2016 YAMAUCHI LECTURE
A UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT'S TESTIMONY
by Doug Ward
OXFORD, OHIO-Molecular biologist Santa J. Ono is a successful and beloved university president, first at the University of Cincinnati (2014-2016) and since then at the University of British Columbia. Ono is known for his effective use of social media. He also makes no secret about his strongly held Christian convictions, something one might not expect of a scientist and administrator at a public university. In a lecture at Miami University on March 5, 2016, Dr. Ono explained the way science, service, and faith come together in his life and worldview.
Ono grew up in the Baltimore area, the son of mathematician Takashi Ono, who taught for many years at Johns Hopkins University. High academic achievement was emphasized in the Ono household, and this is reflected in his life and those of his brothers. His older brother Momoro, a professor of piano at Creighton University, had performed with symphony orchestras by the time he was ten years old. His younger brother Ken, who started thinking about the concept of infinity by age seven, followed in his father's footsteps and is now a prominent mathematician at Emory University.
With such talented brothers, Santa Ono-despite his own achievements-suffered from feelings of inadequacy as a child and thought about taking his own life at age 14. (He was later diagnosed with a mild form of bipolar disorder.) He credits God with turning his life around.
Ono struggled during his freshman year at the University of Chicago. One night he got drunk at a party, and two friends kept him from falling from a fifth floor window in his dormitory. The two friends were Christians, members of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, and they introduced him to the Christian faith. Later, as a graduate student at McGill University, he met his future wife Wendy, who is also a Christian. Through the influence of Wendy and Baptist pastor Lloyd Pierce, he accepted Christ as Savior and was baptized in Montreal at Easter in 1986.
Science and Faith in Academia
Ono noted that science and faith often have had an uneasy coexistence at secular universities. He mentioned John William Draper (1811-1882), a founder of the New York University School of Medicine, and Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918), the first president of Cornell University, who wrote books portraying religion as an enemy of science. Science, they said, should not be held back by old superstitions.
However, the "conflict thesis" of Draper and White has been thoroughly discredited on historical grounds, and other scientists have seen compatible, complementary roles for science and faith. Ono mentioned geologist John William Dawson (1820-1899) of McGill University as an example.
Ono said that he does not see a conflict between science and faith. Part of loving God with all our minds (Matt 22:37) is the exploration of challenging questions, and faith is strengthened through this process. He believes that both the strongest universities and the strongest churches are places where people can be safe to ask questions and debate.
Ono explained that in his own field of molecular biology, there has been an explosion of knowledge over just the past generation. As we learn more about the awe-inspiring complexity of biological structures like the human eye and immune system, we come face to face with the limitations of human understanding. Ono came to faith when he embraced these limitations. With all that we know, he pointed out, we cannot begin to create life. Our current knowledge of biology points us in the direction of God.
Ono observed that he is not the only scientist who thinks this way. He mentioned Francis Collins, who led the Human Genome Project, as a prominent example. He said that in general, scientists are less religious than the general population, but he sees that gap shrinking over time.
As a disciple of Jesus, Ono wants to be a servant leader. He often quotes Mark 11:45, where Jesus said that he "did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Scientifically speaking, this means that he wants to use the knowledge that he has been given to do good. In his research he studies the immune system; the eye; eye inflammation; and age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness. Early detection and treatment of macular degeneration can reduce vision loss, so he hopes to improve our ability to detect this condition.
As a president of a secular university, Ono tries to start from a position of humility and respect for everyone in the organization. When he takes this approach, Ono says, there is no need for him to be a "stealth Christian" and hide his faith. He strongly believes that universities, as inclusive institutions, should not shut out faith or pretend that it does not exist. Spiritual life, he notes, is an important part of overall health and an essential part of our identities.
Ono sees it as part of his responsibility to support faith-based groups of all kinds, and in general to support those who are searching for the truth and those who have no faith. His own period of searching stretched over a number of years, and the support of a number of people helped him to find God and discover God's purpose for his life.
Ono sees the position of university president as the place where he can accomplish the most good and be truly evangelical. To those who heard his lecture at Miami University, he stands out as an inspiring example of a Christian scholar and leader.
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On 07 Jan 2019, 16:40.