Birky teaching photo

By Ryan Miller with Beth Martin Birky ’83, associate professor of English

If the effort needed to explore how science and religion connect is as large as the universe, and the attempts are older than the study of liberal arts, can any one campus fully embrace it?
Birky quoteFrom an examination of the ethical questions behind the development of the atom bomb to a look at medicine and faith healing, Goshen College professors are tackling this year’s general education theme of “Science and Religion.”
Beth Martin Birky ’83, associate professor of English, directs the general education program. A community theme was first established in 1999-2000 with “Encountering the Millennium.” According to its mission statement, the college’s general education curriculum is “an instrument, or strategy, or method whereby the salient features of the liberal arts philosophy of higher education are made available to our students.”
Birky simplifies that message.
“We want students to make connections – not just learn science and learn about, say, art, but find where science and art are interconnected,” she said. “Showing students with books, classes, different speakers, that any single academic topic is part of a broader network of understanding and meaning. That’s what a liberal arts education is all about.”
Some professors have incorporated the theme into their classes in interesting ways:

“There is a certain excitement in engaging a topic from different angles. You can take one thing and learn about it from a scientific perspective, a historical perspective, literary, artistic, anything. The list could go on,” Birky said. “When you come at something from an interdisciplinary perspective, it renews the bonding we’ve set up between all the disciplines.”
The science and religion theme is not limited to the classroom. Birky said several students have come to her amazed at how their entire class schedule seems to weave in familiar themes over the course of a term.
“We often get zeroed in on general education as requirements, not general education as the building blocks of a liberal arts education. Entering into the (science and religion) conversation means going to chapels, reading books, just opening your ears,” Birky said.
Outside the classroom, campus conversations about the intersection of science and religion began with faculty presentations and workshops at an August 2000 faculty retreat. Last fall, guest speaker Consolmagno and Helrich broached the subject in convocations and chapels. Lectures by Jitse van der Meer, director of the Pascal Centre for Advanced Studies in Faith and Science, and Nancey Murphy, professor of Christian philosophy at Fuller Theological Seminary, highlighted spring conferences.
Students also watched the movie version of Carl Sagan’s “Contact”; Birky said even mass media can help connect book learning to the real world.
“We hope that focusing on an idea on campus provides a new context for viewing events in broader society or the world,” Birky said.
Birky quoted Edith Hamilton, best known for work in mythology, when discussing the importance of learning for its own sake: “It has always seemed too strange to me that in our endless discussions about education, so little stress is ever laid on the pleasure of becoming an educated person, the enormous interest it adds to life. To be able to be caught up into the world of thought – that is to be educated.”
Students are not the only members of the campus community challenged with seeking connections. Faculty members responded to the general education theme at an August faculty retreat by asking their own questions, including:

The campus will keep a religion focus during the 2001-2002 school year with a community theme of “Vocational Emphasis in Religion/Faith.” Beyond an examination of career planning, the general education theme will parallel the college’s Cultivating Authentic Leaders for Life initiatives made possible by a $2 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. The CALL program intentionally focuses on helping high school- and college-age youths examine and embrace invitations from God into church work and consider how any career can be the Christian vocation to which God has called us.
“The call to discipleship is at the core of every decision that you make,” Birky said.
Books for the 2001-2002 community theme will include Parker J. Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak and Common Fire by Laurent A. Parks Daloz, Cheryl H. Keen, James P. Keen and Sharon Daloz Parks. Additional texts, films, and activities will provide opportunity for students, faculty and staff to engage in the vocation conversation.

Return to April Bulletin contents
Science and simplicity by President Shirley H. Showalter
Traces of God’s handiwork in the universe by Rachel Lapp
Measurements of God: The search for truth and beauty by Carl Helrich
Science and spirit, hand in hand by Debra Brubaker ’79
The best of times, the worst of times by Owen Gingerich ’51
Marrying science and religion, in classroom and home interview with Elizabeth (Miller) ’51 and Marlin Jeschke

Return to Goshen College home page