Today and two weeks from now I’m helping out with the annual Trustee competition at North Park. In this event, outstanding high school seniors that are leaning towards or committed to attending North Park compete for high-level scholarship money. They also get an event-filled visit to the school, meet some of their future peers, and are introduced to a handful of faculty. They seem to like it and I know that I really enjoy being a part of it.
My role in the event is to meet with the students in small groups (6-10 students) and have a discussion. The topic is left up to me and throughout the afternoon they will have 2 other discussions with other faculty. The format and topic varies significantly between the different faculty. Last year, I asked them to answer the questions: What does it mean to be human? Or, to connect it to Christian theology if they were so inclined, what does it mean to be created in the “image of God”?
The responses were great and a good discussion followed.
This year I decided to do it similarly, but change up the question. I’m going to ask them: What are the limits of science? I’m looking forward to the discussion. While some of the students will be science majors in the future, many will not which i think will only make the discussion better and more engaging. While I share my opinion from time to time, I tend to act as more of a facilitator to see where it goes and how they interact with each other.
I’ll fill you in on how the discussion goes and share some of the responses later this afternoon…
Alright… so what did they come up with? There were 30+ students so I am not going to go through all of their answers, but I enjoyed the discussion. What’s always interesting about these competitions is how different the discussions will play out between the different groups. For instance, the first two groups felt the need to limit science by contrasting it with faith and belief in God. After awhile I reminded them that the question was not about God, but science. It would appear that Christian culture and the media have put a bit of fear and distrust in their minds regarding science, especially those areas that have traditionally been “saved” for religion. But I would have anticipated that.
We talked about evolution and creation much more than I would have anticipated and I was reminded again how much students disbelieve in evolution and want there to be equal time for creation in the classroom. North Park is a Christian school so we certainly pull students in who would be more likely to be anti-evolution, but I get then sense (as in my own journey) that many non-Christian high school students are also skeptical of evolution. Of course, the percentage is lower, but it’s still there. Creationism seems to still be quite prevalent, as the studies consistently show. Science faculty at any institution need to be cognizant of that and teach with grace, humility, and a listening ear.
For some students, they said interestingly that science is limitless but that humans are not, and so the enterprise is limited solely by the apes running the experiment (my paraphrase). Another said that the Fall can shed light on the situation as a desire for more and more knowledge may lead to our downfall and separation from God. I would counter with it’s not the knowledge we should be worried about, but what we then do with the knowledge.
Some said that science leads to worship because we see how complex the world really is. I agree and attribute this to the Creator God while my atheist scientific colleagues would not. If they’re led to worship is of nature itself, and not God. Who or what we worship as a result of knowledge absolutely depends on our preconceived thoughts and notions. Again, this speaks to what we do with the knowledge.
All and all it was a fun day filled with good discussion. I can see clearly that there is a dire need to educate students on the methods, philosophy, and history of science, as they have a difficult time as a whole really appreciating what science is. If science equals facts about evolution and evolution is false, then science is to be feared and not trusted. But if science is a process that works quite well then that process shouldn’t be feared but instead embraced. The limits of science aren’t set by content but by whether experiments can be performed and results generated… and our techniques get better by the year.