Science reinforces faith in God
Don Batten interviews immunologist Dr Natalie Bennett
Dr Natalie Bennett earned a Ph.D. in immunology (Monash University, Australia) and did a postdoctoral stint at University of Alabama, USA, followed by researching inflammatory bowel disease at DNAX Research Institute of Molecular & Cellular Biology, Inc., in California. She became a full-time mum for a time, and now teaches bioscience (human anatomy and physiology) at an Australian university. She regularly reads and enjoys Creation magazine and Journal of Creation.
Natalie had the privilege of growing up in a Christian home. Her father liked to discuss and analyze the Bible, and firmly believed that God said what He meant and meant what He said. Natalie says, “I have always had this core belief that the Word is right and therefore whatever does not agree with the Word is not right. When I was 12 years old I realized that I myself had to respond personally to Jesus, so that is really when I became a Christian.”
Natural curiosity leads to a career in science
“While I had always been curious about how things worked, my passion for science came to the fore when I was 11 years old. My family often spent the school holidays camping at a friend’s farm in Gippsland. This particular summer, we were helping to butcher a sheep and I was allowed to examine the visceral organs. I was totally fascinated. I vividly recall ‘digging’ through the metres of intestines wondering what went on inside them, holding the heart and wondering about how it worked and how blood clotting was happening, and being entranced by the spongy feel of the lungs. I decided then that I would be a scientist and learn all about how the body worked. In hindsight, Psalm 139:14 perfectly sums up how I felt: ‘I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.’ A career in science was not a typical choice for a girl in the 1970s but I was blessed to have parents who encouraged me to follow my dreams.”
I asked Dr Bennett if she had ever had any struggles over science and her faith. “Not really. Everything I have ever learned about science has reinforced my faith in the true God of the Bible. While there were times when I could not reconcile faith and ‘science’ (e.g. the ‘proven’ old age of the earth), I always assumed that the Bible was right and that the science was somehow based on incorrect assumptions, or simply that they did not yet have enough information to come to the correct conclusion. Reading Dr John Ashton’s book, In Six Days: Why 50 scientists choose to believe in creation,1 really encouraged me because I realized that many scientists do not subscribe to the prevailing evolutionary worldview and yet they had successful careers in science. Then I discovered Creation Ministries, which has helped me to clarify what I believe about creation versus evolution and has provided me with a wealth of information about how to defend my belief in the reliability of God’s Word.”
Natalie’s doctoral thesis focused on the development of T lymphocytes—a type of cell that is crucial for the effective function of the immune system in fighting disease. The importance of these cells is highlighted in AIDS patients where the virus kills T cells; and the patient, without treatment, will die from infections or diseases that are normally easily overcome by a healthy immune system. Dr Bennett explains: “The development of T cells is a highly complex, step-wise process that includes multiple checkpoints where particular cell interactions must occur and specific genes must be turned on or off. It involves the selection of T cells that can recognize the difference between self and non-self, but respond only to non-self. In this way, the immune system attacks only foreign invaders, such as microbes that can cause disease, but does not attack our own body cells. T cells that do not meet the selection requirements must be destroyed, otherwise they can cause debilitating, and even fatal, autoimmune diseases. Given the complexity of the developmental process, which involves multiple extremely complex enzyme systems working together, and the importance of getting it right for the health and survival of the individual, it is inconceivable that the immune system could evolve incrementally over time—a functional immune system appears to be ‘irreducibly complex’.” (That is, all components must be present and working together for the system to work effectively, so that the immune system could not develop by small steps from no function to function.)
Dr Bennett shared how “research is a very demanding occupation, often requiring long hours in the lab, working nights and on weekends. It is not very family-friendly. When my son Matthew was born, I withdrew from research to spend as much time as possible with him. To satisfy my passion for science, I went into teaching, which tends to involve more regular work hours, so that I could help interested students gain an appreciation of how wonderfully we are created. I sometimes miss working in the lab, but have no regrets about trading it for time with my family.
“I currently teach basic anatomy and physiology to allied health students. Generally, this does not involve discussing origins at all—evolution is not relevant to these studies. Most of my students are awed by the wonderful complexity of the human body and they can see the rather obvious design without much help from me. Some will ask about how the complex functional integration of organ systems could evolve, and this gives me the opportunity to talk about creation and encourage their questions—stimulating their critical thinking and inquisitiveness. That’s what makes science really interesting for students.”
Does evolution help science?
“I think that the teaching of the theory of evolution has undermined the scientific method. The classic scientific method is operational—it involves observation of some aspect of the natural world, the formation of a hypothesis about that observation, using that hypothesis to make predictions and then experimentation to test those predictions. The experimental results may support the hypothesis or result in modification of the hypothesis. This process is continually repeated until the hypothesis is sufficiently supported to become a theory that allows us to explain our observations. This theory must also be falsifiable—meaning that an experiment or discovery could disprove the theory.
“The scientific method is not appropriate for biological evolution. Evolution is not observable within our timeframe; it is an alleged historical event. Evolution [microbes-to-mankind] cannot be confirmed by experimental investigation but depends on untestable assumptions. Evolutionists interpret facts to fit a hypothesis that resists modification, despite evidence to the contrary, i.e. it is clearly not falsifiable in practice for those who believe it. Evolution is accepted as a theory despite being unable to adequately explain many observations in the natural world, such as the origin of the immune system that I studied. Evolution makes a mockery of the scientific method, but students are encouraged to accept it as an unassailable fact. This is not good science.”2
Advice for young Christians looking to a career in science?
“If you have a passion for a career in science then follow that dream—it is an exciting and challenging career that can involve amazing discoveries that improve people’s quality of life. In my own career, I was blessed to contribute to the better treatment of debilitating disease, I travelled and lived overseas, and I met lots of really interesting people. It was a great adventure. Do not be discouraged by the prevailing evolutionary worldview that seems to dominate science—there are many Christians in all fields of science doing great work, and remember, with God all things are possible!” (Matthew 19:26).
Immunity and faulty arguments (semi-technical)
Some propagandists for evolution have attempted to use the method by which antibodies are produced by creatures as evidence that random mutations can produce the new genetic information needed for evolution to be believable. They claim that the immune system uses a process like mutation to generate part of a new antibody that is ‘designed’ to specifically attack an invader that the organism has never encountered before. Dr Natalie Bennett explains why this thinking is faulty:
“Antibodies are proteins produced by B lymphocytes that can bind to foreign invaders (also called antigens), such as viruses. Antibodies tag the invaders for destruction, and so protect us from disease. These proteins are produced in a very complicated process involving recombination of genes from three separate families. This recombination process involves the switching off of those genes from each family that are not directly used to make the particular antibody.
“The antibodies that bind a specific antigen then undergo a process called somatic hypermutation. This means that rearrangements in the antibody-encoding genes lead to an enhanced affinity of the antibody for its antigen, which means the antibody becomes more effective at tagging the pathogen.
“However, these ‘mutations’ are not random, but occur in specific ‘hotspots’, and only after recombination has occurred. This ensures that the functional integrity of the antibody molecule is maintained. While evolution is said to be driven by random mutations, what we see in the production of antibodies is not random, but a directed process that shows incredibly sophisticated design.
“Also, the antibody molecule has not gained a new function—it is still an antibody that tags an antigen for destruction. This process will not produce a brand-new type of enzyme or protein, only an antibody, so it gives no support to ‘big picture’ evolution.”1
References and notes
- See also Bergman, J. and O’Sullivan, N., Did immune system antibody diversity evolve? (technical). J. Creation 22(2):92–96, 2008.
References and notes
- Available from CMI bookstores. Return to text.
- Dr Bennett recently read The Scientific Approach to Evolution: What They Didn’t Teach You in Biology, by Rob Stadler (CreateSpace Independent Publishers, 2016). She remarked, “The discussion on high vs low confidence science described the issue beautifully.” See the review by Brian Thomas, J. Creation 31(1):28–29, 2017. Return to text.