A friend told me I needed a bio page for this blog. I suppose I do enjoy reading that sort of thing on other people's blogs, and since I've been asking for input on how to improve this one, and that's what she suggested, I guess I should respond....
I'm a native Virginian, with ancestors here since at least 1703. Before that – the British Isles, as far as we can tell. I went to public schools, which is a big part of the reason that my wife and I home school our children. That, and the evidence that home schooling works.
I attended The College of William and Mary, graduating with concentrations (we didn't call them majors) in philosophy and religion. My senior year there I met my wife-to-be, Tanya; we were married the October after I graduated, went on a missions trip to Tanzania in November, and the following January moved to Louisville, KY, where I was in grad school for the next eight+ years.
|Red River Gorge, an area I grew to love|
while living in Kentucky
I attended The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at a rather dynamic time in the life of the Southern Baptist Convention (trying to use value-neutral language here...). As I was finishing an M.Div. at Southern, I felt led to do additional graduate study in biology before possibly returning to Southern to pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy.
That's not as strange a combination as it might sound, at least not for me. From childhood I have been interested in birds. Actually “interested” is an understatement; I have at times been a somewhat obsessive birder, though I think it's more or less under control now, and while at the seminary I had summer jobs doing bird surveys all over Kentucky for the KY fish and wildlife agency. My hope was to study and write about the response of the evangelical church to the environmental crisis (crises?). But first, I enrolled in an M.S. program in biology at the University of Louisville, hoping to add some credibility to what I would say about science.
|Combining birding, hiking, and pilgrimage... |
climbing Croagh Patrick, Aug 2011
What happened instead was that while the academic climate at Southern continued to change, making it less likely that my research would be welcomed there, I was greatly blessed by opportunities to study with two ornithologists at Louisville. Working with Jon Ahlquist and Burt L. Monroe Jr., I completed an M.S. and was awarded a University Fellowship to continue studies towards a Ph.D. there, which I completed in 1997. My dissertation combined philosophy and biology to suggest a new approach to research design in systematic biology.
In 1995 I moved back to central Virginia and taught for three years at Longwood College (now University) while finishing my Ph.D., and then for a year at Hampden-Sydney College. After writing for one year I was hired to teach at Southside Virginia Community College, where I still teach as a Professor of Biology.
A fortunate thing about my hybrid background, and where I teach now, is that I occasionally get to teach humanities classes as well as biology. Teaching in both areas, and thinking and talking about how they complement one another, seems natural to me, but over the years I have heard many, many varieties of the question “how can a scientist believe in God?”
Another fortunate aspect of my background is that I have been able to do research in both “pure” science (mainly birds and crayfish) and in interdisciplinary areas where religion, history, philosophy, and biology overlap. Some of my research has led to opportunities to travel to Europe, especially Italy, which I've visited several times since 2006.
|Bernini's elephant, Rome, 2010|
Then there is the conversion story. I was born and raised Southern Baptist and remained Baptist through college and seminary. When we moved back to Virginia we visited Baptist churches near our home but became regular attendees at a non-denominational evangelical church for several years. While there I taught adult Sunday School classes and preached when asked by the pastor. Like many evangelicals, we were convinced that the Bible was central to Christianity, but we were constantly questioning one or another aspect of our church principles or practices.
In July 2003 I read two books that led me abruptly to realize that one of the central tenets of Reformation theology, sola scriptura, was false because it is self-contradictory. Nowhere does the Bible itself claim to be the sole authority for Christian faith and practice. If it is not, then I realized that the alternate understanding (and as I now realize, the original view of the apostles) that the church and the scriptures are both authoritative must be true, and would lead me directly to the Catholic church.
Within two weeks Tanya and I were regular attendees at Mass with our children (two then, three now), and the following January we were received into full communion with the Catholic Church. Experiencing the richness of the Church from within, and in particular receiving the grace of God through the sacraments on a regular basis, has been overwhelming at times. Try it; you'll like it!
That's a very short version of our story.... Since 2009 I have been in formation for the permanent diaconate for the Diocese of Richmond. God willing, I will be ordained with about 17 other men next October. It will be a great privilege to be ordained during the Year of Faith; I live in anticipation!