There I was, all fresh-faced and eager, sitting in the second row of desks, near the center of Mr. Simpson's ninth grade biology class at Douglas MacArthur High School in Saginaw Township. It was September of 1979, and I was beginning my high school career. Mr. Simpson had just finished distributing our textbooks as well as the course syllabus for the first semester. I remember thinking that this was going to be an exciting class, opening up the wonders of the mystery of life in its many forms. Mr. Simpson had a reputation for being a demanding but fair teacher, and in looking around his classroom, it was evident that he had a love for the world of nature, and a special interest in ecology. Through the years, he and his students had been involved in a variety of efforts to support research into clean air and clean water, and there were plenty of bumper stickers and newspaper articles to prove it.
After explaining the grading scale and his classroom policies, Mr. Simpson asked all of us to open our textbooks to the first chapter, so that we could begin reading. The first chapter began where I suppose most modern biology textbooks begin – with Darwin's theory of evolution. After giving the class a few moments to begin reading the opening sentences of the chapter, he asked all of us to stop for a moment so he could speak to us. Looking up, I gave him my undivided attention as he shared something quite important and even stunning with the students in class that day. He shared that he knew that beginning with the theory of evolution might be a difficult starting point for some students in the class. He then offered some of the most reassuring advice: one can be a scientist and a person of faith, and the two are not mutually exclusive of one another. Science does not have as its intention the proof or denial of one's faith, and faith does not, in a general sense, have as its intention the proof or denial of scientific theories. As one who was intensely interested in science and also very much involved in his faith, I found these words to offer a huge measure of comfort. If my path were to ultimately lead me (as I hoped at that time) toward a career in the sciences, I would not be forced to leave behind the faith my parents had sought to share with me and which was being fostered in a very active parish community. Mr. Simpson's words that day were both a relief and a challenge. As Brother Guy Consolmagno, an astronomer at the Vatican Observatory and president of the Vatican Observatory Foundation would state in an interview many years later, "Science is our best way of describing how the universe behaves. You might say, where faith tells us that God created the universe, science tells us how he did it." In other words, faith and science can work hand in hand to bring about a deep, rich and nuanced understanding of the world around us.
Carl Boehlert is both a permanent deacon and an engineering professor at Michigan State University. He reminds us that many scientists are also people of faith. His unique blend of vocation as a deacon and his avocation as an engineer allows him to help people as they seek to understand the world in which they live.
Too many young people with an interest in science feel as though they are being forced to leave their faith behind in order to enter more deeply into the world of science and scientific research. People such as Professor Boehlert and Mr. Simpson help to remind us that faith and science can exist in partnership with one another, helping us to better understand and appreciate the world which God has fashioned for us. And so, our journey in FAITH continues.