I’ve been at the American Chemical Society meeting in Boston all week – so there have been plenty of chemistry professors around. As far as I know none were lying in the middle of the road. These meetings are always a good chance to reconnect with old friends and to learn what other groups are doing. This week I had the chance to reconnect with a professor from my graduate school days. I posted on his book – Science and Christianity: Conflict or Coherence? a couple of years ago, but it seems appropriate to repost it today.
Henry (Fritz) Schaefer was a professor of chemistry at the University of California Berkeley for 18 years (1969-1987) before moving to the University of Georgia, where he has now been for almost 30 years. I was a graduate student at Berkeley when Fritz was on the faculty and participated in a lunch gathering he had with Christian graduate students for a year. His influence as a Christian and a productive and respected scientist was an invaluable example for me.
This book arose from a series of lectures he has given over the years. He got started lecturing on science and Christianity in response to an incident from his first experience teaching freshman chemistry at Berkeley in January 1984. To cover time after a bit of a technical failure with an expected demonstration … well let’s read his own telling of the story:
I said, “While we’re waiting for the moles, let me tell you what happened to me in church yesterday morning.” I was desperate. There was great silence among those 680 students. They had come will all manner of anticipations about freshman chemistry, but stories about church were not among them!
At least as surprised as the students, I continued, “Let me tell you what my Sunday School teacher said yesterday.” The students became very quiet. “I was hoping the group at church would give me some support, moral spiritual, or whatever, for dealing with this large class, but I received none. In fact, the Sunday School teacher first told anecdotes about his own freshman chemistry instructor, who kicked the dog, beat his wife, and so on. Then he asked the class, in honor of me:
“What is the difference between a dead dog lying in the middle of the road and a dead chemistry professor lying in the middle of the road?“
The class was excited about this and I hadn’t even gotten to the punch line. They roared with laughter. … “the difference between a dead dog lying in the middle of the road and a dead chemistry professor lying in the middle of the road is that there are skid marks in front of the dead dog.” It was a new joke at the time, and the class thought it was outstanding. (p. 3-4)
After the class a number of students came down to talk with him – several of whom simply wanted to know what he had been doing in church. Some of the students asked if he would give a lecture on the topic – the first such lecture was in April 1984; the 400th in the summer of 2016 (from a listing in Appendix B of the book). I was a TA for freshman chemistry one of the terms Fritz taught the class – quite possibly January 1984; the timing is about right.