Science and Religion: The Modern Revelation 
Science and Religion: The Modern Revelation 
By James G. Martin, organic chemist and former Governor of North Carolina
Babyboomers.com Staff

Can we talk? There are some interesting things, mostly unfamiliar, that suggest science is not in conflict with religion as many once believed. If you are willing to take fifteen minutes to read a few examples, I promise that you, not I, will get to decide what you believe about it.

For 162 years since the publication of Charles Darwin’s thesis “On the Origin of Species,” followed by his “Descent of Man,” the world’s religions have struggled to answer atheisms’ interpretation of evolution. Many believers were offended by aggressive pressure from anti-theists’ bold assertion that evolution was incompatible with faith. Christian fundamentalists fought back with counter-attacks that belief in God denies evolution. Oddly, both were saying you can’t believe in God and science.

While this strategy was sufficient for some Christians, it did not win converts. Atheists did not dissuade all Christians, but net defections were from the faithful side. With many young people pressured to choose between science and religion, the outcome was a steady erosion in the numbers of believers. The best response from theologians and clergy was a 2004 statement known as “The Clergy Letter.” With over 17,000 signatories, it upholds science and religion to be different domains of truth, separate but equal. This left many dissatisfied.

As the church searched for better answers to the weaponization of science against religion, a new movement of scientists has come forward with rebuttals that only scientists could affirm. The first volley came from astronomy. Before 1930, astronomers believed that the size of the universe was fixed, with no beginning. This was just fine for hyper-critics of religion, for it seemed a direct denial of creation beliefs such as Genesis 1. When Fred Hubble discovered many galaxies far beyond our Milky Way galaxy, he found that, with few nearby exceptions, they were all moving away from Earth and each other. The universe was expanding. The greater the distance to a remote galaxy, the faster was its speed away from Earth. Outward velocity was directly proportional to distance, which meant all matter in the universe must have originated from the same place and time. This was the Big Bang Theory of creation.

Physicists soon pointed out that this depended upon an absolutely perfect balance among four fundamental force constants. Gravity, the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force, and the electromagnetic force were all fine-tuned for stars, planets, and life. The gravity constant, for example, had to be precisely balanced against the explosive power of the Big Bang. Had the creative thrust been very slightly stronger, no stars would have formed. Slightly weaker, and the young universe would have collapsed. Either way, we wouldn’t be here. Astronomers added that life would not be possible on most planets. They were either too hot or too cold; too large or too small. Earth is among the very few that are “just right” --- in the Goldilocks Zone! Were we extremely lucky, or what?

Paleontologists’ fossil discoveries showed that while single-cell life appeared 3.5 billion years ago (BYA), the next 3 billion years evolved only four body types (phyla): single-cell organisms, sponges, jellyfish, and simple roundworms. Not much. Then suddenly, 542 million years ago (MYA) there was quite an eruption of new body types, with six or seven dozen new phyla. This “Cambrian Explosion” lasted about 20 million years, a blink of an eye in geologic time. Equally amazing: not one new phylum has evolved in the half billion years since then. Not one. Did this window of opportunity suddenly open --- then slam shut?

Ponder this. Darwin himself wondered why there was no lineage of fossil ancestors leading to human species, homo sapiens. Today there are a half dozen prospects. The most singular feature across our apparent ancestral timeline is an abrupt enlargement of the brain cavity. Beginning 2 MYA, it steadily expanded to triple the starting cranial capacity. Analysis of the human genome reveals that also about 2 MYA, human ancestors developed a peculiar defect in genes controlling the jaw muscles, weakening them. This allowed the forehead to expand progressively from the sloped form of all other primates to our unique frontal prominence that allows intelligence. Nothing like this occurred in any other species. Miraculous? Just lucky?

Biologists had known that DNA was the carrier of genetic information when Watson and Crick (1953) published their brilliant deduction of the double-helix molecular structure of DNA. This changed everything. Until then, evolution explained that when mutation produced a new species with survival advantages, natural selection favored its success, while rejecting those that were less fit. Before 1953, what caused mutations was unknown. Now, the structure of DNA, with 2.1 billion elements of genetic code, explains this and much more.

My book, Revelation Through Science (Revised 2021), covers relevant scientific findings from these disciplines before introducing material from my field of organic chemistry. When all we got from Evolution Theory was “natural selection,” it was easier for anti-theists to presume that mutation simply happened, needing no divine intervention. Today, by showing that DNA’s genetic code controls almost every aspect of life (reproduction with heritable traits, mutation, cell division, illness, immune function, aging, etc.), science validates evolution.  It also reveals that life is far too complex for self-assembly from any random mixture of chemicals.

Let me show you what science reveals about the basic foundation of life. DNA’s double helix consists of its coiled twin backbones. Each helical coil is a polymeric chain of phosphate alternating with a special sugar, deoxy-ribose. Hence, the name deoxy-ribonucleic acid (DNA for short). These coils are cross-linked by four molecular entities: adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine (hereafter A, T, C, and G). Each cross-link consists of one A paired with one T, or one C paired with one G --- no other combination works, The genomic code of each species of plant or animal is the sequential order of these A-T and C-G pairs in its DNA. For humans there are 2.1 billion of these pairs. What is the probability of getting that code precisely correct by chance?

Similar features with vital differences describe RNA. A single RNA coil (partly helical) has ribose, a slightly larger sugar, in its backbone. Its code has A, C, and G attached, but with uracil (U) in place of thymine (T). Its sugar’s bulkier size and the substituted U help differentiate its function.

With about 500 known amino acids available, only twenty of them combine to form thousands of life-functioning proteins. Some proteins are enzymes; some are hormones. The human body has about 23,000 proteins. Inside every cell, large proteins called ribosomes assemble each protein by connecting hundreds or thousands of these twenty types of amino acids in a precise order, which defines each protein and its properties.  What, then, controls the sequence of amino acids that differentiates one protein and its function from the others?

The envelope, please! The answer is . . . DNA. DNA has many thousands of genes, each with the genetic code for whatever it controls or regulates. Among human genes, 23,000 have the code for the sequence of amino acids in our 23,000 proteins. The sequence of amino acids for each distinct protein is thus predetermined by the code of one particular gene. Wow?

Read that previous paragraph again. Let it sink in. Then let’s consider how the code of each “proteinogenic” gene is translated into the sequential order of amino acids in its protein. The DNA is too large to interface with the ribosome protein factory. Instead, the code from one gene gets copied onto one molecule of messenger-RNA (mRNA), which delivers this code to the ribosome. Its code selects the amino acids for their sequential order in the protein.

This elaborate puzzle has one final piece. It might not surprise you that all natural sugars (ribose, deoxy-ribose, glucose, fructose, sucrose, lactose, etc.) are biosynthesized by special proteins whose structures are uniquely capable for that function.

What you have just read is truly ”a riddle wrapped in mystery inside an enigma” (as Churchill famously characterized the 1939 non-aggression pact between the Soviet Union and Germany). In summary,

  • sugars are biosynthesized by catalytic action of protein enzymes,
  • proteins are biosynthesized by the protein factory ribosome,
  • the sequence of amino acids in every protein is predetermined by the C, G, T, U code sequence in mRNA,

  • mRNA gets its code from one gene of DNA, and
  • ribose sugar forms the backbone of RNA, while
  • deoxy-ribose forms the backbone of DNA.

Here we have an elaborate three-way “chicken-and-egg” conundrum as the basis of all life.

Which came first? Wouldn’t all of the above need to be present in perfect working order in the very first living organism?

It would not be correct to infer from this discussion that science can prove anything about God. Science cannot test such concepts. It remains a matter of faith. If this review has shown scientific findings that seem miraculous, you have a great deal to think about. My purpose is to reassure you that science is not the enemy of faith, but its ally if you accept both.

If, through revelations of science, we find realities of nature

that point us to God, we might thank God for science.

 

 

About the Author

James G. Martin is an organic chemist and previously served as the Governor of North Carolina. Dr. Martin earned his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Davidson College in 1957 and his Ph.D. in chemistry from Princeton in 1960. He went on to teach chemistry at Davidson College, his alma mater, for 12 years. During that time, he played principal tuba in the Charlotte Symphony and officiated high school football. Drawn to politics as a precinct worker, Dr. Martin was elected three times as county commissioner, six times to the U.S. Congress, and twice as Governor of North Carolina. After 26 years of public service, Dr. Martin returned to his scientific roots in private life to serve as Vice President of Medical Research at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C. – a role from which he retired in 2000. He and his wife Dottie have three children and five grandchildren, and he currently resides in Mooresville, N.C.





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