Enriching the view: a biologist finds Jesus

Abigail Patterson 15 Apr 19

The natural world has never ceased to fascinate me. Growing up, my Mum was always dragging me in from the garden, where I had several “projects”. These generally involved collecting woodlice, ants, water snails and various other bits of flora and fauna I found interesting; many of these specimens would become resident in my bedroom! As a teenager, I loved escaping to the woodlands surrounding my Kentish home for exploration and contemplation. It was hardly a surprise when I chose to study biology at university, and over the years I’ve loved working in everything from bat conservation to palaeoecology! However, I currently work as Development Officer for Christians in Science. How I came to be in this position is not a straightforward story, and I share my testimony with the prayer that it will encourage you to think more deeply about your own faith and scientific studies. 

My family background is Catholic, and whilst I took my faith seriously as a teenager, I didn’t seriously engage with the questions I had about my faith. Perhaps that is why when I went up to university, my head was so easily swayed by lecturers scorning Christians who did not accept evolutionary theory, and questions in exam papers such as “Why did Darwin’s theory of natural selection remove the need for a God?”. In my undergraduate days, I ignored and fell away from my faith.

Following my degree, things began to change. I had been struggling with my mental health for four years and knew something in my life was not right. I was bought up to be curious and questioning about the world, and gradually began to realise that whilst I had applied this philosophy to my scientific research, I had not applied it to my views on religion. I began exploring Christianity again, and by God’s grace, and the encouragement and support of a Christian friend studying Physics, gave my life to Christ in November 2016.

Of course, my perceived tensions between science and Christianity didn’t just disappear, but as I returned to the questions that had previously caused me to stumble, I had the firm foundation of my belief in the Gospel and trust in the Bible. Coming from this standpoint has enriched my love and understanding of the natural world more than I could have imagined. Psalm 104 proclaims: “How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all”. I think it is an immense gift from God to be a scientist; what a joy to be able to understand the workings of God’s creation more deeply, and how humbling to realise we are only just beginning to scratch the surface of this knowledge!

However, it is undeniable that being a scientist and a Christian can lead to some challenging theological questions. I heard a sermon recently on the topic “Why is the God of the Old Testament so violent?”. The pastor said one of the most important things about this subject is not avoiding it, because it is a question that frequently arises for both Christians and non-Christians. I believe this is the same for science and Christianity. Thinking about what it means to be a Christian scientist can seem challenging, and you might even worry that it could compromise your faith. However, in my experience, delving into science and faith with my firm foundation in the Gospel has enriched my relationship with God and given opportunities to be salt and light amongst secular colleagues and friends.

Nevertheless, we cannot walk this journey alone. 1 John 1:7 tells us “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…”. One of the joys of being a Christian is that we are united in Christ, and therefore can turn to our brothers and sisters for fellowship and guidance. Finding a Christian scientist to read the Bible with made a huge difference for me. God will never cease to surprise me, as that Christian scientist is now my husband!

In all seriousness, sometimes being a Christian scientist can feel like a lonely place to be. You have lots of questions, but sense hostility in your department towards religion, or perhaps don’t have many scientists in your church whom you can talk to. However, UCCF has provided a fantastic opportunity for you to reach out to other Christian scientists with the Science Network. Christians in Science also has an established project for resourcing and supporting students, and I pray that after reading this you will be in touch. We would love to visit your CU, to give a talk on science and faith and point you in the direction of our resources and opportunities. Check out our website and app for more details on what we can offer and send me an email!

Colossians 3:17 tells us: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Far from being absent from your studies, God has granted you the gifts to study his creation through science. Engaging wholeheartedly with this is a glorious way to praise Him and, ultimately, give thanks for what Jesus achieved on the cross. In a world of increasing scientific atheism, we need Bible-believing Christian scientists more than ever before. So, trust in God, ask the big questions, seek fellowship, and ultimately, equip yourself to spread the Good News of Jesus to the lab bench, the field and beyond. An exciting journey awaits!