Center to Study Faith, Ethics and Life Sciences

Westmont Announces the Founding of a New Center to Bring Thoughtful Discussion to Divisive Issues in the Bio-sciences
Jeff Schloss

Jeff Schloss (right), distinguished professor of biology, was installed as the first recipient of the T. B. Walker Chair in the Behavioral and Natural Sciences Feb. 26, 2010. Jeffrey Yates '79, the great-grandson of T. B. Walker, is the president of the foundation that funded the chair.

Some of today’s most fascinating but contentious issues arise from the life sciences, such as stem cells, global warming and human origins.

“The disappointing thing about these debates is that they’re typically not debates at all,” says Jeff Schloss, distinguished professor of biology and the first recipient of the T.B. Walker Chair in the Behavioral and Natural Sciences. “They’re often polemical monologues that pit science against faith without civil discussion.”

To encourage thoughtful and productive dialog, Westmont has established the Center for Faith, Ethics and the Life Sciences.

“We’re thrilled to announce the launch of this center,” says Westmont President Gayle D. Beebe. “It will make a significant contribution to our campus and change the trajectory of discussion in this field.”

Grants totaling more than $1 million, including a $780,000 award from the John Templeton Foundation, provide funding for the center. Schloss will serve as director.

“Jeff Schloss is one of America’s foremost thinkers on the integration of science and faith,” Beebe says. “We congratulate him for receiving the Templeton grant.”

“The Galileo affair was child’s play compared to the way contemporary bio-sciences have revolutionized human thought,” Schloss says. “Not only has the field brought wondrous enrichment to our lives, but it has profoundly challenged faith. Curiously, there are countless journals and institutes that focus on faith and science in general or creation and evolution in particular, but there are no programs that apply a Christian perspective to the range of issues raised by scientific perspectives on the nature of life.”

Schloss shies away from nothing, tackling topics such as the stewardship of creation, genetic determinism, and human origins and uniqueness. He also critiques biological theories of human moral and religious beliefs that aspire to explain these phenomena as ‘useful fictions’ fashioned by natural selection.

The center will bring a mediating voice to a domain dominated by strident sound bites while honoring both biblical faith and scientific integrity.

Its first goal is helping believers appreciate that good science is not an enemy to faith. “We must honestly face tough questions, focusing not just on conflict but on the many new areas of consonance between biblical and biological perspectives,” Schloss says. He presented this concept at a meeting of evangelical leaders celebrating bioscience convened by Human Genome Project leader Francis Collins and Pastor Tim Keller.

Second, the center will bring a faith-based perspective on bioscience to the academy and the public square. “It’s crucial that evangelicals not just talk to themselves,” Schloss says. The center has received invitations to bring these views to Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard, Princeton and other scholarly settings.

Third, the center will encourage scholarship on crucial issues, such as the way religious faith interacts with our biology. “This may be the hottest area in science and faith because it involves the supposed science of faith,” Schloss says. “Many theories try to explain away faith as an innate misfiring of our biology, but the idea that we’re naturally inclined to some beliefs — not as a misfiring but as a proper function — is consistent with scripture.”

The center has hosted a workshop of international leaders in this field. “There was vigorous but refreshingly cordial disagreement over both the science and its implications for faith,” Schloss says. A grant from Oxford University will allow Schloss and Christian philosopher Michael Murray to spend a term in residence at Trinity College there and complete a book on these issues.

The Templeton grant will fund empirical research by Schloss and Paul Zak, a neuro-economist at Claremont Graduate University to investigate behavioral and neurological effects of spiritual disciplines, focusing on hormones that promote trust and well-being.

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