Podcast S1E2 - Praveen Sethupathy | Goodness, Civility, and Transformation

For episode 2 of “Language of God” Rebecca McLaughlin and I talk with Cornell geneticist Praveen Sethupathy. He tells us about his conversion from Hinduism to Christianity, and we explore some of the questions that arise when Christians accept the science of evolution.

Find this episode at: https://biologos.org/resources/language-of-god-praveen-sethupathy
All the others are at: https://biologos.org/podcast

Once you’ve had a chance to listen to it, let’s discuss. Has Praveen answered all the questions to your satisfaction?


Ok… listened to the 2nd podcast here. Here are some of the interesting questions covered.

  1. First part covers how Praveen came to Christianity from a Hindu background.
  2. What does evolution say about the character of God? Looks like sin is baked in with evolution.
  3. How can the mating behaviors of chimps, males dominating females with abuse, be good?
  4. What does it mean to be human?
  5. What is the proportion of science colleagues who are Christian and why? And what do you say to them?

And here is my summary of Praveen’s answer to these questions with a few comments of my own in italics.

  1. This is an interesting story of exploring other religions and finding something really different in Christianity. What Praveen found was: a) something historical rather than just philosophical with somewhat testable claims, and b) a central character who defeats evil by self-sacrifice rather than overwhelming power.
  2. First Praveen points out that God used the word “good” rather than “perfect” when describing His creation and suggests that what “good” means to God may be a little different than it does to us. And particularly the way the Bible says God extols the virtues of predators suggests that physical death was not a consequence of the fall, but that the fall was really about a separation from God. I would add that this idea of sin baked into evolution suggests a misunderstanding of what sin is, equating it with disobedience, with not falling in with some exhaustive divine plan for everything, or with any mistake or failure of any kind. I think this is wrong. Sin consists of bad habits fundamentally opposed to the process of life itself, destructive of our potential, goodness, and free will so that it inevitably drags us down. Perhaps the best comparison is substance abuse which does all that so much faster. Also I would suggest that everything in evolution can in principle be found in the process of parenting, where we want our child to grow up and learn from mistakes, and suffering is an inseparable and highly subjective part of the process. Take that away somehow and what you inevitably get are the eloi in H G Wells “Time Machine.”
  3. Praveen suggests this may have to do with the “trajectory of creation” which is more about potential where there is always room for improvement. He also suggest that there is an aspect of partnership in man’s relationship to God. And I think that last hits the nail on the head, for I would say that partnership is essential to any relationship of love – it requires sharing important decisions.
  4. Praveen mostly shows that science shoots down a lot of the ideas about what differentiates man from the animals: cooperation? no, tool making? no. What about our cellular biology? He points out that we have more bacteria in us than human cells and live in a symbiotic relationship with them. What about our DNA? He points out that 10-60% of that seems to come from things inserted by viruses. As for the Bible, Praveen points out that we are spoken of with the same language used for animals and made on the same day with the rest of them. But then he points out that the Bible does say one thing different about us, is that we are made in the image of God. But what does that mean? He suggests that this has to do more with what we are called to do rather than with what we are. He is wary of pointing to capabilities because of the handicapped of whom he does not want to say they are not made in the image of God. I would say that we can make a very good case that what sets mankind apart is language with an ability to encode information that surpasses DNA, and I think this is what makes the human mind a (superior) living organism in its own right with its own needs and inheritance. Otherwise, as far as cells and genetics we are indeed bretheren to all the animals and life of our planet. And it is language which gives us an ability to understand all the other living organisms on the planet (as well as the earth itself and the universe it is a part of) – not all of us individually but collectively. And that is my answer to the question with regard to the handicapped. That the claim that we are made in the image of God is something we are collectively rather than individually. And no the evidence does not support the idea that dolphins have language. What they do have is incredible – the ability to communicate sonar images. But nothing like language or the potential we have for understanding everything because of it.
  5. Praveen says the proportion of scientists which are Christian is small and it seems to be because of a perception that religion requires a sacrifice of intellect. And instead of saying anything, Praveen recommends simply letting them experience some conflict with their preconception in their relationship with you. Only if they ask about it can you even begin to challenge their preconception. I would add that for many of them this is not about preconceptions as much as simply choice of interest and focus. They frankly just don’t want to be distracted by things which don’t interest them very much for whatever reasons.
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Acquiring a Sapient brain is the Sin.

That’s an interesting perspective, and one I’m not entirely opposed to. But neither is it the whole story. In Scripture itself (across the hundreds and hundreds of years of its writing), there is considerable diversity in what sin is thought to be – including a stain to be removed, a weight to be lifted, a debt to be paid.


Good thought. In some ways that seems true, but how do you jive that with the ability to reason and other images of God that seem present there, or the other ANE Hebrew writings, which emphasize learning? It does parallel the Tower of Babel story, where man tried to set himself at the level of God; so in a way, God would have made him able to reason, but beyond a certain point, the understanding of evil is not necessary or appropriate? Have you listened to the podcast? your input would be welcome.

I just listened to this podcast with my 11 year old son. I think that such kindly and clear thinking will save him a lot of trouble as he tackles science questions (even in the YEC school he goes to). The mental block which our incorrect perceptions of the Fall put in my understanding of science has been a huge blinder to me until only a year or 2 ago; hopefully, this will help my son avoid that sort of thing.


Sure, but is the Bible a signpost to point the way or a textbook to dictate all truth? Its seems the latter is the kind of thinking which lead to the morass of creationism. John 5:39 definitely suggests that it is more of a signpost pointing the way. I certainly do not deny that the Bible is our authority on the Christian religion but this does not equate to a particular use of the Bible as a literal textbook. So while the word sin may be spoken of in may ways, a lot of them obviously metaphorical, there is a difference between the approach of the Biblical scholar to which this is a piece of literature to be examined under a microscope and the approach of a Christian seeking to maximize the meaning which can be found in the Bible.

I frequently do not realize how unique the person of Christ is; to be a sacrifice, rather than win by outright power–that is indeed unique and transformative as we recall it. Dr Sethupathy explains well how that contrasts with the way Christians, both in colonial India and now, can misrepresent Him.

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Today, we are featuring a re-broadcast of this podcast, for those who might not have been with us earlier on last year.

There are a few new tidbits included that were not included in the first cut, so we hope you enjoy!

From Praveen’s childhood, growing up in a Hindu family, to his later conversion to Christianity and his entry into science, he has gained great insight into the science and faith conversation. With grace and humility, Praveen shares some of that insight as he considers what it means to be made in the image of God in light of our understanding of evolution and DNA. He has long felt the importance of fostering healthy dialogue among Christians and the scientific community and discusses how such a dialogue might actually bring us closer together.

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“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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