Suppression or Engagement:
How Scientists Handle Religion in the Classroom
As I walked into his white, sterile office, Raymond1 did not get up right away to greet me but kept typing. He was dressed casually in khaki shorts and sneakers—looking more as if he were ready to play golf than teach a physics class. Raymond had become interested in science at a young age and fondly recalls looking through a telescope to witness his first lunar eclipse. He was raised in the Missouri Synod Lutheran church, which “is not just any Lutheran church,” he said, alluding to the denomination’s extremely conservative reputation. He now views the process of being confirmed in the Lutheran church as “indoctrination.” He vividly recalls the minister making him “stand up in front of the church and say things [Raymond] knew weren’t true,” such as that the age of the earth is only a few thousand years. He now thinks the minister forced him to lie because Raymond’s interest in science made him nervous.
Through part of his college years, Raymond continued to attend church with his family. He remembers the particular moment when he decided that he would no longer go to church. It was at a Christmas Eve service held at the time of the bombing of Hanoi (late December 1972) during the Vietnam War. Raymond thought about how “the United States was bombing the hell out of a country and killing all these people for no good reason on Christmas Eve while [his] family was sitting in church praying.” At that moment, Raymond had an “epiphany” and “saw through all the hypocrisy.” He later told his parents that he would not be going to church anymore.
Raymond thinks there are many things about the world that are mysterious but finds it ridiculous to think that “there’s some person sitting on a chair with a beard who has lightning coming out of his fingers or makes pronouncements about how people should live.” At this point in his life, he is not pursuing any particular religion and does not have a sense that he is spiritual. One reason is because he “wants to pursue things that [he] knows he can actually make progress with,” and he sees the pursuit of spirituality as “a dead end.” He chooses