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Seeking Truth and Seeking God in Middle School Science

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

"We are the Universe becoming conscious of itself. We are the stewards of Creation. And we are restless."

These are the admittedly flowery lines with which I chose to open my personal statement in application to the Alliance for Catholic Education, now a head-spinning thirteen months ago. Granted the opportunity of their rediscovery during our program's recent December retreat, I can find no more holistic way to articulate my profound affection for the sciences and far greater passion for their communication.mc4 7530 1

Many a scientific reductionist will smugly tell you that Psychology, to which they reduce the complexity of the human person, simplifies to Biology, which simplifies to Chemistry, and then to Physics, and finally Math. And they are right in saying that no fact, no theory, indeed nothing in science stands in isolation. Rather, the whole of existence exists as an interwoven fabric to be explored across multiple layers of complexity.

Yet one must not forget the glaring omission of our reductionists. For as Christians, we hold that only the loving Providence of our Creator could have authored such elegant interconnectedness into existence. To deepen our understanding of the Creator, and thereby our relationship with Him, we might then unravel the mysteries of His masterpiece.

Allow me to rephrase my point in relation to my classroom:

"Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of Truth."
– Pope Saint John Paul II

These are the words that greeted my students to science class with Mr. Wilde on our August bulletin board. They have since served in reverberating echo of my application's personal statement. To the best of my ability, my daily instruction seeks to communicate scientifically validated truths in accord with our diocesan standards.

But the reason I teach is to touch lives, not fill minds. Memorization of facts and skills of data analysis pale in comparison to the repercussions of scientific inquiry complimented by spiritual development. And so I strive day in and out to gradually convince my bright young students of the deeper truths behind our covered content—to even begin to comprehend just how dizzyingly complicated, how humblingly dependent, and how irrefutably connected we are—as humans—to the whole of Creation, and thereby our Creator.

I relish the opportunities to explain to my students that the iron in their blood once destroyed stars, that the atoms in their bodies might once have been a part of Mother Theresa or Martin Luther King Jr., and that genetically, the odds of each of us existing as our exact selves have been calculated at close to one in 10^(2,685,000), essentially zero.

I want my students to dare to trust that if they seek, they will indeed find, to recognize that they are a part of something bigger than themselves, and to believe that they can ripple intentional change into this world.

It hasn't happened overnight. And the unearthing of my personal statement's opening lines came as a desperately needed reassurance of my efforts. But what were once cracks of fleeting, almost embarrassed curiosity have increased in near exponential fashion.

My 7th graders, who often act far too cool for school, frequently, if not subtly, drop science and math vocabulary into the jokes they love to make in front of me. Hardly a day now goes by where my 5th and 6th graders do not stop me at lunch with surprisingly insightful questions they have connected to the day's subject matter.

"How can the first cell really have been alive if there was nothing for it to eat?"

"If the Universe is already so huge, and it's still expanding, why do we think it even ends?"

"So technically, all of the atoms that were in Jesus' human body are still
somewhere on Earth, right?"

And one 8th grader tearfully stopped me after class to thank me, saying she doesn't feel small and alone anymore when she looks up at the stars. I wish that I had one, picture-perfect story to communicate how my passion for scientific inquiry infused with spiritual discovery has impacted the lives of my students, but such precious glimpses of reassurance come more often than I could ever have hoped for.

And so, I trust in the slow work of our God, in whom all things are made possible.