The Bog on the Mountaintop
BioLogos is pleased to announce the addition of Kathryn Applegate as our director of Web site development. Applegate’s scientific background will bring a much-needed voice to the ongoing discussions at The BioLogos Forum, as she now begins blogging on a regular basis.
In 2004, I hiked 190 miles across England, from coast to coast, with three friends. We had many adventures along the way, but one of the most memorable occurred on our third day, when we ascended out of the valley pictured above on our way to the heavenly town of Grasmere. After several hours of steep uphill climbing, we come out on a high, flat place, where we rested to take in the enormity and grandeur of the view.
All in a moment, peace and amazement turned to panic when I stepped into a bog. What appeared to be solid, mossy ground gave way and I plunged up to my thigh in thick mud. I struggled vigorously, but to no avail—the suction was intense, and I could feel cold, wet mud creeping into my boot.
One of my friends came to the rescue, grabbing my pack to relieve me of the weight. It took every ounce of my strength to hoist myself out of the mud. The whole ordeal must have lasted less than two minutes, but it left me exhausted, and I spent the rest of the day carefully testing every step.
Now, having spent four years in Louisiana, I know a thing or two about swamps. But who would have guessed there would be a bog on a mountaintop? I thought mountains were supposed to be firm and unshakable!
In many ways, I think the Evangelical community’s approach to science is like a bog on a mountaintop. For the most part, Christian theology is solid and trustworthy. Our traditional interpretations of the Bible have been carefully worked out and refined by theologians over hundreds of years. Moreover, Christian doctrine has proved to be a practically and spiritually powerful framework for literally billions of people.
But there are weak spots in our understanding, and how many believers relate to evolutionary science is one of them. Some folks distort the science to fit their theological pre-commitments. Others accept evolution but trivialize Scripture by rejecting its divine inspiration. Still others experience cognitive dissonance when they learn the evidence for evolution, and end up leaving the church altogether.
As regular readers of this blog know, there is another way—the difficult path of reconciliation. The BioLogos website has existed for less than a year now, but it has already made important progress toward this end. Pete Enns and others have done a terrific job of outlining many of the hermeneutical issues we must consider, while Darrel Falk, Karl Giberson, and others have described much of the scientific evidence for evolution. I am so pleased to be joining them in the quest to achieve a coherent, decidedly biblical understanding of how God has created—and continues to create—life using natural processes.
My field is cell biology. Prior to joining BioLogos, I spent the last six years doing research at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. There I worked in the Laboratory for Computational Cell Biology (now at Harvard Medical School), studying the cell’s internal scaffold, the cytoskeleton. We normally think of skeletons as being rigid and static, but the cytoskeleton assembles and disassembles constantly, allowing the cell to move, divide, and quickly respond to the environment.
Biologists have traditionally studied cytoskeleton dynamics by making manual measurements from time-lapse photographs of living cells taken under the microscope. Using computational methods, I developed software to extract thousands of times more measurements than could be done by hand. My collaborators and I applied these software tools to study the cytoskeleton’s activity during blood vessel formation and also how it is regulated in tumor cells.
Since my background is in biophysics and math, with a particular focus on cell and molecular biology, I will be blogging regularly on questions like the following:
- Can complex cellular phenomenon be understood from physical principles?
- How can a random process produce order? Does randomness imply purposelessness?
- Do irreducible complexity and complex specificity, those bedrock ideas of the Intelligent Design movement, provide adequate proof of a Designer? Is this even a scientific question? Why or why not?
- What is emergence, and how does it relate to irreducible complexity?
- Would a natural explanation for the origin of complex specified information in our DNA remove the need for God?
- What is statistical significance, and what do scientists mean when they say something is true or has been proven?
If you have specific burning questions about these or related topics, I would love to hear them! We’ll have a lot to talk about in the coming weeks. Overall, I am encouraged by the level of dialogue between people of different theological persuasions on this site. This is certainly the way to begin repairing the rift that has developed within the church on these issues.
In Psalm 40, David remembers how the Lord rescued him: “He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.” I know I felt a similar sense of deliverance when I survived the literal bog in England. Regardless of your current convictions, pray with me that God would bring all his people out of the bog of fear and confusion about evolution and deliver them to solid ground. All the difficulties we encounter along the way will pale in comparison to the view from the top!
Kathryn Applegate is Program Director at The BioLogos Foundation. She received her PhD in computational cell biology at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. At Scripps, she developed computer vision software tools for analyzing the cell's infrastructure, the cytoskeleton.