Essay: At the Intersection of Faith, Science, and Motivations
At the Intersection of Faith, Science, and Motivations
It is love alone that gives worth to all things.
– Theresa of Avila
Odds are good that during your career as a teacher you’ve heard at least one student complain about a classroom lesson: “Why do we have to study this? I’ll never use this information after high school!” Perhaps you have wondered how you ended up teaching science. On occasion you may feel frustrated by the specific and high-stakes demands of standardized testing. These concerns lead us to a common question: why do we choose to “do” science? The simple answer is that science, as well as our motivations, is related to our faith. Our motivations, based on faith, lead us to the work we do.
There are many reasons for Christians to study and practice science. An obvious one is to search out the truth about God’s creation. Christians have strong reasons to be committed to seeking truth, and that seeking happens within the larger context of faith. Our faith provides an overarching set of criteria for answers to the “Why” questions. Scripture reminds us that the greatest answer to “Why” is to grow in love of God and our neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40). As we launch into scientific study and work, these two greatest commandments shape our motivations, and our goals line up as we answer the “why” questions.
Having motives connected to the love of God and our neighbors implies boundaries on how we study and practice science. Scientific knowledge is not an end in itself or a tool to shore up selfish power to exploit others. The great commandments hold us accountable to do work that reflects the kingdom of God and give us counter-cultural ways of measuring our success. For example, is the hydrogen bomb successful science? In what sense is it? In what sense might it not be?
When we are motivated by love of God and our neighbors, our imaginations are free to explore new agendas instead of being driven by the marketplace, or the military, or other human domains. Faith-inspired goals create new lenses for viewing our research and experimentation.
Loving God offers a reason to pursue basic science. As we grow in love for God, we also grow in love for his creation and the order that reflects God’s glory. Scientific study helps us to know the wonder and beauty of God’s handiwork and it equips us to marvel at its tiny intricacies and overwhelming majesty. Through our study we learn more about God’s character, which leads to gratitude and worship, and ultimately to deeper love for God.
Loving our neighbors is a guiding motivation for applying science. Scientific understanding equips us to know one another better and to understand more fully all it takes for humans to flourish. It helps us alleviate human suffering in myriad ways—from life-saving medications to improved agricultural yields to assistive technologies for persons with disabilities. This work gives us tools to help God’s creation flourish, to serve his creatures, and to participate in his creative goodness with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
So why should we do science? Because God has lovingly given us the broad sweep of all creation to explore, and as we step up to that challenge, we will grow to love God and his creatures in ways that honor his astonishing gift.