SBU pioneers Strait Center that integrates science, faith
By Allen Palmeri
August 9, 2005
BOLIVAR – Gary O. Gray, director of the Darrell R. Strait Center for the Integration of Science and Christian Faith, has just completed his first full year of immersion in an innovative academic program at Southwest Baptist University that is the first of its kind in the nation.
Now Gray, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics, is constructing a course for the spring called “Chemistry Through the Eyes of Faith,” an endeavor which has driven him to his knees in prayer.
“It’s never been taught,” he said. “There exists no text. I’ve only found about three or four books ever printed on the topic.”
When Gray finishes that course, all four pillars for the Strait Center will be in place. Besides chemistry, those core-course areas are biology, mathematics and physics. The long-range plan for the center, Gray said, is to develop websites for all four classes so the material can be taught online. The center offers both an academic major and minor.
“We designed the classes with a seminar approach where the students have a signi-ficant amount of input into what we cover,” Gray said. “It’s pretty much whatever you want to talk about related to the discipline.”
Questions that blend foundational elements of science and Christianity are encouraged. The center seeks never to elevate science above theology. Both are tossed onto the table to be dissected.
Gray rattled off a series of questions that students are encouraged to pose within a framework of integration, which he admits is an unusual way to handle the topics of science and faith on a university campus.
“Why do Baptists believe this?” he said. “Why do you believe this? What is the science behind this? Is that science real? Can I trust it? What is science? What good is science? How do I think scientifically and how do I mesh that with the first three chapters of Genesis?”
Gray, 52, who earned his doctorate from Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas, in biochemistry and did post-doctorate work in human endocrinology and cancer research, is a stickler for keeping the Bible in the science lab. He learned that a long time ago as a student at Wayland Baptist University, Plainview, Texas.
“I had a very godly organic chemistry professor who said there is no reason to apologize for who you are in Christ,” Gray said. “Christianity is not second-class citizenship among the scientific community. Next question. Don’t even debate it. It’s not worth your time.”
When a university like Southwest Baptist seeks to integrate science and the Christian faith, it is thought to be courageous. Gray simply sees it as an attempt to implement the vision of the university’s founders.
“Science in our humanist mindset in the last century has taken on a life of its own,” he said. “We almost deify it as being able to deal with all of life’s issues. We have bought into the mindset that if you try hard enough you can do it. The popular culture would say, ‘Just do it. The process of human endeavor always bears positive fruit.’ That’s not a biblical concept.
“The Scripture says, ‘Our righteousness is as filthy rags.’ We can’t comprehend the wisdom of God. His thoughts are above our thoughts. We are empowered by God to subdue and have dominion. There’s no doubt about that. That’s a biblical principle. The earth was given to us through Adam for that purpose. To subdue and have dominion carries with it, in my understanding, the obligation to study, to understand and to be a good steward, but never to substitute the studied and observed for its Creator. To me, the deification of a process of human endeavor is Theology 101 – pride. We are prideful in believing that our intellect gives us special abilities. It takes us away from biblical principle – in the beginning, God. It’s pretty simple, and we refuse to accept the simple for its simplicity sometimes.”
Gray said the Strait Center faculty focuses on serving students by equipping them.
“Our job is to facilitate,” he said. “The mentor, biblically, is the Holy Spirit. He’s the resident part of a holy God who teaches. You study it. He educates. You learn the facts. He helps you interpret.”
Gray said he hopes graduates of the program will be able to ask, “How do the philosophy and culture of the day drive the science?” Although Southwest Baptist is pioneering this approach for every other campus in America, Gray hesitated to apply the term “visionary” to the center.
“If visionary means you go against the cultural flow, then I can accept it as visionary,” he said. “The culture says appease.”
For Gray, visionary means researching course material on the influence of Robert Boyle (1627-1691), a devout Christian and co-founder of the Royal Society who was one of the fathers of modern chemistry.
“Did you know that he funded the translation of the Bible into about three different languages and shipped it worldwide at a time when a translation would cost us millions of dollars?” Gray said. “Did you know that Boyle was the richest man on the planet probably who wasn’t a king? He was the Bill Gates of his day. He left his estate, when he died, to fund an annual lecture series on theology, not chemistry.”
The science of Boyle stands as a guidepost for the science of Gray at Southwest Baptist. Written on the sign are two clear statements: Scripture is authoritative, and Christianity is true.
“We start from there,” Gray said. “We don’t debate them.”