Faith, Science, & the Quest for Truth

As he stood before Pilate, Jesus responded to the governor’s question about his identity as a king: “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37). Pilate replied with a question that reflected the prevailing skepticism of his time: “What is truth?” (John 18:38).

The relevancy of that question remains today. Humans yearn for truth because God created us in his image, and he is truth. Like Pilate, however, some deny the existence of truth because the desire to know truth is offset by the human propensity to resist it due to the impact of sin.

However, those who seek truth remain committed to the task and have typically followed two paths to find it: science and religion. Scientists have relied upon reason, observation, theorization, experimentation, and testing. People of faith have pursued prayer, revelation through holy scriptures, and personal encounters with their god. Though different, these two pathways are not mutually exclusive, and followers of either path need not abandon the other.

Although reason and faith are often viewed as contradictory, Christians, in particular, have historically sought to appeal to both in the quest for answers. Many of the most prominent scientists throughout history have been devout Christians, and their belief in an ordered universe created by an orderly God compelled them to seek truth, not only to answer questions about the natural world but also to prove that we can know Truth in the person of Jesus Christ. Consider the following six scientists who are as well-known for their fervent Christianity as they are for their scientific discoveries.

Johannes Kepler
Born in Germany, Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) became a Christian due to the influence of his grandfather, who also encouraged his education. After obtaining a scholarship from the Duke of Württemberg, Kepler attended the University of Tübingen. While there, in addition to mathematics and Latin, he studied the two disciplines that would define his future: theology and astronomy. Abandoning his plans to serve as a minister, Kepler became a mathematics teacher and, eventually, a local authority for measurements, surveying, and calendar making. In that role, he questioned the influence of astrology on astronomy and sought to determine what, if any, impact the movement of heavenly bodies had on earthly events. His faith in a logical Creator and his desire for truth led to his discovery of the laws of planetary motion.

Blaise Pascal
Although he only lived for 39 years (1623-1662), few scientists and philosophers have contributed more to a rational case for the validity of the Christian faith than Blaise Pascal. Perhaps best known for his work in hydraulics and probability theory, he was a devout Christian who sought to bridge the gap between great thinkers who believed reason could lead to objective truth, such as Descartes, and those like Montaigne, who thought truth was unknowable. For Pascal, God alone was true, and while reason could lead one to believe God may exist, God had not made himself knowable through observation and critical thinking alone. Instead, God reveals himself through specific encounters. As Graham Tomlin, Dean of St. Mellitus College, summarizes: “You either have this kind of intimate personal encounter with God, or you don’t have him at all. He hides himself in creation and reveals himself in humble, hidden form in a man who goes to a cross, so that those who are idly curious . . . will not find him. Yet those who hunger for him deep within themselves . . . they alone will find what they are looking for.”1

For Pascal, God alone was true, and while reason could lead one to believe God may exist, God had not made himself knowable through observation and critical thinking alone

Robert Boyle
Known as the “Father of Modern Chemistry,” Robert Boyle (1627-1691) was an Irish scientist who pioneered experimentation under strict guidelines and helped to legitimize chemistry as a science and separate it from its roots in alchemy. Boyle’s Law, which describes the inverse relationship between an ideal gas’s volume and its pressure at a consistent temperature, remains one of the first principles taught to beginning chemistry students. His reliance on experimentation to prove his theories and general reluctance to posit things that could not be proved was rooted in his deep convictions regarding intelligent design. His conviction on this belief was firm, and, as Ted Davis of Messiah College notes, “In his view, science did not merely establish the existence of an intelligent designer for the universe and some of its parts; science could actually show the truth of Christianity itself.2

Michael Faraday
Michael Faraday (1791-1867) was an English scientist with very little formal education, unlike many of his peers. When he was 14 years old, he was apprenticed to a bookbinder, which gave him access to various scientific texts, and he consumed those works with an almost religious fervor. After years of attending Sir Humphrey Davy’s scientific lectures, Faraday applied for a laboratory assistant position at The Royal Institution, was hired by Davy, and began his career as a scientist. Over time, he turned his attention to the study of magnetism and electricity, eventually creating the world’s first electric generator and the precursor to the electric motor. Far from simply a mere scientific interest, however, his curiosity regarding the relationship between electricity and magnetism was rooted in his devout Christian faith. He firmly believed that the universe, created by a God of order, operated by orderly principles, and his role as a scientist was to unveil those truths through experimentation.

Florence Nightingale
Most often remembered as the world’s most famous nurse, Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) was a remarkable scientist who revolutionized medical practice, hospital sanitization, and nurse training methods. Born in Italy to English parents with progressive educational views, Nightingale was permitted to study subjects traditionally reserved for young men, eventually developing an aptitude for medicine and nursing. She was also a professing Christian, and although the exact nature of her theological beliefs remains hard to discern, she adhered to the idea that God had created the universe and ran it according to a set of laws that must be discovered and applied to do the most good for the greatest number of people.

George Washington Carver
Famous for his contributions to the study of agriculture, George Washington Carver (1864-1943) was born into slavery. After the abolition of slavery, his family’s former master, Moses Carver, encouraged George’s education, and he became the first black student and later the first black faculty member at Iowa State Agricultural College. Carver is most well-known as the head of the Agriculture department at the Tuskegee Institute, now known as Tuskegee University. He sought ways to repair the soil of the southern United States, which had become essentially barren due to the overproduction of cotton, and he pioneered crop rotation techniques. Interestingly, although he created countless inventions ranging from peanut-based products to Worcestershire Sauce, he only patented three. His deep Christian faith propelled him to seek discoveries and led to his conviction that everyone should benefit from his designs.

Ultimately, science and faith can enrich our quest for truth and lead us to the cross, where we find its greatest expression in Jesus Christ

The pioneering work of each of these great minds reveals that faith and science are not mutually exclusive. Ideally, the two approaches to truth-seeking can be symbiotic, with the Christian faith grounding scientific pursuits in goodness and grace and science encouraging Christians to evaluate their beliefs and practices critically. Many of the tenets of the Christian faith cannot be proved through scientific experimentation, but science itself cannot address every occurrence in life, and we must accept many by faith. Ultimately, science and faith can enrich our quest for truth and lead us to the cross, where we find its greatest expression in Jesus Christ.

Dr. Jason Barker (MDiv, DMin) has served as a pastor and educator for twenty years. He is the Dean of Academics at Oak Valley College in Rialto, California, and serves as an adjunct faculty member at four other colleges and seminaries. He, his wife, and their four children live in Southern California.