Is There a Christian Doctrine of Chemistry?

by Matthew Moffitt

“Is there such a thing as a Christian doctrine of chemistry?,” asked my conversation partner, spluttering through his cappuccino as we sat outside Ralph’s cafe earlier this year. There was a sense of incredulity in his question, but mostly curiosity. We had been talking about an upcoming gathering of Christian postgraduates and academics in chemistry, to consider what it means to be a Christian chemist. It was going to be an unique moment to bring together Christians who worked in the particular school within the university. Do we have anything of substance to say how Jesus Christ shapes the way we do chemistry?

This is a question we frequently ask in the EU’s ministry to postgraduates and staff. Not only for chemistry, but philosophy, biology, English, linguistics, quantum physics, and so on. What does it look like in the many schools and disciplines of the university to think, labour, and live in a way that is shaped by the Lordship of Jesus Christ? So far, we have found two things to avoid.

Firstly, as we think about a Christian account of chemistry or history, we need to avoid retro-fitting Jesus into an established set of conclusions. This is when someone decides upon the purpose and narrative of an area of study, and only then considers what the gospel has to say about the discipline. What this often produces, is a glib account of how Jesus makes sense of chemistry. Whilst it may provide people space to critique their research, we want to help people do more than that with their Christian commitment.

Secondly, we should avoid the opposite end of the spectrum, where a discipline is overwhelmed with the need to be Christian. We refer to this as the encyclopaedic approach, where the final outcome is the development of a body of theory that is explicitly Christian at every step along the way. As useful as this may sound, it doesn’t account for the need of maths, for instance, to exist as maths.

Instead, we ought to attempt bridging the gap between the two alternatives. We recognise not only that academic research is a gift of God’s creation, but such gifts are actually made for Jesus Christ. This both validates academic research, and provides Christian academics with the space to question what kind of research they will conduct in the first place. How is their research fit for Jesus and the world he has made? To answer that question well, we need to be aware of the stories and assumptions within each discipline, and the way the gospel affirms, challenges, and even completes them.

So, is there a Christian doctrine of chemistry? No, there probably isn’t a doctrine, per se. But understanding what chemistry is, and that is exists for Jesus Christ, should shape the way one does research and even the kind of research you do. Ultimately, this approach will help you to re-narrate and imagine how something like chemistry can exist for the purposes of Jesus’ Lordship.


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