Remembering R.J. ‘Sam’ Berry, a Real Scientist With Real Christian Faith

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“As a Christian at university, I was faced with a hierarchy of possibilities. The really holy people became missionaries, the rather holy people were ordained, and the fairly holy people became teachers; the ‘also rans’ did all the other jobs in the world,” so wrote R. J. Berry in his book Real Science, Real Faith. Having discovered that he either couldn’t or shouldn’t do any of the “holy” jobs, Berry, known to most as Sam, eventually realized “that we have all been given different talents and callings, and that there is not (and should not be) such a thing as a typical or normal Christian.”

Sam Berry was anything but a normal Christian. He attended his local church regularly, went to the monthly prayer meetings whenever he could, and served on the church council. For the last 30 years of his life he was licensed to preach, and for about 20 years he took part in national synod meetings. This would have been a huge commitment on top of a regular job and raising three children, but Sam was a high-capacity person who was not content to conform to the stereotype of “also-ran”—those who run races but never win. He demonstrated to the best of his ability that every single Christian is in full-time ministry.

As professor of genetics at University College London, Sam studied island populations (especially mice), which often involved field trips to remote Scottish islands. He was a distinguished biologist and published work on evolutionary and ecological genetics, biodiversity, and conservation biology, and was the president of several prestigious scientific societies. His final academic contribution, a book titled Environmental Attitudes Through Time was published this month by Cambridge University Press, just a few weeks after his death at the age of 84. I attended the service of thanksgiving for his life, which included a tribute from his colleague Professor Steve Jones—himself a renowned biologist and communicator. Jones’s contribution was all the more remarkable because he is well-known for his rejection of faith yet was able to celebrate such a well-known Christian’s scientific achievements and recognize that he had “gone to a better place.”

Another hang-up for Sam as a student had been the pressure to share his faith in a particular way. Realizing that he “had none of the gifts possessed by some of getting alongside people and proclaiming Christ,” he recognized that this was “not an excuse to avoid living and speaking for Christ at every available opportunity.” One of the ways he did this was by thinking deeply about how science and faith can work together: speaking, writing, and editing books on the subject.

His first science-faith book was on the compatibility of evolutionary biology and the Genesis story. This has been a difficult and sometimes painful question for many biologists in evangelical churches, and Sam’s first book Adam and the Ape in 1975 helped many people to think through the issues. In his 2007 Faraday paper Creation and Evolution Not Creation or Evolution he wrote, “When we put together faith and reason, we can join with the whole creation in praising our maker and redeemer, and rejoice in the wholeness which is the true end of humanity. We do not have to choose between evolution or creation; biblical faith leads us to affirming both.”

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Source: Christianity Today