Interview with Atomic Leow
It’s not every day one interviews a research scientist whose first name is ‘Atomic’. When I first met Dr Atomic Chuan Tse Leow, on a previous visit to Singapore, he told me his name was chosen because his father had been fascinated by the advances of the nuclear age. Atomic is well known as a passionate proclaimer of the Gospel, and the total authority and inerrancy of God’s Word, the Bible. After hearing his astonishing testimony of the powerful working of God in his life, this is little wonder.
WARNING: The following childhood experiences involve graphic, disturbing realities. We decided not to ‘paper over’ these (just as the Bible gives explicit descriptions of man’s evil to show us the good), because they make his subsequent conversion all the more marvellous.
When Atomic was a young child, his father sent his family to Malaysia so the children could study there, while he remained in Thailand to work the family plantation. It was bad enough that the children were deprived of a father except for 2–3 days each year. Far worse was the fact that the coach their father had hired, one Mr Choo, turned out to be a master of sadism and child abuse.
For eight long years, at that formative time in their lives, Atomic says, ‘I can hardly remember a single night where we were not bashed and tortured until we were bruised all over.’ These four little boys were constantly subjected to excruciating pain through such manoeuvres as jamming their little fingers and toes in door hinges, or being forced to hold lit firecrackers to explode in their hands. Being made to squat for up to five hours, with consequently savage leg cramps, was common, as was being half-strangled by a cloth knot around the neck, tightened till their faces turned purple.
Even though his little sister was too young to commence tuition, says Atomic, ‘the senseless beating extended to her, too’. On one occasion Mr Choo, enraged by the noise of her playing upstairs, kicked her repeatedly on the stomach ‘until her face turned pale and she started sweating profusely’. Even on Sundays, Mr Choo’s day off, the children could not feel safe, as he would pay them surprise visits. On one Sunday, he caught Atomic reading a comic book. As punishment, he used his cigarette lighter to set the comic book on fire, and slowly roasted Atomic’s legs over it. The litany of abuse even involved permanent physical injury.
The boys hated Mr Choo, and talked of how they wanted to kill him. Not surprisingly, many of them, including Atomic, became ‘especially violent, aggressive and rebellious’. Two of his brothers became caught up in violent gang activities. Even Atomic’s mother shattered his vulnerable heart one day by telling him she hated him, that he had ‘hatched from a rock’ and she had just happened to pick him up from a wastewater drain. Atomic’s childhood and teen years were, he says, filled with the trauma of ‘being unloved, beaten and bashed, full of violent fighting and heavy indulgence in Buddhist worshipping’.
Sent to Australia to study in 1968, Atomic said he vented his ‘anger, frustration and unloved feelings by bashing up people who dared to confront me.’ Weight training and high-level martial arts skills had made him strong and fearless. Summoned by the Australian High Commission for his continual brawling, he was given a last chance to escape deportation.
On 23 December 1970, Atomic says he was so depressed that he came to the conclusion that there was no God, as He had never answered any of his prayers or reached out from heaven to save him. He recalls shouting at God to reveal Himself, and if that did not happen soon, he would kill himself. The next evening he went to a huge ‘carols by candlelight’ event in the open air. The songs, he says, were mostly about ‘things like reindeers’ noses and Santa Claus, meaningless to my troubled heart’. He says he ‘celebrated’ Christmas by beating up his unfortunate companion, and then roamed the streets, his agonized heart asking, ‘Who am I?’
He finally collapsed, exhausted, on his bed in the early hours, and unknowingly kicked over the electric radiator. He woke to find the radiator engulfed in flames, blue sparks dancing around its now detached live wire. After 30 minutes snuffing out the fire, he says he distinctly heard a voice commanding him to go the front foyer of the hostel, where he found a book, the Bible. The voice instructed him to flip to the first page of the book, and later to the last part. He began to read Genesis: ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, and darkness was upon the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering above the waters … ’.
Instantly, he says, he knew that this was the very God to whom he had cried out in suicidal despair. On that Christmas Day, as he read from Revelation about God’s judgment on those who would not repent, Atomic fell on his knees and accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour.
After this miraculous conversion, he stopped his fighting and became renowned as a caring son, husband and father. One day, he happened to come across Mr Choo in public. For one moment, blood rushed to his head, and all the old hurt, pain and rage returned—but only for a moment. He was able to go up to him and shake hands. He says, ‘This is what the mighty God can do—turn a deadened heart of stone into a heart of flesh and love. I had found forgiveness in God—He had saved a wretch like me!’
In 1979, Atomic had finished his Ph.D. He was on his way to a meeting at an Australian university which had asked him to apply for a position in Applied Science, in electron microscope studies. Right outside the university entrance, he heard a tremendous explosion. From 20 stories above, a 20-kg (45-lb) drum of highly corrosive dichromic acid, used to remove rust, had fallen onto the pavement. It burst right in front of him, disgorging the powerful acid into his eyes, nose, throat and lungs. Despite rinsing his body under a shower for hours, he suffered damage to his vision, and breathing difficulties lasting for months.
Right then, a letter came from his father in Thailand, edged in black. It said, ‘Son, I’m sorry, somebody has pumped two bullets into your brother and killed him.’
Then his three-month-old daughter developed extremely severe allergies. There was not a patch of skin on her body which was not ulcerated, bleeding, inflamed and oozing pus. In despair, he asked God, ‘Why don’t you just take her, Lord?’ (He now says, ‘I’m glad God doesn’t answer stupid prayers.’)
Even though he wanted to work as a forensic toxicologist, Atomic felt a strong urging to do a one-year Diploma in Education, to be able to teach students and change lives. But due to his daughter’s severe problems, his wife had to look after her non-stop. To survive, he found night work in a Chinese restaurant, but this was barely enough to pay for his daughter’s medications. They were only able to stay alive because the restaurant owner would give them a gift of one omelette each night, which they shared along with rice and the cheapest dried vegetable soup. During the day he attended his course. At night he worked in the restaurant. Then from 11 pm to 4 am he would do his homework, then sleep for three hours.
The restaurant owner’s abusive daughter had been yelling at him for months. One day, he asked her to please stop. As a result, she and her mother demanded he be sacked. He says, ‘Three months to go in my course, and no more omelette. What were we to do? My wife and I fell on our knees and knew we had to trust God.’ Amazingly, the next day, the university’s dean called, exempting him from the next three months, and offering him a job as Biology Head in a senior college.
The university from whose premises the acid fell was fighting him in court over his residual problems from the acid incident. 27 frustrating months had passed; his wife and daughter had had to return to Singapore months previously, but he was unable to join them while the case lasted. The ‘opposition’ hired an expensive Queen’s Counsel (QC), so his lawyer recommended likewise. But the bills were horrendous, and when told that it could go on for another three years, Atomic determined that he would join his family, on faith, and abandon his court case into God’s hands. Undeterred by his lawyer’s warnings that pulling out would leave him open to be sued for expenses, he resigned his job and booked passage to Singapore. Packing on his last day in Melbourne, the phone rang. It was his lawyer to say that, inexplicably, the university’s QC had walked into his office and offered to settle for a substantial amount.
Atomic says that as a scientist, repeatable confirmation is important to him—and over and over (there were more such profound experiences than space permits us to repeat) his life has shown the dependability of God ‘when there was nowhere else to turn’. He says, ‘Each time things seemed hopeless, turning to God gave the answer, just around the corner. We should not doubt God, but cast ourselves wholeheartedly upon the Lord.’
Trusting the Word
Despite these experiences, Atomic, over and over, urged me, ‘Please tell your readers, it is very important—don’t trust in your experience, trust only in God’s Word.’
Knowing about his hardships, I asked him about bad things happening to Christians. He said, ‘God brings rain—and sunshine—to the just and the unjust. Why would we expect to escape bad things? They come from the Curse God put on the world after Adam’s sin. But in spite of the Fall, we’re made in God’s image, and should reflect His glory.’
Having seen God at work in his life, Atomic is scornful of the notion of any mistakes in His Word about origins. In his research work, he says, ‘I’ve examined the intricacies of the brain under the electron microscope, magnified 50,000 times. The complexity and the design is staggering. We used the finest of glass pipettes to puncture the tiny gap between the nerve and muscle, the neuromuscular junction. Using this intracellular recording technique, it was truly amazing to watch. Every time a single acetylcholine vesicle2 arrived, a tiny electric potential (called miniature end plate potential) spiked. Surely, God’s work of creation is evident even down to the microscopic level.
‘There are 100 billion nerve cells (several times more glial cells3) all integrated and functioning and connected to many others in complex circuits. Something like that cannot have come by itself, it has to be designed. I see the wonder of God everywhere in my work, it could not have come by chance. In fact, I see God everywhere in science. The stars, the complexity of DNA, the harmony of how everything all ties together.’
The Bible’s history of the universe is something Atomic totally believes. ‘The evidence for the Flood is all around us—the whole world is covered in sediments, and there are even clam shells on top of the Himalayas.’ Evolution is a scientific absurdity, he maintains. ‘Birds are very different from reptiles. Their lungs are vastly different in terms of morphology and function. And a bird is warm-blooded, a reptile cold-blooded. The endocrine control involved in warm-bloodedness is very, very complex. Reptiles have solid bone, birds’ bones are hollow. And reptiles’ scales are totally different from feathers.’
His passion rose. ‘How can life come from non-life? This is not scientific. My whole life as a research scientist confirms that life only ever comes from life. Inserting genes into another cell does not demonstrate how life could come from non-life. Evolution doesn’t make sense to me.’
What about the age of the Earth? Atomic, a scientist, is unimpressed with claims for millions or billions of years. ‘I know about the fallibility of dating methods’, he says. ‘I trust the Bible. That should be the bottom line for all of us—in everything.’
- C.S. = Christian Studies, from the Biblical Graduate School of Theology, where he is also pursuing a Master of Divinity. Return to text.
- A tiny packet containing a chemical used to transmit nerve impulses. Return to text.
- These provide support functions for the nerve cells. Return to text.