When I was six or maybe seven years old, I used to sit alone on my parents’ bedroom floor and watch Star Trek reruns. I traveled with the crew of the Enterprise to “where no man has gone before” and felt especially fascinated by alien cultures: Romulans, Vulcans, and Klingons. The stories captivated my imagination.
My mother, too, helped fuel my curiosity by taking me to the library every week. At age 11 or 12, I joined a science fiction book club that opened my mind to more possibilities. I devoured the works of Isaac Asimov, Roger Zelazny, and Arthur C. Clarke. Maybe space travel beyond the moon would be possible in my lifetime, I hoped. Or maybe I could be a starship captain when I grew up. Eventually, I settled on becoming a scientist—arguably the next best thing.
Just after my 12th birthday, while perusing titles in a small bookshop, I happened upon a series of books by C. S. Lewis (who was unknown to me at the time) and used birthday cash to purchase The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. A subsequent snowstorm left me confined to the world of Narnia, and the stories began unlocking connections between exploration, discovery, and Christian ideas.
On a hot summer day the following year, the lifeguard at our neighborhood pool approached me as I sat on the edge and dangled my feet in the water. I was serving my time-out for breaking the rules. She bent over and asked, “Are you saved?” Although her question made little sense to me at the time, that interaction set me on a path that reached its peak when I gave my life to Jesus the following fall.
As I think back over my childhood love of learning and also my faith conversion, I see them not as separate, concurrent narratives but rather as one integrated story. In other words: My love for science and my love of Jesus have been shared experiences for most of my life. Both invite me into spaces of curiosity and imagination. Both encourage me to ask questions, seek truth, and explore the world around me. And both call me to discover what’s possible, real, and trustworthy.
Free to Question
I pursued science in large part because science placed fewer constraints on what I could do and how I could contribute as a woman. By contrast, in organized Christian institutions, I often found my pursuits limited or discouraged by others’ policies, perspectives, and practices. Although some colleagues in science had strange perspectives about women’s abilities and roles in science and education, research science was on the whole a more level vocational playing field.
In research, everyone was expected to back up ideas with sound reasoning, well-controlled experiments, and reproducible data. The best questions and insights were valued irrespective of gender or race or any other personal identifier. In sum: Science provided the perfect environment for asking questions and exploring possible answers.
Over the years, Christian fellowship has provided a similar space to seek truth and ask hard questions. I love that God promises that those who seek wholeheartedly will find (Jer. 29:13) and that his promise is not limited by any human identifier. One might say that God has the best nondiscrimination policy.
My confidence is anchored in my identity in Christ and the truth of God’s self-revelation. Yes, I’m a woman, a scientist, an academician (and single!), but I am first a child of God and a follower of Jesus. My primary identity comes from the fact that I am made in God’s image for the purpose of knowing, serving, and following him and also for the purpose of loving others made in God’s image.
Science and Faith in Harmony
When I was heading off to graduate school, I had a good friend offer me one of the most significant and invaluable challenges of my life. She said, in so many words, “In the next five years or so, you will study and become an expert in molecular biology and virology, but in the next five years, how much will you grow in your knowledge of and relationship with God?”
That same day, I prayerfully resolved in my heart before God that I would put him first and make my relationship with him a priority during my time in graduate school. Fulfilling that commitment required determined action. I sought Christian fellowship, joined a local church and campus ministry, joined and led Bible studies, and tried to carve out a weekly Sabbath around my studies and research.
During my post-doctoral years, I discovered the Rivendell Institute at Yale, a group of Christians committed to integrating Christian thought with each academic discipline and bringing a Christian voice to academic conversations. I began to think more deeply about the integration of faith and science, and I began to reflect on the nature and purpose of God’s self-disclosed revelation.
More than anything else, my graduate and post-graduate work deepened my belief in this truth: God assures us that he has in fact revealed himself to us in nature, Scripture, the Incarnation, and the lives of those transformed by spiritual rebirth in Christ. His purpose for creation is for us to come to know, love, and trust him, and so of course he reveals himself to us reliably.
As I see it, Christian faith resonates deeply with the noblest aspects of science: seeking truth and sharing knowledge for the betterment of all.
Science Leads Me to Deeper Worship of God
I work now as a research scholar for an organization called Reasons to Believe, where I write about theological perspectives on viruses. I’m also engaged in alleviating tensions around high-conflict issues like the origin of life, the extent of evolution in creation, and the existence of natural evil. Navigating these polarized debates is challenging, and unfriendly fire often comes from both directions. But when I focus on the things Jesus calls me to, I find my way through the hazards and am able to love those who view issues differently than I do.
Here, too, just as in graduate school, my identity in Christ is still my anchor. I find myself once again running in two concurrent pathways, where both faith and science are inviting me to go “further up and further in,” as C. S. Lewis writes in The Last Battle. I flourish not because of what science or the world tells me about being a woman in science or a woman in the church. I flourish because God enables my curiosity and imagination. He points me toward intellectual adventure and tells me who I am—his beloved child, pursued at a great price.
The same is true for all of us. God loves each of us and longs for us to know his enduring presence. That presence is revealed through what early theologians called the “book of nature” and the “book of Scripture.” Both unveil a God who creates with near-infinite diversity, acts with intimate relatability, and proclaims our incomparable worth.
Although not all of us have an aptitude for science, we’re all called to explore these “books” with the full capacity of our God-given curiosity. Only then can we surrender ourselves to the Lord of all for the blessing of those around us, the proper stewarding of creation, and the flourishing of generations to come.
Anjeanette Roberts conducted SARS-CoV research at the National Institutes of Health from 2003 to 2006 and holds degrees in chemistry (BS), cell and molecular biology (PhD), and Christian apologetics (MA). She blogs at Theorems and Theology and speaks frequently in schools, universities, civic organizations, and churches. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.