Why Bother Teaching Science?

It’s a sad fact of teaching that students often don’t retain as much of the knowledge they learn as their teachers would like. Especially if that material is not built upon or reviewed, it can sometimes lead the despairing teacher to ask the question “Why bother?” Most people, when asked what they remember from high school biology, can tell me that “the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell” and that’s about it. 

So when I began teaching life sciences at Augustine School (Natural History of West Tennessee and Biology), I was thoughtful in asking what I was trying to accomplish. I am not teaching students about God’s creation simply because it’s my job, or even because it’s an interest of mine. I teach students about God’s creation because I believe in it there is truth, beauty and goodness available in tremendous abundance to all who will take the time to look.

Only a couple of hundred years ago, the largest group of naturalists (people who study the natural world) were men who worked primarily as pastors. They used their insights into the natural world to demonstrate God’s character and to glorify him in his transcendence and immanence. Since the advent of Darwinism however, biology has become a secular domain. The focus has been on naturalistic cause and effect with the purpose of building an evolutionary worldview.

But this should not be the case. Like previous naturalists, we should see the supernatural everywhere; we can’t really look at God’s creation separately from the Creator because God is not separate and aloof from his creation. He has everything to do with it! The Lord constantly watches over his creation; he upholds it and he delights in it. When we study his creation well, we can use biology as a means to glorify God.

When we study God’s creation well, we can use biology as a means to glorify God.

Fulfilling the Creation Mandate

I am a teacher of biology, but when considering its importance, I have to remember that before I am a biology teacher, I am a hand-crafted creature in God’s glorious, good, and groaning creation. In teaching science my aim is to help us fulfill our creation mandate, to help us love our place and God’s good gifts to us, and to open up new avenues for us to worship God as we celebrate the world we have all been given. 

In Genesis 2:15, God made man to cultivate and watch over the earth, and today we are still called to cultivate and watch it. In a world where somewhere between 25 and 100 species are going extinct every day, how can we better care for this world?

First, it must be said that we can’t be ignorant of God’s creation and be a good steward at the same time. How can you preserve our neighbor the Red Wolf if you don’t know that he exists–let alone what he needs, how he lives, or how he reflects God’s glory in his own peculiar way? If we have dominion over all creatures, we need to know these creatures. Studying the natural world in all its patterns, complexities, and mysteries is crucial if we are going to be faithful stewards of it. 

Love of Place & The Enjoyment of God’s Good Gifts

Most people claim to enjoy the outdoors, or at least a “good sunset” or a “scenic vista,” but when they mean they’re just taking a picture with their phone that they’ll never look at again, I’m afraid what they are practicing and what I’m aiming for with my students are not the same thing. Even then, when we are truly attentive to and appreciative of such things, this is good, but I find most people find it very difficult to feel awe and wonder at the “mundane” and the “common.”

Whether it be a foliose lichen, the Common Puffball, or the Northern Mockingbird, we don’t marvel. In fact, we hardly even seem to notice them much of the time. When this is the case, however, the fault is often not with the creation. The fault is with us; in the words of the author of our biology textbook: “To be bored in this world is to be boring.” 

“To be bored in this world is to be boring.” 

Desiring to live in a deeply attentive and appreciative way in view of creation doesn’t mean there aren’t obstacles. One of the largest obstacles to learning from and appreciating the cellular slime mold or the Megahyrssawasp is that we don’t know such organisms exist. Another obstacle is that we don’t notice them (or even know how to notice them), even when we walk right past them. Yet another obstacle, deeply engrained by our utilitarian culture, is that we don’t think such a thing could possibly be worth our time in a busy world.

At Augustine School, I teach Life Sciences in part to try and remove these obstacles and to help our students be better at slowing down, truly noticing, and lovingly tending to God’s creation. In your backyard, there are horsehair worms that use neurotransmitters to mind-control grasshoppers into taking them where they want to go. Wonder is waiting for you right outside your door; are you enjoying this gift?