W. Scott McCullough
 on May 29, 2020

Awake in the Night: The Afterword

Author and professor discusses what led him to write this dialogue.

man holding lantern by a lake

This is, admittedly, an unusual approach to the integration of faith and science. I chose a dialogue through a web of influences.

The first thread of influence that led to the dialogue format was an attempt to work out James K. Smith’s enigmatic suggestion that a narrative approach to the integration of faith and learning was preferable to an intellect-heavy, worldview approach.4  The heart matters. There is a great deal of worldview here, but I hope that setting it in story form will appeal to the mind through the heart, kindling a desire for the Kingdom along the way.

A second thread of influence is the long history of Christian apologies written in dialogue form. They stretch from Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho in the 2nd Century25, through 9th Century apologies to Muslims, including Refutations of the Saracens by Theodore Abu Qurrah26 and Patriarch Timothy’s Apology for Christianity, whose interlocutor is the Caliph of Baghdad, on to Anselm’s 12th Century dialogue with Boso on the atonement in Cur Deus Homo27 and C.S. Lewis’ 20th Century Screwtape Letters.28 Martin is a fictional character (though the alert reader will see quite a lot of the teacher in the student), but he is more corporeal than Wormwood, less clownish than Boso, less oriental than the Saracen and the Caliph, and more modern than Trypho.

A third factor was a desire to make biblical studies more central to the integration of science and the Christian faith. Philosophical approaches are helpful, but a Christian who loses confidence in the reliability of the Bible will inevitably either reject the faith or divorce spiritual life from professional and intellectual life, leading to a lack of holiness and evangelical zeal. Some well-meaning Christians, working to rescue the Bible, have imposed a “hermeneutic of necessity” on the Scriptures, insisting that their interpretation must accommodate current theories in science; other equally well-intentioned Christians have imposed a “hermeneutic of necessity’’ on science, insisting that theory and even evidence must conform to its first-blush, early-twenty-first-century North American reading of Genesis 1 as an account of material origins. Both approaches have caused Christians to doubt the reliability of the Bible, in part because neither approach has allowed the Bible to speak on its own terms.

A fourth reason for the style was a desire to set the pastoral concern front and center. Some students of science struggle with professors and colleagues who are antagonistic to the Christian faith. Others find that their churches are suspicious of their calling.  The pastoral burden for Christian students of science is not only the struggle to “reconcile” general and special revelation, but also to live charitably with fellow believers who accuse them of not believing the Bible and who undermine the legitimacy of their work and calling. The strident voices of dogmatic naturalism and young earth creationism vie for unquestioning, undivided allegiance. Though poles apart ideologically, they are methodologically similar in their representation of modern science and faith as mutually incompatible and in their unassailable, presumed rightness. A Christian student of science needs help not only with navigating relationships with fellow scientists but also fellow believers. Life narrative is suited to expressing pastoral concern in this context…

…which leads to the final and very personal reason for the dialogue format; I chose it to enlist my experience as a companion for Christian students in the sciences, to walk with them through wakeful nights and to point them to Jesus Christ, by whom “all things were created” (Colossians 1:16), and “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).

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This was the last document in the series "Awake in the Night: A Virtual Dialogue".

About the author

Scott McCullough

W. Scott McCullough

W. Scott McCullough, Ph.D. (Purdue) is associate professor of physics and mathematics at Indiana Wesleyan University. His undergraduate research program is in computational biophysics, collaborating with biochemists and biological chemists. He spent 18 years in the Republic of Yemen, where he taught in the physics department at Sana’a University and worked in STEM teacher education development.