Hi. I am a science nerd. I am also a Christian. I didn’t think this was a problem until I went to some church retreat thing as a teenager.
The person with the mic said if you believed in science, you might as well rip Genesis out of the Bible (which he did), and if you ripped Genesis out, might as well rip up the whole thing (which he did). And if you ripped up the whole thing, then you have no faith (throw ripped up Bible dramatically into the fire, mic drop, walk away). I only went to this thing for free pizza, a T-shirt, and a chance to see my crush-of-the-week.
It shook my whole world. This was the beginning of a very long, difficult journey for a girl who loved God and loved science. The most surprising part along the way was learning how many scientists were people of faith. How could this be?
Believe it or not, the two complement each other quite well. Twenty-five or so years later, I’m now a doctor, board-certified in pediatrics and sports medicine, and very active in my faith. But let me take you back a little.
A few years after that retreat (which I nicknamed “the devil created dinosaur bones” retreat), I apparently forgot everything I learned about being a “good Christian” and declared myself a biology and chemistry double-major.1 That’s when the real push-back from the ‘church people’ started.
“How can you be a Christian and study science?” they asked me many, many times. As someone between the ages of 18-21, my best answer was, “I don’t know. I just like science.” (Let us all be thankful that I wasn’t studying philosophy or writing. That’s the best I could come up with at the time. Truly, my butt belonged in the lab and not in any of the humanities).
Fortunately, I’ve had a few more years (OK, decades) to think about my answer to this question. “How can someone be a Christian and study science?” No, I still can’t answer the whole dinosaurs / Adam and Eve / Garden of Eden / evolution thing. Yes, I still have Genesis in my Bible. But here are some things I’m learning along the way
1. If you want to learn about someone, you study what they create. Want to be a terrible art student? Memorize everything about Michaelangelo’s life, but never learn what the Sistine Chapel2 looks like. Why is this ridiculous? Because we know if we want to learn anything about a person, we study that person’s life and the things they create. The things they create are expressions of their character, personality, emotions, struggles, and priorities. This is true for artists, authors, poets, musicians, inventors, cultures, and civilizations. Why would it be any different with God, the ultimate Creator?
If we want to learn about God, we study his life (the Bible) and his creation (the universe). That means we study science. Scientists are people whose job is to study creation. As a Christian who studies God’s creation, I get a deeper, more profound understanding of who God is. This is even in the Bible. Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” See that? We understand God’s eternal power and divine nature from what has been made. God’s creation complements his nature. And studying God’s creation gives us a deeper understanding of who he is.
2. Both science and faith seek the truth, not easy answers. People who seek popularity and fast, easy answers, or who use fact manipulation, lies, politics, and loyalty to explain the world they want (instead of the world that is), will struggle to move our scientific discoveries forwards. Those who have scientific breakthroughs are patient, persistent, honest, analytical, accept difficult information, admit their mistakes, try to make it better the next time, and move on. These are the same character traits that the Bible encourages us to build as Christians. I will fully admit that not all scientists have these traits. I also know that not all Christians have these traits. We are better scientists, better Christians, and better people when we do. And although popularity, simplicity, and loyalty are not always bad—they should not be prioritized over truth for scientists or Christians.
3. Studying science helps me live in peace with the unknown. Our society loves to have all the answers, don’t we? It is difficult to accept when we don’t know something, and even harder to voice that openly. Beyond this aggravating place, the next level is realizing that no one knows the answer. This is even more unsettling. However, scientists live in that unsettling place.
Science is about speculating on the unknown, then testing it to see if our speculations were right or wrong, or still unknown. Typically, once we find the answer, it yields an entirely new slew of questions. I once read a book which said that studying science is like giving our Founding Fathers a computer (with amazing battery life, obviously). They figure out how to click icons and make things work, type, and open some apps. Maybe they rock at Minesweeper. They think they have it figured out. Then someone removes the cover, and they all realize they don’t know anything about how it works. That is what it is like to be a scientist.
The more I study science, the more questions I have, and the more I realize I don’t know how the world works. Being able to say “I don’t know” is freeing. If you can’t think of anything right now which makes you say, “I don’t know, “ then look at this Wikipedia link about how blood clots. The next time you get a paper cut, think about this and say, “hmmm… I don’t understand this at all” and be OK with that.3
4. Studying science makes God bigger. As a child, I realized God made that little world with plants and animals and rocks. As I got older, I realized God made the great big universe with stars and atoms and photosynthesis and all those blood-clotting chemicals, which I immediately forgot after my board exams. My understanding of God’s creation got bigger, which meant God had to get bigger. The more we learn, the bigger God has to get. If He created all of it, he has to be bigger and smarter than all of it. Psalm 104 lays this out beautifully. The more we understand about the world, the bigger God gets. Why is this important? See my next bullet point.
5. Science brings back the awe of God. Being able to say “I don’t know” and seeing how big God really makes it easier to sit back and live in awe of God. This is not an excuse to avoid learning. It is a call to see how far we can go before we reach the end of human understanding. We don’t live in awe from being uneducated. We live in awe from studying everything humans have the capacity to understand, and yet still falling woefully short from fully grasping all that God has done—and will do. Psalm 65:8 says it best. “The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders.” It is hard to appreciate those wonders if we think we have all the answers.4
6. Science makes God’s love bigger. God tells us that we are his most important creation and his greatest love. That is a happy thought to a child who lives in a small world. It becomes more difficult to accept as we become adults and see how broken the world is. But when we study science—and see how vast and complicated God’s creation gets—then the love he has for us in the midst of this vast creation defies human understanding. He made every little detail that makes my blood clot, helps plants get nutrition from the sun, does crazy things with physics and astronomy, which I don’t understand, and there’s something in there about mitochondria being the powerhouse of the cell….and yet I am still important. You are still important. He knows how to split an atom, and he knew every hair on your head before you were born. The gap God closed between us is much more significant when we realize how small we are compared to God and his creation. And sending His son to die, to save us in our complete stupidity and mistakes and lack of understanding, becomes a more impactful act of love when God gets bigger.
Why study science? Because we learn more about the nature, love, and character of God. The gap between us gets bigger, and his bridge between us becomes a greater act of love. Sometimes, what we know about God does not align with what we know about the universe. That is OK. God is not a liar, and he knows the truth about all of it. It is his invitation for us to keep looking, keep trying. Looking for these answers makes me a science nerd and a Christian, and I like being here.
1Full disclosure: I was a biology and chemistry double-major until spring of my senior year when I had a scheduling conflict. The Analytical Chemistry class I needed to complete my chem major was scheduled at the same time as the Anatomy class I needed for med school. And even worse—that chem class was also required for a chem minor. So I only got a Bio degree, and a whole bunch of chemistry hours and ruined lab shirts.
2Full disclosure 2: I wrote this as ‘Cysteine chapel,’ like the amino acid, and then googled “cysteine chapel” memes. And then I shared them with other science nerds, and we laughed at it a whole bunch.
3If you are a hematologist and can recite this in your sleep, try looking up Kreb’s cycle instead. No one remembers that.
4The conclusion of the book of Job is also a good read for this, starting with chapter 38. But it is a long, depressing build-up. The cliff notes: Job basically has his version of 2020. His friends all try to tell him what he did wrong to make his life so bad. At the end, God sarcastically tells them all “If you’re so wise, then man up and explain to me how the universe works. Surely you know. You were there when I made it, right?” I have a chuckle about this when I hear the dinosaur / evolution / creation people fighting.