Wheaton faculty aim to fill gap in science education
By Melissa Schill
New textbook connects scientific theories with scriptural knowledge
Five Wheaton professors have co-authored a groundbreaking textbook that integrates a variety of academic disciplines to connect scientific theories of origin with scripture. The book, “Understanding Scientific Theories of Origin: Cosmology, Geology, and Biology in Christian Perspective,” is the first college-level resource to approach the topic in a comprehensive way, including mainstream scientific theories in fields such as astronomy, cosmology, chemistry, geology, biology, physical anthropology and genetics, as well as biblical and theological studies. It has been assigned as reading in several classes on campus this semester.
“The book to me has been a theologically saturated science textbook — something that, in my experience, has escaped my classroom until college,” senior Jacqui Felcan said in an email exchange with the Record. “The book thoroughly and robustly reintegrates theology and scientific inquiry, which a lot of us have learned to separate.” Felcan is reading the textbook for her Physics Senior Seminar.
The inspiration for the book came from the author’s experiences teaching Wheaton’s “Theories of Origins” class for the last 20 years without a textbook to draw from. Instead, they were forced to pull sections from other scholarly works. In this new textbook Associate Professor of Philosophy and Physics Robert Bishop, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry Larry Funck, Associate Professor of Biology Raymond Lewis, Professor of Geology Stephen Moshier and Professor of Old Testament John Walton each wrote chapters specific to their areas of expertise to include unique contributions to the topic from each field.
“We’ve been at this for a long time with the [Theories of Origin] course, and we all know each other pretty well. We’re very happy working together,” Walton said. “To me collaboration is such an important aspect, no matter what area I’m working in. It strengthens the book because, in this case, we have five areas of expertise contributing to it.”
There are seven sections to the book: an introduction to methods used in studying theology and science, cosmic origins, geological history of the earth, origin of life on earth, origin of species, human origins and a conclusion applying these themes to questions of caring for creation and the future new creation. Several chapters within these sections cover topics that can be divisive in the Christian community, including the Big Bang, the Genesis flood and evolutionary theories of human life.
According to Bishop, covering each topic from various angles was a priority for the authors. “It was really important that we structured the book in such a way that you actually see not only the science on display, but how it connects with a Christian theological perspective that’s grounded in the doctrine of creation,” he said.
Biblical descriptions of creation and scientific theories of origin have long been seen at odds with each other in Christian circles. The book is noteworthy in its attempt to combine these two perspectives. However, there have been mixed reviews since its publication last December, as well as backlash in response to the more controversial theories presented.
Senior Ruthie Kornegay is currently reading through the textbook for the Theories of Origin class. While she appreciates the consistency in approaching the theories from a Christian perspective and the way the authors come back to their doctrine of creation, she said that the “biggest disappointment is that [the book is] very one-sided.”
“They introduce other perspectives to shut them down,” Kornegay said. “All of the professors agree with each other and I think that’s actually a weakness of the class [and the book]. It means that there isn’t much space for dialogue.”
While Kornegay primarily agrees with the old earth creationist perspective, she feels that there has been “an uncharitable position towards young earth creationism.” Both the Theories of Origin class and the “Understanding Scientific Theories of Origin” textbook put an emphasis on the evolutionary creationism perspective, and Kornegay feels that it is presented as the superior approach for Christian scholars, over young earth creationism especially.
Junior Aleks Nosewicz, who is also reading the textbook for his Physics Senior Seminar, echoed Kornegay’s thoughts, saying that he disliked how the book is called “Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins,” yet it “really only focuses on a theistic evolution model.”
“Even while I disagree with the theories that they present, they are still consistent in approaching it from a Christian perspective,” Kornegay said. “It is so saturated with recognizing that all of these theories and processes all point us back to God. They never try and pretend that you have to put down your Christian beliefs in order to do that.”
Moshier said the purpose of writing the textbook was to integrate scientific feasibility and Christian faith. “There’s nothing in the book that is any kind of a scientific explanation that leaves God out of the equation.” he said. “There really shouldn’t be a conflict with our faith and a high and authoritative view of scripture and origins. We think this is an approach that can really help people be encouraged in both their pursuit of science and their pursuit of God.”
However, he acknowledges how the book’s emphasis on a scientific model for creation that integrates current scientific thought with Christian theology can distance some Christians who ascribe to a different creation narrative. “There are people who aren’t happy with this approach, so we’ve received criticism from organizations that promote a different view of integrating faith and science.” Moshier said.
“[The book] is very comprehensive, as it walks through doctrine of creation, explains each of the theories of origin including the most up-to-date discourse and evidence,” said Felcan. Felcan personalizes her experience, sharing that “[she doesn’t] think a theological explanation of creation is distinct from a scientific explanation. God designed all of creation, and [as Christians, we] have fair reason to believe that some nuanced theory of evolution explains a part of it.”
Stanley P. Rosenberg, faculty member of the theology and literature departments at University of Oxford remarks that, “there is a profound need for faithful, cogent and sensitive discussions of the relationship between scientific methods, discovery and advancement and Christian theology … [this textbook] justly deserves to become a standard work in college courses seeking to integrate deep reflection on science and Christianity.”
Though some aspects of the book’s assimilation of creationist beliefs with modern scientific thought are controversial, the textbook aims to unite Christian scholars across disciplines with an informed understanding of how science and faith can coexist. The book fills a gap in Wheaton’s current science program and has already led students to ask questions about how they can pursue scientific fields along with, not in tension with, their faith.