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Story Hunt, Dr. Steve Ball

Alex Bowen, producer of StoryHunt, a LeTourneau Podcast, sat down with Dr. Steve Ball, Professor of Physics to hear his perspective on how God changed the path of his life from a seeming setback to an explosion of faith and ministry. Listen above or read the transcript below.

Alex: So, Dr. Ball, what do you do here at LeTourneau?

Dr. Ball: I usually spend my time just talking  (laugh). That's what I do for a living — I talk. I'm supposed to teach physics too and run some labs. Those are my main duties around here.

Alex: Why did you get into physics in the first place?

Dr. Ball: Oh, because I love physics!

Alex: What is it you love so much about physics?

Dr. Ball: It opens your eyes to a whole new way of seeing the world around you. You don't just see it, how shall I say it, descriptively. You see it mathematically. You see it obeying principles. Those are the principles that God has built into this universe of ours.

We live in an orderly world. You can go all the way back to the early scientists of the Scientific Revolution, people like Johannes Keppler, Galileo, and Isaac Newton. These men saw that there were fundamental principles that seemed to govern the universe. [They saw that] we could discover those fundamental principles, put them in some sort of mathematical form, apply them, and understand a whole wide range of behavior that we see in this world around us. They were first to note that.

I think the development of science has been a continued journey of trying to explain as much as we can in terms of these fundamental laws and principles. But where do those laws and principles come from? They're not invented by scientists. They're discovered by scientists. We live in an orderly world because there's an Orderer, there's a Law-Giver. This is why I see that there is such a strong connection between what I study in physics and the Creator God of this universe.

Alex: How did you wind up in physics here? How did you wind up teaching at a Christian university?

Dr. Ball: Ah, I had no intention of doing that from early on, no. That was not a goal of my life (laugh). My goal was to be a particle physicist or a high-energy physicist. That was my dream, working in the big, big field of high-energy physics, which is a very international type of work. There are not too many laboratories around the world that do high-energy physics because they're so expensive. We were going to build the biggest and best one here in the United States, and we had plans to build the Superconducting Super Collider back in the early nineties, but it got very expensive. There were a lot of cost overruns, and we finally decided to cancel the project before the tunnel even got dug out.

At that time a lot of us who were in the field of experimental particle physics decided we needed to find something else to do in life. I began praying about what would come next, and decided God wanted me to do something very, very different from what I had been doing. Instead of staring at computer screen all day long, looking at physics data, I felt like God was leading me to invest in young people, and to use my physics background in some way to be part of a Christian ministry. I was considering leaving physics all-together, but God convinced me that all that training in physics might come in handy in some way as part of a bigger Christian ministry.

Alex: Do you feel like in your studies — in your research, studying physics — have drawn you closer in your faith?

Dr. Ball: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. The more I understand in physics, the more I can appreciate about the God who created it and ordered it.

When you see something beautiful in science, there's a reason for that beauty being there. Whether it's beautiful colors or beautiful ways that you can understand nature, from biology to chemistry to physics, or whether you see beautiful equations that seem to govern and describe what you're looking at... These don't have to in any way negatively impact your faith because these are thing that you can't explain very easily, where all this beauty and elegance comes from. This beauty is not just a rose by itself. It's there because we have a God who's beautiful, we have a God who's very creative, and we have a God who is of infinite wisdom. The more we understand about this world we live in, the more I think we can appreciate that infinite wisdom of God.

I personally don't try to get into arguments with anyone about whether you can prove God from nature or science. I see God everywhere I look; I see the fingerprints of God. I don't try to say "See, this proves God exists," or "This proves my certain belief system." I don't try to do that from science. I allow science to provide an independent voice, and for me it’s something that is compelling, it's persuasive, and it fits well with my belief in the validity of God's word, the Bible, and my Christian faith, but I'm not going to say it proves it. I'm not going to say, "I'm going to prove to you that my faith and my belief in God's word is the correct answer." I think that's where we tend to get into unnecessary arguments with somebody. There doesn't’t need to be that sort of conflict or fighting about what the data suggests. I think it's more inviting, more attractive to show people that it fits well together with a Christian faith to accept science and to accept the truth of Scripture, to invite people into that and say, "See if this can't fit together, and see if all those reasons that you have in the back of your mind against God… See if they really stand up to a careful look and investigation, and see that they can fit together well."

There tends to be in the Christian community here in the U.S. a very strong belief in Biblical Literalism — that you can take the days of Genesis, add up the genealogies and come up with an age of the Earth and universe. That tends to give a date for the age of the Earth and universe much different from what you see by looking at the scientific evidence. I didn't understand the impact of Young-Earth Creationism when I first began teaching, but I quickly understood. This is something that a lot of young people are exposed to in their church environment.

Part of the reason I believe God called me into a Christian college environment is to help young people to come to appreciate that the scriptures are written for a much, much greater purpose than to give us a historical timeline, or to give us a scientific picture of the earth and universe around us. The Scriptures have much more to say about very important matters of our faith than to give us those particulars. So, to try to say that science can fit with a reverence for God's word and a belief in the truth of God's word is one of my ministries. They can fit together. There are some points of potential conflict, but we have to be humble and examine our assumptions, and examine the things that we bring into it that are not necessarily perhaps what our faith should have, but those should be re-examined. I think in the end, you see that the core essential doctrines of our Christian faith are all very solidly grounded. They're not going to be attacked by science. They're not threatened by science at all.

Alex: What is the argument against God based in physics?

Dr. Ball: Well, some people have the erroneous idea that the more you can explain scientifically, then the less you need God, and that's such a false dichotomy. There’re all kinds of false dichotomies we live with at times, but that's one of the biggest false dichotomies we live with. People think that if you can explain something scientifically, then you don't need God.

Well, no. That's not how it works. Explaining something scientifically is no more eliminating God than demonstrating that Scripture was written by men. Scripture yes, of course, was written by men, but we believe that it's God-breathed, it's God-inspired. God moved through those men to show us his will and his word, and likewise in science, I personally don't believe if you explain something scientifically, you're eliminating the need for God. You're just showing that God can use many different means of accomplishing his will.

Alex: What do you think is the value of a private, Christian university, and why as a student planning to study something like physics, should I consider coming to a Christian school?

Dr. Ball: Right. That's a good question. I think that's an excellent question. The reason I'm sold on studying physics or any other kind of discipline in a Christian university environment like LeTourneau is because not only are we passionate about the subject matter that we're studying, we see that it fits together with our Christian faith in a very positive way. So, we're able to share that passion for the discipline, and we're also able to share our passion for our Christian faith as well, and to show people that we can approach this in a holistic way. You don't have to approach studying your discipline as something very separate from your Christian faith. I've learned that you don't have to live that way. You can live life in a holistic way, and the very things that you're most passionate about can be the very things you're serving Christ with. That can be your ministry. That can be your area of Christian ministry, to take that passion for whatever discipline you're in and make that your service unto the Living God.