girl-scientist-with-insect-jarI am a scientist, and as such I like to see the data before making a conclusion. Sometimes, the data is insufficient but at least you can make some correlations and find some sense in your observations.

I always liked to observe, to compare and to test the limit of things. As a child, I did some scientific experiments without even knowing it. I remember observing how ants follow the track of others and if you pass your finger in between them they get lost. I also tested how they reacted to heat: as I approached a very hot wood stick near them they curled up and eventually died. I didn’t want to hurt the ants; I was amazed with their reaction and wanted to understand what was happening. No one knew I was doing such experiments, as I was about 10 years old, and not supposed to play with fire. However, today I am deeply sorry for the torture I inflicted on the ants in our garden.

ladybugI loved ladybugs, so I collected them from our garden and put them in a glass jar with water and green leaves. There were several types of ladybugs in our garden with different sizes and colors, but some of them were very difficult to find so it was always an exciting moment when I captured a new type. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t survive long. I got very sad and did not understand why they died. I tried several times to build a new collection, increasing the amount of water and greens, and  when my grandpa realized what I was doing, he told me about their need for air, so I started using plastic jars and making holes on the lid to allow air to come in. It also didn’t work, so eventually I gave up.

Another science experiment, less dramatic than the insect stories, was when I got a beautiful doll for my birthday that used to speak when you pushed her belly. I asked around how it worked but no one was able to explain it to me. Sure enough, I got a knife in the kitchen and opened the doll to find a little disk inside a white plastic box. I still didn’t understand how it worked and my doll was never the same nor talked again. But don’t feel bad for my failed experiments nor judge me for unintentionally harming insets. I was just a little kiddo trying to understand the world around me.

panda-303949_1280As I grew up I became better in not destroying things to understand how it functioned and stopped killing ants and ladybugs. My curiosity was always there though. No matter what it was about, I was curious and wanted to experiment. Growing up I changed my mind several times on what I wanted to become: a teacher, a paleontologist, an astronaut, a physician or a geneticist. I became none of them, as reality checked in, the options were fewer and I ended up choosing chemical engineering – which by way was a great choice.

But aside from the science, I was curious about religion. I was raised Christian going to catholic church every Sunday morning and my whole family was spiritual in some way or another. Most were Catholic, but there was a little bit of every Christian religion from protestant to spiritsm. It wasn’t a problem at all that we followed different religion and beliefs, maybe because the essence of all of them was Christian. For my family, as long as you believed in God and followed the moral code of your church you were okay. Never occurred to me to judge someone based on their religion as long as they believed in God and didn’t insist too much to convert me.

southern-pinwheel-galaxy-1236300_1920My grandma told me one day that science was work of the devil, that scientists were atheists and didn’t respect the word of God. But lets not judge her as she could barely write her name on a piece of paper – she spent her life raising kids not going to school or educating herself (you can read more about that here). Anyways, as you can imagine, since at young age my scientific curious brain conflicted with my religious education. I asked my grandpa how the universe had started and he told me that it was with God. Then I asked, but what was before God? And what was before that? How can something be the beginning of everything? I was so confused and had so many questions. I tried asking the priest in our church, but he told me to pray for my blasphemy of questioning about God. My internal conflicts lasted for a little while.

When I moved out from my grandparent’s house, where I had been raised from 2-12 years old, I started to get exposed to different people, experiences and religion. I continued my catholic faith for a long time, but I visited other churches and learned a little bit about what they believed. My curiosity just increased and I couldn’t find a place where I completely fit in. My mind was full of superstition, fears and guilt of trying to figure out what God was really about. The more I studied less sense I found in religion and I lost my faith many times. When I lost my faith, I felt lost and sad, but I was afraid to bring it up to others. I wanted to believe in God, in a greater good, in a father that looked after us all, so I finally decided to compartmentalize my faith and science, I didn’t think they belonged together.

smiley-150663_1280I made my way through PhD and postdoctoral appointments at prestigious universities in Brazil and in the US setting my scientific brain aside from my religious beliefs. I met people that completely denied the existence of God presenting all sort of scientific observations that contradict the Bible. At first, I was shocked for meeting people that would publicly deny God and the Bible. That was one thing I was taught to NEVER question! I even considered not being friends with them as that could get me in trouble with God later on. But unfriending someone because we have different views also didn’t seem right so I listened and learned what they had to say.

I realized that these few people I met that didn’t believe in God were actually very good people. Some of them volunteered to make food for the homeless; others would get out of their way to help a stranger. So, what was it all about? I realized that not only it didn’t matter which religion you followed, you could still be a good person by not following any religion at all. The religion or the absence of it does not define who you are, but your actions do. That’s good, but it was only one piece of data. It was okay for people to not have a religion or have different religious views. But, if God does exist and is perfect, science should not contradict its laws.

mathematics-757566_1280When I was at MIT I observed that there were many people that did not believe in God, but many others that did, including highly respected science professors. I was curious by how they did it, since I was still keeping science and God in different buckets in my brain. So, when I had the opportunity, I asked a highly respected professor : “How can you believe in God being such a respected scientist? Doesn’t faith in God contradict science?” For my surprise, she told me no, it didn’t. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. So far I’ve met people that were either very religious and denied science, people that like me just didn’t mix them together, or people that completely denied the existence of God. It was the first time I heard that someone, more important, a respected scientist, believed that faith and science could coexist. She gave me a book called “The Language of God”. This book was written by Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project, where he makes the case that faith in science and faith in God can coexist within a person and be harmonious. Reading this book and knowing that highly respected scientists had faith in God made me feel more comfortable with my own faith. Although I didn’t agree with all their arguments, I was relieved.

pier-1209549_1280I still didn’t have enough data to get to a final conclusion, but I had enough to make some correlations and find some peace of mind. I really didn’t care what people around me believed, but I needed to figure out what my beliefs were. For many times in difficult situations, I felt God was with me. When everything was going wrong, when I thought there was no way out, something good happened and I found a way. I couldn’t have done it all alone. Was it luck? Was I in the right place at the right time? I don’t really know. Why would I be more special than others that didn’t have the same fate? There is no easy answer for these questions. I decided that I have faith: faith that there is good in the world, faith that things can always get better and that if you persist you may achieve your goals. I believe that for every action there will be a reaction – so all the good or bad that happens to us is a result of something we’ve done.

What is God? I don’t know precisely, but I do know that it is better to live a life filled with love, peace, and health and that we are better and stronger together. Most of my beliefs are based in hope: hope that it won’t end here, hope that one day I will meet loved ones that have passed away, hope that suffering was not in vain. I still pray and I still want to believe, but I don’t go to churches or participate in any religious ceremony. I try to be better, I try to forgive and forget although it is not always easy. And I hope that one day we can understand all the mysteries of life, but meanwhile we should still respect each other no matter what believes we carry in our minds and hearts. After all, we are all here to learn and grow.

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