This article first appeared in the in the Postmodern Realities column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 44, number 2 (2021). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal please click here.
The second season of the anime television series Dr. Stone wrapped up in March, and as someone entrenched in the worlds of science and anime, I loved watching a show that brings the two together (especially after watching Cells at Work1). Dr. Stone has all the traditional components of a good anime combined with insights into the natural world, which makes it a delight for both anime fans and science lovers. But as a scientist, I was presented with a question after watching a scene from the show: Is science worth dying for?
Dr. Stone’s protagonist, Senku, wants to use science to bring back civilization to the Stone World of the future. Tsukasa, the antagonist, blames science for the world’s problems and seeks to stop Senku. The two confront one another, and Tsukasa demands of Senku, “Will you promise here and now, for all eternity, that you’ll abandon science? If you do, I won’t have to kill you.” Senku replies, “I can’t do that.”2 Then with a sad smile, Tsukasa deals a blow to Senku to break his neck. Thinking the job is done, Tsukasa leaves the scene. Both Tsukasa and the viewer are left believing that Senku is dead but Senku survives and continues his science.
Martyrs of Science. Although the scene in Dr. Stone ends with nobody dying, the impression is that Senku has died a martyr of science. The idea that one can die in the pursuit of science is not new. In fact, the phrase “martyr of science” is not mine, but Max Theiler’s, who won the 1951 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his development of the yellow fever vaccine. In his acceptance speech, he recalled how in the early days of research into yellow fever, scientists and physicians traveled to the tropics where the disease was prevalent, only to die of the very disease they had come to study. But thanks to the work of many dedicated scientists, the vaccine was developed and the virus conquered. Theiler commented:
I like to feel that in honoring me, you are honoring all the workers in the laboratory, field, and jungle who have contributed so much, often under conditions of hardship and danger, to our understanding of this disease. I would also like to feel that you are honoring the memory of those who gave their lives in gaining knowledge which was of inestimable value. They were truly martyrs of science, who died that others might live.3 (emphasis added)
Other martyrs of science include Marie Curie, who is famous for her work on radiation but died of radiation poisoning, and climate scientist Konrad Steffen, who died last August when he fell through a crack in the ice he was studying.4 These deaths are tragic. And looking at them, one can see science as a cruel master. Scientists can die because of their efforts, but science does not care and promises no reward for their endeavors. Of course, we praise science if their efforts prove to be of “inestimable value,” and there’s no doubt science has brought about incalculable good for humanity. But as a scientist, I can tell you that most of what I learn in the lab is not of inestimable value to others and probably won’t help anyone. Science is hard and failure is common. And if I decide to serve science, science could kill me.
Is Science Worth Dying For? If you have made science your god, science is not worth dying for. You can give yourself to science, but science will not give itself to you. Science is not love or a person. It is a useful set of principles, but it does not work for your good.
What then should we give ourselves to? Is there something worthy of my service and worth dying for? Yes — Jesus. Jesus is love, Jesus is a person, and Jesus is God. But aren’t there plenty of examples of people who made Jesus their Lord and lost everything? What about martyrs of Christianity? What makes their deaths any different from a person who gives their life to science and dies for it?
Here’s the difference: as a Christian, I have the promise that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). I have the promise that neither death nor life, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:34–35). I have the promise that though I should be put to death, not a hair of my head will perish (Luke 21:18). I have no such promises from science. But in Christ, I have all the wonderful promises of the Bible. And I can give my life to Jesus wholly, without fear that doing so would be a waste, no matter what it leads to, even death. He has conquered death (Heb. 2:14)!
Science and the Committed Christian. Can someone committed to Christ still be a scientist? I believe so. Although it’s impossible to have both God and Science as Lord, scientists can certainly glorify God with their work.
One way the scientist glorifies God is by displaying His creativity. Being created in the image of God, scientists reflect God’s creativity by their creative works, including experimental designs, mathematically grounded theories, and inventions. Thousands of new ideas come out of labs every year, all a testimony to the God-given creative power humans possess. In my own work, I have used the tools of genetic engineering to make molecules that have never existed before! As a Christian, I see the inventive power of scientists as a God-given gift, and I praise Him for it.
Another way God is glorified by the scientist is when they use science to bring healing to those suffering the effects of a broken world. Either by discovering medications that can cure disease or by identifying the biological causes of people’s suffering, the healing power of science is great indeed. What’s amazing is that when I make Jesus, instead of science, my Lord, science becomes a tool that I can use to better love those around me by meeting their needs. As a Christian, my work as a scientist becomes a way to fulfill the commands to love God and my neighbor. If I do my experiments for the sake of knowing Christ and loving others, science becomes wonderfully meaningful.
Now, glorifying God in our creativity and in our service to others, while certainly Christian, is not uniquely Christian. In Dr. Stone, Senku uses the power of science and his own creativity for the sake of the people of the Stone World. He is worth emulating in this regard, but he is not acting as a Christian. And recall Theiler said the martyrs of science “died so others might live.” While their sacrifice for the sake of others is certainly Christian-like, it’s not uniquely Christian.
But there is another way a scientist can glorify God, and it is possible for only the Christian scientist. This is the glory God receives when we rejoice and hope in Him in the face of failure and rejection. One of the thrilling things about being a scientist is that you are often the very first person in the world to attempt something. However, there is no guarantee what you are attempting will work or that you will find something interesting. And many times, things don’t work out. In my PhD program, students are instructed to work on multiple projects simultaneously for their dissertation, as it’s expected that some of the projects will fail. Failure comes to the scientist as the unsuccessful experiment, the disappointing data, the rejected paper or conference talk, or the rejected grant application. How does the scientist respond to these things? One way is to worry. Questions like, “Will I still get to graduate?” or “Will I still get that promotion?” will haunt them. Besides worrying, they can pull themselves up by their ego, convince themselves that they are too great to fail, and then dive into the next experiment. These ways bring no glory to God. But when things don’t go as planned in the life of the Christian, we don’t worry or look to our own strength — we look to God. We look to His promises to sustain us and rejoice in the love we have from Him even in the midst of disappointments. When we show the love of God to be more delightful than success in the science lab, then God looks really glorious.
Dr. Stone, at its heart, is a lighthearted anime series that encourages interest in science, and I’m looking forward to the third season. But watching it has reminded me that if I let it, science will demand a lot from me. And, with all the advancements it brings, science can easily become an idol in my life. When I find it demanding from me reverence and attention that belong to God, it’s good to stop and consider what I’m really living for. The ultimate goal of the scientist is to show that God is greater than science, either by showing Him to be the one who makes science possible, or by showing Him to be the one who makes what science cannot achieve possible. My life as a scientist, like the life of every Christian, is to show the world that Christ is worth living and dying for.—Harrison Dulin
Harrison Dulin is a PhD candidate in Cell, Molecular, and Developmental Biology at the University of California, Riverside. He hosts the monthly podcast Notable Nobels, covering the Nobel Prize winners in Physiology or Medicine.
- Cells at Work is a fun and educational anime TV series revolving around anthropomorphized cells inside a human body, directed by Kenichi Suzuki (season 1) and Hirofumi Ogura (season 2), animated by David Production (Tokyo), aired July 8, 2018 – February 27, 2021.
- Stone, Season 1, Episode 4, “Fire the Smoke Signal,” directed by Shinya Lino, written by Yuichiro Kido, aired September 15, 2019, TMS Entertainment.
- Max Theiler, “Banquet Speech, ” The Nobel Prize, December 10, 1951, https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/medicine/1951/theiler/speech/.
- Jeff Berardelli, “Greenland Ice Sheet Claims Life of Renowned Climate Scientist,” CBS News, August 12, 2020, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/konrad-steffen-koni-climatescientist-dies-greenland-ice-sheet-crevasse/.