A sad moment in teaching

One of my students said, “I love astronomy, but most of the scientists are atheists and believe in a different cosmology so I do not want to go into it.”

Low-key broke my heart (was finishing teaching an astronomy unit where he excelled in).


Imagine if someone had said "I love astronomy, but most of the scientists are Christians and believe in a different cosmology so I do not want to go into it.” Presumably the student could see the problem with such a statement.


I love mathematics, but some mathematicians do not accept the Axiom of Choice so I don’t want to go into it.



I love astronomy, but most of the scientists are atheists and believe in a different cosmology so I do not want to go into it.

Is this substantially more true of Astronomy than other scientific fields? I couldn’t find results for Astronomy specifically, but did find this:


This indicates only slightly lower levels of belief in Physics & Astronomy than the average among all scientists. And only Chemistry (which seems somewhat of a outlier) is substantially more religious.

This would seem to indicate that the student would run into a similar problem in any scientific field.


But there doesn’t seem to be much religious disagreement with key tenets of, say, chemistry. Same with geology if we ignore the YEC’s.

“If we ignore YEC”, I’m not sure if Astronomy engenders much religious disagreement either.

If we carve out Biology, Geology & Astronomy as all having some problems for Creationism, that would leave Chemistry as the only religiously (or perhaps more accurately ‘Creationistly’) ‘safe’ scientific field – which is perhaps why it is somewhat of an outlier in the above survey in having a substantially larger proportion of belief in God.

Some theists have issues with the Big Bang. Though others think it proves the existence of God once and for all. So, a mixed bag.

Yes, we have as yet not had angry hordes demanding the abolition of the Periodic Table.

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Everybody deserves a seat at the periodic table. (As long as they aren’t too angry. And no double-dipping permitted.)


But Lithium and Sodium are tiny – their combined weight (30u) is not much more than half of that of Iron (56u). Why can’t I have both? :stuck_out_tongue:


The point where things become incompatible would be if this student was a YEC. If they were religious, but accepted that the universe was 13.8 billion years old (according to repeated tests), then they’d have a lot less conflict.

Update on situation:

I followed up with the student, asked for more of their perspective and chatted about science.

The number one hesitation was apparently the possible influence/peer pressure of atheists on his faith.

He accepts standard model cosmology but thinks that God had a hand in it.


I hope you can persuade this student to continue his interest in astronomy. Most atheists respect freedom of religion, and are not going to pressure him to abandon his faith. Too many Christians paint a false picture of atheism, and that might be what caused his concern.


I have to think there’s a degree of psychological projection there. Many (though I would hope far short of most) Christians do try to use their authority as teachers, coaches, etc to push their religion on their students. They therefore assume that in places like universities, where atheists hold greater sway, they would employ similar tactics.

I find it difficult to account for the plot-line of God Is Not Dead any other way.


Indeed, it is a very persistent trope in American Conservatism that universtities are primarily state-funded propaganda mills whose goal is to grind up young Christians and churn them out as transgendered atheist Marxists. This poor student may have fallen victim to this.


Would you be equally sad if the student was YEC? Or is that an opportunity for rejoicing that YECs stay out of scientific fields?

I think it would be (is) sad in any event.


Honestly, I want the best for all of my students. It really does not depend on their faith, opinions, behaviours, if they like me (or I like them).

To see a young person who is clearly passionate and talented to the point of putting a large amount of additional effort in learning an area get so discouraged is hard. It is harder knowing that they have had a yoke of culture wars thrown on their necks.

I do not want YECs out of scientific fields. I personally do not accept any YEC argument (scientific or biblical), yet it is not a cause of sadness or a wish to see them removed from an area. It would only be tragic if they are taught a simple dichotomy with harsh consequences and if their sincere beliefs have been augmented/enabled by intellectually dishonest actors. Their belief in YEC is not the point of sadness for me. I lived that life and in a conservative evangelical YEC Christian culture. I regret the climate of that culture and their mechanisms of conformity and its effect on people.


It’s sad that YEC’s exist at all.


Some YEC say the same about atheists. They are wrong too.

We can’t wish away people just because we don’t agree with them. Either we learn how to talk to others, or we crawl into our own echo chambers and never listen to anyone at all.



I’m not wishing that people don’t exist. I am wishing that patently and ridiculously wrong beliefs didn’t. I guess I should have said it is sad that Young Earth Creationism exists. And I hold to that. YEC cannot be equated with atheism, since the latter could very well be true.