RANDOM THOUGHTS OF A PHYSICAL BIOCHEMIST

Ron ChatlierScientist Ron Chatelier shares…

In some ways my life started when I was 14. When I was a teenager, the good news about Jesus Christ was presented in a very direct and clear manner. It was as simple as ABC…

A: Admit that you are a sinner and need God’s help.
B: Believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that he loves you and died on the cross to pay the penalty for your sins, and that he rose again from the dead.
C: Confess that Jesus is Lord, and then do what he says.

Although I was raised in a large denominational church for 12 years in India (and thereafter in Melbourne) I had never heard the gospel presented so clearly. In response to this challenge, I was ‘born again’ at the age of 14.

A faith, love and science journey
In the same year I decided to become a biochemist and also met Ruth, my wife-to-be (who was 12 at that time!). So faith, love and science went hand-in-hand from a very early age.

The next few years saw a PhD in physical biochemistry from the University of Melbourne, a post-doctoral stint at the National Institutes of Health at Bethesda, MD (now headed by Francis Collins, author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief . See also Mark Ellis‘s June Focus on Francis).

Francis Collins 7

Francis Collins quote

 

 

 

 

 

Then a second post-doc at CSIRO working on biomaterials for cardiovascular and ophthalmic applications, and finally the start of my longest journey in 1996: working on electrochemical biosensors to test blood.

My current position is Chief Research Scientist of Universal Biosensors, and I am very fortunate to work alongside a talented group of scientists and engineers.

Our first product was the OneTouch® Verio ® blood glucose sensor marketed by Lifescan, a Johnson and Johnson company. It helped people with diabetes by setting new standards in accuracy. A more recent product is the Xprecia Stride™ marketed by Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics. This device allows people on warfarin to measure their blood coagulation time (PT/INR).

Science with a purpose
One way to approach science is to see it as ‘the rational study of the universe.’ Another approach would see science as ‘the rational study of the glory of God in the material universe.’ There is no loss of rationality in the second approach, but there is a heightened awareness of purpose.

Scientists usually start with a hypothesis, and will then accept, reject or modify that hypothesis as they collect new data. In the same way, Christians may start their journey of faith with a particular set of doctrines but may then accept, reject or modify those doctrines as they become aware of new information or better ways of interpreting the Bible.

The combination of a strong faith and a flexible mind can be very useful.
Scientists do not always say scientific things, and Christians do not always say Christian things. When people say that they believe the Bible, they often mean that they believe their interpretation of the Bible. It is worth keeping in mind that everyone is going to glean the scriptures slightly differently, and that we sometimes have to work hard to ‘maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (Ephesians 4:3).

Interplay between science and the Bible
It is interesting to look at the interplay between science and scripture.
For example, many of the medical/hygiene aspects of Leviticus 13 are still practised in modern medicine. These are:
Examination of the patient (verse 3)
Isolation for several days (v 4)
Cleansing of clothes (v 6)
Shaving the affected area (v 33)
Quarantine (v 46), and burn clothing (v 52), and also –
Washing the person (Lev. 14:8).

All of these things were discussed in ca. 1440 BC, well before the advent of germ theory!

The long timescales in science
It is harder to square the simple reading of Genesis 1 with the long timescales discussed by scientists.

One possibility would be to think in terms of a semilogarithmic plot (a way of visualising data that are related according to an exponential relationship… useful when one of the variables being plotted covers a large range of values and the other has only a restricted range).

If the logarithm of ‘scientific time’ is plotted versus the ‘Days of Genesis’ then most of the points fall on a reasonably straight line, but Day 4 appears as an outlier (outlier (a much larger distance from the fitted line, when compared with the other data points in the plot).

However, Genesis 1 seems to be written in two phases.
• Days 1-3 are concerned with forming the heavens, the oceans and the earth
• Days 4-6 are concerned with filling the heavens, the oceans and the earth.

If the semilogarithmic plot is split into two parts then the correlation becomes stronger and Day 4 is no longer an outlier. The weakness of the semilogarithmic approach is that it would not be the way in which the original writer of Genesis thought about time. Other ways of resolving this apparent contradiction have also been proposed.

Objective looks at subjective areas
Sometimes it can be useful to take an objective look at a highly subjective area. I was once asked (in the mid-1980s) whether I thought that HIV was God’s judgment on homosexuals. The statistics argue against it: heterosexual women are more likely to contract HIV than lesbians.

In fact the Bible does not single out homosexual behaviour for special treatment. It is worth looking at the two sections of scripture which are quoted most often when discussing this topic. Leviticus 18:6-23 mentions 17 different types of sexual activity which are forbidden, and homosexuality is included towards the end of that list.

Romans 1:18-2:16 also mentions homosexuality within a long list of sins, but makes the point that all people are guilty and therefore nobody can look down in judgment on another person.

If someone is struggling with feelings of same sex attraction, then it is worth pointing out that temptation is not the same as sin (James 1:14-15). The gospel to homosexuals is the same as the gospel to heterosexuals: we are saved by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and not by our good works (Eph. 2:8-9).

Therefore we have no reason to boast. When we judge others then we are boasting in our own righteousness, since we place ourselves on a higher moral plane. It is worth acknowledging that we ourselves are not yet perfect in walking the narrow way of Jesus.

Christ-focused churches
I recently heard about the difference between a ‘bordered church’ and a ‘centred church.’

A bordered church has a definite in-crowd and is quick to define who is in and who is out. A centred church has a strong focus on Christ, but all are welcome to either participate or spectate.

There is no dilution of doctrinal purity in a centred church, but there will probably be a few more challenges in church governance.

Faith in Christ supported both objectively and subjectively
Now for the $64,000 question: is Christianity falsifiable?

Yes it is. If someone discovers bones which belong to Jesus then he has not been resurrected and our faith is in vain. The flipside of this is that Christianity is also verifiable (at least to the extent that finite and fallible people can verify anything).

The Bible tells us to gather empirical evidence for ourselves: ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good’ (Psalm 34:8).

The gospels are based on eyewitness accounts, and if someone commits his or her life to Christ then the sense of forgiveness, peace, joy and purpose are real. So faith in Christ is supported by both objective and subjective evidence, even though it cannot be called proof in a formal, mathematical sense.

Ron C 4
Next step of the journey

So what does the future hold for this physical biochemist, apart from more and better medical devices to test blood?

• Serving
We currently worship at Burwood East’s Crossway Baptist Church, but are hoping to help a long-term friend church plant  somewhere east of Melbourne.
• Contributing
Ruth and her friend Patricia Ford have opened a gift shop, Possibilities on Birmingham, in nearby Mt. Evelyn with the aim of giving away the profits to help many people and organisations, both locally and internationally. My role is to help them when needed, and keep out of their way at other times(!).
• Missioning
Finally, we are very involved with a mission/church planting organisation called Empart (based in Croydon, Victoria – link: www.empart.org.au) who do excellent work in Asia, and who care for the whole person: body, soul and spirit. Their target is to see 100,000 communities transformed by 2030, by planting 100,000 churches. They are currently planting 11 churches per day (on average) and are up to ca. 18,000 churches. (See last month’s TheBuzz).

In all our activities, we aim to work with others to help fulfil the Great Commission (Matt 28:19,20) as well as the Good Commission (Matt 25:35,36).

When we fulfil both commissions then we ‘speak the truth in love’ (Eph. 4:15).
Ron Chatelier works for a company that invents, develops and manufactures medical devices to test blood. Link: ron.chatelier@gmail.com / 041 723 6797

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