God in the Lab: how science enhances faith, and vice versa

Science and religion complement each other, says Ruth Bancewicz.Reuters

There is an old myth circulating that Christianity and science are enemies. It gets trotted out regularly by atheists on social media and the recent flurry of atheist and Christian dialogue kicked off by Stephen Fry has seen it referred to regularly.

Dr Ruth Bancewicz of the Faraday Institute has launched a new book, God in the Lab: How Science Enhances Faith, to put the record straight. Bancewicz makes the bold claim that science enhances faith and she has the track record to be able to make a strong case: she has worked in genetic research and now spends her time working at the intersection of science and faith at the University of Cambridge.

Krish Kandia: How does your science help your faith?

Ruth Bancewicz: Here are two examples. Science expands my view of the world, and because I believe God created the entire universe, science also enlarges my view of God. What I see using the tools of biology is a world that is incredibly complex, interconnected, and very beautiful. What a great God!

Studying science has also taught me to think rationally and analyse different kinds of data. I use these skills whenever I think about the evidence for the existence of God, whether Christianity makes any sense, or if it is worth changing the way I live my life.

KK: How does your faith help your science?

RB: Science is a particular way of looking at the world that anyone can learn, whatever their overarching worldview might be. Of course, when I was working in a lab my worldview hopefully helped me to do science in a better way. I hope that my faith informed the way I interacted with my colleagues – being helpful, thoughtful and willing to share.

My faith also gave me hope when things weren't going well. I knew that what I was doing was part of a larger plan, and it wasn't the end of the world whether my experiments worked or not in the short term. Of course I tried my hardest, and when things did work it was wonderful to be able to contribute another piece to the jigsaw of our knowledge about the world.

KK: How does your faith help you to do science "in a better way"? Is it just about being nice to your colleagues or does Christianity motivate you to do science for different reasons? Does your faith actually give you more reason to think science will actually work; that the universe will be intelligible?

RB: Yes, it certainly gives a firm grounding to the assumptions that scientists have to make. We assume that we are rational, and that the universe can be understood and described in mathematical ways. That was a step of faith for the first scientists, and one that they made because they believed in a God of order.

KK: It seems to me that science is rarely referred to or engaged with from the pulpit except to be denounced or ridiculed. Has this been your experience? What effect is it having?

RB: Thankfully, I haven't had many negative experiences. Often science isn't mentioned at all in sermons, but when it is spoken about it is often in the context of the beauty or wonder of the world, which is great. At times there are issues around Genesis, but I think these are mainly theological rather than scientific.

I think the silence about science in today's preaching is partly understandable because those doing the speaking are not all scientists and there are so many other important issues to talk about. But we do need to affirm science as a worthwhile activity for Christians, and not shy away from it because of the debates. Part of my role is to help people to become more confident that there is a positive relationship between real science and genuine faith, and that science can be part of our whole-life worship of God.

KK: As I travel around universities in the UK I still notice a large gender imbalance in science. Many more women seem to study biology than men, yet many more men study physics and engineering than women. As a woman in the world of science, why do you think that is?

RB: I expect the reasons for people's decisions in that area are complex and influenced by all sorts of cultural factors. If girls are put off by the geeky image of the more mathematical sciences, or parents have a latent fear that girls are 'not good at maths', then it's time to think again.

Biologists today learn a huge range of technical skills, using chemistry and complex equipment as well as things that are more recognisably biological - and there's always a mathematical element in any field of science. Physicists are flocking to biology as a source of interesting subjects to study these days, so the boundaries between scientific subjects are becoming increasingly blurred.

Hopefully as the number of role models in different careers increases, girls will see that they don't have to pigeonhole themselves, but can use their God-given talents wholeheartedly. I can think of a number of women in my church who are working in very mathematically-based subjects. They are a great example of the spirit of Proverbs 31 in action – working hard and doing what they are good at!

KK: What would you say to a young person in church trying to decide if they should go to university to study science?

RB: I would encourage them to go for it if they find it interesting. There will inevitably be some issues to consider, but what could be better than studying the world God made? I'd also encourage them to join Christians in Science where they can get to know others who are in the same boat.

KK: By the way, who should buy your your book?

RB: I wrote it for someone who is fascinated by science, but might not know a lot about it. They have not had a chance to find out what it's like for a person of faith to actually do science. So the book opens the laboratory door, in a sense, and shows how studying beautiful things can help faith to grow.

God in the Lab: How Science Enhances Faith (Monarch, Jan 2015) is available for £8.99 from lionhudson.com. Ruth Bancewicz is also leading a series of evening lectures on God in the Lab at London School of Theology in March.