FiSch blog

What do we learn in the university?

‘Dream, plan, achieve’… That is my university’s motto. I must admit that I cringe a little whenever I see it on our website or on headed paper. Of course we all have dreams and plans, but having those things does not guarantee achievement. The motto seems to tap into the belief that you can do anything as long as you dream big and plan for it. As such, it sits comfortably with a subtle shift that has been taking place over the last few decades: the university is no longer the place where you learn to think, but the place where you obtain the skills that will allow you to get a high-paying job.

What are universities for? Not many postgraduates and postdoctoral researchers will place teaching at the top of their priority list, and many lecturers and professors moan about their teaching loads (often rightly so). However, teaching has always been at the heart of the university. Some of the first universities were created by students demanding quality teaching from professors so that they would be well prepared for the job market in law or medicine. Indeed, the idea of the university combining teaching with research is a relatively new one, pioneered by the 19th-century German scientist Alexander von Humboldt. And although most postgraduates do not teach (if you get the chance: take it!), they are learning and being trained.

Maybe we should therefore reframe our topic from teaching to learning. What exactly do we learn in a university? Of course there is the subject matter of our chosen course. Alongside gaining knowledge of our chosen subject, we are also trained in a range of skills: logical and critical thinking, abstraction and theory formation, laboratory or interviewing skills, statistics. However, this all takes place within a larger context. Studying for a degree, whether undergraduate or postgraduate, is a highly formative experience. Our minds, our worldviews, our behaviour and practices are formed by the things we learn in our studies, by the ways of thinking we are surrounded by, and by our experience of the university environment, from the classroom to the student accommodation and from the pub to the library.

As Christians, we are called to have the mind of Christ (2 Cor. 2:14). So how should we approach this process of formation? ‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord’ (Col. 3:23). We are to pursue our work wholeheartedly. And yet we need to be aware of those aspects of university life that will form us in a way that is not according to God’s will. That includes not just God-less theories, but also selfish ambition and drunkenness. What is forming you in your studies? Are you being formed into the likeness of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3)?

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Service and Supervision

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

Mark 9:35

The relationship between a supervisor and their student is a strange one. Speaking as a student, supervisors are not our boss, they’re not our line manager, they’re not a family member (for most of us) and they’re not really our teacher (in the undergraduate sense). Working out just what our relationship to our supervisor is can be difficult because we’ve never been in such a relationship before. Not only this but the relationship changes over time! At the beginning supervisors are definitely there to teach and to guide. Towards the end, however, there’s only so much they can teach.

But, the encouragement we get from Jesus in Mark 9 transcends relationship boundaries. Jesus, speaking to a rabble of unruly and proud disciples, reminds them that, if they are to welcome Christ as their King, they mustn’t trust in their own position and their own status. Rather, after they had just been arguing about who is the greatest, Jesus reminds them that

Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.

Jesus is addressing the disciples. If they want acceptance by Christ they must deny themselves and…be the servant of all. This may strike us as strange. We might expect Jesus to say “be my servant” or “have me as Lord.” But he doesn’t. He says “be…the servant of all.”

This is because understanding Jesus’ lordship has a striking normative force. If they serve the ones they are expected to serve the least then they are, in effect, recognising that they are not Lord of all but that there is one who is above them. If they’re prepared to welcome even children then they welcome Christ (v37).

It is our understanding of who Christ is that fundamentally affects our relationships; it affects all of our relationships. So, even though spelling out our actual relationship with our supervisors is difficult, one thing should be clear. We’re to serve them in all things (1 Corinthians 10:31) as serving the Lord.

This means: in meeting deadlines, being prompt to a supervision or replying to emails effectively; in doing marking for their course, helping them to help us by asking questions that we really struggle with (even if we think they’re silly) – or even making them a cup of tea – we should be serving.

Above all else, then, we’re not to see our supervisors either as a boss: the ones we need to obey because they say so, or as an instrument: the ones who just help us get a PhD… but as we see everyone: people to be served.

Sideline or Worldview: Scholarship as vocation

I’m trying to be a serious academic, but sometimes it feels that considering how my faith impacts my discipline is merely an interesting sideline to my work. It’s a subject to be confined to my Christian postgrad group and occasional books read on the sly, rather than a unifying principle in my work.

Over the past few months, this blog has posted a series on a Christian worldview. In June, Anthony Smith wrote the first blog post in our overview, discussing Creation: the role of the academic in unearthing some of the riches God has given us, and making those available for others. In July, Thom Atkinson provided an overview of the Fall, and its effect on academics, including Christian academics. He pointed out that intellectual endeavour is likely to be hard work. A month later, Richard Gunton outlined a view of Redemption for all areas of scholarship.

We’re not the only ones to be interested in this approach. Many others have found a Creation-Fall-Redemption worldview significant in their view of Christian scholarship, for example our friends at the Emerging Scholars Blog.

The question which exercises me today, is not whether there is verifiable benefit for my discipline in this approach (worthy subject though that is), but rather whether I’m justified in being selective about when and how I use it in my work.

In Engaging God’s World, Cornelius Plantinga Jr. outlines a vision for learning using the Creation-Fall-Redemption worldview. Interestingly, though, his next chapter does not seek to apply this framework to particular scholarly subjects. Instead, Plantinga embraces the subject of Vocation for the Christian looking to live well in their sphere in Christ’s Kingdom. It’s a total view, with little room for my cognitive dissonance.

My struggle is that I tend to view myself as an impartial observer, standing outside looking in, and hence able to pick up or drop a Christian approach to scholarship at will. It’s a flawed view of course: I’m part of God’s creation, which fell and has been redeemed by Christ, too. There is no vantage point in my work from which I can sideline my faith. My colleagues continue to provide insights through God’s common grace, but when I think in vocational terms I recall the antithesis of faith and find that there is a unifying principle in my work.  His name is Jesus.

Ecology: filling and subduing; listening and serving

What do you think of when you hear the word “ecology”?

The discipline of ecology may be unique among the sciences in that its name has become strongly associated with a political agenda [1]. Indeed, “ecological” has connotations of “sustainable” and “environmentally-friendly”. What we call “green” translates in many languages as “ecological”, evoking one of the dominant ethical movements of our time.

As a Christian researcher in ecology, I don’t mind this association. Like many of my colleagues, I was drawn towards the discipline partly by concern for the health of our biological environment. Also, I see ecology as one in a parade of sciences that have strong ethical dimensions because of their direct bearing on human flourishing: along with psychology, sociology, economics, political science, etc.  And indeed, surely we all have motives for working on our chosen subjects, and it’s better to let these be known than pretend to be perfectly disinterested.

So how does my faith influence my academic ecology? Well, there are some ideas I’m still developing regarding the nature of “laws” in ecology, and how to think about the interplay of biological design and environmental randomness that seems to drive species’ adaptations to their habitats: the interface of physical and biotic aspects of reality. And coming back to the normative side of ecology, I’m keen to make the most of inter-disciplinary connections and democratic processes in questions of conservation. Ecologists can make recommendations, but the balancing of different kinds of biodiversity and ecosystem services against each other and against budgets and social concerns in order to implement fair and effective policies is surely a multifaceted question beyond the remit of our science.

A big picture

But when I look for my discipline’s place in the Bible’s big story, it’s quite easy. In Genesis 1, God commanded the fish and birds to fill their respective habitats, and then commanded the first humans to fill and subdue the earth. The ways in which species adapt, proliferate and radiate to fill habitats is one key subject of ecological investigation; another is the best means for humans to manage habitats and regulate the distribution and effects of plants (e.g. agricultural ecology, forestry, invasive species’ ecology). But in Genesis 2:15 we see Adam given another pair of commands for his relationship with the Garden of Eden, which are connate with the Hebrew for “listen to” and “serve”. So, as Adam moves on to name the animals, I may think of my ecological science as a multifarious challenge of listening to, serving, managing and naming the incredible diversity of non-human creatures that surrounds me.

[1] Perhaps “organic” has a similar story to tell: the discipline of organic chemistry has long forfeited the popular connotations of its name, rather ironically, to the organic farming movement – which actually has an element of Christianity in its British roots, as shown by Philip Conford (The Origins of the Organic Movement, 2001).

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Why disciplines are better together

It has been said that a specialist is one who knows more and more about less and less … until he knows everything about nothing!

When working towards a PhD it is very tempting to try to become that sort of a specialist. Your aim is to become the world’s expert in that very specific area of knowledge which is the subject matter of your thesis. It may seem obvious that, in order to achieve that aim, you will need to focus almost exclusively on that narrow topic, to the exclusion of all others (as long as you both shall live). And, if you are anything like me, you may well have grown up having just a small number of intense interests anyway. But there are good reasons to resist the temptation to over-specialise.

First there are reasons that most people around you would agree with. If you are going to be an expert in one specific thing, you need to know how that one thing relates to everything else. If you are going to be creative in how you approach your specialist topic, your mind will need to be filled with all sorts of ideas from all sorts of areas, so it will always be worth exploring new things. So you should try not only to grasp something of the breadth of your own discipline, but also to become acquainted with the full breadth of what goes on in your university. (That’s the whole point of having a university, isn’t it?)

But there are also some distinctively Christian reasons to maintain wide interests.

Eline mentioned reductionism in a previous post: the idea that something is nothing but something else. For example, biology is nothing but physics, physics experiments are nothing but the experienced sensations in the minds of the researchers, sensations in our minds are nothing but neurological signals, and neuroscience is nothing but a social construct! We can all think that our own discipline is the only discipline that really matters, and look down on other disciplines. A better appreciation of God’s creation as being multifaceted and wonderfully rich can help us to avoid reductionism. It will lead us to appreciate the value of other disciplines in their own right, as legitimate ways of looking at other aspects of all that God has made.

This more “democratic” way of appreciating different disciplines might help us to realise that, when it comes to real world problems, it is rarely the case that one discipline alone can provide the solutions. As we think about turning our theory into practice, we need to consider working together with researchers from other disciplines. This may, for example, be as simple as applying your discipline’s techniques and methodology in the context of another discipline. Or it may be a matter of political and natural scientists working together on tackling some of the big issues of our time.

What has been your experience of interdisciplinary research?

A Christian worldview (4) Your kingdom come… in the university

A few weeks ago, we saw that redemption is the way in which God, in the person of Jesus, stepped into his creation to gain the victory over the punishment for and consequences of the fall. However, at present we still live in the ‘in-between’, knowing that we are forgiven now, but that the full revelation of God’s kingdom is yet to come. We are taught to pray ‘your kingdom come’. But how do we live in the light of this coming kingdom?

It could be argued that our primary calling in this world is to call people to repentance and faith in Christ. And of course this is important. One reason why we find ourselves working in a university might well be to shine the light of the gospel in the dark places of the academy and into the lives of the academy’s people. But there is more.

Besides the ‘not yet’ of the kingdom, there is the ‘now’ of the kingdom. Christ is seated on the throne, and he must reign until ‘the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power’ (1 Cor. 15:24). Like Abraham, we live as strangers in the land which we will inherit. So besides praying for the kingdom to come, we can also assert that ‘the kingdom of God is amongst [us]’ (Luke 17:21). Christ is Lord over all of his creation, and we as his people are called to take captive every thought that still rebels against his rule (2 Cor. 10:5), to follow in Christ’s footsteps in proclaiming good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, liberty to those who are oppressed (Luke 4:18). As scholars and intellectuals, we have a particular calling to bring our understanding of the world and our place in it, and the ways of thinking of our society to obedience to Christ. We are well-placed to influence the powers of this world to bring about justice and we have the capacities to invent technologies that improve people’s lives and our environment.

Will we first seek the kingdom of God? Will the building we construct on the foundation of God’s work in our lives last (1 Cor. 3: 12-15)? Will it be saved through the fire, and will we bring ‘the glory and honour of the nations’ into the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21:26)?

How do you seek God’s kingdom in the university? How do you live as subject of Christ the king in your research? If you have any stories or examples to encourage us, we would love you to tell us about them in the comments section!

Christ as Lord: Philosophy

Having “Christ as Lord over x” has been extensively discussed in recent posts. We have seen that explaining what this means within whatever sphere of life or study we find ourselves in can be difficult but also rewarding. Philosophy is no exception.  Christian Philosophy[1] began to make a comeback some thirty years ago, and  the Evangelical Philosophical Society has an ongoing project devoted to the topic of clarifying what it means to do “Christ-shaped philosophy”. Since the project is so vast and this blog post so short I shan’t offer an answer to this. But I can offer some guidelines.

1) The nature of Lordship

First, when thinking about what it means for Christ to be Lord over philosophy one need, of course, know who Christ is and what Lordship entails. I assume my reader knows who Christ is so I move to Lordship. Put simply, Christ’s being Lord entails that (i) he has the ultimate authority (i.i) in all spheres of life and (i.ii) on all matters within those spheres, including both belief and practice. This means that our fundamental beliefs (the subject of Philosophical enquiry) will be shaped by what Christ says. I contend that what he says can be found in God’s written word: the Bible. This will have a bearing on the Christian doing Philosophy in two ways; one direct and one indirect. Directly, the Bible, while certainly not a philosophical text book, does make claims that have a direct bearing upon philosophical beliefs. Concerning the furniture of the universe (metaphysics), for example, the Bible refers to angels. As such, the Christian Philosopher, in working out his or her metaphysics, will make sure not to discount angels. Indirectly, the Bible can shape one’s very thought patterns. It may suggest ways in which one should begin to approach questions about metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. It does this, however, without prescribing explicitly a specific systematic – i.e. it doesn’t say “you should think like a Kantian,” “you should think like Hume.”

2) The nature of man

Second, one needs to know about the nature of man – primarily the power of his intellect. This is because (if one accepts (1)) it is human creatures that do Philosophy. Thus knowing what humans are like is essential to answering the question “what does it mean to have Christ as Lord over Philosophy?”  This is particularly pertinent to Philosophy since it is easy to fall into the belief that one’s doing philosophy is somehow not creaturely. Being aware that Christ is Lord and I am creature should act as a guide to my philosophical worldview.

3) The direction of Philosophy

Third, one needs to know what Philosophy is. I cannot answer this question.[2] Perhaps an easier question (but one that will still be useful) is “in what direction has Philosophy developed?” If one can answer this question one can then begin to see what practices and beliefs in the discipline of Philosophy are in accordance or not with both (1) and (2).

4) The danger of guidelines.

Having said all this, working out a system of guidelines to approach a question like “what does it mean for Christ to be Lord over Philosophy?” has both virtues and vices. One of its virtues is that a systematic attempt to answer a question will be more integrative than a non-systematic attempt. This integrity is virtuous not least because it reflects the revealed nature of the One who created all things. One of Its vices could be that of holding to one’s system more tightly than one holds to one’s belief that Christ, being Creator and not creature, can challenge that system.

The challenge of walking the thin line between these virtues and vices is an ongoing one for Christian philosophers. It is prevalent not only when they try to answer the question “what does it mean to do philosophy with Christ as Lord?” but when they try to answer any question.

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[1] I understand the comeback of Christian Philosophy to have begun with the demise of Logical Positivism and the establishment of the Society of Christian Philosophers (SCP). As with all “comebacks,” however, there were years of hard work being done beforehand. Moreover, these two things did not happen simultaneously.

[2] An interesting attempt has been made in “Doing Philosophy as a Christian” by Garrett J. DeWeese

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I’m an intellectual, shackled by admin

As Abraham Kuyper never said: “All of life is redeemed, apart from the mundane stuff”. When Kuyper was writing the Stone lectures was he thinking about completing a bi-annual PhD progress report, doing the online fire training course again (could a fire occur in virtual space?), checking references, filing ethical permission applications, ordering paper for the communal printer or reading submission guidelines1?

How can we bring Jesus’ lordship to bear on ordinary administrative jobs2? Here our focus is on understanding the culture of administration3 to inform our response.

Attitude to the culture of administration

A Christian approach to administration takes the same theoretical form as our understanding of our disciplines. The worldview and philosophy behind the administrative framework in our universities shape the individual tasks we are asked to undertake on a regular basis and reveal something of the goals of the organisation. Admin, like scholarship, does not function autonomously; it is contingent upon presuppositions about reality.

How does administration fit into a creationfallredemption worldview? What is my response to these tasks as a culture maker? Few deny that administration plays an important role in the organization of societies and universities, and that this is its appropriate role in creation. Yet a reformed view of administration also recognizes the effects of the fall and the potential for idolatry to creep into admin (admin becoming the solution itself) as well as the redemptive potential in Christ to fulfil administration’s creation mandate.

Approaching administrative tasks critically therefore is an academic calling; it requires us to understand something of the framework for the task, and to understand what that frameworks exists for. Does completing the fire training fulfil an ethical requirement to my colleagues or is this an administrative reductionism? Does achieving an above average satisfaction rating from seminars mean my teaching has been successful? Does the number of citations reveal academic rigour? Answering these questions as a Christian pre-supposes a coherent philosophical framework founded on a Christian worldview.

Could we be subversive in approaching admin, highlighting the limitations of each approach based on its worldview presuppositions? Could we also build an approach to administration that supports and serves it as it supports creational activity within the university, organising resources efficiently (effectively, ethically and aesthetically too). Such an approach, however, might require me to return my appraisal on time and with candour?

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1) This paragraph is aimed at people who are not in their third year of study for a PhD. Those who are may have found that these administrative tasks are actually the most sublime distractions. Indeed this post is acting as a welcome distraction from writing up some stats for me.

2) This post has focused on undertaking tasks as part of a wider administrative framework. A more lofty position considers administration as the organization of the earth’s resources to serve creation. This is the macro-biblical view of admin. This post focuses on PhD students’ response to individual tasks (we often feel they we are not in a position to effect change or organize the earth’s resources – although we should consider our own time and energy as part of these resources!)

3) The focus here is on critiquing the culture of administration. However, if our aim is to please Christ in all we do in his creation, then all admin should be done with this aim. Colossians 3 includes the well-known passage: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23, NIV). Paul’s advice here follows his teaching to slaves. In this context our attitude towards the work outlined by our departmental managers and university-wide administrators should be as if working for Jesus himself.

A Christian worldview (3) redemption

The third key element of the biblical worldview is redemption.  That means God buying back what was lost.  And if we take the biblical accounts of sin seriously, it’s clear that the whole created order was corrupted by the Fall.  So, building on an understanding of Creation and Fall, we see that Redemption is the way that God’s original purposes for the filling and cultivating of the earth may continue despite sin.  In other words, it’s not a Plan B, but the rescuing of Plan A:

Creation Fall Redemption

How does the Bible describe the process of redemption?  The focus is surely Jesus Christ – and in the gospel narratives I see Jesus in two lights.  He’s both God’s ideal human being, and my ideal image of God.  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John show Jesus as both ‘Son of Man’ and ‘Son of God’, priest and prophet, Suffering Servant and King of Kings.  Jesus’ life is a miracle from start to finish, yet thoroughly human – and that’s how I can dare to identify with him.  I’m nowhere near living such a powerful, game-changing, compassionate and healing life as he did.  But at the story of the Crucifixion, mercifully, the spotlight turns on Jesus and shows him as the second Adam who stands between Heaven and earth, bringing the story begun in Genesis to its climax, paying the incredible cost of buying back the whole creation from the grip of evil.

The focus is Jesus – and the focus is also God’s people Israel, and through them, me and all who believe – and ultimately all humanity.  We who believe are the firstfruits of God’s redemption project, redeemed sinners called by God to participate in the work of redemption under Jesus the sinless King.  That certainly gives meaning and direction to my life!  What does it mean for me at work as an academic, a student of God’s created order?

So far I have several answers to this question, and I hope to find more.  First, I work in love with Jesus and in great gratitude for God’s grace in bringing me to a place of peace and hope.  Second, I work in the knowledge that Christ’s redemptive work, rescuing God’s Plan A, makes possible good work by all kinds of people, including valid science and its application for good (common grace).  Third, I want my work to contribute to confronting the effects of sin. In my case, that may mean preserving species, habitats and ecosystems from extinction, pollution and degradation.  Fourth, I hope that the best parts of my work will somehow be part of the new creation – some of those things that may survive the fires of cleansing and be brought into the New Jerusalem (1 Cor 3:14, Rev 21:26, etc).   I’ve long wondered whether some of the very species of animals and plants that we now know may enter into the new earth – but that’s lofty speculation, of course!

Astronomy through a Christian telescope

One of the motivations for Faith in Scholarship is the conviction that Christian faith makes a difference to all areas of life. It’s not just the ‘religious’ areas of our lives that are affected, but, in the famous words of Abraham Kuyper, ‘There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!’

But what does that mean for my own discipline: astronomy?

I’d like to attempt to answer that question by putting astronomy under the microscope (or the telescope!), looking at it from various angles. I’m drawing on a set of fifteen different ways of thinking about the whole of reality, known as ‘aspects’ or ‘modalities’, which were developed by the 20th-century Christian philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd (see Andrew Basden’s Dooyeweerd Pages for an excellent introduction). I hope this approach might be helpful to you in thinking about your own disciplines.

The first few aspects are relevant to the universe.

  • Quantitative. Astronomers love to count things, whether they are asteroids, planets, stars, clusters of stars, galaxies or clusters of galaxies.
  • Spatial. As well as counting objects, astronomers love to measure how big things are and how far away things are.
  • Kinetic. There is a lot of movement in the universe, from the movement of objects in the Solar System to the expansion of the whole universe.
  • Physical. Astronomers are also interested in physical properties, such as the mass of objects and transfer of energy, not least through electromagnetic radiation.

Does Christian faith make a difference to these aspects of astronomy? I don’t think Christian astronomers think very differently about the quantitative, spatial, kinetic or physical properties of the universe—even those (few) Christian astronomers who think the universe is just a few thousand years old. The significant thing, of course, is that we don’t claim that the universe is ‘nothing but’ physical.

But is this a problem? I think not. The natural sciences rest on foundations that could already be said to be Christian. Modern science arose in the context of beliefs about the orderliness of the universe, and our ability to understand it through careful experimentation and observation (given the noetic effects of sin). I don’t think Christian astronomers need to worry too much if their astronomy is not distinctively Christian, so long as their astronomy is faithfully Christian.

The next few aspects lead us to reflect on astronomers and what they do.

  • Biotic. Astronomers are human beings. They have regular patterns of waking and sleeping (except when observing!), and their working lives rarely span much more than half a century. This is enormously important because many astronomical phenomena take place over centuries, millennia or longer periods.
  • Sensory. Astronomers rely on the sense of sight, and they have feelings and emotions. At times, the work can be quite thrilling.
  • Analytical. Astronomers love to classify things, such as different types of stars or galaxies. They also make decisions about what to observe and what to measure.
  • Formative. Astronomy is at the cutting edge of technological innovation. And when observations have been taken, the data need to be processed into a useful form. Theories are then formed to interpret the data.
  • Lingual. Astronomers represent their ideas in papers, lectures and presentations at conferences. They give celestial bodies memorable names, like Comet 81P/Wild.
  • Social. With its large international projects, astronomy is a very social discipline. Astronomers work together, mentor junior researchers, hold experienced colleagues in high esteem, and spend many hours in teleconferences!
  • Economic. Astronomers spend a lot of time deciding how best to use limited resources. If we are going to make one new telescope, what should it be designed to observe? Which projects should be given time on telescopes?
  • Aesthetic. Astronomers strive to develop elegant, coherent theories, and to reach a harmonious consensus about them.

Perhaps a Christian approach to astronomy, viewing reality as multi-faceted, will give greater significance to all of these aspects than others might? We should rejoice that we are involved in research as whole human beings, and not attempt to become ‘objective’ machines, mechanically churning out our ‘research outputs’.

The remaining aspects take our attention to astronomy in society.

  • Juridical (justice). Funding agencies decide who should receive funding. Those who have received public funding typically feel that they ought (and want) to give something back to wider society.
  • Ethical (generosity). Astronomers generally do much more than they are ‘required’ to. Data, software and research findings are often disseminated to the public, free of charge.
  • Pistic. This deals with matters of confidence, trust and faith. Society places a certain value on astronomy and decides how much money to put into astronomical research, and which areas of astronomy are worth investigating.

It seems to me that these last aspects are where the greatest difference lies between a Christian and a non-Christian approach to astronomy in the West today. Our society can have very narrow criteria for whether something is worthwhile. With our obsession about consumption and technology, something is seen to be of value only if it gives us better gadgets, health or experiences, or saves us money. In contrast, a Christian view of astronomy can recognise it as having value in its own right. God made the universe, and he wants us to look at it, learn about it, and find our lives enriched by it.

It’s rarely easy to pin down how being a Christian makes a difference to your discipline, especially in the physical sciences. But Dooyeweerd’s aspects may help us begin to think about the question, and to appreciate the many different ways in which our faith can interact with our research.

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