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In Christ & Culture podcast with Dr. Ken Keathley, we explore how the Christian faith intersects all avenues of today’s culture through conversations with leading thinkers.
Today’s Episode: What does physics have to do with faith? Dr. Jennifer Wiseman shares her journey as a Christian astrophysicist and gives advice for fellow believers interested in the STEM fields. Listen to the conversation above, or read a handful of excerpts.
What role does awe or wonder play in the scientific enterprise?
“I think wonder and awe should fit through the whole sequence of the scientific enterprise. In other words, a whole sense of awe and wonder about the natural world should inspire curiosity, to begin with, which should then inspire scientific investigation. Hopefully awe and wonder inspire the whole process of scientific study, and then awe and wonder at the findings of scientific investigation.
“Astronomy I think has a little bit of an easier way of dealing with this because almost everything we look at almost immediately inspires a sense of awe and wonder….
“Science is a wonderful tool to help us understand the details of how these natural processes work. And I don’t think that should in any way take away the sense of wonder and awe. In fact, just the opposite. I think understanding the pattern of how things work and how natural laws and mathematics work together to successfully create these macroprocesses that we observe in nature should actually give us an even deeper sense of awe and wonder. I especially feel this as a Christian believer that these are things we should be very grateful for, that the natural world is providential and it works.”
Awe and wonder inspire the whole process of scientific study,
Dr. Wiseman’s journey as a person of science and faith.
“We all had an understanding that natural world around us is God’s creation. And I actually think that set the foundation for my love of science. Because properly understood, understanding the natural world as being something that is rooted in God’s intentions is a good basis for those of us who are Christians to go into science. We understand we’re studying the details of something that is good and that honors God for us to learn more details with integrity about what the natural world is like.
“I think those basic foundations of love and of understanding the goodness of creation and feeling that studying the details of it is honoring to God all helped to open the doors for me to go into science, even though I didn’t know any scientists per se.
“My faith walk has been more about how I live out this life of faith in very different contexts. And that’s true for all of us. We enter different ages of our life, or we move to different places, or we go on different career paths. It’s like starting all over again in some sense. How do I walk with the Lord in this area and that area? That’s kind of been my walk of faith — going off to a faraway place to get my education, studying things I didn’t personally know anyone in my family that studied before, and going from there. So it’s been quite a wild a wonderful ride.”
Encouragement for students who want to study STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).
“I think studying the natural world through science and its applications (through technology and engineering) can be a wonderful way of using one’s gifts, talents and interests. It’s not separate from a life of ministry; it can be a life of ministry in many different ways.
“First of all, I’m a big fan of what we call basic research. I don’t think all kinds of scientific work needs to have an immediate, obvious application. We all want cancer to be cured, we all want some of our big problems solved. But the way science works is that you first need to understand some of the very basic principles, and that’s called basic research. So that means, yes, the study of basic theoretical physics is important. Yes, the study of cosmology and astronomy is important. Yes, the study of basic biological theory is important. And then those things help form the foundation for the more applied research and technology, which can be used to both address problems (whether it’s health problems or challenges in human flourishing in different ways) or whether it’s inspiring new frontiers like space exploration.
“All of that comes under the rubric of first (as a Christian) honoring God by honoring God’s handiwork, by studying it with integrity. And then using that knowledge in a way that uplifts others and helps others to uplift others. So that to me fits right in with a Christian calling. So anyone who is interested in studying these kinds of fields should feel welcome to come in, in fact invited to study.
“I hope parents who have children who have talents in these areas can encourage them to go into that as a very appropriate career direction for a person of faith, and even if you’re not going to be specifically a scientist or engineer, turns out that almost every thing in our lives these days is intimately involved with science and technology, even if we’re not thinking about it…. Everything is enriched and aided if we have an accurate and good understanding of where science and technology are right now.”