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FIRST-PERSON: Just because he/she is a scientist doesn’t make him/her an atheist

WASHINGTON (BP)–Scientists around the world have been sleeping lightly of recent, many hoping for a call from Stockholm about a Nobel Prize in fields such as chemistry, physics, physiology or medicine.

These awards have special significance this year, because it’s the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prizes. But what does it mean for Christians? We’re often told that scientists are all atheists. Well, not so. First off, surveys show that about 40 percent of scientists believe in God. But, you ask, what about the top scientists — the ones who’ve won the Nobel Prize?

The German physicist Max Born, who pioneered quantum mechanics, said, “Those who say that the study of science makes a man an atheist, must be rather silly people.” He was right, of course, and over the years, many other Nobel laureates have agreed with him.

American physicist Arno Penzias shared the 1978 Nobel Prize for discovering microwaves in space — patterns that physicists have interpreted as showing that the universe was created from nothing. Penzias said, “If I had no other data than the early chapters of Genesis, some of the Psalms and other passages of Scripture, I would have arrived at essentially the same picture of the origin of the universe, as is indicated by the scientific data.”

German-British researcher Ernst Boris Chain was awarded a Nobel Prize in medicine for his work with penicillin. Chain says, “The principle of [divine] purpose … stares the biologist in the face wherever he looks … . The probability for such an event as the origin of DNA molecules to have occurred by sheer chance is just too small to be seriously considered … .”

Chain also said, “The assumption of directive forces in the origin and development of vital processes becomes a necessity in any kind of interpretation.”

American physicist Arthur Compton discovered what we call the Compton Effect, relating to X-rays. He said, “For me, faith begins with the realization that a supreme intelligence brought the universe into being and created man. It is not difficult for me to have this faith, for an orderly, intelligent universe testifies to the greatest statement ever uttered: ‘In the beginning, God … .'”

William D. Phillips won the 1997 Nobel Prize in chemistry for using lasers to produce temperatures only a fraction of a degree above absolute zero. Phillips once quipped that so many of his colleagues were Christians he couldn’t walk across his church’s fellowship hall without “tripping over a dozen physicists.”

It’s been the conventional wisdom that scientists are atheists, but not so, by a long shot. Professor Richard Bube of Stanford says, “There are [proportionately] as many atheistic truck drivers as atheistic scientists.” But among Nobel laureates, the number who recognize the hand of God in the universe is remarkably high.

As this year’s Nobel winners appear on the news, watch what they say. If they’re like many of their predecessors, they may surprise us. Because, increasing numbers of scientists are discovering in the intelligent design school and in studies of cell structure that what you and I believe by faith is also good science.
Colson is chairman of Prison Fellowship Ministries. His daily commentary can be heard on radio stations throughout the United States, and at the Breakpoint website. From BreakPoint(r), Oct. 13, 2000, Copyright 2000, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries, P.O. Box 17500, Washington, DC 200041-0500. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. “BreakPoint (r) ” and “Prison Fellowship Ministries(r) ” are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship Ministries.

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  • Charles Colson