On Being Both A Christian And A Scientist
I am a scientist and I am a Christian. I’ve been a scientist for over thirty years and a Christian for longer. I am not divided; there is not a part of me that is scientist and a part that is Christian. Because science is not anti-God I feel very sad whenever I hear Christians talk about science as if a Christian should not be a scientist, that we should not be intellectual. I think God feels very sad about it too.
Maybe this is because there are blots on the history of the Church, times when Church leaders became presumptuous. Copernicus and Galileo got into trouble with the Church when they said that the sun was the centre and that the earth revolves around it, and not the other way around. Note that it was neither the Bible nor God that was wrong, but the Church leaders. After all if the Sun was not the centre, there would not be the seasons that the Bible talks about, among other things. So the Church leaders in those days were presumptuous.
The whole scientific world revolves around what is logical, what is evidence-based—this is an important phrase. It means there is evidence which we can understand. That is an assumption; I say that because we think we are so clever we can understand everything. Humility is called for. People are still dissecting things that Einstein said. If we cannot yet fully understand everything that a brilliant man said so many years ago, how can we imagine we know all there is to know of the whole universe?
To simply attribute everything that cannot be explained to time and chance is not so much a scientific methodology but an act of faith. For instance, it is statistically impossible that the Earth’s perfect position in the solar system happened by chance. The same goes for the Earth’s spin and 23-degree tilt that give us the 24-hour day.
Another example would be the very complex structure of the single living cell. All natural proteins are almost exclusively built on amino acids which have a configuration of only ‘left-handed’ chiral Carbon atoms. The smallest protein has more than 400 amino acids, all occurring structurally as “left-handed”. The probability of winning the world lottery would be 1: 109. But the probability of randomly producing only ‘left-handed’ amino acids is 1:10 123. Statistically, there is no chance even one “left-handed” protein can be man-made. And we are just talking about one living cell. The DNA is the code for reproducing living cells. Each DNA gene must repeat with no error. The probability that just ONE single DNA gene occurs by chance - 1:10 14. You can do the numbers for getting all our DNA perfect.
Chaos is a terrible thing because it is like a jungle. You enjoy a garden, not a jungle. In the same way, scientists will never enjoy something that is chaotic because without order—and hence logic—there can be no science. It is only because there is an orderliness; because the laws of physics, of nature that repeat themselves over the whole universe; because there is consistency, that one is able to be a scientist and to be scientific. People don’t realise this but if all was chaotic, there would be nothing really that we could learn. Interestingly, even the theory of chaos as a scientific theory asserts that there can be a predictive outcome (that is, orderliness) to what seems like a chaotic system.
So is Creation fact or fiction? Here is a scientific fact: the Universe is expanding. When we observe what is going on now, we realise that there is a time when a star is not and then it is. In other words there is a beginning, whether it is called a Big Bang or Creation.
Points to Recap:
God is not anti-science. I help to manage a university, and I am not embarrassed for being a Christian in midst of all the clever scientists I meet. To be a scientist and a Christian is totally fine; I have done that for 35 years and I don’t need to apologise; I don’t have to say, “I am sorry I am a Christian.”
We need to understand that science is from God. God created this universe together in such complex orderliness that we are only beginning to understand a bit of it (which we call ‘science’) today. For example, let’s issue a global challenge to make a device that is so smart that it can absorb carbon dioxide, break it down to carbon and capture it as a harmless organic material, and for oxygen to be released back to our atmosphere for our use. Can somebody invent this? Yes, and it is already everywhere in this world – we call it the leaf. The leaf does that so long as there is light and water and without needing electricity. And it reproduces itself almost everywhere, every day. Plants are the most complex chemical laboratories in the world. In my university, NTU, we have a saying in our lab: “If a leaf can do it, so can we.” But I’ll be honest with you, even after millions spent, we’ve yet to come up with one micro leaflet, never mind a complete self-sustaining leaf. And there are different species of plant life; every morning, you will find a Hibiscus flower come up and in the evening it goes down, another one comes up the next morning and it wonderfully repeats itself every morning. Yet each flower is slightly different from another; we can’t tell because our poor eyes can’t tell the difference. Each flower, each leaf that sprouts every day is the glorious expression of our God.
The Bible is not a book about science, but it is scientific. God never started writing the Bible specifically to teach science, nor for only clever people. He wrote it as a love story—from the beginning with Adam and Eve, in the middle with the Song of Solomon and at the end, Christ and His church. But the Bible is scientifically accurate in its assertions. Moses, author of Genesis, was never a Plant Chemist, but he was inspired to write Genesis 1 in the right order for photosynthesis (light, atmosphere and water) to occur. Everything was there before the plants were created so that they could be self-sustaining and multiply. It took us thousands of years to recognise that the order is correct and that it was recorded as it actually happened, because the Person who did it gave the description. God through Moses wrote it as a matter of fact and didn’t explain the science because what God wants to communicate is not science but His Purpose and His Love. What happens if we hit a roadblock and the Bible seems to be unscientific? For example, as recently as 60 years ago, many had problems with the part of Revelation which prophesies that people would see the two witnesses die as it happened. That was unimaginable then because they could never dreamed of the kind of satellite and electronic engineering the world would have today. Of course today, with all our advances in satellite TV, this is now totally credible. Our problem is that we have many more things that we don’t know and have yet to invent, than what we do know. The Bible mentions things that will happen as a matter of fact, and the truth is we are just not clever enough to know presently that some of these things are really possible. The Bible does not take pains to explain it because the Bible is a love story. A love story is not so good if all these scientific details are included; then there is no more romance, and the true story of salvation — the main point— is obscured. Thirdly, the science we know today is not all the science that is to be known. Let me cite an example from my own discipline as a material scientist. I muck around with all sorts of materials like metal, wood, biomaterials, nanomaterials etc. Of all the materials we know today, natural or artificial (I myself have created a few artificial materials) we probably know only 10% of all the materials there can be in this world. The other 90% is as yet undiscovered. One of the new materials I developed is a nano-sized rod (about 0.01 micron length!) that combines a segment of carbon to another segment of copper etc. Twenty years ago, we didn’t know this could be done because we did not have the equipment at the time to see it, never mind to make it. And there are so many more new systems with new properties waiting to be discovered or invented — it humbles us scientists.
A scientist who claims to know everything that is to be known is not telling the truth. Science never claim to know everything; it merely explains the things that can be explained, with the equipment and knowledge that we have today, so long as there is “evidence” of the experiments being repeatable (scientists call this ‘evidence-based’). That’s it; no more, no less. There are really a lot more things we have yet to know enough to understand and then to explain, and in that sense, science is actually very humble. Maybe it’s the scientists that are more proud than they should be. Science explains the things we know for now, and never says that is all that is to be known.
We know that the laws of physics are universal. Gravity exists, and we have equations for it, thanks to Newton and a few other people. Today, we have discovered, at an incredibly small (nano) level, where particles that are so small that your eyes cannot see them, the physical laws we have may seem to break down. Suddenly what applies in the whole universe doesn’t apply when things are really, really small. How is it we didn’t know before? That’s because we did not have the equipment to see down to that small size. And what you can’t see, you can’t experiment on. You don’t know what you don’t know. So when scientists say that science has proven this and therefore there is no God, I would not be so sure. Science has proven this. Full stop. That’s it. Anything else is speculation. That is the right way that science should approach things.
Another example is: Light is a wave, and it is particle. Until today, it is still very hard to put the two into a grand theory; you know it is due to human limitations. Einstein attempted it; he was partially successful but we know we have to live with the two, and everybody accepts that--no argument. But when you tell them that Jesus is both man and God, they say, “You must be joking; that is ridiculous. Don’t insult me, please.” But everyday, they believe light is both wave and particle.
So here is the end of the matter. We don't know everything. That is why atheism is an act of faith. No one knows everything, so it is impossible for anyone to say they know there is no God. We don't have to fear science. Science is a very humble and humbling profession. But the Church must not be presumptuous. We too must be humble. And we must, above all, not lose the big picture — that of the glorious God stooping down in love to save sinful humanity. That is the biggest story.
Dr Freddy Boey is a teaching leader at Riverlife Church. As a keen scientist-inventor, he has filed 25 original patents with Nanyang Technological University (NTU) where is he is currently Deputy President and Provost.