Sarah was recently invited, along with two other scientists, to take part in a panel discussion for a group of mostly Christian students. After the main discussion, students were invited to submit questions via text message; there was very little time to address them, so only a few were answered. The questions were quite good, so over the next few weeks, Surak and Sarah will answer most of them here. All of the questions are listed in the Intro to this series; Part 1 is here; Part 2 is here.
Has an effort by students to share their faith with you ever made an impact on you in any way?
I had a student approach me after a lecture to ask if it was okay to be Christian and a scientist. She was a devoted Christian, and was interested in science, but had been told by one of her professors that she could not be religious and believe in science. She was distressed by this professor’s proclamation, and it struck me then that most students do not have the training or resources available to them to counter such attacks. It was after talking to this student that I decided to start a ministry to help people like this young woman maintain their faith.
Have you ever had a student challenge an idea during class?
I never had a student challenge an idea with respect to religion. I did have students very occasionally challenge a scientific/philosophical idea, but it didn’t happen very often in the intro classes I taught, which is not good. A lot of what is taught in science—particularly in physics and astronomy—should seem weird to students who are introduced to it for the first time, and they should be asking serious questions about it; but it was rare for students to challenge ideas. I did have one student who was annoyed when I explained that no scientific theory is watertight, and that all ideas are subject to refinement and replacement with new ideas. He (not unreasonably) responded to this by asking why he had to bother learning science at all, when its ideas were subject to change at any time. This started a fruitful discussion, and hopefully got other students in the class to think about the nature of human knowledge.
Do you wish you could talk about your faith in the classroom / office hours? If so, what keeps you from doing it?
When I was teaching, I had no desire to bring up my faith in the classroom, aside from a brief statement on the first day of class that I am a believing professor. My approach is not to push—I prefer students to initiate the discussion. If any student had wanted to start a discussion about science and religion in class, and it pertained to the subject of the lecture, I would have obliged; but it never happened. I did, however, have students approach me outside of class time to discuss how science relates to the Christian faith, and I was always happy to do so.