This is the second of my interviews with Spanish scientists. Elena de la Torre-Madrid’s love of her subject and struggles in the lab will be familiar to many in the sciences, and it’s interesting to hear about those experiences from a faith perspective.

I left the decision about what subject to study at University until the last minute. I was standing in the queue to register, and there were about twenty people in front of me. I thought, ‘Okay I have approximately twenty minutes to decide what I want to do with my life’. I began reading down the list: “A, architecture…maybe. B, biology…perhaps. M, medicine, mathematics…perhaps.” In the end I had 15 possibilities. I thought, “In the last exams, my best mark was in biology. Why not study that?” I don’t really know why I picked it, but I love it! I think it is very difficult to study biology in Spain because there’s not much work, and what work there is, is not easy. But at the end of all these years of study, if I had to start again I would choose biology.

I work for a biotech company that focuses on rare genetic diseases. My PhD was in biochemistry, and right now I am on a Masters degree programme in biotechnology. My work involves keeping up to date with the latest research in biology, searching for ways to develop new drugs.

When I was at University one of my fellow students said to me, ‘I don’t know how you can believe in God when you are studying science’. But I wonder how you can study science and not believe in God! I am a very passionate person, and when I am doing anything I usually put all my soul into it. When I study cells and the ways in which all the different biochemical pathways work I think, ‘It’s amazing! How can you say that it’s only cause and effect? It’s not possible. There must be something or someone who directs that process, because it’s too perfect to be only serendipity.’ My commute to University was one and a half hours each way. All the people on the train would sleep or stare into space, but I would look out of the window. Looking at the stars or the clouds, I’d think about the immensity of God and wonder how anyone could ignore such beautiful things – both outdoors and in the laboratory.

As a PhD student I worked in a biomedical research institute, looking at the effect of morphine and other cannabinoids on the brain. I spent long days in the lab deciphering the signalling processes that go on within cells. One of the discoveries I made was that a protein called ‘Rap-1’ is dispersed throughout the inside of the cell, while ‘Rap-2’ is restricted to the outer membrane. It’s just basic research, and perhaps some people don’t think that matters – for me it was exciting.

My most important experience in the lab was something more personal. I had a really hard time with my PhD, and it took me six years to complete. Sometimes I would think, ‘I can’t go ahead.’ At those times I felt that God was with me. I knew I was there for a reason, even if I didn’t know what that reason was at the time. Now I can see that all my past experience made me ready for the next step, both personally and professionally. Working for this company, I feel that I am doing something that makes sense.

My boss – who’s not a Christian – asked me a couple of weeks ago, ‘Do you know why God brought you here?’ I wondered if it might be something to do with telling people about God. He disagreed: ‘No it doesn’t work like that. You are here to help cure all the children who don’t have any treatment right now.’ I realised that he was probably right. I’m here because God wants someone to discover these things. So I said, ‘Okay, let’s keep it at that!’ God has a reason for everything and a purpose for everyone, and I am discovering my purpose.

11 thoughts on “Serendipity?

  1. Dr Ikechukwu Okadigwe May 17, 2012 / 2:10 pm

    “But I wonder how you can study science and not believe in God!”….. Indeed, I have come to a similar conclusion to Elena. Anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, embryology, pathology and so on have given me advanced understanding and appreciation of the awe inspiring pinnacle of God’s earthly creation – the inner and outer functioning of the human body, whether in debilitating disease or abundant health. To believe that human beings and the rest of creation came about by a “happy accident”…. well, that is truly a test of faith! I believe that there are no coincidences or chance events in God’s kingdom. There is order, preordination, there is no randomness, everything that occurs happens for a reason. Why do I believe this? Look at these two biblical passages:

    …… We are assured and know that [[j]God being a partner in their labor] ALL things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose.

    For those whom He foreknew [of whom He was [k]aware and [l]loved beforehand], He also DESTINED FROM THE BEGINNING [FOREORDAINING them] to be molded into the image of His Son [and share inwardly His likeness], that He might become the firstborn among many brethren.

    And those whom He thus foreordained, He also called; and those whom He called, He also justified (acquitted, made righteous, putting them into right standing with Himself). And those whom He justified, He also glorified [raising them to a heavenly dignity and condition or state of being]…… Romans 8: 28 -30 Amplified.

    Notice: ALL things – good, bad, indifferent, work together to bring about God’s purposes and plans – which always bring about good – there are no exceptions. Your studying biology may seem random, but I believe God led you to do so, and He also equipped you with the talent etc because you were predestined by Him. Why? To bring glory to His Name…..

    The second passage:

    ….For I know the thoughts and plans that I have for you, says the Lord, thoughts and plans for welfare and peace and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome.

    Then you will call upon Me, and you will come and pray to Me, and I will hear and heed you.

    Then you will seek Me, inquire for, and require Me [as a vital necessity] and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart……. Jeremiah 29: 11 – 13 Amplified.

    God’s plans and purposes for our lives are revealed when we seek Him wholeheartedly, because He has promised that when we seek Him, we will surely find Him. His plans and purposes for us are also for our good – always.


    • Antonio Molina May 26, 2012 / 10:05 pm

      Hi. Being extremely respecful with your opinion, I would say all we see in nature does not need to have been designed by God… I mean we know evolution and natural selection are behind the living forms we see today, including us… I do believe in God, but to me God is both the beginning, the starting point, and also the end we tend to… The more time it passes, the more matter tends to intellectual and emotional complexity. To me complexity is the key because complexity tends to love, compassion… In other words, we tend to God and bacteria don’t…

      I think cell biolgy or physiology don’t show God so much as for example the deep void we feel inside without him. I mean, for example, when we are extremely sad we pray to God naturaly… Why don’t we do it so often when we feel happy? Perhaps becuase we are alredy much closer…

      I don’t need God to explain scientific and biochemical truths but to complete me, to give me meaning and purpose. So my meaning is to become one with Christ, this is to became love…



  2. Antonio Molina May 26, 2012 / 9:49 pm

    Nice article. I have to say, with pleasure, I am Elena’s boss. I would say I don’t believe God pulls the strings on cells’ biochemical pathways, they were “designed” by evolution and selection. On the other hand do think God is the consistent scaffold underlying all as the meaning… Christ is the answer, I would say… Christ is LOVE and love is God’s essence… In other words, evolution is NOT directionless but tending to love, to forgiveness, to Christ… This is the answer to all the big questions: I exist to make the world a better place because of love. I am a conscient and intelligent drop in the vast ocean of matter and time, yes, but I DO exist, have purpose and will. So I tend to God, to Christ, by loving my enemy if needed.

    Well, nice article again.



    • Ruth Bancewicz May 28, 2012 / 4:30 pm

      Thank you for your comments.

      It depends what you mean by design or pulling strings. There’s obviously good evidence for evolution but, as you say, for someone who believes in God it’s not hard to see that he could have given it direction. (For example, Simon Conway Morris at Cambridge University has done some work on convergence and teleology in biology I think that’s what Elena meant by it not being simply serendipity – but you’ll have to ask her yourself…

      And as you say, the most convincing evidence for God is our relationship to him. Nature points to a great Creator, but can’t tell us anything about Jesus.


      • Dr Ikechukwu Okadigwe May 31, 2012 / 2:15 pm


        You say nature cannot tell us anything about Jesus? Is that really true? In John 1,it is made clear that Jesus IS God, as well as the Word of God, nothing created was made without Yeshua. Elsewhere Jesus is called Emmanuel, which means God with us. In the Gospels, it was shown that Jesus has authority over nature when He calmed the storm while in a boat with His disciples, something only supernatural intervention makes posssible. Rising from the dead and raising Lazarus from the dead also points to Yeshua having control over natural events. These are just some examples which tells us something about Yeshua – He created and has control over all in the natural world.


        • Ruth Bancewicz June 1, 2012 / 1:32 pm

          Interesting! I agree, though I think your points are about what Jesus is telling us about nature – i.e that he made it, is in control and is not bound by the forces that bind us? If I went into the lab tomorrow I could not find those things out – I have to read the Bible, talk to Christians, etc to find that out – that’s really what I meant.


    • Dr Ikechukwu Okadigwe May 29, 2012 / 10:05 am

      Hi there Antonio,

      I have a question for you – how did evolution come about?

      Best Regards,



      • Antonio Molina May 29, 2012 / 3:06 pm

        Hi Ikechukwu,

        I am afraid this is going to be a tricky question, right? ;-)

        Evolution is the result of combining “blind” genetic variation and a natural selection force/mechanism. Nothing more (or less…) I personally don’t see God’s action there, or in the beauty of a bird soaring the sky, or in a stem cell’s capacity to become a neuron, for example. I mean I don’t see God as the master puppetteer pulling the strings… I see God in a different way, as LOVE, which is the principle of everything. In a way, I see evolution tending to complexity and this gain of complexity allowing organisms to be closer to God. We, humans, are the paramount of this process, I think, but INSIDE the evolutionary pathway we know. In other words, I don’t see God in evolution since I know I come from some primate and because I also see evolution working in the extinction of Neandhertals, for example.

        In other words, my only message here is to be very careful when we mix/combine science and faith. For example, when we say we see God in how a neuron works, this is quite slippery because in the end, science has shown us how a neuron works, from ion channels to a membrane, to cell signaling to mitosis arrest, etc, etc, etc. So when we base God’s perception on the physical world, we always end up shrinking God when science demonstrates God does NOT move ions accross a neuron’s cell membrane but a voltage difference does…

        I think God is the meaning of everything, the bottom line of all. I mean God is LOVE and LOVE is the maximum expression of complexity we can see and know. Christ came here with just ONE SIMPLE MESSAGE: LOVEA EACH OTHER AS I HAVE LOVED YOU. I mean WHAT A MESSAGE…. If you think about it, it is so deep and great that it explains all our needs, voids, dreams, aspirations, etc.

        I am 45 years of age and spent 25 of them trying to “fit” God in my life and myself. It was a painful process many times but when I read Teilhard de Chardin many things were clear to me. Some say he was controversial but to me he nailed it. God is the moving force of everything and at the same time is the end we tend to (alpha and omega, in Teilhard’s words).

        Anyway, just trying to explain myself, which is not an easy task ;-)

        Sorry for the long post.



        • Dr Ikechukwu Okadigwe June 6, 2012 / 2:37 pm

          Hi Antonio,

          Thanks very much for your reply. It is interesting that you seperate the God of Love from the creative force that wrought the seen and the unseen in nature and beyond. Let us say that your assertion that “Evolution is the result of combining “blind” genetic variation and a natural selection force/mechanism. Nothing more
          (or less)” is true, it still does not answer the question as to what brought the “natural selection force/mechanism” about, or the “blind genetic variation”. To say these both came about by chance, well, the odds on that I leave to mathematicians. You say you do not see God in the beauty of a bird soaring in the sky, or a stem cell becoming a neuron, but is Love not a thing of beauty.?Agape Love is a constant with God, and is all about action i.e. Agape Love is also a verb. In other words, Love leads God to consistently create and do things that exhibit His Love for us and all His creation. It was Agape Love that lead God to create mankind and all in His creation. As you rightly pointed out God IS Love (1 John 4:8, 16), so it is illogical to to seperate the God of Love from the God of creation. Even we who are made in God’s image create works of art, poetry, music, loving realtionships and so on when love and appreciation moves us to do so. To say that the God of Love cannot create is to fall into the very trap you have sought to avoid – shrinking and diminishing God.

          You say you know you come from some primate – yes you do, since humans are classified zoologically by mankind as primates. However, saying that mankind descended from apes is an entirely different proposition, proof of which is tenous at best. There is no smoking gun yet scientifically speaking, so to be categorical is go against established scientific convention. After all, science is based on the creation of models, which by their very nature are an incomplete, imperfect representation of the phenomena studied. Evolution arising by chance is a model which is very incomplete, and raises even more questions than answers. I refer you to the interesting series of articles Evolution vs. Design: Is the Universe a Cosmic Accident or Does it Display Intelligent Design? on as well as Answers for Atheists and Agnostics

          Once again, thank you for your reply and take care

          – Ikechukwu


          • Antonio Molina October 8, 2014 / 12:17 pm

            Love is the essence of God, it is the deep, final and perfect equilibrium we tend to. In Teilhard’s cosmovision, it is the Omega. So by default ALL in this universe is permeated by God and by love, all evolutive process is a pathway to go closer to love meaning all tends to become more complex and jump in the evolutionary selection itself. In this cosmic soup, we, humans, can hold up our faces and look for God, we are the only species able to grasp LOVE in this gorgeous chaos.

            Love is (always) in the air…


        • michala June 11, 2012 / 5:18 pm

          In the begining was information…


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