Making sense of life
Carl Wieland chats to medical biologist Dr Yves Bergeron
Yves Bergeron, Ph.D., works for the Infectious Disease Research Centre (IDRC) at the Centre Hospitalier de l’Université Laval (Laval University Hospital) in Quebec City. He is also an adjunct professor in the Department of Medical Biology at Laval University.
Raised in a Roman Catholic family in the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec, Yves Bergeron (“Yves” is pronounced like the English “Eve”) told me that from an early age he believed that God existed. “I believed that God, you know, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, had created the world. I believed that Christ lived a holy, perfect life on Earth, that He died on the cross to forgive our sins, and that heaven and hell are real. But something was missing. I had no interest in reading the Bible, for instance.”
When Yves was 18 years old a woman showed him Ephesians 2:8–9, which says: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
“Immediately, I had a desire to buy a Bible and read it”, he said. “I became born again, and my life changed from that instant.” He joined an evangelical church. “A few years later, a pastor showed me how the Old and New Testaments link together, and how all that the Bible teaches about God’s incredible grace hangs together by reading the Bible from beginning to end.”
Yves, a bachelor, currently attends a small Reformed Church in Quebec City, which, he said, “is my family”. He sees Quebec province, where attitudes towards the Gospel are “very hard”, as a real and difficult mission field for the Gospel of Christ.
Interested in science from an early age, Yves said, “I always felt that God created the laws of science, and we are under the laws; He is above them. Learning science is discovering what God has created, the laws He has given, the order needed in His creation. A chemist cannot change water into wine; no-one can walk on water. But doing those things was, for God, not a contradiction of Himself.”
A grim childhood experience directed his interest toward medical science in particular. At eight years of age, he was seriously poisoned by an insecticide. “I was so sick, I was off school for a whole year. Eventually, I benefited from a new medicine. So I’ve always been interested in how the body works, blood cells, and so on. I always wanted to be a part of providing cures for people, especially kids.”
So Yves is happy to be working in a large medical research centre where some 1,200 people are helping to discover new treatments and diagnostic tools. A researcher for the last 26 years (including as head of research teams), his special interests are in such things as immunology, inflammation, infectious diseases and ways to diagnose and combat them.
Yves said that though he studied “all the evolutionary hypotheses” at school and university, he never really believed in the evolutionary story. “Even if you add billions of years, it makes no sense that all these things got organized by themselves without the intelligence of the Creator.” For Yves, a world created in six ordinary-length days a few thousand years ago makes perfect sense of the data of the real world.
In his own field, things like bacterial toxins that induce shock and death are consistent, though, with a creation where things “went wrong”. He said, “Obviously the Fall has broken all kinds of aspects of the creation. But as I studied microbiology, these bacteria, they are so stunningly complex, it’s totally inconceivable that we are not looking at the handiwork of God’s creative intelligence. We are discovering new molecules continually. The more we study, the more we find out about the amazing nanotechnology1 in what some still call ‘simple’ bacteria.”
A super mini-lab
The Infectious Disease Research Centre where Dr Bergeron works in Quebec City
While on nanotechnology, Dr Bergeron told me enthusiastically that the IDRC was working on a CD “for the genetic identification of microbes”. So what was the big deal, I thought, thinking of a CD with some text or audio instructions. But what he shared was amazing. Using incredible nanotechnology engineering, the researchers were putting an ultraminiature laboratory onto a normal-sized CD. This was then inserted into a “reader” machine that would be able to identify bacteria from their DNA “fingerprints”, all in less than an hour.2
As a former medical doctor, I had an inkling of the significance of this. If someone has a life-threatening septicemia (blood poisoning from bacteria multiplying in the bloodstream), you need to find out for sure what the bacteria are and specifically what antibiotics they are sensitive to. It normally takes two days to get a full answer, by growing the bacteria on culture plates. So it sounded exciting, even though some of the specialized technical items he fired off in his enthusiasm, such as the >1000 “DNA probes” that can be placed on each disc, and also “microfluidic networks” and more, were beyond me.
“The objective, once the CD is fully operational, is that you just put a drop of the sample—blood, urine, saliva, for instance—onto the disc,” said Yves, “and then the equipment on the disc cracks open any bacteria in it, and processes their DNA. Then you put it in your machine; it tells you which bacteria, and what resistance genes they are carrying, so you know which antibiotics won’t work.”
Yves said that much progress has been made in what he called this “marrying of molecular biology and engineering”. A commercial portable version of the reader “small enough to put into your luggage” is expected by 2020 at the latest. As well as its potential applications in forensic, food, and veterinary science, as well as environmental studies and aerospace technology, he said that “this technology will also allow identification of microbes such as anthrax used by bioterrorists.”
Hardness—the cause as much as the effect
Such breakthroughs in real science obviously have nothing to do with belief in evolution, which, Dr Bergeron thinks, is ultimately because of a hardness of heart, a spiritual blindness. “If people believe in evolution, it’s mostly because they actually don’t want to believe in God and give Him glory for who He is and what He has done.”
In his office at the IDRC
Yves pointed out that many people think that some sort of “god” exists. “They think that something must be behind all this, but He must have created evolution. This is sort of a vague ‘God’ that has no real claims on their life.”
Dr Bergeron says he has always accepted the six-day creation account just as the Bible teaches it. “I would not be scandalized if He had done it any other way—He could have done it various ways. But that’s not what He told us happened. And if I think about the consequences of accepting ‘God-directed evolution’, it raises huge questions. A lot of things do not hold together. How did evil come into the hearts of human beings? If there were millions of years, then death (and suffering) would have existed before Adam and Eve. This makes no sense in a biblical framework. Death was a penalty from God for our sin. The world was corrupted at the Fall, because of our corruption.3
“I know there are many views and theories, like the framework theory, the day-age theory, and so on”, said Yves. “I have read on these issues, and have found that they don’t stand up theologically or scientifically, and they are not satisfying. Either there is creation as God says or there is pure evolution; we should not take a little from one and a little from the other to try to make a hybrid theory that does not fit either aspect.”
After their kind
“A lot of my colleagues,” said Yves, “try to justify their belief in evolution by the fact that bacteria change, they can acquire genes (from other bacteria). But this does not mean that bacteria gave rise to more elaborate organisms. That would require adding a lot of new information that was not previously in the world, not just borrowing something that already exists. Bacteria change; so do horses and humans, but I believe that bacteria have always been bacteria, and humans human. Even though there is a lot of change possible within each kind, bacteria are not capable of turning into horses or humans.”
“It’s clear that people are simply avoiding facing up to certain realities,” said Yves. “Just looking at the growth of human population, for instance, it’s obvious that we have been here for only a few thousand years.”
Yves’s next comment seemed like an encouraging way to conclude this article: “Genesis makes sense of every aspect of life.”
References and notes
- A term for a relatively new field of ultra-miniature engineering (1 nanometre = 1 billionth of a metre). Return to text.
- See <cimonline.ca/index.php/cim/article/view/4873/1741>. Return to text.
- See Cosmic and universal death from Adam’s fall: an exegesis of Romans 8:19–23a. Return to text.
(Also available in French)