by Jamie McComber
Richard Deem, a Reasons To Believe (RTB) apologist, has been a scientist since childhood. As a boy, he raised hundreds of hydras in a glass jar. The one-half inch long water animals used their tentacles to paralyze the tiny shrimp Deem provided as their food. Then the hydras pulled the helpless shrimp into their mouths. Deem often stayed to watch the “feeding frenzy” and wondered about the God who created his tiny predatory pets.
Two decades later, Deem came to know that God in the person of Jesus Christ. Now he uses scientific research to “pull” deists, atheists, and skeptics closer toward the God who created both colossal galaxies and microscopic crustaceans.
Deem volunteered initially to serve RTB as a correspondent in 1994 and worked with others to expand RTB’s Web site in 1997. Currently, he’s a member of the RTB Speakers Bureau and an apologist at RTB book tables during conventions. Deem presented two posters at the June 2000 “Putting Creation to the Test” Conference.
He works as a researcher/specialist in the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles. Deem is currently studying the promoter element of the interferon gamma gene in intestinal lymphocytes. He has written or co-authored 25 peer-reviewed technical articles about immunology and inflammatory bowel disease.
Deem believes he’s “a sinner saved by grace,” but it took time for his faith in Jesus Christ, the Creator, to evolve. Raised in a moral but non-Christian home, Deem’s agnostic parents valued education and encouraged his scientific studies. A backyard storeroom became a research center, where he studied Planaria (flatworms) under a microscope, examined juvenile hydras budding from a parent, and watched Wolf Spiders hunt insects in a terrarium.
Deem maintained a keen interest in science throughout his elementary and high school years. He earned a bachelor of science degree in Biological Sciences at the University of Southern California in 1976. While there, he attended classes in which evolutionary theories were discussed, but he remained unconvinced about abiogenesis, the chemical origin of life. “I concluded there must have been a Creator God who at least created the earliest life forms,” he says. “I became a deist, but was skeptical of being able to sort out which of the world’s religions represented the true God.”
Deem earned a master’s degree in Medical Microbiology at California State University, Los Angeles in 1979, and performed immunological research on Crohn’s Disease at the University of California, Los Angeles. He investigated why particular intestinal immune cells “ganged up” against epithelial cells to destroy sections of patient’s intestines.
Then Deem acquired Crohn’s disease himself and moved from a research bench to his bed. This inflammatory intestinal disease kept Deem bedridden and in nonstop pain for two months. Unable to concentrate even while reading, Crohn’s disease afforded him plenty of time to question whom he trusted. “I cried out to God,” Deem says, “and promised to try to follow Him. . .” Miraculously, all symptoms of this incurable disease disappeared within three months. Deem’s apathy toward God also disappeared, and he cast aside his deism.
In June of 1988, Deem was “set up” for a blind date with Carole, a Christian schoolteacher. She talked with him about her faith in Christ and gave him biblical resources. Carole’s influence led Deem to read the entire New Testament. “Things seemed rather bland . . . until I got to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew,” he says. “The message is unique to what the world says about God’s requirements. I had led a ‘good moral life’ but became aware I was guilty in God’s eyes. The Holy Spirit convicted me that Jesus was the Son of God and that He is the only way to find peace and communion with a Holy God."
Deem studied the Bible and made a decision to follow Christ in November 1988. He didn’t understand how the Genesis creation account would stack up against “real science,” but Deem trusted God to solve his paradox. Shortly after he married Carole in 1989, they attended Sierra Madre Congregational Church, in Sierra Madre, California, and visited the Paradoxes Sunday school class led by Dr. Hugh Ross. “Rich’s eyes lit up after he walked into the Paradoxes class,” recalls Carole. “He trusted God to prove the accuracy of the Bible’s creation account and rejoiced to learn God’s Word was scientifically accurate.”
Deem continued his Bible study and read Romans with a small group at home. Later, the Deems invited neighbors to attend a small “Bible Paradoxes” class at their home. He studied Dr. Ross’s books and volunteered to be an RTB correspondent. In this role, Deem answered the biblical questions many people asked. A few atheists chose to correspond with him about Bible contradictions and many Mormons shared their religious testimony. “The hard-core Mormons were interested in putting across their position,” he recalls. “A couple of people considered becoming Mormons and wrote back later to say they changed their minds because of our correspondence.”
Other people sent RTB long lists of their objections about the Bible. Deem and other volunteer correspondents answered every objection and corresponded many times with people who replied with still more objections.
Deem later assisted RTB for two years as a reviewer of apologists’ correspondence. Then he put together what has become a 500-page Web site: GodAndScience.org. The site offers stunning stellar photos, “Answers for Atheists,” evolution vs. creation/design, and many papers that provide scientific evidence for the validity of the Bible. As a former deist, Deem knows many skeptics could accept Jesus as Messiah once they find some reasonable answers to their questions.
As parents of three young sons, the Deems teach their children that evangelism can be “fun.” The family regularly celebrates the Passover Seder meal because if offers a nonthreatening means of outreach to neighbors while pointing to Jesus Christ as the Messiah. Guests delight in watching their children hunt for the Afikoman, the broken middle matzah. Some parents are amazed to learn how it points to the Messiah.
It has also become a tradition for the Deems to put large “tombstones” in their front yard planters during Halloween. “We wanted to introduce the passerby to God,” Deem shares, “so we printed Bible verses about His judgment against sin and about salvation through Jesus.” The laminated messages are mounted on pegboard, attached to stakes, and spotlighted for young goblins, vampires, and their parents to read while collecting candy from door to door.
The Deems teach a “Question Club” class in conjunction with Dr. Ross’s Paradoxes Sunday school class at Sierra Madre Congregational Church. The Deems introduce scientific paradoxes to children; paradoxes that lead them toward a greater trust and respect for the Bible as the written word of God.
Deem’s passion for communicating the Christian message through sound reasoning finds a precedent in one of his most cherished Bible verses: “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be like wool’” (Isaiah 1:18).
Deem thinks his first step toward salvation occurred when, as a child, he examined pond water under a microscope and asked, “I wonder Who made this?” “The heavens declare the glory of God,” of course, but so do tiny Planaria.