November 10, 2020
From a Stem Background to Seminary: How Science and Faith Can Help Us See The Amazing Creativity of God
I am Jennie White, and I am a second-year Master of Divinity Student at Trinity Lutheran Seminary at Capital University. I am one of the graduate mentors here at the Center for Faith and Learning (CFL). I help with Wednesday and Thursday worship services, run social media, and coordinate outreach for CFL on Capital’s campus.
I originally was not interested in going to seminary. I have a Bachelor of Arts in both mathematics and biology from Capital University. I took a gap year after graduating in 2018 to work with Lutheran Outdoor Ministries in Ohio and during that time, I found my call to come to seminary.
The adjustment to seminary from a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) background was not an easy journey. The amount of reading and paper writing was the largest adjustment for me. In STEM, homework normally included more word problems, occasional research papers, and very little reading. I had more exams than papers, with more importance of retaining facts than the analysis of the ideas.
In seminary, on any given week, I read about 200 pages, possibly more, between all my classes. Skimming has become my best friend. Papers are more common than exams, with more focus on how you understand the content.
The types of resources that are used are also different. There is more of a focus on the content applicability versus when it was published. I remember at the beginning of my first year, looking at the free books shelf in Hamma Library at Trinity and being confused about why people would pick up books that were “so old.” It took time to realize that I could use sources that were older than 10 years as long as they were credible. I began to realize that there is not a strict understanding and “rules” on how old papers and books could be for your research as compared to STEM studies.
Writing papers and personal reflections have also become part of my daily life. With math and biology, there is not really any room for personal thoughts and reflection. They focus on what the facts are and the relevance of the data that was collected to a particular project of the data that was collected.
In seminary, papers are expected to include both the research I have made as well as personal reflection and ideas. I still get comments on papers in my second year, asking what I thought about the research I had done. I know I can do research and do it well, but I still struggle to feel empowered to share what I have learned from the research and reflections I have made. It is hard to be open about it when in STEM, the facts and data gathered are meant to speak for themselves.
Sometimes, it was hard, and it still is, to keep up with some of my classmates who studied religion and ministry as their undergraduate studies. I found myself confused whenever they would throw theology terms, such as “prolepsis” and “process theology,” around in normal conversations, assuming I knew what they meant. I had never heard of them before! It sometimes felt like I was putting on a front to be a part of my cohort. I felt that I did not belong at times.
Despite these experiences, I have also discovered that leaders of the church should not just study religion but come from different backgrounds and experiences to better help and understand their parishioners.
I know I bring a different point of view to my classmates and those around me. Science and religion have been made to seem like complete opposite sides of faith and understanding. In my gap year, people were always surprised when I said I was going to seminary after telling them I had mathematics and biology degrees. They are not often mentioned in the same conversation unless it is to compare the two as if they were opposites. I always felt growing up that society made me choose between science and religion instead of wrestling with connecting and relating them.
As a future pastor and leader of the church, I find it important to show how the two fields connect and support each other. I want to show people that it is okay to embrace science and be active in faith and that they do not have to choose between them. We should allow all our people to study and appreciate science to see how God is present in the data, and we should empower them with religious studies to relate that data to the God of the universe.
I feel at home when I am doing ministry and know that this is what I am called to do at this point in my life. This journey is not easy whatsoever, and I feel overwhelmed at times. I still struggle to bring my personal thoughts into my papers and reflect on them. But I love what I do and will work through the struggles.
In my work with the Center for Faith and Learning, I want to begin and have more open conversations about how science and faith can relate to each other and how both can help us feel closer to and see the amazing creativity of God.
Part of faith is looking at how you can have it be a part of your everyday life. We do not let ourselves ask questions in faith, what it means to have faith, and how we can further develop our faith. Part of that is that we must ask the difficult questions of how science can relate to our faith. So many of our famous scientists from history were people of faith, such as Charles Darwin, and they struggled with these questions as well. They never stopped asking these questions, and we should not either.
College and graduate school are times for asking questions and finding what faith looks like for each person. We are meant to begin finding out what makes us who we are and developing our sense of identity. My desire at CFL is to begin helping students asking questions and dive deeper into these challenging topics. I would like to help our undergraduate and other graduate students ask those difficult faith questions and allow themselves to be more open to asking and wrestling with them. I want them to ask: What does it mean to be a person of science? What does it mean to be a person of faith? How do they relate?
We should not stop asking questions about faith, how it relates to our daily lives, and how to live out that faith for others to see. It is a process that never ends, and we should always be open to change.
So, I ask you the same questions:
- What does it mean to be a person of science?
- What does it mean to be a person of faith?
- How do they relate?
- What is your experience when discussing these two topics together?
- How can we, at CFL, help you?
Do not stop asking questions. Dive deeper. We are here for you.
God’s peace to you.
Would you like to know what’s going on at the Center for Faith and Learning? If so, email firstname.lastname@example.org to receive the monthly newsletter. You can also find CFL on Instagram (@capucfl), Twitter (@CapUCFL), and Facebook (Center for Faith and Learning).
Books you might find helpful
“Jesus Loves You and Evolution Is True: Why Youth Ministry Needs Science” by Sara Sybesma Tolsma and Jason Lief
“Exploding Stars, Dead Dinosaurs, and Zombies: Youth Ministry in the Age of Science Youth Ministry in the Age of Science” by Andrew Root
“Creator God, Evolving World” by Cynthia S.W. Crysdale and Neil Ormerod