Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. James 3:13
The second section of A Little Book for New Scientists: Why and How to Study Science by Josh Reeves and Steve Donaldson looks at characteristics of a faithful scientist. Faithful is a two-pronged concept in this context. We should be faithful as Christians and as scientists – (1) faithful to live as Christians in this world with all that entails and (2) faithful to science as professionals in a discipline. The section is divided into three chapters. The third, The Known Unknowns, will be discussed at length below. The first two, Hope in the Face of Adversity and Life Together, provide some important insights that many prospective scientists will find useful, and the pastors or other advisors might find enlightening. A couple of the issues that Reeves and Donaldson raise are worth highlighting – but there is much more in the chapters.
Adversity takes many forms. Life as a successful scientist – especially at the highest levels – is a demanding vocation. There are definite rewards, but one is expected contribute in a number of ways. “Depending on place and type of employment, those demands could involve any or all of the following: research, teaching, administration, reading, writing, presentations and travel.” p. 58 To this list you can eventually add mentoring both students and junior colleagues, pursuit of funding to support a research program, leadership in a variety of professional roles (professional societies, journals and conferences), and reviewing the funding proposals and papers submitted by others. The time commitment can be overwhelming at times – and they are all (most of the time) intellectually challenging and rewarding activities. The time demands are not unique to scientists – but found in many competitive professions.
Christians are called to all kinds of vocational pursuits. It is important to approach any career with both a sense of calling and a sense of restraint. A career is not an end in and of itself. The goal isn’t simply the pursuit of knowledge, success, prestige, or acclaim. (I would recommend Tim Keller’s book with Katherine Leary Alsdorf Every Good Endeavor as a source to dig deeper into the relationship between vocation and Christian life. The focus is more toward business than science or academia, but it is still useful.)
Standing on the shoulders of giants. Reeves and Donaldson also dig into the importance of community in science. Reeves and Donaldson point out that productivity in the sciences is always a community endeavor. New ideas and insights seldom, if ever, arise in isolation. Solo papers are relatively rare. Many projects require dozens of participants. Any idea or result, even those that may come from an individual, must be defended to the full community.