Magazine Article

Seeking Wisdom

Faith and science in education

Timothy G. Standish
Seeking Wisdom
Photo by Niklas Ohlrogge on Unsplash

Following one of Marvin Wray’s excellent sermons, a visitor walked up to me in the church lobby. “So you’re working on a Ph.D. at George Mason University?” he asked. I was about a year into my dissertation research, which involved lab work 18 hours a day, six days a week. It sounds hard, but my fellow graduate students and I happily kept on working as we were having the time of our lives.

A healthy human mind craves knowledge, which explains the early appearance of “Why?” in many toddlers’ vocabularies. The further one studies, the more profound the questions become and the more interesting the answers, until it becomes obvious that our precious store of knowledge represents a tiny fraction of all there is to discover. The privilege of expending so much effort to expand our knowledge of nature was and is one of the greatest pleasures of my life.

Advanced Education

I was happy to tell our questioning visitor about the wonderful education I was enjoying, and got as far as “Yes” before being cut off by a tirade about me being a smart fellow who was wasting my time with an education when I should be spreading the gospel. I was left stunned and wondering if we could possibly be reading the same Bible, the one that tells us that Jesus Himself spent at least 30 years preparing for His ministry. Pastor Wray must have seen my startled expression as he appeared from nowhere and guided my questioner away. I quickly exited church with my equally shocked wife, who was sacrificing so much for my education.

Was the visitor’s harsh inquisition justified? Was I ignoring the Bible by seeking an advanced education? I studied two species of worm that most people have never heard of, yet belong to a group vital for life’s existence. Technically I was engaged in “taxonomy”: classifying and naming organisms. A Bible reader need only make it to the second chapter of Genesis to discover that taxonomy was humanity’s very first “job.” God wanted Adam to learn of his need for a wife (Gen. 2:18) through naming the animals. Adam noticed that animals existed in male and female pairs, but a human female was missing (verse 20). Adam’s research revealed his incompleteness. God then crowned His creation using a unique means to make Eve. Adam’s and Eve’s creation divides humans, made in God’s image, from the animals (Gen. 1:27). Lots of research and education occurred during the sixth day of Creation week!

In the most idyllic setting and with the Creator Himself as their teacher, Adam and Eve teach another lesson: humans have free will, which, then as now, they regularly use to choose both what they know to be right and what they know is wrong. A profound difference exists between having information, “you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17), and using it with wisdom. Information, wisdom, and knowledge are very distinct things.

Master Teacher

After Eden, God again became humanity’s teacher. Jesus never called Himself a carpenter, but He did say: “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am” (John 13:13). In the colleges and universities of the day—the synagogues and temple—Jesus taught for more than three years, leaving His pupils “astonished” (Matt. 22:33). Why? They had all the information He used in the Old Testament. There is a key to knowledge that they lacked: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7).

Recently many people, like my after-church inquisitor, have questioned the value of an expensive university education,1 even a Christian education. In secular universities, particularly the most expensive and elite, the biblical foundation has been removed. There is no “fear of the Lord,” and where there was once knowledge, a cesspool of bad and often ancient discredited ideas swamps students, faculty, and administrators alike. In this environment information does not and cannot turn into true knowledge. In fact, knowledge is lost rather than found. Should education be abandoned?

Jesus criticized those who “err, not knowing the scriptures” (Matt. 22:29, KJV), but in Scripture only one person criticizes someone’s great learning, the pagan Festus. He shouted, “Much learning is driving you mad!” (Acts 26:24) while Paul was revealing eternal truths to him. From Eden to the Temple where Jesus taught, to the school of Tyrannus, where Paul taught in Ephesus (Acts 19:9), the pursuit of knowledge is a constant theme of Scripture. Scientists such as Solomon (1 Kings 4:33, 34) are presented as examples of the faith whose knowledge drew diverse people to God. When we have knowledge to share, others will be drawn to the Creator through us too. Knowledge through Christ-centered education and research is central to sharing the gospel. Ellen White warned, “Those who are uneducated, untrained, and unrefined are not prepared to enter a field in which the powerful influences of talent and education combat the truths of God’s Word. Neither can they successfully meet the strange forms of error, religious and philosophical combined, to expose which requires a knowledge of scientific as well as Scriptural truth.”2

I’m glad I didn’t follow misguided counsel to abandon education for the cause of Christ. No education is perfect, but I am convinced that there is no greater institutional power for good on earth than a genuinely Christ-centered Bible-based education. Understanding that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge lays the necessary foundation on which to build true knowledge from our study of the creation. It turns our research into an act of worship and equips us to reach out to a world thirsting for “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

1 Douglas Belkin, “Why Americans Have Lost Faith in the Value of College,” Wall Street Journal,, accessed Jan. 24, 2024.

2 Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1915), p. 81.

Timothy G. Standish

Timothy G. Standish, Ph.D., is a senior scientist at the Geoscience Research Institute of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.