Science in Christian Perspective

 

 

Science College Teaching/Research

Caution: Roadblocks Ahead

Grace C. Ju
Gordon College, Wenham, MA 01984

From Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 50 (June 1998):80-82.

Many people are convinced that those who study science cannot be committed to Christianity. In my life, however, my spiritual growth has taken place at the same time as my scientific growth. My interest in biology began early. Growing up in the Philippines, I remember the poverty and poor sanitary conditions that surrounded me as I walked to school in Manila. Later in my schooling, I began to wonder if science could alleviate such needs. When I was ten, my family emigrated to Virginia, where I fell in love with the Blue Ridge Mountains and spent much time hiking and backpacking as a Girl Scout. I really wanted to learn all I could about nature: plants, animals, geology, and natural history.

When it came time to choose a college, I picked Duke University because they had a marine laboratory and a forestry program. Just before I left for college, I made a personal commitment to follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Although I had been raised in a family that faithfully attended the Episcopal church, I had not made a personal choice until then. So as I embarked on my college years, I began to get more and more excited about science as well as my new commitment to Christ.

As a botany major at Duke, I spent many days hiking in the woods with professors and spent a full semester at the Duke Marine Lab. I dreamed of being a park ranger. During this time God was not only shaping my career interests but also my spiritual life. Leaders of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) discipled me and I grew much more familiar with Scripture study, memorization, and apologetics through IVCF small groups. While I was in college it never crossed my mind that a woman should not be a scientist, or that a Christian should not be a scientist.

During my last year in college, while working at a field site, a professor, who was also my mentor, asked me what I was going to do with my life. I was torn between being a park ranger and working to feed the hungry. He suggested that I go live in a developing country and work in a research lab for a while, and then make a more concrete decision. So with his connections and high recommendations, I left for Taiwan to work as a research assistant at the Academia Sinica in the Botany Institute. This was a critical step in shaping my career.

Before I left for Taiwan, I spent the first of several summers at Young Life's Wilderness Ranch in Colorado. I had been very active in experiential outdoor education in college. During my time at Wilderness Ranch, I grew to love and understand community, solitude, and leadership. As I trained to mentor and counsel high school students, God began to smooth out many rough places in my own life and prepare me to be an effective  "wounded healer." Part of the process included searching my own heart and self which is always a painful experience. I saw a great need to let go of my will and surrender to God's. Still an ongoing process! These were critical periods of growth in my spiritual formation.

After a year in Taiwan, I got to fulfill my dream of being a park ranger. I worked for a summer at Cape Lookout National Seashore before I started my M.S. in International Agriculture and Plant Physiology at the University of California, Davis. After that I went to Purdue University for my Ph.D.

While attending the University of California, Davis and Purdue University, I was blessed to find very strong and dynamic churches. I joined Bible studies, attended conferences, and listened to solid preaching. A key conference I attended was URBANA 87, a missions conference sponsored by IVCF. Speakers such as Rebecca Pipert, George Verwer, Tony Campolo, and Roberta Hestenes inspired and provoked me to get serious about my Christianity. While at Purdue, I helped lead the Purdue Chinese Christian Fellowship, a group of about 150 students. I led the worship team and an evangelistic Bible study. The Bible study consisted of students primarily from the People's Republic of China. The questions they raised reflected their communist indoctrination and atheistic background. It was amazing to see how studying the Bible changed their lives. Many came to know the Lord as Savior! I read many books by Richard Foster, C. S. Lewis, John Stott, J. I. Packer, Henry Nouwen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Andrew Murray. My church's midweek small group, where I experienced real accountability and community, helped me to mature and nurtured my prayer life. I began to help disciple new Christians and gained much from these relationships.

In the process of growing as a Christian and working as a scientist, I have encountered two roadblocks that I believe many Christians face. These roadblocks discouraged me as I pursued my call to be a Christian, a woman, and a biologist. The first roadblock is the challenge from unbelieving coworkers who are antagonistic toward the faith. The second one is the challenge from society that women must choose to have either a career or a family.

Neither the church nor my family has ever discouraged me from being a Christian biologist. My parents, who were both professors, greatly encouraged me to pursue my dreams. If anything, I was my own worst enemy. At times I lacked the tenacity to finish the race that God called me to. I remember meeting Carl Henry at a book signing. He asked me a few questions about my Ph.D. program and pointed to my heart and said,"Guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life! God has called you into the field of agriculture and wants you to work in countries like China. He will send you a mate that will add fuel to this dream ... guard your heart."" Believe me - this exhortation from a total stranger made a deep impression!

While Christians encouraged me to serve God as a scientist, I was really bombarded with attacks from my unbelieving colleagues. Here are two examples of hostility I experienced from the secular scientific community. While I was a post doctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC), the Gulf War broke out. In the lunch room several scientists were discussing why there was so much hate between the Jews and the Arabs. No one offered an answer. Although I am no seminary graduate, because of my strong Christian training during graduate school I was at least prepared to answer. Reading passages about Isaac and Ishmael from my NIV Study Bible, I explained that they were the ancestors of the Jews and Arabs. Their response was, "Grace, that is a story from the Bible. We want facts not fiction!" I simply left them with the challenge, "Go up to an Arab in Washington, D.C. and tell him that ... then come back if you are able and tell me their response!"

My second example of a hostile environment occurred during my sabbatical at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. My collaborator was astonished to discover that I was a follower of Jesus Christ. He told me, "No one who is a real scientist believes in God." He must have thought I was not a real scientist. Yet, day after day for a year, he sought me out for hours of debate on science and religion. I finally said, "I believe because I have a personal relationship with God. I have encountered him." He retorted, "If I ever encounter him, I'll be running to a psychiatrist!" Despite his insults to my belief, we were able to work well together and I had the respect of his post docs and students.

I have a few suggestions for getting by the roadblock of hostility. These guidelines have helped me in my scientific career. A Christian scholar must have these three distinctives in life: (1) morality and standards that conform to Scripture, (2) glorification of God, not humans or knowledge itself, and (3) sincere pursuit of truth.

Christian study and the pursuit of knowledge are based on moral codes set forth by God in Scripture. Education is not taught in a value vacuum but is intentionally based on Christian morals and values. This implies a call to excellence, integrity, and high standards. Study is a vehicle to transform and renew our minds, to bring us to think about what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, and excellent (Phil 4:8). We must pursue study with God's meter stick in mind. When we look at chloroplasts under a microscope, we are called to admire and praise God's creation. When we study literature, we go beyond just judging the work by its aesthetic value and apply moral standards and values to it. When we offer our scholarship, we offer it with integrity and honesty. Our study then becomes a form of worship and witness. Whatever we do, we should do it all for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

A Christian scholar's overriding goal is to bring glory and honor to God. Humility in our study and scholarship is a must. This is a distinctive that makes Christ more prominent with every step we take. When I successfully clone a gene, I must give all the glory and honor to God, who created the gene and gave me the ability to study it. This effort to bring honor and glory to God is in blatant contrast to a secular society which strives to elevate the self, science, and knowledge. We have a clear mandate and goal, " we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Eph. 2:10).

Christian scholars should be conducting work that is the epitome of the pursuit of truth. Wherever we are, in Christian schools or secular schools, we pursue knowledge, truth, and excellence with the wisdom and guidance of the Almighty and all knowing God. "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." (John 8:32). In a world held in the bondage of darkness, sin, and despair, my hope is that those who are Christian scholars will be the harbingers of the Good News. I think that when we hold to these standards, we can move past the roadblock of hostility and perhaps bring a few along with us.

The second roadblock I have faced is the pressure to choose between family and career. For me this roadblock became evident during my Ph.D. program when I was engaged to be married. My fiance' called me during finals week from California and called off the engagement because he "couldn't marry a woman with a Ph.D." This shook my world up, but did not convince me to drop my Ph.D. program and my call to serve God in science.

While the pressure to choose between family and career is an issue for everyone, it is an especially difficult choice for Christian women. Women in the sciences come to a crossroads between feminism and traditionalism. The road of feminism downplays the family. The road of traditionalism downplays scientific careers. While women ponder this choice, the needy world waits. It is not a matter of marriage or mission but a matter of marriage and mission. Women need to serve God in the home and in the sciences. However, no one should expect a woman scientist to be identical to a male scientist. As G. K. Chesterton wisely said, "The tragedy of the modern woman is not that she is not allowed to follow man, but that she follows him too slavishly."

We say "women are encouraged to apply." But here is the catch. Women do not apply. They are not trained. They cannot work full time because of family responsibilities and the constraints of their husband's job. If we value the contributions that women give, we need to be willing to make reforms. These may include expectations on job resumes, work schedules, promotions, and maternity/paternity leaves. If we keep encouraging women to pursue careers in the sciences, then we should seriously look at what needs to be done to keep them in the sciences.

To overcome this second roadblock, I have had to make three choices: (1) choosing to follow God's call for me to serve him in the sciences above searching for a husband, (2) letting God choose a husband for me who would support and encourage my endeavors, and (3) both of us making personal sacrifices to make marriage and mission work together.

In my experience as a professor, I find many women who feel that they must choose between marriage and mission. If God calls a woman to do his work, then she should obey. I am grateful for my husband, Garth Miller, who is an engineer with seminary degrees from Westminster and Gordon-Conwell, who sharpens me like no other iron. He has supported my career with many personal sacrifices. He has encouraged me to do God's will. He has been extremely willing to help with the caring of our daughter, Zea.

I hope that I can continue to move beyond these two roadblocks and serve God in the field of biology. I will continue to focus my research and teaching on sustainable use of resources, on our Christian responsibility to the poor, and on our call as stewards of Creation. I will continue to encourage men and women to enter the fields of science. I hope I can help mobilize half of God's army (women) to do the works he has called them to. I will keep moving ahead with God's help so that I may be used by him to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19) and preach the good news to the poor, bind up the broken hearted, and proclaim freedom for the captives (Isaiah 61:6).

1998