Science Was My Religion
AS TOLD BY KENNETH TANAKA
“THE truth shall make you free.” Those words, on one of the seals of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), inspired me to achieve excellence in scientific knowledge. My enrollment there in 1974 put me on track to become a research scientist. After completing bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geology, I furthered my studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
While progressing as a scientist, I also went through profound changes in my spiritual views and values. Although my training in evolutionary theory had crowded out belief in God, later I was forced to reconsider my views. How did I as a research geologist also become a devoted worshiper of God? Let me explain.
A Little Boy in Awe of the Cosmos
My fascination with science started at an early age. As a child growing up in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A., I was strongly encouraged by my parents to pursue academic excellence. I enjoyed reading about the universe—the building blocks of matter and life, the fundamental forces, space, time, relativity. When I was about eight years old, my fascination with science was noted, and the school I attended assigned me to weekly sessions with a personal science tutor.
I attended Sunday school at a Baptist church, but mostly to participate in hiking and camping trips. The rest of my family showed no interest in religion or God. As I became acquainted with history and the atrocities religion had committed, my conscience impelled me to withdraw from church activities. I also began to doubt God’s existence, as science seemed to be able to explain just about everything.
A Change of Course—More to Come
I applied for college with the intention of studying physics, but in my final year of high school, I took a class in geology. This included field trips to notable rock outcrops of Washington State. I thought, ‘How wonderful it would be to combine my love of the outdoors with my love of science!’
Thus, once I arrived at college, I quickly changed my major to geology. Some of the classes I enrolled in included studies of geologic time and earth history as discerned in the fossil record. Regarding the fossil record, I was taught that species evolved. My understanding was that evolution had yet to be proved. Still, I felt that as a theory, evolution seemed to be a reasonable explanation for the available geologic evidence, especially when contrasted with popular creationism. When I heard of a forthcoming debate on campus between creationists and evolutionists, I decided not to go. It was obvious that the earth was not made in less than a week—as some creationists claim!
In spite of my strong antireligious views, my trips to study the geology of the southwestern United States forced me to review my ideas on God’s existence. There, at night, while viewing the magnificent celestial panorama through the clear desert skies, I could not help but conclude that God must have created the universe. Astronomers had confirmed that the universe had a beginning, but I could see that there would never be a purely scientific explanation for why this event had taken place. It seemed reasonable to believe that an intelligent, powerful Creator had designed and produced the cosmos around us.
Mapping Mars, Asking Questions
By the time I received my doctorate degree in the geological sciences in 1983, at the age of 27, I was mapping the geology of Mars for the U.S. Geological Survey. I have since published dozens of articles and maps relating to planetary geology for both scientific and general audiences. Serving on advisory committees for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, I worked to support spacecraft missions to Mars. Through my research and professional responsibilities, I have met respected planetary scientists from many countries, universities, and research institutions.
All that training and research experience gradually corrected my romantic childhood view of science. I came to realize that science does not have and will never provide all the answers. In particular, I came to see that science does not provide enduring purpose or meaning to life. Current scientific views predict that the universe will either collapse on itself or dissipate into a structureless mass. If nonexistence were the ultimate destiny, how could there be any meaning in existence?
Charting a New Course
In September 1981, when I was living in Flagstaff, Arizona, I came in contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses. I agreed to a Bible study with the objective of proving them and the Bible incorrect. Also, this would help me see at last what the Bible actually contains.
I began to spend several hours each week carefully examining Scriptural teachings. To my surprise, I found substantial knowledge and deep insight in the pages of the Bible. I was fascinated with researching the scientific accuracy of the Bible and the fulfillment of hundreds of detailed prophecies applying to events occurring over thousands of years of human history. I was especially impressed by how the integration of multiple Bible prophecies—in the books of Daniel and Revelation—provides a solid basis for determining that we live in “the last days.”—2 Timothy 3:1.
In studying the Bible, I was unknowingly in excellent company. I later learned that Sir Isaac Newton, regarded as one of the greatest scientific geniuses of all time, admired and intensely researched the Bible. Like Newton, I focused on prophecies in Daniel and Revelation that foretold major historical events and developments that have actually occurred.* However, I had the distinct advantage of living during and after the realization of the many prophecies that have been fulfilled since Newton’s day. I discovered that these prophecies are amazingly diverse and extensive as well as unerring and undeniable. It was an eye-opener to realize that the entire Bible, penned by more than 40 men over a period of 1,600 years, contains an internally consistent, coherent, and compelling message concerning the major issues facing humankind and its future.
Letting go of my belief in evolution did not come without resistance, however. I respected the substantial weight of scientific authority backing up this theory. Nevertheless, I discovered that all Bible statements about the physical world are entirely consistent with known facts and cannot be disproved.
I came to appreciate that in order to achieve a complete, cohesive understanding of the Bible’s extensive, interrelated contents, one cannot discount a single teaching, including the creation account in Genesis. I therefore discerned that acceptance of the entire Bible as truth was the only reasonable conclusion.
An Enduring Quest for Truth
Meanwhile, as I participated in formal scientific research, I came to see how many times theories had become widely accepted for a while, only to be proved incorrect later. Part of the challenge for scientists is that our subjects are complicated, while our data and research tools are limited. Thus, I have learned to be cautious about accepting as fact unproved theories, no matter how carefully they may be crafted.
Realistically, many fundamental aspects of our natural world cannot be explained by science. For instance, why are the available building blocks of life and the physical laws governing them perfectly suited to sustain complex life processes and ecosystems? While science is not equipped to reveal God, his inspired Word provides tangible evidence of his existence and activities as Creator. (2 Timothy 3:16) With this spiritual knowledge, we can appreciate the One responsible for the power, wisdom, and beauty evident in our physical world.
Further reinforcement of the scientific soundness of the Bible came through my scrupulous examination of various publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses, including the books Life—How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation? and Is There a Creator Who Cares About You? These publications analyze profound scientific topics and provide keen insight into current research and the conclusions of leading experts. Additionally, they discuss the consistency between known scientific facts and proper understanding of the Bible.
For example, the fossil record is shown to match the general sequence of the appearance of living forms described in the book of Genesis. Furthermore, a creative day as understood by the ancients can mean an epoch of extended duration, in much the same way as the terms “period” and “era” are used by science in describing earth history. Thus, the Bible is not at odds with scientific findings. It indicates that the creative days lasted aeons. It does not support the conclusion of creationists who believe that those days were each 24 hours in length.
Faith Versus Credulity
As a scientist, I have no taste for credulity. But I have deep respect for well-founded faith. Such reliable faith is defined at Hebrews 11:1: “Faith is the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld.” Trust in God’s promises is founded on established proof that the Bible is inspired by God. I saw the need to avoid common but baseless religious doctrines that contradict the Scriptures. These include the teachings of an immortal soul, hellfire, the Trinity, and others. Many such erroneous doctrines arose from ancient philosophy and mythology or from poor Bible scholarship. Adherence to false teachings has led to the ‘blind faith’ practiced by most religionists today, which has caused many scientists to have little regard for religion.
One of my primary responsibilities as a scientist has been to define, defend, and disseminate my research findings. Similarly, I felt compelled to teach Bible truth to others, as no other knowledge could be of greater importance. I took on this rewarding activity and was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses some 20 years ago. Then, in September 2000, I was able to increase the time I spend on my preaching activity to an average of 70 hours per month. Since then, I have had the privilege of conducting Bible studies with as many as ten interested individuals each month and seeing several students become avid Bible teachers themselves.
I still enjoy investigating Mars and other parts of the universe through the “eyes” of sophisticated spacecraft sent to explore our celestial neighborhood. Many mysteries remain to challenge science. I look forward to a future in which the human quest for both spiritual and scientific knowledge will satisfy our inquisitiveness and yield answers to our deepest questions. I have come to appreciate that true meaning in life comes with accurate knowledge of God and his purpose for mankind, which is the real sense of Jesus’ words emblazoned on one of the seals of Caltech: “The truth shall make you free.”—John 8:32, King James Version.
In his book Observations Upon the Prophecies of Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St. John, which was published in 1733, Sir Isaac Newton evaluated the prophecies in the Bible books of Daniel and Revelation.
[Blurb on page 19]
“Science seemed to be able to explain just about everything”
[Blurb on page 20]
“Science does not have and will never provide all the answers”
[Blurb on page 21]
“I found substantial knowledge and deep insight in the pages of the Bible”
[Maps on page 18]
Map of Mars
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Like Newton, I was impressed with the Bible books of Daniel and Revelation
University of Florida
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I share what I have learned from the Bible with others
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Top left: Courtesy USGS Astrogeology Research Program, http://astrogeology.usgs.gov; Mars map: National Geographic Society, MOLA Science Team, MSS, JPL, NASA; Mars surface: NASA/JPL/Caltech
[Picture Credit Line on page 21]
Space photo: J. Hester and P. Scowen (AZ State Univ.), NASA