“PLEASE think about…what it means to be a Christian in your field AND IF AT ALL POSSIBLE write a paragraph or two with your thoughts. We will be using this as a point of reference during our time together. “
What follows is a modified and expanded version of an e-mail message I sent to my small group in California combined with a modified excerpt from my letter to Focus on the Family regarding Intelligent Design. For the Christian, all experience, logic, and advice must be tested against the words of Scripture. I believe that Scripture endorses my calling to a position of academic excellence and influence with examples such as Daniel. Ideally, my work is described by Psalm 111:2, which says (in the NRSV), “Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.” I am a physicist, which means that I am a scientist. Science is a method of knowing about reality. It makes two assumptions. First, science assumes that the Universe is understandable to the human mind. Second, in order for experiment and observations to collect meaningful and consistent data with which to test hypotheses, the Universe must operate according to laws that are consistent through all space and time. We make this assumption implicitly with every step we take. We assume that every time we lift a foot off the ground, gravity will pull it back toward Earth with the same force as the previous step. I think these assumptions should be clearly stated and taught in all public school science classes. The second assumption was restated by Dr. Helen Quinn, a theoretical physicist, when she wrote that “the universality and immutability of the fundamental laws is the basic postulate of all science.” Personally, I believe that the assumptions of science are supported by Scripture. Psalm 111:2 celebrates the study of the great works of the Lord. If God had not given us the ability to understand his works, why would he direct us to study them? Furthermore, as a research scientist, I have the ability to know things about the Universe before any other mortal does; I can say with Kepler*, “O God, I am thinking Thy thoughts after Thee.” The second assumption can be seen in Jeremiah 33:20, 25-26 when the Lord assures his people that that day, night, Heaven, and Earth all obey the “ordinances” and “fixed laws” he has established for them. Jesus commands us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30), and Paul teaches us, “whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17). I believe that, in my vocation, I fulfill the these commands by using my mind to study the Lord’s Creation, as I described above. If I do my research in the name of the Lord, that should motivate me to maintain high more, ethical, and technical standards. I must not idolize my accomplishments. Among other things, I must be forthright and honest about my faith, treat my colleagues with dignity and respect, give credit where credit is due, be scrupulously honest in my reports and publications, keep Christ as my first priority, and act with the knowledge that all of my words and deeds significantly impact the opinion my colleagues and advisers have of Christians and Christianity. Jesus final words to his disciples were a command to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). As we have discussed, many Christians are caused to feel that this Great Commission is best fulfilled by overseas missions work in hostile nations. Many of us who feel called to seek gainful employment outside of overseas evangelical missions tend to question and doubt whether our vocation is a legitimate one. I have not known many missionaries (in the traditional sense), and I have only mustered the courage to speak to five about the questions and doubts I mentioned. They have, without exception, encouraged me to continue on my academic path. One woman, whose had moved from the suburbs to the inner city of Columbus, asked me to “please be a Physicist.” A married couple of friends introduced me to Christian Aid Missions, an organization that believes people like us should send money to indigenous missions rather than going ourselves. An article in the introductory brochure that Christian Aid sent me is entitled “Thank you for Staying Home.” When I discussed my questions and doubts with a former missionary to Japan who is now part of an inner city Baptist church, she reminded me that as a Physicist, I had the ability to bring the gospel to large number of my colleagues who she could never even meet. The spiritual needs of scientists are often greater than those of people who are materially very poor. Also, if Christians did not enter fields that require intellect and rationality, the world could easily conclude that Christianity is inherently anti-intellectual and irrational. I believe the most important evangelical activity of my life is to offer living proof that a scientific, logical Christian can exist and thrive. Only after offering this proof can I make a convincing case against people like Richard Dawkins.
* Quoted in Charles E. Hummel, Galileo Connection: Resolving Conflicts between Science and the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 57; Frank S. Mead, ed. and comp., Encyclopedia of Religious Quotations (Old Tappan, N.J.: Revell, 1965), 176.