A Physicist’s Path to Truth through Science and Life
By Alan Tai
Studying in three different schools in Hong Kong left me confused about religion. The stories of Abraham were taught in my Koran classes, and they were also taught in my Catholic Bible class in elementary school. How could I know which religion was the right choice? I did not see a need for any of them. Science seemed to be the only truth worth pursuing.
Traversing through Religious Schools in Hong Kong
My first grade was spent in an elementary school associated with Buddhism. My impression of Buddhism at that young age was related to the statues of the Buddha. He always appeared to be smiling and in deep thought. Next, I entered St. Antonio Catholic Elementary School, where I studied from the second grade to the sixth grade. In this school, I first heard the stories of the Bible. Statues of Mary, Jesus, and the apostles were in different locations around the school. They appeared to be more friendly than those I saw inside the “Heavenly Queen” temple. Passing the worship hall of the school gave me a sense of solemnness and unspeakable “love.” I especially enjoyed the Christmas parties at this school when all the students could watch movies and received gifts and candies.
A lovely female teacher had converted to be a Catholic nun. Her enthusiasm in teaching and her faith in her religion expressed a certain genuineness in caring for people. The feeling of a holy environment and prayer during the mandatory Mass—the Catholic worship service—also changed my attitude toward “western religion.” Even though my family tradition of the “Eastern God” did not endorse any involvement of the “Western God,” I started to pray to St. Mary by memorizing her prayer.
One story taught by the nun related to the special power of St. Mary. During the final judgment, all the work done during the lifetime of a person was put on a scale to be determined if he or she was good enough to enter heaven. The handkerchief of St. Mary would be put on the other side of the scale. This would change his or her status from bad to good, because the tears of St. Mary somehow made the difference. I did not understand what really happened after people died, but I was drawn by the religion’s charm and virtues. However, I did not have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. My so-called “faith” at that time was on shaky ground that would not stand when trial and difficulty came.
One school year, my results in academic examinations were not good so I needed to see the headmistress, a Catholic nun. She asked me to promise her that I would not watch television till my academic performance improved. I had no choice but to say “yes.” For a while I did try to not watch TV—I studied behind the TV! But I could hear the TV sound, and the temptation was too strong for me. I gave in and went around to the front of the TV and enjoyed the programs.
My academic performance for entering middle school did not meet the minimum requirement of the Hong Kong education department. Without the subsidized tuition from the government, I needed to find a middle school on my own. I prayed to St. Mary quite often and wondered why she or God didn’t answer my prayer. When I look back, I see that my faith was based on favorable things happening at that specific time, rather than on God’s providence in directing my life.
Unless a private school accepted me, I would miss the chance to further my education. A new middle school and high school up the hill from where I lived was an “Islamic College.” I was so desperate to be accepted in a school, I did not really care what kind of school it was or what religion it was associated with. I managed to pass the Islamic College entrance test and started my student journey in a “new religion” school.
I discovered the related religion did not belong to Westerner or Easterner. It belonged to Middle Easterners, as far as I could understand. All the students were required to attend a religion class about the Koran once a week. The religion education leader, Mr. Pao, a Muslim scholar educated in the Middle East, would pray in the Arabic language during student assemblies. His prayer included some songs with melodies I knew, but I did not understand the meaning of the prayers. From my observation, Mr. Pao sincerely prayed to communicate some messages to God (Allah), the essential points of which he also tried to share in our religion class. Most of what I learned in the Koran class was related to Muslim law, teaching people not to do wrong and evil things, and telling people about Allah.
Even though I wished there were a God who created all things, I pondered how I would know and communicate with Him. The religions I encountered guided people to do good. And if people did not follow the religious teachings about doing good, they would be punished for doing evil things. Nevertheless, it was not in my heart to seek religion to find God. My impression of religions at the time was mainly based on my observation of people who regularly attended a church or temple. It seemed that true believers needed to give money and time to be considered religious. I asked myself, “Why would I invest my time and money in some uncertain endeavor, especially when my dream of seeking wisdom in science was my highest priority?” I reasoned that if I were a good enough person, I might not need religion. Considering myself an atheist, I believed nothing but science to be the final Truth of life.
Pursuing the Study of Science
Life after high school was busy as I endeavored to focus more on studies and working. Because I had failed the English language section in the Hong Kong standard test, I could not be accepted at a university. So, I started working a series of low-level jobs. However, I was eager to learn science and technology and studied at night at a technical institute.
My family and relatives were supportive of my desire for a science education. Chinese tradition and Confucian philosophy valued education most favorably among the virtues. An uncle and other relatives encouraged me to apply to universities abroad. The fact that my family trusted me was very humbling. I deeply appreciated their love, not to mention their financial support of my education.
Coming to the United States to study in 1981 gave me the opportunity to broaden my horizon and discover more about science and life. My major purpose in pursuing higher education was to learn science. I determined that I would not spend time in religious activities but focus completely on studying physics, to seek to discover its universal laws—the thing that fascinated Einstein. I also chose not to watch TV. For the seven years of undergraduate and graduate studies, I basically fulfilled my promise to the Catholic headmistress in my elementary school.
As I pursued my dream of becoming a physicist, I read biographies of scientists whose passion and interest in science motivated and encouraged me. Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, and Marie Curie drew my attention so vividly that I considered them as my teachers and friends. They were my role models as scientists whose persistence and wisdom in understanding scientific truth opened the door to classical and modern physics that pushed science and technology forward by at least a few decades.
My love for science and physics led me to desire to gain wisdom in using and applying scientific knowledge. I longed to understand the original cause and source of this world—to uncover the mysteries in this universe. How did the universe come into existence? Did the Big Bang Theory give more evidence about creation than evolution? If God created the wonderful heavens and earth and was the first cause of these mysteries, did He use mathematics as a foundation of creation? Was He both a mathematician and a creator?
Galileo called nature the “Book of Nature” and mathematics the language of this book. The current mathematical formation of nature and science results from the contributions of many wise mathematicians and scientists. The theories of mathematics can be verified and applied to the establishment and advancement of physics. Mathematics itself is not bound by space and time. The same mathematical truth can always be used and checked in different locations and periods. It is a universal language and can be studied by people without boundaries. Mathematical truths stay the same in the past, present, and future.
Finding the Highest Truth
During one school break, I spent a week visiting my cousin in Toronto, Canada—a week that began a turning point in my journey to a new life. My cousin had changed from the naughty and goofy person he had been into a caring and sincere person. He had become a Christian. He shared with me the Christian gospel and brought me to various church meetings. My heart was opened, and I became willing to read God’s Word. My cousin’s testimony and God’s Word helped me know that Jesus is real. I accepted Him as my Savior and Lord and began a personal relationship with the Creator God. My life was changed forever.
Then one night in 1982 while I was studying the Bible, the Spirit of Truth touched me gently and opened my eyes even further. I understood that through the very mysteries of the universe, God is making Himself known. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalms 19:1, ESV). And God most clearly reveals Himself in His Son, Jesus Christ, “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Hebrews 1:3). Because of God’s love, He provided a way through Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross to remove the barrier that separates man from God, so that by faith in Christ, we may know God and have eternal life. This is the hope I have in Christ, and it is worth spending the rest of my life studying His Word and experiencing His guidance. I had found the Truth that is higher than science.