Welcome to BioLogos, Ciara!


Jim: BioLogos is growing! During these past two pandemic years, we’ve worked hard to provide relevant and credible resources, and we’ve seen a dramatic increase in web traffic and demand for our resources. We’ve been able to add a couple of new positions to our relatively small staff, and we’re very excited that one of those has been filled by Ciara Reyes-Ton.

If you’ve been around the science and faith circles, you may have come across her or her work. Ciara (which is pronounced like “Sierra”) has been very involved with the American Scientific Affiliation and has written for many other science and faith publications on the web. We thought it would be nice to introduce her to our audience by asking her some questions.

Jim: Tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up? What was your family like?

Ciara: My family is Mexican American, and I’m originally from Southern California, but grew up in the Midwest. I am also a first generation college and graduate student. Growing up, my parents emphasized education heavily, mostly because of the economic hardships they witnessed growing up, in addition to the challenges they faced; they saw education as a way out.

My grandparents on both my maternal and paternal side were only able to complete middle school and high school level education respectively because they needed to provide for their families. Yet they rose above the challenges they faced. My paternal Grandma taught herself how to read, worked for years as a nurse’s aid and did her best to raise a family as a single parent. My maternal Grandpa worked for years with his hands in agriculture and as a janitor to provide for his family. I’m grateful for their legacy.

My family also emphasized faith and prayer; it was always the first response and never the last resort.

Jim: What about your faith background? Give us some of your Christian testimony.

Ciara: I was born into a Christian family and grew up in church, mostly non-denominational churches with charismatic roots. My Dad was a Minister of Music and my Mom a Choir Director. Church was the backdrop of my childhood and upbringing. Because of that, I never really had a conversion experience, and for a while thought that I didn’t quite have a Christian testimony.

However, I did have a period where I had to rediscover my faith. After I finished my Ph.D. I had a bit of a faith crisis. It didn’t have anything to do with faith and science, more of a personal realization that I didn’t really know God for myself. I previously described it as such:

I was beginning to feel like my knowledge of God was like my knowledge of biology before graduate school. Limited. Textbook knowledge. Sterile like the experiments I did in the controlled environment of a pre-planned lab with mostly expected outcomes, where the experiments were designed to work. 

The faith crisis turned out to be a good thing for me. It was freeing to let go and discover God for myself for the first time.  I previously described it as such:

My theological bubble burst…the bubble of traditions and dogmas and ideas other people fed me about God, when that bubble burst, I realized that like the active agency of a graduate student in a research lab, there was room for me to take a more active role in the religious experience. 

I got re-baptized, and I remain on a continuous journey to know God. “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Cor 13:12)

Image of author getting baptized

Ciara’s baptism.

Jim: How did you get interested in science? Why did you decide to pursue that as a major in college, and then a PhD?

Ciara: There isn’t really one moment that I can pinpoint as having been the reason I got interested in science. However, my childhood was characterized by creativity, play, and imagination, which I think drew me to the beauty of science.

As a kid, I found myself writing poetry about nature, reading books about astronomy, and watching tv shows about science. It filled my mind with wonder and awe.

I also had many great teachers over the years that made learning fun and captivated my creative imagination with science. I remember my fifth grade teacher talking about how small atoms were, and literally blowing my mind with his talk about blackholes in space and how we might be living in one already and just how powerful the element plutonium was – “one drop, and BOOM!” I remember him saying to the class.

Before I ever wanted to study biology, I actually wanted to study astronomy. However, freshman year I took an intro biology course and my professor got me hooked.

My professor was an ecologist by training, and so he brought a unique and broad perspective of science that I had never heard before, and it really captivated me.  His teaching style was all about broader application, putting complex processes like photosynthesis in context of questions like why do leaves change color in the fall, or cellular respiration in the context of questions like why is there dark and white meat?

He was also a person of faith, who helped me discover the harmony between faith and science.

At the time, I had a very literal interpretation of the Genesis account of creation, and this was my first encounter with a person of faith who saw no conflict between evolution and their Christian faith. He really ignited my passion for faith and science, helped solidify biology as my major, and put me on the path to pursuing a Ph.D, because before that I thought I could only become a medical doctor.

Jim: What was your PhD work about?

Ciara: I did my Ph.D. in Cell & Molecular Biology at the University of Michigan in Dr. Ann Miller’s lab.  Our lab studied cell division, specifically, cytokinesis, the last step where one cell physically separates into two.  This process is important to understand because when it is not properly regulated, it can lead to miscarriage, birth defects and diseases like cancer.

We were particularly interested in how cells divide in the context of intact tissues. Often cells are grown in dishes and studied in this type of in vitro environment. However, our lab studied cells using frog embryos, an intact environment that more closely resembles the context in which they naturally divide in our bodies. We were interested in understanding their behavior.  As cells divide they must navigate several challenges. One of which is generating enough force and tension to pinch themselves into two new cells, while remaining connected to their neighbors to maintain the integrity of the tissue.

Image of author working in a lab

Ciara as a second year graduate student attending a course at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

My thesis focused on characterizing Anillin, a protein with a previously known role in cell division, helping organize and stabilize the contractile ring that helps pinch cells in two. We found that it had another role in dividing and non-dividing cells, to help organize and stabilize cell junctions – the regions where cells touch and link to their neighbors in the context of tissues.

Jim: Did you ever experience a conflict between your faith commitments and the science you were learning in school?

Ciara: Absolutely. I wrote more extensively about this for BioLogos a while back explaining my journey of faith and science, but I’ll briefly touch on it here. You can read the unabridged version here.

My church growing up never condemned science outright, but I did have a very literal understanding of the creation account in Genesis and a misunderstanding of evolution. Freshman year of college was the first time evolution was explained clearly to me and actually made sense.

…As my class began to explore population genetics, it was as though scales had fallen off my eyes – for the first time, I understood the evidence for evolution. It was easy to reject something I didn’t understand, but now that I understood, I could not do so in good conscience.

It helped to have a biology professor of faith who assigned readings and lead discussions on faith and science.  At the time I felt as though my heart and mind were in conflict, but he also introduced me to theistic evolution, which I later realized was a scientifically sound and theologically compatible way to find harmony.

Jim: Why have you decided to pursue a career in science and faith communication, instead of going the typical route for someone with a PhD in science into teaching or research?

Ciara: Faith and science have been a longtime passion of mine that was ignited in college, and grew while I was in graduate school. However, I didn’t quite know how to channel this passion over the years, until I discovered writing. Before then, it was mostly relegated to conversations with friends.

I started to work as a freelance writer and editor on the side, while primarily teaching biology at colleges. Most of my writing was on sharing the harmony of faith and science that I had found with others. I also really enjoyed science outreach, and couldn’t help seeing a need for more engagement with churches.

I followed the typical route of teaching biology for a while, which I enjoyed, but felt like different parts of my identity were being compartmentalized. I would teach biology in the classroom, write about faith and science after hours at home, and volunteer at church. I yearned for more convergence.

The need for science communication to faith communities and science and faith dialogue has grown disproportionately to the rate at which these conversations are happening.  The recent pandemic has brought this to even more light.  The more I wrote on the side, the more I wanted to jump right in. I felt like I had something to offer. Science helps me connect with and better understand Scripture. I’ve written pieces about this like how cells helped me understand vocation, and flatworms spiritual rebirth. I want to help others see the beauty and breadth of science and faith discourse; it’s more than just a conversation on origins. There’s so much work to be done.

Ciara at a March for Science rally holding sign

Ciara at a March for Science rally in Nashville, TN.

Jim: What do you hope to accomplish working at BioLogos?

Ciara: I hope to build upon the good work that has already started at BioLogos. As a former college professor, I look forward to engaging and spotlighting more student voices on our platform, helping raise awareness of BioLogos as a resource for them, and helping connect them to a larger community of support. I also hope to engage more underrepresented voices in the faith and science dialogue on our platform.

Jim: Can people get in touch with you if they have ideas for science and faith articles?

Ciara: Yes! Please feel free to share and pitch any ideas here.


About the Authors

  • Ciara Reyes-Ton

    Ciara Reyes-Ton

    Ciara Reyes-Ton is a biologist, science writer and editor who is passionate about science communication, teaching and outreach to diverse audiences, whether that be to the general public, religious communities or the students she has taught. She has a Ph.D. in Cell & Molecular Biology from the University of Michigan, and a B.S. in Biology from Valparaiso University. She has served as Managing Editor for the American Scientific Affiliation’s God & Nature Magazine, and previously taught Biology at Belmont University, Lipscomb University and Nashville State Community College. She is currently the Digital Content Editor for BioLogos. She is deeply committed to further science and faith dialogue and share the harmony she’s found with others. Outside of teaching and writing, she enjoys singing and coffee.
  • Jim Stump

    Jim Stump

    Jim Stump is Vice President of Programs at BioLogos. He oversees the editorial team, participates in strategic planning, and hosts the podcast, Language of God. Jim also writes and speaks on behalf of BioLogos. He has a PhD in philosophy and was formerly a professor and academic administrator. His books include, Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design; Science and Christianity: An Introduction to the Issues; How I Changed My Mind about Evolution; and The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity. You can email Jim Stump at james.stump@biologos.org or follow him on Twitter.