The Lab: Preparing a New Generation of Leaders in Science

Have you ever noticed how much energy Christians invest in “responding to” things? We respond to movies, books, politics, current events, philosophies, and so on. Some days my Twitter feed seems like a long scroll of rash responses. This kind of reactionary posture also surfaces in conversations about science-faith issues. Instead of leading, or even initiating, discussions about science, we often content ourselves with knee-jerk responses to mainstream controversies. Others even avoid science altogether, writing it off as a corrupt atheistic conspiracy designed to keep Christians out. Such approaches usually stop conversations and prevent deeper exploration.

Somehow I find it hard to believe that God’s hopes and dreams for His people include us remaining in a posture of responding or avoiding. So, how can Christians start leading the conversation?

One way to transition to leaders is to prepare the next generation of Christian scientists to represent Jesus boldly and effectively in the STEM fields. The scholar team at Reasons to Believe is pioneering a path toward that goal via our youth mentoring program, The Lab. Our vision is to inspire up-and-coming research scientists with a passion for connecting their faith with their future profession and to teach them how to harness their skills for the kingdom of God.

Science can be a legitimate Christian calling and God has specially gifted certain young people with natural abilities in science, mathematics, and engineering. We want to be strategically and supernaturally connected to these future leaders.

Last July marked our first Lab experience. Twenty students and some parents joined RTB scholars and staff for a three-day program that included practical discussions, opportunities to fellowship with like-minded peers, and a visit to nearby Griffith Observatory. Astrophysicist Jeff Zweerink and biochemical engineer Katie Galloway led conversations about the challenges of being a Christian research scientist, understanding scientific discoveries, and addressing science-faith questions. They also held breakout sessions to address specific fields of research. Astronomer Hugh Ross and philosopher-theologian Kenneth Samples supplemented these efforts with additional sessions or by partaking in mealtime Q&As.

The Lab also provided parents with the opportunity to get equipped to help their sons and daughters navigate a STEM education and career. Jeff and virologist Anjeanette “AJ” Roberts talked with parents about how to get their students connected to reliable mentors and involved in campus ministries. AJ also offered her expertise as an academic advisor to parents in informal conversations. Hugh and his wife, Kathy, encouraged parents with tips for staying involved with and supportive of their college students. I was also on hand for a talk about how to use RTB resources to bolster students’ faith and answer tough questions.

The inaugural Lab program was a success, with both students and parents expressing gratitude for the practical, applicable mentorship and wisdom they received. One of the best outcomes was the camaraderie built between the students themselves, many of whom thought they were alone in their scientific interests or struggles with science and faith. One student reported The Lab as being pivotal to saving his teetering faith. Another described the event’s impact this way:

God’s creation is a beautiful thing and the most interesting part about it is that He wants us to explore and find out more about it. I loved the reference to [doubting] Thomas because God did show him the truth when he asked to be shown.

By providing a series of meaningful connections with students while they are still in high school, college, or even graduate school, we aim to inspire them to consider how they can contribute to scientific research from a distinctly Christian point of view—and how they can help the Christian community become conversation leaders. The Lab is the first move in a series of stepping-stones to accomplish this big vision.

If you know a gifted student, age 16–22, who is planning a career in science, math, engineering, or medical research, please encourage them to check out The Lab and see if it might be a good fit for them to take their faith to the next level. Our next program will take place July 14–16. This is a unique, application-only opportunity for a limited number of students. The deadline for applications is midnight, Sunday, June 19 (PST), but applications received by midnight on Sunday, May 1 (PST) will receive priority.

It’s our goal over the next few years to see more than 200 students who have attended The Lab enter graduate programs in various areas of scientific research. These young men and women can then go on to become voices in the ever-important scientific conversations—delving deeper into God’s world and His truth.

We hope to demonstrate how Christians can see the positive blessings of scientific discovery and get a deeper understanding of the world God created. Let’s become conversation leaders in the science-faith arena.

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By Krista Bontrager
Krista Bontrager is the dean of online learning at Reasons to Believe. She is a teacher at heart and enjoys teaching the Bible to all ages. She has an MA in theology and another in Bible exposition from Talbot School of Theology.

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