Chapel Talk: Dr. Jason Weibel, Science Department Faculty

March 2019
Saint James Chapel

Good morning.  Now, I know most of y’all and I’ve had many of y’all in my classes, but I’d like to start with a bit about my background.  Academic first.  I went to college at North Carolina State University where I got a Bachelor of Science, or BS, degree in Aerospace Engineering, and while I was at it, another BS degree in Chemistry, and to round it all off, a minor in Physics.  I then went to Wake Forest University for a Master of Science doing a combination of experimental physical chemistry and computational quantum chemistry.  After that, it was off to Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University to study for my Ph.D. in Theoretical Chemical Physics.  My first postdoctoral position was at the California Institute of Technology where I worked in Chemical Physics with Professor Rudy Marcus, who happened to have won the 1992 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.  After my work with Professor Marcus was finished, I got an appointment as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Postdoctoral Scholar of Atmospheric Chemistry and Astrobiology and was made a visitor in the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences at Caltech.  Then, after a stint as a university professor, here I am.

Okay, what else?  Well, I was born and baptized in Little Rock, Arkansas. I was confirmed at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Winston-Salem, NC, where I sang in the choir.  While at NC State, I attended services at Christ Episcopal Church in Raleigh, which is right across from the capital building.  In Pittsburgh, I went to church at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, where I acted as a verger,  –  you can ask Father Dunnan what that is  –  where my wife and I were married, and where Dylan was baptized.  In California, we all attended services at the Episcopal Church of the Angels in Pasadena, where both my wife and I sang in the choir this time.  Here in Hagerstown, we are members of Saint John’s parish.  I’m in the choir again, I’ve served on the vestry, and I’ve taught vacation bible school.  Basically, I’m a traditional, rather orthodox, devout, Anglo-Catholic Christian.

And that brings me to the actual topic of my talk.  I wanted to let y’all know that it is possible to be both a scientist and religious, and in my case a Christian.  The idea that there is some sort of inherent conflict between religion and science is a false one.  In fact, I see them as complementary.  Sure, people may do stupid things in the name of religion, but people do stupid things in the name of science too.  And there are numerous other scientists, philosophers, or both, that believe that science and religion are NOT diametrically opposed.  I’ll give you a few examples.

How about Francis Bacon, father of the inductive or scientific method? Or Pascal, Boyle, Newton, Kepler, Leibniz, Euler, Lavoisier, Dalton, Faraday, Babbage, and Maxwell.  Or Gregor Mendel, who was the father of modern genetics and an Augustinian Abbot.  Or George Washington Carver, a famous African-American inventor, scientist, botanist, and educator, who testified that his faith in Jesus was the only mechanism by which he could effectively pursue and perform the art of science.  

Or Werner Heisenberg, an Evangelical Lutheran, winner of the Nobel Prize, and who wrote, “Although I am now convinced that scientific truth is unassailable, in its own field, I have never found it possible to dismiss the content of religious thinking as simply part of an outmoded phase in the consciousness of mankind, as a part we shall have to give up from now on.  Thus, in the course of my life I have repeatedly been compelled to ponder on the relationship of these two regions of thought, for I have never been able to doubt the reality of that to which they point.”  

Or Richard Feynman, one of the most well-known and respected physicists among physicists, an educator, and winner of the Nobel Prize, who wrote, “I do not believe that science can disprove the existence of God; I think that is impossible.  And if it is impossible, is not a belief in science and in God – an ordinary God of religion – a consistent possibility?  Yes, it is consistent.”  

Or Richard Smalley, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1991, and who wrote, “Although I suspect I will never fully understand, I now think the answer is very simple:  it’s true.  God did create the universe about 13.7 billion years ago, and of necessity has involved Himself with His creation ever since.”  Y’all know the Big Bang Theory, the actual theory this time, not the TV show?  Did y’all know that the idea and initial derivations came from Georges Lemaître, a Roman Catholic Priest who got his Ph.D. in mathematics and physics from MIT?  

Or how about the first woman in the United States to get a Ph.D. in computer science, Sister Mary Kenneth Keller, a Roman Catholic nun?  What about Dr. William Philips, Nobel Prize winner, an active Methodist, and who was a founding member of the International Society for Science and Religion?  What of John Polkinghorne, who was the first president of that society, who also served as president of Queen’s College, Cambridge, and who served as a professor of mathematical physics at Cambridge?  He is also an Anglican Priest, who has written five books on physics and 26 books on the relationship between religion and science.  

Or Professor George Ellis, another past president of the society, and who, with Stephen Hawking, wrote the classic, “The Large Scale Structure of Space Time.”  Did you know that there is even a Society of Ordained Scientists, an international religious order in the Anglican Communion founded by Arthur Peacocke, MBE, Anglican Priest, and biochemist?  Or what about another Anglican Priest, Alister McGrath, who holds three doctorates from Oxford, one in molecular biophysics, one in theology, and one in intellectual history?

I could go on, in fact, I’ve got pages and pages of notes and examples, but I won’t.  I hope that I have shown you, at least in part, through example and note, that it is entirely possible to be both religious and a scientist at the same time.  I asked Fr. Keyes if we could use that reading from Romans 1: 18 – 25 today because I  believe it demonstrates that connection very well, as it states in verse 20 (KJV), “For, the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead.”  

Or, to put it another way, as stated by another Nobel Prize winner Ernest Walton, “One way to learn the mind of the Creator is to study His creation.  We must pay God the compliment of studying His work of art and this should apply to all realms of thought.  A refusal to use our intelligence honestly is an act of contempt to Him who gave us that intelligence.”  

So, remember to think, really think, and not just dismiss anything out of hand, whether in religion or science.  Philosophy and theology are very difficult subjects, more so than science in some ways.  I would encourage you to approach both science and religion with an open mind, full of curiosity, wonder, and awe.  Thank you.

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