As a science teacher, my kids absolutely believe that I am a geek, that I play copious amounts of video games, that I know pretty much everything about the world, (you don’t want to know how much time I spent talking about the stupid black/blue or white/gold dress!!) and that “The Element Song” is on my I-Pod.
What they can’t believe is that I’m Christian. When I’m teaching about how the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, evolution is still happening, and that the Big Bang was the birth of the Universe as we know it, I always have at least two students in each of my four classes saying “This goes against my beliefs!” and “Do you believe in God?” For some reason, I doubt this question comes up in any other class quite as much. As a public educator, my response is usually: “In science class, it is my responsibility to teach you what scientists have found by studying our world and the universe. If you want to talk about my beliefs or have questions, please see me during lunch and talk to your parents.” I’ve only had a few take me up on the offer where we can talk one on one about the fact that I am Christian, I celebrate Christmas, and they share their beliefs with me and I usually deflect to “talk to your parents about it.”
But when I’m in class, I can’t talk about how I believe in God and many scientists I have known over the years also believe in God. My themochemistry professor had to change our recitation time in order to make choir practice. I avoid the conversation about how I can’t teach Creationism or Intelligent Design because that would derail the entire class, as would getting into a discussion of how the bible came about and changed over time. It is important to have a separation of church and state in the science classroom. By the last class of the day when we were taking notes on Big Bang, I eventually just said “Hey guys, remember when Galilleo went under House Arrest because his ideas were against the church? You were all up in arms about it. This is similar. This is what scientists have seen and how they interpret their findings.” The room basically went silent and we were able to continue.
But why do my students automatically assume I’m an atheist and judge me accordingly? (It is a judgment. I had a student get upset and another one say “no no- she’s Christian!” which quelled the issue for some reason… 8th graders are interesting) It could be because I don’t teach the bible- I’m a public school teacher, I keep religion out of my classroom, but that doesn’t mean I keep it out of my life.
I grew up in church, I was involved in youth activities across the Diocese of Philadelphia, I brought friends with me to events, I was involved in pretty much everything at Church. But I loved science, which was never a problem for me. My microscope sat on my desk next to my prayerbook. Evolution was awesome- dinosaurs were awesome – I went to Science classes in the library a week after I attended summer bible school. In fifth grade I saw the following cartoon, and it basically set me on a path where science and religion could exist:
It made sense, to me. We had taken knowledge from the Garden of Eden. We were exposed to suffering, and our minds were open to exploring God’s vast creation. When I grew up, I spent the better half of my Junior year in high school deciding if I wanted to go into science or seminary.
There is actually more danger of a disruption of faith with something like creationism or intelligent design. I attended lecture on Darwin’s Birthday about Intelligent Design and saw the following graphic:
If we look at the ‘holes’ of evolution and fill them with God, when scientists continue to make discoveries and fill in missing pieces, it pushes God out of the picture. It creates a disconnect between your beliefs and science. However, if instead you believe that God’s the driving force behind everything we are understanding, the mortar between the bricks, we can think of scientific breakthroughs as joyous occasions. Richard Dawkins, although a staunch atheist and supporter of evolution once wrote: “After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with color, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it?” There is spirituality in this quote, and if the word “God” was thrown in there somewhere, it would match my viewpoints entirely.
Science and Knowledge should not be the enemies of Religion. You shouldn’t have to abandon your beliefs to be a scientist. Nor should you ignore scientific evidence because of your beliefs.
I could be a minority, but I have a habit of sticking to my guns just like everyone else on the religion- science continuum. I cringe a little bit when I’m among friends who don’t believe in Climate Change. I flat out get angry when engaged in verbal gridlock on the concept or watch debates on Evolution. I’ve lost friends over it, I’ve gotten into fights with family over it, but it doesn’t change how I feel. There cannot be a winner or loser. People need religion, people need science. Pitting them against each other is only going to further polarize the population one way or the other, closing minds on both sides. We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to our environment, we cannot afford to stop learning about our world, just as we cannot rip away one’s beliefs, supports, and love religious communities offer. I fear for a world where we stop learning, stop believing, and stop loving each other because of this separation…
But I can’t say any of that in the classroom. In the classroom, I focus on scientific theories. Scientific Theory is defined as: “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that is acquired through the scientific method and repeatedly tested and confirmed through observation and experimentation.” As a teacher, I cannot relate them to God and student beliefs because there is no hard evidence to support a belief, that’s why it’s a belief! It stems from spiritual leaders, family members, and friends. It is not my job as an educator to change anyone’s beliefs, but it is my job to make sure students understand the world around them and hopefully see the value of pursuing science, medicine, and engineering to create their own future.
So, regardless of which of these images speak to you, don’t forget that “both” is a viable option