A Graceful Dance of Science and Religion?

ProfNG01A global award-winning Malaysian professor ruminates on how science and religion have found a meeting place in the Church, while sharing his own personal journey.

What do these names have in common – Galileo Galilei, Fr Albertus Magnus, OP, Fr Francesco Grimaldi, SJ, Evangelista Torricelli, Leonardo Da Vinci, Louise Braille and Bishop Nicholas Steno?

Well, you may have guessed by now: they are all Catholic scientists and these are among the many individuals who are testimonies that Catholicism and science are not opposed to each other and neither are faith and reason.

Now, trailblazing along this path in Malaysia is Professor Ng Kwan Hoong, who was recently named the award winner of the prestigious Marie Sklodowska-Curie Award, making him the first recipient from a developing country to win the award. The award is in recognition of persons who have contributed to the education and training of medical physicists, students and health personnel, the advancement of the profession as well as their contribution to research.

Conventional wisdom often dictates that science and religion do not mix and are strongly opposed to each other.

Professor Christopher, as he known within the Catholic circle, admitted that some would find it hard to reconcile between science and religion.

He said Einstein had once said: "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind".

Yet Professor Christopher draws from the wisdom of the Early Church Fathers such as St Thomas Aquinas.

“I like what he said: 'Wonder is the desire of knowledge'! God's creation is full of wonders. It is the wonder, awe, curiosity to unravel God's mightiness that has driven many to pursue research, including me.

He adds that St Aquinas, through his writings, have provided elegant arguments for the existence of God.

The former pastor, elder and Bible scholar of a Christian denomination for three decades described his and his wife Christine's conversion to Catholic faith in 2012 as “crossing the Tiber”.

2012 was indeed his Year of Faith! Together with Christine, they plunged themselves into a deep search and understanding of the Church that Christ founded, embarking on what he described as the most important journey of their lives - the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (the RCIA).

“Our conversion story is quite amazing - mostly led by Mother Mary to the richness, beauty and depth of the Church.

“We come from a sola scriptura tradition, transitioning to the sacramental tradition requires some adjustment, courage and conviction,” he said, adding that prior to their baptism the duo participated in an Ignatian retreat.

“Looking back, it seems the Lord has a hand in it. I was helping Mount Miriam Hospital which started radiotherapy service to treat cancer patient with a cobalt-60 unit,” said the man who was instrumental to help get it started and that perhaps was his first significant encounter with the Catholic community.

Professor Christopher whose core research work is in breast cancer screening spoke on the sanctity of life and the challenges faced by Catholic medical practitioners and scientists who strive to uphold it.

He said the sanctity of life extends to or behoves us to respect the dignity of human.

Like many other doctors and researchers, he said, he is driven by the passion to improve the quality of life and to discover the many puzzles of life and illnesses.

“(We do encounter) some challenges - unethical practices in some clinical trials, inhumane treatment of laboratory animals in experiments.

“Here Catholics have to be guided by their conscience, God's words and have high regard for God's creation”, he said.

He said the debate on bioethics continues as society advances, while technology also introduces new dilemmas. There are so many new issues and challenges: scientists, bioethicists, theologians have been arguing on these.

“The love of God's creation - small and big, lowly ones, serves as a guiding principle for us. But there are some grey areas where we need divine guidance,” he adds.

Professor Christopher has two children – Dominica, a specialist in radiology in University of Malaya and Brian who lives in the US.

He and Christine are the doting grandparents to a pair of twins – Emma and Eva, age 8, who attend Mass regularly with the couple.

While actively pursuing his research work, Professor Christopher is mentoring a group of young people from around the world and is actively involved in his parish – Church of St Francis Xavier Petaling Jaya, where he and Christine serve as a lector, Living the Sunday Word facilitators, a mentor the Catholic Student Society of University Malaya.

He recently embarked on some work relating to Laudato Si with Archdiocese Office for Human Development.

“We are very thankful to God for his blessing. We do have our sorrows, trials, persecution, nonetheless Mother Mary always comes to our rescue,” he said.

“In order to maintain a holistic life is a real challenge living in a fast-paced city. Total reliance on God is essential, trust in Him to show us His ways.

“Sacrifice is needed to lead a full life in accordance to the faith. I have to sacrifice quite a number of things in life - pursuit of various hobbies, etc. But I still find some time listening to classical music and also sacred music, reading and writing,” he said.

His advice is to “have protected time with family - spending quality time together, playing and bonding”.

When asked who/what inspires him, Professor Christopher exclaimed: “The many saints!”

He cited St Thomas Aquinas and St Paul as two examples.

‘Love takes up where knowledge leaves off’ – these words of St Thomas of Aquinas he said has left an impact in his life.

ProfNg02Also guiding him in his journey of faith are the words of St Paul in his letter to the Corinthians: ‘For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight’.

“Our human knowledge and wisdom are limited, meagre in God’s eyes,” Professor Christopher asserted.

Pope Francis, he said, also inspires him and many people in many ways - his frankness, sincerity and simplicity.

Professor Christopher believes there are many opportunities for him to bring the good news of Christ to people, to remind them of God's greatness, and to share with them various aspects of God's blessings on mankind.

“We should be building bridges to bring people together, to bring them to the source of the living water,” he said.

Professor Christopher says the maxim of Ignatian spirituality “for the greater glory of God” is his guiding principle.

“My achievements are really nothing in comparison with Gods great and infinite wisdom. Our so-called wisdom pales into insignificant,” he said.