The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


The scientist and the theologian

Together, two ELCA teachers study God, evolution, faith and cancer

We navigate in a world where science and faith seldom mingle, offering two kinds of knowledge and two widely different sets of questions. Some pit one against the other, as in school board debates across the country, revealing deepening conflict about the theory of evolution and belief in God. Such faith and science clashes suggest the two can't be made to align, and that neither has anything to contribute to the other.

Yet it was a school board battle 30 miles east of Gettysburg, Pa., that brought theologian Leonard Hummel and scientist Steve James together.

Hummel, a professor at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, maintains that pastoral leaders need to know more about science and the scientific world to help people make sense of the world as it is and God's role in it. James, a scientist at Gettysburg College, believes that understanding cancer isn't complete without asking such human questions as "What does it mean?"; "Who is God?"; and "What is love?"

Steve James (left), a professor at
Steve James (left), a professor at Gettysburg [Pa.] College, and Leonard Hummel (right), a professor at the Lutheran Seminary at Gettysburg, work with students in a laboratory, studying DNA damage responses and other cancer-related processes. The two professors are working together on a book about cancer, science and faith.

In 2005, the Dover, Pa., school board went to federal court over a conflict about their order to teach "intelligent design" in biology classrooms. Members of the seminary faculty were engaged in the controversy, opposing the curriculum. In early 2006, the seminary asked Hummel, who teaches pastoral care, to address the issue in a forum with the federal judge in the case, John E. Jones III. Hummel invited James to join him at the lectern to help explain the science of evolution to an audience of non-scientist church leaders.

Since then, Hummel and James have guest-lectured in each other's courses, intermingled seminarians and college science students, and team-taught other courses at their schools. They're even co-authoring a book.

When the two have worked together, James said, "my students have been intrigued by Leonard's example, and some were surprised to find a seminary professor who embraces science, and especially evolution, as valid ways of understanding the world. Leonard's example has put to rest stereotypes that some of my students carry with them."

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