In Awesome Wonder
Science is often cast in opposition to faith. But three Salvationists reveal how the wonder—and even doubt—behind science has inspired their faith.
Award-Winning Science Teacher: Carol Brieseman
Earlier this year, primary school teacher Carol Brieseman won the prestigious Prime Minister’s Science Award, for her work in teaching science. She received the award at Parliament, supported by family, friends, colleagues, and former students (including three with dyslexia) whose passion for science Carol ignited.
Although clearly out of her comfort zone talking about the prize, Carol’s enthusiasm bubbles up as she speaks. ‘I’m very humbled and it’s a real honour to receive the prize. Science is a subject that I just can’t help being passionate about. I love tapping into kids’ curiosity about the world around them. There’s an untainted awe about the world that kids display, and I love being able to nurture that,’ says Carol, who has 30 years teaching experience.
Her classroom is ‘buzzing’ with exploration—kids bring all sorts of bugs (preferably dead!) and the magnifying glass comes out. Carol says she is passionate about how science builds children’s confidence in all sorts of ways.
‘I can especially think of a Pasifika student who struggled to pick up a pencil and write. Yet, when we made Cartesian divers, he became my expert on it. He was able to write this fantastic piece of procedural writing, because he knew how to make them and troubleshoot—and he was going to other classrooms teaching others. Having that piece of writing gave him success and his confidence stemmed from that.’
Her love for science stems directly from her Christian faith, says Carol—who attends Salvation Army Tawa Corps. ‘Science has made my faith stronger—I can’t help but see God in it all. My passion comes from my love of God. That’s what drives me.
‘Christianity and science both require faith and both require evidence—and God has been proved for me. It’s so obvious to me that they fit together.’
Carol has helped build a bush walk at her school in Tawa, complete with insect boxes. She has also been instrumental in starting a veggie garden, butterfly garden, composting projects and a score of other nature-based programmes. ‘Science removes the walls of the classroom,’ smiles Carol.
Her conversation is peppered with stunning scientific facts: ‘Every second breath we take comes from the ocean because of the Phytoplankton that live there [microscopic plants that produce 50–85 percent of the world’s oxygen]. So we really need to care for our ocean!’
Her interest in science was further enhanced when she won a Primary Science Teacher Fellowship to study with crown research institute NIWA for six months. This included time on a research ship in the Southern Ocean.
‘The Antarctic tooth fish is a favourite of mine—they have one heartbeat every six seconds, and their blood has something in it that acts like anti-freeze, which means they can survive in those harsh conditions. Only God could work that out. There are so many things that make me think, “Thank you Lord—what an amazing designer!”.’
During her time on the ship, Carol developed an education programme based on Argo floats, which measure the temperature, salinity and velocity of the ocean. As a result, she built a teaching website and was invited to present educational workshops in France.
Carol has attended The Salvation Army since she was in her early-twenties. Commissioner Andy Westrupp—who was then a corps officer—even officiated Carol and husband Philip’s wedding.
Carol is an advocate for questioning and learning in her relationship with God: ‘You need to be open to being wrong, and growing and learning about God.
‘Just because I believe in God doesn’t mean that I know all there is to know about him—no way. I am just dipping my toes into the ocean! There is so much more to learn.’
Jonny Whybrow: Finding God in Doubt
For Cadet Jonny Whybrow, science has always been a natural love. Born and raised in the United Kingdom, Jonny studied ‘electronic and cybernetic engineering’ before becoming a physics teacher.
He and his wife Char felt called to become Salvation Army officers, and are now in their second year of training at Booth College of Mission in Upper Hutt.
Jonny says he loves learning new things around the intricacy and complexity of the universe. ‘For example, I can explain the basic principles behind how stars work, and how the light travels vast distances across space in order for us to see them on earth.
‘Or I might notice a small detail in nature when walking in the bush, in how different species depend upon each other for survival. This gives me a sense of awe and wonder, and prompts me to worship God who I believe is behind it all.’
Raised in The Salvation Army with officer parents, Jonny says there was a period when the ‘loud voice’ in the scientific community claiming God is a human-made invention caused him to question his belief in God. But asking the hard questions ultimately deepened his faith.
‘I think “reconcile” is a good word because it’s not that you sit in either a Christian way of thinking, or a science way of thinking, but rather you can sit within both,’ the former physics teacher says.
‘Both beliefs have been reached through reasoning and thinking. And, so, I came to the realisation that the voice within science saying, “God is a human-made invention”, is in itself a position of faith, as much as it is to say, “I believe in the Christian God”.’
He began to accept the fact that there was no way he could ever have all the answers—yet this was part of the mystery of God and faith. ‘There’s always an element of “not knowing” and being okay with that, while at the same time not being afraid to ask questions.’
It was this journey that saw his perception of God begin to change. He has always felt uncomfortable with a theory known as the ‘God of the gaps’—where anything that cannot be explained is attributed to God.
‘The problem is then—however many years later—science comes along and discovers how something can happen. If your idea of God is based upon “he made this happen” and then suddenly we can explain how something happened, then that doesn’t work. My idea of God had to grow to be something so much bigger—one where he is a part of everything that goes on. But, also, he is outside of everything that goes on at the same time.’
Jonny says he’d love to see more of an openness from churches to explore the tough questions. Research shows people are leaving because they don’t feel their doubts can
be properly explored.
‘The assumption is “Ah well this can’t fit with my faith, so therefore my faith must be something I’ve just got from my parents and something made-up”. And so a lot of people leave. A much healthier approach is to accept questions and explore them together, even if no answer is reached, which is often the case.’
Ultimately, Jonny believes doubt is a part of faith, in the same way it is part of science. ‘In terms of doubting science, that’s part of the nature of science progressing. And so for me, that’s a part of my faith progressing.
‘Doubting my faith and questioning my faith has then led me to go deeper and gain a much bigger understanding of who God is.’
Dr Janelle Sinclair: Biochemist (PhD) and Natural Medicine Practitioner
He existed before anything else and He holds all of creation together, (Colossians 1:17).
For Dr Janelle Sinclair, there is no conflict between science and faith whatsoever.
‘God revealed to me when I was teenager that science confirms His word: “He holds everything together”. It was like God said to me “Janelle, you’ve learnt in science class about atoms, protons, neutrons, positive and negative charges; you know that in the middle of it all there is energy—that energy is me—holding it all together”.’
Growing up, Janelle’s father suffered from salicylate food intolerances. As a child it affected his behaviour, concentration, and capacity to learn at school. If he was a child today, he would have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This food intolerance affected him as an adult, too, with mood swings, migraines, and muscle pain. Seeing first-hand the effect of food intolerances on her father (and to a small degree herself), it taught Janelle that we are all biochemically unique: one food can be one person’s medicine, whereas it can be another person’s poison.
After completing a Bachelor of Science and a Masters in Science at The University of Auckland, Janelle then studied in Switzerland, obtaining her PhD in Biochemistry. It was during this time that a close friend was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, with doctors telling her friend that it was all depression. This propelled Janelle to investigate the biochemical causes of chronic fatigue, and she discovered the fascinating world of natural medicine. She discovered that nutritional deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, gut dysbiosis, and exposure to toxins could all impact energy levels and mental wellbeing.
Upon returning to New Zealand, she connected with ACNEM (Australasian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine). This, plus Janelle’s science background, family history and sense of God-given calling to help people, propelled her forward into various jobs that deepened her learning and positioned her to bring together the fields of biochemistry and natural medicine.
‘I use biochemistry to identify deficiencies and imbalances in the body, but then find natural solutions so that we’re giving back to the body what it needs through natural medicine.’
In 2009 she wrote a book called Breaking Free: Exposing the biochemical causes of your depression and anxiety.
She quickly discovered that there just weren’t enough practitioners specialising in mental health, and her consulting practice was soon born.
‘It’s not well known what people can do for their mental health naturally. I had a few clients—these are the miracle ones—I literally prescribed one mineral and their lives were changed. After a week they said, “I woke up and saw the world differently. My depression was resolved or my constant brain chatter stopped”. All because they lacked one mineral which only costs about $30 a month. Other cases take a lot more research and work of course!’
Realising that this sort of information is not mainstream, Janelle has recently changed the direction of her business to make it all the more accessible and increase its profile.
‘I started a YouTube channel in December 2018 and created a weekly video, teaching people about natural strategies for depression and anxiety. I discuss what they can do with their diet, supplements they can try, what blood tests to do, different signs of deficiencies they can look out for.’ Not surprisingly, Dr Janelle has a global following.
For Janelle, Proverbs 3:5 has always been an anchor: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding … ” I was never someone who wrestled with any conflict between science and faith—I just trusted in the Lord. And I feel that people are just arrogant to think that we can know everything and explain everything! The more I know, the more I realise what I don’t know. I believe science and faith work together—they’re not in conflict. My life’s purpose is to worship God and become more like Jesus. Out of that comes a calling to love and serve the world. I do that by using the science tools God has given me.’
For more information on Janelle Sinclair, visit:
By Jules Badger (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 15 June 2019, p7-9. You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.