10 things I wish people knew about my science and my faith

Copper(I) based inorganic compound. © Emily Dry

This is a first attempt at communicating the things that I’ve found are most important to Christians working in scientific research. The idea (and some of the content) for this post came from a visit to the one of the departments at Cambridge University, where a small Bible study group meets every Wednesday lunch-time. The passion with which some of them spoke about how they were misunderstood by many people, both in and outside of the lab, made me realise that there’s a dire need to communicate the reality of life in science for a Christian.

So here goes. Some of these points are issues the group I visited wanted to address, some are from scientific friends and colleagues, and some are my own. I hope that readers who are scientists of faith will add their own comments to this list. Obviously writing a piece like this involves many generalisations, but hopefully I have captured something of the personality and motivations of a scientist who also has a Christian faith.

  1. There’s a reason why I spend most of my life on this work. It’s not primarily to make money (I could earn far more in another profession), and it’s certainly not for job security. Exploring the world is my vocation. Studying this incredible universe is a demonstration of my gratitude to God who created it, and leads to the incredible benefits of technology.
  2. There will be practical outcomes of my work, but at times these may be very far off, difficult to explain or frustratingly intangible. My faith might motivate me to work on projects that lead to more immediate technological outcomes, but even then progress towards such outcomes can be painfully slow. My faith might give me the hope required to work in a field where possible outcomes may only be realised far in the future.
  3. My work has intrinsic value. I get a real sense of satisfaction from a job well done. Often this is a love of tinkering and getting an experimental system to work. This is usually a more important factor in my motivation on a daily basis than longer-term goals.
  4. I love the process of discovery. I have to be patient, resilient, and tenacious. This has helped me to grow as a person and in my relationship with God. What do I do when I realise that six months work has been lost, or my latest paper has been scooped? The lab is a crucible for spiritual development.
  5. I think my experiments are beautiful. One of my main drivers is the sense of wonder that comes from scientific discovery, and that leads me to worship.
  6. Another big driver is curiosity. Science helps me find answers to the questions that made my teachers sigh.
  7. In my experiments I deliberately limit my attention to a small number of factors.  This is unique to my scientific work, however. In the rest of my life I am open to different sorts of evidence – not least in the area of relationship with people and God.
  8. I can do my experiments without my faith affecting what I do (although it will affect my ethics). People of all religions and none can work in a lab, and that actually helps the process of discovery – you need many personalities to make a successful research group.
  9. There is a high level of creativity in my work. I need to have original ideas, solve problems, make do with what equipment is available, and present my data in a way that’s easy to digest. My creativity reflects my being made in the image of God, who is mind-bogglingly creative (just look at quantum mechanics!)
  10. My faith makes me open to new scientific discoveries. It was belief in an independent Creator that drove the first scientists to get out and examine the world in the first place – who are we to predict how things will be!?

In short, my faith inspires my science and my science inspires my faith.

I’m sure there is much to add, and clarify. Please do!

9 thoughts on “10 things I wish people knew about my science and my faith

  1. Ruth Bancewicz December 8, 2011 / 4:13 pm

    Thanks to Emily Dry for extensive comments and additions. A couple of pieces I didn’t have room for that are specific to her own subject of Chemistry:

    ‘As I study this incredible universe I learn about the creative God who made it, which fuels my worship of him. We are made in God’s image and as scientists we are following in his footsteps – first we must understand how things work, and from there we can create, both by mimicking biology or creating new technologies. Inventions do not stand in the face of God and laugh, they rather emulate His creativity.’

    ‘God made a beautiful thing called an atom, with particular properties and rules that must be followed in order for it to bond to other atoms. These rules govern bottom upwards, enabling extremely large structures such as proteins to form with such incredible complexity and specificity of structure, let alone their functions… These same rules also allow me to design and create beautiful molecular architectures in my lab.’

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  2. PCC Advantage December 8, 2011 / 5:32 pm

    I am certainly not a scientist, but I do have a thirst for knowledge and read what other scientists have discovered in their pursuit of the truth. As a fellow Christian, I am also interested what evidence has been found to prove my faith, and greatly appreciate the work of those who have completed that research.

    That being said, I believe that # 1, 4, and 10 are about the most succinct and honest reasons that you have stated, and certainly have a strong impact. I would like to thank you for the work that you are doing and the reasons behind why you’re doing it.

    Wonderful post!

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  3. Kathryn Applegate December 9, 2011 / 5:33 pm

    Excellent post, Ruth. I especially like #7. That doesn’t get enough air time. And several of your points highlight the thrill and sense of celebration that many scientists have (at least sometimes!). We’re not robots! Science is a deeply human endeavor.

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    • Ruth Bancewicz December 12, 2011 / 9:29 am

      Thanks Kathryn, and Happy Christmas to all at BioLogos!

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  4. bedroomguitarist December 11, 2011 / 7:00 pm

    Not that I’m “over the hill” at all (I hope!) however I do wonder if the points you raised here might be more relevant to younger scientists trying to justify why they stayed on to do a PhD rather than people who have been working a while. The longer I do science the more it seems to become more like many other jobs with the majority of time spent managing people, administration, funding, strategy etc. etc.

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    • Ruth Bancewicz December 12, 2011 / 9:45 am

      Good point – this list was more from the point of view of the bench scientist. What insights might someone who is more involved in the administration of science have?

      And just for the record, the idea was not to try and justify doing science or defend Christian faith, but simply to provide a much needed insight into the mind of the scientist who also has a Christian faith…

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  5. Richard Hosking December 13, 2011 / 12:03 pm

    Hi Ruth, great list – particularly like the second point.

    I think science provides an opportunity to be ‘partners with God in the work of creation’ – a beautiful rabbinical phrase which echoes 2 Corinthians 6:1 (NIV).

    Francis Bacon (1561-1626) – a famous advocate of the scientific method (he died inventing the frozen chicken*) – quoted Daniel on the title page of his philosophical treatise, hoping that “knowledge shall be increased.” (Dan 12:4 KJV).** The greatest commandment (Mark 12:29-30) recognizes the mind’s importance, and the appropriate application of scientific knowledge through technology, medicine and engineering is entirely consistent with love of one’s neighbour (Mark 12:31, Leviticus 19:18).

    * Adam Hart-Davis and Paul Bader, 100 Local Heroes (Sutton Publishing, 1999) p. 26, 30
    ** http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novum_Organum

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    • Ruth Bancewicz December 14, 2011 / 9:13 am

      Thanks Richard, and with your comment about Bacon, you’ve anticipated this week’s post…

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