The Rev. David Wood, senior minister of Glencoe Union Church in Glencoe, IL, probes the implications of the discovery of DNA and the theological notion of the Image of God. This video is part of the Day1 Faith & Science in the 21st Century Series, made possible through the support of a grant by the John Templeton Foundation.
On the morning of February 28,1953, James Watson and Francis Crick walked into the Eagle Pub in Cambridge, England. It was literally just down the street from the Cavendish Laboratory where they both worked as research scientists. Once inside they made their way to their usual table and called everyone to attention. Then Francis Crick announced to the astonishment of his hearers: "We have found the secret of life." It was the first public announcement of their discovery of the double helix structure of DNA-the genetic code for all living things.
To put it simply, DNA is what all living organisms on earth have in common. It contains the molecular instructions for life. The implications of this discovery are still rippling out: from providing an understanding of how evolution actually works at the molecular level, to the mapping of the human genome, to producing a whole new range of possibilities for the treatment of disease.
Science has discovered just how deeply we as human beings are stitched into the fabric of the natural order of all living things. There is nothing in the biblical story that should cause us to resist this disclosure. If anything, the biblical stories declared long ago that this world and everything in it came to be find their unity in God-the source of all that is. The discovery of the surprising commonality amidst a wild diversity is entirely consonant with the heart of the biblical story.
Insight into the intricate make up of the human being that science provides does not discredit or diminish the ancient story that human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. That story predates the rise of science. To be sure, it is a story that is updated by science. However, it is another thing altogether to claim that science has outdated that story and rendered it obsolete.
If we have learned anything from our history it is that the recognition of the essential dignity of every human being cannot be taken for granted but rather has to be elaborated again and again. We have empirical evidence of just how crucial and relevant our understanding of the human being as created in the IMAGE of God has been and remains to our society.
The philosopher, Calvin Trillin, in his book, About Alice, relates a story about his wife, Alice. She was volunteering at a camp for terminally ill children. In the course of the camp, Alice had befriended a young girl who was severely disabled. The little girl's name was Lucy. One afternoon, Lucy was absorbed in a game with the other campers and their counselors. Standing nearby, Alice noticed a piece of paper lying on the ground. Apparently, with all the activity of the game, it had slipped out of someone's pocket. She picked it up. In her effort to figure out who it belonged to, she opened it and discovered it was actually a letter. It was a letter to Lucy from her parents.
She could not help but read the first few lines:
"Dear Lucy, If God had given us all the children in the world to choose from, we would only have chosen you."
Trillin goes on to say that Alice immediately passed the note on to a young counselor who was standing nearby and said, "Quick, read this. It's the secret of life."
Indeed. That we are "made in the image and likeness of God" is at the heart of the story that discloses the secret of life.
The Day1 Faith & Science Series project was made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed in these documents are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation.