Christianity and the Development of Science: Part 3 – Modern Day Believers

Introduction

In part 2 of this series, we looked at a number of influential early scientists who believed in God. These men provided a foundation for the science and technology we use today. While the science culture may have become less receptive to belief today, researchers of faith still contribute to the scientific community.

Scientists in Space

Wernher von Braun (1912-1977) was a chief rocket engineer for the German V-2 program during World War II. In the 1960s he became director of the Marshall Space Flight Center and an administrator for planning at NASA headquarters until 1972. He wrote a forward to the 1971 Pacific Press book, Creation: Nature’s Designs and Designer in which he says:

Manned space flight is an amazing achievement, but it has opened for mankind thus far only a tiny door for viewing the awesome reaches of space. An outlook through this peephole at the vast mysteries of the universe should only confirm our belief in the certainty of its Creator.

I find it as difficult to understand a scientist who does not acknowledge the presence of a superior rationality behind the existence of the universe as it is to comprehend a theologian who would deny the advances of science. And there is certainly no scientific reason why God cannot retain the same relevance in our modern world that He held before we began probing His creation with telescope, cyclotron, and space vehicles.

Our survival here and hereafter depends on adherence to ethical and spiritual values. Through science man tries to harness the forces of nature around him; through religion he tries to control the forces of nature within him and find the moral strength and spiritual guidance for the task that God has given him.

John Glenn (1921- ) appeared in the Moody Institute of Science “Sermons from Science” films to affirm how trust in flight instruments increased his faith in God. (McIver 271)

When a Soviet cosmonaut once told Frank Borman (1928- ) that he had not seen God in space, Borman replied, “I did not see Him either, but I saw his evidence.” (McIver 263)

Charles Duke (1935- ), a NASA astronaut, discovered that science is always changing and concluded that evolution was more a matter of faith than was creation. (McIver 271)

Jack Lousma (1936- ), another astronaut, writes: “If I can’t believe that the spacecraft I fly assembled itself, how can I believe that the universe assembled itself? I’m convinced only an intelligent God could have built a universe like this.” (McIver 271)

James Irwin (1930-1991) formed the evangelical High Flight Foundation the year after he walked on the moon. He nearly lost his life on Mt. Ararat leading a High Flight expedition searching for Noah’s Ark. (McIver 263 & 271) When Irwin was asked what he would have said were he able to dialogue with God while on the moon, he answered: “I would have said, ‘Lord, is it all right if we come to visit this place?'” And how did he think God would answer? “It’s all right as long as you give Me the honor.” (Kossick 9)

Scientists in Physics

Arthur L. Schawlow (1921-1999) was a professor of physics at Stanford University and shared the 1981 Physics Nobel Prize with Bloembergen and Siegbahn for their contribution to the development of laser spectroscopy. Schawlow says:

“It seems to me that when confronted with the marvels of life and the universe, one must ask why and not just how. The only possible answers are religious. . . . I find a need for God in the universe and in my own life.” (Margenau and Varghese 105)

Ian Graeme Barbour (1923-2013) began his education in physics at Swarthmore College and Duke University. At the University of Chicago his Ph.D. included work with Enrico Fermi, the physicist who carried out the world’s first nuclear chain reaction. Additional study in theology, philosophy, and ethics resulted in a divinity degree from Yale Divinity School. In 1955 he took a teaching position in both the physics and religion departments at Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota. His groundbreaking work, Issues in Science and Religion, is credited with launching the current research field of science and religion. In 1999 he won the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion and continued to explore the boundaries of faith and science until his death in 2013.

“My concern has been to promote dialogue about conceptual and ethical issues, not to merge religion and science. I moved from having them in watertight compartments to finding fruitful areas of interaction.” (Feder 60)

John Polkinghorne (1930- ), a former mathematical physics professor at Cambridge University and Fellow of the Royal Society, began to train for the Anglican priesthood in 1979. In his book, One World: The Interaction of Science and Theology, he says:

“The rational order that science discerns is so beautiful and striking that it is natural to ask why it should be so. It could only find an explanation in a cause itself essentially rational. This would be provided by the Reason of the Creator … we know the world also to contain beauty, moral obligation and religious experience. These also find their ground in the Creator–in his joy, his will and his presence.” (Polkinghorne 79)

Scientists in Engineering

Walter L. Bradley (1943- ) spent eight years as a professor at the Colorado School of Mines and another twenty-four years at Texas A&M University. At Texas A&M he served as head of the department of mechanical engineering, received five College of Engineering Research Awards and $4.5 million in research grants, published over 140 technical articles and book chapters, and co-authored The Mystery of Life’s Origin: Reassessing Current Theories. He is now retired and serves as Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Baylor University.

In the spring of 1987 while on business at Cornell University, he agreed to give a Campus Crusade for Christ presentation, entitled “Scientific Evidence for the Existence of God.” He says, “As I gave my presentation with eagerness that evening, I knew God was doing something special in and through my life.” Over 500 students and faculty attended and a lively discussion lasted past midnight. Since then, similar lectures have been greeted with an overwhelmingly positive response at many of the major US universities (Bradley 3-6).

John R. Baumgardner (1944- ) was raised in an agnostic family. After receiving a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Princeton University, he experienced “a dramatic conversion experience.” His interest in a creationist model for plate tectonics led him to a Ph.D. in geophysics from the University of California, Los Angeles, where his dissertation topic required the creation of a 3D computer model for plate tectonics. This modeling software, now known as Terra, has been used by geologists around the world. (Burr 56)

Scientists in Chemistry and Biology

Henry “Fritz” Schaefer (1944- ) is the Graham Perdue Professor of Chemistry and director of the Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry at the University of Georgia. He is listed in the October 2012 The Best Schools which proposed a list of “Seven Chemists Who Deserve a Nobel Prize.” In a U.S. News & World Report article on creation, he is quoted as saying, “The significance and joy in my science comes in those occasional moments of discovering something new and saying to myself, ‘So that’s how God did it.'” His goal is to understand a little corner of God’s plan (Sheler & Schrof 62). After evaluating the cosmological evidence, Schaefer came to the conclusion that a Creator must exist, he must have awesome power and wisdom, and He must be loving and just. In The Real Issue he says that each of us falls hopelessly short of the Creator’s standard, but He has made a way to rescue us, if we trust our lives to Jesus Christ.

Francis S. Collins (1950- ) received a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Virginia in 1970 and a Ph.D. in physical chemistry at Yale University in 1974. While at Yale, it became increasingly important to him to improve the quality of human life, rather than just doing arcane research. As a result he enrolled in the medical school at the University of North Carolina, where he received his M.D. (with honors) in 1977. An internship and residency in North Carolina and a fellowship in human genetics and pediatrics at Yale University School of Medicine followed. During this time he embraced the Christian faith after reading the works of C. S. Lewis and seeing that religious belief is not necessarily incompatible with rational thought. In 1984 he joined the University of Michigan Medical School and in 1987 became chief of the division of medical genetics. While there in Ann Arbor, Michigan, he and his wife helped start a Baptist church.

While Collins has contributed in many areas, it is for his work of sequencing human DNA that his name will be remembered. In April 1993 Collins was appointed as director of the Human Genome Project at the National Center for Human Genome Research. The international project was set up to identify the DNA sequence of the human genome, which consists of more than 3 billion chemical base pairs. The secondary goal was to use the sequence to identify variant sections for common diseases such as cancer and diabetes. The project was completed in 2001. His work with DNA sequencing led him to author the book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief that quickly became a New York Times Bestseller. In 2009, Collins accepted the position as director of the National Institutes of Health, which he holds to this day.

Conclusion

To conclude, I would like to add my own personal affirmation of faith. My nuclear physics dissertation at the University of Colorado, included the following acknowledgement:

And finally, I would like to express my gratitude to the Creator for making our natural world such a fascinating topic for study; and for making the study of the great principles that govern the physical world an introduction and parallel to the great principles that guide our social activities and moral obligations, and a sampling of some small part of His character. (Clausen, p.vii)

A feud will no doubt always exist between science and religion. Science bases its understanding on physical evidence that can be studied. Religion recognizes things beyond our understanding that will remain a mystery. Despite this friction, many scientists have found that the way to truly understand either one is to allow them to inform each other. For scientist Christians, science is a way of understanding the Creator and the world He made.

______________________________________________________________

Benjamin L. Clausen

Geoscience Research Institute

Loma Linda, CA

_____________________________________________________________

Sources Cited

  • Barbour, Ian. Issues in Science and Religion. Prentice-Hall, 1965.
  • Bradley, Walter. “Scientific Evidence for the Existence of God”, The Real Issue 13(Sep/Oct 1994): 3-6, 14.
  • Burr, Chandler. “The geophysics of God: A scientist embraces plate tectonics–and Noah’s flood”, S. News & World Report 122(June 16, 1997): 55-58.
  • Clausen, Benjamin L. “Pion Scattering to 8 Stretched States in 60Ni”, Univ. of Colorado, Boulder: Ph.D. dissertation, 1987.
  • Feder, Toni. “Physicist Wins Religion Prize”, Physics Today (May 1999): 59-60.
  • Kossick, Betty. “The Moonwalker”, Adventist Review 169(January 30, 1992): 8-9.
  • Margenau, Henry and Roy Abraham Varghese, eds. Cosmos, Bios, Theos: Scientists Reflect on Science, God, and the Origins of the Universe, Life, and Homo Sapiens. La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1992.
  • McIver, Tom. “Ancient Tales and Space-Age Myths of Creationist Evangelism”, The Skeptical Inquirer 10(Spring 1986): 258-276.
  • Polkinghorne, John. One World: The Interaction of Science and Theology. Princeton Univ. Press, 1986.
  • Schaefer, Henry. “Stephen Hawking, the Big Bang, and God”, The Real Issue 13(Nov/Dec 1994): 1,8-10,14 & 14(Mar/Apr 1995): 4-8.
  • Sheler, Jeffery L. and Joannie M. Schrof. “The Creation”, S. News & World Report (December 23, 1991): 56-64.
  • Utt, Richard H. Creation: Nature’s Designs and Designer. Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1971.
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