March 17, 2020
How One-Celled Bacteria Made Me Question Everything
As a young man I was gifted in science and math, so naturally I gravitated towards those subjects in college. When I first started my undergraduate education, I wasn't exactly sure what I wanted to be. I went from teaching, to chemistry, to pharmacy, and I'm sure I've missed a couple. But even if I didn't know exactly what I wanted to be, I was sure it would deal with science. And as I grew in my knowledge of the sciences, I found it conflicting with the creation narrative I'd brought to college with me.
I've grown up in the Christian church. With the exception of a few years in my early twenties, I have been a lifelong church-goer. And there were times when Christian leaders would say something that I went along with, but didn't really agree with. The Biblical narrative of creation was one of those things. I found many ways to justify my thinking: What is a day to God? How long did Adam and Eve live in the garden? But the facts were before me, and those facts were defined by scientific reasons for existence.
At best, I was a theistic evolutionist. I believed there was a higher power that put creation into motion, but not exactly as Genesis 1 in the Bible lays it out. How else do you explain dinosaurs and common traits between species? No, evolution and the big bang theories were clearly the answer. And when we all die and go to whatever is after life, the deity behind it all would be there to give us the details.
But the first challenge to my way of thinking happened in fall of 2005. It wasn't at church or a Bible study. It was in my microbiology class, at the University of Missouri - St. Louis. We'd gotten to the portion of the semester where we began to really study bacteria. At the risk of sounding like a complete nerd, I became fascinated by how elegant these simple little forms of life are. They are just so perfect. Their single ring of DNA allows them to adapt to just about any environment-there are bacteria that live in volcanoes, after all.
As I put that into perspective, I was somewhat hurt. If these simple forms of life -- that existed before all other forms of life -- can adapt to so many extremes, then why would they ever evolve into something more complex and less stable? Becoming a more complex and multiple-cell organism, at least to me, seems counterproductive to evolution. If you think about humans, we need our environments to be perfect in order to live.
My questions about simple and complex organisms led to many other questions, and in trying to find answers I seemed to only find dead ends. Nothing added up. The whole mechanism of evolution began to crumble in my mind. I was on hiatus from church at this point, but the things I once considered facts were looking more and more like creative constructions that people came up with to explain how we got here.
And the most important question was unfulfilled. Why? People will downplay the importance of purpose in life, but everyone wants to feel like they matter, regardless of what they believe.
This went on for about three years. I can only see the way that things proceeded as providential. I picked up a second job at the church I grew up in. They needed a night porter, and I needed a little extra cash to support my partying. After a couple months on the job, a weekly young adult Bible study started up during the hours I was working. I didn't think it would hurt to poke my head in to see what they were talking about. Time passed; things happened. Most importantly, I began reading my Bible again. And then lightning struck.
The biblical narrative reveals a very personal God -- a God that interacts with and intervenes in His creation on a constant and continual basis. The Bible reveals a God that would never sit back and watch how things unfolded. Instead, God is always proactive. He anticipates our every move, and actively participates in the process. The theistic evolutionary deity I once believed in was dead on the spot.
I continued studying the sciences. I am a pastor now, with a Master of Divinity. But my bachelor's degree is in chemistry. Some people think that science and theology don't mix, but that is a mistake. As I continued to study the world, the biblical narrative of creation came alive -- especially from a scientific perspective.
I remember chemistry videos in high school that showed two random hydrogen atoms finding the oxygen atom that they were looking for their whole lives, so that they could bond and make water. But there's so much more going on. Electrons are aligning themselves in the perfect position, and the atoms are colliding with just the right amount of force. And, this is just water. Again, simple yet elegant. Also, I can't accept that water being less dense when frozen, which allows life to exist in our oceans, lakes, and rivers, is a coincidence. It seems to me like a personal and active God made it that way. Which pointed me back to Genesis 1.
It can be hard to accept with all of the other narratives. I get that. But to me it just makes the most sense.
Written by Micah Glenn
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