Science, Christianity pair in graduate student conversations

Masters of Divinity students discuss the RAMS program

By Rewon Shimray | Staff Writer

At the intersection of theology and science, Ramm Scholars find diplomatic conversations.

The Ramm Graduate Scholars Program facilitates conversation on the intersection of Christianity and science with five Masters of Divinity students from Truett Theological Seminary and five doctoral STEM students from the graduate school.

A few Mondays every semester, students gather for a dinner followed by a discussion. Faculty members Dr. Kimlyn Bender, professor of Christian theology, and Dr. Rebecca Sheesley, associate professor of environmental science, facilitate the conversation.

Michael Davis, Ph.D student in Dr. Sanghoon Kang’s Microbial Ecology Lab, said discussions about science and religion often turn into discussions about faith, atheism, creationism and evolution. He said although the Ramm Scholars disagree on many topics, their diplomatic discussions are still “mutually beneficial.”

Michael Huerter, a Truett student getting a joint Master of Divinity/Master of Music degree, said the Ramm Graduate Scholars Program creates “an ideal scenario” for discussing difficult topics.

“Baylor has such a long and interesting history of balancing their commitment to being a Christian school and … being a serious, academic institution,” Davis said. “It’s great to be able to just talk about it.”

Elijah Tanner, a M.Div. and business student, said conversations about the convergence of science and religion are “going to come up regardless of whether you want them to or not.”

“Our culture is so technology-based and revolves so much around what science had produced and is producing,” Tanner said. “But at the same time, America has this history that’s rich with religious influence… There’s these two massive forces and they will either clash and butt heads or find a way to harmoniously work together.”

Davis said the commonly perceived “necessary conflict” between theology and scientific studies is “overly simplified.”

Davis, Huerter and Tanner became Ramm Scholars this semester. They said the program has taught them that differences in opinion and gaps in knowledge are OK in the pursuit of deepening understanding.

“Finding a middle where people can have their own commitments, methodological in the sciences or theological in religion … leaves space for the things that we don’t know,” Huerter said. “Growing takes space.”

Davis said he has learned to embrace both his scientific research and religious convictions by making compromises from both. Davis said the potential validity of other perspectives was an “earth-shattering realization” for him coming from a “strict, fundamentalist church background.”

“Realizing that there are tons of smart people who are sincere and coming up with different answers makes it [faith] more challenging, but that’s part of the adventure of faith,” Davis said.

Huerter said practicing and growing in Christian faith often requires asking questions. A characteristic of childlike faith is, according to Huerter, a “curious attitude.”

“I don’t think God is the kind of parent who shuts down our questions and says that we shouldn’t have them,” Huerter said. “I think God invites us, in a childlike way, to continue seeking him and understanding him more while also recognizing that we don’t have to figure it all out.”

Huerter said the Ramm Graduate Scholars Program creates a context to learn and testing ground to have these types of conversations in other contexts.

“For the program as a whole, the ideal would be to equip people to communicate across those boundaries so that we as a culture can come to a better understanding,” Tanner said.

Tanner said he believes dialogue is one of the main ways to bridge gaps between people. As a resident chaplain in Gordon Teal Residential College, Tanner hosts events with undergraduate students called “Questions That Matter” which often deal with similar topics as those among Ramm Scholars. He said he has witnessed the value of bringing diverse perspectives together in both contexts.

“We’re not debating, we’re not discussing, but we’re dialoguing,” Tanner said.

Whereas debating is competitive and discussing lends to aimlessness, Tanner said dialoguing has an objective.

“[In dialogue,] there is a truth that we are circling around that we want to focus on, but we are playing off of each other’s perspectives and opinions and research in order to get there,” Tanner said.

Davis said having conversations about difficult topics helps people know that they are not alone in their intellectual and spiritual wondering.

“You don’t have to be an expert in anything,” Davis said. “We’re all students; we’re all learning.”