PhD researcher sees hope for mental health sufferers

“God brings purpose and does not contradict science” says esteemed research student

Nathanael Yates
Nathanael and Clarissa Yates’ wedding day.
(Erica Serena Photography, EricaSerena.com)

With the backing of a prestigious Oxford University scholarship to complete a PhD in the neurobiology of schizophrenia, Nathanael Yates finds hope instead of conflict between the claims of science and Christianity.

Nathanael was driven from a young age with a passion for helping those suffering from mental illnesses, resulting in top class results at the University of Western Australia and award-winning research.

From a young age he recalls being fascinated with mental health, psychology and the awareness that "some people can't tell what is and isn't real".

"As a Christian I think it is my duty to alleviate suffering, and mental health sufferers I believe often endure the most and are poorly treated in society," he says.

Although he comes from a highly scientific background, Nathanael says science has never presented a challenge or struggle to his faith in God.

"Being a Christian and a scientist means you have to think through concepts and claims in both Christianity and science more thoroughly, but if you put in the effort it is very rewarding," he says.

"If Christianity is true, which I believe it is, no amount of reasoning or science can disprove it and because of this I have nothing to fear from new knowledge.

"It is important to remember that for most of history the most prominent scientists have been religious and many have been Christians, such as Isaac Newton who even wrote large volumes on theology."

Nathanael says people can be intelligent, informative, rational and still be a Christian which he often writes articles about.

He explains in one article for Christian Today Australia that science is a story of discoveries and, although our understanding of things has changed, the things themselves have not changed.

"DNA still existed thousands of years ago even though we did not know it existed. Truth is not dependent on our understanding, and does not change on whether we know it or not," he writes.

"The existence of God does not depend of whether you believe in Him or not, just in the same way the universe is composed of atoms whether you believe or not."

Although Nathanael says his faith in God is based on sound reasoning, he has also trusted God to bring him through the difficult circumstances he could not understand in life.

"When I was completing my final year in high school my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. My trust in Jesus allowed me to be comforted by the fact, that whatever happened to my mother I had nothing to fear, because I knew she would go to heaven," he says.

"My faith has also helped throughout my childhood because I was quite isolated due to my intelligence and poor athletic abilities."

Moved by the understanding that God could not stand to see His creation suffer despite people's rebellion against Him, Nathanael says Jesus Christ gives him hope that life has purpose and is not just empty and meaningless.

This hope comes from the knowledge that Jesus both cared for those suffering in society and was able to prove He was God through His miracles, fulfilled prophecy and His resurrection after a torturous death.

"His sacrifice on the cross and the forgiveness He offers us if we choose to accept it, means that we can have hope in a world that otherwise is hopeless," Nathanael says.

Following Jesus' example, Nathanael is motivated to continue his research because of its capacity to help countless people and the potential to better treat or prevent the development of mental illnesses like schizophrenia.

"I want to help those with mental health issues so they can come to a place in their life when they can accept and appreciate God in their lives, and to provide hope for some of the most downtrodden in society," he says.

His most recent research into animal models of schizophrenia looks at how stress during and shortly after pregnancy can affect the development of animals.

"I hope to discover unique biological measurements that can one day predict who will develop schizophrenia, which will then allow for preventative treatments. I have recently discovered that some proteins in the brains are very important for hearing, and without them the parts of the brain involved in hearing likely become disorganised."

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