Big Ideas Engaging the Culture, Changing the World
Why Good Science Matters to a Christian University
By Philip W. Eaton
I am not a scientist. I remember not doing very well in my college biology class — lots of curiosity, but no real solid grasp of things. I blamed it on the professor at the time — whew, was he ever boring — but then, really, I knew right then I wasn't destined to be a scientist. Text was what excited me, holy text, and literary text from throughout the ages. I went on to be a professor of literature and spent 17 wonderful years in the classroom.
How is it, then, when I was appointed the president of Seattle Pacific University, the first group I went to visit was the science faculty? Science had always been an important tradition at SPU, but this group of faculty members was disgruntled at the moment. They needed new facilities, they told me.
They wanted more recognition for what they were doing.
I thought, well, we must do something. I told them we needed a vision for the sciences that fit squarely within our emerging vision to engage the culture and change the world. Professor of Biology Bruce Congdon, now dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, led the charge, and they all went to work crafting a strategic vision for the sciences at Seattle Pacific. This was a huge moment for all of us.
We would focus, the vision stated, on three things: preparing professional scientists, including those going on to medical school; preparing those who would teach science; and preparing all of our students for desperately needed science literacy. We set out, quite aggressively, to build new buildings and bring in new faculty and craft new programs to reach those goals. And then the key: Our professors would be doing hands-on research right alongside our students — it was a distinctive strategy for which we are very proud. Today, this vision is very real.
Even as a literature professor, it has always been my strong conviction that a Christian university must be at the table in the sciences. And Christians must approach science with no fear, no fear that science will damage faith, no fear that faith will distort science. That's the kind of program we have built, one without a trace of fear, one with courage and high competence. This, in part, I keep saying, is what a Christian university has to be about. Our scientists get that.