Believing Scientists Respond: How Does Your Faith Connect to Your Scientific Work?

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Robin Pals Rylaarsdam, acting dean of the College of Science and professor of biological sciences, Benedictine University

My faith provides motivation and meaning to my work. God, the source of all things, has given me a world that is understandable and a mind that can comprehend bits and pieces of the cosmos. I’m not the first person to note that when I learn something new through experiment, I am briefly sharing that “secret” with the creator, God – a sure call for me to praise the Lord in delighting in my work. Additionally, I believe that Christians are called to be part of the redemptive work of Christ, and so some of my scientific work has been directed at developing drug therapies for a rare genetic disease.

Joel Duff, professor of biology, University of Akron (member of BioLogos Voices)

I see my Christian faith as enveloping everything that I am. Rather than seeing it as a separate reality, I see my work as an extension of the reality of living a Christ-like life in God’s creation. The question for me is, how is my faith expressed in my work?  “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:3). When a Christian does “science,” what they reveal in their work is the actions of the Creator himself. Thus the act of discovery is an act of praising God for what he has done. We bring glory to God by revealing the workings of his creation. This might not be observed directly in any of my scientific publications but I would hope that my personal reaction to my discoveries is that I attribute the authorship of what I discover to God, that he would receive the first fruits as I describe His creation.

Rhoda J. Hawkins, lecturer in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Sheffield

I grew up with a fascination about the world around me and a love for God's creation. I wanted to find out more about that world, because God saw that creation was “good.” So my faith in the creator God drew me to study that creation through science. The more I find out about that creation through science, the more I am lead to wonder and worship the creator.

Stephen Barr, professor of physics, University of Delaware

The truths of faith, like the truths we discover through scientific research, allow us to make sense of the world. One of the passions that drives me is the desire to understand how things fit together in a coherent way. That is one thing that led me into fundamental physics, and perhaps why I was especially attracted to work on “grand unified theories” (these are theories that give a unified description of the basic forces of nature). My religious beliefs do not directly guide or influence my scientific research; but my faith and my interest in science have some roots in common: a sense of wonder at the world, a desire to understand, and a conviction that ultimately the world makes sense.

Ian Hutchinson, professor of nuclear science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

There is no different “Christian way” to conduct an experiment or solve a differential equation. However, when I consider the subtle, elegant coherence, and the majestic grandeur of the natural world, I do feel enormously privileged to be able to see and understand some of the wisdom and plan of the Creator. I am also happy that, in part by conscious choice motivated by my faith, I have worked on subjects that have the potential to provide great benefits to humankind.

Graeme Finlay, cell biologist and professor of scientific pathology, University of Auckland

The practice of science is based on faith. Most scientists are probably unaware of this, and do their science simply because they know science works. But science arose because its pioneers were convinced that nature’s patterns were consistent, universal and lawful. These laws were seen to be contingent – they could not be deduced from first principles – and so had to be formulated by acute observation and experiment. And the human mind was amazingly equipped to do that! The physical world was good, worthy of people’s closest attention.

These presuppositions were very different from those held in polytheistic societies. In fact, they are integral to Christian faith. So my commitment to a rational and faithful God in fact underlies my scientific work. It provides the world view which makes science possible. The connection between my faith and science is immediate and indissoluble. Faith in the God of the Bible led to science; I don’t believe that science leads to faith in God, even though the anthropic fruitfulness of the universe is magnificently consistent with a rational and purposive God.

Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, O.P, professor of biology and theology, Providence College

I am a Dominican friar – a geek for God – who understands that the God of truth can be pursued by faith and by reason. I am convinced that my vocation as a Christian will be realized in living out this search of truth in love. I am also a priest-scientist who supervises an NIH-funded laboratory at Providence College in Providence, RI, where my students and I are interrogating the genetic pathways that regulate programmed cell death in eukaryotic cells. Doing our experiments with our cell death genes reveals the inner life of the Creator in the same way that examining the paintings in an art gallery discloses the personality of the artist.

Kristine Johnson, aerospace engineer, Honeywell

I’m an aerospace engineer currently working on a satellite landing system for commercial aircraft at airports around the world. One of the joys of being a Christian in a scientific occupation is that I get paid to learn more about what God has made and how it works! The more I study God’s creation, the more in awe I am of Him. When I study the works of God, I see, both in the tiny details and in the big picture, a wide array of His attributes.

Studying what God has created and how nature behaves draws me to worship Him as the incomprehensibility precise, unimaginably powerful, unfathomably knowledgeable, exquisitely creative, impeccably careful, timeless yet incredibly timely, color-loving, immaterial, infinitely inspiring, uncaused, intimately personal, extraordinarily loving, perfectly just, wondrously compassionate, divinely merciful, utterly holy, and completely righteous Creator God who keeps His promises and cares about me personally.

S. Joshua Swamidass, assistant professor of laboratory and genomic medicine, Washington University in St Louis 

I find confident faith in God's work to reveal Himself to me through Jesus. This confidence changes everything.

From this vantage point, science is just a narrow human effort to study nature, without considering God. I, therefore, do not look to this human effort to prove that God exists. Through Jesus, I already know He exists and that He created all things. Why would I try to add to the complete work of God in Jesus?

I am struck by the sharp limits of human science; it cannot make sense of the Resurrection, the cornerstone of my faith. It cannot even demonstrate that genocide is wrong, an obvious and important truth for all of us. Consequently, I know that science is not a complete account of the world.

I love science, and God made me for it. Science reveals beautiful, subtle and important truths about our world. Science, however, is not complete. Even when it is correct, is not a complete account of the world.

Richard Lindroth, Vilas Distinguished Achievement and Sorenson Professor specializing in evolutionary ecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Within the faith community of which I am a part, it’s common for people to ask, “How does being a Christian influence your science?” Rarely, however, am I asked the equally compelling and provocative question, “How does being a scientist influence your faith?” I’ve long held the opinion that I am a better scientist because I am a Christian, but equally that I’m a better Christian because I am a scientist. The reasons are many, but two are prominent: truth and humility.

The same commitment to pursuing truth—no matter the consequences for cherished ideas, no matter where it leads—that directs my work as a scientist enriches (and, yes, at times confounds!) my life as a Christian.

I take comfort in the reality that although I cherish simple, direct answers, the truth is often not simple and rarely direct. To pursue and discover truth requires brutally hard work, perseverance, and deep reflection. Done best, at times, in community with others.

Humility derives in part from a proper perspective of oneself in the context of greater things. And one sure-fire way of developing it is to bump up, day after day, against the limits of what I know, of what anyone knows. Humility enables me to embrace, rather than reject, mystery. Humility reminds me that I don’t have all the answers, and that some I do have are probably wrong. And humility allows for considerable cognitive dissonance; it enables me to hold in my head multiple conflicting views without demanding resolution. For all of these, my Christian life is enriched.

Gregg Davidson, chair of the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering, University of Mississippi (member of BioLogos Voices)

My faith connects with my science at several levels. For one, my faith enhances my sense of wonder. The difference between the atheist and Christian scientist is comparable to two art lovers studying a beautiful sculpture; one who knows nothing of the artist and one who has dined at the table in the artist’s home. Both may wonder at the work itself, but the experience is so much richer for the knowledge and friendship of the artist. The mass, proportionality, material strength, and internal composition of the sculpture may be thoroughly known to all, but things like purpose, meaning, intention, and intrinsic beauty are ultimately found only through knowledge of the Sculptor.

Keith Miller, research assistant professor of geology (retired), Kansas State University

As a paleontologist, I am continually amazed at the extraordinary history of life made visible to us in only a small part by the fossil record. Geology and paleontology is my Christian calling and vocation, and uncovering the history of God’s creation only expands my vision of God’s creative power and the privilege we have that God has enabled us to be witnesses to that creation.

When we look at the expanse of creation in both time and space, we should be humbled beyond measure that God has chosen to reveal himself to us, and to suffer and die on our behalf. As the psalmist said: “What is man that you are mindful of him?” The bigger the universe gets in time and space, the smaller I become, and greater becomes God and his mercy and love for me, and for every single person on this Earth.

Jeff Hardin, chair of the department of zoology, University of Wisconsin (BioLogos Board Chair)

Psalm 19 opens with this incredible line: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (NIV) For the Psalmist, the regularity of the heavenly bodies provides unspoken testimony to God's awesome power and faithfulness. The biblical worldview expressed in this poem has several implications: first, nature is objective, and we can study it. Second, it is intelligible. This provides a rational basis for natural science. And finally, it has contingent independence. For the Psalmist, the world is akin to a unique work of art. In fact, the Psalmist relishes the creation! For a Christian, the created order can - and indeed begs – to be studied on its own terms. I am a developmental biologist, someone who studies the cellular and molecular processes that underlie embryonic development. For me, peering through a microscope to discover new insights about tiny embryos is in some real senses an exercise in art appreciation – appreciation of the artistry of the One who made all things.


Notes

Citations

MLA

Hardin, Jeff. "Believing Scientists Respond: How Does Your Faith Connect to Your Scientific Work?"
https://biologos.org/. N.p., 1 Aug. 2017. Web. 17 December 2017.

APA

Hardin, J. (2017, August 1). Believing Scientists Respond: How Does Your Faith Connect to Your Scientific Work?
Retrieved December 17, 2017, from /blogs/guest/believing-scientists-respond-how-does-your-faith-connect-to-your-scientific-work

About the Authors

Robin Pals Rylaarsdam earned her B.A. in Biology from Northwestern College in 1992, and a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology and Genetics from Northwestern University in 1997. Following postdoctoral appointments at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, she began work teaching in undergraduate settings, serving at Azusa Pacific University, Trinity Christian College, and currently at Benedictine University. She is currently Professor of Biological Science and Acting Dean of the College of Science at Benedictine University. Robin’s research interests have focused on rational drug design for the rare genetic disease McCune-Albright Syndrome. Her laboratory is in the final stages of screening molecules in cell-based assays, with the goal of moving some drug candidates on to animal-based studies in the coming years.

More posts by Robin Pals Rylaarsdam

Joel Duff

Joel Duff is a professor of biology at The University of Akron. He earned his B.S. in biology from Calvin College, and a Ph.D. in botany from the University of Tennessee. He research focuses on understanding biological diversity by examining differences in DNA sequences and genome structure. He has worked on numerous plant and animals systems and has authored more than 40 research articles in science journals. He is an active writer and speaker exploring the intersection of science and Christian faith. He is a contributor to the book Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth and blogger at Naturalis Historia (thenaturalhistorian.com). He is an avid nature photographer and enjoys exploring God’s creation with his wife and five children. 

More posts by Joel Duff

Stephen Barr

Stephen M. Barr is professor of physics at the University of Delaware and Director of its Bartol Research Institute. Barr’s areas of specialty are theoretical particle physics and cosmology, and in 2011 he was elected Fellow of the American Physical Society. He is also author of Modern Physics and Ancient Faith and A Student’s Guide to Natural Science, as well as The Believing Scientist: Essays on Science and Religion.

More posts by Stephen Barr

Ian Hutchinson

Ian H. Hutchinson is professor of nuclear science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His primary research interest is plasma physics and its practical applications. He and his MIT team designed, built and operate the Alcator C-Mod tokamak, an international experimental facility whose magnetically confined plasmas are prototypical of a future fusion reactor. He received his bachelor’s degree in physics from Cambridge University and his doctorate in engineering physics from the Australian National University. He directed the Alcator project from 1987 to 2003 and served as head of MIT’s nuclear science and engineering department from 2003 to 2009. In addition to over 200 journal articles on a variety of plasma phenomena, Hutchinson is widely known for his standard monograph on measuring plasmas: Principles of Plasma Diagnostics. For more, see Hutchinson's book Monopolizing Knowledge.

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Graeme Finlay

Graeme Finlay is a cell biologist who teaches scientific pathology at the University of Auckland, and conducts his research in the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre. He has written actively to introduce Christians to the implications of comparative genome sequencing. His book Human Evolution: Genes, Genealogies and Phylogenies (CUP) is his first full monograph. He has a degree in theology and is active as a lay preacher.

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Rev. Nicanor Pier Giorgio  Austriaco, O.P.

Rev. Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco, O.P., currently serves as a Professor of Biology and of Theology at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island. He received his Ph.D. in Biology from M.I.T. where he was a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) fellow in the laboratory of Prof. Leonard Guarente. Fr. Austriaco also completed a Pontifical Doctorate in Sacred Theology (S.T.D.) at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. His NIH-funded laboratory at Providence College is investigating the genetic regulation of programmed cell death using the yeasts, Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Candida albicans, as model organisms. His first book, Biomedicine and Beatitude: An Introduction to Catholic Bioethics, was published by the Catholic University of America Press.

More posts by Rev. Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco, OP

Kristine is currently a senior systems engineer at Honeywell Aerospace working on the first and only FAA certified (SDA) precision landing system which has been installed at many airports around the world. She holds a bachelors degree in Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics from the University of Minnesota. Outside of work, Kristine enjoys spending time with her husband and children, studying the Bible, scrapbooking, cooking, volunteering in her community, and exercising. She leads a small group study, gives presentations at churches and schools, and mentors area youth pastors on various apologetic topics including the integration of God's world and God's word. Kristine is also a professional face painter.

 

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Dr. S. Joshua Swamidass

Dr. S. Joshua Swamidass MD PhD is an Assistant Professor of Laboratory and Genomic Medicine at Washington University (http://swami.wustl.edu/). His research group designs computational methods to solve problems in medicine and drug discovery. In addition to his scientific work, Dr. Swamidass is often involved as an advisor and speaker role for religious groups working to understand how to better integrate faith and science. This includes partnerships with churches and campus ministries (with Cru, Veritas and Intervarsity, see https://vimeo.com/36846157), and also includes articles in the Wall Street Journal and Nature on Christian Faith and Evolution. More recently, he is working with the AAAS as an advisor to the Science for Seminaries program. In all these activities, he helps lay Christians and congregations come to grips with science in the context of their faith commitments.

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Rick Lindroth (Ph.D., University of Illinois-Urbana) is a Vilas Distinguished Achievement professor and recent Associate Dean for Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research focuses on evolutionary ecology and global change ecology in forest ecosystems. He is a fellow of the Ecological Society of America and American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has served in numerous roles at his church, including many years on the governing board. He and his wife have two adult daughters. For recreation, they enjoy road cycling, flyfishing and reading, though not necessarily in that order.

More posts by Richard Lindroth

Davidson Gregg

Dr. Gregg Davidson is chair of the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering at the University of Mississippi and conducts original research in geochemistry and hydrogeology, often employing radiometric dating methods to determine the age of groundwater and sediments. In 2009 he published a book about his keen interest in integrating a lifetime of studying geology with his firm conviction about the infallibility of God’s Word, When Faith & Science Collide – A Biblical Approach to Evaluating Evolution and the Age of the Earth.

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Keith Miller

Keith Miller recently retired as a research assistant professor of geology at Kansas State University. He was the editor of Perspectives on an Evolving Creation (Eerdmans, 2003), an anthology of essays by prominent evangelical Christian scientists who accept theistic evolution. He is also a past member of the executive committee of the American Scientific Affiliation (an association of Christians in the sciences), and a past board member of Kansas Citizens for Science (a not-for-profit educational organization that promotes a better understanding of science).  He has written and spoken extensively on topics at the intersection of Christian theology and faith with paleontology and climate science. 

More posts by Keith Miller

Jeff Hardin

Jeff Hardin is Professor and Chair of the Department of Zoology and Faculty Director of the Biology Core Curriculum at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research focuses on basic mechanisms of early embryonic development. He is a member of the Board of Directors of BioLogos.

More posts by Jeff Hardin

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