Dr. Ron Chatelier is a physical biochemist. He studies the rates and energies of chemical reactions that happen inside our bodies. As chief research scientist at Universal Biosensors in Melbourne, he currently works on devices that test the blood, including a more accurate blood glucose sensor for diabetics. Dr. Chatelier is also very passionate in his faith, and in a recent interview, he told 20Twenty’s Neil Johnson that science and Christianity are not as contradictory as many people imagine.
Francis Collins, author of the Language of God, has said that “Faith and reason are not, as many seem to be arguing today, mutually exclusive. They never have been”. Dr Chatelier goes one step further, saying that science and theology can compliment each other in interesting ways which enrich both fields.
The two are often diametrically opposed because of the way atheists claim to use scientific methods to disprove God’s existence. Dr Chatelier believes that there is a critical flaw in this line of thought. “As I was thinking about Christianity and science,” he said, “I realised that in fact scientists deal in hypotheses which are falsifiable. That’s because it’s very easy to falsify a hypothesis, but very hard to verify it.”
It may be impossible to prove, for example, that Jesus rose from the dead, through scientific methods alone, but it may be possible to disprove it. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul said “and if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” Dr Chatelier interprets this as a biblical acknowledgement of the fact that, if the bones of Jesus were found, the hypothesis of Christianity would be falsified.
Celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins, on the other hand, says that any thing or event that can’t yet be explained will one day be explained by science. “And so he’s willing to wait as long as possible for science to find an alternative explanation. That sounds very fine and rational, but what he’s basically saying is that there’s no data you can give me, and no philosophical argument that you can make that will make me change my mind.”
Neil Johnson asked Dr Chatelier if he was calling Dawkins’ approach non-scientific. “I wouldn’t go for the ad hominem approach, where you attack the person instead of the issue,” he replied. “But you could say it’s non-scientific, in the sense that scientists set up hypotheses that can be falsified, and Richard Dawkins and others have set up this way of thinking which cannot be falsified.”
When talking to these atheists, it is impossible to change their minds. “But fortunately,” Chatelier reminds us, “Jesus said that the holy spirit would convict us of sin and righteousness and judgement, and so an atheist can still have a power encounter with God, and can still change. And I think this sort of thing has happened for people like Lee Strobel and so on. They’ve been convinced by God, rather than by some clever argument.”
“The thing about atheism is that it dehumanises the human experience,. Because if you have an encounter with God, then an atheist would lapse into psychobabble, and say, well, that’s because you miss the love of your father, or you’re afraid of dying, or they’ll use some other psychological argument to explain away your encounter with God. Whereas someone who is of the Christian faith can say well that’s awesome, keep going for God. I’ll support you in prayer. I’ll walk with you.”
I think scientists ought to praise God most loudly, because we understand the very fine detail.
Dr Chatelier says that science, too, is enriched by a theistic point of view. “I find my faith is actually a motivation to do science,” he said. Psalm 19 says “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Chatelier sees this as a great reason, for example, to study astronomy. But the stars are only the most obvious place to examine God’s artistry.
“In fact I think scientists ought to praise God most loudly,” he said, “because we understand the very fine detail. One way to approach science is you can just think of it as a rational study of the universe. And that’s a great definition. But if you want to add a bit of purpose to it, you could say that it’s the rational study of the glory of God in the material universe.”
Neil Johnson asked Chatelier whether approaching science without a sense of divine purpose made study less meaningful. “I haven’t thought of it in those terms,” he replied. “But I would imagine that if someone had only a materialistic view of the universe, then as that sense of wonder started to build in them, they would have to try and push it down a bit, because if that wonder gets big enough, it starts looking like worship. And that just wouldn’t be allowed, if you’re just a materialist.”
The bible is also cradle to grave, so it has to be as relevant to a college graduate as to a high school student, or an older person.
As much as worship can make science more exciting, Chatelier says that scientific methods can help in our bible study. In order that we be open to the holy spirit, he suggests that we treat our beliefs like hypotheses.
“When a scientist sets up a hypothesis, and starts collecting data, then he or she can either accept, reject or modify the hypothesis. And in the same way you may start with a certain set of doctrines, but if you find that there’s a better way of thinking about the bible, or maybe you have more information about the background of the bible, you might then start to modify that as well.”
The ability to adapt your beliefs to new evidence and learning is an important part of leading by example in church. “I think that showing people you’re willing to change is very important, because if someone walks into our church, we expect them to be vulnerable and open to new ideas, and open to change, and open to having the foundations of their life shaken. It would show so much integrity if we could say to them, we are also willing to put ourselves out there, and be vulnerable, and change.”
This adaptability is also seen among scientists. When Dr Chatelier was a student in the seventies, we believed that only 2 per cent of our DNA was significant, and the rest was “junk”. We now understand that junk DNA is actually extremely important in our programming. “So that’s a huge change in the last forty years.”
He also points out that our church leaders have a responsibility to be rigorous in their research, to seek out the original meaning and context in the Greek and Hebrew languages in which the bible was written. “I think though we have to be careful that, because now we have an understanding of molecules and thermodynamics and so-on, and the people who wrote the bible did not.”
“So any interpretation we try and put on it, it has to be true across all nations, and races, and tribes. And I think the bible is also cradle to grave, so it has to be as relevant to a college graduate as to a high school student, or an older person. So we need a sensitivity as well, as we come to interpret.”
Click here to read more about Dr Chatelier’s story, and his unique perspective on worship.