Academic journal article Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith

The God of Christianity and the G.O.D. of Immunology: Chance, Complexity, and God's Action in Nature

Academic journal article Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith

The God of Christianity and the G.O.D. of Immunology: Chance, Complexity, and God's Action in Nature

Article excerpt

Much of the tension that exists between science and certain groups within the Christian faith, particularly in the United States, arises from the complete rejection by many Christians of the possibility that randomness could exist in a world created and sustained by the sovereign, all-knowing, and all-powerful God of the Scriptures. Yet, as any geneticist will tell you, random mutations provide the source of variation in populations of organisms, which are the raw material of evolution. Still, the average person on the street will find it highly counterintuitive that something orderly and purposeful can arise through a random process. For example, author Lee Strobel, in his popular book The Case for a Creator: A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence That Points toward God, rejects naturalism because he is not able to believe that "randomness produces fine-tuning" and "chaos produces information." (1) Strobel here represents a mainstream group of believers who have trouble reconciling two ideas: (1) the seemingly random behavior of atoms and molecules in nature, and (2) God's upholding of the universe, his foreknowledge and sovereign control over events. I believe that natural systems are characterized by a kind of randomness that is a critical aspect of the way the world operates.

In this article, I define biological randomness more precisely as extreme unpredictability, and I discuss various ways of understanding the concept of randomness. I argue that randomness does not necessarily exclude purpose. In fact, such unpredictability is a necessary feature of many biological systems; it is randomness with a purpose. People whose conception of God allows for no such randomness are forced either to reject their God, or, more likely, ignore these observations of the natural world. I believe that this is a false choice based on a flawed understanding of God's action in the world.

A major goal of this article is to clearly demonstrate how a specific type of randomness is an essential component of some biological systems, and is compatible with belief in the biblical God of traditional Christianity. An example from my own field of immunology is the process whereby antibody gene segments rearrange to form functional genes, which I will describe below in some detail. This is just one example that illustrates how extensive and multilayered biological examples of randomness can be. In contradiction to Strobel's statement and many people's intuition, randomness, in this case, does, in fact, "produce fine-tuning." As one who upholdsmy college's statement of faith in "one God, the Creator and Sustainer of all things," I personally believe that randomness is compatible with God's sustaining and creative activity. The final section of this article will discuss philosophical ways to understand how God's activity relates to this kind of randomness in the natural realm.

Definitions of Randomness

It is important to define terms from the outset, since the words "random" and "chance" can have different meanings, depending on the context, and are used interchangeably by some authors, but not by others. The term "randomness" can have a precise mathematical meaning, as well as more common, intuitive meanings. The topic of randomness has come up a number of times in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (PSCF). I refer the reader to Ronald Remmel's presentation before the California State Board of Education in 1972, reprinted in this journal, (2) in which he discussed several possible interpretations of the word, and discussed some of the quantum mechanical aspects of the issue, which are beyond the scope of the current discussion. In his speech, Remmel asked the important question of whether the world is really random or only appears that way to our limited knowledge. His personal belief was that God determines the random numbers that make the world function.

In a more recent paper, G. R. …

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