At the XVIIIth International Society for the Study of the Origin of life (ISSOL) conference held at the University of California in San Diego on July 16–21, 2017, Fazale (Fuz) Rana and I had the pleasure of many thoughtful conversations during extended mealtimes with origin-of-life research scientists. When they found out that we were Christians working at Reasons to Believe, they immediately assumed that we were not scientists, or at least not serious scientists. When we asked why, their responses were revealing. They equated the pursuit of serious science with atheism. One biochemist declared, “I am a scientist. Therefore, I am an atheist.”

These origin-of-life scientists also had a distorted understanding of Christianity. When they found out that Fuz and I both believe that the Bible’s content is trustworthy and reliable, they concluded that we must be young-earth creationists and that we dismiss nearly all scientific findings.

How did we break through their misperceptions? First, we assured them that we were not young-earth creationists. We explained how a careful and thorough integration of all the Bible’s creation texts—where we take all those texts literally and consistently—establishes an old-earth interpretation, while ruling out a young-earth interpretation. Next, we asked them questions about their research, their most recent papers, and the next papers they intended to write. These questions persuaded them that we were familiar with and understood the scientific details in the origin-of-life research literature.

In turn, they then asked where Fuz and I earned our PhDs, where we had done postdoctoral research, what research papers we had published, and why we were at the conference. They were surprised to learn that this was the third ISSOL conference we had attended and that we regularly write articles on the origin of life. Moreover, our interdisciplinary book, Origins of Life,1 had been reviewed by David Deamer, a highly respected researcher in the field, in Origin of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere.2

Having established our credibility, a door was now open for Fuz and I to ask our companions questions about their atheism. For instance, did they have other reasons for identifying themselves as atheists other than their occupation? They replied that it seemed to them that science has all the answers, or at least the potential to provide all the answers, to all the questions humans might ask.

Their response opened another door for Fuz and I to probe their thoughts on death, human consciousness, and our ultimate destiny. For example, we asked them how they were preparing for death what they thought happens to their consciousness when their physical bodies die, what they think might exist beyond the universe, and whether they believed there were any ultimate purposes to the universe and human beings. It turned out these scientists hadn’t given any thought to such issues. The focus of their lives had been their scientific research.

Fuz and I suggested that perhaps our companions were not committed atheists, but rather default atheists in the sense that they had not taken the time to seriously research the philosophical implications of atheism and whether or not purely naturalistic science indeed can answer all the questions that humans might pose. Scientific research can distract us from the most important issues of life. They readily agreed.

Science Research Addiction
What we observed and experienced at the XVIIIth ISSOL conference we have seen repeated in other interactions with leading scientific researchers. It is something we have observed in ourselves. Scientific research can be powerfully addicting.

There is a certain thrill and euphoria that overflows me when I discover and understand some secret of the universe or the realm of nature that no one else has uncovered. My scientist colleagues at Reasons to Believe have those experiences, too. All scientists whose research has pushed back the frontiers of scientific knowledge and understanding have such moments.

The thrill and euphoria of making scientific discoveries can take scientists captive. Following one of my university debates with an atheistic scientist he told me just how captivated he was by his research findings. “It is all I ever I think about,” he said. He, too, admitted that he was a default atheist and that in our debate he had defended something he had not really thought through in terms of its implications.

The pursuit of scientific discovery, I contend, can be as addicting as alcohol or heroin. It can overtake one to a point where it pushes out personal relationships and the most important issues of life. During my time as a research fellow at the California Institute of Technology I was grieved to see the destruction of many marriages. Within the space of just a few years the majority of my colleagues who were married had gone through divorce.

Addiction Recovery
As far as I know, there is no 12-step recovery program for scientists who are addicted to their research. However, I can suggest five steps to overcome this problem. (These are written with a Bible believer in mind, but the steps can be tailored to apply to a default atheist.)

Step 1: Obey the Sabbath. On a regular basis, step away from your scientific research and spend dedicated time meditating on the most important issues of life.

Step 2: Refrain from worshipping nature. God made the natural world and universe incredibly beautiful, elegant, grand, and complex. He also made us spiritual beings; hence, we are compelled to worship. However, we can be easily tempted into misplacing our worship. As Romans 1:25 states, we must guard against worshipping and serving created things rather than the Creator.

Step 3: Diversify your relationships. I know many research scientists for whom their only close personal relationships are with fellow research scientists. This situation is akin to an alcoholic having only alcoholic friends. We all need friends who have had different education and life experiences than ourselves. We need their objectivity.

Step 4: Deepen your relationships. For many research scientists, their personal relationships are superficial. They will have deep conversations about their scientific research, but say little to one another about their emotional and spiritual states and the steps they are taking toward building more love and reconciliation into their relationships. We all crave deep, fulfilling intimacy. It takes hard work, time, and especially prayer to achieve the intimacy God wants us experience in this life.

Step 5: Take time to experience wild nature. Scientists are committed to research and study of nature but most of them do their research and study in technologically modified environments: laboratories and observatories. I was an amateur astronomer before I turned pro. It never ceased to amaze me to encounter research astronomers who didn’t know the constellations hovering above their telescope dome. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory or God.” Psalm 97:6 states, “The heavens proclaim his righteousness.” Job 12:7-10 exhorts us to learn from birds and terrestrial mammals. The problem today is that the majority of humans live in dense metropolitan cities where they cannot see more than a few stars and have little or no close contact with wild birds and mammals. I noticed how much easier it was to have deep spiritual conversations and share my Christian faith with research scientists in the high Sierra Nevadas than it was in hallways of Caltech’s laboratory buildings.

These five steps are not just for research scientists. We can all benefit from them, whether we are Christians needing to draw closer to God or default atheists needing to examine why we believe what we believe.

Check out more from Reasons to Believe @Reasons.org

Endnotes

  1. Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2014), https://shop.reasons.org/category/format/books/origins-of-life.
  2. David Deamer, “‘Origins of Life. Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off’ by Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross,” Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres 37 (April 2007): 201–3, doi:10.1007/s11084-006-9019-4.

About The Author

Dr. Hugh Ross

Reasons to Believe emerged from my passion to research, develop, and proclaim the most powerful new reasons to believe in Christ as Creator, Lord, and Savior and to use those new reasons to reach people for Christ. I also am eager to equip Christians to engage, rather than withdraw from or attack, educated non-Christians. One of the approaches I’ve developed, with the help of my RTB colleagues, is a biblical creation model that is testable, falsifiable, and predictive. I enjoy constructively integrating all 66 books of the Bible with all the science disciplines as a way to discover and apply deeper truths. 1 Peter 3:15–16 sets my ministry goal, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience." Hugh Ross launched his career at age seven when he went to the library to find out why stars are hot. Physics and astronomy captured his curiosity and never let go. At age seventeen he became the youngest person ever to serve as director of observations for Vancouver's Royal Astronomical Society. With the help of a provincial scholarship and a National Research Council (NRC) of Canada fellowship, he completed his undergraduate degree in physics (University of British Columbia) and graduate degrees in astronomy (University of Toronto). The NRC also sent him to the United States for postdoctoral studies. At Caltech he researched quasi-stellar objects, or "quasars," some of the most distant and ancient objects in the universe. Not all of Hugh's discoveries involved astrophysics. Prompted by curiosity, he studied the world’s religions and "holy books" and found only one book that proved scientifically and historically accurate: the Bible. Hugh started at religious "ground zero" and through scientific and historical reality-testing became convinced that the Bible is truly the Word of God! When he went on to describe for others his journey to faith in Jesus Christ, he was surprised to discover how many people believed or disbelieved without checking the evidence. Hugh's unshakable confidence that God's revelations in Scripture and nature do not, will not, and cannot contradict became his unique message. Wholeheartedly encouraged by family and friends, communicating that message as broadly and clearly as possible became his mission. Thus, in 1986, he founded science-faith think tank Reasons to Believe (RTB). He and his colleagues at RTB keep tabs on the frontiers of research to share with scientists and nonscientists alike the thrilling news of what's being discovered and how it connects with biblical theology. In this realm, he has written many books, including: The Fingerprint of God, The Creator and the Cosmos, Beyond the Cosmos, A Matter of Days, Creation as Science, Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, and More Than a Theory. Between writing books and articles, recording podcasts, and taking interviews, Hugh travels the world challenging students and faculty, churches and professional groups, to consider what they believe and why. He presents a persuasive case for Christianity without applying pressure. Because he treats people's questions and comments with respect, he is in great demand as a speaker and as a talk-radio and television guest. Having grown up amid the splendor of Canada's mountains, wildlife, and waterways, Hugh loves the outdoors. Hiking, trail running, and photography are among his favorite recreational pursuits - in addition to stargazing. Hugh lives in Southern California with his wife, Kathy, and two sons.



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