Reasons to Believe

Biochemistry and the Bible: Collaborators in Design An Interview with Dr. Fuz Rana

Fazale (Fuz) Rana is vice president for science apologetics at Reasons To Believe, a regular guest on RTB’s weekly television and radio programs, and a contributing editor to Facts for Faith. Fuz earned his Ph.D. in Chemistry from Ohio University. He was a Presidential Scholar, elected to two honor societies and twice winner of the Donald Clippinger Research Award. He co-wrote a chapter on antimicrobial peptides for the book Biological and Synthetic Membranes. Fuz worked for seven years on product development for Procter & Gamble before joining Reasons To Believe. He holds one patent, has published over 15 articles in various scientific journals, and has made more than 20 presentations at scientific meetings worldwide. He is working on two books, one on human origins and another on the origin of life. We interrupted him for a while with the hope that this quick glimpse provides an appreciation for his background and expertise as a scientist and for his integrity as a Christian scholar.

FfF:    Fuz, let’s talk about your background first of all. Where did you grow up?

Fuz:   I was born in Ames, Iowa, but my family moved to West Virginia when I was about four years old. At that time my father accepted a faculty position at West Virginia Institute of Technology. So I grew up in West Virginia and attended West Virginia State College.

You mentioned your father. Can you talk about his background a little bit?

My father was born in India and was a Muslim. He wasn’t a strict adherent to Islam, but rather followed Islam in his own sort of way. He didn’t believe in “organized religion;” so we never went to mosque with him, and we never really went with him as a family to meet with other Muslims. He prayed every day, read from the Koran, and carried a prayer book with him. Even so, we did not really receive any type of religious training when we were growing up. He earned his Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics from the University of Saskatchewan at Saskatoon, Canada, and then came to the United States in the ‘50s to work at General Dynamics. He was involved in governmental work pertaining to nuclear weapon development, and later he taught at North Dakota State University, Iowa State University, Michigan Institute of Technology, and West Virginia Institute of Technology. He died in 1997.

How about your mother?

My mom has a master’s degree in education and a B.S. in Math, and she taught for many years.  She was not involved in any church at the time she met my father, but my brother and I did receive moral instruction and guidance from my mother, and we grew up in a loving home. My mom has recently made a profession of faith in Christ and has been baptized.

Was there any type of inter-faith discussion going on between your mother and father?

No. They apparently agreed to disagree, with respect to religion. My mom’s religious background didn’t seem important to her as we were growing up. My father was probably the more religious of the two. He was more expressive about his religion, at least. So my primary exposure to religion was to Islam.

In fact, we had a pretty negative view of Christianity in our home.

Was education important in your home?

You better believe it! Expectations ran high with regard to academics. Anything short of an “A” was considered failure in our home.

What got you interested in science?

I think, initially, it was my parents encouraging my brother and me in that direction. They expected that we would enter some type of career involving medicine or science. So when I went to undergraduate school, I enrolled in a pre-med program and chose a chemistry major. I felt that if I didn’t get into medical school with a degree in chemistry I could probably still get a good job. As I began taking courses, I fell in love with chemistry and specifically with biochemistry.

Where did that lead you?

After getting a B.S. in chemistry from West Virginia State College, I went to graduate school at Ohio University and earned a Ph.D. in chemistry with a major emphasis in biochemistry and a minor emphasis in physical chemistry. Then I took a postdoctoral position at the University of Virginia doing molecular biophysics.  A year later, I did postdoctoral work in bioanalytical chemistry at the University of Georgia.  From there I went to Procter & Gamble and worked as an analytical chemist.

How did you come to faith in Christ?

As I was growing up, I always had some belief in God, but God wasn’t important to me.

As I went off to my undergraduate training, I became highly indoctrinated in the evolutionary paradigm. The professors that I admired most were staunch evolutionists and anti-creationists. In fact, I can remember some of the faculty members at West Virginia State College, in the biology department, working very hard to combat young earth creationism, which at the time was beginning to infiltrate the educational system–both at a collegiate level and a high school level. Those were men and women I looked up to. I bought into their perception of Christianity.

Then what happened?

At Ohio University I was taking advanced courses in biochemistry, and I really began to develop a strong appreciation for the chemistry that happens inside living systems. Though it wasn’t really part of my course work, I was so gung-ho about biochemistry that I would do additional reading on my own. I was hungry to learn anything I could and began developing an interest in the different origin of life scenarios.

As I read about them I reached the conclusion very quickly that what I’d seen as an origin of life scenario, such as “chemical Darwinism” or chemical evolution, simply couldn’t account for the nature of the chemistry that exists inside living systems. At that point I embraced the idea that there had to be a Creator who was responsible for life and for the chemistry inside living systems.

Intuitively, I recognized the irreducible complexity that biochemist Michael Behe articulates in his book, Darwin’s Black Box.

How did this lead you to the God of the Bible?

I was beginning to develop universalistic ideas, that all the different religions led to the same truth, that God revealed Himself to us in different ways. Then, I was challenged to read the Bible by a pastor, Johnny Withrow, who ultimately officiated at my wedding. As Amy and I were meeting with him and making wedding plans, he challenged me to read the Bible by appealing to my pride as a scientist. His point was that if one is really a scientist then he should be looking for truth no matter where he finds it. As a 23-year-old, I read the Bible for the first time in my life, in a serious way.  After reading the gospel of Matthew, I was convinced that Jesus was who Christians claimed Him to be. I was also convinced of my sin, and I prayed to receive Christ as my Lord and Savior.

Your comments are interesting, particularly because one of the criticisms of Christianity is that it’s a religion that appeals to those that need a “crutch.” You, however, came to faith in Christ as a scientist looking for truth and challenged to pursue truth. Please comment.

The view held in my home was that Christians were uneducated, unintelligent, and gullible.  When one looks around, however, one sees that many people who are extremely intelligent and well-educated are part of the Christian faith. The idea that people hold to atheism because of their education or because of their superior intelligence is a false.

In fact, Nature, about three or four years ago published a survey in which scientists had been polled regarding their belief in a personal God.[1] Forty percent of the scientists who responded to the survey expressed belief in a personal God. That doesn’t mean, necessarily, the God of the bible, but it does mean that roughly 40% of scientists embrace some kind of theism.

Current culture says that science and religion are separate domains of knowledge. What do you believe about the relationship of science and Christianity?

I think that science and Christianity are fully integrated with one another. It’s very clear, from Scripture, that God has revealed Himself to us in a number of ways. One is through the words that we have in the Bible–God’s revelation to Moses, the Prophets, the Psalmists, and the Apostles. We also have the revelation of  Jesus Christ Himself  through His human nature and His presence on Earth. Paul teaches us, too, that God has revealed Himself through His creation; through the words that He’s written on our hearts; through our consciences; through a moral code that’s inherent in all of us; through His providence in our lives; and through His providence throughout history.

God also reveals Himself through the history of the earth, because we can see origins of life and design in the universe. I also think that God is ultimately responsible for the laws of nature.  And since the laws of nature inform historical science, the two areas of science and faith are fully overlapped and fully integrated.

When I read through Genesis 1 as a young Christian, I was amazed at the agreement between the order in which Genesis describes the appearance of different animals on the surface of the earth and what the fossil record tells us about the different animals that show up at the different time frames in the earth’s history.

How did you arrive at RTB as a science apologist?

As I became more and more interested in a relationship between science and the Christian faith, I began to realize the power in using this approach to reach people for Christ. I became more and more motivated to do things along those lines. Probably the thing that catalyzed my involvement with RTB was the death of my father. I realized, then, that life was serious business and that I had an obligation to do whatever I could to reach people for Christ with the gifts and talents that God gave me. So, I can remember praying about it and really seeking God’s direction. I had read some of Hugh Ross’s books and was impressed with his scientific scholarship and his honest treatment of Scripture. I then contacted RTB and began serving the ministry as a volunteer.

What were you doing professionally at that time?

I was working as a research scientist for Procter and Gamble.

What happened next?

I heard that the ministry wanted to bring scientists on board, so, through discussions with Hugh Ross and the RTB board and the generous support of RTB donors and very precious friends in Cincinnati who raised the necessary funds, I was able to come aboard in June of 1999.

What do you hope to accomplish here at RTB?

At least four things, among others:

  1. I hope to communicate that science is not an enemy of the Christian faith, but rather the greatest ally that the faith has in this day and age, and a very potent way to reach people for Christ.  I hope to strengthen the faith of Christians and provide them with materials that help them in their own personal outreach.
  2. I want to share the gospel with people who are nonbelievers and have an intellectual barrier to faith. I want to defend the faith from a scientific perspective as well. I’d like to create opportunities for other scientists who have a desire to become involved in ministry and want to share their reasons for belief in Christ. It’s exciting to see scientists step up to the plate and write for RTB, speak for RTB, help RTB develop new arguments, or critique RTB’s arguments.
  3. Since I have a strong interest in the origin of life and the origin of humanity, I’d like to participate in book projects addressing these topics from a Christian  and scientific perspective.
  4. I’d like to extend the work of Michael Behe and others who are part of the intelligent design movement. I think Behe did a wonderful job, taking the first step towards demonstrating design in biological systems. I think even more arguments can be evoked. I think the best way to argue for design is from a “weight-of-evidence” approach. It’s not just irreducible complexity, but there are many other characteristics that we can point to. I’d really like to develop these ideas and use them in combination with irreducible complexity.

As a biochemist and origin of life researcher, what is the most compelling evidence for the Christian Faith that you find from your discipline?

I think the origin of life problem, right now, from a naturalistic perspective, is the most potent argument for an Intelligent Designer, the biblical creator. From a biochemical standpoint, life appeared rapidly on the surface of the earth, was morphologically simple and yet chemically complex. Moreover, life originated under hostile conditions. The earth was experiencing asteroidal impacts that would have wiped out life on the surface of the earth. Yet, life originated under these conditions.

Furthermore, evidence shows that the earth could not have supported the prebiotic chemistry necessary to form a prebiotic soup. In conjunction with this we have the whole information problem. From a naturalistic perspective, there is no way to account for the origin of information in biological systems, given the time frames involved.

Also, we see other evidence for design. We see the opportunity now to revitalize the watchmaker argument. We have profound evidence for systems that show analogy to man-made systems from a molecular level inside the cell. I think what’s convincing as well is that we can’t engineer these systems any better in the lab than nature does. What we see in nature are highly intricate chemical systems that we simply can’t duplicate in the lab.

Again, the weight of evidence argues for a creator and an Intelligent Designer.

Let’s talk about your family.

I’ve been married to Amy for 14 years. She is also a scientist with a master’s degree in chemistry with an emphasis in molecular biology. We went to graduate school together. Our labs were adjoining labs, so you might say we have “good chemistry” between us.

How about your children?

We have four girls and a boy. Our oldest daughter, Amanda, is 11, Whitney is 9, Mackenzie is 8, Jose is 7, and Olga is 6.

The last two names sound a little different from the first three. Would you tell us the story?

Amy and I loved our three daughters. I really thought our family was complete, but Amy had a desire to adopt more children. At first I was opposed to the idea. But as I became more and more involved in apologetics, my mind began to change. One day when I was playing around with scientific ways I could argue against the practice of abortion, I realized that it doesn’t matter what type of intellectual argument I can level, if I really value the sanctity of life, the most potent argument is how I live my life. I then told my wife I was ready to look into adoption. She was first shocked, and then pleasantly surprised.

Three years ago missionaries and youth from our church in Cincinnati who had planted a church in Monterrey, Mexico, told us of their work in the orphanages there. We learned of siblings that were going to be separated unless they were adopted. We immediately began the process of trying to adopt them. There were times during the process that I felt like part of my family was missing.  We would have dinner and it would be difficult because I’d realize, “Hey, what about our other two kids? What are they having tonight for dinner? Are they taken care of tonight?” We desperately wanted to have them with us for Christmas. It was August when we decided to adopt them, so God was gracious enough to allow them to be with us for our first Christmas as a family of seven.

How did your three daughters respond to this change?

They were excited from the beginning! When we learned of Jose and Olga, we sat down with our three girls and asked them what they would think about adopting two kids. They were thrilled and excited about having the opportunity to have another little sister and a little brother. So they were full partners in the process the entire time. Today they play, laugh, and fight as if they had always been brother and sisters.

Notes:

[1] Edward J. Larson and Larry Witham, “Scientists Are Still Keeping the Faith,” Nature 386 (1997): 435-36.

Subjects: Biochemical Design, Scientists