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Simeon Network Dinner address

Is an academic career an appropriate choice for a Christian? How can we have an accurate view of our research? How can it be performed for the glory of God?

These are the questions Dr Graeme McLean tackled at the Simeon Network Dinner in Melbourne on Saturday 6th September.

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Sandy Clarke
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Is an academic career an appropriate choice for a Christian? How can we have an accurate view of our research? How can it be performed for the glory of God?

These are the questions Dr Graeme McLean tackled at the Simeon Network Dinner in Melbourne on Saturday 6th September. Academics, research students and sympathisers from around Melbourne gathered together to support and encourage each other, so it was fitting that Graeme opened the evening with a thoughtful and powerful defense of our academic pursuit. Graeme claimed to be stating the obvious, but it was a message we needed to hear.

Graeme affirmed that there is value in doing our work well, but only on the presupposition that this work is worth doing at all. He therefore spent the rest of his talk describing ways in which academic work can be thought of as worthwhile, even for those in research areas which seem particularly theoretical.

For example, the task of naming the creation given to Adam in Genesis relates directly to much of our modern day natural science. Our responsible stewardship of nature requires thoughtful assessment of which parts of creation are healthy or unhealthy, broken or unbroken. This then extends beyond the natural sciences to the evaluations of our society, such as the study of law or politics.

In a sinful world, this may look like both affirmation and condemnation of things that are generally accepted within our disciplines. We will observe conflict, not just in terms of ideas, but even in motivation. Graeme shared a quote from philosopher and atheist Thomas Nagel to illustrate this point:

I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.
My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the human mind.

While rejecting the view that the soul duty of the Christian is evangelism, Graeme insisted that our academic work can be ‘a handmaiden to, a necessary preparation for and a bulwark to support evangelism’. A culture which denies the existence of God will not be well disposed to accept the gospel.

Throughout his talk, Graeme drew heavily on the work of C.S. Lewis in ‘Learning in War Time’; in particular, the following:

If all the world were Christian, it might not matter if all the world were uneducated. But, as it is, a cultural life will exist outside the Church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now—not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground—would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defence but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.

There were many things that Graeme regretted not being able to address in his talk, such as determining whether we as individuals are suited to this task or the kinds of virtues that should characterise our work.

However, for anyone who has ever struggled to see the relevance of their faith to their work, there were many sources of encouragement alongside the challenge to continue to reflect on these matters.

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