This is a guest-post by geologist Keith B. Miller, and is the third installment in our “Evangelicals, Evolution, and Academics” series. Keith edited the book Perspectives on an Evolving Creation and has written numerous articles on science and faith including Theological Implications of an Evolving Creation.
An extension of the “warfare” view of science and Christian faith is the often-stated claim that the secular academy is hostile to faith. Many conservative evangelicals unfortunately do see the secular university as hostile territory. There are certainly individuals within secular institutions who are openly hostile to faith, and there are also no doubt some few particular departments at some institutions where there is a culture of antagonism toward faith. However, I will argue that these are exceptions. Furthermore, the secular academy is an ideal environment in which to productively challenge and deepen one’s faith, and to develop a Christian mind.
My Personal Experience with Secular Education
First, a bit of personal background. I attended public schools growing up, and all of my college and post-graduate education has occurred in secular public or private colleges and universities. My faith grew and matured both through my studies and through my involvement in Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. While pursuing my PhD I was involved in a very dynamic graduate student Bible study that challenged me to pursue a more thorough integration of my faith and my chosen discipline in geology. I was intellectually and spiritually stretched in a way that I might never have been otherwise. In addition, never once in my 12 years as a student in college and graduate school, nor in the nearly 20 years as a faculty member at a state university, have I experienced hostility toward my faith. By contrast, I have been encouraged to deepen my faith and to increasingly see all that I do in the academy as part of my Christian vocation. We all have that challenge, regardless of our occupation or situation, to live our lives in a consistent and transparent manner and to image God to the world.
Secular Academia: This is not Enemy Territory
Part of the perspective that underlies the portrayal of the secular academy as enemy territory is a broader secular/sacred dichotomy that pervades much of evangelical religious culture. Ignorance breeds fear, and the more Christians isolate themselves as a community from the rest of the world the more they will fear that world. This fear is misplaced, because the real enemy is not external but internal. And the interactions we have with others, both inside and outside of the faith, serve to help us more rightly see ourselves. We also are called to transform the world around us, and that requires being engaged with it. Seriously engaging the ideas and arguments of others is part of that challenge. Having someone reject or argue against our faith is an expected part of that engagement. This need not involve hostility or personal rejection, and, as I have stated above, I have experienced neither from my non-Christian teachers or colleagues. We Christians, I believe, are often too quick to claim persecution when others reject our arguments. Sometimes our arguments deserve to be rejected – we have often been lazy in our thinking, and failed to take seriously the stewardship of our minds. Furthermore, if our faith claims are never rejected, perhaps we are not talking to the right people.
The Scientific Establishment: No Pervasive Hostility to Faith
Like the claim made against the academy, the charge that the scientific “establishment” expresses a pervasive hostility to faith is similarly false. A very important feature of the scientific enterprise is that it takes place within a multi-cultural and interfaith community of scholars. At a typical professional scientific meeting there will be participants from a wide range of nationalities, cultures, and religious traditions. Yet those scientists from these various backgrounds can sit down together and productively discuss scientific questions, examine evidence and reach conclusions. They can do this because scientific knowledge is not tied to a particular religious or non-religious worldview – it is universally accessible. Though science as a discipline is religiously neutral, individual scientists are not – nor should they be. People of faith, including many professing Christians, are active respected members of their professional societies and occupy prominent leadership positions within these organizations. This is true of every professional (geology and paleontology) society of which I am a member. And the Christian representation is not a token one. There are thousands of Christians who are active scientists in academia, government and industry. Beyond their mere presence within the scientific community, Christians are becoming increasingly vocal about their faith in the context of their chosen vocation in science. This has been one very positive response to the increasingly loud voices of those who would see only conflict and hostility between faith and science.
Scientific Organizations: Building Bridges Between Science and Faith
Scientific organizations are also increasingly recognizing the destructive impact of the perception that science and religious faith are in necessary conflict. As a result, many are publishing statements, providing educational resources, and convening symposia that address the nature of science and attempt to dispel the “warfare” view. Such organizations include: the Geological Society of America, the Paleontological Society, the National Association of Biology Teachers, the National Academy of Science, and the AAAS. I personally have been involved in some of these efforts. It is important that the public recognize that the few prominent and vocal atheist activists do not represent the scientific community. Unfortunately, some Christians can see only an atheist face of science, and are blind to their brothers and sisters who have been called by God to serve in a scientific vocation in the academy.
Promoting a Christian Worldview in Science
I will conclude by quoting from a short essay that I co-wrote with my wife Ruth (a faculty member in Electrical Engineering):
“Finally, the academy, and professions, can be engaged by Christians who demonstrate a mastery of their disciplines, and who take seriously the views of others. It is the passionate pursuit of truth, not a defensive response to criticism or a reactionary denouncement of others, that will make the Christian worldview a respected voice. Above all, a life lived with integrity and in sacrificial service will reveal the reality of a God who demands our entire lives.”
(Miller, K.B. & Miller, R.D., 1997, “Taking the Road Less Traveled: Reflections on Entering Careers in Science,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, vol.49, no. 4, p.212-214.)