How To Integrate Faith and Scholarship

Outline of Talk to Cornell University Christian Faculty Staff Forum
February 12, 1998
Dr. Gene B. Chase
  1. Find out what has already been done in your field.
    1. Professional societies [US organizations only; there are British equivalents for those with *]
      1. Association of Christians in the Mathematical Science (ACMS)
      2. Christian Legal Society
      3. American Scientific Affiliation *
      4. Affiliation of Christian Geologists
      5. Affiliation of Christian Biologists
      6. Affiliation of Christian Engineers
      7. Association of Christian Librarians * (ACL)
      8. Others are available [March 17 addition]
    2. Bibliographies
      1. Christian Periodical Index (of the ACL)
      2. Bibliography of Christianity and Mathematics (of the ACMS)
    3. General Christian academic journals
      1. Christian Scholar's Review -- first-rate, in Cornell's Olin Library
      2. Faculty Dialogue -- still finding its niche, not as good in my opinion. From the Institute for Christian Leadership.
  2. Recognize that different disciplines lend themselves to integration in different ways.
    1. Some disciplines lend themselves to direct integration.
      Literature, History, Philosophy, Art, Music, Economics, Business Administration
    2. Some disciplines are marginal.
      Nutrition
    3. Some disciplines require that one get at the history and philosophy of the discipline.
      Mathematics, Botany
    4. Even in the most difficult disciplines, "incarnational integration" is possible. You are a Christian; you are a Botanist; so the integration takes place in you as a person working with integrity at both.
      1. Character and integrity --honesty, courtesy, giving honor to others, diligence, and awe for example--aren't unique to Christians, but we certainly serve a God who values these things.
        1. For example, a Botanist might want to take sides in the debate about whether Gregor Mendel fudged his data to get such good results, based on Mendel's character as a monk.
        2. For a non-example, a Family Studies instructor might want to argue for mutual submission in marriage on the basis of Ephesians 5, but then for that instructor, it is direct discipline integration, not "incarnational" in the sense that I've used the term. My mutual submission to my wife is incarnational integration because Mathematics is not about marriage.
      2. Keep a notebook or computer file of great quotations.
        1. Albert Einstein: "God doesn't play dice."
        2. Lord Kelvin (William Thomson) on his second law of thermodynamics: "all of them shall wax old like a garment" (Psalm 102:26)
        3. Thomas Edison while searching for a material from which to make electric light filaments: "Somewhere in God Almighty's workshop is dense woody growth, with fibers almost geometrically parallel and with practically no pith, from which we can make the filament the world needs."
  3. I have been attempting this kind of integration in Mathematics for the past couple decades.

    How Has Christian Theology Furthered Mathematics?

    Not setting dates for Easter, nor balancing the church's accounts. Not even Blaise Pascal's betting argument for why having faith in God is a better deal for us.

    1. William of Ockham's view of the Lord's supper gave rise to an algebra independent of numbers
    2. William Rowan Hamilton's contemplation of the Trinity gave rise to a part of algebra called "quaternions" which are useful in computer graphics.
    3. George Boole's meditation on the war between Satan and God gave rise to the algebra that forms the basis for modern computers.
    4. James Clerk Maxwell's view of God's laws (relationships) as being as much a part of His creation as the things related gave rise to his famous wave equations for electromagnetism, and hence radio waves.
    5. Georg Cantor's view of God as infinite, based on St. Augustine's City of God gave rise to a branch of mathematics that deals with different sizes of infinities, and helped to explain a number of paradoxes in mathematics.

  4. What have you done in thinking about how your faith and your discipline are related?
    [discussion]

    Content last updated March 17, 1998. Format updated Sptember 8, 2006