Wonders of the Cell | The BioLogos Forum

(system) #1

Note: This article was originally posted at "Science and Belief" on May 14, 2015.

Most scientists get excited when talking about science in general. But they get reallyanimated when talking about their own area of research. I spent my PhD years studying microtubules, which are microscopic filaments inside living cells, and even now I get a little misty-eyed when thinking about them. To some people, microtubules might not be beautiful – in some images they look rather like a writhing hairball or bowl of spaghetti – but to me, they are full of wonder.

Microtubules are the largest of three kinds of filaments that make up the cytoskeleton. The cytoskeleton organizes and gives shape to the cell, just as the bones that make up our skeletons give structure to our bodies. Unlike the bones in our bodies, however, the cytoskeleton is incredibly dynamic, changing shape with the needs of the cell. Microtubules play an essential role in how cells divide and move, and they also act as intracellular “highways” along which molecular motors carry “cargo.”

"Microtubules in the leading edge of a cell" by Pakorn Kanchanawong, National University of Singapore and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health; and Clare Waterman, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health - http://images.nigms.nih.gov/index.cfm?event=viewDetail&imageID=3611. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikipedia

Each microtubule is a hollow structure made up of repeating units of a protein called tubulin. Microtubules grow and shrink in a stochastic (i.e. random) fashion as tubulin subunits bind to or unbind from the existing structure. This “dynamic instability” is influenced by a large number of other proteins that bind to microtubules.

Cell division is elegant and beautiful, and it happens with exquisite precision most of the time. Each of us began life as a single fertilized egg cell, but the average adult has an estimated 37 trillion cells! On a daily basis, millions or even trillions of new cells are formed to replace dead or damaged cells.

When the cell prepares to divide, the chromosomes (strands of DNA) condense, are duplicated, and align themselves in pairs in the center of the cell. Meanwhile, the microtubules rearrange themselves so that they form two radial arrays on opposite ends of the cell. The microtubules then grow and shrink until they make contact with a special place on each chromosome. Chemical and physical cues cause the microtubule bundles to “reel in” the duplicated chromosomes toward opposite ends of the cell so that each of the resulting daughter cells will have a full, identical complement of DNA.

"Kinetochore" by Afunguy at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Lijealso using CommonsHelper. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

As a graduate student, I often felt that it was a gift to be able to study these astonishing intracellular events we had captured on film. Biologists have learned so much about the deep inner workings of living cells, but perhaps even more it has taught us how much we don’t know. Many of the scientists I worked with during those formative years, and many whom I interact with now in my work at BioLogos – both Christian and secular alike – are surprisingly humble in this respect. They are constantly feeling their way at the boundary between known and unknown, and the quest to learn more is what gets them up in the morning.

For many Christians, the jaw-dropping complexity and self-organization we have discovered inside the cell seem like clear evidence of "Intelligent Design". I wholeheartedly believe that God created the universe and everything in it, but not in the way that those believers envision. The evidence does not seem to suggest that God created by zapping new intracellular structures – not to mention entire species – into existence. He could have done it that way, but the scientific data are consistent with the view that they emerged very gradually over the history of life (3.5 billion years or so).

I see all life forms appearing under God’s providential guidance, according to the natural laws he set forth and sustained by his hand. So rather than the image of God as engineer or software designer, I prefer the image of God as slow and steady artist, weaving a tapestry of great beauty in all creatures great and small.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blog/wonders-of-the-cell

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #3


Thank you for a beautiful essay. Certainly life has much evidence of intelligent design, which should not be confused with Intelligent Design Theory.

Also we need to broaden our understanding of why life is as it is. You point out how the microtubules interact with the environment of the cell, adapting the cell to a specific environment. This process is basically the way that evolution enables all living creatures to adapt ecologically to their environments, so they can survive and thrive.

In my book I point out that symmetry, which is the basis of beauty, is also being used in physics as a scientific tool to understand the structure of the universe. Scientists are understanding how God designed the universe based on Noether’s Theorem. This of course is contrary to the evolutionary view of Monod and Dawkins.

It is interesting that physics is interested in finding the face or mind of God, while others seem intent on destroying or denying the mind of God.

(Dcscccc) #4

dear dr kathryn

you claim that all those wonderful systems in the cell are evidence for design. but then you claim that a natural process (evolution) can explain all those systems.

for example, you claim that:

" He could have done it that way, but the scientific data are consistent with the view that they emerged very gradually over the history of life"-

not according to the scientific evidences. for example: if you will remove some parts from a molecular system it will stop working. so the scientific evidence show us that in the molecular level all those systems cant evolve step wise. take a cell-phone for example. to get it work in the minimal level it will need several match parts. so a minimal cell phone cant evolve step wise even by an intelligent designer. how more complex systems (like those in nature) will evolve step wise by a natural process?. lets say that it even have traits like self replicating and dna. even then a cell-phone cant evolve step wise. and in this case it still will be evidence for designer, because we know that a self replicating cell phone need a designer.

yours sincerely

(Brad Kramer) #6

I moved a post to a new topic: Creation vs. Evolution: Acknowledging the human spirit

(Kathryn Applegate) #7

Thanks, Roger, for reading. I agree, id and ID are not the same! I wholly affirm that God, as Creator, is a supremely intelligent designer. But that’s not the same as saying that science is equipped to definitively detect design.

(Kathryn Applegate) #8

Hi dcscccc,

Thanks for your comment. I’m well aware of the argument from irreducible complexity (IC). I’ve written about it previously on this site, but Dennis Venema has written a great series more recently. I didn’t write this page, but I find it helpful for laying out a very simple example (bridge) of how IC can develop gradually; maybe you will too? Gradual development of complexity is not at all impossible, and in my humble estimation, the scientific evidences that it has occurred are abundant and compelling. I don’t feel the need to explain them away.

That wasn’t the main point of my article today, however! Let’s let ourselves be arrested by the wonder of what God has done in bringing life about.


(Dcscccc) #9

hi again dr kathryn. thanks for your response.

i actually had an interesting discussion about this topic with dr venema here:


about your interesting links. i realy recommend you to read the official response from the discovery institute to this here:


they are also discuss the bridge example and a lot more.

remember that an half of bridge is fully functional. but an half of flagellum\ttss\atp synthase isnt.

have a nice day.


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(Gregory) #11

“Certainly life has much evidence of intelligent design, which should not be confused with Intelligent Design Theory.” - Roger

“I agree, id and ID are not the same!” - Kathryn

Thanks to you both for these statements. This clarification is part of the ‘reclaiming design’ move suggested recently by Brad and Jim. IDists might not like it and therefore avoid it as much as possible, but the importance of the distinction for the massive numbers of theists who reject “Intelligent Design Theory” means it is certainly worth making.

“zapping new intracellular structures”

Nice! Or in Behe’s off the cuff terminology: “Poof!”


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(Richard Wright) #13


Hi Eddie, it’s your old nemesis Richard W., currently known as here as Richard_Wright. :smile: I’ve read your post, you make reasonable points and though of course I can’t speak for Kaitlyn I think I may be able to help.

You’re correct in stating that the ID movement isn’t the same as and doesn’t imply creationism, but for many it does. This is understandable considering these 2 quotes from the Wikipedia article on ID: “The movement is headquartered in the Center for Science and Culture, established in 1996 as the creationist wing of the Discovery Institute” and, “Phillip E. Johnson stated that the goal of intelligent design is to cast creationism as a scientific concept.” Though neither ID as a whole nor the Discovery Institute are trying to defend creationism. they once were closely related and apparently many still think of ID and creationism as synonyms.

As for the artist metaphor, I don’t think Kaitlyn was using it in as strict of a sense that you are taking it. In addition, of course God’s laws formed the solar system to be somewhat stable over time, it had to be for life to develop, but those laws working on material here on earth seemed to have had a different effect, that they created biological life forms over time in a way that can be seen as artistic. You stated that, “But natural laws allow for none of the personality or improvisation of the artist”. That is only your opinion. You’re real objection Eddie, which is your basic objection to Biologos, is that purely naturalistic mechanisms can create such beauty and complexity. I don’t think Kaitlyn really thought she was making a theological point, more that looking at the science of biological evolution, divorced from certain interpretations of scripture, led her to conclude that God’s laws working on matter here on earth created all this biological beauty and complexity, and that to her made God seem like an artist working carefully on a great project. The artist metaphor is only “negated” by the natural law metaphor if it is assumed that God’s laws alone can’t create what has been created and can’t be creative in their own right. And, by the way, the solar system wasn’t zapped into existence either, it evolved over millions of years and that as well could be seen as an artist weaving a tapestry. Would you say that God had to tinker in the formation of our solar system as well?


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(Kathryn Applegate) #15

Hi Eddie,

Thanks for your several comments. Please don’t take my silence as “non-engagement.” I’m out of the office on Fridays to be with my children, and I had to wrap up some deadlines on Thursday. I simply don’t have enough hours in the day to engage as much as I would like to. Blogging isn’t my main job.

I would think one would appreciate the reluctance of several of us scientists to speak too authoritatively on theological matters, when theology is not our primary discipline. Yet as Christians we do have years of reading the Bible and other worthy books under our belt, plus a strong desire to develop a coherent understanding of reality, so it is appropriate to make connections between science and theological implications at times.

Still, I can understand your frustration. We at BioLogos frequently talk about needing to do more work on divine action. I’m sorry you haven’t found satisfactory answers so far. I, for one, am still working out what I think. That’s probably not satisfactory either, but at least it is honest. It’s important to note, this is not a problem unique to EC. Are YEC and OEC and ID very far ahead in having a compelling, coherent, concrete view of God’s action in the world? This is a very challenging problem.

I like the artist metaphor precisely because it implies such intimate, personal engagement. I do believe God is involved in the course of natural history, just as He is in salvation history. Yet there is a sense in which he has gifted Creation with the ability to co-create (“Let the earth bring forth…”). God is sovereign, and yet creation is free. I don’t know how that works, but that’s the message I get when reading the Bible.

Natural laws, in my view, are not something God imposes and can never break. Rather, they’re a human (and often mathematical) description of the regularities of the created order, which reflect the rational and creative mind of God.

I realize this isn’t as comprehensive a reply as you might like, but it’s hopefully better than silence and all I have time for this beautiful Saturday afternoon!

(Albert Leo) #16

[quote=“Eddie, post:14, topic:2426”]
Or is it personal if God “providentially guided” that asteroid, because the dinosaurs’ time was up?

[quote=“Kathryn_Applegate, post:15, topic:2426”]
I do believe God is involved in the course of natural history,

@eddie @Kathryn_Applegate
From a scientific point of view, the Chicxulub event certainly seems contingent. But if God is omniscient (or outside of Time) it seems as though the extinction of the dinosaurs was part of His plan. If we humans had a real, live Tyrannosaurus or Velociraptor (or reconstituted one Jurassic Park style), we would go to great lengths to keep it alive. Does it not seem callous of God to wipe them out? Did He foresee the need to favor the mammals who would eventually produce Homo sapiens? What if another asteroid is headed our way? Scripture says humans are unique in having a covenant with God, and so, for that reason, will God intervene?

Or perhaps He would not need to. He bestowed on humankind the marvelous gift of Mind. We now have the power to scan the heavens to see if disaster in the form of some bolide is headed our way. Will we have the power to divert it without God’s intervention? Perhaps such a world wide threat would be the catalyst to put aside nationalistic pride and form a world wide society. OK, I will put down my opium pipe, and get back to the real world.
Al Leo


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(Richard Wright) #18


Hello Eddie. We’ve never met, just have jousted a few times here on Biologos, but until recently I’ve not posted for 6 months or so.

I don’t believe that God changed the course of an asteroid to wipe out dinosaurs, for one, it is far from definite that the asteroid strike was necessary for humans to evolve, and I don’t agree with the, “open window” analogy either. There are ways to think about it that don’t necessitate those views, I can elaborate further but I don’t think you’d find it satisfactory.

Yes, you’ve studied Genesis more than I have but we probably look at the Genesis creation accounts much differently. I view them as allegorical stories used ultimately by God to promote His theological message, in the way Dennis Lamoureux and many other scholars do. I’m not looking for scientific correlates for every verse in the creations stories so you and I are starting from different runners blocks, or at least we can say that your view of the data is influenced by theological notions and mine is not.

Besides that I pretty much vibe with where Kathryn (thanks for the correction) is coming from, none of us has a complete and coherent view and we all should be open to changing our views as more data come in allowing for more precise interpretations.

In the end I think apart from our knowledge some people are comfortable with the, “Biologos” view of God’s involvement with evolution/creation and some aren’t. Thanks for the reply Eddie.


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(Roger A. Sawtelle) #20


Thank you for talking about the Logos.

(Gregory) #21

“It’s important to note, this is not a problem unique to EC. Are YEC and OEC and ID very far ahead in having a compelling, coherent, concrete view of God’s action in the world? This is a very challenging problem.” - Kathryn

This is an important point you make in humility. I think the answer to your question is: No.

Who’s actually doing ‘divine action’ better than BioLogos? IDists are often guilty of asking others to do their work for them, work that they wish they could, but have not been able to do themselves. While ‘creationists’ of either YE or OE variety at least include ‘creation’, which is in the theological family of terms with ‘divine action.’

It’s easy for a theologian or religious studies person to request ‘proof’ of divine action, since that is at least in part their particular focus of study. The problem comes when you ask natural scientists to include ‘divine action’ or ‘Design’ in their natural scientific theories. It’s much easier said by a theologian than done by a natural scientist.

“We at BioLogos frequently talk about needing to do more work on divine action.” - Kathryn

What do those frequent talks sound like?

Now, of course, Catholics and Orthodox do have a process of publically identifying ‘divine action’ by recognising miracles through ecclesiastical recognition and canonisation. Is there any such process in Protestant churches of communally recognising miracles or divine action, even if not in the ‘strictly natural scientific’ world?

Otoh, many people have written or spoken about how the Creator can and does use ‘chance’ processes and even origins. Most recently, “God delights in using chance as part of His design” – C.S. Morrissey Doesn’t that count even possibly as ‘divine action’ too or is it ruled out by ‘Design vs. chance’ polemics?

“proponents of six-day creationism, or progressive creationism, or intelligent design, all make the same ‘demiurge’ or ‘magician’ mistakes about divine causality.”


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