Christianity, Science, and Teamwork
by Robert C. Frank
I live in the middle of the United States but recently had the wonderful experience of visiting St. Luke’s Anglican Church in Emerald, Queensland, Australia. Well - I didn’t physically go to Australia, I visited their website (1) and found it truly inspiring. My visit to their website seems unremarkable in our current world, but thoughtful analysis reveals the miracle that it represents. In the later years of my life, I have been searching for a natural link between Christianity and science and eventually found it to be “teamwork in creation.” Christianity and science are both involved in the creation of civilization on earth and both are dependent on teamwork.
The Christian concept of teamwork can be traced back to the Apostle Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians. In 1 Cor. 12, Paul’s brilliant observation is that the parts of the human body are all different, but they depend upon each other. It was his vision that the followers of Jesus Christ would be like that and understand their dependence on each other. They would see that they achieve their purpose in life through their relation to each other. In today’s world we are reminded of this lesson in human dependence by our team sports rather than by Paul’s wonderful comparison with the parts of the human body. For example, the catcher for the Chicago Cubs has no purpose unless there is a pitcher. Think about that. Everyone on a baseball team is needed at some point in the game, and success depends upon their cooperation and support of each other.
Today, the word "team" is used so often it seems like everyone should know what it means, but to really appreciate the team concept takes thought and analysis. The special characteristics of a team are the following: (1) Each member of a team has a different ability, a different responsibility, and a different view of the team effort; (2) The activities of the team members must be coordinated so they support and don’t interfere with each other; (3) The goal of the effort must be understood by everyone on the team.
The formation of large teams for scientific research perhaps began with the Manhattan Project, which involved the team of scientists that created the first atomic bombs. Scientists were secretly brought from all over to Los Alamos, New Mexico to develop the bombs. It was a remarkable story of teamwork, and from then on most of scientific research gradually became a team effort.
During my career as a physicist, I worked on large research teams at the General Motors Research Laboratories for ten years, at Argonne National Laboratory during a one-year sabbatical, and on a scientific project at Augustana College that required collaboration with scientists from Argonne and the University of Illinois. I was always aware that my research work was a team effort. I obtained advice and support for the research from many other scientists, engineers, and technical assistants. The results of my research were made available to others through publication in European and American journals.
The development of the microchip is an extraordinary story of teamwork in science. It began with the development of the transistor in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s at what was then Bell Laboratories. Once people realized that it was possible to amplify electrical signals in semiconductor materials like germanium and silicon, it was only a matter of time before electrical circuits were being made smaller and smaller. Gradually scientists from all over the world became involved. The tiny electrical circuits were first used in radios, then TV sets, then word-and-image-processing computers, and finally in control systems for satellites. Today the number of scientists and engineers who are working on projects related to communication that involves microchips is enormous and has produced a totally connected civilization .
During the first 14 centuries of Christianity, there were no printed Bibles and only a very small percentage of the people could read. The printing press was invented in about 1440 CE, and the Gutenberg Bible was printed shortly after that. However, it was elementary science and technology that made the Gutenberg Bible possible. The invention of the printing press required some physics, and the creation of paper and ink required some chemistry. That was the beginning of a long history of the alliance between Christianity and science. Christianity wanted all the followers of Jesus to be able to read and have copies of the Bible, and science was needed to provide the tools needed to produce the Bibles that motivated people to learn to read.
Today the gospel of Jesus Christ is spread all over the world using the tools of communication created with the aid of science and technology. Like the church in Australia mentioned in the beginning of this essay, most church congregations have websites that can be viewed in seconds by people from many different countries. Each day the Internet provides a long list of Christian news items that people can read on their computers. They can link up with other Christians in discussion groups exploring topics that they have a special interest in. In less than five minutes they can download and read new Christian books on their Kindles or with free software on their personal computers. It seems to me that all of these benefits should naturally lead us to the conclusion that science is a gift that God gave us to help us spread the gospel and relieve suffering.
It is time for Christians to take the Apostle Paul’s description of the Body of Christ seriously and become the unified Christ’s Team that he envisioned. As he said, we don’t all have to be alike or even think alike, but we do need to be aware of our dependence on each other and work together to provide better lives for all people. That is the goal that we pray for when in the Lord’s Prayer we say, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
A slide presentation about science and Christianity with the title “Creating a Better World for All People” can be found here, and can be used in adult Christian education classes in churches if desired.
Robert C. Frank has been a Christian his entire life and a research physicist and college professor during his adult life. He spent 10 years as a research physicist at the General Motors Research Laboratories, and then felt called by God to develop the physics department at Augustana, a Lutheran college in Rock Island, Illinois. Later at Augustana, he continued his research in collaboration with scientists at Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Illinois. He did his undergraduate work at St. Olaf College and received his master’s and doctor’s degrees in physics at Wayne State University in the multicultural city of Detroit.
Robert has always had an interest in Christian outreach and after his retirement, wrote Christ’s Team: A 21st Century View of Christianity, a book about Christianity, science, and teamwork.(christsteam.com)