God of humans and testimony (Scholar’s Compass)

adam photoQuotation

Psalm 8:3-4 (NIV), see below


Biologists study life processes – perhaps we should be astounded that biologists exist!

Science, which explores this universe from the largest scales of astronomy to smaller objects, such as in my own field of microbial genetics, is a remarkable human endeavour. The humanness of the endeavour however, though recognised by the humanities, is sometimes lost in the common mindset of the sciences. We are so interested in the objective facts out there to be studied that we don’t pause to marvel that the relationship is so one-way, that there are conscious beings doing the exploring, and doing this because they first desire it as a good thing. If science education was careful to remind us that scientists are humans too, more of us might see why ethics is essential to research practice, why so much of what we take to be true must be accepted on the basis of reliable testimony rather than personally verified, and that humans have a role on this planet going beyond mere objective observer status. 

Psalm 8:3-4 (NIV)
When I consider your heavens,
 the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? 

Is there such a thing as a human nature? If there is, what does it look like for it to flourish? It is currently popular to de-emphasise the importance of human beings, but even this exercise in self-abasement is a characteristically human activity. We do have important and distinctive capacities, which can be used for great good or great evil. The current environmental crisis is a perfect and sad example – though made in God’s image, responsible to steward the Earth and to look after our fellow image-bearers, we are doing a poor job of pursuing either environmental care for the Earth or economic justice for our neighbour, let alone both. Recognising our role here can be a step towards taking responsibility.

The practice of science is reliant on the human community of scientists in all kinds of interesting ways. One part of this is the phenomenon of testimony – Isaac Newton said he stood on the back of giants, and every scientist must trust the work of predecessors if they are to achieve anything new themselves. The Christian could perhaps be particularly attuned to this aspect of science, as Christian faith gives a prominent place to testimony in coming to a proper understanding of the world. The second chapter of the biblical letter to the Hebrews discusses what Jesus brings in these terms: “This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.” The writer then goes on to quote the passage from Psalm 8 above, portraying Jesus as the true representative for humanity, the fulfillment of this Psalm.

The existence of biologists is a remarkable biological fact. The nature of biologists as humans transcends biology. Christians claim on the basis of reliable testimony that this nature is most fully seen in light of Jesus of Nazareth, who suffered that we might not face the proper consequences for defacing God’s image, and has been glorified that we might have life in abundance.


What can science contribute to our ideas about the nature of humans?

In what ways can Jesus be seen as the true or complete human? Do these have implications for your life?


God, please help me to see the relevance of Jesus to all of my life as someone created in your image. Thank you for making us, and for the awesome tasks that you have given us.

Image courtesy of PublicDomainPictures at Pixabay.com

Scholars-Compass-image-40x40Note: Part of both the Scholar’s Compass series and a series on how studying biology reveals God on the Emerging Scholars Blog. Part 2 of 3. Find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

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Zachary Ardern

Zachary Ardern is currently completing his PhD in biology in New Zealand, investigating the genetic basis of adaptation across environments in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. He has been involved in the IFES movement in that country and in various talks, panels, and debates exploring the reasonableness of Christian faith. Zachary blogs on his broader interests in natural theology, ethics, and associated musings at zacharyardern.wordpress.com

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