Is Science a Job for Christians?
Anna Pearson is a student at Royal Holloway studying for a Masters in Physics. Along with two friends in her third year she set up a Christians in Science group at Royal Holloway, and this year is part of the London CiS group. Her favourite area of Physics is Quantum Mechanics and next year (2015/16) she will be starting a PhD at Oxford in this area. This month Anna asks the question is scientific research a worthwhile job for Christians:
Being a priest, missionary, doctor or nurse are all traditionally seen as Christian vocations because their everyday tasks involve direct service to God or other people. Although the last two do involve science, it is more the application of science than science in its purest sense. What about scientific research, where someone spends most of their time in the lab, not preaching the Bible or helping other people? Some people say that new scientific discoveries benefit humankind and thus scientists are helping other people, or that understanding nature better helps us to govern it – the command given to humankind in Genesis (Genesis 1:26-28).But the problem with this is that it puts limits on which areas of scientific research are Christian and which are not. For example the foundations of Quantum Mechanics have been puzzling scientists for the past 80 years, and may still be a great mystery for decades to come. Even if we solve the mystery the applications apply more to communications than saving human lives. Does this make this research secular? I’m going to make the case that all scientific research (within ethical limits), can be a Christian vocation, even if there seems to be no direct link between the research and helping to save human lives or governing the earth.
A traditional vocation?
If we take a look at research, without analysing how it may help us to get the most out of the world that we live in, or even help preserve the Earth, what is left? Discovery, amazement, puzzlement, disbelief and then (hopefully!) understanding. If someone wants to understand a composer they study their music, if someone wants to learn more about an artist and their way of looking at things they study their paintings, if someone wants insight into the mind of a poet they read their poetry, so surely if someone would like a glimpse into the mind of God they should study His work. Not for the sake of the application of the knowledge (although of course this is a good thing), but for the comprehension of a tiny bit more of the mind of our Maker. A scientist spends their day studying the mind of God, delving into the clues He left of His power and nature, and increasing in their understanding of God. Personally the more I learn about the universe, the more I am astounded at the size, complexity and beauty of it. I’m even more amazed than before that the God who wrote the laws that govern the whole thing would want anything to do with little me!
Beauty and complexity!
God created us to govern the earth and to help one another, but he also created us simply to worship Him – “the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise” (Isaiah 43:21). Worship can be a bit hard to define – it’s basically a sense of awe and wonder and adoration. Next time you are somewhere really dark on a clear starry night, look up (and if you don’t believe that there is a God just imagine that there is one), and the feeling of wonder and of being part of something much much bigger than you will give you a sense of what Christians mean when we talk about a need to worship God. Often in Churches when we sing hymns or songs we call it a time of worship as during that time we are expressing our love and reverence for God. However, could a scientist who professes to believe in God say that their day to day job is fulltime worship of God, just like someone whose job it is to organise and play the worship music at church? We can worship God with a song, but we can also worship God with much more. Just as Eric Liddell said “when I run, I feel God’s pleasure”, I think that God gets pleasure from His children searching Him out, uncovering His mysteries and finding that each time we think we know it all, there is another surprise in store. Every time we think that we have understood the world we live in, another “layer” is uncovered. In solids there are atoms, in atoms there are neutrons etc, in neutrons there are quarks….and all of this makes up less than 5% of the universe!
‘The works of the LORD are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein’ (Psalm 111:2). This is inscribed above the entrance to the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. The idea of a conflict between science and faith has not always been as widespread as it is today. What a marvellous and exciting vocation: to seek out and study the works of God!