Divine Design, in more ways than one: The journey of John Leslie in science, medicine, and ministry
In the fall of 1974, a young John Leslie arrived in Salt Lake City, Utah. He was there to begin working on his Ph.D. in Experimental Pathology at the University of Utah, where he would study with a renowned expert on blood vessel formation. He had no idea what an exciting and multi-faceted journey he was about to begin.
John had most recently lived some 2,000 miles to the east in the Washington, D.C., area. Washington and Salt Lake City are cities with very different cultures. Members of the Mormon religion settled Utah in the 1840s and to this day constitute a majority of the residents of the state.1 This was John’s first contact with Mormonism. He had been exposed to Christianity as a child by his parents, and knew a basic set of Bible stories, but not much more. When he was a teen, his parents divorced and John felt disillusioned and confused about faith.
Now in Utah and surrounded by adherents of an unfamiliar religion, John began to do a bit of reading to understand Mormonism. The first book he picked up was a critique of Mormonism written by an evangelical Christian apologist.2 Reading this, John was forced to think about his own beliefs and realized that he knew very little. But he knew that he needed God and he knew that Jesus had something to do with it—and that’s what John told God as he committed his life to Him. It was a transforming experience. “I knew something had happened to me, but I wasn’t sure what it was,” John recalls. But one of John’s professors knew what had happened—in fact, the professor who was John’s major advisor. This evangelical Christian and world-renowned scientist began discipling John. John learned that he had indeed been transformed—‘born again’ by the power of Jesus Christ, the Creator of the universe.
Discovering the wonders of creation
This had intellectual as well as spiritual consequences. John saw the world of science in a new light. By his own account, his undergraduate record was average. But as a new Christian and a new graduate student, delving into the study of biology, he began to see the wisdom and grandeur of God in creation.
John thrived in the research-intensive world of graduate school, even coauthoring a paper3 in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.4 He also met his future wife, Barbara, in the research lab. They were married in August 1980, John received his Ph.D. in December,5 and then they were off to Australia, where John had a research fellowship at Monash University.
It was in Australia that John heard a speaker on biblical creation, a representative of an organization that was later to become Creation Ministries International. John had already come to appreciate the world as God’s handiwork. But he had not thought much about how or when God created. He had always been taught that evolution was a fact and hadn’t questioned it. Until hearing this presentation, he had not known there was a way of thinking about origins apart from the evolutionary model. But after this, he began to rethink his position from both Scripture and science. As John says now, “I went from being a default evolutionist to a diehard creationist.”
John became convinced that Darwinian evolution was ultimately not based on science. Instead, he came to see it as a non-Christian ‘faith system’ that was itself trying to provide answers for the meaning of existence. He began to see the genetic code as particularly persuasive evidence. On the one hand, the failure of evolution to account for this fundamental building block of life demonstrated to him the bankruptcy of evolutionary theory, while on the other hand, the incredible design evident in the genetic code testified to the glory and wisdom of God.
John’s passion for sharing the message of the Creator with others led him to begin writing and speaking on the subject of genetics, mutations, and Genesis to audiences in Australia. He even contributed articles to Creation magazine and the Journal of Creation (then called Technical Journal, later TJ). A few years later, he coauthored an article for Creation magazine explaining the religious character of evolutionary theory.6
Medicine, archaeology, and apologetics
All this time, John was productively engaged in research. Then, in 1985, another door opened: medical school. John had been interested in medicine since his undergraduate years but the doors weren’t open then. But when he learned about a new, missions-oriented medical school at an evangelical Christian university in the United States, John thought that this might be the best course of action for the next step. He applied, was accepted, and soon John, Barbara, and their growing family were heading back to the United States.
John earned his M.D. degree and had both internal medicine and pediatric residencies, becoming Board certified in both. His training and experience in medicine have only confirmed his awe of the Creator’s handiwork—and provided him with new reasons to reject evolutionists’ claims. “For evidence of design, you can pick the cell, you can pick the organ, you can pick the body as a unit,” John says. “Every organ of the body is incredibly unique in its design and highly complex. The one that I find most fascinating is the hearing and balance mechanism of the ear.” With that, John launches into an explanation of the intricate relationship between the bones in the inner ear, the pressure balance maintained in the ear drum, the way in which air vibrations are converted to electrical impulses, and the nerves which transmit these to the brain. This system poses real problems for evolutionists: “Any mutation you can imagine in just about any component of the complex structure of the organ would bring it down,” John says.
In the past few years, with his children grown and more flexibility in his schedule, John was able to go back to school yet again to pursue a subject that had long interested him: biblical archaeology. Through a Bible college based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, John was able to devote renewed study to Scripture, science, and apologetics. He wrote a dissertation on the Genesis Flood. “Linguists talk about the characteristics of a ‘true narrative’,” John explained. “In my dissertation, I looked at how the Flood account in Genesis displays those characteristics.”7
So there’s good reason to believe the Flood account? John’s answer is an emphatic “Yes”. Looking at the way the biblical narrative is put together, and the way it intersects with everything we know about the world, we have every reason to trust the Bible. Whether we look at biology, geology, or anthropology, the Flood fits with what we know about the world. “In anthropology, for instance, we see that all the major areas of the earth have people groups with a flood account with basic common characteristics: A god who is displeased by sin and evil but preserves a man or group that has the god’s favor. They are sealed into some craft, protecting them, while a flood is sent to punish the others.”
Medicine, creation, and mission
While he originally thought that he might practise medicine on an overseas mission field, Dr Leslie’s mission field turned out to be closer to home, as he served people in rural and disadvantaged areas in Oklahoma and now in New Mexico. “I loved the research I pursued, understanding how the creation worked,” John says, but medicine was fulfilling on a whole different level. “It put me right in the middle of people’s lives, helping them to address not only their physical problems, but their emotional, social, and spiritual problems.”
As a Christian, John sees this as a great challenge and a wonderful opportunity. As a doctor, he also sees the importance of understanding the consequences of sin and the Fall. This makes it possible to understand how sickness, pain, and death came into God’s creation: “God made a good creation in the beginning, but now due to sin, things are falling apart.” An understanding of creation and redemption provides hope. As a doctor, John says, “My job is to alleviate suffering,” following Christ’s example while on earth. This job points forward to our ultimate hope—full restoration through the consummation of Christ’s work, as He brings about new heavens and a new earth.
John’s journey has been full of unexpected, exciting turns. He and his wife want to continue to let God work through them, to “bring God’s grace and healing to other people’s lives,” whether through overseas medical missions, pro-life activities, or teaching on apologetics. On science, religion, philosophy, or archaeology, his goal “is to help people—especially young people—to think critically and stand against deceptive teachings of this age.” John wants everyone to “come to know the mercy and grace available from God to them, through Jesus Christ—and for those who already know Him to grow in their knowledge and in their relationship with Him.”
John Leslie and his wife Barbara have been involved in pro-life issues for the 32 years of their marriage. Barbara has worked both as a volunteer at and as the director of a pregnancy resource centre. The centre she directs offers free pregnancy tests with peer counselling on pregnancy options, as well as parenting classes. It also runs a regional school program that teaches a whole-person teen health approach in mid and high school classrooms.
References and notes
- Though the percentage is steadily falling. Matt Canham, Mormon portion of Utah population steadily shrinking, Salt Lake Tribune, July 2005, sltrib.com. Return to text.
- For more about Mormonism, and what is wrong with it, see creation.com/cults-and-creation and creation.com/mormon. Return to text.
- Sandberg, L.B., Soskel, N.T., and Leslie, J,G., Elastin structure, biosynthesis and relation to disease states. N. Engl. J. Med. 304(10):566–579, 1981. Return to text.
- The New York Times calls it the world’s most prestigious medical journal. Abigail Zugor, A., A journal stands out in prestige and longevity, New York Times, March 2012, nytimes.com, acc. 3 May 2013. Return to text.
- Ph.D., in Experimental Pathology, University of Utah, 1980. The dissertation, along with other writings by Dr Leslie, is available online at defendingthechristianfaith.org. Return to text.
- Leslie, J.G., and Pallaghy, C.K., The religious nature of evolution theory and its attack on Christianity, Creation 7(4):42–48, June 1985, creation.com/evolution-religious. Return to text.
- The 2012 dissertation was ‘Evaluation of the Noah Flood Account as a True Narrative Representation’ also available at defendingthechristianfaith.org. For this John was awarded a Ph.D. in Archaeology and Biblical History from Trinity Southwest University, Albuquerque in 2012. Return to text.