By Dr. Bryan Smith
Over the past twenty years, I’ve seen quite a few Christian school science fairs. I’m happy to say these schools take the Bible seriously. One way they show their commitment to the Bible is by requiring students to include—somewhere on the display board—a paragraph or two under the heading “Bible Application.”
What do students put in those paragraphs? Well, I’m not so happy about that. One student did an experiment on dog behavior—how different factors affect a dog’s disposition and how he interacts with others. The Bible application focused on Proverbs 26:11: “As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.” Then there was the student who did an experiment on yeast growth and how different factors affect it. This time the Bible application was based on Galatians 5:9: “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.”
Such attempts get a Bible verse on the display board, but they don’t have anything to do with the topic. And that’s a problem. Why? We live in a secular age that treats the Bible as irrelevant to our modern, scientific world. So, for Christian parents and teachers, science fairs are a golden opportunity to teach young people that our secular age is wrong. The Bible is important to all of life, and it’s vital to the work of science. But if we approach a science fair in the wrong way, it will be a missed opportunity.
The Bible is important to science but not in the way we may think. It doesn’t mention by name the various problems we try to solve with the scientific method. It instead reveals who we are, why we’re here, and what God expects from us in this world. Those “big ideas” relate to the work of science in fundamental ways, and getting students to grapple with them is essential if we are to teach science from a biblical worldview.
Let me give you three "big ideas" that will help young people understand how the Bible and science are connected. I’ll state them as questions.
How can my topic help others?
One of the most important verses in the Bible is Genesis 1:28. It’s often called the “Creation Mandate” because it reveals our relationship to the rest of creation. Here God tells us the reason he made the human race. We are to rule over the world in His name.
This is the reason science is important to the Christian. It’s a powerful tool for helping us uncover the latent potential God has put in this world. Electricity, buoyancy, magnetism, solar energy—you name it!—are all important to the Christian because they help people in the ongoing work of dominion.
But we are not free to have dominion in any way that pleases us. We are obligated to rule in a way that pleases God. That means exercising dominion according to the demands of the first and second great commandments. At this point, I’ll emphasize the second: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matt 22:39). Everything we do should be done out of a heart of love—particularly, love for our fellow man.
This includes how we pursue science. We are to look for ways to maximize the usefulness of our world but not in ways that harm others or foolishly deplete resources. We are to exercise dominion in a way that leads to human flourishing.
Here’s how this thinking could have helped the student who studied dog behavior. His Bible application could have gone something like this: “The Bible teaches that we are to rule over the earth (Gen 1:28). It also teaches that we are to love others and do our best to help them (Matt 22:39). I think my study could help me do both. Through my experiment, I learned that if you feed your dog certain kinds of dog food and if you play with your dog a certain number of minutes every day, your dog will likely be healthy, live longer, and be happy. I’ve already shared some of what I’ve learned with my friends, and it’s making a difference. Life is better when you understand dog behavior.”
How does my topic show God’s glory?
“The glory of God” is a phrase the Bible uses to refer to the different ways that God is great and good. God is glorious—uniquely so—because His greatness infinitely exceeds that of anyone else in this world and because His goodness (His love, His patience, His justice, etc.) is far more marvelous than we could ever understand.
The Bible teaches that everything in this world exists, ultimately, to show the glory of God (cf. Rom 11:36). If that’s so, then surely science fair projects somehow declare the glory of God, and for many projects, the most natural way to connect them to biblical teaching is to demonstrate that they help us see God’s greatness and goodness.
So, a great Bible application may start like this: “The Bible teaches that everything in this world exists to show us the glory of God (Rom 11:36). As I worked on my project, I was reminded again and again that God is great. For example, when I ...” And the paragraph could go on from there.
How does my topic challenge modern, unbelieving science?
A very important verse for Christians to understand—especially today—is Hebrews 11:3: “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” Or to say it more simply, “By faith we understand the world.”
Modern, secular science takes the opposite view. It claims that faith (especially faith in the Bible) keeps people from understanding the world. The only way to understand our world is through the use of the scientific method—without any reference to religious faith. And what happens when you approach science in that way? You end up concluding that humans are descendants of apes, the earth is 4.5 billion years old, and the universe is more than 13 billion years old.
But Christians know you cannot understand God’s world unless you look at it through the lens of God’s Word, and at least some science fair projects should address this issue.
Erosion is a good example. Suppose a student were to explore how different levels of water pressure create different kinds of erosional structures. Maybe he puts sand in a large, broad tub and tilts it at an angle. On the uphill side, he lets water from a hose pour through the sand. Sometimes he sends a little water through over a long period of time. Sometimes he sends a lot of water through over a much shorter time. What he learns is that a little water over a long time cuts a channel that is narrow at the top, but a lot of water over a short time cuts a channel that is wide at the top. He concludes that you can infer the kind of water event that formed a structure by noting the present characteristics of that structure.
Here’s how the Bible application could wrap up the project: “The Bible teaches that the Flood formed mountains and canyons with a lot of water over a short period of time. But modern science teaches these were formed with a little water over a long time. However, when we look at things like the Grand Canyon, we see something that is very wide at the top. It looks like something formed with a lot of water over a short period. Through this, I learned that my faith in the Bible does not keep me from understanding the world—it helps me understand the world.” That’s a science fair project worth remembering.
I should say something about names at this point. It may be that the title “Bible Application” isn’t very helpful. I think it suggests that this part of the project is supposed to be an afterthought—something we work on only after the really important stuff is done. A better title may be “Thinking Biblically About [My Topic]” or “[My Topic] from a Biblical Worldview.” These titles will encourage students to connect the topic to the big ideas of Scripture. And, hopefully, we won’t have any vomiting dogs.
Dr. Bryan Smith has worked in Christian education for over twenty years. He has been a classroom teacher as well as a textbook author. Currently, he serves at BJU Press as the Bible Integration Senior Manager. In this position, he assists authors and teachers in the work of integrating faith and learning in the classroom. Bryan holds a Ph.D. in Old Testament Interpretation. He and his wife, Becky, have six children.