Last month, several ministries at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) hosted Dr. John Lennox (mathematics, Oxford) to speak on the topic, “Has Science Rendered Belief in God Irrelevant?” One of the most prestigious ballrooms on campus was used, doors opened early, all chairs were filled quickly, and people had to be turned away.
Through this, it seems as though students in science are hungry for God.
I wish I could state with empirical data that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) majors are the most unreached people group on my campus, but I can say that STEM students are disproportionately underrepresented in Christian circles on campus.
Forty percent of students at UT Austin are STEM majors, yet it is rare to meet one in campus ministry. That frustrates me. That’s why having standing-room-only at Dr. Lennox’s event is an impressive occurrence. So, what made his event so appealing to STEM majors?
One of the biggest reasons that Dr. Lennox’s event was so well-attended was the lack of hype around it. Scientists are skeptical of everything, and they have to be. Not only is it in their nature, it’s an occupational hazard to not be. They have a particular distrust of hype.
Campus ministries, however, love to hype events as “fun” or “awesome” in an attempt not to give away the surprise. STEM majors don’t care. They just want to know the facts: when, where, who, and what?
This, I think, is how many Christian events on campuses fall short. Ministries want to advertise a “fun” event without adding that it’s hosted by Christians, that religion will be discussed, or that the gospel will be shared. The prevailing assumption is that, if you release this information, non-Christians won’t come.
The turnout at “Has Science Rendered Belief In God Irrelevant?”, which was hardly a vague or mysterious title, proves this idea is completely false, especially with respect to STEM majors.
The event was exactly what was advertised — a discussion about God and science, and STEM majors still came in droves. Why? Because it was advertised clearly and without hype.
Events are great, but reaching out to this people group on a regular basis is more important. We must evangelize to this mission field that is traditionally avoided by Christians because of its alleged arrogance, atheism, and antagonism.
We must stop expecting arrogance, atheism, and antagonism. It is impossible to love people if the worst is expected. Love is the most important quality in mission work.
What I did when reaching out to science majors was treated them as people, not enemies. I offered my friendship and accepted theirs. I was stunned to find that they bore no ill will for my Christianity; in fact, they welcomed the perspective I offered. It reset everything I’d ever believed about scientists.
Many who grow up in church tackle apologetics at some point. I know I did. I acquired some valuable tools in refuting secular arguments, defending Christianity, and utilizing logic, but I also acquired something else — pride.
I was convinced that scientists were just people who blindly overlooked the truth, if they weren’t covering it up to begin with. It meant I was justified in feeling smart and important.
It also meant I didn’t respect the STEM majors I met. I didn’t respect their hard work, I didn’t respect the scientific method that they hold so dear, I didn’t respect the innovations of the past, present, or future, and I didn’t respect the way scientists continually bring glory to God.
Glory in Science
There is glory in science.
Most scientists are passionate about making the world a better place for people, discovering the truest of truths, and shedding light on great mysteries. These bring happiness to God’s heart. He calls us to work for the benefit of others (Ephesians 2:10), to seek and find truth (Matthew 7:7; John 8:32), and uncover mysteries (Jeremiah 33:3).
Even if they don’t know it themselves, scientists are passionate about ideas and topics close to God’s heart. When I learned to honor them for that, He used it to come closer to their souls.
(For more on this idea of careers and fields of study inherently bringing glory to God, I highly recommend Paul Manwaring’s book, What On Earth Is Glory?)
Melody Valadez graduated with a physics degree from the University of Texas at Austin in May 2015. She now volunteers with Campus Renewal and collaborates with the Christians in Natural Sciences Missional Community. Melody is the author of Those Who Trespass, a novel for young adults that blurs the line between secular and Christian fiction.