Instructors weave religious truths into science curriculum.

June 13, 2012
Writer: Stephen Henderson, Graduate, Communication

As the first lecture of the semester for Alan Holyoak's Foundations science class begins, he projects on the overhead screen a simple drawing he hopes will set the stage for his students' next 14 weeks.

"This is the 'continuum of truth' introduced to me by geology instructor Daniel Moore," he says, motioning to a horizontal line stretching across the board, two small lines intersecting it at two points. "One end is bounded by observation and on the other end by doctrine. The area between observation and doctrine represents truth, and beyond either mark is a zone of speculation. Unfortunately for some people, their concept of truth fails to incorporate one end or the other, and all too often relies heavily on too much speculation and personal opinion."

According to Holyoak, some students come to BYU-Idaho with a 'guarded distrust' of the sciences. "I try to let them know that in this life our goal is to search for truth wherever it can be found," says Holyoak. "The idea of the continuum is that whether you have truth through revelation, or we have scientific understanding that's based on observation, all truth is going to fit together."

Since the Foundations program began, instructors have surveyed groups of students to gauge their opinions of the sciences. In the Fall 2010 semester, 1,414 students were enrolled in all sections of Science Foundations 101, and every student was surveyed before and after the course. "For every question we asked, with very rare exception, we saw statistically significant shifts in favor of science over the course of the semester." says Holyoak. "And this has been the case every term."

Holyoak attributes much of the course's success to the wise counsel given by President Kim B. Clark at the launch of the Foundations program. "President Clark stressed that our job was to do three things: Alan Holyoak teaches about science and religion and how they work together as part of his Foundations science class. Teach all the science we could, affirm the faith, and avoid speculation," says Holyoak. "We have tried to follow that counsel."

TRUTH IS TRUTH REGARDLESS OF ITS SOURCE

Over more than 30 years of studying the sciences, instructor Brian Tonks has developed several principles upon which he bases his scientific inquiry. "Some of the apparent conflicts between science and religion can be fairly severe," says Tonks. "And if you're going to deal with science at all in your life, you need to have some kind of way to deal with these conflicts. Otherwise, myths about science and religion are perpetuated to the next generation."

Just like Holyoak and other instructors, Tonks takes time in class to establish understanding and eliminate biases that students may hold. "These principles have helped me maintain a clear view of truth," says Tonks. Following is a summary of these principles.

  • Inherent value in science. Like art or music, science is a creative activity and has value in and of itself.
  • Truth. Truth is truth regardless of its source. Seeking truth should always be our end goal.
  • Leave out all bias. It is unfair to impose one's own biases on another culture.
  • Science is always evolving. Our models of understanding are constantly improving; the earth was once flat, now we know better.
  • God is the creator. How He did it is much less important than the fact that He did do it.
  • Faith. Faith is the operative principle in both science and religion.

The 1910 statement issued by the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, perhaps says it best:

"Our religion is not hostile to real science. That which is demonstrated, we accept with joy; but vain philosophy, human theory, and mere speculations of men, we do not accept nor do we adopt anything contrary to divine revelation or to good common sense. But everything that tends to right conduct, that harmonizes with sound morality, and increases faith in Deity, finds favor with us no matter where it may be found."