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A Conversation on Science and Faith with Faith Stults from BioLogos

Below is the edited transcript of a Learning to Serve podcast with Krista Wallace, CDL co-chair.


Krista Wallace: We have Faith Stults from BioLogos as our guest today. So Faith, thanks for being on the show!


Faith: Of course - my pleasure.


Krista: Please give us a little bit of background about yourself, and then we're going to dive into what BioLogos is.


Faith: Sure. I am a high school physics teacher by background. I spent seven years teaching high school physics in astronomy at a Christian school in the San Francisco Bay area and loved every minute. I have just always been a big fan of working with Christian youth and talking about science and faith and everything in between. Since then, I've taken a step back from the classroom into curriculum development and work for BioLogos, which is a science and faith organization.


Krista: Awesome. So tell us a little bit more about BioLogos and how you got involved with BioLogos.


Faith: Sure. BioLogos was founded by Francis Collins, who is the director of the human genome project and also the former NIH (National Institutes of Health) director. You might know him better as Anthony Fauci’s boss. Francis Collins is an incredible scientist and a deeply devoted evangelical Christian.


In his own experience as an atheist who actually came to faith through the process of studying medicine and science and the genome, he felt very passionate that there is really deep harmony between science and faith and that the church could use a lot of help exploring and better understanding just how well those two things can fit together.


So he founded Biologos in 2009 to help the Christian community better understand science and understand how we can learn about God, not only through scripture, which of course is absolutely vital, but also through the book of the natural world - God’s creation. And so we are a nonprofit that develops educational resources, provides speakers, puts on events to explore everything in the intersection between science and faith, including origins, but also going into things like bioethics, climate change, and all sorts of other stuff.


Krista: Wow. I did not know the background of how it got started, so that's fascinating. And I'm curious, why did he choose to go into Christian schools? Do you know?


Faith: Francis Collins? So he no longer directly runs the organization. He got tapped by President Obama, I believe, to be the director of the NIH. So he couldn't be involved in a nonprofit organization. But we have long been wanting to get into the Christian education community because our organization has spent the last 10 years working primarily with adults who are having to deconstruct and process things that they learned as kids about the relationship between science and faith, and really do a lot of hard work of reevaluating some of those things that they grew up being taught. So it just made sense that why not work with today's youth, help them have a healthy relationship with science from the beginning so that they can grow up without this sense of conflict. And without ever having to go through a crisis of faith - at least around science and faith issues.


Personally, as someone who went through K-12 Christian schools I had a wonderful experience, but did get a little bit of mixed messages about what I was supposed to make of the science thing. It's long been a passion of mine to get back involved with the Christian education community and help us think better about how we talk about science with our students.


Krista: Wow. That is absolutely fascinating. So BioLogos has a brand-new curriculum. It's called Integrate. And this is specifically for high school students. Can you tell us a little bit more about Integrate and how this is being used in faith-based schools?


Faith: Absolutely. We've gotten requests for curriculum for as long as we've been in organization, but as any teacher knows, developing a curriculum is a massive undertaking. And so about five years ago, we decided to take the plunge and started talking to a lot of teachers and principals and, and also homeschool educators and trying to get a sense of what the need was and what type of curriculum would really meet that need. What we heard from teachers was that when it comes to textbooks and curriculum, particularly textbooks, they felt like they had two options.


They could use the Christian textbook, which almost always had more of a young earth perspective that was not supportive of evolution and really challenges some scientific ideas that the scientific community has found to be trustworthy and that have significant evidence and support behind them.


Or they could use a secular science book and for many Christian schools, neither of those are quite what they're looking for. So what we were told is that what would be really great is if we could use a secular science textbook to get really high quality science instruction, but then to have a curriculum supplement that came alongside that brought in the science and faith content and gave opportunity for discussions and processing through some of those harder theological questions that obviously aren't gonna be addressed in the secular textbook. So that's really the intended use of this - for a high school biology class who is using a secular science textbook, something like Miller and Levine or Campbell for biology teachers out there.


There are 15 units in this curriculum that cover all sorts of topics that you would find in a general biology curriculum and you can pair units that fit in with the topics that you're covering in your class. It's very modular, very plug and play - you can pick out what works best for you in your classroom.


Krista: Awesome. (Because we are doing a Zoom call, I see) these 15 chapters (behind you). So can you explain what these 15 chapters are because they look amazing?


Faith: Absolutely. They decorate the wall of my office. I love looking at them.


So there are 15 chapters or units and they're broken up into four. What we call bundles, basically a topical group. So the first one is called strong foundations and these three units cover the fundamentals of the science and faith relationship and help you think through how these two disciplines are similar or different. What kind of claims can science make and what kind of claims does faith make?


If you want to - think of it as different epistemologies. We talk about the model of the two books analogy, which says that God has spoken to us, revealed himself into two books. One of which is the book of scripture, but one of which is the book of the natural world that He created, both of which are trustworthy ways to explore and understand who He is.


We also have a unit in there about science as a Christian vocation, which is really great. Talking about how being a scientist, exploring God's world can really be a way that you can serve God both through worshiping him through the incredible things that you can learn about his creation, but also serving other people and helping to do some of that really great kingdom work through your science.


That's the first bundle. The second one is called human biology and the big questions. This looks at things like how cells are designed, how the genome helps, and develops the individual characteristics that we all have. Also - how do we process the diversity within the human race?


We also deal with topics like DNA technologies, CRISPR and embryonic screening tests, and the moral and ethical issues involved with those topics..


So that's the second bundle. Then we have the Bible and origins. Obviously we're gonna be talking about evolution in a curriculum like this. So we spend four units talking about first, just how do we interpret the Bible and how is it that so many Christians can look at the same text and come to really different conclusions about what Genesis 1 is and is not saying.


So we get into hermeneutics a little bit and try to really set the tone that understanding the Bible takes interpretation, and that is hard work and it's hard to know who is doing it right and wrong and how to process that. We focus on a sense of unity within the church that we’re all trying to better understand who God is and there's room for some different perspectives within that discussion. We can all be brothers and sisters in Christ in that process.


Then we explore evolution in general human evolution and fossils and history, the age of the earth. And the fourth bundle is about creation care - how our climate is changing and also about biodiversity and conservation and the ways that we can see God in the vast array of animals and plants and fungi, and of course the beautiful creation around us.


Krista: It is so true. He is revealed through his creation. So as a former science teacher at a Christian school, why do you feel like it's important to bring up these conversations in science class?


Faith: I have had so many students who have passively absorbed from teachers, parents, pastors, a very mixed message about science. On the one hand, we say science is important. You have got to do science class. You have to learn the periodic table of elements and Newton's laws and all of these things, but sometimes students also hear that science is dangerous, that science is trying to rob you of your faith, and that you have to be guarded against what those scientists are trying to tell you about the world.


And that's really confusing. Maybe for some adults, you can understand that there are some reasons why some science topics sort of have that dangerous edge to them, like evolution, or the Big Bang and others don't. But that can be a nuance that is lost on students and they are confused and sometimes they don't feel like they have the space and the safety to ask those questions of “Why do Christians feel this way? Where is this coming from? Why is some science trustworthy, but some science is not?” They come to a conclusion that they have to choose between their science and faith. That's really what we really are trying to avoid. We want to help students see that they don't need to choose between studying science, loving science, exploring God's world, and loving the Creator who made it all. So this is really a bridge between science and faith. There’s all sorts of data about how Gen Z views the church in relation to science - stating that only 28% of teens believe that science and the Bible are complimentary.


Half of churchgoing teens perceive that the church seems to reject much of what science tells us about the world. If that's what they're seeing of the church's view of science, then it makes sense that they feel like they have to choose. So the hope for this is that they can see that that's not a choice they have to make.


They really can have both. And that indeed faith and science are mutually enriching to each other.


Krista: Is this the first curriculum that's been created to be an intentional bridge between faith and science that you're aware of?


Faith: As far as we're aware? Yes. There are some other great resources out there, including the Fastly project, which has some great resources, great tools, but as far as we're aware, this is the first sort of formal curriculum.


Krista: That's incredible. So this is intended for a high school audience. What are some other ways that you have seen this being implemented in the schools that have started using this curriculum?


Faith: The primary use is the high school biology classroom, but we also think there could be units of this that could be really useful in Bible classes, thinking about hermeneutics or the Creation doctrine, or perhaps if your school has a worldview class, there's some great stuff in there. There are also some units that could be relevant to an earth science class or environmental science, and a great way for students of all grades to get a chance to talk through some of these questions about how we process big, big questions in science and faith.


Krista: That's very cool. Ok, so evolution, that's a big one.


Faith: It's a big one.


Krista: I'm sure everybody listening is like: “Okay. So how do I answer this question?” What is your best response when schools ask, “How do you handle the evolution question?”


Faith: Sure. The evolution question is what BioLogos was founded to address. So this is our bread and butter. BioLogos is an organization that holds a perspective called evolutionary creationism, which says that first and foremost, we believe that God is the Creator of the heavens and the earth and the sustainer of all that is made. He is the creator, but we believe that science is a tool that He's given us to better understand what it is that He's created and how it works. And really in that way, a tool for us to understand more about Him in the process, by studying what He's made. The scientific evidence for evolution is incredibly compelling. There’s really no disagreement within the scientific community about evolutionary science.


There are still open questions as there are in all forms of science, still details that we're trying to make sense of and questions and quandaries that we have. But as a fundamental explanation evolution is a pretty great answer.


And we think that that's beautiful and what an incredible way for God to make His world that not only He didn't, but he could have snapped his finger and brought it into existence as it is. And that would be wonderful. But instead, He made a world that actually continues to create itself in a way to continue to develop and complexify and bring out beauty in all new forms over time.


That's really, really beautiful and exciting to me. And so that is the perspective that we as an organization hold, but the goal of this curriculum is not to get everybody to agree with that perspective. I think that's really important. The school that I used to teach at - the way that they approached evolution and all sort of big topics in science and faith that I thought was really great was to say that Christianity is a big tent and these are hard theological questions and accepting evolution still brings with it a whole host of theological questions about Adam and Eve and original sin and death. Those sort of questions are sticky and we need to work through them.. And so it's okay to have these open questions and for people within the Christian community to have a range of viewpoints on that. So my school's perspective was that we're a big tent and for Christians there's room for faculty and students and families have a range of views on origins topics, but that we, as a school would be teaching the best science we could find and would be helping students understand the range of perspectives, including theological perspectives, and help them process what they believe and why. And so I think that's something of the approach that we take here. We're going to take for granted mainstream science in this curriculum and we are coming from an evolutionary Creationist perspective, but we did our very best to represent other views like young earth Creationism, older Intelligent Design in the absolute, most respectful, honest ways whenever possible by letting people who hold those views represent them in their own words.


I hope that even if you don't share the same views as BioLogos, this can still be a resource that could be of interest to you. Actually one of our pilot teachers was a young earth creationist who found that it was a really helpful way for her and her students to learn about what other people believe and why.


Krista: I hear you saying this really does create this safe space to have rich conversations with students.


Faith: That's the hope for sure. If nothing else, we just want our students to feel like they can ask these big questions and process things together. And wouldn't we rather them do that with us in our classrooms now than hide from uncomfortable topics and send them off to college where they might not have the same resources?


Krista: Or to walk away from our science class going well it's “either, or.” “It's either this or that.” “It's either faith or science” and then having a crisis of faith once they graduate and move on and most likely pursue a science-based career, you know? And then get very different teaching. So this is a curriculum that creates space to have these important conversations with students, way before they leave your school. So if I'm a school leader and would like to explore this what would be my next step?


Faith: Well, your first step would be to check out our website - it's biologos.org/integrate and there you'll find all sorts of information about the individual units. You can preview the first couple pages, get to know the structure of the units, the content, and that sort of thing.


There are also lots of great reviews and additional resources that we've put together to help Christian educators implement this because it's one thing to have a curriculum in your hand and it's another thing to feel like you are really prepared to step into those conversations with your students.


We've got other great resources about how to create that safe environment within your classroom and how to teach in culturally competent, responsive ways that take into account the unique backgrounds of your students.


The other big thing I would point you to is that we have a professional development program. We have regular webinars and online office hours if you want to learn about what's in the curriculum, hear from a speaker or a user sharing about their experience, or ask questions of the curriculum authors. We also have formal professional development workshops that we've developed that were developed in partnership with the authors of the curriculum that we can do virtually for your schools or actually come out to your school and put on some professional development in-service days for you.


We even have some grant funding to offset the costs of professional development at your school! So, if that is something that you would be interested in, check out that website and don't let money be a hindrance.


Krista: How is BioLogos connected to the work of Christian Deeper Learning - as we say “real work that meets real needs for real people”. So how does this curriculum of Integrate with BioLogos help students create real work that meets real needs for real people?


Faith: In getting to know the Christian education community, Christian Deeper Learning has really stuck out to me as a place where a lot of the values that we've brought into this curriculum have really resonated. I've gotten to know some of the folks at Christian Deeper Learning and CDL co-chair Dan Beerens has been a great support in this curriculum.


I love the idea of real work in particular because science can so often feel like a book full of facts that you're supposed to memorize. And one of the things that is a big emphasis in this curriculum is this idea of science as a Christian vocation. One unit focuses on it in particular, but every unit has a profile on a scientist who is a Christian and who shares about how their faith impacts the work that they do. The ways that scientists have found to care for people around them and care for creation through their science is inspiring to me every day. So we try to incorporate some of those practices and opportunities for the students to take some of the things that they're learning about and apply them in the world around them.


For instance, one of our units is called “Caring for people and caring for the planet.” And the idea is that when you think about something like climate change, it's really easy to get focused on the numbers, like the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the rise in temperature and ocean levels and that sort of thing.


And those are important metrics, but the real world implications in people's lives, particularly, those who are not in as developed and wealthy countries is enormous. And so how do we take what we learn about the changing environment that we're living in and what is our role in responding to that?


And that's actually loving people in a really deep way to be working to combat these environmental crises and some of that can be in a really small way.


That could just mean planting a garden of native species and learning about the importance of pollinator gardens and increasing the biodiversity within your area. Little things like that give students some tangible applications for the things that they're learning.


Krista: Okay. So there's like mini projects that are embedded into this curriculum that it would be easy for teachers to be able to implement.


Faith: Absolutely. And the curriculum is very modular. And so you could take one unit, you could even take one module out of a given unit and really pick and choose the things that meet the needs of your particular classroom.


Krista: Cool. Where are most of the schools located that are using Integrate so far? Is it mainly the United States? Or do you have some in other countries?


Faith: Yes, mainly the United States. Currently, we are set up to sell in the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia, but we're in the process of expanding that or also in the process of translating some of the units into Spanish to meet the needs of both domestic and international Spanish-speaking communities.


We're hoping that that will make its way out into the broader world very soon.


Krista: I know there are hundreds of faith-based schools across Latin America that would be interested in those.


So how long have you worked with BioLogos?


Faith: It will actually be one year in about three days.


Krista: Okay. Happy anniversary! Thank you. What would you say is your deep hope? What’s something that you and the team at BioLogos look at your work, this holy work that you're doing, what's what is your deep hope within this?


Faith: My hope is that Christian schools can be producing students who see science as an avenue through which they can learn about and worship and serve God. And that is whether you are a science major who is going to do a Ph.D. and be in a lab somewhere, or whether you are going to be an English lit kid, there is still an importance for understanding how science as a discipline works, and being curious and full of awe about the world around us. I hope that the students that we produce from our Christian schools see science as an avenue to know, worship and serve God more fully.


Krista: Wouldn’t that change our perspective of how we teach! So, final question for you, Faith. What is your invitation to our listeners, to our Christian Deeper Learning community?


Faith: I would invite you to think about how science is approached at your school. I have no doubt that the science content is a huge piece of that.


Obviously, we're teachers. The content is wildly important. But to think about what else you are communicating to your students about why it's important to study science and how they're going to use it in their life and how can teaching science be a way of developing them as a whole person, spiritually, and character wise.


Each of the units have a small devotion included in them called a Grow Module that takes a Christian virtue that is related to the topic at hand and sort of does a brief Bible study essentially on that topic. So for instance, in our unit about Bible interpretation, the virtue is unity. This idea that we can have different opinions as Christians, but we can still maintain our unity as the church and our love for each other.


Krista: That is a revolutionary thought right now!


Faith: So seeing science class as an opportunity to develop the whole person, including spiritual formation and there's a whole lot of ways you can do that. And if this sounds like one that might fit your class, take a swing on over to our website and we have a promo code for the Christian Deeper Learning community.


If you would like a free unit of your choice to peruse, you can use the promo code CDL22. Enter that in as you check out and you'll get a free unit.


Krista: That's so generous! Thank you. That's awesome. I love it.


Faith: We just want to get it out there. Well, I hope that whoever's listening to (or reading this) this actually goes to the website right now.


And what is that website again?


Faith: It is BioLogos.com/integrate.


Krista: Okay. And Faith, if they have any questions specifically for you, what is the best way to reach you?


Faith: Our email is integrate@biologos.org and that comes straight to me. My full-time job is supporting teachers who want to talk about science and faith.


No question is too small. If you're looking for resources or recommendations for anything, please get in touch. Let me know if you want to ask a hard question you got from a student, or how do you start a conversation with your administration about wanting to think about these, these topics. Send me an email and we'll talk!


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