Phil’s story: the physicist


I remember, as a child, looking up at the sky, imagining the vastness of creation and asking how and why. My simple and naïve conclusion was that God did it. I was not raised in a theistic home, and my musing about God came from the marvel and joy at the world around the influences around me delighted in the ‘naivety’ of my early beliefs. You must know that sneaky smug feeling: the one that says that science has disproved God, so we can get on with life without worrying about him. I don’t think I ever fully believed this but I certainly lived like I did.

Later, in the midst of various university studies, I began to face the internal strife of a life lived in conflict with the values that were deep in my heart. It caused me a lot of pain and confusion, it was like feeling a persistent home sickness. Typically, I approached this as a problem to solve! I ended up going to church. It was somehow way of acknowledging my discomfort in ignoring God, and inviting him to be part of my life. I became a Christian. At this point, I must say, I trusted very little of the Bible.

As the internal conflict vanished, another, intellectual conflict began to rage. Simply put: how as a scientist, could I believe in God? Part of this was resolved easily. By now I was studying for a PhD in nuclear physics and I knew plenty of academics. Some believed in God, others didn’t. The crucial thing that I observed here was that in almost every case their spiritual beliefs had very little to do with science. In fact there was a much stronger correlation between a person’s belief and their lifestyle choices.

The bigger problem was the shame associated with the start of the Biblical book Genesis, the first few chapters of which cover the beginning of time. The idea of creation in six days is, as you are likely aware, widely derided. I felt conflicted. How could I be a Christian if it meant believing this?

It took me a long time to unravel everything. My basic conclusion was that a thorough study of Genesis shows it to be a book about who God is rather than how God created the world. As such the how becomes a secondary (though interesting!) question that from a Christian perspective has a number of reasonable explanations. Once I had grasped this, the internal conflict went away, and I felt excited about the freedom to explore how the universe was created.

I have realised that because I believe in God, I am free to openly explore the big scientific questions around where we came from, because my central beliefs are not threatened by these questions. God’s existence, logically speaking, is not contingent on how the universe, or humanity, came about anyway. However, if I did not believe in God, I would feel the need to search for another explanation regarding how we came to be.

Ironically, I have come full circle back to the view of God that I held as a child. But I no longer see it as naïve.

Phil Keates holds a Phd in Nuclear Physics from the University of Birmingham and works with Student Life in Newcastle.

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