Faith and Science in the Class Room: Class One – Awe and Wonder and Pastoral Applications


I am sharing this post from the Vatican Observatory because of the importance seeing how faith and science can exist in the same room at the same time.


In the weeks to come, I will offer brief reflections on two projects to bring science into the seminary classroom. Seminary, for those who do not know, is the name given to the school that future priests attend. The name “seminary” means “a seedbed.” Therefore, a seminary is not only a school of academics, but it is an environment of formation in which the soil of our hearts is tilled to receive the seeds of faith. As I have written about in the past, one of the deficiencies I experienced in my seminary education was instruction on questions of faith and science. Whether it be writing for The Catholic Astronomer, participating in wonderful experiences like the Faith and Astronomy Workshop, or being a guest on Slooh, God has allowed me to embark on a unique “independent study” that has bore a great deal of fruit. Recently, I was honored to meet Jennifer Wiseman, Director of the American Association for the … Continue reading →

Source: Faith and Science in the Class Room: Class One – Awe and Wonder and Pastoral Applications

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“Safekeeping”


This will be the back page for the Fishkill United Methodist Church bulletin for Sunday, February 25, 2018, the 2nd Sunday in Lent (Year B).


We read in Genesis that we are to be stewards of this world, to take care of it, not just for today but for tomorrow as well.  Despite what some may say, how we treat this planet speaks to how we see the future.

In the Arctic Ocean, north of Norway, is the Svalbard archipelago.  And on one of the islands in the archipelago is the Global Seed Vault.  It serves as a backup for the other seed vaults around the world. One of the reasons for this and the other vaults is to protect seeds from all parts of the world from destruction by either man-made or natural causes and maintain a diverse collection of seeds for future use.

What was it that Jesus told Peter, that Peter had his eye on the real world and not the spiritual world?

If our vision of the world is limited to the present, we are going to have a very hard time getting to the future.  Tying ourselves to the present keeps us from going with Jesus and while we may think that it is safer to stay where we are (figuratively and literally), we end up in more danger.

Because of his faith, Abraham was able to envision the future, to see tomorrow even when it may not have seemed possible.

In our faith, we have a way to keep our future safe.

~Tony Mitchell

“Finding God in The Details”


This is not necessarily a post for Transfiguration Sunday (11 February 2018) as much as it a post for Boy Scout Sunday and Evolution Weekend; “A Reminder” serves that purpose.  Still it helps to realize that this weekend is a marker in my life.

On the 2nd Sunday in February 1965, I was confirmed and received into membership with the 1st Evangelical United Brethren Church of Aurora, Colorado (now 1st United Methodist Church of Aurora).  A little over one year later, I was accepted in the High School Honors Program of Northeast Missouri State Teachers College (now Truman State University).  In June of 1966, I choose to become a chemistry major.  Each of those decisions defined the path that I would take over the coming years.

The simplest and easiest way to summarize my beliefs is found in what is commonly called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, “Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason (The United Methodist Church Book of Discipline).  And since I see my faith in living and real terms, it is it is better to describe the relationship between the elements in a 3-dimensional tetrahedral – The Wesleyan Tetrahedron – rather than a 2-dimensional square (hey, I’m a chemist, remember!)Tetrahedron

Perhaps I spent more time 50 years ago focusing on my education and I know that I certainly have spent several years wandering in the wilderness, as it were.  But even if it were not a dominant part of my life, my faith has been as much a part of my life as have been my chemistry studies.

And that brings forth the questions, “Can one be both a scientist and a Christian?  Can one both appreciate the beauty and wonder of creation and still ask how it all came into being?”

Today, there are those who see science as a threat to religion, and especially Christianity.  And there are those who see religion, and especially Christianity, as nothing more than superstition and meaningless today.  There is, I believe a comment on one of my early posts on this blog that questions the validity of my PhD. in Science Education considering my being, at the time, a lay pastor in the United Methodist Church.  I can assure you, gentle reader, that my PhD. is a valid one and that I have done research in both chemistry and chemical education.  Those interests are very much part of my life today.

But there was a point in my life when I was asked to provide long-term pulpit supply for a number of churches and it was a very valuable experience (see the notes with “Who Will Work For The Lord?”.)

After I left the pulpit, but did not give up lay speaking, I discovered that there was a connection between my chemistry and lay speaking ministry.  In “A Dialogue Of Science And Faith” I discovered that Robert Boyle and Joseph Priestley, both chemists, were also heavily involved in matters of faith as they were in matters of science.

And while detractors today may say otherwise, scientists from Copernicus and Galileo to Boyle and Newton and onto this day have never sought to prove or disprove the existence of God, only to understand what He has done.

Perhaps the one defining characteristic of humankind is its curiosity.  From the very beginning of our consciousness, we have looked at the world around us and wondered “why?”  And our answer to this, at once the simplest and most complex of all questions, has lead us to seek beyond the horizon and to the stars and see answers in our soul, even if we are not sure what we were looking for or if we would know the answer.

And we would could not find the answer in the physical world, we often turned to the supernatural or spiritual world to find the answer.  But just as easy as it easy to find the answer in the physical world, it is often just as hard to find the answer in the spiritual realm.  And so, in our own way, we create simple spiritual answers to the most complicated of questions.

When the star that is called Sirius first appeared in the spring, we knew that river was going to flood, and it would be time to prepare.  But instead of tying two physical occurrences, we saw it as a sign from the gods.  When the rains didn’t come, we blamed the rain god.  We knew that if the crops didn’t come in as expected, perhaps we needed to appease the god of crops.  Of course, today we have scientific explanations for most, if not all, the physical phenomena that once was attributed to spiritual or supernatural forces.  But even so, we still search for explanations for good and evil, truth and beauty, and the most important question of all times, why are we here in this time and place.

This search for the answers has lead us in many different paths.  When the writer of Genesis wrote that Adam was given the task of naming all the plants and animals in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2: 19 – 20), Adam became, other things, the first biologists.  And when Abraham was told to count all the stars (Genesis 15: 5), he took on one of the tasks of an astronomer.

Understand that the Bible is and should never be considered the same as a biology, chemistry, physics, or geology/earth science textbook.  From the very day that the first writer put the words of Genesis on papyrus, it has been about our relationship with God.

The Psalmist looked the world around him and at the skies above him and saw the Glory of God,

I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous, your handmade sky-jewelry,

Moon and stars mounted in their settings.  Then I look at my micro-self and wonder,

Why do you bother with us?  Why take a second look our way?

Yet we’ve so narrowly missed being gods, bright with Eden’s dawn light.

You put us in charge of your handcrafted world, repeated to us your Genesis-charge,

Made us lords of sheep and cattle, even animals out in the wild,

Birds flying and fish swimming, whales singing in the ocean deeps.

God, brilliant Lord, your name echoes around the world.  (Psalm 8: 3 – 9, The Message)

And how was it that Jesus could use the habits of foxes and birds or know how mustard seeds and grow in his parables if He had not studied science when he was growing up.

Science can give meaning to what we see in this world, but it cannot explain why it is here.  Science can never explain there is good and evil or why there is suffering and pain in this world.

Science can never show you God; it can only show you, through nature, the works of God.  Science has always been driven to know things about the world in which we live.  Scientists from Copernicus through Newton and even into these days used the process of science to understand the works of God, not disprove the existence of God or displace God.

Science gives us the opportunity to know what is happening in this world; it is up to our faith to know why it is happening.  It is our faith that will provide the guidance that we need to use what science shows us.  It is through our faith that we can discern the path that we should take, to use our scientific discoveries for good.

Science can open avenues of research whose answers will help feed the people of this planet and cure sickness and disease, but science cannot eliminate injustice and oppression.  For all that science can do, it cannot do all things.  And for those things that science cannot do, you must have faith, faith in things unseen, faith that will lead you to find ways to use the knowledge that you gain from science.

We look at the world around us and wonder why and how.  As we ask how things came to be, we find ourselves marveling at the works of God.  And as we begin to understand the works of God, we began to understand ourselves just a little bit better.

A Reminder


This will be the back page for the Fishkill United Methodist Church bulletin for February 11, 2018, Transfiguration Sunday (Year B).  This is also Boy Scout Sunday and Evolution Weekend (I will have something else posted this week that focuses on those topics.)


Several years ago, I was headed to a college in northwest Missouri.  Driving across the plains of northwest Missouri that day and nearing Conception Junction, I saw a cathedral rising from the plains about ten miles away.  It wasn’t what I had planned but I had to see what this was.  After all, when does God check your schedule when he has something for you to do?

Conception Abbey postcard from 1908 postcard – By Unknown – postcard, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19493851

Conception Abbey was built in the late 19th century to provide the local Irish and German immigrants of the area a spiritual home.  That day, it served as a reminder that I had made a covenant with God in 1965.

A covenant with God is not a promise but an agreement one makes with God; It is an agreement that each party will do something.  Throughout the ages, God always keeps His part of the covenant; we are often the ones who forget what we said we would do.

Seeing that cathedral, literally rising from the plains, reminded me that I had made a covenant and that it was time to fulfill my part of the agreement.  As I continued my trip that day, I began to think about how I could fulfill that covenant I made in 1965.  How could I use my skills and talents that I had been given and developed over the years?  In one sense, I am here today because of the sudden appearance of the Presence of God in my life.

Each of us, in one way or another, has had that same moment, where God suddenly appears to us.   How will you respond?

~Tony Mitchell

“And What Do You See?”


This will be the back page of the February 4, 2018 (Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, year B) bulletin at Fishkill United Methodist Church.


Of the twelve disciples, Nathaniel must be my favorite.  Perhaps it is because he was, by tradition, the scholar of the group.  But then again, he, along with Thomas, went to Georgia.

I suppose that Thomas should be one of my favorites as well.  While he has been labeled “doubting”, his request to see Jesus’ wounds was, in the classic sense, the mark of a scientist, of not making a decision until the observations were completed.  Of course, Jesus pointed out to Thomas that there would be many who would believe without the visual evidence that he requested.

But how was it that those individuals came to believe?  They had to see for themselves what it is that Jesus Christ could do.  From the very beginning of His ministry, people heard the Good News that Jesus was preaching and saw the miracles that He performed.  Time and time again, the people saw what He did.  He did not tell them to believe; he gave them the reason to believe.  Paul did not simply tell the people they had to believe; he, too, gave them reasons through his own life and actions to believe.

All we need to, as Isaiah reminds us with the Old Testament reading for today, is look around and we see the works of God.  Each discovery we make, be it here on this planet or deep in space, shows us the grandeur of God’s work and encourages us to seek more knowledge, more knowledge about the world and the people who live on this planet, more knowledge about God and His Son, Jesus Christ.

Our job is not to tell people about Jesus; our job is to live the sort of life that indicates the presence of Christ in us.  Our job is to live the sort of life that will cause others to seek Christ.

~Tony Mitchell