sounds interesting. Let’s get to the conversation.

Interview Part 1

Stump:

Let’s start by having you tell us a little bit how you got to the position that you are, you’re a biology professor. How does that happen to somebody like you?

Maskiewicz-Cordero:

You fall in love with biology when you start college. Dr. Mill’s nutrition class, he sat there eating his almonds out of a baggie while telling us about how our bodies worked. And I became utterly fascinated.

Stump:

Where were you in college for this?

Maskiewicz-Cordero:

I went to UC San Diego and I started as a communications major and didn’t like science in high school. And that first year, that first quarter they put me in a biology gen-ed class and fell in love with it. Took a second biology gen-ed class and about halfway through I changed my major to biology.

Applegate:

Okay April, I’m really interested to hear a little bit more about your faith journey. Can you talk about how you came to faith and what that process was like? It wasn’t quite the straightforward linear process that some people have.

Maskiewicz-Cordero:

It wasn’t. I went to a Catholic grade school and junior high and a public high school, but I joined Young Life when I was in high school and engaged in some of the Young Life activities. I would say that I learned what it meant to give your life to Christ when I was in Young Life. And then I started college and while I was taking that second biology class in my second quarter at UC San Diego, the biology professor told us, “you can’t accept evolution and believe in God.” And I had never heard anything like that before in my Catholic upbringing. And so I asked my Young Life youth group leader and I asked the pastor of the church I was going to at the time and both men told me the same thing that you have to choose between evolution and your faith. And I wrestled with that for a couple more quarters while at UCSD, but I kept taking biology classes and learning that their evidence for evolution was just so clear. It was so reasonable and obvious to me. And because these people that I respected were telling me I had to choose one or the other, the obvious choice was to give up God because the evolution evidence was abundant and convincing. 

Stump:

Before you became a Christian in that regard, did you have any inkling of evolution or think that, oh yeah, of course this is true or?

Maskiewicz-Cordero:

Never thought about it for an instant.

Stump:

Just never thought about it.

Maskiewicz-Cordero:

It just never came up. And confronted with it while in college, was just, I have to make a choice. All right, make a choice, move on. So I became atheist and I was a little bit of a snarky atheist, I would say. And I stayed that way until about a year after I graduated. I graduated with my biology degree, got a job working in a lab. About a year later I needed a life adventure and found myself living in Japan teaching English. And I had mailed myself a couple of boxes of books. They had warned you that there wasn’t much to read in English in Japan. This was 1989. No internet, no radio, no TV in English. And I read through those two boxes of books very quickly, probably in a couple of weeks because I had nothing to do in my free time and I didn’t know anybody. 

So, bottom of the second box was a Bible. Did not own a Bible, don’t know how it got in there to this day, but started reading it and I started in chapter one, Genesis one, and worked my way through Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. And I was confused. It was difficult. I didn’t understand what I was reading. There’s a God who kills people. It doesn’t make any sense to me. And so I started writing letters to my sister who’d always maintained her faith. And I would just ask her like, why does God choose to kill people? Why is God doing this? Why is, why are people inside fish? What’s going on? You know? And she would write letters back, snail mail, and at some point, as I’m making my way through the Bible and reading answers from my sister, I decided to rededicate my life to becoming a believer. And that took a few months, more than a few months. And about then it was time to come back home to San Diego.

Stump:

Before you get there, what was your sister telling you?

Maskiewicz-Cordero:

She would explain context for me. I wish I still had the letters. I’ve looked for them, I don’t have them. I would love to have them 30 years later. That would be really neat. But I remember she was giving me context and she would frame things in ways that, you know, this is a story about what’s going on at this time. These are the people who it’s speaking to. I remember sending a letter—why Jesus? Why do we need Jesus? And she would respond to that in ways of connecting it to sin, ways of connecting it to needing a savior in order to have a relationship and communication with God as just regular people. That it was prophecy, prophesied in the Old Testament, you know, so all these were pieces that I was getting in these letters from her.

Stump:

Any of your questions at the time about science?

Maskiewicz-Cordero:

No, I don’t recall my questions being about science. I think I avoided that a little bit. I think I was focused on the faith part. My questions about science came rearing back very quickly when I came back to San Diego and started working again. I was going to church. My mom came to church with me. First time I went to church with my mother was during that time. And when I was at church I would hide that I was a biologist and I was, I would hide that I accepted evolution; I just wouldn’t talk about it at all. And when I was in my job, was teaching science at junior high and then high school science in the 90s, I would not talk about my faith at all with people at school with any of the science teachers or any of the families. And so they were very separate for me. I lived two very separate lives and did my best to create my own theology around how to reconcile evolution with the faith at the time.

Stump:

What did that look like?

Maskiewicz-Cordero:

Yeah. Not as good as after 2000 when I could start reading some books, some over the counter books that people had published. I wasn’t too far off, but I also had no formal training whatsoever in biblical studies or theology, had never taken a class in either, or philosophy for that matter. So I think you do your best to sort of put the puzzle pieces together. But there were giant gaps and never really thought much about the context of people at the time, what they would understand. And there’s so many pieces of the Bible that have meaning to the people at the time, you know, talking about grain and growing wheat and grain in the chaff and you know, that would mean nothing to me as an urban person. And I think I missed all those nice connections that I was able to gain by reading some of those over the counter books. One of the first or second books was the one Darrel Falk wrote. But there were a few others in there. Four Views. There was a four views book way back that I read.

Stump:

On creation evolution?

Maskiewicz-Cordero:

Uh huh.

Stump:

By J.P. Moreland 1999.

Maskiewicz-Cordero:

Yes, ’99, was one of the first books I found. And so all that really helped me to become more confident in what I believed. And I would say over the next 10 years, 2000 to 2010, I became more verbal in my communities. In my faith community I was much more willing to share my beliefs, my acceptance of evolution, my passion for all things science. And in my job I was willing to talk about the fact that I had a faith. In fact, part of the 2000s I was in grad school, went back to school and was willing to talk about that.

Applegate:

Did you ever think back to those three men who told you you had to make a choice?

Maskiewicz-Cordero:

Yes. I think about them a lot, especially now that I talk about my faith-science journey. I guess what I think is we still hear that all the time. It’s still a narrative. I asked my students four days ago to raise their hand if they’d been told that evolution and faith were not compatible. All but four or five students raised their hand in a room of 50. How many people have heard, you know, it’s evolution or faith? You have to pick one. Way more than half raised their hand. It’s 2019. These are 18 to 25 year-olds in my class. We are still hearing this.

Applegate:

Yeah. I think that’s one of the things that’s surprising to people. People think there’s, you know, we’re, we might be over this issue that young people don’t care about this anymore, but that doesn’t seem to be your experience teaching college kids. What’s that like being a college biology professor? What are your students like?

Maskiewicz-Cordero:

Yes. My students are wonderful. I completely love this generation of kids. So inquisitive; they seem open-minded to me, curious—they have so much access at their fingertips with the internet, and yet they still have the same amount of fear that I saw in my students 20 years ago and 30 years ago. A fear of learning something that they’d been told by some authorities that they shouldn’t learn or shouldn’t be thinking about or shouldn’t be asking those questions. And that fear is still just as palpable today. So when I talk about evolution, I wait until they know me. I wait until they see me, as not only their professor, but they see me as a person who loves the Lord. They see me as a devout Christian and they trust me as someone who isn’t trying to deceive. And then I feel that the path has been paved for me to start talking about evolution. And I am honest with them. In the first two minutes of conversations with my students, I start by saying I fully embrace all of biological evolution, including the evolution of humans and I love the Lord. And I just tell them that outright. And I know it surprises some, surprises probably a lot of them, but I think it’s the best way to start. 

And I say, so let’s talk about this. You know, what are you afraid of? What is your view of God, that God wouldn’t allow you to ask these questions or learn about these things? How do I fit, how does my view and my perspective fit into that? Leaving space for them to ponder, leaving time for them to talk to their teammates in small groups, having them answer questions at home on their own as they think through things, watching a video. Just giving it time and no pressure whatsoever to change their mind. Just asking them to listen and hear and be open and that seems to make all the difference in the world.

Stump:

What are the hardest questions they have for you?

Maskiewicz-Cordero:

They’re always the same. I could probably list, there’s probably about 10. What do you do about Genesis one? What do you do about Adam and Eve? What about original sin? How about in Romans when Paul talks about Jesus and Adam, and Jesus talks about creation. And it’s just all these same, they always have the same questions and concerns and they’re legitimate, valid and difficult questions and they should be asking them. And I think what they really want to know is, is there a path or a way to make sense of these things and not just reject them or keep them as separate topics. Is there a way to really integrate the science with the faith? Instead of just well, here’s my science and here’s my faith and I can have both. But they don’t really have anything to do with each other. 

Applegate:

That’s where I think a lot of scientists are. I mean you talked about kind of being… not talking about your science when you’re at church and not talking about your faith when you were in your science community. And I think from my experience and having been in the world of science, that’s true for a lot of scientists. It’s probably true across, in other communities too. I mean I’m sure business people, you know, they have their faith and they do their work in business, but they don’t necessarily think about how to connect them. I think that’s something really cool in what you’ve done both in your teaching but also your research of just thinking how to integrate these ideas. Can you talk a little bit about your research in science education and what you’re studying?

Maskiewicz-Cordero:

Yeah. I transitioned into trying to research and study the teaching and learning of controversial issues with Christian students. It’s very specific, but that’s my audience right now. And when I first entered that domain, most people were just saying, you need to give them more evidence. People just need more evidence. And that is completely not the case when it comes to evolution. There’s so much of a person’s, they call it a conceptual ecology. A lot of inputs they get. Their association with other people, their in-group feeling, their fear. Their existential questions, the role that authority plays in their life. I’m going to say, did I say their fear? Can I say that three or four times: their fear. So we need to address those and think about those in the classroom. And it’s a science classroom. I’m a biologist. I want to teach the biology. I don’t want to be a pastor. I don’t want to be a philosopher. I don’t want to be a theologian. I don’t want to be a biblical scholar in my biology class cause that’s not my field. Yet, I have to be those things when I teach evolution or I’m doing a disservice both to them in their ability to make the connection between their faith and their reading of the Bible and their theology and the science, but also to the science. 

If I want them to accept evolution, which is really my ultimate desire, I’m okay if they’re willing to learn it and understand it, but decide that that’s not, it’s not okay with them. I can live with that. But I really my desire of the, for them to accept it and integrate it and see it as this amazing, spectacular, natural process that God sustains, put into place and sustains to create the beauty and magnificence and diversity that we see in all the plants and animals and archaea and bacteria and fungi. And that’s phenomenal. And I want them to see that.

Stump:

So if it’s not just a matter of plopping that evidence down on the table in front of them and say, see, look at this, what are the steps that you have to go through in order to get somebody who seems so foreclosed enough that they’re not even willing to consider that evidence yet? How do you get them to the place where they can consider the science?

Maskiewicz-Cordero:

Yeah, I had to go into the cognitive science and psychology literature to figure that out. In fact, there’s some literature on how to help people accept that they’re dying, that they have a terminal disease. And I actually used some of that literature to figure out how do you help get someone from point A to point B that really doesn’t want to go there. And one of the first steps is somebody wants to be heard. So before I even say anything in my evolution course, the students write a response to a question I asked them and they do it on their own and I read it and it says, I’ll summarize it sort of: you are sitting in graduate school eating lunch with a peer and your peer does not, is not a believer and asks you about evolution. How does the conversation go? And they have to write a conversation. I say this, you know, kind of like a script and minimum of two pages and I read them – I skim them, and write them a little comment. And this is in the first week of school. I don’t start teaching evolution until week seven, but I have them start writing that right away. And they see that I heard them because I make a response to them on the assignment and then they’re ready to hear my story. So I’ve gained some trust. I’ve known them for seven weeks, I’ve listened to them. Then I share with them where I’m at. 

And another thing I do is help them to realize maybe they don’t know as much about this topic as they think. So I have a set of questions I go through with a list of authors. How many have you heard of? How many have you read? How many of you read from each column? And the three different columns are young earth creationist, intelligent design and people who accept evolution, both Christians and non-Christians. By that point they’re open and willing to realize maybe I have something to learn here. Maybe I don’t know as much as I thought. And then we just sort of dip into the science. But all along the way, I always remember to give time for them to process something, engage in a small discussion. We do human evolution last after they’ve had six weeks of learning about other things, lots of opportunity for questions. They read six chapters of the Origins book that Deb Haarsma wrote with her husband. There’s assignments with that. They watch videos. So a lot of homework, a lot of small opportunities all along the way for them to think, to process, to reason through it, to wrestle, to pray, to ask questions.

Stump:

Do you know anything about the percentages of students who change their mind throughout the course of this?

Maskiewicz-Cordero:

Yes. So in my studies, three or four years of tracking my students and I have anywhere between the 55 and 70 in my freshmen class, in intro biology class for science majors. And only about somewhere between eight and 10 are okay with human evolution when they start my class out of let’s say 65. By the end of my class, 15 weeks, that number may have only gone to 20 for human evolution. But for large scale evolution or what a lot of people know as macro evolution, large scale evolution, the shift seems to be about 60% have moved from those that were young earth creationist position have moved into, okay, I am okay with everything but human evolution. In fact, I gave a talk one time and it was called “Everything but… Human Evolution.” Because that seems to be a much larger hurdle for students. But I’m very happy with the fact that I can move them to recognize and accept the data for speciation on large scale evolution and now they can spend the next 10 years if they want wrestling with what about human evolution and that feeling of not being as special feeling that they’re not as special, which is incorrect. But that is the feeling, you know. They want to be specially created right at that moment as a brand new idea from God. And that’s what humans need to be for them.

[musical interlude]

BioLogos:

Hi Language of God listeners. Here at BioLogos we think that asking questions is a worthwhile part of any faith journey. We hope this podcast helps you to think through long held questions and consider new questions, but you probably have other questions we haven’t covered yet. That’s why we want to take this quick break to tell you about the common questions page on our website. You’ll find questions like “How could humans have evolved and still be in the image of God?”, “How should we interpret the Genesis flood account?”, and “What created God?”. Each with thoughtful and in-depth answers written in collaboration by scientists, biblical scholars and other experts. Just go to biologos.org and click the common questions tab at the top of the page. Back to the show!

Interview Part 2

Applegate:

Can you share some stories? Any, any in particular? It’s good to have the stats, but, tell us about a student or two in particular and their own journey.

Maskiewicz-Cordero:

Two students come to mind. I spoke last year, at a university in the South, a Christian university. And I spoke about reconciling evolution and faith. And this charming young man came up to me afterward and he asked if we could have coffee and we were sitting down for coffee. He told me that he had decided to become an atheist because he tried to engage in conversations with his parents about all the questions he had about what he was learning about in his science class. And they wouldn’t engage in the conversation with him. And he talked to his youth pastor and his youth pastors said you cannot ask these questions. And he said he started feeling like they were deceiving him. The avoidance, he saw as a deception. And he thought, if they’re trying to deceive me about the science, what else are they trying to deceive me about as it relates to my faith? And he said, so I decided to be atheist and he said that my story rang true with him in that I, because I had also decided to become atheist and had come back to Christ. 

So after we engaged in conversation for a bit, maybe an hour, and he asked me a lot of questions and I shared with him all my challenges, I then connected him with somebody at that university who holds an informal kind of Bible study group at his house in the evening, one of the professors, and invited this young man to join them. And they talk about all the hard issues and science—or just some of the hard issues. There’s a lot of other ones and they engage in all those tough questions. And about a year later, this young man sent me an email to let me know that he has decided to be a believer again. And he was thanking me for, you know, encouraging him to do that. 

And another story is just last semester there was another young man. I have great stories of a bunch of wonderful young women too, but these just stand out as recent. This young man came into my class having been one of those students that goes to the Creation Institute Camps where they learn to refute evolution in the summer camp. And he came from just a very anti-evolution background and I put him with a team and he was difficult with the team members in his very rigid attitude toward evolution. And a couple of times I had to ask him privately, one-on-one to try to be a little less confrontational about it, that we can learn how to be a little more hospitable in how we engage in conversation. We can try to learn to listen more than tell. 

And it was a challenge for me to work alongside this student. Not thinking that I was really having much of an impact over the six or seven weeks. And at the end of my semester I asked them to respond to a couple of questions in an essay and he wrote in his essay about how far he had come in what he was thinking about evolution and faith. And he said he really didn’t want to learn about it at first, and then he was scared to learn about it, which led him to be confrontational about it. And then after enough information and weeks of thinking about it, he realized some of this evidence was pretty compelling. And now he was really wrestling with that, but felt like he had a better attitude about it and towards it. 

To me, those are stories that give me confidence that what we’re trying to do to try to help young people reconcile it, while a very long and difficult and challenging journey it is, that we just need to keep pressing on because we do get to make a difference. And these aren’t easy decisions to make. Changing your worldview, changing your perspective on these really deep issues is hard and given enough time and enough patience, enough support to accompany them, to walk beside them is sort of an honor that I get to have. And I’m glad these kids will share that with me.

Applegate:

You’ve talked… your research actually is about controversial issues, not just evolution. So you also talk about creation care and climate change and you do research into acceptance of that. And we were talking earlier, you were sharing just how very different that that topic is from evolution. How is that different?

Maskiewicz-Cordero:

Yeah. So, I earlier mentioned something, the conceptual ecologies that we all have. The world view influences and the ingroup influences along with our, you know, the content. And that is all… plays a huge role in evolution acceptance. But with climate change acceptance, at least with the 18 to 25 year olds, what I’ve come to see is that it’s not so much an issue of their worldview. It’s not an issue of my in-group. It seems to be that when I show them some of the evidence and I allow them to make some of the predictions on their own, they then ask me why are my parents anti-climate change? And we get to engage in a conversation that it’s been really rolled and wrapped up into politics, for a lot of people. 

And it seems to me that this generation doesn’t have that same commitment to wrap their politics in with some of their science views. And so they’re willing to see the evidence for what it is. So to me it’s actually a much, much simpler hurdle to help them overcome to see climate change as a true scientific issue that we need to be paying attention to and maybe see it as an urgent scientific issue. There’s nothing theologically that really creates a conflict for them with the climate change issue. In fact, already in my class, they’ve been learning about how the Bible is filled with verses all over the place and stories that talk about how we’re responsible to care for creation and to take care of things that have been given to us and put in our responsibility and in our charge and see it as God’s creation. And so at this point they’re on board with that.

Stump:

So it doesn’t seem like there’s as much for them riding on how they read the Bible like there was with the evolution question. Is there also anything in the research that suggests, because they’re this younger generation and we’re talking about climate change that is pretty important for their futures as opposed to trying to understand evolution in the past somewhere where, I mean these are things that are gonna have significant effects in their lifetimes. Does that somehow activate different neuronal circuits that make me think, Hey, I better pay attention to this?

Maskiewicz-Cordero:

I think a little bit, because it’s going to impact their life. Whereas evolution, they don’t necessarily see that impacting their life right now. I do try to help them realize evolution impacts our understanding of ecosystem ecology or understanding of the diversity or understanding of our impacts on diversity, evolutionary medicine, a whole bunch of different ways that I try to make evolution relevant to their lives. But climate change will affect their moment by moment, day by day health and happiness. We may understand that. I’m not so sure these students really see that it will affect them. You try to help them see that, but a lot of people see it as it’s going to harm somebody else or I should say a lot of Americans see that as it’s going to harm somebody else and it’s in the future and we’ll figure something out by then like we did for the hole in the ozone. We figured something and we solved that, stopped with the, you know, CFCs, chloroflurocarbons. And we’ll just figure something out with climate change. And if we’re going to figure something out, we need to do it now. We need to be making some changes now. 

Applegate:

You were talking about the kids that go on mission trips and just kind of how you talk to them about before and after and the whole impact. Can you share that story?

Maskiewicz-Cordero:

Yes. So a lot of the students do one, two, three, four week mission trips with our university. And those are wonderful and very valuable both for the communities that they’re going to and also for them as learners experiencing other cultures. Oftentimes they’ll go to areas with people that are in need. People that are poor, live in poor countries, live in developing countries, are unempowered people, people groups. And I talk to them about how I highly value those trips. But if you go on a trip for one week to a country and you work with people to help them have a better life during that week and then you come home and live the same life you were living, releasing pollutants in the air, contributing to carbon dioxide, contributing to water pollution, driving our cars, eating our meat, doing all the things we normally do, using our plastics. And we do that 365 days a year. Who are we actually impacting? We’re impacting the poor, the underrepresented, the unempowered people. It’s impacting them. It’s not impacting our life. And so I try to help them see, while it’s great to go on these trips, it’s even better to try to make some changes in your lifestyle that will impact these people every single day of the year in a positive way instead of just one week.

Applegate:

What do you mean exactly by saying that it isn’t affecting us as much as it’s impacting them? Like how is it, why is it that there’s a disproportionate impact on these vulnerable people groups than here in America?

Maskiewicz-Cordero:

So for example, there’s an island, the name of it escapes me right now. But the water is rising on this island, that in a very short period of time, all of the people who live on this island are no longer going to be able to live there. And they don’t have any power in the global scale, to make any difference. It is the industrialized nations, United States especially, that contributes the largest contributions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere from our activities. More than many, many, many other nations and communities of people. But those things that we do have an impact on a lot of other communities of people, but they don’t get to tell us not to live that way. For example, we like to go to some of the rainforest countries and tell them to stop cutting down their trees, which yes, please stop cutting down your trees. But we cut down our trees and a lot of these nations, you know, see that as what’s the word I’m looking for?

Stump:

Hypocritical?

Maskiewicz-Cordero:

Yeah, there you go. There you go. So there are a handful of nations, and we know this, that have the power and they have the money and we are going to keep doing what we’re doing and, and to change our lifestyle is inconvenient. To use some public transportation to choose not to buy a car that doesn’t get at least 30 to 35 miles per gallon, to make a commitment not to use plastics, to choose to carpool once a week, to make the decision that you’re only gonna eat meat four or five times a week instead of two or three times a day. Bacon, sausage, Turkey sandwich, steak. All these are decisions that are very hard to make. We don’t have to make all of them. We can choose to make a handful of them, share with people around us, but every decision has an impact.

Applegate:

So I don’t hear you saying we all need to become vegetarians and give up our cars and move into a little hut somewhere. You know, I think a lot of people do have that perception that that’s what’s required in order to make a difference. How do you talk to your students just about those daily choices? It sounds like you’re giving a lot of really practical suggestions for ways to change.

Maskiewicz-Cordero:

I use this same strategy that I actually use for evolution, which is I tell them a little bit about my story and my own challenges. And I tell them when I decided to start caring more about the environment back when I was 25. You do one thing at a time and I open up my purse and I just, I pull out one of those reusable bags that I have in my purse. I talk about how I made a commitment five, six, seven years ago to give up plastic bags and I just will not use one anymore. And then after I got used to that habit, I made another commitment and one commitment at a time and one lifestyle change at a time and you keep making them and you share about them. I’m not asking people to become vegetarian. In fact, I share with them when I was in college, I became a vegetarian for two and a half years. But I love a good burger and I love fish and chicken. And I love going to a restaurant. I love eating at somebody’s house without making them feel uncomfortable about what they made, and so, I let them know, you know, if everybody in the States only ate meat once a day, it would have a huge positive impact on all the things that agricultural practices are harmful to the environment. It would have a huge impact on that. 

And these are all choices we get to make and they get to make choices with their wallet. The things they choose to buy has a large impact on what happens in our society. So, and I make a big point to help them see the people that the one person here and the one person there that’s made a difference. We focus on Rachel Carson and the difference she made as one person on the DDT issue and I focus on the young lady, Greta, who has promoted the walkouts for climate change. You know, one person really can have an influence and that can be each one of us in this classroom by learning about these things and choosing the things that we want to have an impact on.

Stump:

One of the arguments that sometimes used to push back against those individual choices is that yeah, when you add up the impact of not using straws or plastic bags anymore, that’s not going to slow down the overall temperature increase. But there’s something to be said for encouraging those habits in people that starts to develop this mindset where people are more primed and ready to make the bigger decisions. The bigger societal decisions that government policies that need to change in order to do that, that we couldn’t just do immediately because people aren’t ready. So those personal decisions, yes, they do all add up for sure. But I wonder if even more than that is it helps to develop this mindset that this is important, that these are things that we need to take responsibility for. And not just me personally, but my society that I live in.

Maskiewicz-Cordero:

Yes. And I have an incredible amount of hope, I think I already said this, in the 18 to 25 year olds right now. I see them as motivated, wanting to be the change, having compassion, understanding social justice issues, caring for the environment that they’re living in, noticing their neighbor, accepting their neighbor. I, these kids right now, I’m so heartened by what I see in them. How can I make a change? What can I do? They’re sending me emails, hey, I saw this article. I mean they’re, you kind of shine a light on something. You show them an injustice, you show them an environmental challenge. And then so many of them, just the old saying, take the bull by the horns and they run with it. And it’s so fun to see that in this generation. And, you know, I wish my generation, I feel we’re a little complacent. We grew up in a kind of consumer focused, you want to be happy, just buy more and you’ll be happy and keep up with your neighbor and hide that you don’t have any money or hide your discomfort. And now I see these, I see these kids being honest, more authentic and I just love it. And I have so much hope, I have so much hope. And I teach them, you know, like I said, we can make a difference with our actions and with our wallet and with our voting. And so it’s about just giving them information and then, and they seem to be making the right choices.

Applegate:

I have to think that some of the hope that you’re seeing is because that’s reflected in your teaching. I mean you’re modeling that for them. It encourages me when I hear you talk about this. So I think it is, you know, often the media portrayals of climate change and everything, it does feel so heavy. These are serious issues, really serious challenges we have before us. But I do think there’s hope. Where do you think as a Christian that hope comes from? I mean, there’s hope for all of us just as we have habits and that’s great. But what’s different coming at this issue as a Christian?

Maskiewicz-Cordero:

Because of Jesus, there’s always hope. I mean, that is the difference. And so while we may go astray, while we may make mistakes, while we may be David on occasion, God loves us, we’re forgiven, get it together and go back onto the right path and get in alignment again with God’s direction for all of us. And I just, that’s just right there. It’s always an opening. That door doesn’t shut. And I think that’s a difference for Christians. It’s not doom and gloom. And then we fall on the ground and we rot. And so who cares about, you know, anything? It’s just, there’s just so much hope. No matter what’s going on now for us here, there’s hope that Jesus is working in other people. Jesus is working in our politicians. Jesus is working in our teachers and in our schools with the people in other countries. And I think that’s, at least for me, I see that as the hope.

[musical interlude]

Interview Part 3

Stump:

So April, you teach people to teach people about biology, right? 

Maskiewicz-Cordero:

Yes.

Stump:

So one of the concerns that BioLogos has had is to have a good biology curriculum that teachers can use and specifically to have a, something that integrates the Christian worldview into what this a legitimate science is talking about biology. The two of you are involved in a project doing that. Kathryn, why don’t you tell us about that and then April can chime in with what she’s doing with it too.

Applegate:

Yeah. We’re really excited about this project. We have a curriculum supplement that is called BioLogos Integrate and it is aimed at the high school level for Christian school teachers and homeschool parents, especially. Those are kind of the target users for this. But it’s been really fun. We have a team, a great group. I think of us as like, you know, this power team of the six women who just all have these amazing complimentary gifts of educators and people with training in the Bible and evolution and curriculum development, people with expertise in public school classrooms and Christian school and homeschool, all in that team of six. And of course a wide range of people that we’re working with who are helping to consult on the material and vet the material. But it’s really aimed at being a comprehensive resource that will be used alongside all the different major topics that would be covered in an intro biology class.

Stump:

So what all topics are covered in the curriculum supplement?

Applegate:

We’re pretty excited. It’s a pretty wide range. There are several units at the beginning that talk about the nature of science. We have a foundations unit, which is just kind of introducing the big questions at the intersection of science and faith, ways of knowing, which features a familiar voice on this podcast. Jim Stump is our expert there, talking about philosophy of science. And April, talk about how ways of knowing is pretty crucial to everything else that follows.

Maskiewicz-Cordero:

It is. Understanding “How do we know what we know in science?”, “How do we know what we know in theology or from biblical studies?” as well. And how those are similar and how those are different. There are limitations in what we can know in our sciences and what we can answer. And there are limitations with theology and helping students to see that. It’s interesting, one of the pieces of research shows that if you can help students understand the nature of science just a little bit, it helps them to come to accept evolution just a little easier. And there’s quite a few studies that show that as well. So we were just focused on “How is it that each of these different domains of knowledge kind of come to know what they know and accept truth in different ways?”.

Applegate:

It’s also important for talking about, you know, what is a theory, what are some of the limitations, you mentioned that, but just kind of combating this scientism that, you know, science tells us everything. We have a unit on science as a Christian vocation, which is a really fun one. I’m really excited about… Actually every time I work on one of these units I think, “Oh man, this is my favorite one. This is so fun.” But I love that one because there’s this one activity where students draw what they think a scientist looks like and then they encounter a whole bunch of scientists that totally defy the stereotypes and there’s just some fun activities in there that I think are really illuminating and help to show how, you know, people think about medicine or engineering as Christian vocations. I think, you know, basic research sometimes isn’t emphasized that much in the Christian community, so this is kind of a cool way to highlight that. We talk about seeing God and creation, so just sort of laying the foundation that God isn’t only working in miracles, but we see his activity in all of creation. Creation care and climate change are a couple of other units. We have one on biodiversity and conservation.

Stump:

So when and where can people get their hands on this?

Applegate:

So the best place to go would be biologos.org/integrate to see the webpage for the materials. That will soon have information about how it can be purchased. So anybody who’s really interested in getting a first look and trying things out, we would love for them to go there and express their interest.

Stump:

April, any advice you might give to anybody who’s listening to this that has some interest in science, is worried about how it might affect their faith? Or maybe somebody who’s listening, who knows someone who is getting more interested in science and worries how it might affect their faith?

Maskiewicz-Cordero:

Yes. I’m part of a study with Brigham Young and 12 other universities that looks at: is it really true that if you learn about evolution and you learn about other science topics that this will negatively impact your faith? And all of our data says, nope. There is no evidence to show that. What we do know anecdotally is if we’re told you have to choose science or your faith that has a negative impact. But if you are provided an opportunity to reconcile science with your faith, then a lot of people’s science, I’m sorry, a lot of people’s faith is strengthened. And the kinds of things that my students write about and the kinds of things that teachers I work with write about is how much bigger their God is. How much their God has expanded beyond a, you know, a man with a white beard pulling levers to get different organisms to exist as opposed to this, unimaginably, hugely divine, powerful God who is creating the natural processes and then managing those natural processes that result in the life that we have on earth and potentially life elsewhere as well.

Stump:

I hear you saying that understanding the science, understanding those natural mechanisms has not somehow taken away from seeing the wondrousness and awe of God in those processes.

Maskiewicz-Cordero:

Exactly. It’s the opposite. It hasn’t taken away from it. It’s expanded and made the wondrousness and awe even more multicolored and multifaceted and exciting.

Stump:

Thanks so much for talking to us, April.

Maskiewicz-Cordero:

I was so happy to be invited. Thank you.

Applegate:

Thanks April.

[musical interlude]

BioLogos:

Language of God is produced by BioLogos. It has been funded in part by the John Templeton Foundation and more than 300 individuals who donated to our crowdfunding campaign. Language of God is produced and mixed by Colin Hoogerwerf. Our theme song is by Breakmaster Cylinder. We are produced out of the BioLogos offices in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

If you have questions or want to join in a conversation about this episode find a link in the show notes for the BioLogos forum. Find more episodes of Language of God on your favorite podcast app or at our website, biologos.org, where you will also find tons of great articles and resources on faith and science. Finally, if you’re enjoying the show and want to help us out, leave a review on iTunes, we love hearing from and it helps other people find the show. Thanks. 


Featured guest

April Cordero

April Maskiewicz Cordero

April Maskiewicz Cordero, PhD, is a professor of biology and Dean at Point Loma Nazarene University. Her research focuses on developing more effective approaches for teaching ecology and evolution that enable students to develop not only factual knowledge, but biological ways of thinking and reasoning about the living world. As a Christian biologist trained in science education research, she is in a unique position to investigate science students’ perceptions of the relationship between scientific issues that evoke controversy (i.e. origins, evolution, human origins) and Christian faith. Dr. Maskiewicz Cordero gave a TEDx talk on evolution and faith and she was featured in “From the Dust,” a BioLogos sponsored documentary. She is also active in several professional development projects with schoolteachers as well as university biology faculty, is one of the six authors of the BioLogos Integrate curriculum, and was one of four professors coordinating the PLNU/BioLogos Biology by the Sea Christian school teacher program.

2 posts about this topic

Join the conversation on Discourse

At BioLogos, “gracious dialogue” means demonstrating the grace of Christ as we dialogue together about the tough issues of science and faith.

Join the Conversation