I am a scientist—I teach physics at Swarthmore College and do research in experimental physics and physics education. I am also a Christian. There’s a common belief in America that scientists and Christians have irreconcilable differences, fueled by media coverage that finds conflict to be more attention-getting than congruence. But in fact, I’ve found that the work of being a scientist has taught me some of the deepest lessons of my Christian life. And this experience is not unique to me; there are legions of faithful Christians, both today and through the centuries, who have sought to live as disciples as they pursued the work of understanding God’s creation.
Why did I become a scientist, and a teacher of science, in the first place? Over and over, when I was a child, teenager, and college student, I experienced the sheer delight that comes with understanding the amazing physical mechanisms that are at work in our universe. This delight that the world is understandable, as well as the eagerness to try to understand it, are both deeply human. Every child I have ever met asks and loves answers to endless “why” questions (as every parent knows). This delight doesn’t come simply from knowing more than we did before. Rather, the more deeply we understand, the more we are amazed at how not just human beings but our entire universe is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14, NIV).
Encountering Simple Elegance
As a physicist, I focus on trying to understand how our universe is governed by just a few simple principles. For example, if you live in a climate with cold, dry winters, you have experienced static electricity—maybe you’ve felt an electric shock when taking off a wool sweater, getting up from an upholstered chair, or climbing out of a car on a dry winter day. You have probably used magnets to hold papers onto a refrigerator or filing cabinet. And all of us rely on light to perceive the world around us.1