In the first part of my article series, I described how the church encouraged, embraced, and engaged the scientific realm for centuries. Sadly, since the 1800’s, the gap between faith and science has widened, leading STEM professionals (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) in the church to wonder if there is any place for them in the body.
The first key practice that can help build an ecclesial culture open to scientific pursuits is through the area of educational ministry. STEM professionals are naturally oriented toward intellectual endeavors, and involving them in educational ministries enables them to participate in the life of the church through sharing and discussing topics they enjoy researching and writing about. In a society that perpetuates the gap between faith and science, STEM professionals in the church can become facilitators of this discussion within their congregations, as they are open about their ability to harmonize their religious devotion with their chosen vocation.
STEM professionals in the church can play a role in a congregation’s understanding of scientific issues and their relationship to the Christian faith. Since matters of science and religion often come to the fore when discussing public policy, such as the teaching of intelligent design in public schools or embryonic stem cell research, STEM professionals in the church can dispel myths that often surround these controversial topics and speak truth into the lives of congregants. Working alongside STEM professionals to develop curriculum related to apologetics and other faith-science issues can be a fruitful way of involving them in ecclesial life.
Berkeley Covenant Church, funded by a grant from the John Temple Foundation developed an adult education course entitled “Considering God’s Word: Exploring the Interface between the Christian Faith and the Natural Sciences,” co-taught by pastors and resident scientists. The syllabus for the course notes:
With the help of the ever-attentive eyes of the natural sciences we will explore the majesty of the material reality that God has created and continues to create. Learning what science is and is not, we will discover how theological and scientific truths interrelate, and how specific areas of scientific knowledge interact with, challenge, and uphold key areas of Christian belief.
Courses such as this in the local church serve as an example to Christians young and old in their faith that the traditional dichotomies that society perpetuates are false, and that to have a robust faith means to integrate faith with intellectual pursuits, especially STEM disciplines.
Encouraging Scientific Pursuit in Youth
Involving STEM professionals in Christian education encourages young students oriented toward STEM disciplines to pursue those disciplines as they enter high school and college. David Kinnaman, in his ground-breaking book You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church, found that young people perceive the church as being “antiscience.” He writes, “Because science has come to play such a defining role in our broader culture, it is shaping young adults’ perceptions of the church. It is these perceptions that we must deal well with if we truly desire to make disciples” (Kinnaman, You Lost Me, 136). He points out that 35% of 18- to 29-year-olds believe that Christians are too confident that they know “all the answers” regarding faith and science, and 29% of those surveyed in this group believe that churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in (Kinnaman, You Lost Me, 137).
Perhaps even more discouraging is that while 52% of those surveyed hope to pursue a STEM profession, only 1% of youth pastors addressed issues of faith and science in the prior year (Kinnaman, You Lost Me, 140). Against the backdrop of these statistics, Kinnaman writes:
“Young Christians who are called into positions of scientific inquiry and pedagogy ought to be encouraged by the Christian community to follow their callings to the utmost of their abilities. We need to help them discover how their chosen field of study and work is closely connected to God’s design for the world and for them” (Kinnaman, You Lost Me, 142).
STEM professionals can step into the role of a professional and intellectual mentor to youth who have expressed an interest in pursuing a scientific vocation.
Over time, involving STEM professionals in educational ministry can foster an ecclesial culture that embraces the relationship and tensions within faith and science. Moreover, this can lead a positive witness in our communities, as the church can re-position itself to be a community of people who seek to integrate scientific knowledge with biblical faith, as opposed to perpetuating false dichotomies. As churches describe the beauty and complexity of the created order that testifies to the One who brought everything into existence, people will need to respond to what they have seen.