When two TEDxUCDavis talk organizers approached Bryan Enderle (a part-time InterVarsity staff and UC Davis Chemistry professor) and asked if he would be interested in presenting at this independently organized TED event, Bryan told the organizers that he wasn’t sure what he would speak on. He didn’t think that the general public wanted to hear a talk about chemistry.
But the two organizers (one of whom is an atheist), suggested the idea of presenting on “Science and God.” Bryan thought, “If anything, I could do that!”
Bryan is a professor on campus and is known for making chemistry fun. And since 2009, he has had his own Youtube channel, EnderlePhD (“Chemistry and Stuff by Dr. E”), which has 2,840 subscribers and 1,516,544 video views. “I think the TED talk organizers figured that students on campus knew who I was,” said Bryan.
Bryan is also known on campus as a Christian and as part-time staff with InterVarsity—someone who welcomes spiritual discussions. Bryan’s been invited to speak at various campus events. For example the freshmen dorms invited him to do his “Science and Faith” seminar and one of UC Davis’ fraternities invited him to come to their fraternity and speak on “Studying, Grad School, and why God is important.”
Being Known as a Fun Professor and InterVarsity Staff
“I’ve always assumed that if students like you, they will be more interested in your philosophies and over the years, I’ve been invited to speak at different events,” said Enderle. “I do things in class that are not related to InterVarsity or faith whatsoever, like my Youtube Channel. But I hope as students watch these things, they will see me and know that I’m connected to InterVarsity—that’s the kind of connection I’m going for.”
The Professor that starts Spiritual Discussions with Students
Not only do students approach Bryan because they heard that he is involved with InterVarsity on campus, and they’re interested in getting involved, but many students feel safe approaching Bryan with their spiritual questions because they know that he is a professor of faith on campus.
“I think other faculty could do stuff like what I’m doing on campus too,” said Bryan. “Of course it depends on your department and your school, but I think faculty could be more open about their faith and it would be fine.”
In the past, Bryan has sent sign-up sheets around his classes for anyone that would be interested in joining a Group that Investigates God (GIGs), which Bryan would lead. Sometimes more than 20 students show up at these GIGs. This year, Bryan has sent sign-up sheets around his review sessions for anyone interested in investigating God through an InterVarsity small group.
“What I tell students is that you don’t have to be a Christian to sign up for these small groups,” said Bryan. “But if you have questions about faith, college is the time to investigate and ask your questions. Also, our InterVarsity small groups have been trying to be more welcoming to non-Christians.”
The TEDxUCDavis Talk
As the TEDxUCDavis approached, more and more students and coworkers in the Chemistry department began asking Bryan about it. “I didn’t advertise that I was doing a TED talk on campus that much because I didn’t know how it was going to go down,” said Bryan. “It’s a controversial topic.”
Even though Bryan had been on staff with InterVarsity for 12 years and chemistry professor at UC Davis for 11 years, this was a level of exposure that he had never had before, regarding his love for science and faith. It was both exciting and nerve-wracking.
As Bryan was waiting in the TEDxUCDavis ‘green room’ before stepping on stage, a campus employee came up and told Bryan, “I don’t know about this God thing because it just doesn’t make any sense. I don’t know how anybody can believe it. There’s no proof.”
Although caught off guard, Bryan responded, “You know, different areas have different kinds of proof. Your science proof is going to look different than a legal proof. How are you going prove to me that you’re going to marry your girlfriend? Or that your family is going to be okay. Everything has different lines of logic.”
The man responded, “Oh, okay. I could buy that—looking forward to your talk.”
Bryan then stepped up on stage and gave his presentation to a packed audience (400-500 people). Afterwards, that same employee came up to Bryan and said that he loved the talk. “It was so funny,” said Bryan. “It was the fastest transition from atheist to ‘curious’ I’ve ever seen.”
As Bryan seeks to be known on campus, he sees that everything he does as an opportunity to glorify God on campus—whether that is helping students understand Chemistry, being a safe person for students to come to and talk about spiritual things, or speaking about “faith and science” in the freshmen dorms or at a TEDxUCDavis event.