International research journeys
Tas Walker talks to Dr Pierre Jerlstrom about microbiology and editing Journal of Creation
Dr Pierre Jerlström earned a B.Sc. (Hons.) in microbiology (University of Queensland, Australia) and a Ph.D. in molecular biology (Griffith University, Queensland). He has held postdoctoral research positions in Switzerland (Department of Medical Biochemistry, University of Geneva), Germany (Technical University of Braunschweig), Sweden (Department of Medical Microbiology, University of Göteborg), and Australia (Department of Biochemistry, University of Queensland). In 1998, he became a staff scientist with Creation Ministries International, Australia, and is the editor of the in-depth scientific Journal of Creation. Dr Jerlström is convinced that the Bible is the Word of God and 100% reliable.
Pierre was born near Stockholm, Sweden, to a Spanish mother and Swedish father, growing up as bilingual. He now speaks four languages: Spanish, Swedish, German and English. His was a caring, conservative family but with no clear Christian upbringing in the way of reading the Bible or attending church.
Pierre recalls, “My mother was nominal Catholic and my father a Lutheran, both non-practising. They had agreed not to ‘force’ religion upon me and my two sisters but leave it to us to make a choice when we were mature enough to decide—typical of the very secular Scandinavian mindset at that time.”
When he was six his family moved to Spain, which gave welcome relief from the Swedish cold weather. Pierre did not take long to master the language. When he was 12, in a true pioneering spirit, Pierre’s family migrated to Australia. This was another new start in a very different society. Both parents had to work and all the family had to learn English and the Australian way of life. Pierre recalls, “As I grew, I realized that my mother was searching for the true God. She often invited Christian door knockers inside and asked them searching questions.”
Reached by the Gospel
Pierre did not have much concern for God at that time. “In my early days I visited several churches, as my friends tried to evangelize me. However, there was little interest on my part because I was too busy adjusting to the new country.”
After high school, Pierre enrolled in a science degree. “One reason for studying science was my belief that the pursuit of knowledge would help me find meaning in life. I also did martial arts as part of my curiosity to learn some oriental philosophy. But this quest for knowledge ultimately did not fulfil my life.”
In the second year of his Ph.D. studies, a student invited Pierre to various church events. After resisting for quite a while he started attending church meetings to find out if God really existed. Pierre said, “I decided that if God was really true I would commit my life to Him.” After a year of listening to how peoples’ lives had been miraculously changed and carefully studying the Bible, Pierre was born again. “I was also healed of a chronic breathing allergy a few days later.”
This impacted his whole family. “Soon after, my mother was saved, and after 10 years my father also came to the Lord and was miraculously healed from a damaged leg caused by a work accident.” Interestingly, when Pierre’s father was a child, his Christian grandparents would often pray for his salvation. God is faithful.
Renewing his mind
As a fresh Christian doing his Ph.D., Pierre still had many evolutionary ideas, as well as some new-age beliefs. “At that time I believed that God had used evolution and deep time to create the world,” Pierre said. “In reality, I had not really thought through the consequences of such an impossible mishmash.” Pierre was also being bombarded with other confusing ideas including that there were two separate creation accounts: that of soulless humans in Genesis 1, and then of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2. This accommodated the idea of ‘ape men’, and allowed the possibility of long ages between the two first verses in Genesis 1, but it did not really work.
Later, in a church in North Germany, where Pierre was doing postdoctoral research, he stumbled onto the book, The Genesis Flood, by Whitcomb and Morris, as well as articles from Creation magazine and by other creationist groups. Pierre said, “I then realized God’s Word was fully true to the smallest detail and that long ages were not compatible with Genesis and the rest of the Bible. This realization empowered me with confidence by giving me a more coherent view of Genesis and the rest of the Bible.”
Pierre has always been intrigued by the little details of how things work, especially in biology, so microbiology and genetics were a natural step for his university studies.
In his research career in the various laboratories of Europe, Pierre became acutely aware that the intricacies of the microscopic life forms are a clear evidence for careful and complex design. He said, “They dramatically show the impossibility of life arising spontaneously and somehow arranging itself via random mutations into various forms over millions of years.”
Pierre’s focus in these years was on microbial pathogenesis, that is, on how bacteria cause disease. “My studies sought to unravel the mechanisms of some disease-causing bacteria, and the way they protect themselves and survive in the human host. It is now clear to me that microorganisms were not pathogenic in a ‘good’ world. Rather, pathogenicity is the result of The Fall, which brought about sickness and disease. Pathogenenic bacteria may originally have been useful commensal microorganisms,1 such as the ones living on our skin and inside our bodies. After the Fall, they may have undergone mutation and gene loss, or acquired genetic information from other bacteria. Deleterious changes in the human genome and in the environment may have also have prompted the emergence of pathogens.”
Although evolutionary thought is the all-encompassing mantra in theoretical biology and genetics, it never posed a problem in any of the projects Pierre was involved with. “As an experimental scientist, we had project goals which often involved a lot of checking and troubleshooting in order to obtain consistent results. In other words, we were using intelligent design.”
Pierre continued his postdoctoral work in microbial pathogenesis in Germany and later vaccine research in Sweden. However, his growing interest was to reach out to other researchers and students with the Gospel. As a result, several students turned to Christ during his time in Sweden.
A career change
In this period, Pierre saw a change in the university culture. “I noticed how anti-Christian universities had become. Instead of a place of free thinking and open tolerance to all ideas, Christianity was marginalized. I also became painfully aware of the negative side of science, including the immense competition between individuals. This was partly due to limited availability of research funds, which encourages the ‘success at all costs’ mindset, and even scientific dishonesty.”
Around that time a pastor asked Pierre to check a claim from an extreme white supremacy book, that malaria was ‘a curse of the blacks’. “So I visited CMI (then called Creation Science Foundation) offices, where I was given an article showing that malaria was a hazard from living in malaria endemic areas, and also found among Caucasians.”
Encouraged by what he found, Pierre applied for a position with CMI and soon started working as a staff scientist. “Looking back, I see how God took my experience and interest in science and applied it to His kingdom by working for CMI.”
In mid-1998 Pierre became the editor of Journal of Creation. He started as coordinator, working with the other editors and a graphic artist. The early graphics work was quite laborious as software then was not so well developed as now. This was a steep learning curve. “Dealing with authors and reviewers, I quickly realized there were different views about scientific details, and also some strong characters. Initially, it was quite a challenge having to mediate between heated debates. It often helps to remind people of the bigger picture of this ministry and that we still all see ‘in a mirror dimly’.”
After some years as a bachelor research scientist Pierre met his wife-to-be, Aldona, who came from Poland, at a church conference in the UK. She soon came to Brisbane where they got married. “We have three children, and my wife is devoted to homeschooling them. In my spare time I enjoy hands-on projects such as garden work and home renovations. As an Australian family we enjoy outdoor activities such as swimming at the beaches, bushwalking, and bike riding.”
Pierre has found his role of publishing creation research most fulfilling. “As a creationist and with the aid of CMI’s website, I have been able to help fellow Christians dispel non-biblical ideas. Journal of Creation is appreciated by many professional creationist scientists, and even by people who are not Christians. It’s a venue where creationist scientists can present and debate their ideas and models. It has also allowed the publication of ground-breaking research that would otherwise be censored by secular journals because of the creationist implications.”
Reflecting on the journey
Looking back, Pierre thought on the lessons he has learned and how to advise those starting out. The first is, “Ask, seek, knock” (Luke 11:9–13). This is also the message of (Jeremiah 29:13), “You will seek me, and find me, when you search with all your heart.” Pierre said that the best advice he could give to anyone starting out is, “Become prepared so you can always give reasons for your faith in Christ (1 Peter 3:15). Do not get worried when the world hates you—it is a good signal—as long as it happens because of Jesus (John 15:18–20). And finally, there is no reason ever to be ashamed of the Gospel because the answers people are looking for are found within it (Romans 1:16).”
References and notes
- Commensalism in biology is the relationship between two organisms of different species where one benefits from the other without affecting it. Return to text.