FASTLY - Faith & Science Teaching

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

At the Intersection of Faith, Science, and Virtues

… education is not about providing information so much as cultivating ‘habits of the heart’ — producing … people who not only think as they should but respond as they should, instinctively and emotionally, to the challenges and blessings the world offers to them.1

—Alan Jacobs

Teaching FASTly is all about cultivating “habits of the heart”—finding ways to help students become prepared to live faithfully in the arena of faith and science. Another way to say this is that teaching FASTly includes developing virtues in the classroom. Virtues, simply put, are “acquired habits or capacities that enable us to make progress toward the goal.” “Habits of the heart” are acquired over time and with practice and equip us for particular purposes.

Science can, in this sense, be understood as grounded in a set of virtues that allow us to study the world. Good scientific work draws upon patience and attentive care. It involves collaboration and therefore demands that our treatment of others be taken into account. It requires the humility to carefully measure our claims, the courage to question cherished assumptions, and the wisdom to know which questions matter. These abilities are not native to us; we cultivate them through a particular set of practices. The scientific method, for instance, was developed as a practice to discipline us to see past our own biases, allowing us to discover the truth about God’s creation with greater clarity. In their everyday work, scientists must learn to exercise patience and avoid putting too much weight on early results. The collaborative nature of many projects requires scientists to practice self-control and love as they work with others.

Christianity is also concerned with virtues. Christians are called not only to believe, but to grow in Christlike character. Central Christian virtues include love, hope, and faith, as well as wisdom, self-control, courage, and justice. Our faith and its particular practices shape our hearts in very specific ways. While these behaviors seldom come naturally to us, we can respond to grace with the grateful cultivation of habits that help us love God and our neighbors more deeply. Good theological work draws on a similar range of virtues to those involved in science: patience, humility, the ability to learn from and with others, and wisdom to know what matters. We can evaluate the fruitfulness of these habits as we find ourselves growing in obedience to Christ.

Addressing both faith and science with an eye to their overlapping virtues helps us understand how they can work together and strengthen each other. The relationship between faith and science is not just about ideas and conclusions, but also about behaviors. “Habits of the heart” shape our responses in all arenas of life. Virtues focus not  only on rules for a specific context, but also on who we are becoming. They effect who we are in every area of activity, in science as well as in faith. Both faith and science are most vibrant and effective when we acknowledge that they exist in response to God’s good gifts. We live out both most faithfully when we exercise gratitude, humility, patience, and wisdom. Both science and faith thrive when they are shaped by the pursuit of love.

1The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis, p. xxiii