By Bren Dubay
Professor Karin Oberg is an astrochemist. She is also a Christian. She is searching for answers to big questions — “How did life begin on Earth?” “Is there life elsewhere in our solar system?” She heads up the Oberg Astrochemistry Group at Harvard University. This group studies the chemistry of young stars in order to better understand how planets form. Oberg uses a powerful telescope with quite a long name — the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array — called ALMA for obvious reasons. This telescope makes it possible to see the chemicals surrounding distant stars and planets. Oberg believes her work is as much about growing her understanding of God as it is about growing her understanding of the stars. She believes everything in the universe reflects God’s creativity. She turns 39 years old in August.
There was a time when the predominant thought among scientists was that the universe had no beginning. Georges Lemaitre offered the idea that the universe began with a bang. He posited what he called “the cosmic egg,” the egg exploded, the universe was born, and the universe keeps getting bigger. Other scientists came to agree with him about the Big Bang Theory. Lemaitre was a Christian.
The father of modern genetics was a Christian. His name was Gregor Mendel. After overcoming many challenges, he received a degree in philosophy and physics. Why do you have blue eyes when both of your parents have brown eyes? Using his gifts for math, logic, science, analysis, he spent ten years studying the traits of mice, honey bees, and plants. Punnett squares, though named after someone else, use Mendel’s ideas to predict possible combinations of inherited traits. Biologists use it to find out the probability of which particular genotype an offspring may have.
Miriam Stinson’s research led to major breakthroughs regarding the makeup of DNA. She contributed to the development of a method to prepare cell samples for examination under a microscope. This led others to discover the double-helix shape of DNA, which, among other things, has changed the way cancer is fought today. Stinson knew that not only cancer but other diseases required the ability to look at cells on a molecular level. Her work saves lives.
Louis Pasteur was the founder of microbiology. He developed a cure for rabies that worked on dogs but had not yet been tested on humans. A mother whose young son had been bitten by a rabid dog begged him to give the vaccine to her son. He did and the boy lived. Pasteur also developed a vaccine for anthrax, convinced the medical profession to sterilize their surgical instruments, and gave the world pasteurization making some drinks safer to drink. His work is hugely beneficial to everyone who came after him.
Hilary Ross was part of a team of medical professionals who discovered a cure for Hansen’s Disease, perhaps better known as leprosy. Her years of research and the meticulous notes she kept helped to determine what dosage of the new sulfone drugs to use in the treatment of the disease. Her work continued and she became recognized globally as an expert on the disease. Though Hansen’s still exists, it is curable. Until she died, Ross worked to get sulfone drugs to the parts of the world that do not have access to good health care.
Why this list? Recently, I was told that Christians do not believe in science and asked how I could call myself a Christian if I did. I was taken aback. The person saying this is tolerant, progressive, intelligent, and open minded. A friend who would never lump any other group of people into one basket quite easily grouped all Christians into one basket and not a very attractive basket at that.
People who profess the Christian faith have made many positive contributions to humanity in all fields of endeavor. There is also no denying that there have been many awful acts done in the name of Christ. It seems the awful has garnered much more of the spotlight than the good. No more so than today. But science and faith are not incompatible. Significant scientific contributions have been made by people of all faiths and no faiths. Science is all about discovering things about our world. As Christians, we believe God made our world and we believe God is a creative Creator. What is more honoring of God’s marvelous creation than to spend time learning more about it? Discovering how it works? Being in awe of the mysteries we still cannot solve?
Science also helps us learn how to take better care of the earth. Here at Koinonia, we use science to learn more about soil health. Everything from mycorrhiza fungi to beneficial insects help us keep our pecan trees happy and healthy. We study how to make compost tea and what amendments to use in our orchards and gardens. Science even tells us what plants to plant in our gardens and when to plant them so we can feed our community good food from a healthy earth.
Bigotry and prejudice can surface in surprising places. Is it not better to avoid lumping a particular group all into one basket? Why do we assume that all science is incompatible with all faith? We can and should celebrate the discoveries of science as they help us learn more about the world around us and the God who created it.