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Autumn 2003 | Volume 26, Number 4 | My Response
To Future Generations: Is Science Building Still a Place of Wonder?

By Bruce Congdon 

On Wednesday, September 24, 2003, Seattle Pacific University dedicated its new Science Building. As part of the ceremony, SPU placed a time capsule in the building, with instructions for it to be opened in 50 years. One of the documents enclosed was a letter from Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Bruce Congdon. A professor of biology at SPU for 18 years before becoming dean this summer, Congdon was instrumental in shaping the vision for the new structure. Here are his thoughts for students, faculty and alumni in 2053.

May 7, 2003

Dear Time Capsule Openers,

It is a beautiful spring morning, and I am looking out of my window in the Miller Science Learning Center south across Nickerson Street. What I see rising there is the culmination of almost 10 years of planning and work by faculty, staff, architects, engineers and construction workers.

The new biology-chemistry building stands in its pristine beauty, full of promise and hope for the students and faculty who will begin using it in a few months. The lab furnishings are installed. The water, gas, vacuum and fume hoods are all running. But no classes have been taught there nor experiments conducted. It waits there, beckoning the biology and chemistry faculty as if to a promised land.

The vision for this building was to create a culture of discovery. We wanted to create a place that would bring together all the “reactants” necessary for successful education in the sciences. We wanted undergraduate research laboratories that would provide an effective and special space for students to do scientific experiments under the guidance of faculty mentors. We wanted teaching labs designed for the particular technical needs of teaching the range of subdisciplinary specializations in chemistry, biology and experimental psychology. We wanted a place that by its configuration would catalyze collaborations among colleagues, faculty and students alike. In an age when information technology — World Wide Web, email, digitized images and wireless communication — was being heralded as an immanent replacement for mentoring and conversations between live people, we chose to design a building that would enhance relationships, while using advances in technology to their fullest. We were also committed to the ongoing journey of integrating Christian faith with science. We saw this happening on several levels. By doing the best science we could, and by being intentionally faithful to Jesus Christ, we sought a personal integration. That is, we wanted to be and to train highly competent scientists, science teachers and health professionals who were also deeply committed to Christian love and truth. We also worked at a philosophical level, wrestling with doctrinal questions and ethical dilemmas that science created or magnified. We envisioned the integration at the vocational level as well: What difference could each of us, faculty and graduates, make in the world of work, community and family as bearers of the light of the gospel?

I wonder whether our visions were fulfilled. Can you detect the effects of our vision in what this building is doing now? Is there still a sense of excitement about discovering the mechanisms of God’s world? Is this building still a place of curiosity and wonder, discipline and creativity? I hope and pray that it is so.
I wonder about where some of our arguments have taken you. Has Genesis theology managed to absorb the scientific knowledge of a vastly old earth and the life evolving on it? Is the idea of a self-organizing universe a theo-logically and philosophically rich one as I suspect today that it will become? Was embryonic stem cell research ultimately successful in delivering on its promise of curing diseases? Or was it rejected completely on ethical grounds? What has the Human Genome Project accomplished? We are just now speculating on that. Some think it will open the door to a better life for everyone. Others fear that genetic information will be used to invade our personal privacy at the deepest level, or that future generations will be genetically made to order. How is that turning out?

As I ponder these unknowns, and as you laugh at my naïveté, I just hope that you still sense the great effort of love and vision that was invested in this structure. I hope that your parents and their parents were enriched by the opportunity for inquiry and training that this building provided to them. I hope that the living one, Jesus Christ, is still at the center of University life, and that being a Christian in your era means not only believing in the truth of the gospel, but also having the strength and courage to explore, to learn, to question, to listen, to respect, to discover, to hope and to love.

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