January 23, 2009
Faculty Insight: Science and Christianity
An interview with Thomas W. Woolley Professor of Statistics, Brock School of Business
Ph.D., Statistics and Research Design, Florida State University
M.S., Biological Science/Education, Florida State University
B.S. , Biological Sciences, Florida State University
Tom Woolley joined Samford’s faculty in 1993 after serving as Vice Chair of the Department of Biostatistics and Biomathematics and Head of Public Health Biostatistics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Medical Center. Around the time he came to Samford he immersed himself in the writings of English statistical science professor David Bartholomew, which include such provocative titles as The God of Chance, Is It Rational to be a Christian? and Probabality, Statistics and Theology. Woolley, a statistician and evangelical Christian who once considered attending seminary, saw in Batholomew’s ideas a way to combine his faith and profession.
In addition to his selection as 2000 Alabama Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Woolley was among only 35 scholars from around the world chosen to participate in the prestigious John Templeton Oxford Seminars on Science and Christianity at Oxford University from 2003-2005.
Following up on his work at Oxford, in 2005 Woolley founded at Samford a Science and Christianity Cadre to open a discussion about the issues that have interested him for so long.
TB: What does your group do?
TW: The Science and Christianity Cadre is a group of Samford faculty and staff, as well as friends from the local community, who have a common interest in the interface between Christianity and science. Each month we read a book from the burgeoning discipline of science and religion with the hope of better understanding science and Christianity as co-seekers of truth.
How many participants do you have?
Attendance varies from month-to-month, largely driven by the book to be discussed. However, between 8 and 12 typically participate in any given month. In addition to Samford faculty and staff from across the disciplines (the sciences, humanities and professional schools are typically represented) we have one retired surgeon and one practicing physician who are active participants.
Why did you found the cadre?
A primary motivation behind the Cadre’s establishment was this: Ours is an increasingly technological and scientific culture, one in which the authority of Christianity to address the big questions of life has been replaced, for many, by science. As the pace of scientific advancement and technological change quickens, Christians need to understand the science and its implications for their faith and our common culture if they hope to be respected and consulted when major ethical and moral issues arise.
Do you expect the group to grow in coming years?
The group’s broader desire is to foster discussions of science and Christianity in external faith-based communities. For example, as our bodies take on board more and more technology – cochlear implants, artificial limbs, etc. – one might ask the question, what does it mean to be ‘human’? As our carbon-based bodies integrate more substantially with silicon-based technology, this question will take on greater significance. The Cadre seeks to address the growing need for education among local and regional faith communities.
What kinds of things will the group be doing toward that end?
The Cadre is looking for ways to expand the discussion on science and Christianity through community and campus lectures, adult education opportunities in local churches, the development of undergraduate courses in science and religion and through collaborative research. At present, external funding is being sought to support these types of outreach activities.