Micah Green: PhD, Chemical Engineer
- Associate Professor, Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering, Texas A&M University
- B.S. Chemical Engineering, Texas Tech University 2002
- Ph.D. Chemical Engineering, MIT, 2007
- Postdoc, Rice University, 2007-2009
- Assistant and Associate Professor, Chemical Engineering, Texas Tech University, 2009-2014
- Associate Professor, Chemical Engineering, Texas A&M University, 2014-present
- Grew up in west Texas in an oil town, studied Chemical Engineering at Texas Tech
I grew up in a Christian home with godly parents; education and the life of the mind was given a place of primacy in the home. My father and my maternal grandfather were both engineers, so the excellence of science and its application to the real world were always clear to me. At first, I wanted to be a doctor, but the unfortunate reality of “less math, more blood” in the medical field made me turn toward the study of chemical engineering.
During my undergraduate studies, I realized that even in the “Bible belt” of west Texas, the university environment is fairly hostile to Christianity, particularly among the faculty. Every Christian at Texas Tech knew the names of the professors who specifically called out Christianity as a fraud and sought to demean Christian students. This inspired me to pursue a career in academia; it was a way to be a missionary in academia – a place where I could still use my strengths and interest in science and math.
I was in graduate school the first time that I felt true doubt about my faith. It wasn’t just questioning the reasons for my belief system; it was a genuine, heart-wrenching feeling of angst and worry that perhaps the naturalists who held the default worldview of academia were right.
There was no particular rational argument they made that worried me. What hit me was the idea that if they were right, then I would cease to exist after my death. This concept of non-existence was so abhorrent that I desperately wanted to believe that it wasn’t true. Then I thought, “Oh, no, I want naturalism to be false and theism to be true. My belief in God must arise from my own desires, not from anything rational. I probably believe it only because I want it to be true. It’s just wish fulfillment on my part.”
This skeptical attitude paralyzed me for several months, with many sleepless nights. Then I began to come out of it. I must admit that Boston’s emergence from a cold, dreary winter certainly helped. Then I began to re-read my J.R.R. Tolkien. I began to realize that if the universe were made up entirely of purposeless, mindless physical interactions between fundamental particles, then the universe should be a great deal less interesting, and it should contain a great deal less beauty. To be sure, our world contains evils and horrors as well, but the combination of beauty and good that we see in the world looks like the work of an author. If Tolkien can create a beautiful world of narrative, then it would be odd for that narrative to arise out of a sea of purposeless particles. Our real world seems more like an author-created world (like Tolkien’s).
I also began to realize how weak the skeptical posture really is; a person can find reasons to explain away virtually any belief, even the belief of the naturalist who says, “There is no afterlife, therefore I may live how I please.” The skeptical posture requires no effort and no evidence; it assumes that the opposing belief is false and speculates on where the false belief may have come from. This is intellectually lazy, and it’s no good foundation for a worldview.
The next step in my recovery was this realization: If the naturalists are right, then I am merely a purposeless biochemical mass. In that case, why is it such a big loss when I die? Just atoms rearranging themselves. Moreover, what is my brain and thought processes but a means to biological advancement? And if that is true, why am I listening to my own thought processes? My thought processes are not rational, they’re merely biological. This is how I realized that naturalism is self-defeating. Naturalism even makes the pursuit of science problematic because we lose our ability to trust our own rational thought processes.
The Christian worldview, in contrast, gives us a completely different view of Science. The Christian says that when we study science, we are learning about something true, not mere empirical, practical usefulness. Science gives us hints at the mechanisms that describe the underpinning of the physical universe itself; not only that, our little human minds are capable of comprehending the universe itself. Many of the early scientific pioneers relied on this exact concept as their foundation for doing good science: “God made the universe, God made my mind, and God made my mind to understand the universe.” This approach strongly increased my appreciation for my studies and my career goal of being a professor.
After finishing my doctorate and postdoc, I began my career as a professor. There are a number of ways that my Christian faith now intersects with my daily job: (i) Treating students as an end, not a means. It is easy for professors to think of students as workers who get research done for them, or as classroom inhabitants who pay tuition. We honor Christ when we treat others as valuable, not merely as a means for our own advancement. (ii) Teaching ethics as objective. In
most departments, professors are hesitant to affirm that ethical norms are real properties of the universe (rather than human conventions). For engineers, our real-world obligations allow us to face (and me to teach) the truth that ethical norms are real and binding, regardless of whether we find those norms convenient in the moment.
The last one (iii) may be the most important; one of the biggest problems facing my profession is this: Virtually every scientist or engineer struggles between two motivations: One motivation stems from an appreciation for math and science and the good that they can yield for humanity. The other motivation is that most people want others to think that they are smart. I have seen my fellow engineering professors throw away their marriages, their families, all for the sake of moving themselves a few inches up the academic pecking order. All people of all worldviews recognize that they struggle with this second motivation. They even recognize the name that Christians give it: Idolatry. I think one of the most important things that we can do in academia is to call out this short-sighted, self-centered idol that we all struggle with. I try to tell students to let go of “academia for ego’s sake” and hold onto a far-better motivation for science: It is a privilege to have the opportunity to study science and engineering at this point in history. We have microscopes and telescopes that give us tremendous means for looking at the ways that God has crafted the world.