BY SARAH KNIGHT
Survival of the fittest should not apply to religion, yet studying the biological sciences can be a tough journey for Christians. Life scientists and Christians alike are constantly confronted with two controversial issues: the first, evolution; the second, the overall existence of God. These matters can be incredibly difficult to grapple with and even Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, struggled. He began as a prayerful Christian, even studying at seminary during his younger years. However, as he discovered more about evolution, he rejected Christianity entirely, saying, “I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation.” From the example of this first rejection, society has managed to slowly lose its faith as well. In general, it’s rather disconcerting to see those flashy bumper decals picturing the Darwin fish consuming the Jesus fish, but why can’t science and Christianity simply coexist?
I am a Molecular and Cell Biology major and I am a Christian. I have never had somebody approach me and specifically challenge my belief, but I have struggled with my faith regarding what is presented in lecture and what I read in scientific periodicals, particularly in the context of evolution. Evolutionary biology is a fundamental discipline under the umbrella of life science, however, and every Christian, not just those majoring in biology, is faced with the test of doubt.
Darwin’s loss of faith did not happen in an instant. He stated that he was “very unwilling to give up” his belief. He searched for confirmation in the gospels, yet was repeatedly unable to dig up evidence that would convince him of the existence of God and Jesus. Believing whole-heartedly in the morality taught by the New Testament, he was most strongly driven away by the Old Testament with its surreal events and its angry portrayal of God. Biologists, however, do not always have to take the path of Darwin.
I believe we are allowed to make our own interpretation, without forcing ourselves to choose sides. Perhaps our interpretation will catalyze the argument that convinces non-believers of the reason for our faith. Upon much meditation, my thought is that creation is a true story—with an evolutionary twist. I take the creation story more as a metaphor than a literal account of events. I think that there were an original man and woman, but they originated from another species and so on and so forth; all the way back to primitive Earth and the first prokaryote. Once God gave the Earth light, the Bible reads, “and no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth.” (Gen. 2:5 niv) Light and water are needed to generate life, and God knew that. When God made Eden for Adam, I believe he made Earth with an oxygen-rich atmosphere and photosynthetic plants, and organisms which he “formed out of the ground,” or out of primordial soup.
God had a plan. For example: mitochondria, the energy-producing organelles in a eukaryotic cell, are special. They have their own DNA. According to a theory, mitochondrial DNA exists because mitochondria were originally single-celled organisms that were engulfed by Earth’s primitive eukaryotes. Humans and animals receive this DNA only through their mother—its existence is encoded in our genome. In the book The Seven Daughters of Eve, the scientist Bryan Sykes reveals research which traces the mitochondrial DNA of the human race. Sykes took mitochondrial DNA samples from people of certain ethnicities, from certain regions, to determine their relation to each other. Astoundingly, he was able to trace human existence back to a theoretical original seven women. If we can essentially connect humans to each other through mitochondrial DNA and localize findings to seven original women, could not the existence of the first hominid be Adam? Really, humans must have originated from several original humans, and can we not name those original humans Adam and Eve?
I do not think that Darwin truly took everything he studied into account. He reportedly lost his faith in miracles, saying “The more we know of the fixed laws of nature, the more incredible do miracles become.” But is that not the point? Miracles are incredible. They defy the laws of thermodynamics, of hypothesis—of scientific research. Did he not consider the fact that life itself is a miracle? That our specific Earth managed to whip up just the perfect combination of circumstances in order for life to exist, for billions of unique forms of life to exist, is a miracle in itself? Earth is a unique arena, and a higher power must have had a say in that.
Despite my personal belief that science can find a friend in religion, I am continually stunned when I find a scientist or a doctor with belief in God. Yet should I be?
In this vein, I made a visit last June to my optometrist to purchase a new pair of glasses and a few more cases of contacts. I normally do not speak much at optometry appointments, at least beyond politely answering questions the doctor poses. That day, though, I decided to try to hold a conversation with the guy. Both out of interest and in an effort to make small talk, I began questioning him about the functions of various parts of the eye. He calmly answered my questions, when suddenly I remarked, “Isn’t it amazing that everything in the eye fits flawlessly together with such perfect function?”
“Yeah,” he replied over his shoulder as he typed a few notes into his computer. Surprisingly, he perked up a little. “I am amazed by the phenomenon every day of my life.”
“Is that why you became an optometrist?” I asked. I decided I wanted to study molecular biology because I am always amazed by the beautiful structure and function of the cell. I actually find most of my faith in the study of biology. How would so many details work in such perfect harmony with one another if not for our creator?
He looked at me with a perplexed expression. I think he was confused by the fact that I was speaking so much this time, and even going so far as to question him. “Yup, that’s exactly why I became an optometrist.”
I usually find it rather difficult to question people about their faith, but I took the initiative this time. “Are you a Christian?” I asked. It felt pretty weird, and not only because of my lack of experience. I had never really talked to him about anything other than school or the weather.
A smile spread across his face. “Yeah, I am. And I see the human eye as a perfect example of God’s glory.” Silence. I was a little stunned. I had never known he was a Christian and I had been visiting the guy for the last six years.
“I completely understand what you mean,” I said, likewise grinning.
Many people separate science and religion when really they go hand in hand. Believing in evolution is a belief in itself, just like believing in the power of creativity, or believing in the grace of cellular respiration. A belief is something that blurs the line between concrete fact and theoretical ideas. There may be hard evidence of evolution, but there is also evidence that Jesus existed. My views have been influenced by my conversation with my optometrist. I have come to the conclusion that we can find Christians in any environment, the life sciences included: indeed, I have met amazingly intelligent, scientific people with faith that can move mountains.
When God said, “Let there be light,” to me, at least, he meant, “Let there be a source of energy to catalyze important, life-giving reactions.” God has to be given credit. Evolution exists, but God was the planner, the molder, the director. He made Adam and Eve out of the clay of an anaerobic environment. Life is beautiful, no doubt about it. Yes, some of our processes malfunction; we are not perfect creations. We contract diseases and we lose the ability to walk, but consider the astonishing number of days we spend in perfect health. We are God’s magnificent portraits, all the way down to the microscopic level.
So can biology and Christianity share a symbiotic relationship? I think so.