Why Anabaptists Should Study Science

by | |

First, a brief introduction.  I am a nuclear engineer by training and profession, which is probably why the prompt to write an article on this subject was presented to me.  Prior to selecting my major, I did not know exactly what engineering was.  Basically, engineering is applying science and math in a way that is useful to people.  There are all sorts of engineers – civil, electrical, chemical, mechanical, aerospace, biomedical and more. I settled on nuclear engineering, because I was always fascinated by atomic theory and quantum mechanics and thought studying those topics under a more practical engineering degree would lead immediately to useful work beyond academia.  And that has indeed been the case.

While science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (also known as ‘STEM’) were the subjects I studied, and now apply in my daily work, I have to confess, I have not previously developed a thoughtful explanation for how all these things fit into my Christian worldview.  Instead, I just took it for granted that my study and work were both compatible and complementary to my faith. 

However, I know this can be an area Christians, and Anabaptists in particular, struggle with.  For many reasons, we live in a world that for centuries has been increasingly embracing a secular/spiritual divide. Anabaptist theology has historically been critical of Christian traditions which seem to embrace that divide.  As Harold S. Bender articulated it in his work, The Anabaptist Vision, “First and fundamental in the Anabaptist vision was the conception of the essence of Christianity as discipleship…The whole life was to be brought literally under the lordship of Christ.”1  I believe this vision can be applied to academics and higher education, and specifically to study and work in STEM fields. 

We do not need to, as Christians or Anabaptists, retreat from these areas.  Instead, under the lordship of Christ, we can live as faithful witnesses in these fields.  As Francis Schaeffer notes, Jesus “is Lord not just in religious things and not just in cultural things such as art and music, but in our intellectual lives and in business.”2

To ground this discussion, I came up with two primary reasons for Christians to study STEM disciplines (although I am sure others would think of many more): first, to learn more of God, and second, in obedience to God’s vocational call.

Why study science? To learn more about our Creator.

Much has been said on this first point.  Indeed, Scripture itself says: “What can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made” (Romans 1:19-20, HCSB).  We can understand God through understanding what He has made—and science is precisely that, a study of what God has made.  I think there is sometimes a reluctance of Anabaptists, and Christians generally, towards studying STEM subjects because there is an underlying fear that the study of these subjects will challenge their faith.  In my opinion, this is not the case, and can actually be quite the opposite.  The study of science can strengthen one’s belief in a Creator. To Paul’s point in Romans, the Gentiles did not have the Scriptures that were given to Israel, and yet, the study of creation itself (the study of science and mathematics), pointed inextricably to the existence of the Creator.

Not only does the study of science and math point us to His existence, but its very study can teach us things about the nature and character of God.  As an example, one of my favorite topics to study is the nature of time.  One of the possible understandings of time is eternalism (or ‘block time’), which views that all time (past, present, and future) exists at once.  This understanding is compatible with Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which understands time as the fourth dimension of space.  In this conception, space is not made up of just three spatial dimensions, but also a fourth dimension, time.  Depending on the speed of an object, an object will move through time at different rates, this is known as time dilation.  If we understand time as only what exists in the present, then it is seemingly impossible for an object to travel into the future faster than another object, as that ‘future’ does not yet exist.  And yet, many experiments have proven this to be possible, just as Einstein’s theory predicts.  

Understanding Einstein’s theory of relativity, and embracing a four-dimensional space-time, has helped me greatly in conceptualizing how God relates to time, which has also unlocked the mystery of the kingdom of God, as something that is both ‘already and not yet.’  In a similar way that we understand God is all-present or outside of our typical three-dimensional understanding of space, He is outside of time as well. All the past, present, and future exist simultaneously to Him, and He is uniquely able to comprehend it all at once.  

As another example, mathematics has often been described as the language of God, perhaps first by Galileo.  This is because mathematics is universally applicable and mathematical equations are what we use to describe natural laws, or the way in which the universe works, for instance, Newton’s laws of motion.  The fact that there are these laws points to the existence of a divine Creator. 

And like studying the nature of time, the study of calculus, a form of mathematics, has often given me many insights into God, particularly as it relates to the concept of infinity.  In fact, calculus was originally called ‘infinitesimal calculus,’ precisely because it is primarily concerned with infinity.  In the same way that we stand in awe of a universe with approximately 200 billion trillion stars; contemplating infinity, brings inside of my heart a reverence and awe towards God.

Unfortunately, I think sometimes our reading of the very specific story that Scripture tells, and our understanding of our personal relationship with Jesus, can sometimes make God seem very small – almost as though He is just a character in a grand novel.  Contemplating the nature of infinity, quickly reorients my heart in a more appropriate posture of humility towards Him, in much the same way God reorients Job’s heart when He finally responds to Job, by pointing out the grandness of His creation.

These are just a couple small examples of how the study of STEM fields teaches me about the nature of God.  Therefore, I do not see the study of STEM in any way incompatible with my faith, but rather something that reinforces and complements it.

Why study science? To obey our vocational call.

Leaving aside the study of science for study’s sake, I also think there is a practical reason, and that is our call to vocation.  While we are here, I believe that God has called us to work.  For all of us, there is the practical ‘work’ of daily life – cleaning, yardwork, cooking, caring for ourselves.  Outside of the daily work, I believe God has a vocational call for each of us.  For some of us, our vocation may be full-time ministry work, but for the vast majority of us, that will be some sort of job or career, in which we are exercising our stewardship role of God’s creation.  (Note: I believe homemaking, homeschooling, mothering, etc. are all vocations, and are a means to exercise our stewardship role).

And no matter what our specific job is, we can fulfill God’s will in it. This was a key concept that Martin Luther discussed in the 16th century, contrary to what the Catholic church taught at the time:

There is really no difference between laymen and priests, princes and bishops, ‘spirituals’ and ‘temporals,’ as they call them, except that of office and work. . . . A cobbler, a smith, a farmer, each has the work and office of his trade, and yet they are all alike consecrated priests and bishops, and everyone by means of his own work or office must benefit and serve every other, that in this way many kinds of work may be done for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the community, even as all the members of the body serve one another.3

In each of our jobs we are working to serve the bodily and spiritual needs of our community – both our church community, and the wider world.  While I cannot argue that a career in a STEM field is superior in any way to any other career, there are unique opportunities that STEM fields offer.  Simply put, careers in STEM fields can be used to support human life and flourishing, which is a way to love our neighbor, and exercise our stewardship role.

For instance, careers in medicine require some amount of study of science, and medicine is a means by which we can honor God’s value of human life and love of our neighbor.  Engineering applies science and mathematics in practical ways that support human flourishing.  Take a glance around you, I guarantee that practically everything you use daily is the result of engineering work.  

While modern Anabaptist culture has shied away from higher education, and thus has restricted itself from STEM careers, I do not think this is necessary and seems to run counter to the early vision of the Anabaptists.  Perhaps, someone may argue there aren’t that many explicitly Christian STEM work environments – but I think that argument extends to just about any vocation outside of the home!  However, we can and should bring the light of Christ into our workplaces through our character, our love for others, and our work ethic.  This should be the case in any workplace that we as Christians and Anabaptists find ourselves in.

Closing thoughts

I believe that all Christians would benefit greatly from studying science, including as a way to develop our critical thinking skills.  It is a somewhat recent phenomenon in human history that the study of science and theology are considered distinct fields.  For thousands of years, these two things were inexorably intertwined.  If I accept the premise that the study of science is the study of Truth and Creation, and I believe that God is the Creator and the author of Truth, then in fact, separating theology from scientific study is nonsensical. These things go hand in hand.   As John Polkinghorne said so eloquently, 

The remarkable insights that science affords us into the intelligible workings of the world cry out for an explanation more profound than that which itself can provide. Religion, if it is to take seriously its claim that the world is the creation of God, must be humble enough to learn from science what that world is actually like. The dialogue between them can only be mutually enriching.4

There is no secular-sacred divide in my life’s study and work – my faith is enriched by both, and my work and study are done in light of my faith.  As Paul admonishes in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  As I continue to grow in my relationship with God, I pray that He will continue to show me how to faithfully work and study daily under the lordship of Christ.


  1. Harold S. Bender, The Anabaptist Vision, https://www.goshen.edu/mhl/Refocusing/d-av.htm. Originally published in 1944.
  2. Francis A. Shaeffer, Whatever Happened to the Human Race, (New York: HarperCollins, 1982).
  3. Martin Luther, An Open Letter to The Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate, 1520, trans. C. M. Jacobs, in vol. 2 of Works of Martin Luther: With Introductions and Notes (Philadelphia: A. J. Holman, 1925), 69, https://archive.org/details/worksofmartinlut0011vari/page/68/mode/2up
  4. John C. Polkinghorne, Science and Creation: The Search for Understanding, (West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Foundation Press, 2006).
Photo of author

About the Author:

Katie Heffner lives in Lancaster County, PA with her husband Samuel and 1 year old daughter Lydia. She graduated from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville with a Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Engineering, and keeps busy working full time in the nuclear industry. In her free time, you can probably find her curled up with coffee and a good book, or engaged in theological discussions with friends.

Share this article:

Leave a Comment