This old earth creationist book is co-authored by four scholars at RTB: Fazale Rana, AJ Roberts, the late Sue Dykes, and Mark Perez.
Perhaps the most interesting chapter of the book is the last one, written by AJ Roberts. She asks the question, “What if Big ‘E’ Evolution is True?” Her answer is thoughtful, surprising, and moves the conversation forward. RTB generously made this chapter available to us, and I hope you take a moment to read it.
I highly recommend this book, so much so that I am proud to endorse it. This endorsement speaks for itself, and sets the state for the conversation today with Dr. Fazale Rana.
Though I am a scientist who affirms evolutionary science, I still found much with which to agree in Thinking About Evolution. Progressive creationists agree the earth is old, but they maintain reservations about macroevolution. Genuinely considering the possibility they might be wrong, it is significant that the book explains how evolutionary science could be consistent with Scripture. Dr. Roberts and her colleagues, moreover, have a laudable record of adjusting their views in response to evidence. Perhaps some version of their theology of nature could be consistent with the evidence. Their scientific objections to evolution, also, deserve to be engaged with seriousness and rigor. For all these reasons, even secular scientists should read this book; it is a good faith starting point for meaningful dialogue.
S. Joshua Swamidass, Washington University in St. Louis, founder of Peaceful Science, author of The Genealogical Adam and Eve
Michael S. Heiser is an exegete who has authored several widely read books on Genesis and the Old Testament. Notable in Heiser’s work is his commitment to break down scholarly work to serve the public. He hosts long running and widely listened to podcast, The Naked Bible, several websites, is all across YouTube, and is launching a talk show of sorts on odd ball ideas.
Heiser’s book is a book full of insights, and it dovetails closely with my own work. I wish had read before I wrote The Genealogical Adam and Eve. The next edition will surely engage more closely with him.
Over the last few months, I have had the privilege of interacting with Michael in several venues.
Most recently, I appeared on his podcast the last month for two episodes. The first episode tells the story behind the book. The second episode gets into the scientific, theological and exegetical details. This was one of the best interviews over the last years, so don’t miss it. Both are transcribed as well, if you prefer reading to listening.
I am impressed with how solidly Micheal does his exegetical work on its own terms, but he also engages watchfully with science. He is willing to let scientists like me do science on our own terms. But he is not ignoring science altogether. He has been following the conversation about human origins for a long while. Though measured, perhaps because of it, his thoughts here are worth hearing.
In early December, Michael responded to my book at the AAR conference. We will be releasing the video soon. As teaser, here is a quote from the paper he submitted,
To front my ultimate conclusion about the book, I don’t see any biblical passage that is fatal to the thesis. On the other hand, I also don’t see—and the author admits this openly—any explicit data in the text to support the thesis. Swamidass is therefore not making a biblical argument. He is instead offering a hypothesis that presumes (really, insists) that general revelation, the information gleaned from the study of our biology via the tools of science, be allowed to tell one story, while Scripture be allowed to tell its story. The two stories follow similar trajectories and ultimately entwine, but they are nonetheless different. They are also both coherent and true on their own terms, with respect to the truth claims they describe and put forth.
We have discusses “concordism,” along with racism and polygenesis. I am looking forward to seeing this article published in the future too.
In our conversations, I have always learned from Michael, even as our conversations range over a large range of topics. I am looking forward to this interview. Let’s find out together where the conversation goes.
In the end we are wondering to together about a grand question. How do sacred and natural history entwine? Could understanding them together tell us something meaningful about our origins?
A year ago, yesterday, BioLogos quietly deleted an article, from 2010, published on their website, “Does Genetics Point to a Single Primal Couple?” The deleted article reports, incorrectly, that any notion of Adam and Eve, ancestors of us, is in conflict with the genetic evidence.
The claims made in the 2010 article, however, went far beyond the evidence. The authors claimed conflict between science and traditional readings of Scripture where there was none.
Still, this article would come to have an outsized influence. Dennis Venema was one of the scientists who authored this article. In Adam and the Genome (2017), Venema recounts how the claims in this article were presented to a larger audience.
Asked how likely it is that we all descended from Adam and Eve, Dennis Venema, a biologist at Trinity Western University, replies: “That would be against all the genomic evidence that we’ve assembled over the last 20 years, so not likely at all.”
Christianity Today, also, published a widely read cover story covering these claims. The 2010 article became the cornerstone of BioLogos’s scientific position on Adam and Eve.
The problem, however, was that Venema’s response to the reporter was just not true. To the contrary, the best evidence at the time showed that Adam and Eve, if they were real people in a real past, would most likely be ancestors of us all. If they were ancient, maybe the evidence many not even demand there were people outside the garden.
Whether Adam and Eve were recent or ancient, we all could be, “as C.S. Lewis puts it in his Chronicles of Narnia, the ‘sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.'” This is all “consistent with the genomic evidence we’ve assembled” over the last several decades.
In this newfound space, many of us have together returned to the grand conversation of origins, wondering about what it means to be human. This is the pay off, the opportunity, that comes from getting the science straight.
Please “Retract” This Article?
The 2010 article was just not good science. It had a large impact on the conversation, and that impact should be undone.
The mistakes in this article should have been recognized at the time, back in 2010, when it was published. This was not just one mistake but several, and the scientific issues grow if we consider the subsequent efforts to defend the 2010 article’s faulty conclusions. The errors extend well beyond what I addressed in my recent book on genealogical ancestry; though related, the issues uncovered in the 2010 article reflect different and larger scientific mistakes.
It is good to see BioLogos, at long last, back away from the 2010 article and its conclusions.
We should not harshly criticize BioLogos for misunderstanding the science here. Science is complex and nuanced. All of us make mistakes at one point or another. What matters now is if and how these mistakes are corrected.
Quietly deleting such an important article with scientific content, however, lacks transparency. The original link now redirects to a series of articles defending the deleted article’s conclusions. This series of articles, in fact, has scientific errors of their own. Unfortunately, the only place to read the deleted article and what was wrong with it, now, is at Peaceful Science. There was no explanation on their website.
The article, instead, should be “retracted,” which means putting it back online with a note clarifying the scientific issues, not just deleted. As influential as it was, the article had serious scientific errors.
In science, we have specific and high standards of transparency on matters like this. When significant errors are made, how we correct them it is a matter of ethics. Scientists care to correct the official record, especially when it has misled the public. Private acknowledgement is not enough, and this is why we never delete scientific articles. Instead, we leave them online, with a note explaining what we got wrong.
So, back in January 2020, I asked BioLogos to put this article back online, with an explanation of what was wrong with it. I asked them to retract the article.
After a year of waiting, they did not do so. Private conversation this last year with BioLogos has not resolved the matter. Key biologists at BioLogos agree that the article is in error, even confirmed this with an expert in population genetics. They have not been willing to state this publicly.
So, let me make this request publicly then. Please put it back online with a note explaining what it got wrong?
Please retract this article?
It has been almost a decade since the article was first was published in 2010, a year since it was deleted, a couple months now since my last exchange with BioLogos. The article is still deleted, without any explanation.
Please tell us why is it taking years to correct this mistake and clear the record? Why not just put the article back online with an explanation of where it went wrong?
Moving Forward With Transparency
There is an opportunity here.
Retracting this article, also, is an opportunity to explain to a larger audience the science here. Explaining the science of ancestry pertaining to Adam and Eve is closely connected to BioLogos’ mission, and it is surprising they have not already taken this opportunity.
Science demands we transparently acknowledge and correct our mistakes. Transparency is critical, because it helps bring us to shared understanding. Transparency is how new consensus is forged.
It does not seem that BioLogos is following the standards we expect of scientists, but it is not too late. Their absence from the dialogue is conspicuous, but it need not be permanent.
Speaking to larger concerns, they could agree with Nathan Lents and I, “Of course, when science conflicts with particular religious claims, we must not remain silent…however, when scientific evidence is silent on religious beliefs, we should simply admit that, rather than sow harmful conflict.” Honesty serves the common good.
Many of us are returning to the grand questions of human origins. In time, hopefully evolutionary creationists will join the conversation too. We have common ground, but also disagreements. Even where we disagree, their voice is important, and it is missed.
The day of publication, the title of this article was changed to remove the word “Stealth,” and the feature image was changed. The original feature image image was a picture of Deborah Haarsma. The article was also further updated for clarity and conciseness.
On January 15, 2021, based on helpful reader feedback, we substantially rewrote the last half of the article, to remove some sensitive information and make more clear our request to BioLogos. We are not aware of any factual errors in the original article. This was not a scientific article, but transparency is important, so we will provide the original version of article to any reader that requests it. If requested by BioLogos, moreover, we will put the full article back online too.
Our newsletter, also, states, “Discussing this topic may not be comfortable, but Peaceful Science seeks common ground alongside clarity regarding our positions. At times, we have challenged content from other groups, such as the ID movement. This critique of BioLogos is in the same vein, and we hope our request and BioLogos’ response moves the conversation forward.”
 BioLogos is an organization founded by Francis Collins, current director of the NIH. They advocate “evolutionary creation,” a particular theology of human origins.
 At times in 2020, there has been nonspecific acknowledgement of “overstatements” in articles on their website, but they did not address this article. There was not an apology, and these acknowledgements have not been forwarded to their mailing list.
 Dr. Hardin is a biologist, and was Chairman of the BioLogos board at the time. He wrote in January 2020, “Several of your points about things that need correction in some of Dennis Venema’s pieces on the BioLogos web site are well-taken, and confirmed by an expert in population genetics I consulted. The issues include the improper use of “minimum” vs. “average” population size, the notion of “severity” of a bottleneck involving both size and duration (not just size), limitations of SNP-based approaches, issues related to the use of incomplete lineage sorting data, and imprecision about taxonomic categories of ancestors.”
My own view is that the deeper gulf is one found within all three Abrahamic religions, between those who are willing to accommodate their reading of the sacred texts to scientific (and indeed historical) reality, and those who insist that these texts, literally interpreted, are the infallible word of God. The authors themselves exemplify bridge building between believer and non-believer. Nathan Lents has risked ridicule by discussing the scientific possibility of Joshua Swamidass’ religiously motivated speculations, while Joshua Swamidass must have surprised many in his own group by his friendship with an openly gay godless humanist.
Ken Miller, Genie Scott & Barbara Forrest: 15 Years After Dover, by Faizal Ali, includes links to interviews of three major participants; Ken Miller, Eugenie Scott, and Barbara Forrest. As many readers will know, Ken Miller, biology professor and major textbook author, has been defending evolution against creationist attacks for 40 years, Eugenie Scott was at the time of the trial director of the (US) National Center for Science Education, which acted as consultant to the plaintiffs and was instrumental in forming the legal strategy, and Barbara Forrest, philosopher, testified at the trial that Intelligent Design should not be considered science because of its reliance on the supernatural.
As this blog piece points out, that last argument (technically: intrinsic methodological naturalism) should give us pause, and is now rejected by many philosophers and scientists, including me, in favor of a provisional methodological naturalism that would be willing to examine supernaturalist explanations on their merits, if they had any. Indeed, the piece argues that judge Jones’ blistering verdict in this case was only made possible by the incompetence of the School Board, who made their religious motivation obvious.
A search for “Kitzmiller” on the website of the Thomas More Law Center, which had recommended the book, Of Pandas and People, at the center of the case, and provided the school board’s legal defense, returned no hits.
I was curious to see what the major creationist organizations had to say about the trial, even though they were not directly involved. Last month, Answers in Genesis mentioned Kitzmiller as part of a long discussion of US court cases, claiming that
“The Kitzmiller ruling has stifled debate in classrooms and prevented full discussion of topics related to biological origins. The result is that indoctrination has replaced education, at least in this one area.”
No need to spell out my own reaction to that claim. Also in December 2020, Creation Ministries International offered us, in a review, by Jerry Bergman, of Ron Milliner’s Fake Evidence: A look at evolutionary evidence for over 90 years in the court cases from Scopes to Kitzmiller, Elm Hill (Elm Hill Books appears to be a self-publishing service under the umbrella of HarperCollins Christian Publishing). This review is not yet available to non-subscribers, but it seems clear from elsewhere that the book’s title is a fair summary of its thesis, that it is yet another example of the evolution-as-conspiracy genre, and that Jerry Bergman can be expected to approve.
Kitzmiller was decided in theUnited States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. So appeal to higher courts would in principle have been possible. However, the School Board members whose actions had precipitated the case were removed at the next election, and it would be difficult to imagine another School Board willing to put itself in the same position.
But I will leave the last word to the Institute for Creation Research (ICR). They rarely mention Kitzmiller, but did so in 2011, to draw attention to Berkman and Plutzer’s famous study that found considerable resistance to evolution teaching within schools. They conclude, quoting the study’s authors, that legal rulings are less important than what teachers really believe, and what happens in the classroom as a result. They’re right, of course.
John Inazu’s work brings us to fundamental questions about how we as a society engage one another. How do we treat the people with whom we disagree on the most important issues? Do we insult them or exclude them? Do we dehumanize them?
Or could we find a better way?
Can we live together across our differences? Do our differences prompt dialogue where we can understand one another? Could our response to them humanize us? And humanize those with whom we disagree?
In this conversation, John and I discussed his book and these three values in great depth.
The first objection for some will be to the term “pluralism,” which is often connected to “relativism.” But that isn’t what John means. By “pluralism” John emphasizes the reality, often uncomfortable, that we live in a society with many deep disagreements. We do not have to agree with or endorse this reality to acknowledge that it is our reality. He does not mean that we are to endorse or support all views, but that we deeply hold different views, on important matters.
That brings us to the key question for our divided society. When we disagree on what is the common good, how do we pursue the common good together?
Here is how we adopted these values into Peaceful Science’s “civic practice of science.”
By humility, we mean that we cannot convince everyone to agree with us, even if we are right and they are wrong. We are cautious to explain the limits and uncertainty of scientific claims.
I am Christian, but many others here are atheists. Humility means that I accept from the start that I may never be able to convince them to become Christians.
I affirm evolutionary science, and many others here think that evolution is implausibly impossible. Humility means that I accept from the start that I may never be able to convince them to agree with me on evolution.
The sentiment here is mutual. There are many atheists here that accept I am Christian, and they may not be able to change my mind. There are many creationists here that accept I affirm evolution, and they may not be able to change my mind.
This isn’t mean’t to relativize the disagreements here, suggesting both sides are equally right. Some of us are wrong, and it matters. But our solution to this standoff cannot be the unachievable goal of convincing everyone to agree with us in the end.
By tolerance, we mean to create space for those with whom we disagree, where we can engage larger questions together, even as we explain our own point of view.
I am a skeptic of Intelligent Design, at least as it is presented by its leading proponents. Still, I want them to be treated fairly, to acknowledge when they are correct, and to give them a hearing. But I will also be honest, explaining were I disagree, and how I think it is a garden path.
These are important disagreements. They matter, but to pursue the common good together, we have to find ways to work together across these disagreements.
By patience, we mean endurance with one another across our disagreements, where we seek to understand others, and help them understand us.
Our differences are still important. They matter. As we work together, we will need to talk about them. But conversation about deep disagreements is difficult and frustrating. We need patience.
The simple, but often difficult, effort to understand one another, and to be understood, is humanizing work. In understanding one another, we can empathize, even if we disagree.
On the questions of origins, perhaps the most common response to controversy is avoidance. We move away from those we disagree. This only amplifies our disagreements. It does not serve the common good.
Could we find a better way? Could we find a way to engage with those with whom we disagree?
The Move Towards One Another
Deep differences drive us apart. The conflict shuts down real exchanges. These disagreements are about important questions, where are our answers matter. So avoiding the conversation leaves too far apart, moving away from one another.
We need to find a better way.
Could we move forward together, even if we still disagree on the most important of issues? I think we can. This is where John’s ideas are important. Let our response to differences be humility, tolerance and patience.
We disagree. These disagreements matter. Let us move towards one another from here.
Barbara Forest is a philosopher. She was one of the witnesses in the Dover Trial. In the lead up to the trial, she co-authored Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. Their thesis was that Intelligent Design (ID) was a trojan horse for injecting creationism back into high school textbooks.
I had a chance to sit down with her last month. It was a privilege to interview yet another witness at the trial. There is much about this exchange that has left me in thought.
I will unpack just one point of constructive back and forth between the two of us. Is Intelligent Design science or not?
Barbara and I had several points of common ground. We are both critics of Intelligent Design. Though she is an atheist, Barbara emphasized she was not anti-religious, and wanted to make space for religious belies. I agree, also, that several of the peculiar idiosyncrasies of ID are because it was architected to separate itself from creationism, for the purpose of anti-evolution arguments into high school science classrooms.
But what is ID? Barbara Forest argues that ID is nothing but sectarian religious beliefs, not science, a trojan horse for creationism. Leading ID proponents are religious, and they do find religious significance in their scientific work.
I’m not so sure. Consider the many scientists who are religious. Many of us do indeed find religious significance in our work.
I find religious significance in the scientific work I do to understand and reduce adverse drug reactions important; it is part of how I am loving my neighbor. My personal motivations and beliefs do not invalidate my scientific work, do they? Of course not.
Leading ID proponents are religious, and they do find religious significance in their scientific work. In my view, this does not make ID intrinsically religious. Science does not, ultimately, care about out personal beliefs. Scientists like Micheal Behe and Doug Axe have made several purely scientific claims about how biology works. Often these claims are directly testable with evidence too.
For example, Axe’s argues that enzymes are very vanishingly rare in protein sequence space. That is a direct and testable claim that should not depend on personal religious beliefs. Axe goes on to make inferences to “design,” using this as a critical starting point. Of course, he also does find religious significance in this. He believes, as do I, that the “designer” is actually God. But that is his personal views, and not necessarily his scientific claim.
ID is also a large and diverse movement. Certainly, some of its leaders were angling to get creationist arguments into public science curriculums. Not everyone in the movement, however, had this goal. It doesn’t seem fair, or accurate, to reduce such a diverse group down to a single dimension.
One thing that emerges from these interviews is that those involved on both sides of the conflict were expecting the issue of ID to come before the courts eventually. In fact, the Discovery Institute was actively seeking a school district that would provide a test case to support their position that ID was distinct from creationism and, therefore, not subject to the Constitutional limitations that prohibited the teaching of creationism.
This seems right to me. Faizal goes on to point a key and surprising point for many of us that are scientists,
It’s important to understand that this case did not depend solely on demonstrating that ID is not supported by good scientific evidence. There are no laws in the U.S. that ban the teaching of of bad science. The plaintiffs had to demonstrate that the policies adopted by the school board amounted to an endorsement of a particular religious view.
Of course, Axe disagrees with us, and that disagreement is okay. But this disagreement can be sorted out, at least in principle, in a scientific exchange. We can engage many components of ID in purely scientific terms.
There is religious significance to the debate, of course. At some point, ID has to extend beyond science to make its case. That shouldn’t bother anyone in the end. Unless putting ID in science classrooms is the aim, it should not matter if ID is classified as “science” or not.
We are past the anniversary now, but I am still thinking about Dover. Perhaps, if we move past the text book wars, we might find better ways to engage with science together.
There is still much to learn from the history here. As for me, I’m still remembering what happened, and I am still reflecting.
On December 11, the long awaited coronavirus vaccine finally received an emergency approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, offering hope to many who’ve been monitoring its development closely. Developing this vaccine depended greatly on understanding the biological structure of the virus. The mRNA vaccine, which was the first of its kind to make it this far in the clinical trials, is designed to teach our cells to produce a key viral recognition structure. This recognition structure, known as the spike protein, is a crucial part of the virus that promotes entry to human cells and eventually triggers our immune responses. The presence of these proteins are necessary for our bodies to produce the right antibodies to fight and protect us against the real virus.
In order to study such intricate structures scientists today rely on a technique called cryogenic electron microscopy (cryoEM). This technique is able to resolve structural features down to 2 angstrom resolution, equivalent to 0.1 nanometer or one ten-billionth of a meter. The development of this groundbreaking technique in and of itself was worthy of a Nobel Prize. Unlike a conventional light microscope that uses glass to focus light onto the sample, an electron microscope uses a magnetic coil to focus electrons onto the sample.
Our first glimpse of the Coronavius
The world gained its first glimpse at the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) back in February 2020 when the China Novel Coronavirus Investigating and Research Team published images of the viral particle they’d taken using a cryoEM.
These electron micrographs were black-and-white, a result of electrons passing through empty areas of the sample (resulting in dark areas) or bouncing from the dense structure (resulting in light areas). Based on these images, scientists were able to deduce the dimensions of the virus. Its diameter varied from about 60 to 140 nm. Distinctive spikes, about 9 to 12 nm in length gave the virus an appearance like a solar corona.
Such “colorless” depictions of a virus structure is common to scientists who frequently visualize and identify similar viral features. Yet to many who are less familiar with such techniques, these images may appear abstract, mysterious, or even uninteresting.
Alternative ways of visualizing the Coronavirus
In order to present the information in a more accessible way, many illustrators have gravitated towards digital renderings like the one created by CDC medical illustrators, Alissa Eckert and Dan Higgins. “Creating it with lifelike textures that make you feel like you can touch it brings it closer to reality. It is a way to take something complex and abstract and make it tangible. We gave the virus a face,” said Eckert and Higgins. Images like these not only compliment the news stories that contain them but convey an equally important message about the virus to the public that the colorless and technical micrograph alone is unable to achieve.
Although more common, digitally-colored micrographs, 2D/3D schematics, and cartoons all include, strictly speaking, scientific inaccuracies. The CDC depiction of coronavirus, for example, did not show the dynamic interaction of the spike proteins (here shown in red) as they latch flexibly on the surface of the virus in multiple ways. The vacuum background also suggests that the virus can exist in isolation of the complex microenvironment that it would usually inhabit. This is where striking a balance between scientific accuracy and aesthetics can really help bridge this gap between the expert and layperson – and there is arguably no one who does this better than David Goodsell.
Goodsell’s approach to illustrating the Coronavirus and beyond
Over the last 25 years Dr. David Goodsell has created stunning watercolor paintings of cells and viruses. As an accomplished computational biologist (h-index of 59), Goodsell works to accurately represent scientific data in his artwork. His paintings are, in some senses, scientific drawings. Dr. Goodsell explains, “When called upon to share our scientific results with the world, scientists are faced with a challenge: we must select appropriate representations to express our results clearly and unambiguously.” At the Center for Computational Structural Biology, Goodsell and coworkers use computationally sophisticated methods to study cellular function in relation to their intricate molecular structure.
Dr. Goodsell’s illustrations integrate information from peer-reviewed publications on the viral atomic structures, molecular weights, and electron micrographs. Relying on the current state of knowledge, these illustrations are aesthetically pleasing without compromising scientific accuracy. While ‘beauty’ may sound like an unlikely description to give a deadly virus, it seems to be an apt description. “You have to admit, these viruses are so symmetrical that they’re beautiful,” he said in an interview with the NY Times. “I want people to think of viruses as being an entity that we can learn about and fight. They’re not nebulous nothings.”
The evolving nature of scientific discovery means that sometimes we simply don’t have the full picture, and Dr. Goodsell isn’t hesitant to openly admit this. In fact, the full-length structural analysis of the coronavirus spike protein, which was key information in the current vaccine development, was only recently revealed in Science magazine in October.
In the following depiction of coronavirus replication and budding, Dr. Goodsell deliberately highlighted where his illustrations were drawn out of speculations. Embedded in the caption for this image was a clarifying statement indicating that “[…] the illustration integrates the current state of knowledge, but many aspects of the virus and its life cycle are still actively being studied, so portions of the illustration are speculative. Note that some features, such as RNA, needed to be slightly exaggerated in size/width, given the minimal size of features that could be depicted using black outlines of discernable width at the consistent magnification of 1,000,000× that was used for the original watercolor painting.”
Likewise, on the following image, he explained that “the sizes and shapes of proteins are based on structural results and known interactions, but the arrangement of subunits in the replicase is speculative.” Such captions are not-so-common in scientific literature where schematics are often wireframes, used to convey functionality, composition or mechanism of action. As such, shapes and size scaling in diagrams are frequently overlooked, or at its worst – potentially misleading. It may even suggest that things have been figured out. What is helpful about Dr. Goodsell’s approach is that by sharing these speculations publically, ambiguity is diminished and further investigation is encouraged.
Bridging the gap between art and science
The amazing artwork by Dr. Goodsell may seem to be a surprising twist to his career. While holding a position as an Associate Professor of Molecular Biology at the Scripps Research Institute, he explained that “art and science provide different but complementary ways to explore the world, and I enjoy working in that space that bridges the two disciplines.” The fast growing digital media technology today has meant that many scientific illustrators today mainly work on computer-aided techniques. Dr. Goodsell himself who uses watercolor for most of his illustrations acknowledged this changing era: “I am happy to report that the need for this type of hand-painted rendering is rapidly becoming obsolete.” His recent initiative at CellSpace features computer-rendered illustrations that are produced through collaboration with aspiring artists. Many of his images, such as the paintings of the coronavirus, are available under creative commons licenses, made free for all to enjoy and distribute.
Effective data visualization captures our attention and imagination. Not only that, it communicates scientific information, it also promotes wonder, evokes emotions and can lead to action. The advancement in computer science and digital technology, the string that ties science, art, truth and aesthetics together may be drawn much closer than ever before. The coronavirus vaccine breakthrough is just one example of the growing potential that computational and structural biology and even art can bring.
AlphaFold is a type of Deep Learning algorithm, a neural network that learns from data. That “learning” ability is one reason it is called Artificial Intelligence. Deep Learning can be used in many ways to address many tasks. In science, one task we care about is protein folding.
The task of protein folding is to translate this sequence of building blocks into a three dimensional structure, like this:
That structure becomes important. It can give important insight into how the protein functions. In this case, we are look at hemoglobin, the oxygen carrying protein in our blood. Shifts in the structure when it binds oxygen are important to its function.
There are several experimental techniques to determine protein structure: X-Ray crystallography, NMR, and cryo-EM. These techniques have been used for decades, and produced thousands of protein structures that are stored in the Protein Data Bank. However, they are expensive and slow, and they often do not work.
So, could we build a computer program that could look at all the structures solved so far, and learn patterns from it, so that it could now predict the structure of a new protein? That is the basic challenge and opportunity of protein folding. As simple as that sounds, it turns out to be a very hard problem, for a whole host of reasons. But AI algorithms are proving to be particularly effective at this question
With AlphaFold’s announcement, is protein folding a solved problem now? This tweet from a scientists nails the answer. “Protein folding is not a solved problem.” Still, this is exciting. What exactly does it mean?
How is Deep Learning Impacting Science?
This is just one more example, on a growing list, of where Deep Learning is making a large impact on how scientists conduct their work. Pierre Baldi has been applying deep learning to solve scientific problems for decades. We will be discussing how Deep Learning is coming of age, and how it is shaping science in many ways.
Does anyone understand the chemical details behind macroevolution? If so, I would like to sit with that person and be taught, so I invite them to meet with me. Lunch will be my treat. Until then, I will maintain that no chemist understands, hence we are collectively bewildered.
In 2017, I responded. That same day, James answered my phone call, and we talked for a couple hours. To my surprise and to his credit, Jim quickly booked a plane flight to St. Louis to discuss this with me in person. He paid for this ticket with his own money, and scheduled for the next week. I cleared my schedule. When he arrived, we spent two full days talking about science, family, faith, and evolution. This whirlwind exchange is how we first met and how we became friends.
Meeting Dr. Tour for the first time was intimidating. He has well over 800 publications, and an H-index of 150. For comparison, I have about one tenth as many publications, and an H-index of just 29. For comparison, this year, Jennifer Doudna won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for CRISPR, and she has an H-index of 126. Of course, Emmanuelle Charpentier also shared this Nobel Prize with an H-index of just 18, which goes to show that H-index is not everything. Still, James is an uncommonly accomplished chemist. At the time, I was not even tenured.
I soon found that Jim was also humble. We discussed the evidence for common descent and neutral theory. Soon after, he removed the challenge from his website, replacing it with text that explained some of what we learned together.
This is the idea that all life shares a common ancestor. For those less trained in science, this theory does not propose, for example, that humans evolved or descended from chimpanzees, but that humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor in the distant past. I can understand why those fluent in the field of genetics would be convinced by that theory; there is an impressive quantity and insightfulness to the work.
Joshua Swamidass might not get a Nobel Prize in biology for The Genealogical Adam and Eve, but he should get a Nobel Peace Prize for his approach of kindness in trying to unite several disparate camps on the front lines of the origins debate…I think all camps can walk away happy that they’re right, in a way.
I am sure I will not get a Nobel Prize of any sort for my book, but I am honored and humbled by his endorsement.
Joshua, you and I have spoken many times and I consider you a good friend. We’ve disagreed on several things and you mentioned it again tonight, you mentioned mechanism. Being an organic chemist, and the chemists who are here, we look at mechanisms.
Very specifically, it is so hard to fathom how you can get mechanistic changes in a complex system to change one into another. The problem is that when this is described by biologists it sounds as if there’s storytelling. And even when I’ve talked to you, I said “how does it change,” you say “well one small change at a time.”
So, get me started: what would change? Tell me how one changes into another. It’s extremely hard to see that so you can come with little models that are mathematical to talk about relations but you ultimately have to change a lot of chemistry. It’s really difficult to begin to look at these evolutionary models that are going to allow you to have these kinds of complexities of change. So, how do you think about this happening when you really have to go back to your organic chemistry from when you were a sophomore in 1998. They say what kind of reactions are you going to do to do that.
This question continues our conversation from 2017.
How did I answer? In the video, I explained that science was non-intuitive, and that I looked forward to discussing it with him the next day in far more detail. And so we did. I spent the night at his home, and his wife cooked us a massive breakfast in the morning. For the rest of the day, we explored his graphene laboratory the next day. As we walked around the campus, we discussed how complex biological systems change.
Jim and I do not agree on everything. We found something more valuable than agreement. We found virtue in the wasteland. We found friendship across our disagreements.
January 9, 2021 this article was given a new title.
Bryan Butler is a visual artist and founder of Bryan Butler Art, based in Chicago, Illinois. Bryan specializes in illustration, fine arts, and graphic design. He was previously an in-house graphic designer at GModelo USA, LLC and currently serves as an in-house designer for The Moody Church in Chicago. He recently collaborated with The Center for Pastor Theologians (CPT) on a series of articles titled ‘More Than Imago Dei: Theological Explorations on Race.’
Bryan, tell us a bit about yourself, and how your career in the Arts began.
Gladly. I work as an illustrator, graphic designer, and portrait artist through Bryan Butler Art. I also work full time as the inhouse graphic designer for The Moody Church in Chicago. I was born and raised in Chicago where I currently live with my wife and two children.
I’ve been interested in the arts since I was a child and was blessed to have parents who were artists in their own right, who cultivated my initial interest and provided learning opportunities so I could hone my craft. I attended The American Academy of Art where I received my BA with a focus in Illustration, and graduated with honors. The recession was in full swing and it took a while to get my professional footing, but the Lord opened a door for an unpaid internship with a large company that quickly turned into part time and then full time employment. The company was GModelo USA, a US branch of Grupo Modelo, which makes Mexican beers like Corona, Victoria, Modelo Especial and others.
I worked on various creative projects for the company until they were eventually bought out and outsourced. During that time, God provided a design position for me at The Moody Church which I was able to transition to right after my termination from GModelo USA. I’ve now been the designer at Moody for nearly 7 years. I’m also in the process of restructuring Bryan Butler Art so I can make it my primary focus.
I explored your artwork on your website. I noticed that between each of your art series were these four slogans: “Create with Purpose”, “Have Fun”, “Bring Joy”, and “Created with Purpose”. In what ways do these phrases represent you and your art?
The four slogans are the current representation of my core values for Bryan Butler Art. They are part aspirational and part reality. I see the ability to create as a gift from God (part of being made in his image) and the act of creating as an expression of that gift. In most cases what we make has a purpose, whether that purpose is for God, me, others, or a combo.
“Create with purpose” is a reminder for me to consider the “why” behind what I make. “Have Fun” is simply a reminder for me to have fun when in the process of creating for and serving others because it can be easy for me to stress and not have fun.
I emphasize “creating for and serving others” because everything on my site is ultimately for other people to view, buy, and enjoy.
“Bring Joy” is what I hope my work, especially the portraits, does for others. “Created with purpose” serves as a bookmark to my process and as a reminder that we are also created by God for a purpose.
What roles do words and images or visuals play in our daily lives?
Words are vital. God spoke the universe into existence. God gave us language. The bible was passed on via oral tradition and the written word.
Jesus himself is described as ‘the Word’ who became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word came to provide us with the possibility to be reconciled to God through himself. Jesus taught with words, and demonstrated the words with actions that people could see. Yet, at the same time, we are called to not only be hearers of the Word, but doers (James 1:19-27). Others will know we are truly God’s people by what they see us do in conjunction with what they hear us say.
Imagery or vision is also important to the way God communicates with us. He gave us eyes to see and a mind to interpret what we see. He created an array of colors, patterns, shapes, and values for us to enjoy and explore. We often describe these as beautiful, but what is beautiful to one person may be ugly to another. Beauty does seem to be in the eye of the beholder. However, even though God created the material traits we often call beautiful, God looks past the outward appearance and looks at our hearts when determining beauty (1 Samuel 16:7). A summary of some of the traits God finds beautiful can be found in Galatians 5:22-23.
Even though I create physical work that some find beautiful and buy, what will matter most to God is the spirit with which I create work and whether or not I do it to ultimately bring glory to him.
I’ve done some previous work with CPT and when they saw my HUMAN series they mentioned the possibility of working on this “More Than Imago Dei” theme series for September. They asked that I design the title graphic and we agreed that a selection of my existing sketches and paintings would be the best for the time frame and budget of the project.
I also worked on another project with them for a conference titled “Kingdom Politics”. Unfortunately, due to the onset of Covid-19 they had to cancel the conference, but they are using the key art and theme for October. You can see the work and read the articles here.
The theme of the paintings and illustrations you produced for the CPT’s “More Than Imago Dei” article series seemed to overlap with your own HUMAN series. The following editorial excerpt is from the President and Co-Founder of CPT, Todd Wilson:
“We want to engage this issue differently. We’re not on the hunt for easy answers or quick solutions. Rather, we’re prepared for the intellectual slog that real progress necessarily entails, knowing that what is required is sober-minded, serious, even sacrificial reflection on the issue of race and the challenges (and opportunities) it presents, as well as a readiness to trace the deep implications of these insights into our own lives, congregations, and communities—all for the sake of Christ.”
Do you envision HUMAN to have the same objective as “More Than Imago Dei”? Or do you have a personal angle on this issue?
Yes, my purpose for the ongoing HUMAN series overlaps with the CPT objective. It also goes beyond it. The act of ignoring another person’s humanity isn’t restricted to race relations. I plan on exploring the history of dehumanization amongst communities of African descent and communities affected by disability.
Imago Dei, which is Latin for “image of God”, has a reference to the Christian theology of creation.The doctrine of creation, as the famous theologian Augustine of Hippo suggests, demonstrates an interdependent relationship between the creature and creator. The doctrine itself has over the years raised many disputes amongst theologians and thinkers. This reference seems to run through your thinking and artwork. Can you elaborate on how this idea influences your art?
Yes, you are correct. The foundation of the HUMAN project is the truth that the universe and everything in it was created and is sustained by the triune God, as described in the Bible.
This same God created humans in a manner different from the rest of creation. Chapters 1 and 2 of the book of Genesis describe how God created man from the dust and breathed life into him. God also made woman from the flesh of man. Genesis 1:26-27 tells us that God created us in his own image, which is where this phrase “imago dei” originated.
You quoted the same verse (Genesis 1:26-27) on your website, and explained that:
“At times, for various reasons, we convince ourselves that other people are less than human. We then use this as justification for all manner of sin against our brothers and sisters. When we lose or reject the truth that we’re created by God in His image (Genesis 1:26–27) we lose a foundational truth to our identity and the transcendent source of our intrinsic worth.”
Can you explain why you think understanding “Imago Dei” is important and how the perversion of this notion affects society today?
In short, if our worth as humans, as people, isn’t anchored in a source that transcends us (God) then our worth is completely subjective. If I believe the value of another human is based on what I think and feel about them, then I can justify changes in how I treat them when my thoughts or feelings towards them change.
If the Caananites of the ancient near east viewed children as made in God’s image would they have created the practice of sacrificing children to their god, Molec? Would some Chinese royals have created the practice of binding women’s feet to deform them into a shape they thought more desirable? Would the Assyrians have been known for their cruelty towards those they defeated in battle? Would the Mongolian army, led by Genghis Khan, have killed and raped their way across much of Asia, Mesopotamia and into eastern Europe? Would the Romans have developed the torture of the crucifixion? Would the transatlantic slave trade have happened? Would the American Civil War, Jim Crow era, Civil rights era, mass incarceration etc. have happened?
Unfortunately, our history is replete with examples of what we do to each other when we lose sight of the Imago Dei.
How do you see the notion of “Imago Dei” being expressed in the process of creating art?
Among the attributes that God designed into us is the desire and ability to create using the raw materials he has supplied. In Exodus Chapter 31, Moses describes the LORD’s calling of Bezalel, from the Israelite tribe of Judah, to oversee the creation of the tabernacle where God would meet with his chosen people of Israel. God filled Bezalel with the Spirit of God and gave him wisdom, understanding, and knowledge in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works and structures for the tabernacle and all that would be in it.
The idea of humans creating and designing through the materials supplied by God is most obvious in our abilities to produce children. Other examples of human’s involvement in creation and design can be seen in the way we use fire and various tools; the way we design clothing, homes, art and the way we use language or written words
This type of calling is not common, but the ability to create is universal and part of what it means to be made in God’s image.
At Peaceful Science, we hold the issue of race, human dignity and worth seriously and continue to seek understanding on this important topic. In fact, one of the discussions we’ve had is that of the meaning of race. In an interview with Quayshawn Spencer, we tried to unpack the notion of racial realism, that is to say that “race is real” in a biological or literary sense. These discussions have major implications on what it means to be human and how to navigate across various differences. The CPT article series published alongside your illustrations also touched upon this issue of race. What are your thoughts on these discussions and what do you hope to come out of them? Are there any particular pieces or ideas that stood out for you?
I think Todd rightly brought up a primary challenge that Evangelicals have when it comes to navigating the complexities of race in America and race in the American church.On the other hand Paul Morrison’s article deals more with the need for careful listening, humility, and understanding when engaging with others on complex and important topics.
Deep thinking, a nuanced discussion, love of enemies, and unity in the Spirit are amongst the many things we seem to have lost sight of in public discourse, and we’re the worse for it.
Let’s talk about some of the images from both the CPT article series and your HUMAN project. Can you tell us about the motivation behind your illustration of Dr. King and the young black boy?
Earlier this year H&M came under fire for an ad depicting a young black boy wearing a hoodie with the phrase “Coolest Monkey In The Jungle”. Monkey was (and sometimes still is) used to describe black people, implying that we are less than human. This descriptor was used by people, usually of Western European descent, as a way of dehumanizing men and women of African descent especially during the transatlantic slave trade and the Jim Crow era that followed shortly after. In many instances those using this phrase claimed Christ. In so doing they spat in the face of God (James 3:9-12). This more recent incident took place right before MLK 50 and the idea struck me. I want to combat the issue of this ad with an art piece that proclaims the biblical truth (from Genesis and Revelation), which was foundational to Dr. King’s work.
You posted an infographic showing a pregnant black woman earlier in your social media account. Can you tell us about your thought process?
This illustration is an edited version of a piece from my brief HUMAN sub-series called “Othered”. For this particular piece I did the illustration and then made a short video posted to my Instagram account with the following stats depicting the risks that black women in America face when they become pregnant and bear children (according to the contemporary CDC report):
44 deaths per 100,000 live births, the highest among industrialized countries
243% more likely to die from pregnancy, or childbirth-related causes
In NYC black women are 12x more likely to die from severe complications
To “other” her is to treat her as fundamentally different from yourself, often by emphasizing apartness in traits that differ from yours
I’m not claiming to know the causes of all of this, but the statistics are alarming and broader conversations and action are needed. Maybe this illustration will help with that.
What is unique about your illustration of the Aboriginal woman here?
Aboriginal men and women have a unique look, to me, among the people of the earth. By “unique” I mean that the scale of their features, the dark skin sometimes contrasted with blonde hair, and the fact that their features are largely isolated to Australia and New Zealand. I painted this portrait sketch during a brief period of exploring their features through art.
Who is the man in this image? And what sort of story does this illustration carry?
Umut Sakaroglu was killed in a terrorist attack in 2016. Periodically, I am moved to sketch or paint the faces of people who have died violently as a small way of remembering and honoring them.
Why do you think it is important to commemorate them in this way?
In a small way, taking time to read about someone I didn’t know, who died, and then sketch and share their image, honors both the person and the image of whom they were created. I’ve also done this as a surprise for those within my circle who have lost someone. They’ve told me how much it means and to not underestimate how much it means.
Here is an illustration from your earlier work that again features a woman of color. What is compelling about the image of this Inuit woman?
Similar to the Aboriginal sketch, I found this photo of an Inuit woman compelling, so I explored her features and clothing by painting a loose interpretation (not highly detailed or photo-realistic) of her. Since CPT had room for additional portraits I was able to pull together a fairly ethnically diverse collection of portraits for them to use.
All of your illustrations feature people of various backgrounds. Why do you choose to represent such diversity in your portraits?
I do so because intrinsic to HUMAN is visual diversity. Our features, hair textures and skin tones are all part of how God designed us.
How do you think images or visuals affect our perception of others?
The ability to see other humans forces us to look at people as creation made in God’s image. The word description of a person gives context for the image of that person as we see them. The image of a person may turn out to be different from the person we picture in our mind when what we have is only a word description. So, together, both words and images communicate in a complementary way to give us contextual information that would hopefully spark even more curiosity about a subject
What other projects are you working on now? How can readers learn more about you and your work?
I’m currently working on building up a portrait branch of my business. I’ve done custom portraits over the years, but never made the service available on my website. I’m also talking with a Christian organization that serves families affected by disability about partnering with them to provide free portraits to these families. Part of the paid portraits will go to provide the free portraits.