In some communities, believing in science concepts that contradict literal Biblical interpretations, such as biological evolution, is anathema to being a Christian with integrity. But when community members, especially when they are educators, step in to model being passionate about both simultaneously, barriers begin to crumble and change begins to happen.
As part of Sinai and Synapses’ series “More Light, Less Heat,” Ian Binns, Ph.D. and Dr. Mark Bloom, a professor of science at a conservative Baptist university, discuss how they came to hold a belief about science and religion being in dialogue rather than opposition, and how they have become positive examples to their students, who often struggle with holding the two together.
Ian C. Binns, Ph.D. is an associate professor of Elementary Science Education in the Department of Reading and Elementary Education in the Cato College of Education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. His research looks at how preservice elementary teachers’ scientific literacy and faith-based beliefs influence their perceptions of how socio-scientific issues, such as evolution, creationism, and intelligent design, should be addressed in the classroom. His community work includes public testimony in defense of science in Louisiana, efforts to help the science education community become more aware of attempts to undermine science instruction, and science-faith courses at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter in Charlotte, NC. He is a 2017-2019 Sinai and Synapses Fellow.
Here he discusses how Bible study has given him new insights into how he can reconcile religion and science in his community:
Hi, my name is Ian Binns. I’m an elementary science educator at UNC Charlotte. And today I want to talk about two things that are really important to me when it comes to science and religion.
The first is how I got involved in all this. While a faculty member at Louisiana State University, I testified a few times about trying to protect the integrity of science and science education against people who would be more – considered fundamentalists in their perspectives on religion. Their conversations always amazed me with the judgment that we were given, thinking that all of us were atheists and nonbelievers.
And I think one of the more surprising conversations was when I corrected someone and explained to them that no, actually I’m not an atheist, I am an Episcopalian. And this actually made that individual even more angry, thinking that I was almost betraying religion because of my efforts to protect the teaching of evolution, and those types of issues.
So that was kind of how I got started. And now one thing I’m really excited about that I’m working on is a Bible study that I decided to start this past July. And I decided I wanted to do this, one, for my own spiritual growth, but also, two, with my desires and goals when it comes to science and religion, to better understand the Bible itself. I had never really read through it, and so I decided I want to read the whole thing and blog about it, and do Daily Reflections, and then share those reflections and be as honest as possible through the process.
It’s been a very challenging process, but exciting. I’ve learned quite a bit about myself and about the Bible. And just many questions have come up, and I look forward to where this will take me. But the Bible study – what’s really exciting for me is approaching it as someone who is more analytical in my thinking, as a science educator, that I find myself questioning a lot. I was initially very worried about that, and how that would be perceived, but thankfully the person who’s been helping me through this, Father Kevin Brown, who is now Bishop Kevin Brown, he suggested that I be very honest, and if I’ve got questions or I’m critical of what it is I’m reading, to put that down, that should be part of my process that I go through.
So there are many times that I read something that I completely disagree with, and I will write that down and say “I don’t like that, and here’s why.” And I think, too, throughout this process, it may not, as of right now, have impacted my teaching as much, but it’s definitely impacted my view of things in a way that I didn’t expect. One example is experiencing the total solar eclipse. It was cloudy where we were that day, but I was able to take some pictures, and it was my first time experiencing a solar eclipse. But some of the pictures I took – while, and this is about a month after the Bible study started – some of those pictures were just fascinating, and to me, I understood scientifically why things are happening, but I felt like I had a different level of respect that I didn’t anticipate.
Another thing that’s kind of arisen from this is I’ve noticed more of a desire to protect, or at least defend, my faith in Christianity in general, and religion in general. I’m just making people realize, when I see things on social media saying that all Christians, or all people of faith, are very closed- minded and unwilling to accept people for who they are – that I correct that very quickly, and remind them that no, we’re not all that way. So it’s been a wonderful experience, and a lot of things are happening that I never anticipated.
Dr. Mark Bloom is a professor of biology, natural science and mathematics at the College of Education at Dallas Baptist University. He holds a B.S. in biology from Dallas Baptist University, a M.S. in biology from Baylor University, and a Ph.D. in science education from Texas Christian University. He is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in theological studies from Dallas Baptist University and a Ph.D. In leadership studies focusing on how Christian leaders within the scientific community reconcile their religious and scientific worldviews.
Here he discusses how he reached an understanding about the role of science and religion in his life:
Hi, my name is Mark Bloom. I am a biology professor at a conservative Baptist university in Texas. I’ve had a long history of dealing with the intersection of science and religion. I was raised in a very conservative Christian home – we went to church twice on Sundays and once on Wednesdays, all of our social network was through the church. It was very important part of our lives, but I also had, at a very early age, begun to develop a love for science. I went to environmental science camps, I collected insects, I pressed plants, so I had a deep love for science. And science, in a way, seemed to make sense out of a disorderly world, and so I really appreciated that aspect of science.
As I moved up in my K-12 progression, I took electives and additional biology courses and began to foster that knowledge growth. And it was, as so many others have told me, during that time that I began to perceive a conflict between my religion and what science was telling me. And it was through my church, it was the pastors, who were telling me that our school teachers were going to be presenting us with ideologies, especially this silly, laughable, but also very dangerous idea of biological evolution, and that we needed to be very careful to avoid going down that path – that we could compromise our faith.
And so not just evolution specifically, but science in general, was kind of portrayed as somehow threatening to our religion. The problem is, that didn’t really ring true with me. I had already been studying science so much that I’d gone so far down the path already that, without formally understanding it, I was already beginning to interpret Genesis in a non-literal way. I could account for an old earth and a regional flood, as opposed to a global inundation flood of the Noahic age.
And yet, I was being told that in doing that, I was compromising my Christianity. I remember a Sunday morning, the pastor actually saying, “you cannot be a Christian and have any integrity if you accept evolution.” And so they really drew a line in the sand, and that line in the sand caused me to spend quite a few years sort of in my own spiritual wilderness. And during that time, I earned my Master’s degree in biology and my Ph D. in science education, and now I am a nonmajor biology teacher.
And during those times I also read many, many books, and I came to appreciate those of those people who have tried to reconcile their Christian worldviews and their scientific understanding of the world that we live in – people like Francis Collins and John Walton, I have found extremely helpful to me.
And so now, fast forward to now, when I’m teaching non-majors biology, and I see these students who are in the same situation that I was. I actually had one that told me she was considering giving up her faith in God because she couldn’t reconcile these two beliefs, but that during my course, she realized that science and religion could co-exist together, and it’s with that motivation that I’m now pursuing a second doctoral degree in leadership studies, where I’m studying culture-changing leaders, in hopes that I can identify the paths that Christian leaders in the scientific community have forged, that I can present those to other young, developing minds, so that they can arrive at a place where their religion is no longer in contradiction of the truth of what science has to tell them.