Faith & Science, United in Awe: Notes on Eastern’s First Annual Science and Faith Symposium

On Friday, Oct. 1, Palmer’s First Annual Science and Faith Symposium began. Reverend Zack Jackson welcomed everyone, thanking everyone who made this event possible, especially DoSER, who provided the grant for the program, and Dr. Ron Matthews, Eastern’s president, echoed those thanks and led the room in prayer. 

Eliazer Morales presented his paper on science as a means of worship and recognizing the diversity of worship methods in a congregation. He wrote, “Not every practice in the church must be done the same way, especially when it comes to worship” and that “Taking care of God’s creation by knowing how it functions is another form of worship”. 

The first panel included three professionals in science and religion: Dr. David Bradstreet, an astronomer and professor at Easter, Dr. Peter Enns, a Biblical Studies professor, and Dr. Jonathan Hargis, who is also an astronomer. When Jackson inquired about the  ways your understanding of the cosmos have influenced your theology, Bradstreet replied,“God didn’t just make stuff, he makes it work all the time”and that “science is really the discovery of how God does what He does”. When Enns replied, he focused on how science makes him understand how big God really is, referencing the speed of light. “How can it not affect our theology?” Enns asked. Lastly, Hargis answered, saying, “astronomy gives us this huge sense of awe and wonder of who God is, and it comes with a huge sense of humility”. The panelists also gave inspiring answers regarding interpreting Scripture regarding creation, resistance in faith communities to what scientists are saying, and how finding life outside of Earth would affect our theology.

The keynote speaker on Friday was Dr. Jennifer Wiseman, author, astrophysicist, and director of DoSER. She spoke about her journey to becoming a scientist, saying, “it was my early years of ambling through meadows and exploring streams and loving animals that made me a scientist. If you love nature, then you love science”. The majority of her presentation focused on the tools of science and that way that science touches every part of our lives. 

On Saturday morning, Eastern student Laura Schoenhals read her paper on medicine and faith via video. One particularly meaningful quote stood out to the author: “even when disease reigns supreme for now, still we have hope that ultimately, our Great Physician shall heal not only us and our loved ones, but creation in its entirety.”

Afterwards, the second set of panelists spoke, consisting of Dr. Jennifer Stuart, Rev. Casey Bien-Aime, and Sally Stern. All the panelists spoke about the importance of holistic medicine and were especially salient in discussing how science does not operate in a vacuum. Stern said, “nursing is an art and a science together: the art of compassion and care and the science of using evidence-based practice in your care of them.” Stuart also addresses the “very real history” of African-American distrust of medicine due to trauma and how that impacts her work with congregations on science training. Bien-Aime, speaking from her experience as a hospital chaplain, spoke about the pain she has seen in hospitals, especially in the last eighteen months.

The second speaker, Dr. Devan Stahl, focused her presentation on her experience as a theological bioethicist and especially how we integrate ideas of miracles in the medical community. She explains that people use miracle terminology differently and it’s important to acknowledge that to discern how to respond to people using miracle language. “I worry that our clergy is not talking about these issues enough,” Stahl said.

There was another afternoon set of panels and speakers, but this author was unable to attend. For readers interested in more information, check out Palmer’s website to watch the fully recorded sessions.

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