SCIENCE UNDERGIRDED MY FAITH (C. 1958)

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Excerpted from The Evidence of God in an Expanding Universe, edited by John Clover Monsma. New York: G.P. Putman’s Sons, 1958

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SCIENCE UNDERGIRDED MY FAITH (C. 1958)

By Albert McCombs Winchester, Biologist

A.M., Ph.D., University of Texas; graduate studies, Univer­sity of Chicago. Formerly Professor of Biology, Baylor Uni­versity; presently, since 1946, Chairman Department of Biol­ogy, Stetson University. Author of textbooks on biology, zoology, genetics, and a popular volume, “Heredity and Your Life.” Past President of Florida Academy of Science. Specialist in genetics, effects of X-ray on Drosophila.

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One cannot study the works of any craftsman without learning much about the nature of the craftsman who created the works.

Can a scientist have the same belief in the existence of a God, and the same deep reverence for Him, as one who has not engaged in scientific studies? Is there anything in the discoveries of science that would degrade the power and majesty of a Supreme Being? These are questions which sometimes cross the minds of some who feel that scientists, in their extensive research work, uncover facts which tend to run counter to the teachings of the Bible as interpreted by some individuals.

A personal experience illustrates this viewpoint. When, as a college student, I first decided to go into the field of science I well remember the day when one of my aunts took me aside and pleaded with me to change my mind, for, as she put it, “Science will cause you to lose your faith in God.” To her, like many others, science and religion were opposing forces—to embrace one was to exclude the other.

Today, I am happy to say, after many years of study and work in the fields of science, my faith in God, rather than being shaken, has become much stronger and acquired a firmer foundation than heretofore. Science brings about an insight into the majesty and omnipotence of the Supreme Being which grows stronger with each new discovery. Science replaces the pagan superstitions, which often creep into our religious beliefs, with sound facts which can be supported by demonstrable evidence. Just as the discoveries of science have altered the practice of medicine from the days of blood letting and incense burning to our modern techniques of diagnosis and treatment, some of our ancient concepts of God’s relationship to man have been altered by scientific discoveries. We know today that personal illness is not invari­ably a punishment invoked by God for our sins, but rather an invasion of the body by certain microorganisms which obey all of the natural laws which apply to all living things. Our belief in God has not been weakened because of our knowledge of these facts—rather we have learned more about God and the world He has created.

One cannot study the works of any craftsman without learning much about the nature of the craftsman who created the works. Likewise, the more we delve into the intricacies of the nature of the world and its inhabitants, the more we will appreciate the nature of that Supreme Craftsman who created them. My field of study has been in the broad field known as biology, the science of the study of life. Of all the magnificent creations of God, there is none which can surpass the living things which inhabit our planet.

Consider a small clover plant growing by the roadside. Where among all the marvelous man-made machines can we find its equal? Here we have a living “machine” which unobtrusively, but consistently, day in and day out, brings about thousands of complex chemical and physical reactions, all under the direction of protoplasm, the material of which all physical life is composed.

From whence came this complex, living “machine”? God did not personally mold it with His own hands and shape every leaf and root on it. No—He has created life with the ability of self-perpetuation; the ability to continue the species down through the generations with all the characteristics which make it recognizable as a clover plant ¹. To me, this is the most fascinating branch of biology and the greatest revelation of the majesty of God. Here we are dealing with a world of infinite smallness, because the pattern for the construction of a new clover plant must be contained within a portion of a single cell, so small that it can be seen only with a powerfully lensed microscope. Every vein, every hair, and every branch on the stems, roots and leaves have been formed under the direction of tiny engineers within the one cell from which the plant grew.

Moreover, these tiny engineers have the power to alter the pattern of their production at rare intervals and to produce an organism which is perhaps somewhat more efficient than its ancestors. There was a time when many thought it to be sacrilege to imply that any forms of life on earth were not in the exact form as originally created by God. Today, most thinking people have come to realize that the creation of the intricate mechanism of self-perpetuation within living matter, with provision for change in the face of changing environ­mental conditions, is a much greater achievement than the mere creation of organisms which can only produce carbon copies of themselves throughout all of time.

Animation of a rotating DNA structure.

Scientists now seem to stand on the threshold of another extremely important discovery—the actual creation of life in the test tube. In an extremely elementary form, it is true, but they have succeeded in putting together the chemicals in the proper order to form a substance known as desoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). This chemical formerly has been a substance produced exclusively in living cells. It is the very substance of life, the hereditary material which carries down through the generations, placing its imprint on all life coming from it.

DNA from one form of life has been successfully incorpo­rated into the protoplasm of another form of life, thereby achieving something in the nature of a transformation of inherited characteristics. What of this man-made DNA—can it also be so incorporated? If so, man would have achieved the essential creation of elementary life.

The final outcome of this effort still hangs in the balance. Many scientists are doubtful; others consider it impossible. But even if this should work out successfully, would this be anything to shake one’s faith in God? Only if one’s faith is based on shallow superficialities. To those whose faith is based on sound thinking it would only be another step in understanding the work of the Supreme Craftsman who created all of the marvels which man is so laboriously unfolding.

A deeper and firmer belief in God can be the only result of a better insight into truth.

¹  It is assumed that this statement does not imply the author is promoting deism.

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