Why I Believe the Bible—A Nuclear Scientist Tells His Story
AS TOLD BY ALTON WILLIAMS
IN 1978 two significant events took place in my life. In September I received my degree as a nuclear physicist, and in December, I was ordained as a minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
When people learn that I am a scientist as well as a Witness, they often wonder how I reconcile my scientific knowledge with my belief in the Bible. Granted, for years I too wondered whether scientific knowledge and belief in the Bible could go together. Eventually, though, I became fully convinced that the Bible is in harmony with scientific fact. How did I reach that conclusion? Please allow me first to relate how I became a scientist.
A 19-Year Project
I was born in 1953 in Jackson, Mississippi, U.S.A., the third of 11 children. Our family was poor. We often had to move from one house to another because my parents could not pay the rent. We received most of what we ate through a government food-subsidy program, and the secondhand clothing we wore was given to us by people for whom my mother cleaned houses and offices.
My parents often reminded us children that the only way out of poverty was to get a good education. As a result, at a very early age, I set my mind on obtaining a college degree. I started school at the age of six, and I continued my schooling without interruption for the next 19 years. I enjoyed science and mathematics, so once I entered college, I began to pursue a career as a scientist.
While in college, I met a young woman named Del. A science professor had referred her to me so Del could get some help with a science course she was taking. Soon, though, our conversations went beyond science, and we fell in love. We were married on January 10, 1974—during a two-hour interval between classes! Four years later, in 1978, I finally received my doctorate.
I had achieved what I thought was the key to success. I was a scientist—and a nuclear physicist at that! With my newly attained degree in theoretical nuclear physics in hand, I could begin to reap the fruitage of my long studies. I was eager to make a name for myself in the scientific arena. In addition, I could now choose a job from among the many lucrative offers made by private companies and government institutions.
However, a few months later, on December 30, 1978, I took a step that soon proved to have even more influence on my life and future than my newly attained degree. On that date, I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah God through water baptism and thus became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. How did that step come about?
A Book Sparked My Interest
In the latter part of 1977, while I was studying at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, two Witnesses knocked on the door of my apartment. I was away, but my wife was at home with our children, a three-year-old and a newborn. Del invited the Witnesses in. After a pleasant conversation, she agreed to have the Witnesses visit her once a week to conduct a Bible study with her.
When my wife informed me of this arrangement, I immediately opposed her. I didn’t mind that she wanted to join a religion—but not Jehovah’s Witnesses! Actually, I did not know much about the Witnesses, but I had a preconceived idea that they were a strange group that used the Bible to deceive people. So, in an effort to free my wife from what I considered to be the grasp of the Witnesses, I thought that I would use my scientific knowledge to discredit their teachings.
One week I took a break from my research work at the university and went home to be present during my wife’s Bible study. However, I arrived home later than I had planned, and the woman conducting the Bible study was about to leave. She gave me a book entitled Did Man Get Here by Evolution or by Creation? * Also, she told my wife that during the Bible study scheduled for the following week, they would consider a Bible prophecy showing that 1914 was a significant year. That was exactly the opening I needed! I told the Witness that I would be at home for the next Bible discussion. I wanted to check the mathematical accuracy of what she was going to discuss about the year 1914.
That same night I began reading the book that the Witness had left. Frankly, the contents impressed me. It was written in a logical manner, and it contained numerous scientific references concerning the subject of evolution. To my surprise, I learned that the Bible contains much more exact information regarding creation than I had previously realized. I finished examining the book in a few days and had to admit that what the Bible actually states about creation does not contradict the known scientific facts concerning life on earth.
Determined to Find Inconsistencies
Nevertheless, I was still skeptical about the teachings of the Witnesses, and I was looking forward to doing a mathematical check of the Bible prophecy concerning the year 1914. I thought that this approach would no doubt intimidate the Witness and, hopefully, help my wife to see the error of the beliefs taught by the Witnesses.
The following week the Witness returned accompanied by a man who was one of the elders in the local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The elder conducted the Bible study. He considered the prophecies found in chapters 4 and 9 of the Bible book of Daniel, concerning the appearance of Jesus as Messiah and King. My mind was set on finding mathematical inconsistencies in the presentation, but I found none. On the contrary, I was again impressed by the logic of the information contained in the Bible.
Up to that point, I thought that faith in God was based more on emotion than on reason. How wrong I was! I thanked the Witnesses for the informative discussion and said that I would like to continue participating in the weekly study. So from then on, I continued my studies at the university and, together with my wife, my Bible studies with the Witnesses. Also, my wife and I began to attend the meetings of the Witnesses held at the Kingdom Hall.
Within a few months, I learned many new Bible truths and soon qualified to join the Witnesses in the door-to-door ministry. This I did even though I was in the final stages of earning my doctorate at the university, which absorbed a great deal of my time. I finished my dissertation in the summer of 1978 and moved to the state of Alabama, where I began teaching physics at the Alabama A. & M. University in Huntsville. We quickly contacted the Witnesses in our new locality, and an elder and his wife continued to study the Bible with us. A few months later, my wife and I were baptized, both on the same day.
Active as a Scientist and a Minister
For me, being a scientist has proved to be compatible with being a Witness of Jehovah. In 1983, I began working as an astrophysicist at the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), also in Huntsville. * I worked in both the experimental and the theoretical fields associated with an X-ray telescope. (In 1999 that telescope—the Chandra X-ray Observatory—was successfully launched into orbit by the space shuttle Columbia.) I enjoyed working on that project, which involved the analyzing of X-rays emitted from various stars and galaxies in an attempt to understand the physical universe better.
My work was doubly enjoyable to me because not only was I working on a scientifically challenging problem but I was also coming to a deeper appreciation of the power and wisdom of the Creator. In fact, Jehovah’s words through the ancient prophet Isaiah took on special meaning for me. The Creator says: “Raise your eyes high up and see. Who has created these things? It is the One who is bringing forth the army of them even by number, all of whom he calls even by name. Due to the abundance of dynamic energy, he also being vigorous in power, not one of them is missing.” (Isaiah 40:26) The more I ‘raised my eyes high up’ to peer at the vastness, the complexity, and the beauty of the universe, the more I appreciated the work of the intelligent Designer who brought all of it about and established the laws that keep it all together.
During that time, I kept busy publishing new material in scientific journals based on my research in X-ray astrophysics. However, I was also active in the Christian congregation. I served as an elder and spent some 20 hours each month in the public preaching work. Meanwhile, my wife engaged in the Bible education work on a full-time basis.
After working some four years at NASA, I felt a growing need to volunteer more of my time to help others learn the wonderful truths found in the Bible. But how could I do so? After discussing my desire with my wife and taking the matter to Jehovah in prayer, I realized that I had to make some important decisions.
I approached my immediate supervisor at NASA and told him that I wanted to change my workweek from five days to four days. Of course, I would accept a reduced income. I explained to my supervisor that I wanted to spend the other three days of the week in connection with my ministry. My supervisor agreed, although this arrangement was unheard of for scientists at NASA. However, he told me that I needed to talk to his supervisor. I did so and was pleasantly surprised when this upper-level supervisor also agreed with my request. So in September 1987, I began my career as a full-time minister, spending some 90 hours a month in door-to-door preaching and other features of the ministry.
Later, a supervisor from the Alabama A. & M. University in Huntsville called me. He offered me a teaching position in the physics department. I replied that I would accept the job only if it would enable me to use the bulk of my time for my ministry. I assured him, though, that my activities in the ministry would not detract from the quality of my work in teaching classes. The supervisor agreed. Today, I still teach at that university and also serve as a full-time minister. I even had time to learn Spanish. Presently, my wife and I serve in a Spanish-speaking congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Huntsville.
Science and Faith
In my years of doing scientific research, I have never encountered a conflict between a proved scientific fact and a teaching of the Bible. Often, seeming conflicts are caused by a lack of knowledge—either of a scientific teaching or of what the Bible really says. For example, some scientists and others erroneously think that the Bible teaches that plants, animals, and humans all developed on earth within six literal 24-hour days. This would be in conflict with known scientific facts. But the Bible does not teach that. Rather, it reveals that the creative “days” encompass thousands of years. *
Confusion also arises from the mistaken idea that faith in God is merely an emotional experience. Far from that, faith in God and the Bible is based on facts that can be verified. As defined in the Bible, “faith is the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration [or, “convincing evidence,” footnote] of realities though not beheld.” (Hebrews 11:1) Yes, faith is based on evidence. Hundreds of prophecies have been fulfilled in the past and in our day. Thus, even applying the scientific method used by all scientists to establish a scientific theory, we can have complete confidence in the fulfillment of Bible prophecies that pertain to future events.
One such prophecy includes the promise that we will be able to enjoy Paradise conditions on earth in the near future. The devastating effects of old age, sickness, death, wars, and injustice will be no more. (Revelation 21:3, 4) Then we will have time to explore and study in detail the wonderful creations of Jehovah God and the many laws that he established to govern this awe-inspiring physical universe.
I am grateful to Jehovah God for helping me to find the key to true happiness—the wonderful truths found in his Word, the Bible. It is my prayer that still many others, including scientists, may find that precious key.
^ par. 14 Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses but now out of print.
^ par. 22 NASA is a U.S. government organization that functions independently from other government agencies.
^ par. 30 See chapter 6, “An Ancient Creation Record—Can You Trust It?,” in the book Is There a Creator Who Cares About You? published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
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I thought that faith in God was based more on emotion than on reason
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I have never encountered a conflict between a proved scientific fact and a teaching of the Bible
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I support my family by teaching part-time
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NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory in orbit and an X-ray image of a binary star system black hole
NASA/CfA/J. McClintock et al.
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My wife and I enjoy the full-time ministry