Science and Christianity

Conflict or Coherence?Henry Schaefer III

Discovery Institute Fellow Henry F. (Fritz) Schaefer is one of the most distinguished physical scientists in the world. This book describes how Dr. Schaefer became a Christian as a young professor of chemistry at the University of California at Berkeley.

Schaefer sees design in the universe reigning from the cosmic level to life’s history as revealed in the fossil record, and down to the microscopic cell. He argues that Big Bang cosmology provides compelling evidence for the notion of creation out of nothing. Moreover, the rapid origin of the phyla in the Cambrian explosion provides a powerful challenge to Darwinian accounts of life. Schaefer also observes that the simplest living cell, the parasitic bacteria Mycoplasma requires 300 genes. Schaefer asks “If the synthesis of life has eluded the tremendous design capacities of modern science, is there any good reason to be confident these incredibly intricate molecular systems just assembled themselves by chance?”

In a highly personalized chapter, Schaefer also recounts a debate he participated in against the Nobel Prize winning physicist and atheist Steven Weinberg. While Weinberg and Schaefer disagreed on many points, Schaefer applauds Weinberg for observing that “[s]cientists and others sometimes use the word “God” to mean something so abstract and unengaged that He is hardly to be distinguished from the laws of nature.” (quoting Weinberg, pg. 39)

Finally, Schaefer recounts the influence of scientism on science and society. When Richard Dawkins was asked if his reductionist view of reality made him depressed, Dawkins replied, “I don’t feel depressed about it. But if somebody does, that’s their problem. Maybe the logic is deeply pessimistic, the universe is bleak, cold and empty. But so what?” (quoting Dawkins, pg. 134) But this view is apparently not shared by many scientists today, at least half of which participate in religious services on a regular basis.

Throughout, the book retains the highly personal character of Schaefer’s university lectures, general respect for those with whom the author disagrees, and a delightful sense of humor. This book provides insights from experience on the ease with which a Christian can be a world-renowned scientist without compromising basic Christian doctrine.

Henry Schaefer III

Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Henry F. Schaefer III was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1944. He attended public schools in Syracuse (New York), Menlo Park (California), and Grand Rapids (Michigan), graduating from East Grand Rapids High School in 1962. He received his B.S. degree in chemical physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1966) and Ph.D. degree in chemical physics from Stanford University (1969). For 18 years (1969-1987) he served as a professor of chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley. During the 1979-1980 academic year he was also Wilfred T. Doherty Professor of Chemistry and inaugural Director of the Institute for Theoretical Chemistry at the University of Texas, Austin.