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Significant Digits and Christianity

September 03, 2019
By Hannah VanMaanen, former CCS teacher

Repost from a former CCHS Science teacher.

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“There is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square inch, every split second is claimed by God, and counterclaimed by Satan.” - CS Lewis

In chemistry, we investigated and experimented with the idea of significant digits in measurements and calculations. “Sig figs”, as we like to call them, are hard at first: a majority of students have never even heard of the term, and the rules seem random and arbitrary. If you are wondering what these sig figs are, ask a chemistry student or see this link.

For the first day or two, students are caught up in the details of zeros, right answers, and what all this math has to do with chemistry. As we work through more examples and use the rules in a lab, students feel much more comfortable with the idea of sig figs. It was then that I asked students this question: “How do significant digits make you a better Christian?”

After the initial blank stares, we really dug into what it means to do science Christianly. Many students responded that using significant digits helps us appreciate God more, and I hope that is true for all students at Calvin! But I also hope it doesn’t stop there. If these students go through a year of science and are only able to say that they can appreciate God’s creation more, I won’t be disappointed, but I will feel like they missed something important and practical.

Students all around the world in chemistry classes are learning about significant digits, so why learn about it at Calvin? What makes it different? Students knew they were there to learn chemistry from a Christian perspective, but they didn’t really grasp how we actually do that on a daily basis. What does a Christian perspective look like in science?

Science done Christianly has many aspects, but the top one, as identified by many students, was quality. Christians need to do really, REALLY good science. God calls us to work at whatever we do for His glory, and applying that calling to science yields only our best work. Our fallen natures will not allow for poor quality science to be eradicated completely, but that we work with all our strength to move towards scientifically sound practices.

Christian science also requires science literate students. If our students graduate Calvin without a proper introduction to various parts of science, like significant digits, we’ve done our students and the name of Christianity a disservice. In order to participate in the fields that God calls us to redeem, we need to know how to talk the talk and walk the walk. We as Christians shouldn’t stand outside the realm of science and hope for it to get better. We need to get in the middle of science and be the change we want to see.

That brings me to the third aspect of Christian science. In “walking the walk”, our students walk should be different than other scientists. A strong work ethic led in honesty and respect for other people, the data, and the creation should characterize our Calvin Christian alumni. A lab that values each member of the team and treats the materials as the handiwork of God reflects Christian principles. Hypocrisy is easy to spot in people that claim to hold themselves to a higher standard and act contrary to that. The scientific world is ladened with false data, competitive moves that cut others down, and wasteful use of resources. God calls His people to be redeeming agents in that messed-up world, and only young people with strong standing in their character, high standards, and intentional graciousness will be able to shine the light of Jesus in this realm.

Since the fall of Adam and Eve, humans have been notorious for falling short of our God-given callings. This is arguably the most important area for Christian scientists to witness to others: grace. Our students have the opportunity to show the grace and love of Jesus in a world that rarely feels it. They can be the coworker that shows genuine interest in each person. They can be the advocate of honesty and justice in the lab. They have the chance to share Jesus in the most unexpected places, and what greater calling and blessing is that? Pray that God strengthens our students to practice that very conduct now and everyday at Calvin Christian.