Friday, September 5, 2014

How Chemistry Influences My Faith

    There's a similar expression that crosses most people's faces when I tell them I study organic chemistry, as if the question are-you-smart-or-just-crazy flashes through their mind (for the record, the answer is crazy).
    So I typically reply "I love chemistry." And I mean it, but sometimes my claim comes with no reason or feeling, like I've buried them beneath my fears of failure or rejection or my enjoyable but chemistry-free times this summer. I'm also secretly afraid that I'm just fooling myself thinking that I can actually do grad school in orgo (Ha, according to TA training, this is called "Impostor Syndrome").
    But now that I'm enveloped in organic chemistry problem sets again (at last! No, seriously, I find them fun, if difficult), I've been re-discovering why I like the subject.
    That's a bit of a grand word, but it rings true. When I took freshman pre-med chemistry, I'd never learned quantum mechanics. I'd never heard of wave-particle duality or molecular orbital theory, I'd never seen the different shapes of the s, p, and d electron orbitals derived from Schrödinger's Equation (not that I cannot derive them for you, even now - sorry, Professor). I hadn't heard of Fermi contact affecting NMR spectrums. Really, I had a set, sensible way of thinking.
From Wikipedia: Two atomic p electron orbitals form a molecular pi bond.
    And chemistry blew all of those set images apart. You thought of electrons as dots? Nope. It's a cloud that's two things at once. I thought of molecules as having their bonded electrons in fixed places between two atoms? Guess again.
    The world was so intricate and crazy and above our current mind's understanding. There was so waiting much to be discovered.
    Soon I became obsessed and determined to study this subject. When I was introduced to organic chemistry, I found the puzzle-like aspect of the subject both enthralling and enjoyable. And working in a lab proved exciting, interesting ... and full of failure, because chemistry definitely teaches you to fail. Life lessons, I suppose.
    People say science and religion cannot coexist. Many religious people claim scientists have an anti-God agenda in promoting global warming and relative quantum mechanics and evolution. Many scientists view religious adherents as willfully ignorant, scared of both facts and truth.
    And so it's quite scary to say I'm a Christian and a scientist. Even if Christianity is what I believe and science what I do, they're both parts of me, both influence the other, and so separating them isn't possible (nor is it helpful).
    (Sidenote: I should clarify, when I speak of the two influencing the other, that I do not mean I consider the Bible a science book or science a holy word).
    The notion that the universe is nothing we can decipher, that sucks me in like a black hole. It's crazy-freaking-awesome. I don't want a God I can fit into my small box of limited understanding; in that case, there's no clearer sign he's a made-up entity of my mind.
    I want a God who leaves me wonderstruck.
    So, if the universe is so beyond our current understanding, how much more is God? How much more is his love and mercy and goodness and holiness?
    I find that exciting.
   And so chemistry and Christianity are not a conflict in my life. Both science and faith draw me closer in a dance with God (If I danced, that is). ;)
   What are your science/faith experiences?



  1. For context, I guess you could say that I'm christian agnostic but I personally find it very difficult to balance faith and science for two main reasons:

    1. I wasn't raised as a Christian. I was exposed to it by friends throughout the years and so I was never baptized even though I prayed and attended bible studies and sermons and the like. I find the mercy and forgiveness of a faith very comforting and I guess that's why it appeals to me but then at the same time, there are a lot of aspects that are very hard to come to terms with, especially after receiving a college education in science.

    2. Said college education in science. If there's anything I took away from my four years of chemistry classes, it would be that there is an explanation for everything, even if people don't know what the explanation is yet. For example, take the wave-particle duality theory. People may not know what causes this duality, but from all the experiments done, we are well aware that it exists.

    It's this sort of reason searching mentality that makes it very difficult for me to be able to see faith and God in the same light. I've asked a lot of friends about the actions of God and every time, I've gotten the same response: "God cannot be explained". It's always been a very unsatisfactory answer for me and frequently, it leaves me with more questions than I had before I asked. As a person of science, how can you just come to terms with this lack of understanding?

    PS. Ziegs would be disappointed but it's cool cause I can't derive it either.

  2. Honestly: I think it's the mercy and forgiveness and *good* that keeps me sticking around God. And the fact that, frankly, (and I know this isn't evidence, but it is* part of my reasons I want to believe), I just don't want this to be it. I want there to be hope and justice for those who have died in the past, too, not just the future. I actually want to be able to love everyone who ever existed.

    Now to your question... bear with my long response! First, have I had experiences I can't explain? Yes. But I don't know* that they are God or not, because not being able to explain isn't the same as having no explanation. It's be cool if these events were miracles or whatever, but I have no way of knowing that.

    So, basically, I agree that everything physical has an explanation. (side note: I've often heard people argue against the "Big Bang" because of this, but I disagree - perhaps something can come from nothing and we just don't know it yet).

    Ahem. But, science shows me that the world is so*** much more complex than we assume and discover based on our five senses. So: is the physical all there is?

    A lot of philosophers (religious and nonreligious) divide the human (and sometimes animals :D ) into two or even three: body and spirit, or body, mind/soul, and spirit. According to Jewish and Christian tradition, these are all connected. Yet science generally focuses on the physical and mental. Is it possible that there's another ... dimension if you will ... where spiritual things make sense?

    Also, is it possible that the fact that we can't grasp the idea of a Being Higher than ourselves is actually evidence towards His existence? If we could fully comprehend God, I'd assume He's made up.

    Yet I hate the "God cannot be explained" non-explanation. It's often used as a cop out, especially when dealing with God's actions that seem ... immoral. (Peter Enns just released a book called "The Bible Tells Me So" which apparently* addresses this issue). Out of curiosity, what actions are you asking about? (I've found some answers through intensive Googling ;), but not all).

    PS - Now I'm going slightly crazy trying to guess your identity!!!
    PPS - If you don't mind me asking, what is "Christian agnostic?" I've heard the term used as "I believe/hope Christianity is true but I don't know for certain" which kinda fits me too, but I don't know exactly how others define the term.
    PPPS - If this makes no sense, ask me to re-word this ish.

  3. While I think that there could be a spiritual element this this body/soul duality that a lot of philosophers mention, it's also hard to separate them when they're so tightly connected. I mean, in a very hypothetical philosophical sense, a body without a soul is nothing more than flesh and bones and (as far as we're aware) a soul without a body is nothing more than an ethereal form that cannot interact with the physical world. The body and the soul are two halves of a whole and you can't really have one without the other in this universe and so to me, it seems like to try and separate them for an explanation seems like rather faulty logic. When people credit God for all of their achievements and all that happens in their physical lives, is it really possible to separate the spirituality out of it?

    Why would you say that fully comprehending God would make you doubt his existence? If you were given the irrefutable evidence that he is real and all-powerful, what would make you say otherwise?

    It's a bit hard to think of an exact example of one of God's actions that I've asked about, but I would say one question about God in general that I've asked pretty much everyone is "What exactly is the holy trinity?" I understand that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit consist of the holy trinity, but the holy trinity is one entity, not three (or at least so I've been taught). But then at the same time, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit aren't just pieces of a whole and each one is their own distinct independent entity.

    PS. Haha it's probably more obvious than you would think.
    PPS. I would say that's the exact definition I would use to define "Christian agnostic". It's hard to say for certain because everyone has different sets of beliefs about faith and there is no cut-off that makes one person more Christian than the next. I know people that will say they straight up believe in God without any questions, but still identify as Christian agnostic because they say that the bible is an unreliable representation of God.

  4. Hi,

    I'm a Jew and a scientist, or at least I read physics and astrophysics at university for my graduate and post graduate degrees. In respect of faith and science, I believe it was Sephardic rabbi Moses Maimonides (the rambam) who argued that it was possible to understand Torah in a way that was compatible with science & that if there was a conflict between the Torah and science, then it was either the science was not understood or the Torah was being misrepresented. So whilst I find I don't believe that I take the genesis account literally and am comfortable with modern cosmology (but still believing God gave the Torah to Moses on Sinai), I do believe in the first line of Genesis/Bereshit ' bereshit bara Elohim et hashamayim ve'et ha'aretz'.

  5. I agree. Thanks for your comment!

  6. Hmm, although obviously we still have limitations, I think you have a point (meaning you're right :D ) about not being able to separate body/soul/spirit completely. (And, honestly that probably makes more sense even in Christian theology of the physical resurrection).

    If irrefutable evidence of God existed, I'd acknowledge it and be awesomely certain of Him (hint, hint, God, do you see this comment, ahem). But since irrefutable evidence doesn't currently exist (that I know of), I feel a bit uneasy when people say they, with our fallible human minds, can fully understand how our Creator works, since He's a heck of a lot wiser and grander than we are. Forgive my analogy, but I wonder if it isn't like an amoeba saying "I understand you, human!"

    Ooh, the Trinity. I have heard it described as a paradox (obviously), or a three leafed clover: three separate leaves, but they're all part of One Thing. I have also heard it described as quantum wave/particle duality, but with three instead of two. ;) That being said, I can't fully explain it either, and I seriously doubt most people (anyone?) can. Although the fact that "God is love" seems to imply that God must have distinct parts to love.
    Still, it's a question that I haven't explored totally and I think a lot of people have that question.

    PS. Curiosity might not kill my cat, but it might kill me. Just kidding. You can keep your secret identity a secret. :D :D :D
    PPS. Thank you!!

  7. Haha the whole body/soul duality was an interesting lens used to study religion in one of the courses I took, so I could talk about that for a looooong time. It's always interesting to see what people think about it.

    And I see what you mean now. I thought you were saying that even if you were faced with the evidence that you would question it but you're referring more about if someone published a book tomorrow that's like "the comprehensive guide to God" or something like that, right?

    Haha the quantum duality of the trinity, so very scientific. But I could see how looking at it as "God is love" might provide a very different way of thinking about things. Looks like I'll have to do that some day.

    Keep up the good work with the blog! And I'm sure you'll find out in due time haha.