Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse

Christian Astrophysicist

Astrophysics / December 18, 2017

sar.jpgTestimony of former atheist Sarah Salviander. Salviander is a research scientist in astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Texas.

Salviander was born in America and brought up in an atheist household in Canada, “I was born in the U.S., but grew up in Canada. My parents were socialists and political activists who thought British Columbia would be a better place for us to live, since it had the only socialist government in North America at the time. My parents were also atheists, though they eschewed that label in favor of “agnostic.” They were kind, loving, and moral, but religion played no part in my life. Instead, my childhood revolved around education, particularly science. I remember how important it was to my parents that my brother and I did well in school.”

Salviander goes on to recount how the popular entertainment series Star Wars really made her fall in love with space and scientific exploration, “I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, a time when science fiction was enjoying a renaissance, thanks largely to the popularity of Star Wars. I remember how fascinated I was by the original Star Wars trilogy. It had almost nothing to do with science—it’s more properly characterized as space opera—but it got me thinking about space in a big way. I also loved the original Star Trek, which was more science fiction. The stoic and logical character of Mr. Spock was particularly appealing to me.” She was also particularly fond of the well known astronomer, Carl Sagan’s, space series Cosmis, “Popular science was also experiencing a renaissance at that time, which had a lot to do with Carl Sagan’s television show, Cosmos, which I adored. The combination of these influences led to such an intense wonder about outer space and the universe, ” and thus, at the early age of just nine, Salviander knew she “would be a space scientist someday.”

She explains that Canada was already post-Christian by the 1970s, and thus “grew up with no religion.” “In retrospect, ” she continues, “it’s amazing that for the first 25 years of my life, I met only three people who identified as Christian. My view of Christianity was negative from an early age, and by the time I was in my twenties I was actively hostile toward Christianity. Looking back, I realized a lot of this was the unconscious absorption of the general hostility toward Christianity that is common in places like Canada and Europe; my hostility certainly wasn’t based on actually knowing anything about Christianity. I had come to believe that Christianity made people weak and foolish; I thought it was philosophically trivial. I was ignorant not only of the Bible, but also of the deep philosophy of Christianity and the scientific discoveries that shed new light on the origins of the universe and life on Earth.”

However, she would on to focus all of her energy on her studies and academic pursuits, “[I] became very dedicated to my physics and math courses. I joined campus clubs, started to make friends, and, for the first time in my life, I was meeting Christians.” These Christians she met, however, came across as “joyous and content. And, they were smart, too.” Salviander also recounts her surprise when she found that her physics professors, whom she admired, were Christian, “Their personal example began to have an influence on me, and I found myself growing less hostile to Christianity.“

However, Salviander continued to grow and prosper in her field especially in her in-depth study of big bang cosmology, “I had joined a group in the Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences (CASS) that was researching evidence for the big bang. The cosmic background radiation—the leftover radiation from the big bang—provides the strongest evidence for the theory, but cosmologists need other, independent lines of evidence to confirm it. My group was studying deuterium abundances in the early universe. Deuterium is an isotope of hydrogen, and its abundance in the early universe is sensitive to the amount of ordinary mass contained in the entire universe. Believe it or not, this one measurement tells us whether the big bang model is correct.”

Salviander goes on to explain some details of her work that probably won’t interest 98% of people but, the details aside, she remembers “being astounded by this, blown away, completely and utterly awed. It seemed incredible to me that there was a way to find the answer to this question we had about the universe. In fact, it seems that every question we have about the universe is answerable.” This observation opened her mind up to the very real possibility that God might in fact exist, “There’s no reason it has to be this way, and it made me think of Einstein’s observation that the most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it’s comprehensible. I started to sense an underlying order to the universe. Without knowing it, I was awakening to what Psalm 19 tells us so clearly, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”“

She would then go on picked up a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo, “But it’s more than just a revenge story, it’s a philosophically deep examination of forgiveness and God’s role in giving justice. I was surprised by this, and was starting to realize that the concept of God and religion was not as philosophically trivial as I had thought.”

However, all of this came together one day as to make belief in God unavoidable. Salviander was “walking across that beautiful La Jolla campus. I stopped in my tracks when it hit me—I believed in God! I was so happy; it was like a weight had been lifted from my heart. I realized that most of the pain I’d experienced in my life was of my own making, but that God had used it to make me wiser and more compassionate. It was a great relief to discover that there was a reason for suffering, and that it was because God was loving and just. God could not be perfectly just unless I—just like everyone else—was made to suffer for the bad things I’d done.“