Physics professor tackles faith and science

Ken Hahn, the new professor of physics at John Brown University, says that his life has been defined by teachers. In fifth grade, Hahn had a science teacher named Mr. Pendleton.

“He was really, really strict,” said Hahn. “You lost five points on a test every time you crossed something out.”

Nevertheless, said Hahn, “that may be where I became aware of my love of science.”

After gaining a love of reading as well in high school from one Mr. Berrington, Hahn began a lifelong journey of science and learning.

Hahn studied physics as an undergrad at Texas A&M, joining the Corps of Cadets, an ROTC-like organization established by A&M in 1876.

“It was challenging,” said Hahn. “I was the first of my family to go to college.”

The military atmosphere was strict — Hahn was required to wear his corps uniform everywhere except the dorms — and occasionally promoted unhealthy choices, but it was because of the corps that Hahn was led to Christ.

Hahn did not grow up in a Christian home, and his few experiences with the church before college were not very positive.

“I went to a Bible study, where I met cadets and students who were genuine Christians,” Hahn said.

There began a yearlong struggle with God that ended in giving his life to Christ. He began to study theology and continue in Bible study, and soon, through reading, he had new teachers in authors like John Piper, J.I. Packer and J. Oswald Sanders. Though his journey was not easy, he knew his purpose well.

“I knew I had a new master,” Hahn said.

After Hahn graduated in ’82, he served in a non-military capacity with the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, spending time on a destroyer in the South Pacific and a submarine, the Ethan Allen.

“This was back in the days of the evil empire of the U.S.S.R.,” he quipped. “I played some real army.”

After his service time was over, he took the opportunity to go back to A&M for grad school, getting first a master’s degree and then a doctorate in physics.

As he studied physics, Hahn was asked to teach an advanced physics course.

“It was by teaching that class that I realized not only that I loved science, I wanted to teach it,” Hahn said.

Though he was well qualified for research jobs when he received his doctorate, Hahn looked only for teaching positions, and ended up a professor at Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo.

It was there that Hahn met his wife, Tricia.

“On our first date, we went to see a play called ‘Christmas Carol,’ in Colombus, Mo.,” Hahn said. “It was a 100 mile drive each way, so we had plenty of time to get to know each other.”

Hahn and his wife courted and were married in nine months, and have been together for twenty-three years.

“Everything we do is a partnership,” he said.

Together, they ran a successful college ministry at Truman State for several years, but after a short-term mission trip to Nigeria, Hahn began to feel the call of the mission field.

“Thus began another struggle with the Lord, this one two years long,” he said. He and his family moved to Dallas in 2005 and Hahn began attending Dallas theological seminary, while teaching full time at the Cambridge School of Dallas, a college prep school where he taught physics, calculus and theology, as well as serving as Academic Dean.

When Hahn’s aspirations for the mission field were foiled by the ill health of one of their sons, Hahn and his wife began looking for where God was leading them next. The position at John Brown University was the only job he applied for.

Hahn was very impressed by the mission and community at John Brown.

“I’m a huge advocate of Christian education,” Hahn said. “We need Christians who are well trained in their field and able to wrestle with the challenges of the day.”

One of the issues he’s interested in tackling is the intersection of faith and science.

“I don’t see any great conflict in those, but in the culture there’s a huge schism between faith and science,” Hahn said. “I am fully aware that in the church there are many competing voices. But I know that God does not lie. The Bible is not a science textbook, but it is true.”

In addition to jumping into integrative learning, Hahn is eager to get involved in ministry. He has also begun thinking about physics research that would be accessible to students and affordable for the University.

Above all, he says, his goal is simple.

“Not to sound trite, but (I want) to honor the Lord with my teaching, and to pour into the lives of my students in whatever way opens up for me,” he said.

He hopes the students are ready to learn. Though he is our professor now, he is still learning himself.

“I still have teachers,” he said. “They sit here on my bookshelf, and they can talk to me anytime I want to listen.”