Science in Christian Perspective

Young Scientist Page

From the "Ideal" to the "Real" World


With two academic scientists for parents many would say it was inevitable that I, too should become one. Yet, it can honestly be said that a push in the direction of a career in science was never given, unless you count our family's ritualistic Sunday afternoon nature walks in the woods. No, becoming a scientist, and an analytical chemist at that, was a product of God's leading through my own interests and fascinations.

Growing up, I was not acutely aware of the strain of science vs. religion which seems to have been experienced by many other ASAers. This is probably because both my scientist parents were also strong Christians who served at a Christian college, without any apparent philosophical difficulty. They clearly taught me and my younger siblings that the heavens and the earth were God's awesome creation, and we were to be good stewards of them. I cannot recall any sermons being preached on the topic in our conservative Presbyterian church, which I joined by profession of faith at age 12. In school, I found my Christian faith far more at odds with the social studies curriculum than with the science curriculum. To this day, I still wonder how anyone could encourage 13 year olds to establish and act according to "value systems" which were entirely self-generated. Influence from parents, church, or tradition (history) was expressly forbidden!

I first began to consider issues of science and Christianity while in college. This was prompted mostly by papers read in the ASA journal (my father had enrolled me as a student member) and impromptu debates with fellow students. However, time for these considerations was limited by a rigorous, pre-med curriculum. In my senior year, I took an instrumentation class for organic chemists and was intrigued by the capabilities of modern analytical equipment. Much to the chagrin of my Ivy League mentors, this prompted a change of career direction toward graduate school in analytical chemistry. As I reflect back on this decision, I see God's leading me into a discipline for which I was well suited and motivated by the call for stewardship (my interest was in developing better methods to detect environmental pollutants).

It is now ten years since I completed my Ph.D. and my career is underway as a research and development chemist developing portable instrumentation for environmental applications. During that time, I have often found working in the "real world" difficult as a Christian. Although science/religion debates with fellow students were at times heated and frustrating, my Christian perspective was tolerated by my collegiate peers. I think this was largely a product of academia's encouragement of open-minded inquiry, where the pervasive attitude is that all views deserve a respectful hearing as part of a well-rounded liberal arts education. I have found little of this open-mindedness in the business world. Instead, my working colleagues espouse in no uncertain terms that Christianity has nothing to do with science and should remain outside the workplace. My present employer has officially stated in company policy memoranda that involvement in "science/religion activities will not be supported."

While to some degree I was prepared for the dismissal of a Christian view of science in the secular workplace, I did not anticipate the way in which I have found science to be conducted. Again, my academic experiences led me to expect that working scientists were primarily engaged in the pursuit of truth, and therefore the integrity of scientists would necessarily stand high above that of other professionals. This view was expelled during my first five years of employment at a large national laboratory. While there, I learned much about government bureaucracy and discovered that most "scientists" were really engaged in the business of technology. The typical scientist spent most of his time promoting his ideas (whether original or borrowed) and previous accomplishments in pursuit of funding. In many instances, good science took a back seat to sales ability. This approach was successful, I learned, because research funding decisions were frequently made as much on the basis of "politics" as innovative scientific thinking. It was only through the Lord's provision that I was able to secure regular project funding. However, in time it became apparent that there was no commitment by my employer to actually implement the instruments I was developing in my projectsói.e., my work would effect no active stewardship of God's creation. Therefore, I moved on to the private sector where I was promised that things would be different.

Working for the past five years as the sole Christian in a small contract research and development laboratory of seventy people has presented its own challenges. Compared to the government laboratory, I have found little difference in the general way that science is conducted in this type of private business, although the drive to produce something useful (salable) is certainly keener. I believe that most of the challenges I have met here are not unique to a scientific enterprise and are faced by many Christians in the secular business world. Dishonest treatment of fellow employees and customers, office gossip, and irreverence for God are some of the things which I have frequently encountered. In one instance, refusing to lie about the capabilities and accomplishments of our company to a potential customer, I was slandered by a retaliatory superior and the new project was taken away from me. In situations such as these, I have found support and solace in prayer, the Scriptures, my family, and fellow church members in the business community. Above all else, I have found that it is essential that my actions obey God's Word as a witness to Christ. This is especially true in a small business, where the Christian stands out.

It is not my objective to paint a picture of science as an evil vocation from which Christians should flee. Instead, my early work experiences cause me to become increasingly convinced that science is theologically neither more nor less at odds with Christianity than other professions. For the Christian in any profession, working for God's glory is of paramount importance. For the scientist in business, the greatest struggles will probably be in the area of interpersonal relationships with non-Christian coworkersónot science-religion debate. I want to emphasize too, that as a scientist in my current position, I now feel a special blessing and peace as an active steward of God's world. For me, my science and faith are integrated in this way. In relating so many adverse experiences above, it is also not my goal to discourage younger scientists; rather, my hope is to let them know that they are not alone in the difficulties they will face in the secular business world. To those just leaving academia, be ready to encounter a scientific workplace that may be very different from that you have known or expected. In closing, my last word of advice is: seek to establish strong fellowship with other Christians in science. They will be an invaluable source of encouragement to you. Look foremost for those in your workplace, but remember that fellow ASA members are there too. It is the goal of forums such as this one to help open communication and foster relationships between older and younger ASA members in a spirit of mentoring. May God help each of us in this endeavor as we seek to bring glory to him in the workplace.