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Searching for God in science

Chemistry teacher’s inquisitive mind leads him around globe, but finally to God-centered classroom

Posted: January 11, 2014 11:02 p.m.
Updated: January 11, 2014 11:02 p.m.

Teacher Mark Phillips writes chemical equations on the board for his class at Trinity Classical Academy in Valencia.

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Part molecular biologist and part stand-up comedian, Mark Phillips might seem like a funny choice to lead teens to discover philosophical truths in theological discussion.

Or perhaps it’s his one-of-a-kind resume that makes him perfectly suited for his job.

The Trinity Classical Academy high school science teacher encourages young minds to search for God in nature and see the scientific process alive in religion.

“The war between science and religion is a phony thing,” Phillips said. “The correlation between the two cannot be denied.”

Phillips is in the final stages of publishing a textbook that blends Christian theology with the fundamentals of chemistry.

People on both sides of this timeless argument have criticized Phillips for making an effort to see harmony and seek answers where most others build a wall.

But Phillips says he is both blessed and driven by a lifelong inquisitive nature, forever in search of the truths this world has to offer.

So he keeps at it, teaching high school sciences in a supportive environment at Trinity Classical Academy.
After a life of changing careers, global adventures and devastating losses, Phillips finally feels like he’s where he belongs.

Before Christ
As a young man, Phillips started work with Vanderbilt University’s physiology department, primarily doing testing and research for diabetes.

“I thought I would be a lab rat forever,” Phillips said.

But an unexpected turn of events delayed his path in science for two years, leading him instead to joke alongside stand-up comedian Steve Martin.

Phillips was a huge fan of the actor, and when news spread that Martin would be hosting a local comedy contest in Nashville, Phillips’ friends pushed him to enter.

“My friends said, ‘Do it just for kicks,’” he said, remembering the competition. “(Steve Martin) wore a pink suit that night.”

More shocking to Phillips than the suit — he won the contest, launching a two-year career that led him to eventually perform on the Tonight Show.

As Martin became increasingly famous, Phillips was called to fill in when Martin was overbooked. Shortly, the young “lab rat” found himself trading jokes with the likes of Robin Williams, Billy Crystal and Martin Mull.

“But as Robin says: ‘Comedy is not pretty,’” Phillips said. “It was a great experience — I wouldn’t trade it for anything — but it just wasn’t my bag.”

Closing the door on stand-up, Phillips returned to work at Vanderbilt in the department of clinical pharmacology.
Soon enough, he encountered a new adventure.

Search for God
Molecular biology began to catch Phillips’ attention.

“I was not a believer at this time,” he said.

But the more he dug into the finer details of biology, the more Phillips became distressed.

“I was quivering in my boots,” he said. “I thought, ‘This looks too highly organized to be random. It’s too intricate and well-engineered not to be designed. It can’t be an accident.’”

As a science man, Phillips was frightened by the creeping feeling that he could no longer ignore the possibility of a divine intelligence.

He explored various religions and philosophies in search of a “cosmic truth” — something to provide answers where science did not. For what Phillips called “several agonizing years,” he tried to fight his impending faith.

“I set out to disprove the Bible,” he said. “Once anyone does that, they are going to end up like me: on their knees in front of the cross.”

After studying so much of fundamental Christianity, he had embraced the religion in earnest.

“Jesus will wreck your life and change your plans, but it has been an adventure ever since,” he said.

After Christ
A year after welcoming God into his life, Phillips experienced both his benevolence and wrath in full degree.

Phillips fell in love, got married and had a son. A year later, however, his wife was diagnosed with cancer. Shortly after his wife’s surgery to fight the disease, Phillips lost both his second child and his wife.

“It’s the story — it would be a boring one without conflict and challenge,” he said. “But I was mad at God.”

Like any believer, Phillips struggled with his faith in the wake of devastation. But in cyclical fashion, he once again found both God and love.

Phillips met his current wife. While still working at the Vanderbilt lab, he immersed himself in theology, studying every night when he came home.

Recognizing his new passion before he did, Phillips’ wife suggested he go to school for theology. And he was off on his next adventure.

On blind faith, he applied to the University of Oxford.

“They made a mistake: They accepted me,” he said with a hearty laugh.

Married for less than a year, the couple had a blended family with three kids, a new home in England and a new career on the horizon for Phillips.

After Oxford, Phillips and his family went on a number of adventures, from starting a church to travelling around the world on missionary work.

But it was his whimsical decision to teach chemistry in Venezuela that inspired Phillips to search for Trinity.

“I just loved (teaching chemistry),” he said. “I thought, ‘This will be crazy — it will be a third career change,” he said.

God in the classroom
Divinely inspired, Phillips set out to find a classical Christian school where he could teach a God-centered science text.

“I felt the calling at Trinity,” he said. “As soon as I walked through the door, I felt God.”

Phillips explained his vision to Liz and Wally Caddow, founders of the school.

“I want a Christian environment that’s not overly sheltered,” he said. “I want to expose (my students) to all different theories and help them make up their minds.”

The three agreed. If Trinity students were going to learn something as controversial as scripture-based science, the students were going to be versed in competing theories, as well as factually prepared, fostering a well-rounded education.

“They’re not bamboozled or intimidated,” he said.

Textbook example of faith
Using science to support religion and vice versa, Phillips searches for God in nature in his new textbook, out this month.

An atom is the fundamental unit of life, he said, explaining the approach of his textbook, and it has three parts; similarly, God manifests in three forms: the Father, the son and the Holy Spirit, he said.

The Holy Trinity can be found in many other places in nature, Phillips said. Fire is made up of oxygen, heat and fuel. The family is made up of a mother, father and child. The list goes on, he said.

“God can be worshipped in both places,” he said. “I think God is giddy with delight when we study science: how he put this all together.”

When science lacks answers, however, Phillips fills in the blanks with scripture.

“Some explanations just fall way short. We want these kids to have answers,” Phillips said. “I don’t want them to wander for 15 years like I did.”


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