Believing Scientists Respond: Why Are You a Christian?
July 31, 2017 | By Jeff Hardin and Keith Miller (guest author) and Stephen Barr (guest author) and Ian Hutchinson (guest author) and Rev. Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco, OP (guest author) and S. Joshua Swamidass (guest author) and Robin Pals Rylaarsdam (guest author) and Kristine Johnson (guest author) and Roseanne Sension (guest author) and Sarah Bodbyl Roels (guest author)
EDITOR’S NOTE: BioLogos was founded by a world-class scientist, Francis Collins, who not only proclaimed but embodied the harmony between science and faith. In the spirit of our founding mission, we asked a number of scientists and engineers of Christian faith about how they encountered Christ and how their faith inspires their scientific work. The first entry reveals the rich diversity of faith traditions represented by believing scientists today, but also their common love of Christ.
Jeff Hardin, chair of the department of zoology, University of Wisconsin (BioLogos Board Chair)
I’m a Christian because the Christian story of the world – and of myself – makes sense of reality. The Gospel – an old English word for “Good News” – is a Big Story that involves each one of us, but it’s also one of cosmic proportions. When I began to grasp the personal and cosmic dimensions of this Big Story, I began to catch a tiny glimmer of how it makes sense of everything else. First, it made sense of my own life. When I was first presented with the Good News about Jesus of Nazareth, I saw that the Gospel story ran right through my own life. It explained why I, if I was really honest, could be capable of acts of love, goodness, and kindness, but why I could be simultaneously petty, mean, and disingenuous. It was why, when this truth about myself came crashing down on me as a middle schooler, I gratefully accepted, by God’s grace through Christ, something I could not do for myself. Second, the Big Story of the Scriptures is consilient with all that we know. It makes sense of the moral nature of reality that we all perceive, the “unreasonable reasonableness” (to borrow from physicist Eugene Wigner) of the universe, and of our own ability to perceive the moral and rational fabric of reality.
Robin Pals Rylaarsdam, acting dean of the College of Science and professor of biological sciences, Benedictine University
I’m a Christian because of the gracious offering of love that God extends to me. As the old hymn says “my heart would still refuse you, had you not chosen me.” That gift, along with the countless gifts of believing parents and a community of believers around me throughout my life, is something I accept with thankfulness. In my daily life, especially during times when I was working full-time in a research lab with all the inevitable failure that goes along with that work, it was a comfort to be regularly reminded that life is more than my work, and that God is bigger and older and “more than” everything.
Both my parents were committed Christians whose lives demonstrated what it means to live out their faith. There was no sacred/secular dichotomy demonstrated in their lives. Everything that they did—from their professional work, to their work with youth in scouting and in church fellowships, to hosting international missionaries, or sponsoring refugee families, to making themselves and their home available in the service of others—was a reflection of their faith.
But why am I a Christian? In addition to the example of my parents, I was involved in the Christian youth movement of the ’70’s where I experienced my first sense of real Christian community. This was followed by active involvement in college and graduate school in the ministry of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and then in the Graduate and Faculty Ministry of IVCF. When pursuing my doctorate, I was part of a diverse and dynamic Bible study group of PhD students that challenged and stretched me. This continued with my involvement and writing for the American Scientific Affiliation, an association of Christians in the sciences. That challenge continues to this day as I seek to be faithful to the calling of Christ to serve others.
The above may not sound like a basis for my personal Christian faith—no discussion of a conversion experience or a deep theological revelation. But through all these steps in my life. my understanding of God and what it means to follow Christ has been continually challenged and stretched through the community of other believers. The claims of scripture have grown stronger, not weaker in the process. Nothing else makes sense of all that I know of the world and humanity, including all its pain and suffering.
I am a Christian by the grace of God, beginning with the grace I received when I was baptized as an infant. And since then I have “received grace upon grace,” to use a phrase from St. John. The seeds of faith were planted in me as a small child by my parents and the good Sisters who taught me in parochial school, and (thanks be to God) I have never lost that faith. I had many questions and some intellectual difficulties when I was young, though I never doubted the existence of God (which always seemed luminously self-evident to me), the divinity of Christ, or the divine origin and authority of the Church.
As I wrestled with difficult theological, philosophical, and historical questions raised in my mind by the teachings of the Church, God gave me the patience and (over time) the insights that allowed me to work through them. Some of these insights I derived from the works of authors I was fortunate enough to encounter when I was young, such as Chesterton and Lonergan. My persistent study and reflection gave me a growing conviction of the coherence and solidity of the Church’s teachings. All this I attribute to God’s grace.
I am convinced that the purposelessness of a purely natural/materialistic outlook is missing something significant. There is a purpose to our existence that goes beyond chemistry, physics and biology. Of course, Christianity is not the only possible solution to this problem. I am a Christian because the overarching story of purpose and redemption and the ethical vision for love, service, justice is compelling.
I became a Christian, as an undergraduate at Cambridge University, because of the person of Jesus. He was, to me, an exceedingly attractive figure for what he taught and what his life and death was said to represent. But it was only then that I heard clearly and came to accept that the evidence for his Resurrection is strong, and gives good reason to believe it is true. I also heard clearly the call to repentance and discipleship, and I accepted it. My subsequent decades of experience in the Christian faith have confirmed to me the reality of God’s presence, and my intellectual exploration has strengthened my conviction that the Gospel is supported by compelling evidence and logical arguments.
Initially I became a Christian when my parents introduced me to Jesus as a child. As I matured, I wondered about the truthfulness of Christianity and the Bible. I investigated the reliability of scripture and the truthfulness of its claims. Many people from other religions have claimed to have peace with God, mountaintop experiences, and other emotional and spiritual reasons for their belief. I have found that Christianity is more than spiritual experiences and that the Christian faith is based on factual claims that are well supported by the evidence. Today I am a Christian because Christianity is true and because Jesus died and rose from the dead to pay the penalty for my sin.
medicine, Washington University in St Louis (member of BioLogos Voices)
I follow Jesus because he bodily rose from the dead, demonstrating to the whole world that God exists, is good, and wants to be known. I find that Jesus is beautiful and compelling. I have searched all over and find nothing greater than him. Nothing threatens him, not even science. Nothing here diminishes him. There is evidence, but coming to Jesus, for me, was more like falling in love than solving a math problem.
Sarah Bodbyl Roels, research associate/senior scientist specializing in evolutionary biology and education, Michigan State University (member of BioLogos Voices)
Drawing from the title of a mid-20th century U.S. radio series, Christianity is “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” The Biblical story is infinitely relatable, full of promise and pain, ultimate suffering and salvation, but overall, the pages are bound together with intense love. The gospel message is radical and countercultural, and gives both meaning and purpose to life. There is a reality to Christianity that I struggle to grasp as a scientist, since the field doesn’t inform this area of reality, but that I nevertheless know to be true.
Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, associate professor of biology and instructor in theology, Providence College
I am a Christian because I was baptized when I was an infant. The grace of that sacrament moved me to encounter my Savior while I was a graduate student at MIT. Since then, the Lord has become an intimate friend who has called me to his holy priesthood to serve him and his Holy Church. I am a Christian because the Christian life is an adventure, a romance, and a mystery, all at the same time. Christ makes it all worthwhile.
About the Authors
Jeff Hardin is Professor and Chair of the Department of Zoology and Faculty Director of the Biology Core Curriculum at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research focuses on basic mechanisms of early embryonic development. He is a member of the Board of Directors of BioLogos.
Keith Miller recently retired as a research assistant professor of geology at Kansas State University. He was the editor of Perspectives on an Evolving Creation (Eerdmans, 2003), an anthology of essays by prominent evangelical Christian scientists who accept theistic evolution. He is also a past member of the executive committee of the American Scientific Affiliation (an association of Christians in the sciences), and a past board member of Kansas Citizens for Science (a not-for-profit educational organization that promotes a better understanding of science). He has written and spoken extensively on topics at the intersection of Christian theology and faith with paleontology and climate science.
Stephen M. Barr is professor of physics at the University of Delaware and Director of its Bartol Research Institute. Barr’s areas of specialty are theoretical particle physics and cosmology, and in 2011 he was elected Fellow of the American Physical Society. He is also author of Modern Physics and Ancient Faith and A Student’s Guide to Natural Science, as well as The Believing Scientist: Essays on Science and Religion.
Ian H. Hutchinson is professor of nuclear science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His primary research interest is plasma physics and its practical applications. He and his MIT team designed, built and operate the Alcator C-Mod tokamak, an international experimental facility whose magnetically confined plasmas are prototypical of a future fusion reactor. He received his bachelor’s degree in physics from Cambridge University and his doctorate in engineering physics from the Australian National University. He directed the Alcator project from 1987 to 2003 and served as head of MIT’s nuclear science and engineering department from 2003 to 2009. In addition to over 200 journal articles on a variety of plasma phenomena, Hutchinson is widely known for his standard monograph on measuring plasmas: Principles of Plasma Diagnostics. For more, see Hutchinson’s book Monopolizing Knowledge.
Rev. Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco, O.P., currently serves as an Associate Professor of Biology and an Instructor of Theology at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island. He received his Ph.D. in Biology from M.I.T. and his Pontifical License in Sacred Theology (S.T.L.) from the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. At the present time, Fr. Austriaco is completing a Pontifical Doctorate in Sacred Theology (S.T.D.) at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. His NIH-funded laboratory at Providence College is investigating the genetic regulation of programmed cell death using the yeasts, Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Candida albicans, as model organisms. His first book, Biomedicine and Beatitude: An Introduction to Catholic Bioethics, was published by the Catholic University of America Press.
Dr. S. Joshua Swamidass MD PhD is an Assistant Professor of Laboratory and Genomic Medicine at Washington University (http://swami.wustl.edu/). His research group designs computational methods to solve problems in medicine and drug discovery. In addition to his scientific work, Dr. Swamidass is often involved as an advisor and speaker role for religious groups working to understand how to better integrate faith and science. This includes partnerships with churches and campus ministries (with Cru, Veritas and Intervarsity, see https://vimeo.com/36846157), and also includes articles in the Wall Street Journal and Nature on Christian Faith and Evolution. More recently, he is working with the AAAS as an advisor to the Science for Seminaries program. In all these activities, he helps lay Christians and congregations come to grips with science in the context of their faith commitments.
Robin Pals Rylaarsdam earned her B.A. in Biology from Northwestern College in 1992, and a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology and Genetics from Northwestern University in 1997. Following postdoctoral appointments at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, she began work teaching in undergraduate settings, serving at Azusa Pacific University, Trinity Christian College, and currently at Benedictine University. She is currently Professor of Biological Science and Acting Dean of the College of Science at Benedictine University. Robin’s research interests have focused on rational drug design for the rare genetic disease McCune-Albright Syndrome. Her laboratory is in the final stages of screening molecules in cell-based assays, with the goal of moving some drug candidates on to animal-based studies in the coming years.
Kristine is currently a senior systems engineer at Honeywell Aerospace working on the first and only FAA certified (SDA) precision landing system which has been installed at many airports around the world. She holds a bachelors degree in Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics from the University of Minnesota. Outside of work, Kristine enjoys spending time with her husband and children, studying the Bible, scrapbooking, cooking, volunteering in her community, and exercising. She leads a small group study, gives presentations at churches and schools, and mentors area youth pastors on various apologetic topics including the integration of God’s world and God’s word. Kristine is also a professional face painter.
Roseanne J. Sension is a professor of chemistry at the University of Michigan. She received her doctorate in chemistry in 1986 from the University of California, Berkeley, and after post-doctoral positions at the Universities of Oregon and Pennsylvania, has been a professor at Michigan since 1992. Her research focuses on the interaction of light with matter, with emphasis on applications in photobiology. She has co-authored over seventy articles in scientific journals and conference proceedings and is a fellow of the American Physical Society.
Sarah Bodbyl Roels is an evolutionary biologist specializing in plant evolutionary biology, scientific communication and outreach, K-12 teacher education and professional development, and K-12 science literacy. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Kansas and currently resides in the Teacher Education department at Michigan State University. Aside from academia, she is an avid birder, equestrian, runner, photographer, and traveler. She is also a member of BioLogos Voices.