Building Bridges Between Faith and Science

by Peter Cooley

As a community of disciples and scholars who desire a holistic and transformational education experience, Azusa Pacific University works to build bridges between faith and science. APU’s Center for Research in Science (CRIS) offers STEM students top-tier resources and support, research and internship opportunities, and space to dialogue on the relationship between faith and reason. With the objective of equipping students for scientific endeavors of all kinds, CRIS director Louise K. Huang, PhD, assistant dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, noted, “As followers of Christ, we have a responsibility to pursue excellence in our craft, acknowledging and honoring God in what we do.”

One of CRIS’ key objectives is to connect Christian faith with careers in science. While public consensus may suggest that faith and science are independent fields, Huang asserts that they are closely related. Currently servings as a professor and Honors College Faculty Fellow at APU, she teaches classes and conducts research focused on environmental stewardship and sustainability.

“As a scientist,” said Huang, “the common belief is that you have to leave your Christian hat at the door as soon as you enter the lab. This idea cannot be further from the truth. Integrating faith is not just necessary, it actually enhances one’s scientific endeavors.”

In both her graduate and undergraduate work, Huang studied chemistry from a predominantly secular lens. Regardless of the nature of her academic background, she felt a strong calling toward God in her studies. “I found myself in classes and labs, experiencing moments of worship and awe of God and his creation. The nature of the world is far too complex to be random—there has to be a higher power. The more that I study science, the more that I find myself in wonder of God.”

From this same lens of discovery and awe, CRIS aims to foster a strongly faith-based academic environment within the STEM majors. APU prioritizes a mission of faith integration in all classes, facilitating dialogue between academics, the knowledge of their discipline and/or profession, and the Christian faith.

“The more time that I spend at APU,” said Huang, “the more that I am drawn in and blessed to be able to openly discuss faith in science.”

In 2017, the CRIS team felt the need to bring this relevant discussion of faith and science beyond the classroom and into the public light. To foster this community dialogue, the center planned a CRIS Science and Faith Event, aiming to address pertinent scientific topics from a faith-based lens. This initial event highlighted the theme, “Marijuana: Friend or Foe,” and hosted a panel of guest speakers, including an APU faculty member, from various academic backgrounds, representing the disciplines of law, biology, and ethics. These experts addressed the implications of marijuana, all centered around the Christian response to the topic. The event filled to standing room only, drew APU faculty, staff, and students, as well as local community members.

“The discussion had implications way beyond just science. By inviting the community, we were able to be a light to others, offering a space to explore a difficult topic.”

After the success of this event, Huang and CRIS were motivated to continue the conversation, hosting science and faith events every semester on timely topics like gene editing, AI, climate change/creation care, mathematics, racial inequity, and healthcare disparities.

For their spring 2022 event, CRIS hosted Dr. Praveen Sethupathy, associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and the director of the Center for Vertebrate Genomics at Cornell University, as well as panelists Mihretu Guta, PhD, adjunct professor, Department of Philosophy, MS in Biotechnology program, and Honors College; and Regina Trammel, PhD, associate professor, Department of Social Work. This year’s event, held online, focused on the theme, “What is Human? An Exposition on Imago Dei.” With a wide array of faculty expertise, discussion was offered as to the biological, philosophical, and psychological implications of what it means to be human.

The recording of this event can be viewed on the CRIS website.

“We were able to foster inviting conversation, like a ‘living room with an open door," said Huang who moderated the event. "Given the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to come together as a community to deeply consider what it means to be human.”

In the coming months, APU will host its annual Brilliant STEM Day, offering fun and engaging sessions to spark elementary school students’ curiosity and interest in science. Register here for the event. Over summer 2023, APU is preparing to hold a “Transhumanism Symposium,” focusing on the interface of genetic technologies, AI/machine learning and the Christian faith. In addition to these events, CRIS will continue to offer resources and support through the STEM Research Fellowship, equipping undergraduate students to advance the scientific community through research. For faculty, CRIS offers a monthly gathering—Spatium—encouraging fellowship among STEM colleagues.

“Faith is needed in the scientific community now more than ever before,” says Huang. “Christian scientists need to rise up as thought leaders in our disciplines and build bridges between science and faith—we cannot afford to stay behind.”

Peter Cooley is a public relations intern in the Division of Strategic Communications and Engagement. He is a music education and honors humanities major, and performs in multiple ensembles at APU. Outside of work, Peter enjoys reading, hiking, and playing music.