Science for the Church recently received a donation from a retired Presbyterian pastor who now devotes much of her time and her prayers to her 12 grandkids. She is supporting us financially because, as she put it, “I want to be prepared to share with my grandkids that you can be a Christian AND believe in science.” Preach it, Reverend!
Helping the next generation see faith and science as a both/and instead of an either/or is one of the primary motivations for Science for the Church. One way to pursue this goal is to ensure that the church identifies science as a legitimate Christian calling. Just as we are called to education, sales, finance, the food industry, or ministry, we can be called to various scientific and technological professions.
What would it look like if the church’s preaching on vocation specifically included STEM fields?
Science in Synagogues
Let me start to answer that question with an example of science as vocation from American synagogues. Historian Noah Efron, in Judaism and Science: A Historical Introduction, pursues the question of why Jews are so successful in the sciences. As of 2007, 38% of American Nobel prize winners in physics were of Jewish heritage. The figures were also high for American Nobelists in physiology and medicine (42%) and chemistry (28%).
To answer the question of their success in science, he tells a complicated yet fascinating tale of Jewish philanthropy, the prominence of figures like Albert Einstein, the establishment of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, and how nearly every American Jew by the mid-20th century agreed on at least two ideas: the Nazis were bad, and science was good.
What is fascinating to me—a point that has stuck with me since I attended a lecture Efron gave at Penn about 15 years ago—is that synagogues and rabbis played a key role in proclaiming the value of science and persuading young Jews to pursue scientific vocations. Grandparents, parents, and children all heard this message of science as a way for Jewish immigrants to get out of ghettos and integrate into the wider American culture. Jews found meritocracy in science where they could avoid the discrimination they faced in so many other professions. The rabbis proclaimed science as a great equalizer, and many young Jews entered the sciences. The result has been extraordinary as no other American minority group has had such an impact on science.
Which leads me to the following question: What would happen if our churches proclaimed the value of science and encouraged young Christians to pursue scientific vocations?
- Noah Efron on Jews and Nobel prizes.
- Scientists in Synagogues continues the legacy of Jewish congregations engaging science.
- I considered Christians and Nobel prizes in a profile of physicist Donna Strickland for Orbiter magazine.
- History shows us how the church fostered science and technology in past centuries, often rooted in the Two Books Theology.
- This video unpacks the place of awe and wonder in the vocation of scientists.
- Called to Science is a relatively new resource that highlights the vocations of scientists and engineers. The bottom of their home page has collections of testimonies by scientific discipline.
Christians in Science
What would happen if our churches proclaimed the value of science? I think the answer is pretty straightforward—more Christians would pursue STEM professions, and the path to scientific vocations would be smoother. Whether learned from other Christians or the wider culture, young people feel tensions around faith and science; most, if not all, of these tensions would be relieved by churches preaching the value of science.
The harder question is probably the why question: Why should the church promote science as a vocation? There are a number of ways to go about answering this question. I will briefly touch on a few (although each deserves fuller treatment):
- There are clear biblical mandates to care for creation and to love our neighbors. Science is not the only means to fulfill these mandates, but it is certainly one. Certainly, the church readily recognizes many STEM professions for the ways they love and care for our neighbors, such as doctors, counselors, medical researchers, and even science educators. It should also include engineers, who often pursue technological solutions to meet the needs of others.
- As I noted above, a rich historical tradition understands two sources of revelation with one Author—both Scripture and nature—often labelled the Two Books of God. This tradition legitimizes science as a means to learn about God, even in areas that don’t obviously result in caring for creation or neighbor. It has powerfully motivated scientists of faith for centuries.
- Many Christians in the sciences describe their work as worship as they investigate creation and experience the awe and wonder of what their telescopes and microscopes reveal.
- Literature about faith and work commonly encourages pursuit of a vocation that uses one’s God-given talents. For those adept at math and science, STEM professions may provide an opportunity to steward those talents wisely.
This line of thought—science as vocation—is relatively new for me. My vocation led me away from physics and into theology and ministry. But this is a theme we are certainly pursuing at Science for the Church. Nearly all of our churches include STEM professionals, and we want them to see their work as a response to Christ’s call. Moreover, there are at least as many STEM professionals in our communities for whom an opportunity to consider science as vocation may be an invitation for them into our churches.
And yet, my desire to consider science as vocation remains rooted in our children and youth. To paraphrase that retired pastor I began with, every grandkid in the church should grow up understanding that they can be scientist and be a Christian. There is no inherent contradiction in being both. In fact, science is one of many professions that can be wholeheartedly embraced by persons of faith. So, let us join in prayer for all the grandkids in all of our churches.
P.S. We would encourage you to follow the generous Reverend’s lead and consider making a tax-deductible gift to support the work of Science for the Church. Click here for more information.