Today: Thursday, November 21, 2019

Can a scientist be a Christian?    (9/4/2011 1)

Within 5 minutes of the start of the interview for my first teaching job, the headmaster asked me how I reconciled being a Christian with being a teacher of science.

Many students have asked me the same question over many years of teaching—how can a scientist believe in God? In my reply, I talk about my sheer amazement at the world around us. The more I learn about science, the more incredulous I become about the world in which we live.   

With only a little understanding of science, it all seems quite simple: we think what we learn at school is fact. But as you delve deeper, the more complex (and beyond human understanding or imagination) you realise science is. 

You begin to realise that few things in science are fact, or completely understood, but science is all about developing theories to help to explain highly complex truths in a simplified way, that the human mind can cope with.

One example is the biochemistry of DNA, which is a key part of all living creatures, found in the nuclei of cells. It contains the genetic code that makes different species, and the differences within a species. It’s a very complex molecule that exists as a helix, with links between the chains.

The human body contains about 100 million million cells. In each cell, the DNA is very long, with about 6,000 million links. The numbers alone are mind-boggling!

In recent years, scientists have learned a lot more about DNA—what the outer chains are made of, and that each link between the chains is made of a pair of base molecules. The sequencing of these base molecules provides the instructions needed to survive, develop and reproduce. We’ve even learned enough about this amazing molecule to alter DNA; for example, to genetically modify crops (whether this is wise is a big debate in science).

However, all this knowledge is only about the 2% of DNA that contains genetic code. Scientists know very little indeed about the other 98%! There is some speculation, but the reality is we just don’t know what it does. This is another example of how learning more about something only reveals how much we don’t understand.

So we know a little about the molecules that life depends on, but the complexity of these molecules is beyond us at the moment. We will inevitably learn more—but the more we learn, the more we realise how much there is to learn, and how much more complex that will be. 

As I said to that interested headmaster (who did give me the job!): the complexity of life and the universe is truly awesome, and I couldn’t imagine how it could all exist without God.

As David proclaimed in the Psalms:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 

One of my great hopes as a scientist is that God will reveal the awesome truth of his creation when we reach heaven.

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