Professors offer new twist on faith in science

PLAINVIEW - As Joel Boyd completed a research project while studying as a graduate student at Rice University in Houston, he quickly realized how difficult it is to mix Christian beliefs with modern science.

Working with his research group to determine how water behaves in small pools, Boyd stumbled across "a really great result." But when he started to publish the study his advisor wanted to include how this result would have been key in the evolution of life.

"I was not willing to state it that way," Boyd said.

Although the difference of opinion didn't cause any major problems, Boyd said it was an example of some of the things scientists who are Christians (not to be confused with Christian Scientists) face every day.

"A prime example is the Texas Tech professor who recently made the news for refusing to recommend people of faith for graduate programs in biology because you cannot explicitly endorse his evolutionary view of biology," Boyd said. "He believes you are not capable of being a functional biologist."

Dr. Boyd, a 1997 graduate of Wayland Baptist University with B.S. degrees in math and chemistry, received his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Rice in 2002. He is now an assistant professor of chemistry at Wayland and is trying to prepare his students for the trials they will face as Christians in a scientific world.

Boyd hit upon the idea of teaching a class such as this while talking with a member of his research group at Rice. She told him of a class she had taken at a Christian university in Arkansas that dealt with the subject matter.

"I thought that was a neat idea and would be something that would be fun to do some day," Boyd said. "Now I find myself teaching in Christian academics and this is my golden chance."

To that end, Boyd has teamed with Instructor of Mathematics Scott Franklin to offer a class dealing with faith in science.

"We want them to have dealt with these issues that can be very trying for a person with Christian faith before they are out there in the secular world," Boyd said.

Franklin, a 1998 Wayland graduate who received his master's degree from Texas Tech, was quick to join Boyd in the classroom. He said a particular point of interest is that scientists cannot separate their personal beliefs from their method of science.

"The fact that you believe there is a creator may have an influence on the choices that you make on what you decide to study," Franklin said. "A scientist, no matter how hard he tries, is never going to be able to separate his worldview from his method of science.

"We are trying to introduce students to some of these views they are going to see. If you go to any state university, you are going to see very naturalistic and even anti-religion, anti-faith perspectives where they think any belief in a god is interfering with your science. They think you have to abandon that to be a true scientist."

The team disagrees with that notion, saying there is room for Christian beliefs in the world of science, especially when discussing the theory of intelligent design. Franklin said intelligent design is a modern theory dealing with all the "little peculiar details in science" and how they work together to point to a designer.

"There is a principal in physics that everything is losing order in some sense," Franklin said. "But at the same time we still have so much obvious design that there are small details working together and it is very impossible that by some chance this could just happen.

"There isn't another explanation for why such fine-tuning exists in nature."

Still, the professors aren't trying to stand before the class and tell them there is only one way to believe.

"It is not a typical lecture class in that we are not teaching 'this is how to believe,'" Franklin said. "We are giving students the opportunity to explore the interaction that a scientist will have with his faith."

Boyd and Franklin said co-teaching is the only way to approach a class like this. It allows professors with somewhat differing views to better interact with the students. Dr. Adam Reinhart, assistant professor of biological and earth sciences, will join the teaching group and be very involved when the class begins to discuss medical ethics and biological issues.

"One point that is nice about co-teaching the class is that on some subjects, Joel and I are very different in what we believe. We are not coming at it from the same direction. It makes it very interesting to be able to present some of these perspectives because our viewpoints are very different," Franklin said.

In its inaugural offering, the class has been a success, not only for the students, but for the professors as well.

"I have learned a lot, not only in my preparations for the class, but I have also learned a lot by listening to the students talk," Boyd said. "It has not been a one-way street at all. They have done a great job of being involved in the class."

Both instructors said there is no definite answer to the problems Christian scientists will face as they continue their study, but they are hoping to open their eyes to the viewpoints that are out there.

"My goal is to try and expose students to the ideas that are out there so, when the time comes and they face the challenge and they are in those situations, they already know where they stand and why," Boyd said.