FASTLY - Faith & Science Teaching

Essay: At the Intersection of Faith, Science, and Practice

At the Intersection of Faith, Science, and Practice

Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.

― Thérèse de Lisieux

As any teacher knows, deep, well-structured learning doesn’t happen by accident. A great deal of energy and intentionality goes into guiding students along the path that leads to solid understanding, enhanced skill, and mature dispositions. Teaching FASTly opens up the possibility of integrating the various aspects of students’ growth that lead to intellectual information as well as spiritual and moral formation.

We learn how to think well and how to act faithfully within practices—that is, within repeated, purposeful actions oriented towards the good that we seek. With time and repetition, individual activities become habits or capacities that allow us to pursue our goals effectively. These habits include virtues, which are facets of character that grow out of our practices.

Science is not just a collection of ideas and conclusions, but also involves a set of practices. Scientists draw on these practices to sustain their work, and in turn are formed by them. The practices of science—disciplined observation, careful formulation of hypotheses, collaborative work with others, scrupulous accuracy and honesty in describing results, and so on—help form those who practice them. These scientific practices connect to virtues that we need to live well.

Science education, likewise, is not just a body of information, but a body of practices. In the classroom, learning is shaped not only by what is said, but also by how the classroom is arranged, how instructions are worded, the gestures and tone of voice used, the kind of homework assigned, the patterns of interaction among students, and more. As these elements of our teaching take on patterns, they make up the practices of our classroom, and these practices give shape to teaching and learning. Our teaching practices shape our students.

Our faith is similar. Christians around the world and across time have been shaped by distinctive practices such as prayer, communion, confession of sin, and many others. Over time these practices combine to produce in us habits of faith that exhibit virtues such as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23 NET). Practicing science and science education as a Christian provides another occasion to cultivate these virtues.

As we draw these strands together, we find that the relationship between faith and science is not only about harmonizing ideas and truth claims, but also about the shape of our practices and the virtues we pursue. Kindness relates to the ability to collaborate well with others. Patience and self-control are needed not only for interacting with others, but for doing careful work. Love directs our attention to the way our work affects others in our community. Gratitude is an appropriate response to discovered beauty. An important part of Teaching FASTly is considering what kinds of practices might foster these virtues, both within science education and in the future work of the scientists who come from our classrooms.

If misdirected, our practices can produce vices instead of virtues. Competitive pride, the pursuit of power, carelessness with the truth, disregard for the well-being of others, and harshness in disagreement can inhabit our practices in science and in science education. For Christians, all our paths should lead us more deeply into love for God and for our neighbors (Matthew 22:36-40). This is the standard for assessing our practices. How do our classroom practices help us, and our students, to love God more wholeheartedly within the study of science?