Complete Podcast Interview Transcript:
Welcome to the Purpose Nation Podcast. Inspiring conversations with Christians in science, technology and industries of the future. For more information or to make a tax-deductible contribution, visit PurposeNation.org.
Brad Cooper: 00:17
Hi this is Brad Cooper with Purpose Nation. And today we are blessed to be joined by Professor Jonathan Feng. Welcome Professor Feng. How are you doing this morning?
Brad Cooper: 00:27
I'm doing great. Thank you.
Brad Cooper: 00:28
OK great thanks for joining us. Just looking forward to a discussion about faith and science and some things that I know that are near and dear to your heart, like dark matter and maybe some other deep topics like the meaning of life or the universe why we're here. And you know a few simple things like that maybe we'll will get into a little bit today but just thank you for joining us. Before we get started a little bit more about Professor Feng, impressive background. You know he's a professor of physics and astronomy at the School of Physical Sciences at the University of California Irvine and Professor of Big Bang studies, Theoretical Particle Physics, Astro Particle Physics, Cosmology. A few really easy things like that. Here it is Avion physics from Harvard his M.A. in Math from Cambridge and his Ph.D. in Physics from Stanford.
Brad Cooper: 01:19
So just a few lax schools that a few people might have heard of, kind of a slacker there. Right. So I'm kidding obviously. Very impressive the background so he joined UC Irvine faculty in 2001 Professor and Chancellor Fellow in 2006. And he's been recognized many times with grants and fellowships. Professor Feng is also a frequent speaker at conferences and he does travel around and his work and he's been covered many times in places like USA Today, Science Nature, Washington Post some places you might have heard of. And on top of all that he's a devout Christian and he's also been on some of the frontlines with the discussions in the intersections of faith and science and as a writer and speaker and he spoke at The Veritas Forum which is actually how God connected me with him. So Professor Feng starting right in on what you do and physics and being a physicist, what exactly is a physicist anyway? What are some of the things you do, talk about maybe some of the specific fields you work in.
Prof. Feng: 02:24
Yeah. Great. Thanks Brad and a real pleasure to talk to you. Physics is sort of a broad field but basically what we're trying to do instead of understand nature and physical reality at the deepest level. And so this covers a lot of things. Some of my colleagues studies part of the physics of biology, the physics of life, some study the physics the material. So really trying to understand things like what the world is made of things like atoms and nuclei and and how they combine to form material. And that leads to all sorts of things including lasers and computer chips and things like this. And then my area is sort of linked to cosmology or the study of the universe as a whole. And so what we try to do is delve down even deeper beyond atoms and nuclei to the sort of most fundamental particles that make up everything we see and also related to the structure of galaxies and even larger things like galaxy clusters and things like that. So it's a very wide ranging field and has many different subfields within it.
Brad Cooper: 03:28
Also as I understand it there are sort of people who focus more on theoretical kinds of research experimental projects. Then you obviously have I would say people in more applied physics that are doing engineering and kind of hands on and other types of industries is that sort of affair.
Prof. Feng: 03:28
That's exactly right.
Brad Cooper: 03:49
Well and now you're more on the theoretical side I guess.
Prof. Feng: 03:51
Yeah that's right. Each area has sort of two camps within it and say particle physics which is my area and there are theoretical part of physics who come up with ideas and build theoretical mathematical models of things and predict things and then experimental, say particle physicists, who actually build experiments to go out and explore and see what they can find possibly verifying some of the theoretical predictions are in many ways they're just discovering completely unknown things. And then you know theorists are asked and have to try to explain that. Yeah and there are people in applied physics who are very much linked to technology and actually building things that will go out in the marketplace.
Brad Cooper: 04:38
Right. And they're all tied together as you said. I mean so there's the theoretical sort of hypotheses. You've got people testing and experimenting to confirm or hypotheses or bring us in other directions and then once you sort of have some knowledge or new knowledge or discoveries then there are also people who take those findings and maybe apply them to things like you said like engineering and technology in the field. And in fact you know just in general I would say people may not appreciate this but I'm a big fan of physics as you know but but there are some pretty amazing discoveries and some very practical things that physics has brought us you know over the past two hundred years in particular. I mean what are a few of the things that people should know about that through the work that you're doing now other people have done in the past have brought us.
Prof. Feng: 05:22
Yeah. Well so two of the great discoveries in the last hundred years or so are quantum mechanics and relativity quantum mechanics you know just emerge as an attempt to just understand fundamentally what's going on at the sort of smallest levels at the level of atoms and things. But you know now it lost them in almost everything that people use in electronics these days is built on quantum mechanics.
Brad Cooper: 05:22
Prof. Feng: 05:48
That's a huge thing you know from your
Brad Cooper: 05:48
Little things like the internet, maybe computers, cell phones.
Prof. Feng: 05:48
Brad Cooper: 05:48
GPS and all kinds of things, right?
Prof. Feng: 05:59
Yes, GPS is a great example actually that you mention. You know that actually works because of general relativity. So Einstein basically figured out that the way gravity works is described by a theory called general relativity and the fact that our cell phone can sort of place us to you know within I don't know 10 meters or something is entirely based on general relativity and we didn't know general relativity there would be no way all of our sort of traditional rates in the times would go go off in a matter of minutes.
Brad Cooper: 06:33
Right. That's completely things in medicine, MRI, I mean there are so many other things that people will again. Sometimes we take for granted. But really at the heart of it is are some of these key discoveries that you talked about over the last century or so. So let's take us back a little bit. So you know how you got into this. So you know as you were a kid you could, maybe a teenager or somebody said hey maybe, I could be a rock star or maybe, I could play the NBA you know. You know what , actually, physics sounds kinda cool. I think I'll do that. Take us back to that point there was one point it was sort of a series of progression that led you into your field.
Prof. Feng: 07:10
Yeah absolutely. So I grew up in a pretty academic family. My dad is an engineer and was a professor for some time and then went to the national lab for much of his career. My mom was a doctor so I always grew up in a family that was both definitely Christian and also definitely scientific. When I was young, I loved math. Math was my thing. And for a long time my two great loves were actually math and music. I played trumpet and did that for all the way through undergraduate and graduate school years.
Brad Cooper: 07:48
OK not quite the rock band but I knew that there were some music in there somewhere and math and music seemed to go together.
Prof. Feng: 07:53
But my dream wasn't necessarily to play. You know I'm the Los Angeles Lakers but more to play in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. That was the music I hate but as I went to college I think my love for math grew and then an interesting thing happened when I was doing my undergrad years I went to a meeting where prospective math majors and this very old famous mathematician you know I said to him I'd love to do math. Tell me about that career and he said well a couple of things you said know is that math is something that's often done by yourself. You know you write papers by yourself you think by yourself you go years just working on a project by yourself. And so you should be very comfortable with being sort of lonely in a sense. And I thought that sounds terrible to me and my grades. I wanted to try to do something collaborative and I looked around and theoretical physics was very mathematical. But at the same time people usually worked in groups of you know three or five or something like that. And that actually made a big difference that I started thinking more about physics. And of course to really love this idea of you know it's very based on hard calculations and mathematics. But at the same time it's like a puzzle you're trying to figure out the world and it's not just simply coming up with structures, mathematical structures in your head that are just interesting from a purely intellectual point of view. It's more that there's a goal. The goal is to describe reality. And if you have a beautiful mathematical structure which is so elegant and wonderful but it doesn't describe anything that's not really worth much in physics. And I appreciated that goal. And I think it probably you know the connection to understanding God in God's mind and things like that was not lost on me. That was also something in the back of my mind as I was thinking I'm moving toward physics.
Brad Cooper: 09:55
OK. And so a pretty heavy duty school work and you know all the way through Ph.D. I mean it's typical for someone who goes into a career in physics that you're probably looking at definitely bachelor's, master's and in many cases a Ph.D. is sort of what people usually go the path that they go through?
Prof. Feng: 10:14
Yeah. So their undergraduate degree in physics prepare you for all sorts of things because it's trying to teach you how to model the world and that can be applied to things from natural systems to you know we have people that go on and do finance, people go to law school or medical school with physics degrees. But if you really want to do physics sort of the traditional field certainly you need an advanced degree so you have to go and get a masters and most often a Ph.D.. And then if you want to go on even further into sort of fundamental research, typically you would do postdocs or you become a post-doctoral scholar after you got your Ph.D. and then that's sort of a transition period when you're heading up and being independent and doing things that you come up with on your own. And then after that you would go ahead and get a faculty position where you really started buying your own. But yeah it's a long it's a long process and it's something that you really need to love to.
Brad Cooper: 11:16
Right. OK so doing back in you mentioned that you mentioned you grew up in a Christian home but how does how did that play in your your career and your calling. And did the I mean the mysteries of science lead you to God? Did it play a part in maybe questioning some of your Christian upbringing? Talk a little bit about your Christian faith as it related to sort of your calling or your career choice.
Prof. Feng: 11:44
Yeah good, for me maybe I'm a little unusual but for me growing up in a sort of scientific and sort of Christian household I always thought of those as going together very well. I remember still I was struck when I was in high school about to go off to college the church we were in had a I don't know sort of like a party or a celebration of some of the graduates. Peoplestarted asking you know what are you planning to do. And then it became evident then that there were some people in the church who really kind of felt science and their faith in evolution and if they were really at odds and that's kind of one of the first places where I thought ohthat's an issue I didn't like. And so for me they kind of were very not just consistent but kind of you know motivated each other. And so I think in my career when you do science of course there is scientific reasoning and when you're convincing people what you're talking about obviously you need to give logical rational arguments. But at the same time the motivation for doing it, the motivation for the way you go into and then also sort of the day to day things. So for example teaching I see that as a as a calling and I see that as a place in my work place that as very much the impact is impacted by my faith. So anyway it was not a big issue for me but as I get older and I see more people who think that these things might be at odds with each other I realize that for some people it is. Andthen you know for me it becomes important to sort of get the point across that they're actually quite consistent and at least in my view of things they really are synergistic and we really support each other and and come together. And I know a lot of other physicists and scientists who think the same way.
Brad Cooper: 13:38
You talk about that in just a second. Shifting gears a little bit going back to some of the specifics. I believe one of the areas that you're pretty involved with is dark matter and maybe to some extent dark energy and people hear those terms and they've been hearing more about it in the news and probably a little bit superficially and maybe don't understand it but so what exactly is dark matter? And if you could also dark energy?
Prof. Feng: 14:03
Yeah. So dark matter is matter that's just all around us but we can't see it. It's actually a better name for it would be invisible matter. And so we believe that this is this matter which is in fact flying through our galaxy through the earth through us even our bodies which is not made out of protons, neutrons and electrons is not anything from the sort of classic periodic table but which is nevertheless matter. And the reason we are quite sure it exists is that we see its effects from its gravitational pull and it pulls normal matter because it interacts with gravity. And in a lot of the data that we see on large scales explains why our galaxy spins around at the rate it does that explains how the universe is expanding at the rate it is and that's what dark matter is and it's in some sense a placeholder name. We'd love to figure out exactly what it is. You know the way we know what an electron is we know what the charge of an electron is. We know how heavy it is. The sort of things we don't know about that matter. We just started. No it's out there. And so that's one of the great mysteries in our field. And that's in fact that's what I'm probably most associated with is basically trying to identify dark matter.
Brad Cooper: 15:25
And then try to contrast them so dark energy is is something pretty different. But if you could just at least address what that is. I don't know if that's a big part of your work or not.
Prof. Feng: 15:33
Yeah. So dark energy is another mysterious substance. It's actually the substance that is responsible for the universe not just expanding but accelerating in its expansion. And so we've discovered this about 20 years ago now that there is this very mysterious effect where the universe is getting bigger and faster and faster rate. And that's actually due to the dark energy. So right now our best estimates which come from a variety of sources are if you think of the universe as a pie the part that we understand well the part that has atoms and you know electrons and things in it and about four or five percent of that pie just one twentieth and then the rest about 25 percent is dark matter and then about 70 percent is dark energy. So dark matter and dark energy make up 95 percent of this universe we live in and yet we don't really understand what they are fundamentally.
Brad Cooper: 16:40
Right. So 5 percent is the stuff we can see and touch and measure. And 95 percent is stuff that we almost don't have a clue about.
Prof. Feng: 16:49
Brad Cooper: 16:52
So good time to be in this field there's lots to discover there. So you know and it's you know I know you're obviously very confident that it's there and there's I mean there's some that I would say it's probably the minority that some physicists and scientists who think there are a couple of other explanations things like modified gravity. There's others that I know you're not real fond of but at least talk about some of the other possibilities as it relates to dark matter that could be causing some of these phenomena that we see.
Prof. Feng: 17:19
Yes. So the reason we think there is dark matter is because we see for example stars moving in ways that can't be explained. If there were no dark matter. But this also means gravity or more specifically Einstein's general relativity. We have tested that to great precision in many ways but always the possibility that maybe in some extreme circumstances those laws are modified. So that leads to the idea that there's maybe not more matter. But actually that gravity is modified. So that's a well known theory is called modified Newtonian dynamics basically modified gravity in the last 10 and 20 years I think that's really fallen out of favor because there's so much information that keeps pointing to it being matter and all that information is pointing not only to matter but the same amount of matter that's 25 percent of the universe. And it just seems rather coincidental that you know if it was modified gravity it doesn't explain why every single piece of information is pointing to the same number same 25 percent exactly. Also there are other reasons but so basically now I think that the even the modified gravity proponents say you know and certain in certain cases we can explain this with of gravity but nevertheless there's a large amount of data we just simply can't explain that way. And so even the modified gravity people would say you know if there is modified gravity there still has to be dark matter.
Brad Cooper: 18:51
So let's say you know you're right and there's a lot of the people who are behind this are right and we did we come to a discovery and I would talk about that in the second in terms of experiments that are actually going on right now. But let's say we discovered we prove it it's there. What kinds of implications and maybe maybe we don't know but I mean what what are your thoughts on some implications of what that would mean for us you know in terms of either you know additional questions it raises things that could lead to further research actual practical things for the average person that might come come about from discovering dark matter?
Prof. Feng: 19:26
Well OK. So yeah this is like the thing I dream about discovering dark matter. Of course the first thing that once you do what could it mean. That's the great question. I mean to give it just an idea let's sort of understand what we're talking about. An analogy I really like is everything we understand in science in physics is 5 percent of the universe that be like if you spoke a language with 26 letters and you only knew with the letter A. So I mean think of the richness the fullness of that language which you are just completely oblivious to because all your words only have the letter A in them and so that's kind of where we're at. Imean who knows how rich and full it could be. One thing that that we all try to do in physics is try to develop simpler sort of unified pictures of what we understand. One of the great examples of this is in the 1870s or so Maxwell unified electricity and magnetism. You know that the magnet that sitting on your refrigerator sticks there and then you go outside and you see lightning which is you know electricity and the amazing thing is those two things which seem to be absolutely different magnetism and electricity are actually described by the same fundamental principle now. And so that's sort of like the holy grail of physics and science is to find unified theories of things that seem very desparate and if we understand what dark matter is then we could actually start approaching this with at least all the phenomena in hand.
Prof. Feng: 21:05
You know right now it's hard to imagine unifying things when you don't even know what you're trying to unify with. And so that would be certainly one possibility. Another possibility, I mean it's hard to project for two applications but you know basically when we started understanding electromagnetism we started understanding how we could have you know radio waves and microwave ovens and visible light and lasers but to play your CDs and all these things blew out at that. And it's quite possible that if we find dark matter, well we'll find some other dark force or some other something that goes along with gravity and electromagnetism and you know that possibly could have implications for all sorts of stuff but it requires us to figure out exactly where that at force is a long range far so short range force whether that force is strong or weak. There's a lot of things that we don't know. But in my dreams I can imagine that this point in time.
Brad Cooper: 22:12
So you know there's some experiments going on right now. We had a visitor here at UCI that I attended that was talking about one of them in Canada and some of these experiments are in deep mines. But could you just talk about a couple of experiments right now. There's LZ as I understand it the experiment is going on a couple of them that seem to have a pretty good chance of finding it. But the most recent experiments have done a fantastic job of finding nothing which in themselves but as I understand it or good because they help sort of narrow the possibilities of where dark matter might be hiding. But if you could talk about a couple of things that are going on right now.
Prof. Feng: 22:49
Yes, you know quite a lot. To provide some background for example this LZ experiment one thing people have done is because dark matter clearly interacts with very weakly. If it didn't interact weakly we would have seen it by now. What people have done is taken detectors deep into the mines so maybe two kilometers underground where there's very little other activity there's no sort of cosmic radiation there's nothing coming from anywhere else. It'sall screened out and they put a detector down there and just observe a tank of liquid or solid and see if something bumps into it and makes that liquid or that solid recoil. And so there's these extremely sensitive detectors right just down there looking for one or two events to happen maybe once a year. And that's right on the frontiers of track detection. The other thing is people are hoping to make dark matter at colliders so large Hadron Collider in Geneva Switzerland which was very famous for discovering the Higgs boson a few years ago. Another thing it can do is actually colliding protons with each other and making very high energy collisions might be able to make dark matter. Andso we're also all sort of very much interested in looking at that data and see what happens whether there's some evidence of making invisible particles which are seen when they're seen in various ways that are hard to see because they're invisible but we see them because there's an absence of energy when we sort of expected it. And so those are two of the leading detection methods.
Brad Cooper: 24:27
The way that I've heard some of these experiments described is just an amazing feat of human ingenuity and just the clean rooms that they need to make sure and I think I understand that they're like most radiation free places on earth I mean you probably brought banana down there someone will grab you or tackle you. Actually you are just trying to avoid, is that right? I mean they're just so sensitive and this dark matter so elusive that many are kind of overboard on what they need to do.
Prof. Feng: 24:57
Yeah it's amazing. You know the talk as you referred to at UC Irvine just a week or two ago Speaker Art McDonald the Nobel Prize winner was talking about how to run this experiment down deep in the mine. You know they had to take I think he said 20,000 showers every single person that goes into that area has to take a shower because they're entering a clean room you know incredible cleanliness. And so that's one indication. And you know it's just it's a really amazing thing you know the things that people will do that go to the strangest places you know deep in a mine other world leading researchers at the South Pole. And you know that just what is required to sort of get to that level of insensitivity that is sort of the frontier of research at the moment.
Brad Cooper: 25:47
Right. So going back to your faith and the sort of intersection of science for you personally and it sounds like you know and I mean you were you're obviously a solid Christian and you know you also had you know the interest in physics and math and science and those two blended very well to you and the really wasn't any kind of an issue but as you said there are some people who maybe aren't Christian who are seeking and they have this logical sort of scientific mindset and look at some of the things that Christians believe and say and you know I don't know if I can buy that. And then conversely you know you have Christians who may look even derisively at science or maybe be on the other end of the other end of the spectrum for you personally as you sort of explore these things that you've answered some of these questions like you had some interesting questions that The Veritas Forum you know from people that I'm sure you know also made you think about some of the compelling aspects for you that you see in science that point to a God. I mean what are some of the things that you've seen that sort of reaffirm your faith.
Prof. Feng: 26:50
Yeah, well so I think a lot of the controversy comes from you know people who are sort of I don't know how to say overselling or extreme versions of both sides of the issue but I think for example one thing that almost all scientists would agree with is just that the wonder of the natural world. I mean that the fact that it's so put together in such a beautiful elegant way. There are what are called symmetries. There are certain mathematical ideas that lie at the heart of all of our understanding of the world. And I think if you get into science and you can appreciate these things you begin to wonder, number one, just you know why is it like that? Why is it so elegant? Why is it so beautiful? And then number two, why is it that we're able to figure this out? And scientists, both scientists of faith and scientists who are atheists all wonder this. I mean this is something that is really a puzzle. And so for me, you know, that melds beautifully with the idea that there was a Creator who actually was someone, you know I thought to think of it in human terms, of incredible intelligence who was behind this. And it melds beautifully with the idea that we were created and you know given the tools and created the image of this God who wants us to go out and understand things. And so I think for me I think something that's often stressed is that faith and science lead to different conclusions. People really try to emphasize that when they're trying to break this down and say that there is a conflict and for me what they both point to is sort of this amazing beauty this thing that I kind of wonder about, and I think actually that is something that's deep in the hearts and minds of both Christians, people of faith, and also scientists. That's something that we definitely have in common. And also the other idea is that you know I think both communities think that there is a truth out there. I mean clearly people of faith believe that there is an ultimate truth. Scientists believe there is an ultimate truth too. This it isn't something that doesn't get a lot of play in the sort of science verses the religion of wars. But right at the of center of their world view is this idea that there is a truth out there and you can go and find it. And it's not like there is you know everyone has their own truth. And if I went to a physics conference and said, "Well OK you guys think that the electron and the proton are in charge, but not in my world. In my world they're actually the same. And that just because I have my own personal opinion and that's just how it is." That never fly here. And everyone is out there seeking something which you know may be elusive but they they're quite confident that if they find it and they all can be convince other people that everyone's reality use is this one truth. And I think that's a very important point that people across this interface all can agree on.
Brad Cooper: 30:00
Right. And somebody like Einstein in particular you know he didn't profess a particular religion. He just like you said he was seeking truth and he used to say things like he wants to know the mind of God and He wants to be able to see God and you know things like you know it is subtle but not malicious. There's there are things for us to find and that there is this truth and you know he spent his entire last half of his life and there's lots of others obviously you know and then they run into problems like you know what happened before the big bang or where did things come from if there was nothing. You know these are these are scientific potentially truths and maybe some that are experimental. But yeah you're right it sort of gets into going in the opposite ends of the camp and you know there are some as you said there's you know there's some Christians who are probably too far on one end of the spectrum and not engaging and not looking at things from the other's point of view and then obviously there are people on the other end like Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins and these people who were kind of new atheists are sort of on the attack. And what you experience any of that? Has it been pretty good for you where you haven't had somebody sort of either challenge you or question your faith or describe any of it or anything in your personal experience where this kind of has come to a head in any way?
Prof. Feng: 31:11
Yeah. Well just to go back to Dawkins and Krauss. I think they did like a poll in about scientists view of Richard Dawkins and many thought he was doing a great disservice to science by the way he said. You know I think it's important that people realize that just as in any community there are extremists. He's kind of an extremist and I think that he says get it wide play a lot of publicity and all over the media. But they're not representative of what most scientists think. That's that's something that struck me when you mentioned those names. That's a nice preface to what I say about my career. People might think that in academia in universities and science in particular there is this incredible animosity toward religion and Christianity's faith. I haven't seen that. And in part it's because I don't think Christians are as absent in academia as is typically thought. So for example in my department maybe a little bit unusual that we have a large percentage of well a large number of Christians but a fair number and we're quite open about their faith and talk about it. And so I have actually not experienced too much of this sort of antagonism. I have experienced some of that. It's interesting. It's not really from my colleagues and my peers but maybe from the public or spouses who sort of a different idea. What I'm saying or what physicists are saying. Yeah.
Brad Cooper: 32:47
That's encouraging. You know as you said I think part of it is the media. You know part of it is you know some of the spokespeople we see you know on television shows occasionally you will see someone and me just because I know that oh yeah that guy's a Christian. You know and it from his work but it's not necessarily. I mean you will see people who either publicly they go out either on attack or it's just it's more subtle. You know we know now that the universe was created thirteen point four billion years ago and this is how and it's just a very assertive thing that subtly maybe pushes God to the side or you know there's ways you can tell. You know so Christians are kind of they listen to people and I think that you know so it's that I think is what in my experience what people see and maybe it's a fear and I'm actually encouraged to hear from you that it's probably a filtered view. I mean the way encouraging some way that it's not happening but discouraged that's not maybe always what gets presented.
Prof. Feng: 33:42
Yeah. I mean you know there is that aspect of consonance. Our agreement doesn't always sell books. You know a lot of these people are authors Dawkins, Krauss. Stephen Hawking is another famous example and you know a lot of things they say I don't know if they're designed to sell the books but they certainly help them sell the books. So it's a little unfortunate but you know there are other studies there's this sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund who actually did a study where she went around probably the most comprehensive study of the religious views of elite scientists. And so she went around and interviewed and I know exactly how many of them made that top 20. You know research universities and pew scientists a wide range of fields and it's a very fascinating study. And she has shown that there's a much larger percentage of evangelicals and religious people either very actively - People go to church and lead bible studies and you know that are just people who believe in the conscience of these things than people think. So I encourage people if they're very interested to hear about this go look up the work of Elaine Ecklund.
Brad Cooper: 34:57
OK. I'll definitely check it out and maybe put a link to it on our on our Web site. Are there any heroes in particular for you either growing up or are now Christians who were in physics or fields of physics if you do science anybody that you and not necessarily any Christians but just people you looked up to?
Prof. Feng: 35:20
Two of the great heroes in physics, Maxwell, I already mentioned Maxwell's equations are famous for describing an interesting magnetism and another person who's maybe not as well known outside science circles but it's still incredibly giant of physics was Michael Faraday and these are two people who worked in the 1800's and really basically developed, on the theory end: Maxwell, and on experimental end: Faraday, our understanding of electromagnetism and they're they're you know kind of heroes to me because not only was their scientific work outstanding but these are two incredibly strong devout Christians. Their faith went far beyond sort of you know while they were growing up in England and so of course they were Christians and it was way beyond that and you can read some of the things that Maxwell wrote as he was sort of untangling courtesy and magnetism and developing this day. And it was really you know he was basically talking about finding the mind of God but not in a Einstein way where God or this sort of thing where this thing that was like nature but actually really the Christian God of the Bible and read clearly that what he meant he memorized large chunks of scripture like some people say. Much of the Psalms he had in his head. This was someone who was just really incredible Christian and at the same time the giant of that entire generation of physicists and Michael Faraday is another one of the great stories I like about him is he got so famous they asked him to be president of the Royal Society which is like the pinnacle position in England, Science in England and basically in the whole world at that time. And he turned it down he said you know I don't think this is what God would want me to do and that was like unheard of you know I it's like how could someone be so humble to give up such a position. And you know this is just another person that I very much look up to and sort of provides an example of how one should behave both in their faith and also in their work.
Brad Cooper: 37:24
Looking forward for you in your work. What do you see over the next maybe 10, 20, 30 years. Potential physics discoveries obviously maybe something not you're not as close to every day but you know technology. What are some things that you're encouraged about that could be big discoveries that could help humanity cure diseases. Help us solve some of the big problems whether it's energy or other things you know in your field or other fields? What do you see as some of the big discoveries that you might anticipate over the next 20, 10, 20 years 30 years? And what are some of the things that you see that make a journey if any?
Prof. Feng: 38:03
Well these are big questions.
Brad Cooper: 38:09
I saved the easiest question for the end. So I mean we're talking obviously as you mentioned a unified theory. I mean how confident are you maybe in that there is this unifying theory of physics that tie all of these things together simply or do you think it's just more complex than we'll ever be able to put together with just a few you know equations or something like that? How likely do you think that we will have a grand unified theory?
Prof. Feng: 38:34
So my view of scientific discovery is sort of one of my analogy I have in mind is someone who was hiking and wanted to sort of you know conquer some mountain. And so what happens is we work really hard for years and decades and climb up to the top of a mountain and get there we've actually got somewhere which is great but then we look out under the horizon and we see oh there are a lot of other mountains. I didn't realize when I was climbing up this mountain. And now we need to go find them. So I don't you know see that people, and again some of these people have talked about the theory of everything. How are we going to find the ultimate theory any time now that I think is extremely naive and lots of evidence that's not what's going to happen. People have thought that for centuries and they're always wrong. That same time I am an optimist in terms of scientific research. I do hope that we'll figure out at least something about that matter are the dark side of the universe and that will be a peak an that will be an amazing discovery to find new kinds of matter and sort of be able to find new forces new interactions that we don't know about. So I'm I'm quite optimistic that could happen in the next say 10 to 20 or 30 years. I hope it will. As for larger issues it's hard to see what the positives could be. But history shows us that they come out in a funny ways. So again going back to electromagnetism when they discovered it. Some minister asks. I think it was Faraday. You know what is good for this thing you discover it he said something kind of he was being a little sarcastic he said well I'm not sure but I'm sure you'll figure out a way to tax it in the next few years. And of course you know the entire electricity environment then runs our world nowadays. So he was right about that about a hundred years for that to come true. But nevertheless it could be something like that. There are other things that have happened in a much shorter time space. So just the need for cooperation among scientists that famously led to the development of the Internet because you know world web browsers and things like that were actually first developed at CERN in Geneva because they needed to get ways for people to communicate very efficiently among thousands of people and so that can have impact on the way people interact and socialize and things like that. And I guess if I were to go to the last topic of what I'm worried about it's sort of linked to that which is just I see a sort of people in groups talking to people they agree with and this happens on every side of every spectrum. But I think it's really important that we all try to continue to you know talk with people who think differently from us. People who are from different places from us because you know things perspective that you just simply don't get that feeling that people that are just like you and it's much more natural to talk to people just like you and I do that all the time of course. But I try to realize that you know talking to someone who grew up in a different place or you know has a different upbringing leads me to understand that the fullness of the universe and the ways I just won't be able to see by myself.
Brad Cooper: 41:52
Great advice. You know even within you know chemistry and physics and looking across disciplines you know somebody can look at something that you've been looking at for 10 years and they come up with a completely different angle. The same thing for just any other issue that whether it's in faith or doctrine or other great ideas often come from from the outside and not in house. And for him like he said just the more kind of a civil tone and more being open to hearing from others and without making judgments those kinds of things. So that's a great great advice. So some would think it of a young person maybe that's out there listening if they're sort of thinking about their career in physics or in science. What particular advice would you give them?
Prof. Feng: 42:31
Well I would say first of all it's a fantastic career. It can be just wonderful work, wonderful colleagues. And so I would encourage them and wish to do it if they find their passion. I would also say that you know that it's a long road and you definitely need to be committed. But the other piece of information I would definitely give is to try to find mentors. Find somebody who has gone down that road before you who you can really not just you know talk to once every six months for 10 minutes or something but who you can really go to and ask for insights and who can really understand where you're coming from and can give you advice. You know this is not that easy to do. On the other hand it is done by many people who are successful. And I read a poll recently, well not recently but a few years ago which I thought was really interesting of of sort of college students at one particular stage. I think it applies more broadly. They asked college graduates you know several years down the road 10 years down the road and they ask how satisfied are you with your life basically and not just how much money do you make but you know how happy are you how content are you? And then they ask them other questions like did you go to a four year college or two your college at large college? small college? what did you major in? things like this and all those answers had nothing at all to do with how content they were. The only one question they asked what was correlated to how content they were was, Did you have a mentor in college? And if you said yes to that your likelihood of being content 10, 20 years down the line was much higher. That was really interesting. So you know I'd encourage young people who are setting out maybe trying to decide what their careers. Go find someone in your church, in your school, in your university who has gone down that road and many of us more people are really busy but at the same time if we see some young person who is really committed to doing something with their lives we see ourselves in that person and we will make an exception to you know talk to that person and really try to help them. So you know don't be rebuffed by the drop in the first minute and they don't have time to see you don't don't take that as an end. And you know realize they're very busy. But I think many people are praying much like to help you because they see themselves you know that that was me 20 years ago. And so I encourage that. I think that's one of the best pieces of advice I could give.
Brad Cooper: 45:16
That's great. That's great advice. You know I consider myself a geek or a nerd or whatever you want to call it. And you know I I'm a little more extroverted I think than maybe others are kind of more deep into math and science so you know they're probably a little more reluctant to do things like that, to reach out to somebody they don't know and say hey you know I'm thinking about this career in physics professor Feng is that something you know. What advice would you give me? So you know obviously you know there's there are people maybe from your high school that graduated you know alumni or from if you're in college you know from you know college alumni and like you said vast majority of them are busy but they are always almost always at least willing to maybe do a quick call, an informational interview type thing to talk about what it is they do and what it's like to be a physicist. You know what do you do on a daily basis and just so you can get a glimpse of you know inside the life of what it what it's like. Obviously it's a small glimpse and it is like you said a long road ahead but it's something where it's great advice to get some some insights. You know I don't know how much has played for you too but I think praying for God for that calling. You know he doesn't give everybody it on a silver platter. It is uh, Jonathan, you're going to be a physicist. But you know I don't think it works for most people that way. So it is kind of a exploration both with your mind and with the Holy Spirit working through you to sort of bring you to your calling. But those are great things you can do to help it along.
Prof. Feng: 46:35
I agree. Exactly. Thank you.
Brad Cooper: 46:38
Well yes so thank you so much for your time. Anything else that you wanted to talk about or wanted our folks to know?
Prof. Feng: 46:44
I think we've covered a lot of great material. And I really appreciate your having me on and this has been a really fun conversation for me and you know you bring a lot of insights to the things I was saying. It's been a great conversation. Thank you.
Brad Cooper: 46:57
Likewise. Thank you. Thank you. So you know as you know I'm pretty passionate about this topic and your field and I do pray that more Christians like you and just anyone but Christians in particular would you know explore these things because we are as you said kind of climbing mountains and maybe on the verge of getting to some pretty amazing discoveries and that you know people things that people have never done before or seen before and just exploring God and who he is in his creation how he did things and you know some things that may help others. You know like I said you know MRI is a perfect example. You know if you've had someone as I have with family members of experience cancer or things like these there's actual physics discoveries that have helped you know chemistry and other place other you know obviously medicine and biology where these are things that have very practical implications as well for people in addition to being things where you can as we talked about explore God's creation.
Brad Cooper: 47:53
Just thank you so much for being with us and blessing us with your wisdom and your time today and you're a true servant leader in the church and with your field of physics and astronomy. So we just pray God will continue to bless you. Professor thanks for joining us.
Prof. Feng: 47:53
Thank you very much. Thanks Brad.
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