Scientists peer into the inner workings of the natural world. They are nestled in cramped labs, meticulous and unyielding, tirelessly seeking truth with which to advance medicine, engineering, and human wonderment. They’ve also accrued a reputation for being anti-religious, for upholding the natural at the expense of the supernatural, chipping away at God with telescopes and microscopes.
The “new atheist” movement that ridicules faith as unscientific seems to be waning after only a couple of decades in the spotlight. The youngest generation of Americans (Gen Z) is curious about the so-called “debate,” stubbornly open to spirituality despite atheists’ best efforts. Nevertheless, the scientific community appears to remain a stronghold of anti-spirituality. The project of reconciling faith and science continues heatedly.
Yet, from carbon nanomaterials to black holes, from neurobiology to experimental physics, scientists of all kinds hold a strong Christian faith.
Who are these heroes of faith and science inspiring a new generation of Christians to get involved in God’s beautiful creation?
Christian scientists in physics
Physicists study the physical world with unimaginable precision, theorizing and experimenting to discover facts about the universe God made.
Dr. Jing Kong is an Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Professor at MIT, focusing her research on nanotechnology. She grew up an atheist but turned to follow Christ in graduate school. “The research is only a platform for me to do God’s work,” she says. “His creation, the way he made this world, is very interesting. It’s amazing, really.” She shares her faith with students and faculty, making it her mission to spread the gospel in the academic world.
Dr. Russell Cowburn is also an expert in nanotechnology and a professor of experimental physics at Cambridge. He’s received numerous awards and is a fellow of the Royal Society. He proclaims about his work in the field of nanotech, “God got there first—nature is full of nanotechnology.” Everything, from the smallest molecules to supermassive black holes, is part of “God’s creative activity.”
Dr. Dean Daniel Hastings is an American physicist and the head of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT. He has a fellowship in the Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences and the Air Force Distinguished Civilian Award. He says, “There is a God who created the universe and he’s not an impersonal God. He has declared himself as a loving God who seeks a relationship with us.”
Many more in their ranks of physicists study how reality acts while giving glory to the creator of the laws that make it so.
Christian scientists in medical science
Two Christians stand out in the field of medical science above the rest. One is a household name and the other is an inspiration for young scientists. Both led research during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dr. Francis Collins is the most recognized household name of Christian scientists today. He’s an M.D. and Ph.D., a brilliant scientist. He was the Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute for many years, leading the project that mapped human DNA. Then, he became the director of the National Institute of Health in 2009 under President Obama, continued under Presidents Trump and Biden, and finally stepped down in 2021. President Biden said of his career, “Millions of people will never know Dr. Collins saved their lives.” Dr. Collins was a former atheist and wrote The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief in 2006.
He argued that the human genome reflects God’s purpose and pointed to areas in nature unexplainable given Darwinian evolution. In one interview, he says, “As a scientist who is also a religious believer, research activities that look like science can also be thought of as opportunities to worship.”
Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett led the team of scientists who developed the mRNA vaccine, partnering with Moderna to develop and assemble the vaccine against Covid-19. She’s passionate about health equality for all Americans and works to break the barrier between faith and medicine, especially among people of color. According to her, Christianity is a central part of her success, saying, “I think that is the most important part of the story—that people drive the research.”
She now holds an assistant professorship at Harvard and received several honors for her work in immunology. As a child, she set her goal to become the first black woman to win the Nobel Prize in Medicine.
Yet another outspoken Christian studies the most brilliantly designed and wonderfully made part of the human: the brain.
Dr. William Newsome is a professor of neurobiology at Stanford. He co-chaired the NIH BRAIN group, which formed a decade-long US neuroscience research plan. He’s a National Academy of Sciences member and is a “leading investigator in systems and cognitive neuroscience.” He’s received numerous honors, including “The Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award of the American Psychological Association.” His research has helped psychologists come to a deeper understanding of the brain. He says, “Your faith should be informed by science. It should not be replaced by science. Science can’t bear that weight.”
Many more scientists study to help people as a following of the call to love their neighbor.
Christian scientists in apologetics
Apologetics is the rational defense of the Christian faith, and many great thinkers turn their God-given brilliance to defending the truth of belief in God.
Dr. Alister McGrath is a polymath with a unified focus on disproving atheism and supporting the compatibility of science and faith. Dr. McGrath holds three doctorate degrees from Oxford: molecular biophysics, intellectual history, and theology. He’s the Professor of Science and Religion at Oxford University, a biophysicist and theologian, an ordained Anglican minister, and a theological historian. He’s written over fifty books, the most famous of which are savage critiques of scientists and the spokesperson for new atheism, Dr. Richard Dawkins.
Dr. John Lennox is an emeritus professor of Mathematics at Oxford. While not a natural scientist per se, he’s received an MA in bioethics and talks extensively about science and religion. He’s written extensively on faith and science and sounds a bit like a modern C. S. Lewis (like Dr. McGrath). He’s made a career not just in mathematics but in apologetics. He most notably wrote Gunning for God: Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target. He’s also written a great introduction to the science and faith relationship called Can Science Explain Everything?, which we highly recommend for anyone interested in science and faith.
Can science glorify God?
Like most vocational pursuits, science can glorify God. As scientists study the works of God in creation, how could they help but give praise to the One who made it? Adam and Eve were called to rule the earth as ambassadors of God, tending and caring for creation. This should drive Christians today, especially scientists.
Something I found interesting about the Christian scientists I read was the focus on God’s creation of everything. He didn’t just “miraculously” make DNA out of the primordial soup or set up the earth in such a way to give rise to human life; that’s the wrong way to think about it for some Christian scientists. Instead, God created everything: the primordial soup, black holes, dark matter, gravity, the bacteria, and you and me.
He is the very legislator of nature’s laws.
He is not merely a “divine watchmaker” who winds up the universe’s clock and lets it run; he’s much more.
While we could quote countless psalms praising God, the Lord’s majestic poetry in Job, or the creation account of Genesis, I’m partial to Paul’s poem of praise of Christ as transcendent and involved: “[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:15–18).