147: Band-Aids and the Big Bang Theory
Three weeks ago, I punctured my right palm while kayaking. The next week, I wore a bunch of skin off a finger on the same hand during—of all things—a golf mishap. It has hurt to lift weights, to accept a hand shake, and at times even to wash my hands.
I’ve gone through a lot of Band Aids.
The other day, as I was applying a fresh bandage, I was struck by the idea that I expect my hand to heal itself. I saw the issue of my cells regenerating and my skin replacing itself as a matter of when, not if.
Over the last few decades, I’ve watched my body heal itself after a double hurnea operation and shoulder impingement surgery. To date, I’ve recovered from influenza, bronchitis, pneumonia, sun poisoning, a cracked rib, a broken finger, a strained psoas, multiple sprained joints, a neck wrenched with torticollis, and more cuts & bruises than I can remember. Thanks to sports injuries, I’ve needed massage and physical therapy multiple times in the past few years alone. I’ve wondered several times what my physical existence would look like at this point in my life, if I had lived two hundred or two thousand years ago.
Modern medicine and the science behind it have allowed me to live a life with as few ramifications for my physical mishaps and misfortunes as possible. I’ve not soaked in the wonder of that often enough. On a daily basis, I’ve taken that gift for granted.
I call it a gift, because I believe there’s a giver. Even though it disqualifies me as a voice of reason in our culture, I find intelligent design behind every little marvel of our planet and its surroundings. There is an incredible display of diversity and serendipity in a world where the pragmatism of chance and adaptation wouldn’t need such creativity.
With the billions of dollars spent annually on medical research, it seems lost on most of us—me included—how much work evolutionists are doing to prove that we can’t reliably and sustainably be made whole or wholer, if you will, by beneficial mutations and freak anomalies. The more the scientific community collectively learns, the more patterns and order they find. Ironically, scientists who believe that everything is the result of unfathomable chance spend their lives proving that observable occurrences in the natural world follow predictable patterns.
Chance isn’t working with omniscience or omnipotence. Neither is our will. Few people, if any, can will their bodies to healing—for cancer or AIDS to disappear, for tissue to regenerate, for chemical imbalances to correct themselves, for lost senses to be restored. While lifestyle choices do determine a large portion of deaths in the world, you’d be hard pressed to say that natural selection is systematically weeding only the weak.
There are answers out there that trump chance and mere survival. That’s part of why we need science and its role in modern medicine. Neither academic medicine nor commercial research has found all of our needed solutions yet, but we know more each day than the day prior. Scientific medicine has righted a lot of its former wrongs and not just a long time ago—like the recent discovery that the source of ulcers is not stress or acid but bacteria. On the aggregate, most of the global population now enjoys a longer life expectancy and a better quality of life.
Standup comedian, Nate Bargatze, jokes in his Comedy Central special that scientists can constantly update their declarations without repercussions for the past scientists who got it wrong. Because science (and medicine with it) is seen as a series of substituting discoveries, there is an inherent belief about science that it’s not always right and that it’s definitely not finished. Everyone knows there’s more out there to know.
Academics and researchers who know there’s a lot they can’t yet prove with observational science ridicule people with spiritual or mystical suppositions that they can’t prove with science. That street runs both ways, too—with religious people discounting science’s yet-unprovable assumptions, when we have a good number of our own.
Observational science will never solve the origin debate, because no present or future generation has the ability to observe it or consult with someone who might have observed it. Neither camp can or ever will reproduce that initial moment on the same scale that they believe it happened. Those who believe in chance and those who believe in design are both looking at the same evidence and making different assumptions on that evidence.
To some extent, debate about origin is healthy. For me, though, it’s more productive to discuss our motivations for research—our primal hopes and unavoidable biases. People of religious faith explore to discover more evidence of a supreme being with incredible forethought, a source to which we owe our lives. People of humanistic faith research to prove that humanity is self-sufficient and unaccountable to anything beyond ourselves. Intelligent design says, “We can (or will someday) be healed.” Evolution asserts, “We can (or will someday) heal ourselves.” Creationists hope to find meaning by exterior infusion. I assume that those who ascribe to Darwin’s overarching ideas seek to create their own purpose for existence.
While science may not be able to unite us, it should be a common and ardent pursuit for everyone. Both worldviews should push us to explore the cosmos around us and the portion of infinity that lives inside us. All of us should ask why as we research how. And we all should find wonder in the small things we previously took for granted—like the hydrologic cycle and the colors of fall foliage, symbiotic species and biodiversity. Or maybe just how our body heals itself in the right conditions.
I hope that wonder leads you where it leads me. If it doesn’t, I’d really love to know where it does lead you and how it inspires you.