I follow the highlights of what is reported in the scientific community. In keeping with Pope John Paul II’s urging for science and philosophy to return to its “sapiential dimension as a search for the ultimate and overarching meaning of life,” it’s simply fascinating to demonstrate how science can affirm the majesty and mystery of God’s creation. (81) Science and faith are reconcilable and do work together.
Last week in Science journal Felisa Wolfe-Simon reported that she and her team had discovered a bacterium that can substitute arsenic (As) for phosphorus (P) to sustain its growth. It uses As instead of P in metabolizing the parts of the cells that make up the bulk of living matter, the nucleic acids and proteins. She’s wondered about ancient life using As in this way and it makes sense in the order of chemistry.
|Search for unusual life.
Felisa Wolfe-Simon collects samples from Mono Lake (left), where high
arsenic levels proved conducive to the evolution of arsenic-using microbes.
CREDITS: HENRY BORTMAN in Science Magazine
Think of it like this, Legos®. P is a small single cubic lego that make up a small group of legos with a P in the center and four other same legos around it, a phosphate group. These little groups are part of a bigger group called nucleotides (the group in the top box below), and these nucleotides stack to make up nucleic acids (DNA and RNA molecules). Many of these together form proteins. That’s the rough basics. They build up in an ordered way.
What Dr. Simon has discovered is that a bacterium can replace the little P with As. If P is a tiny small cubic lego, the As is only bigger by one row of dots around the perimeter, to make an analogy. It can still attach to the other four legos to make the units that make up nucleotides and proteins. The analogy is not perfect but it demonstrates the idea. Usually As is a poison, but when it fits in the order, here’s a case where it’s not. Order.
What’s really cool is that instead of wondering about this substitution in ancient life, we’ve found it in current life, and it makes sense. Shhh…don’t say it too loud, but that kind of reasoning is really more metaphysics than physics and it’s exactly what the Pope urged, using our God-given human intellect. If one keeps up that kind of reasoning, they run smack into God and the majesty of His creation.
Just as a scientist doesn’t need to fear faith, neither does a person of faith need to fear ethical science that tries to discover our world. They go together to reach the overarching truth. There’s a lot of mystery out there, and a lot of majesty.
About the Author