“Science and medicine must be separate from religion”

Baylor logoThank-you to the friend of ESN who in response to my FB Wall post on George Washington U. Professor Tapped to Lead Tropical-Medicine School – On Hiring – The Chronicle of Higher Education (Audrey Williams June. 6/23/2011), reminded me Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) is not affiliated w/Baylor University (BU).

As I hopped on-line, the controversy regarding the relationship between Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) and Baylor University (BU) slowly came back to me. It is another difficult institutional history marked by the challenges of funding and religious affiliation. As I couldn’t fit the story (and some of the questions which it raises) into a FB comment or wall post, I thought I’d try a quick post on the blog. Thought it was particularly apt after Mike’s post How Do Christian Faculty Integrate Their Faith and Work? Hope he doesn’t mind a brief, less polished Wednesday post, AND I hope to hear from some of you in the field 😉

BCM’s official history of affiliation & separation can be found here. http://www.baylorhealth.com/About/Pages/Default.aspx shares BU’s rich hospital system and http://www.baylorhealth.edu/education/Pages/default.aspx lists BU’s medical educational opportunities (Note: I find the page illustrates the hole left by the loss of BCM in 1969). But that’s not the whole story!

In recent years, financial issues (and more?) led BCM to have talks with both Rice & BU regarding stronger relationships. BU’s President had great hopes for a renewal of a deeper relationship, but some strong opposition at BCM signed a petition which outlined how the “mission of BU is incongruous with that of BCM.” BU’s description of how the talks ended can be found here (Note: there was also some opposition from BU’s direction). BU appears to still have a “voice” at BCM and some “increasing partnership.” Anyone more familiar with the situation?

How do you respond to the petition’s statements:

  1. “science and medicine must be separate from religion,”
  2. The religious ideologies that permeate throughout BU’s academic policies may adversely affect both scientific progress and the culture at BCM, particularly in relation to issues such as evolution, embryonic stem cells, and sexual orientation.

Note: Before commenting I’d recommend you read the brief petition 😉

Another set of questions coming to my mind in reviewing the history of BU and BCM:

  • How much play does money have in institutional religious identity? Comment: I think that when an institution faces a crisis, it’s true “god” comes forth. But I’ve also been wrestling with the question as to whether some religious institutions have ‘a seasonafter which it is time to close. If an institution such as Baylor College of Medicine separates, maybe it is best for the name from the time of Christian affiliation to be ‘given up’ to avoid confusion.
  • What “secularized” institutions do you know of which have been willing to religiously affiliate (or re-affiliate) with a strongly Christ-centered denomination, institution, individual, and/or foundation to become more financially secure, have a vision for the future, and experience revival? If so, how did the members of the community respond? Some thoughts on my alma mater, Grove City College, in a future post.
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Tom Grosh IV

Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the South Central PA Area Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). The Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine is the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry (D.Min., May 2019). To God be the glory!

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  • jay.woodham@gmail.com'
    Jay Woodham commented on June 29, 2011 Reply

    To somewhat repeat an earlier comment I’ve made at this blog: the Intelligent Design project has turned out to be intellectually stillborn. But one thing the proponents got right is that you cannot make an iron-clad distinction between method and metaphysics. They are separate domains, no doubt, but like a cell in plasma, osmosis is going to take place (both ways).

    This sort of thing shows up the main discomfort I have with the BioLogos folks, intriguing as their project is to me. I am no post-modernist, but Science as actually practiced is no innocent bystander to larger intellectual trends, currents, and questions.

  • mikehickerson@gmail.com'
    Micheal Hickerson commented on June 29, 2011 Reply

    I find it fascinating that the Baylor College of Medicine’s Mission Statement begins:

    Founded as a Christian ministry of healing, Baylor Health Care System exists to serve all people through exemplary health care, education, research and community service.

    BCM’s own mission has religious roots. In many ways, the situation is a theological dispute over the role of faith and religious beliefs in daily life.

    • Tom Grosh IV commented on June 29, 2011 Reply


      You’ve quoted the mission statement of “Baylor Health Care System,” which is affiliated with Baylor University.

      The mission statement for Baylor College of Medicine is

      “Baylor College of Medicine is committed to being a national leader in advancing human health through the integration of patient care, research, education, and community service.”

      Part of the confusion which our friend brought to my attention is the continued sharing of a “religious brand name” with an “incongruous” mission.

      Serving with InterVarsity/CMDA at PSU-Hershey Medical Center, I am struck by the difference between a focus upon “healing/serving” and “leadership” through integration in health care. More on that another time.

      As “science and medicine must be separate from religion,” the critique of Baylor University’s Mission by the petition leads one to the question of whether the Baylor College of Medicine signers are implying (or just openly stating) that the research, culture, and training in the Baylor Health System (associated with Baylor University) has been adversely affected by religion.

      • mikehickerson@gmail.com'
        Micheal Hickerson commented on June 30, 2011 Reply

        Whew! Thanks for the clarification, Tom. No wonder there’s so much concern about possible confusion. Has either of them thought of changing their name? (Though I’m sure the response from each would be “You first.” 🙂

      • Tom Grosh IV commented on July 5, 2011 Reply

        Mike, As for name change, for the most part both Baylor University (BU) and Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) would like Baylor College of Medicine to keep the Baylor name! I would argue that it has to do w/branding (BU as a Christian institution and the contributions of BCM to the health care through the years) and Baylor University’s hope to once again acquire/merge with BCM (i.e., more than affiliation or increasing partnership). BU has ‘some’ presence on the BCM board. Below’s a quote from “BU, BCM remain separate: College of Medicine maintains independence” (Laura Remson. The Lariat online. Jan. 28, 2010. Accessed http://www.baylor.edu/lariat/news.php?action=story&story=68084):

        “Baylor University will continue to appoint members to the Baylor College of Medicine board and retain rights to the ‘Baylor’ name,” Stone said. “Our history shows that we have always exercised our rights and responsibilities to BCM in a generous and appropriate manner. We remain immensely proud of our affiliation with the Baylor College of Medicine and stand ready to assist the College as it moves forward with its plans.”

        My comment about money’s involvement stems from the end of the article which discusses negotiations ending because of the positive turn of BCM’s financial situation. Part of my musing is that Evangelical donors, institutions and individuals should let go of structures which have chosen to go their own way in order to establish new ones or create redemptive structures to address the secularization and/or pluralization process. No, I’m not sure exactly when that line has been crossed. It’s viewed much easier in retrospect. In the academic context, various resources can be given to support a particular endowed chair, academic degree program, speaker series, study center, chapel/campus ministry, preparation for transition (e.g., high school to college, college to advanced degrees, new faculty on a campus or w/in a denominational higher education network).

  • jmulholl@uchicago.edu'
    John Mulholland commented on June 30, 2011 Reply

    I guess the best response to such an idea, that science and medicine must be kept separate from religion, is to offer a counter example at a major research university – in fact, a brand new example.

    Dr. Farr Curlin has been the driving force behind the new Program on Medicine and Religion at the University of Chicago.

    Curlin has long been concerned about how the religious beliefs of doctors affects their medical practice, and so began a series of surveys that have explored the issue, resulting in a bunch of research papers. You will find this link in the text at the link above, but I emphasize it here so that readers will be prompted to look for all the links in that text. Here are some of the papers.

    Curlin has done his homework on central issues, avoiding the most controversial and contentious, so that serious research is done and academically credible papers follow. He has brought in a Roman Catholic to be co-director, and they are in the process of hiring a Jewish doctor and a Muslim doctor to make clear that their program will be respectful of all people.

    Religion, indeed Christianity, can engage science and medicine. Curlin is an excellent example. There are more. There is a list of doctors and institutions at the website for the Duke Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health.

    There are more.
    Stephen Post, director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at Stony Brook University
    and formerly director of the Institute of Unlimited Love at Case Western Reserve.

    Dr. William Hurlbut
    and Dr. William Newsome in neurobiology, both at Stanford.

    Undoubtedly, there are more than these. Maybe this note could be the start of a major effort at cataloguing all those at work in this area. Christian engagement with medicine is one of the most obvious possibilities that exists. Yes, it can be done poorly, and so lead to the break down which has happened at the two Baylors, a sad and immensely tragic case.

    On the other hand, this engagement can be done well, indeed very well, as have been the cases reported here.

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