In my previous post “Diagnosing the Split-Brain Syndrome“, I focussed on my own experience growing up switching between absolute credulity and scientific rigour (at least a little more rigour than the average teenager). The most bizarre thing to me is that it did not seem to phase me or those around me. I could be talking about the latest discoveries in shark behaviour in one instant and recounting the latest alien abduction story in the next. No one ever questioned me about the incongruity. Indeed, if anything, people were more interested in the latter than the former.
It will surprise many non-Christians that for me the healing began shortly after my conversion to Christianity in my first year of university. While it began with a desire to understand the Scriptures better, the real healing began when I attended Regent College for Graduate School. At Regent, I had no idea what to expect but what I discovered (for the first time in my life) was a place where people were actively and rigorously engaging their minds in a whole-hearted pursuit of truth in theology and philosophy and life in general. I did not experience this type of intellectual stimulation while pursuing my B.A.. In those years, my peers suffered from another common split-brain syndrome “school brain” and “weekend brain” or “after-school brain” — binge studying followed by binge drinking.
As one who teaches undergraduates, I do not want them to wait for Graduate School before they begin the healing process. Moreover, I do not expect many of them to even experience this type of healing in Graduate School. Regent College is delightfully interdisciplinary by design and such regular exposure to diverse disciplines is especially beneficial in the healing of the split-brain syndrome.
So, how do I kickstart the healing process for my mostly freshman students? At Baylor University, there are two required religion courses for students. They are Christian Scriptures which as the name suggests is an introductory course on the Bible and Christian Heritage which is an introduction to Christian history and theology. In Christian Scriptures, I attempt to lay a foundation for students to develop careful reading habits and focus on helping students identify and interpret the various genres in Scripture. For non-Christian students, I suggest that they view the course in part as an exercise in cross-cultural communication. Here is where I focus on helping people to become better readers and interpreters.
As the vast majority of my students are neither Religion majors or minors, I do try to help them integrate the course material with their chosen academic pursuits. Most of my students are headed into the sciences in one way or another. So, in my Christian Heritage class, I devote a week to “Christianity and Science”. I attempt to provide an environment where the students feel safe enough to ask questions and voice their opinions and concerns. In order for discussion to be fruitful, engaging, and instructive, I want my students to come prepared. So, I have them doing a reading in advance.
The week before our discussion, I have them turn in a two page reflective summary on “God’s Handiwork”, the chapter on Science and Christianity from Rodney Stark’s For the Glory of God. Although somewhat apologetic in tone, Stark provides an excellent summary of the history of the relationship between science and Christianity that challenges the popular myth that opposes the two. At eighty pages, this reading is long for freshman. However, from their reflective papers and from their end of semester reviews, I have found that for the majority of students this reading is their favourite and makes a strong impression on them. Of course, they complain about the length.
Many students express their experience of reading this chapter in terms of a great relief or a new found sense of freedom in pursuing their scientific passions. Some students are angered. They are not angered by the reading, they are angry because they have been lied to (likely unwittingly) by teachers, authorities, and the media. Usually, discovering the real story of Christopher Columbus sparks this anger.
Many of us were told and many still tell the story of Columbus’s conflict with the Church as an argument over the shape of the earth. According to the popular myth, Columbus argued that the earth was round and was setting out to prove it. While the backward and anti-scientific Church authorities taught that the earth was flat and wanted to stop him. The actual argument, according to Stark and historians of science, was not over the shape of the earth but over the size of the globe. Now, as it happens, the Church affiliated academics were arguing that Christopher Columbus had vastly underestimated the circumference of the earth. They were right. In fact, Christopher Columbus lied to his crew about how far they had travelled so they would not force him to turn back. He passed the point of no return without his crew knowing. Fortunately for him, there was another continent between Europe and India.
In stark contrast (pun intended) to the prevailing myth popularized by John William Draper and others, Stark argues that rather than being in conflict with science, Christianity, Christian theology, and Christian institutions made possible the development of the modern scientific method. The treatment of Galileo which is far more complex than it is usually presented is not the rule but an exception in the history of Christianity and science. (See also, Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths) Some argue that Stark overstates his case but few historians of science would disagree with his basic argument that Christianity contributed to the rise of scientific research and discovery.
Having an accurate understanding of the history of science goes a long way to mending the gap.
For more recommended readings on this topic see my page “Christianity and Science“.