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Featuring guest Lynette Strickland

Lynette Strickland | Finding Beetles with God

Lynette Strickland shares how her childhood curiosity in the natural world has helped her understand God’s creation.

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beetle

Lynette Strickland shares how her childhood curiosity in the natural world has helped her understand God’s creation.

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A podcast that shows the harmony between Christian faith and current scientific discoveries by sharing the stories of interesting people who have found a better way of understanding science and Christian faith.

On today’s episode, Lynette Strickland joins host Jim Stump and producer Colin Hoogerwerf to ruminate on her love for creation. Lynette shares how her childhood curiosity in the natural world grew into a passion for doing science, why variation in a species could help it adapt to changing environments, and how studying beetles has helped her understand God’s creation. 


Transcript

Strickland:

The idea of this unfailing love is probably one of the hardest things for me personally to grasp. But when I look at my beetles, when I’m out in a tropical rainforest looking for beetles, and I think of that, I see how God loves them and I can see how he loves me. And so honestly, relating myself to a beetle, weirdly enough, is what sort of helps me understand how God loves us, how God loves his creation, how God loves his world.

My name is Lynette Strickland and I’m a grad student at University of Urbana Champaign in the department of evolution ecology and behavior.    

Stump:

Welcome to Language of God. I’m your host Jim Stump. And today I’m joined in the studio with my producer Colin.

Hoogerwerf:

Hey Jim.  

Stump:

You and I sat down with Lynette not too long ago to talk about beetles. And you were pretty excited for this interview…

Hoogerwerf:

Yeah. I feel like the science and faith discussion is too often dominated by origins and evolution but for the next couple episodes we’re going in a different direction, talking about ecology and our role in stewarding creation. 

Stump:

Sounds interesting. So how did you get connected to Lynette?

Hoogerwerf:

She submitted  a proposal to our Baltimore conference last spring. It was all about beetles and what they might teach us about God. I’ve been pretty interested in insects for a while now. They just seem so under appreciated compared to a lot of the bigger, furrier animals—the charismatic megafauna as they are sometimes called—but insects are so interesting and weird and they are everywhere. And you don’t usually hear about beetles and God in the same conversations so my curiosity was piqued. 

Stump:

Lynette tells the story a little later about JBS Haldane, who apparently when asked what he had learned through his study, he answered that the creator must have an inordinate fondness for beetles, given the more than 350,000 species discovered so far. It’s pretty clear that Lynette also has an inordinate fondness and you can hear it in her voice and in her stories. And it’s not just for beetles. Beetles may be her entry point but they connect her to the whole of creation and to the creator. 

Hoogerwerf:

Yeah, her awe and wonder really stuck out. One of the things that was so fun in talking to her was that she’d often go deep into the details of her work, but then she was able to scale back to the bigger picture and her openness to the mystery and grandness of God.

Stump:

Well we’ll hear more about the beetles she studies and what makes them so interesting and what she has learned about God in the process. Here’s the conversation. 

Interview Part 1

Stump:

So to start, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background. Where’d you come from? How’d you get to the place you are now?

Strickland:

Yeah, that’s a fun question. So I’m originally from Austin, Texas. So grew up sort of with a lot of green around me. No one in my family though had gone to college or was necessarily interested in anything academic. I was sort of the odd one out in that I just always wanted to be outside. I want it to be playing with things and looking at things. And luckily I had an incredible mom who was very supportive of that. She made sure we left the house 20 minutes early so that every point along the way I can look at all the insects to get to school. And so just sort of going naturally from there.

Hoogerwerf:

So were you the kind of kid that was always picking up bugs and…

Strickland:

Yes. Yes. Anytime…so every time we had recess or would always be, you know, kickball or people playing on the swings. My mom actually worked at the elementary school I went to, so every time I would ask her for a plastic cup, a piece of plastic and a rubber band and I would go out and find ladybugs and I would put grass and ladybugs inside. And I would keep them until they died because obviously they were in a plastic cup and then I would do it all over again.

Hoogerwerf:

Where do you think that came from?

Strickland:

God. There was no one in my family necessarily that was interested in the same things I was interested in. And so just from such a young age, I was so curious and passionate about it and I had no idea that it was something you could turn into an occupation. But from as long as I can remember, it was just something that was in me.

Hoogerwerf:

When was that moment when you realized it could become an occupation?

Strickland:

Oh, it wasn’t until my third year of Undergrad actually. Yeah. So I went through all…basically from the time I was five, my mom has this paper that I made in elementary school and it was like when I grow up, I’m going to be a veterinarian. And so that was sort of my motivation. That’s what pushed me through. And so it wasn’t until my third year of undergrad that I met a professor who taught animal behavior and evolutionary biology. And we would just talk so often and one day, he was just like, why are you going to vet school? You’re going to be so bored. You ask too many questions. And that’s the first time I learned you could actually have a career in research.

Stump:

Where did you go to college as an undergrad?

Strickland:

I went to Texas A&M at the Galveston campus. So this also sort of helped with a natural curiosity because we were located on a very small island off of the coast of Texas. And so my undergrad was actually in marine biology. So everything we did was out on the water and in the dunes and in the tidal areas. So it was just, it was being immersed in this natural world while learning about all of these things. So it was incredible.

Stump:

We’ll ask you some more about your scientific research in a bit, but let’s rewind again here. And what about your faith background? What was that like growing up?

Strickland:

So my mom’s side of the family, they’re from Mexico, so there’s very much a catholic culture, but we didn’t grow up necessarily with a personal relationship with Christ. So it actually wasn’t until, once again then I went to undergrad, my first year there, my freshman roommate was an incredible girl and we just hit it off right away and she was a believer in Christ. And so she’d gone to church all her life and sort of grew up in the culture and I just thought it was really cool how much she loved Jesus. Like I had never seen someone sort of bring his name into just daily life. You know, she would lose something and find it and then just be like, thanks Lord. I was like, Huh.

So I just found that really interesting. It sort of started a curiosity of like what’s up with this Jesus? And why do you love him so much? So it was from there that I started getting involved in a church and then at my church at the University of Illinois has been very central to my faith and I was baptized five years ago at that church.

Hoogerwerf:

Your interest in the environment and creatures started long ago, but it kind of grew and at this same time as your faith is kind of growing?

Strickland:

Definitely.

Hoogerwerf:

How to do those work together or were they separate?

Strickland:

I think they very much work together. It was about the same time that I was sort of really coming into this curiosity about the natural world that I also was really becoming curious about the spiritual world. And for me they were…there was no way that I could disconnect them. They were very much intertwined and it was sort of, it was when my faith was growing that I also started to realize a lot of that could be applied to my scientific work. And so I’m looking at these beautiful wonders in the world and there’s no way that I could not ask questions of God. So they were very much intertwined from the get-go.

Stump:

Any tensions though?

Strickland:

There have been some. Personally or? 

Stump:

Yeah.

Strickland:

I think the main tension comes from, so not necessarily when I look at nature because that tends to be what brings the peace in sort of intertwining it, but it definitely comes from interacting sort of with people in the world. And so yeah, that has been my biggest struggle. And especially coming from sort of the background that I did, I’m just asking questions about, I dunno, social justice has always been a big problem for me. And so it’s just like, Oh God, why? They’re like, we’re so broken, but the world is so beautiful. So I think that has sort of been the biggest tension for me.

Stump:

So it’s not been the science itself that has caused you to ask those kinds of questions.

Strickland:

Right. It’s definitely the science has been the place that I have to go when I’m almost questioning too much. It’s what brings me back to my faith.

Stump:

Yeah.

Hoogerwerf:

You said your, your background there. Can you say more was that a help or a hindrance?

Strickland:

A hindrance. I just, I grew up in sort of like the northeast portion of Austin. It’s a lower income community. My mom was a…she worked two part time jobs her whole life, single income family. And so I just saw a lot of broken communities, just broken homes, broken families. And so coming from that and joining a church, it was just so…so different. Such a stark contrast. And so wondering, it just made me wonder like, where is God in all the mess? You know? And so it’s always been science where everything is so structured, ordered and so beautiful that you’re like, oh, he’s here. It’s literally right here and this beetle on the sidewalk. He’s here. So, yeah.

Stump:

Well let’s talk a little bit about beetles. You’re doing your PhD work now on a specific beetle called the tortoise beetle, as I understand? Tell us about this little creature.

Strickland:

Yes. So Tortoise Beetles are incredible. They are a highly specialized sub-family of the leaf beetles. Most of them are found in the neotropics. But you can also find some in the old world tropics.

Hoogerwerf:

So where’s that in the world?

Strickland:

So, right. So neo-tropics would be central and South America and in the old world tropics would be Indonesia, Malaysia, some parts of Africa. So I started working with these beetles about four and a half years ago now. I got an incredible opportunity to go work with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, which is located in Panama. And so it was while I was there, I had no intention honestly of studying beetles for my dissertation. But it was there that I met a scientist who had worked on these beetles for over 40 years. And I was immediately enamored.

They incorporate so many different forms of coloration, namely structural coloration. So they have a lot of gold and silver, metallic and iridescence. And they also have these so the edge of their body is enlarged  and flattened. And anytime they get sort of scared or anxious, they’ll pull everything underneath and flatten themselves to the leaf. And that’s why they’re called tortoise beetles.

Stump:

So how big are these beetles?

Strickland:

Oh, they range in size. Some of them no larger than like my pinky nail. Some of them can fit nearly in the palm of your hand. So it’s…they’re incredibly diverse in size, shape and color, which I love.

Stump:

So you’re in Panama looking for these? What’s it like to go out into the field and do this sort of research?

Strickland:

Incredible, in one word. So for about two and a half years of my dissertation, I’ve been in Panama either on and off, or consistently. And so to find these beetles, I first have to find their host plant. Their host plant just happens to grow in some of the most incredible areas in Panama.

Stump:

I assume not the cities.

Strickland:

Not the city. So, I mean some maybe around the outer edges, but even then, I’m not really going into the cities, which I’m okay with. And so one of the projects I did was actually looking at different populations. So my job was literally to go to as many different parts of Panama as I could and just survey as many beetles as I could find. So I’m sitting here in grass almost up to my neck. The sun is shining. It’s my kind of weather, tropical weather, and I’m just out looking for beetles. And so there’s no way that in the process I could not find God. Like he was there with me the entire time we were looking for beetles together.

Stump:

So it’s easy to find God. How easy is it to find the beetles in this environment?

Strickland:

I found it quite easy. But I also, there was one point where I had to go collecting, and so as a female in the entomology world, I tend to be on the less represented side of things. So it was actually me and a group of guys and we were all looking for our own insects, some were looking for ants and butterflies. And by the end of it, I just found the most of everything. And they’re just like, yeah, well Lynette’s just really good at finding beetles. It’s just…it’s not something that could go on a CV unless you study beetles. So.

Stump:

So what are you, what are the questions you’re pursuing with regard to these tortoise beetles? What are you trying to find out?

Strickland:

So what I’m interested in are basically the mechanisms that maintain variation in the broadest sense. So in the beetles specifically, I’m interested in what maintains color variation, both the ecological, environmental and genomic factors. So anytime I describe my dissertation to someone, I just have to stop and say, I understand how incredibly lucky I am. My job is to study colorful beetles in tropical areas. So it’s incredible. But we’re basically looking at what sort of differences in the environment, how predation or sexual selection might be maintaining color polymorphisms, but then also what genes are involved in maintaining this color variation.

Stump:

And are these mechanisms that are somehow unique to this species or is it a widely used phenomenon among other organisms or?

Strickland:

Yes and no. So in terms of the biological aspects, it’s pretty broad. So I’m looking at predation, that’s something that has been shown to maintain variation in a number of systems. These beetles we also are pretty sure are sequestering toxins from their host plants. So using this to sort of defer predation. So I did a lot of things, sort of testing would predators even eat the beetles. So that’s pretty widespread.

Stump:

Ok, I want to hear some of those stories. You bring the, you’re bringing a spoonful of beetles up to what sort of predator and see if they’ll eat it?

Strickland:

Basically. So some of these were actually some of my favorite studies I ever did, but I had cartinus ants, I had nefila, which are the giant orb weaving spiders and I had mantids and so I essentially would just go out, i would find my predator, I would either bring it back into the lab, or for the ants I just, I brought the beetles to the ants. And I would basically test, so will these beetles, will these predators eat the beetles? And so they were given a beetle once a day over a series of days. I would just observe their behaviors toward them. It was great. As great as it sounds.

Stump:

Maybe not as great for the beetles, but.

Strickland:

Well the beetles were mostly okay.

Stump:

They held their own?

Strickland:

They did. There were not a lot of predators that would eat the beetles.

Hoogerwerf:

There’s this series of videos from the Smithsonian that you’re in. And in one of them you talked about this idea that a species might do better if it’s more diverse. Can you explain why is that interesting or surprising?

Strickland:

Yes. I think as an evolutionary biologist, studying variation is one of the most satisfying things. And especially in beetles who are arguably the most diverse and species rich group of organisms on the planet. And so much of their success has been attributed to this variation to their diversity. And because they have so much variation, they’re able to withstand so many different things in their environments. They are able to sort of inhabit multiple environments. They are able to sort of live in near-polar environments as well as neotropic environments, near marine seas as well as in some of the driest deserts in the world.

And it’s this variation that’s been attributed to all of their success. And so studying this variation, studying what forces maintain this variation is really sort of vital to understanding how they’ve been able to conquer so much of the planet. And so saying that a species does better than more diverse they are is an incredibly beautiful concept. And it’s something I really like to bring back when I talk to people because it’s something that I think oftentimes we want to lose the differences between one another and focus on what makes us similar, which is great. But also there’s beauty in our differences. There’s strength in our differences and that story is told most beautifully by the beetles.

[musical interlude]

BioLogos:

Hey Language of God listeners. If you enjoy the conversations you hear on the podcast, we just wanted to let you know about our website, biologos.org, which has articles, videos, book reviews, and other resources for pastors, students, and educators. We also have an active online forum where we discuss each podcast episode. You can find a link in the show notes. But the forum goes far beyond just discussing podcast episodes, with lots of open discussions on all kinds of topics related to science and faith. Find it all at biologos.org.

Interview Part 2

Stump:

So here’s a pesky question. How much diversity can you get within a species until you start saying it’s a different species?

Strickland:

That is a great question actually. And it’s been oftentimes really hard to answer, especially in insects. So actually before I started studying the species of beetle that I’m studying, there were still the scientists who were not convinced that these were the same species. There were multiple people who were convinced that they were actually different species. And so it’s actually…I mean it still comes to series of crosses. When you cross them can they make viable offspring?

We are not trying…that doesn’t apply to everything. Bacteria have their own thing that they’re doing, who knows? But in terms of at least insects and many other species, that’s what we bring it back to. And so essentially we did something like 10,000 crosses with different phenotypes of these beetles just to see, can all of them produce viable offspring and they all can. Now, there are other species that have something like 20 phenotypes and they’ve been, of course not studied to this extent. So how can we say, are these actually all one species? Are they multiple species within a complex? It gets really muddy when you’re working in the neotropics and you have such high diversification rates.

Stump:

What do you know about the history of this species going back in evolutionary history and where they came from and how they did diversify the way they have?

Strickland:

So the tortoise beetles are actually still pretty young in comparison to most other beetles. So beetles themselves actually started evolving about 230 million years ago I think is the first recorded beetle in the fossil record. So they’re very old. But the species that I work with in particular is quite young. And in fact  the subfamily Cassadines or Tortoise beetles, there’s only about 6,000 described species and predominantly in the neotropics. So we would…

Stump:

Only 6,000, still sounds like quite a few.

Strickland:

It’s true. I forget because I study beetles, I forget that not every other taxon has as many species as mine. But right, so about 6,000, most diverse in the neotropics, which would sort of attribute to the fact that they’re quite young as well because many of the things that have been evolving in the neotropics are also quite young but evolve quite rapidly because of all the different selection pressures.

Stump:

What are some of those pressures?

Strickland:

Namely other organisms, because it’s so diverse. So you have everything that you need to create really vibrant life. Right? It’s sunny a lot, it rains a lot, there are so many plants that take advantage of all of this. All of them are dropping fruit or seeds or rotten leaves. And so because you have all of these resources, you can also diversify quickly. But that means what you’re mainly competing against are other species. And so because you’re competing against other species, you have to become more unique in what you actually take advantage of. And so it just creates all of these really interesting characteristics that sometimes can be found in no other places in the world.

Hoogerwerf:

So on the other hand, does that make them more vulnerable to changes in the ecosystem?

Strickland:

In some cases, yes. So a lot…I worked with a couple of species that are located in this mountain range that are located nowhere else in the world. Right? And so if something happens to this area, which a lot of people, especially in Panama, need that area for farming, for taking care of their families, for producing some sort of sustainable income, what do you do in those cases? How do we sort of convey the importance of this one area that isn’t even completely studied? We don’t even know all of the species that live here, but we know that they’re not found anywhere else in the world. So in some cases it does make them very vulnerable. In other cases, the insects become, or even species in general become quite resilient because they have to deal with so much variability in their environment.

Stump:

So I’m a philosopher by training and so questions like what is a species is really interesting to me and you’re talk about crossbreeding or trying to see if they produce viable offspring and all of this. But of course there are examples even in our own evolutionary history of interbreeding with other species now, that it appears. And do you take a species to be just this artificial construct that we’re putting on to these organisms to classify them for ourselves? Or is there something inherent in them that you say this really is?

Strickland:

I personally think of it as more of artificial. As humans, we just really love to classify things and I see the value in that. It is really nice to sort of understand the unique differences and similarities amongst life on the planet. Right? There’s one planet and all of this life is here and there’s something in us that wants to know what makes me the same as you, but also what makes me different? And so we like to classify things.

In terms of studying them biologically, it is important to know, right? So is this set of individuals actually uniquely and significantly different from these other ones? And if so, in what ways? That’s important to know in terms of studying these sort of evolutionary questions that we want to ask. But in terms of very strict sort of lines between species, I don’t think that’s the case. I think it’s more that we just really like having a classification system for things

Stump:

For Christian theology, then it gets a little more important. Some theologians will say, when we’re talking about this species we call Homo sapiens, right? Is there something that it is to be human that’s distinct from the rest of these? And of course, when we look around today, we can, we can pretty well distinguish ourselves from everything else. But going back in history, that gets trickier. Any thoughts on humanity as a species?

Strickland:

Yeah, I mean, so it’s always something I come back to because my love of nature started so early. And so I think as humans, yes, there is something that makes us a bit different. We have a consciousness, namely, but when I think about the beetles, and particularly this quote that has sort of started my love of beetles and God in sort of keeping them intertwined—is totally anecdotal,wWe’re not even sure if he actually said it—but it was Haldane who when asked what his study of nature had taught him about the nature of our creator, said, if I’ve learned anything about the nature of our creator is that he has an inordinate fondness of beetles.

And that just gets me every time because I often question, especially, you know, as humans, we’re steeped in sin, and so it’s just how…the idea of this unfailing love is probably one of the hardest things for me personally to grasp. But when I look at my beetles, when I’m out in a tropical rain forest looking for beetles, and I think of that, I see how God loves them and I can see how he loves me. And so honestly relating myself to a beetle, weirdly enough is what sort of helps me understand how God loves us, how God loves his creation, how God loves his world. And so I think in that sense it is not necessarily a good thing for us to try to separate ourself from creation. I think sort of bringing them to us and understanding like what makes us the same in this place that we inhabit is good for our soul quite honestly.

Stump:

So some people will look at the evolutionary process and think, oh look at all this waste that has gone on. But it sounds to me like you’re flipping that on its head a little bit and saying, look at the lavishness of creation that has come about as a result of this process. These 6,000 different species of this one little section of the beetle world. And what does that tell you about the creator? I mean, there’s a, you know, it doesn’t seem like those are wasted species, right?

Strickland:

Right. Certainly not. And that’s why studying variation is so important because oftentimes it’s used for functions we don’t even know of yet. It’s as the environment changes, something else can be co-opted and diversified and that’s beautiful. It’s not wasteful at all, it’s almost, we’re prepared for change. We’re prepared to be dynamic, which is incredible. It shows creativity in a creator. It shows love, a love of beauty. It shows that we were like, we are versatile as living things on this planet we have the capability to survive, which is incredible.

[musical interlude]

Interview Part 3

Hoogerwerf:

I’ve been reading some of these recent studies on the insect collapse. And I had just read through one of the studies and beetles are taking it pretty hard, I think, it sounds like. So, a two part question. First of all, why should people be concerned about this? What is the importance of beetles and insects as a whole to life on earth? And then how worried should we be? Where are we?

Strickland:

So insects in general, because there are so many and they’re so vast, we have a lot of ideas, especially with some of the more popular ones, honeybees, butterflies. For some of them you can actually put a dollar amount on what they do for human societies. It’s in the billions. We could not replicate what they do in terms of crop production. We actually would not be able to do it at this point in time.

Stump:

Because of the pollination, you mean?

Strickland:

Pollination, because of right, moving seeds back and forth, digesting and degrading different things. At the point that we’re at right now we literally cannot reproduce all of the services that they provide for us. And we actually can’t even study all of the services they provide for us because there are so many, we don’t even have a full grasp of everything that they sort of do to keep the earth moving, right? So they’ve been here long before humans as a species evolved and so sort of the…what they do for the earth, we don’t even fully understand yet.

In terms of beetles it’s really kind of difficult to tell people about the importance of them because there are so many beetles. So there are over 350,000 described species of beetles, which is incredible. 

Hoogerwerf:

Described. 

Strickland: 

Described. Yes. So estimates that it could reach closer to a million species of beetles. And so trying to impart the importance while also saying, okay, yes, there are a lot, but that means that there’s a lot that they’re doing for us, for the environment, that we just don’t know. The other problem is that while there’s also a decrease in the insects, there’s been a growing decrease in the people who study them, at least in terms of classification systems and conservation efforts.

There are many people who study like medical entomology, which is incredibly important—so how they serve as vectors of disease, which we need much more information about. But there’s also been a decrease in the number of people who just study their differences or their similarities or describe different species. So while there’s a decline in insect species as well, there’s also a decline in the people who are studying them for these purposes.

Hoogerwerf:

And so, some of these studies say, oh, I don’t know my…I don’t have it right in front of me, but 40% of the insects will be extinct within a couple of decades?

Strickland:

Right. So the insects are actually declining at a faster rate than vertebrates. And it’s, on the one hand, it’s nice that people, you really, you feel for vertebrates, right? You feel closer to them. We’ve all heard about the last black rhino, the elephants, big cat populations. And so on the one hand that’s great that it gets people interested and intrigued. But on the other hand, there is this huge dichotomy between what’s happening with the insects and what’s happening with vertebrates, in that insects, most species are declining, are going extinct before we can even really describe them. Which if we can’t even describe these species, we can’t even start to classify what it is that they’re doing for us. And so it’s incredibly important that we start putting resources into that and we start getting people interested and to care about these conservation efforts because it’s difficult, right, to get people to see the value in insects. For most people, they’re kind of a pest. But I think sort of maybe describing how important it is to steward this earth well, um, it’s probably going to be of biggest value for people.

Stump:

Is that a good point of contact again for faith with what you do in terms of stewarding?

Strickland:

I definitely think so, yes. So for me, it’s all about how can we better take care of what we’ve been given? I’m not…so obviously I didn’t go into medical school or something like that, so I’m not saving people, right? But one of the things that I’m most concerned with is how can we save what we’ve been given? It’s obviously deteriorating faster than it ever has before. This earth is, the species are. It’s crying out for help. And most of it is as a direct responsibility of us as a species. And so I think, especially as Christians, we have a major responsibility to take care of what we’ve been given. So yeah, I think that’s always been a point of, sort of a point that I bring it back to for me.

Stump:

And that’s probably a good point of, a way of showing your faith to others in your, in your field. Right? I mean, here you are at a big public university. Probably most of the people in the biology department do not have a profession of faith of some sort. How have you been treated in that regard? Do they see you as a Christian, as somebody that’s off on this religious extreme somewhere? Or are there ways of, you know, demonstrating this side of the story, of seeing a Christian vocation of stewarding the planet that can be attractive to others?

Strickland:

I think especially being in sort of surrounded by people who are also either interested in evolutionary biology or conservation biology, that sticks well with most people. And so I don’t think I’m necessarily viewed as sort of this religious extremist. But it is interesting I think for people to realize that they share values with me but that maybe those values come from different places. Or maybe they don’t. I always…this is why I love working with biologists so much is because truly I’m convinced that there are very few people who feel the Holy Spirit more than biologists.

Stump:

Tell us about that.

Strickland:

You don’t… So when I lived in Panama, I lived in a small town about an hour outside of the only major city. And I was surrounded by other biologists about my own age. A lot of them moved from places in Europe, places in the States to come to this small town that had about 400 people, to make about $1,100 a month, to study something like bat poop. Right? You don’t decide to do that if you don’t feel incredibly moved every time you do so. I mean these are people who will, we will go on a 12 hour hike to get to the top of a mountain to eat a loaf of bread and drink water and sleep there, soaking wet, to wake up in the morning on top of a cloud forest. You don’t do that unless you’re incredibly moved. And so I love being surrounded by biologists because I think they feel the Holy Spirit as much as I do. It’s just that I call it God. And so yeah, I think it’s, I’ve been sort of placed in this area for a reason and I like the sort of interweaving biologists and biology with faith and Christians.

Hoogerwerf:

I think as Christians it’s sometimes tempting to think that God is in control and everything will be fine and there’s no need to be worried or make any sacrifices, right, to try to try to fix things. But as we’ve kind of pointed out, and lots of Bible scholars point out, we do have this responsibility to be stewards. So how do you find a balance between working to find solutions to some of our environmental problems, but also trusting that God is in control, because overconfidence in science or technology is probably not the right answer either, right?

Strickland:

Right. Oh, that’s a great question. One thing that I always come back to is that we were not made to sort of sit around and relax, right? We were made to work. We were given a purpose. That purpose was to care for God’s creation. Like, we are his image bearers to rule in his stead. And this is what we’ve been given to rule. And we haven’t always been doing a great job of it. And so this is my purpose. Without it…that’s why God placed me here. Without it there’s not much else I can do. And so for me, I have ultimate hope and faith that God will reconcile whatever needs to be reconciled. I also have ultimate faith that my purpose here for the time that I’m here is to steward what I’ve been given well.

Hoogerwerf:

It sounds like you find a lot of hope in your work. Is that just, is that a practice in like looking and finding those moments, is it putting yourself in those places where it’s really visible?

Strickland:

Part of it, yes. So I’ve also had a lot of crises in my faith, especially being often surrounded by so many atheists who are loving, genuine, caring people, right? And so I think the reason I find so much hope in my work and so much of God in my work is because it’s what brought me back to God every time. So it was when I would go out and I needed to collect beetles, or oftentimes I would go to these populations six hours away from where I lived. I had a set amount of time, a set amount of money to find a certain number of beetles. And so many times, it wasn’t until the last 45 minutes that I had to catch a bus and get back to my city because I was out of money, I was out of food. And I was just like, God, I don’t know. I don’t know where the beetles are. I don’t know what to do. And it was in that moment that I would turn a corner and there would be a field of the host plant of my beetles. I would go and get some beetles and hop on a bus and go ride six hours back to my city. And so it’s in those moments that God speaks to me. And so that’s why I find so much hope in my work. It’s because it’s given me so much hope. It’s what connects me to God time and time again. 

Stump:

What kind of advice would you give to little girls or little boys who like to pick up bugs on their way to school or at recess and what they might do with their lives?

Strickland:

Keep playing with them. One of the best things about research and especially about biological, natural biological research, is that there’s a part of you that gets to remain a child forever. So every time I go to work, anytime I would go out into the field to collect, there was always a childlike wonder that was allowed to run free. And I think this is what always kept me connected to God, is that I could constantly wonder at these creations and be so inspired by these creations. So my advice is to just keep doing it. There’s going to be a point in your life where it’s weird to everybody else, right? Middle school and high school. Those were some weird times. I was definitely the odd one out for a long time. But once you enter sort of the biological world, if that’s what you choose to do, you find all of these people who were also the weird ones in middle and high school and were picking up weird things. And so you form a family, you find your people. And more importantly, I found my faith through it. So it just keep doing it.

Hoogerwerf:

Thanks Lynette.

Strickland:

Yeah, thanks for this was really fun.

Credits

BioLogos:

Language of God is produced by BioLogos. It has been funded in part by the John Templeton Foundation and more than 300 individuals who donated to our crowdfunding campaign. Language of God is produced and mixed by Colin Hoogerwerf. Our theme song is by Breakmaster Cylinder. We are produced out of the BioLogos offices in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

If you have questions or want to join in a conversation about this episodes find a link in the show notes for the BioLogos forum. Find more episodes of Language of God on your favorite podcast app or at our website, biologos.org, where you will also find tons of great articles and resources on faith and science. Finally, if you’re enjoying the show and want to help us out, leave a review on iTunes, we love hearing from you and it helps other people find the show. Thanks. 


Featured guest

Lynette Strickland

Lynette Strickland is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute PreDoctoral Fellow. She received her B.S. in Marine Biology from Texas A&M. Her research, focusing on how ecological factors and genomic factors shape a naturally-occurring color polymorphism in a species of Neotropical tortoise beetle, has been published in journals including Science and Hereditary.

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