UCI’s Christian Club Hosts a Panel on stem and Faith

by: Deryn Harris

UCI’s Christian club Cru, hosted a science event, “A Panel on STEM and Faith,” on Feb. 28. Four prominent Christian science, technology, engineering and mathematics professors at UCI discussed their faith and how it coincides with their careers. The panel included Dr. Gregory Brewer, an adjunct professor in the Biomedical Engineering department; Dr. Elliot Hui, an assistant BME professor; Dr. David Reinkensmeyer, a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology and BME; and Dr. Jack Brouwer, a professor in the MAE department.

The four professors were asked a variety of questions by a student moderator and discussed how Christianity intersects with their work in STEM fields. Each panelist discussed their journey to their faith and how it affected their career choices.

Dr. Brouwer said his faith gave him integrity and guided him towards environmental science to make a difference in the world.

“I care about the world being around and having it support my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren and thousands of generations thereafter. That makes me think we have to solve some problems with energy and the environment. It directed me into the field I’m working in… Are Christians environmentalists? Absolutely. The love we have for what God has given us — that drove me to want to do something about that,” he said.

Dr. Hui stated that he looked to Jesus as inspiration for his work: “Jesus was a servant leader… I think of that when I’m teaching a class or managing a lab. Hopefully I’m behaving in a way that is showing them love and compassion, that I’m making sacrifices to benefit them. I was guided towards doing research that would benefit others.”

When Dr. Brewer was working on his Ph.D., he was told he would have to find a new project and would potentially not graduate on time. After hearing this, he spent some time in the mountains praying to God. Within a year, he managed to finish his Ph.D.

“I was convinced that God would see me through that… I see faith interacting with work and with life in general. I saw God intervene in my life… I got a Ph.D. in four years instead of the average of five,” Dr. Brewer stated.

When asked if the panelists felt like outliers in their STEM fields because of their faith, Dr. Reinkensmeyer discussed some statistics recorded by a sociologist, Elaine Ecklund, at Rice University. According to Reinkensmeyer’s account, the statistics show 28 percent of scientists at elite universities believe in God, 30 percent consider themselves atheists, and the remaining 42 percent are agnostic, meaning they neither believe in nor deny the existence of God.

“Only about ten percent of scientists said their faith decreased because of their scientific career,” Reinkensmeyer explained.

When asked about the compatibility of science and faith, Dr. Bouwer stated that often the church erroneously assumes that a scientist’s findings go against a Bible teaching.

“I don’t think there’s any incompatibility. I think we are given answers in Scripture that are not necessarily scientific answers, and science can answer some of those questions better. But what we are given in the Bible is even better than that…. It’s not how we work, but why. It’s why did this happen? Why are we here? Do you think science gives you a good answer for that? I don’t think so. But I know the Bible gives you a good answer for that,” said Brouwer.

In a question and answer session, the panelists discussed how they have been treated in their fields for their faith. The panelists mentioned that while no one has directly mocked them for believing in God, there have been times when scientists discussed Christianity in front of them. Dr. Reinkensmeyer recalled such an event:

“One time I was sitting in a conversation with an elite group of scientists and people began to mock Christians right there in front of me… I had to say ‘Yeah, I’m actually Christian,’ and they felt embarrassed obviously.”

Dr. Brewer believes he may have lost his first job as an assistant professor in the School of Medicine at USC because of his beliefs.

“I had two research grants, as much or more than most people in the department, and they denied me tenure. I think maybe it was because I was openly expressing my faith, not in any obnoxious way, but I was attending weekly Bible meetings with other students… At that point I didn’t know of anybody in my department who was a Christian.”

Brewer now works at UC Irvine and has been promoted to tenured professor.

“Thirty three years later God is blessing my career,” Dr. Brewer stated.  

As the event wrapped up, the panelists answered how they navigate their faith and the scientific theory of evolution.

Dr. Brouwer believes that the creation story in the Bible and the theory of evolution are compatible.

“In the creation story there’s nothing that tells us how in the world He [God] did it… It doesn’t tell us anything about the scientific methods he used… These [in the Bible] are not literal stories, these are figurative descriptions of what God did. How he did it, I’m not going to figure out until I get to heaven,” Dr. Brouwer said.

Dr. Hui admitted that the theory of evolution is an area that many Christians disagree on. Similarly to Dr. Brouwer, Dr. Hui personally believes there is no incompatibility between evolution and the Bible.

“I am a little bit agnostic as to the exact mechanisms of how things happened. I think that there is a lot of scientific evidence that supports what we call evolution. There are places with more certainty and other aspects with less certainty, but I don’t see how a lot of evolutionary theory is in conflict with what the Bible says,” Dr. Hui stated.

Dr. Brewer affirmed his belief in molecular evolution, but he is not convinced that interspecies evolution occured.

“Never have I observed any reports in the scientific literature of macroevolution, where the succession of molecular changes, changes one species into another, as is proposed in the tree of life by Darwin… I see a conflict in the theory of evolution where chance events have created life,” Dr. Brewer said.

Dr. Brouwer then stated that he too believes that the theory of changing species is not proven by science.

“It’s a theory, you have to believe it. It takes at least as big a leap of faith to believe that theory as it does to believe that God created each of the species after their own kind and they have evolved ever since,” he said.

“There is a fair amount of data that can be interpreted as ways to link between the species,” Hui rebutted. “I think there is disagreement between Christians, but I think there is definitely pieces of data you can point to consistent with the theory of interspecies evolution.”