Songs about…biology?

Astrocyte (type of nerve cell) by Karin Pierre

I’ve been blogging about astronomy recently. It’s an easy target really – anything that involves staring at the night sky is likely to move people to worship. But what about my own subject of biology? The living world is a lot messier, but it is just as amazing.

Our own development from sperm and egg to squalling baby takes just nine months. During that time, the instruction manual for a unique physical human being is read off from the DNA code that resides in every cell in our bodies.* It’s incredible that the information is all there in the 2 metres or so of code in each cell. DNA is about a billionth of a metre (2nm) wide, and is not visible with even the best light microscopes (these can only see things as small as about 50 nm). Inside the cell DNA is coiled up, in a number of complex stages, into a tiny mass that fits inside the nucleus of the cell.

Until recently I believed that we had enough DNA in our bodies to take us on an amazing journey.  I was told that if all the DNA in each cell of your body – all 2m of it – was extracted and added end to end it would reach as far as the moon and back. That’s quite a thought.

But then I checked the numbers for a children’s talk that I was preparing and discovered that the story I had been told was way off the mark.

  • We have about 50 trillion (50 x 1012) cells in our bodies.
  • Multiply that by 2m, and you have about 100 trillion metres, or 100 billion (100 x 109) kilometres of DNA.

So yes, we do have enough DNA in our bodies to take us to the moon and back, but you can go much further than that – to the sun and back more than 300 times! I can’t even begin to comprehend that, but it’s very impressive. And I’ve ended writing about astronomy again…

I’ve been criticised for making the leap from ‘wow that’s amazing’ to belief in God. But that’s not what I’m doing. I don’t believe in God because of anything to do with science (see my earlier post for more on this). The point is that I believe in a big God, and learning more about how incredible the universe is helps me to understand a little more about just how big God is.

*Except mature red blood cells or the lens in our eyes – in these cell types the DNA would get in the way so it’s broken down.

4 thoughts on “Songs about…biology?

  1. Ed June 30, 2011 / 11:27 am

    Couldn’t agree more: “The point is that I believe in a big God, and learning more about how incredible the universe is helps me to understand a little more about just how big God is.”!

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  2. John July 4, 2011 / 4:49 pm

    I am reminded of the first time I discovered a project funded by the Templeton Foundation on biological complexity. Immediately this made sense to me as the way forward for Christians thinking about both the cosmos which we can see with the naked eye on a dark clear sky night, and the microscopic world opening up before us with ever more powerful microscopes.

    It seemed to me then, and continues to seem to me now, as the best answer to the limitations of what currently flies under the banner of intelligent design. i.e., The issue before us is all the amazing complexity before us, the “wow” of looking at the cosmos and the internal workings of cells and genes, to all the biological creatures large and small. Then because I believe in an awesome, infinite God, who signals some of that infinity by the age of the cosmos, I can awaken each day to the possibility of new discoveries, new understandings of His creations.

    Instead of a “God of the gaps”, I think of God as everywhere at all times, anxious for us to keep learning and exploring the beauty, the complexity, the size – both great and small, of the “wow” of His marvelous creation

    For a song, maybe Lamentations 3:22-23 – “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

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  3. Larissa July 11, 2011 / 9:06 am

    “I don’t believe in God because of anything to do with science. The point is that I believe in a big God, and learning more about how incredible the universe is helps me to understand a little more about just how big God is.”

    This, to my mind, is what 17th-century English natural theology tended to be about. One of the main arguments of my thesis was that natural theology was not just about the existence of God, but also about the nature of God. John Ray and William Derham (early 18th century) were two who particularly emphasised the use of natural history to show us just how much God is deserving of our worship. And I don’t think that anyone who wrote natural theology at this time was convinced of the existence of God because of natural theology.

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