Chemist calls science the ‘study of God’s handiwork’
Dr. Stacy Trasancos, a scientist and theologian, recently spoke in Fargo about coming back to the Christian faith after walking away from God during college and her years working as a chemist for DuPont.
HIDEAWAY, Texas — As a child, Stacy Trasancos delighted in nature, including the sunshine glistening on leaves. When her mother told her God made all that beauty — and her, too — she believed it.
“Children start out assuming there is a unifying logic to it all,” writes Dr. Trasancos, a scientist — and now theologian, too—in her book, “Particles of Faith.” “To a child, faith and science go hand in hand.”
But in high school, when Trasancos learned about the Krebs cycle in chemistry class, she became dazzled in a new way. Her fascination with atoms soon replaced her natural embrace of God.
After obtaining her doctorate in chemistry, Trasancos began work as a chemist for DuPont, shirking the divine sensibilities she’d so easily grasped as a child.
But a memory from grad school haunted her. One day, frustrated with a project gone awry, Trasancos looked out a window near the chemistry lab and gazed upon a large Ginkgo biloba tree. Staring at its leaves, and pondering the intricacy of photosynthesis, she concluded that “a very smart chemist” had to be at the helm of this world.
She would later return to her faith, proclaiming, “Science is the study of the handiwork of God” — a statement that might make some modern scientists bristle.
Trasancos gave her testimony recently in Fargo at the 2022 Real Presence Radio fundraising banquet at Delta Hotels by Marriott, sharing additional thoughts by phone prior to her visit about the conversion that led her to study theology and devote herself to her family.
Faith not even worth her time
Trasancos categorizes her former self as a “none;” someone simply disinterested in religion. “It wasn’t even important enough for me to argue about,” she says.
By the time her interest returned, she found her scientific training had prepared her to “slow down and not jump to conclusions.”
“In science, you’re always peering into this atomic reality, and you never feel like you have the full story about what’s going on,” she says. “If you’re too eager… you’ll make the wrong conclusion.”
That demand of patience ended up aiding her journey back to faith. “I never felt like I had to find the right answer right away,” she says. “I later learned this from St. Thomas Aquinas. It’s called prudence.”
But whether in science or religion, she says, a conclusion must be drawn eventually with the information we do have. “You have to balance decision-making with discernment, and at some point, you have to act.”
Her spiritual discernment led her to conclude that God is both creator of all and interested in each of us individually. Though born Baptist, the shape of her newfound faith came through a Catholic lens, influenced by her husband, Jose, a Catholic, Cuban-born mathematician.
‘A deep and pervasive confidence’
Meeting Jose was the beginning of her journey into theology and embracing her vocation as a wife. Trasancos ended up leaving DuPont and immersing herself into life as a stay-at-home mother. She now has seven children and six grandchildren.
But in grad school, Trasancos recalls working alongside Christians in research labs who offered “empirical evidence” of the goodness, truth and beauty of the faith through their lived witness.
At the time, she admits, “I was a mess. I was good at chemistry, but bad at everything else,” especially relationships. But, as she shared in her book, these Christians “possessed something special — a deep and pervasive confidence,” giving her hope she could obtain that, too.
It’s a potential warning to Christians who engage in “fancy arguments” about faith, she suggests.
While healthy conversations can be a start, “It’s going to come down to the will, and what that person is willing to believe.”
‘Scientists know much about little’
In “Particles of Faith,” Trasancos writes that “Scientists know very much about very little.”
“As a chemist, I got narrower and narrower,” she explains, “… and I struggled to plug that spike of knowledge into the rest of my life.”
At DuPont, she could connect her knowledge into making spandex, but “I did not know how to see science as the handiwork of God.”
Now, she keeps that statement near. “It’s so simple,” she says. “It’s also what we pray in the first line of the (Catholic) creed.” “I believe in God, the Father, the almighty, Creator of heaven and earth...”
Trasancos adds, “There’s nothing in science that can contradict what God has revealed,” noting that scientists can make bad conclusions by coloring their scientific data with their own biases, and leaving out the question of God, simply because they’re not comfortable with it.
For Christians tempted to be led only by the wisdom of the age, she suggests “going back to the first steps,” like the humble act of praying before meals.
“Look at the universe, and thank God for it,” she says. “I think people can evangelize to science in that way, saying, ‘But wait a minute. Who created all of this?'”
We are called to live confidently in the truth that God exists and created the world, she adds. “I don’t see how anyone can learn about science without concluding there’s a creator.”
Chained by scientism
But many fall prey to scientism; the belief that only knowledge obtained from scientific research is valid, and that which derives from religion is invalid.
“Scientism chains the intellect,” she says, forcing us to not look up, and to say, “I am not going to think about anything bigger than what’s on the periodic table.”
It focuses on small questions, overlooking the big ones, just as she’d done before her conversion.
“My life was like so many other materialists, in both the philosophical and commercial sense,” she says. “I filled my day with minutia, like what I was going to get at Walmart, and how I was going to balance my checkbook — all those details that don’t lead to happiness.”
She’d also become a perfectionist to control everything. But that began to dissolve upon entering the Church, she says, through grace, and “having that constant casting to God, ‘What is your will? What is the right thing to do here?’ It changes your whole perspective.”
Only then, she says, could she begin pondering things like virtue, the human soul and our journey to heaven.
Suffering doesn’t disappear
A central element of being Christian, she says, is the relationship and communication with God.
“Going to Mass to say thanks to God, being open to life — those become the important things,” she says. “I found a way to say, ‘The laundry will get done, I’ll have food on the table, but I've got to get this other stuff right first.'”
Having faith doesn’t mean life will be easy, however. “You’ll still have the struggles and suffering,” she insists. “But at least I understand why it hurts now. We’re not the Trinity. We’re never going to be three persons, one God. We’re going to have problems and need to work through them, and sometimes, it’s going to hurt.”
Trasancos encourages young people of faith interested in science to not be afraid of entering this realm.
“If you’re called there, pray about it, but let your virtue be the thing that leads your decision-making,” she says. “Don’t let anyone convince you to set aside your faith in the laboratory.”
Ralph Dyrness, of Valley City, N.D., a retired educator, attended the Fargo event and says he liked how Trasancos connected chemistry with “a rational way of seeing God,” reminding us we don’t need to know everything to believe.
“There’s something beyond what we can comprehend, and that does not have to be fearful or scary.”
Anna LaFond, 18, from Ulen, Minn., says Trasancos’ presentation gave her an even greater appreciation for the grandeur of the world.
“Just in looking outside,” she says, “there has to be some greater mind than ours guiding all this.”
She’s been thinking about the world’s beauty even more since the talk. “God put so much effort into it for us to be able to learn and watch and marvel at it. It’s made me even more grateful for being here.”
Salonen, a wife and mother of five, works as a freelance writer and speaker in Fargo. Email her at email@example.com, and find more of her work at Peace Garden Passage, http://roxanesalonen.com.