Can a Christian be a good scientist?

It is the scientists who believed in God the Creator and the truths of the Bible who laid the foundations of modern science.

Studying science can be one of life’s most exciting and rewarding experiences. However, Christians studying science can sometimes be challenged by teachers and fellow students claiming that only people who are uneducated or ignorant of discoveries in biology, geology, archaeology, and astronomy could still believe the Bible account is true. Let me reassure you that I have met and talked with many outstanding scientists who not only believe in the miracles of the Bible but also testify that the truths in God’s Word have helped them be successful in their personal lives and in their scientific careers.1 In fact, it was Christian scientists who helped me come to know Jesus as my Savior. Let me share my experience.

I began my career as a trainee physicist at the BHP Central Research Laboratories in Australia. (Now the world’s largest mining company, in the 1960s BHP was already the largest steelmaker in the southern hemisphere.) I was appointed assistant to a recently-arrived scientist who had been a university academic gold medalist and had just completed postdoctoral studies at Imperial College, London. He was a meticulous record-keeper. Every page in his log books was pre-stamped with a number, all results had to be recorded, all equipment needed to be kept in full calibration with reference standards regularly checked against primary standards. From him I learned the techniques of first-class research; he also talked to me about Jesus.

At the time, I was a nominal Christian who ticked the Methodist box on forms. Because my supervisor was a Christian concerned for my salvation, he urged me to read the book Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, which I did. This scientist’s lifestyle was a sharp contrast to that of most others in our section, who had also been educated at top-flight institutions like Cambridge University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They were usually either heavy smokers or drinkers. In my early teens, I had made my own decision to never smoke or drink. As I observed the apparent emptiness of these scientists’ lives, who boasted of their drinking, and saw the contrast with the positiveness of my Christian mentor, I began to seriously ask questions such as, “Is there really a personal God?” and “How can I find out about God?”

Midway though my studies, I changed from a specialization in physics and mathematics to chemistry, and for my honors year I chose a project that would be supervised by the head of the university’s chemistry department. As I worked for this professor, an author of internationally-published textbooks, I learned that he, too, was a Christian. Whenever I went to his office, I was greeted with a beaming smile and a hearty, “Come in, John! What can I do for you?” This was usually followed up by some humorous comment, such as, “Have you found a girlfriend yet?” He was never too busy to see me and always enthusiastically supported my research ideas while making guiding suggestions that I “might like to consider.” This professor, who was known for his positive nature and interest in people, gave me such encouragement that I achieved top of my honors class and was awarded a prestigious academic prize.

Just after finishing my university degree, I decided to begin attending church. I chose to go to a nearby Seventh-day Adventist church, because when my father had died some nine years earlier, a Seventh-day Adventist dentist had shown our family much kindness. Since this dentist knew I was studying science, he had given me a very expensive slide rule. (These were used in the days before pocket calculators.) I had looked up Sabbath in an encyclopedia and read that the biblical Sabbath was Saturday, so I knew that was the right day to go to church to worship God. I applied for a postgraduate research scholarship, and I remember my first prayer asked God to help me get it. A couple of months later, I received a positive answer to that prayer when I was awarded the Tioxide Research Fellowship — the highest-paying chemistry research scholarship then offered in Australia. I continued attending church on the Sabbath, and just over 18 months later I accepted Jesus as my Savior and was baptized.

Accuracy of the Bible

As I look back on those experiences of 40 years ago, I praise God for His leading in my life. Not only have I personally experienced many positive answers to prayer and enjoyed excellent health from following biblical health principles, I’ve also learned about the archaeological evidence supporting the historical accuracy of the Bible2 and have researched the evidence for the fulfillment of Bible prophecy.3 I’ve also learned that many of the scientists who laid the foundations of modern science were Bible-believing Christians. These pioneering figures include Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle, Johannes Kepler, Carl Linnaeus, Michael Faraday, Samuel Morse, Charles Babbage, Matthew Maury, James Joule, Louis Pasteur, George Mendel, Lord Kelvin, Joseph Lister, James Clerk Maxwell, and John Ambrose Fleming.4 For example, Maury, a pioneering oceanographer, believed that the Bible could be used as a guide to understanding nature. After reading Psalm 8:8, which talks about the paths of the seas, he looked for these paths and discovered the ocean currents and much more.5

Leading philosophers — such as Lynn White, who taught at Princeton, Stanford, and UCLA — recognize that it was the domination of Western Europe’s Christian worldview in the Middle Ages that provided the environment for science to flourish there, and not in other parts of the world, where non-Christian cultures dominated.6 Science could not make significant progress in these cultures because of the perceived risk of offending local gods or because the focus of the cultures was on discovering signs and purpose in nature. Within the Christian worldview, British scientist and philosopher Francis Bacon successfully proposed that scientists should work together to discover how nature worked, and thus improve the condition of humans. Following on from Bacon, French mathematician Rene Descartes believed that God had created mathematical order in the universe. He proposed that by studying small parts of nature in detail and summing the parts mathematically, the laws governing the universe could be discovered. Thus, the concept of reductionism was conceived. When the devout Christian and Bible scholar Isaac Newton discovered calculus, it opened the way for him to explain many of the laws of physics that we know today (for example, the laws of motion and the law of gravity). Thus, scientists who believed in God the Creator and the truths of the Bible laid the foundations of modern science, which enabled subsequent generations of scientists to develop the technologies we enjoy today.7

As I think about the knowledge I have gained over the years, it makes me realize that it is those who have not read and learned the truths of the Bible who are in reality the ignorant ones. The characteristics of a good scientist, such as integrity, attention to detail, humility, willingness to recognize mistakes, inquisitiveness, the desire to search for and discover the truth, and caring for others and for the environment, are all aligned with, if not directly based upon, the biblical Christian worldview.

Challenge of evolution

One aspect of science research that continues to challenge me, however, is the widespread acceptance of the theory of evolution as an explanation of how life came to be, although there is still no experimental evidence to support this theory. Biophysicist Lee Spetner, who taught information theory at Johns Hopkins University for many years, points out that there is no evidence of purposeful genetic information arising by chance mutations, and on the basis of probability theory, it is impossible.8 Also, there is still no known mechanism that can explain how a living cell could arise from nonliving molecules.9

In his latest book, Oxford University professor and atheist Richard Dawkins gives a single example that he claims is evidence of new purposeful genetic information arising by chance. This example relates to the work of Richard Lenski and his team of researchers at the department of microbiology and molecular genetics at Michigan State University.10 However, Lenski and his colleagues are not sure of the mechanism that produced the change in genetic information, and both possible mechanisms proposed by the researchers involve preexisting genetic information.11 In other words, the world’s foremost advocate of evolution — Richard Dawkins — has not provided a single proven example of experimental evidence for the type of evolution that would be needed to produce the first eye, the first jointed legs, the first feathers, and the vast amount of new genetic information associated with all the different types of living things that exist.

Leading educators admit there is still no known mechanism that explains how new purposeful genetic information can form. This remains a major research focus in biology. As one well-regarded educational website puts it, “Biologists are not arguing about these conclusions [that many biologists believe life on earth has evolved]. But they are trying to figure out how evolution happens — and that’s not an easy job.”12

Over the years, I have met many leading scientists who have realized that the scientific evidence we have available to us today strongly supports the Bible’s account of how we came to be here.13 I recently learned that former Cornell University geneticist John Sanford, inventor of the gene gun used in genetic engineering, has become a young-earth six-day creationist on the basis of scientific evidence showing that human DNA is deteriorating at an alarming rate, and thus cannot be millions of years old.14

Science is the study of God’s creation. It involves observing nature and carrying out experiments that give us insights into how we can be the best stewards of His handiwork. Being a Christian and reading God’s Word — the Bible — gives us added insights from the Creator Himself. The apostle Paul reminds us that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do the good works which God Himself prepares for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). So, can a Christian be a good scientist? I will let you be the judge of that.

John F. Ashton (Ph.D., University of Newcastle, Australia) has held senior positions in tertiary education and industrial research for more than 30 years. Currently, he is the strategic research manager for the Sanitarium Health Food Company and also serves as adjunct associate professor of biomedical sciences at Victoria University, Australia. He has co-authored more than 100 science-related articles and research papers, as well as a dozen books.

REFERENCES

  1. J.F. Ashton, ed., On the Seventh Day: 40 Scientists and Academics Explain Why They Believe in God (Green Forest, Arkansas: Master Books, 2003).
  2. J. Ashton and D. Down, Unwrapping the Pharaohs: How Egyptian Archeology Confirms the Biblical Timeline (Green Forest, Arkansas: Master Books, 2007).
  3. J.F. Ashton, with foreword by B. McCusker, The Seventh Millennium:The Evidence We Can Know the Future (Sydney and London: New Holland, 1998).
  4. A. Lamont, 21 Great Scientists Who Believed the Bible (Acacia Ridge, Qld: Creation Science Foundation, 1995).
  5. Ibid., 121-131.
  6. L. White, “The historical roots of our ecologic crisis,” Science 155 (March 10, 1967):1203-1206.
  7. J.H. Randall, The Making of the Modern Mind (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1940).
  8. L.M. Spetner, Not by Chance (New York: Judaica Press, Inc., 1997), 85-160.
  9. A. Ricardo and J.W. Szostak, “Origin of life on Earth,” Scientific American 301 (September 2009): 38-45.
  10. R. Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (London: Bantam Press, 2009), 131.
  11. Z.D. Blount, C.Z. Borland, and R.E. Lenski, “Historical contingency and the evolution of a key innovation in an experimental population of escherichia coli,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105(2008) 23:7899-7906.
  12. Evolution 101, “The Big Issues,” http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evosite/evol01/VIIBigissues.shtmL
  13. J. Ashton, ed. In Six Days: Why Fifty Scientists Choose to Believe in Creation (Green Forest, Arkansas: Master Books, 2007), http://creationontheweb.com/content/view/3323/ or http://www.creationontheweb.com/isd.
  14. http://creation.com/john-sanford. See also J.C. Sanford, Genetic Entropy & the Mystery of the Genome (Livonia, New York: Feed My Sheep Foundation, Inc. 2008).
  15. This article was originally published as part of a compilation: Understanding Creation: Answers to Questions on Faith and Science, edited by L. James Gibson and Humberto M. Rasi (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 2011). Used with permission.