I didn’t study Biology for A Level. Didn’t get off to the best start, right? Somehow my Chemistry teacher persuaded me to apply for Biomedical Sciences and somehow, I made it. And I’m so thankful I did!
Before I even started, I remember having to write an essay describing the CRISPR-Cas9 gene therapy mechanism. I had no idea what this was, and my non-biologist brain freaked out! But after I got over the “how am I meant to do this” stage, I started learning. Learning quickly.
I remember listening to a TED talk by Jennifer Doudna who co-invented the technology, and just being in awe. I watched it again and again out of pure wonder (and because I didn’t get it the first time). I was amazed that gene therapy could take our genetic code and use it to heal someone from the inside out.
Seeking awe and wonder
I think this awe is just a small taste of what so many scientists experience. Science awakens in us the innate desire to seek wonder that we all have as humans. As David Attenborough once said, “The world is full of wonders, but they become more wonderful, not less wonderful when science looks at them.”
Maybe that strikes a chord with you too?
We as biologists “stand at the interface between God and his creation…[and give an] articulate voice to creation’s glad and grateful praise to its maker”. 
I love this description of our calling!
We are like the priests in the Old Testament, who stood at the edge of God’s presence whilst also being in the world. How incredible it is that we, as biologists and followers of Jesus, get to study the life of creation whilst also enjoying relationship with the life-giving Creator.
Christians have unique access into this deeper and more joyful dimension to life that gives meaning to the creation around us. What’s more, we can invite others to join our expression of praise as we learn more about our creation and share it with others.
With that in mind, let’s dig deeper into what biology is all about – and how the gospel has everything to do with biology.
All scientists seek wonder, but biologists seek wonder in life. In Greek, bio- means ‘life’.
Right off in Genesis, we read of how the God who is life itself breathed life into us. The author of life made us in his image so that we can have life, and even now he’s sustaining us. Even further, he has set life eternal before us and has made a way for us to enter in through Jesus.
It’s no surprise that we yearn for life and see God’s fingerprints all over creation. We see the motif of life threaded throughout the whole Bible - the word ‘life’ is used 568 times in the NIV!
But with the creation of life, there also comes the fall. We can see curse of the fall ripple through our lives from Genesis 3, throughout human history to our present day. Humanity made a choice to be separated from God, separated from life itself. The painful consequences of that choice permeate through all of life. Around every corner in biology something goes wrong.
In ecology we study the life of ecosystems: what makes them flourish, but also the diminishing of life, the ecological breakdown that can occur because of human intervention. In microbiology we study the life of microorganisms: which ones live symbiotically on and in our environments, but also the illnesses or deaths caused by a microbe overpopulating our bodies or water systems. In biomed, I remember being sat in a haematology lecture almost angry at how some diseases sap life from humans out of their very blood - but in the same module learning about ways to treat these diseases and restore health.
So much of our existence now, including our studies, is about striving and struggling to reclaim that fullness of life that we’ve lost - life with no room for destruction, disease, or death. And so in the biology department we study life in its glory and brokenness, all the while deeply desiring a life without the curse of death. There is this search for a fullness of life that nature can’t reach.
Fortunately, God isn’t the kind of god who is aware of our pain but decides not to intervene. He’s on a mission to redeem and restore…
The suffix to biology, ‘-logos’, means ‘study of’, or ‘word’ in Greek. It’s the same word used to describe Jesus in John’s gospel.
In John 1, we are told that the Word (logos), was made flesh (v14), and in Him was life. God could have remained perfect and spotless, far away from our sin-infected lives. But Jesus took up our biology to live life in the flesh. The Word (logos) has taken on the mess of life (bio) – and how wonderfully redemptive it is that these two come together to make bio-logos, biology. The very name of our discipline is a reminder of the gospel!
I love that as Jesus takes on humanity, he doesn’t avoid the curse of the fall, but turns it for good. He chooses a biological family, Israel, to pass on blessing generation by generation, leading to the Messiah. What was once cursed - the intensely painful process of childbirth - God has used to redeem us.  God hasn’t given up on biology.
But for a moment it might have seemed that way. The death of Jesus was seemingly the end of the ‘biologos’, the Word made flesh. Will death have the final say?
No. His resurrection body rose from the grave. Jesus died swallowing up death, and he is living again! Jesus perfects biology in his resurrected body, a body that is unashamedly biological – he talks and eats.
And this invitation to a perfected biology extends to us. As Jesus dies for sin and is raised, we too die to sin and are raised with Christ. By his salvation we can have the ultimate fullness of life – in this biological life now, and our resurrected and eternal lives to come. In Revelation, we can look forward to the hope of one day having no suffering and no more tears. One day the life that we seek as humans and as biologists will be complete.
In the labs and lecture theatres
We know that it’s only by Jesus that life will be experienced to the full, but what’s amazing is that we get to be part of the journey toward the kingdom awaiting us. We get to examine life, our physiological potential, and how we fall short because of the effects of sin that ripple into our bodies – but also work towards restoration. As we discover a new medicine or simply read about it, we are joining God in the adventure towards this experiencing life complete and full through Jesus. I love that in the mundane hours of reading or writing literature reviews, we are pointing people toward a kingdom where pain is completely gone.
I’ve seen this in practice. In my immunology module, I learnt about infection and disease, how your body should react to infection, and what happens when your body treats itself like an infection in autoimmune diseases. I was studying about pandemics in my lecture, when just a year later we saw the effects of a virus that wiped out millions. I studied the mechanics of a vaccine and then two years later, by God’s gracious intervention, we saw a vaccine, designed by biologists saving millions.
See? As a God who created life and made a way for life everlasting, God cares about your studies. As a student that is ploughing away in the lab, following this trajectory towards the hope that one day we will experience, the fullness of life, is probably the strongest motivation I ever had.
Living and speaking for Him
Okay, so we know the gospel shapes everything in biology - but how can you allow the gospel to trickle down to every area of the biology department of your university? What difference does the gospel that actually make?
A great question to ask coursemates (especially freshers) is this: “why did you choose to study biology?” Let them answer and if they ask you back, give them your genuine answer . If you’re like me, let the excitement bubble - God shines his light through your joy! Our motivation for studying gives us a way to talk about the gospel, and has a more profound impact than we realise.
The gospel impacts the way you pursue your research too. Let your passion for life and life to the full fuel your research, whether that’s kicking cancer to the curb or screening biopsy samples for the advancement of your field.
In your work, strive to follow Jesus’ example of integrity. Maybe you might be tempted to warp your funding application by falsely bolstering your academic record: ask God to strengthen you with integrity to resist that temptation. In a world where others will say whatever they need to get ahead, that will be an incredible witness in the way you live for Him.
Holding your ground on contentious or ethical issues in and out of the lab, will be hard but a huge witness. Be gracious and respectful in the way you debate with course mates (if you’re the prone-to-argue type). I found using scientific language to refer to Christianity, e.g., ‘reliability’ or ‘evidence’ quite helpful.
As you start or continue your biology degree, think big and gaze on the God who created and sustains the life you study. And then think small, and see his handiwork in your life and in the lab too. Enjoy those awesome moments when you learn something really amazing, because as you seek wonder, you are glorifying the God who created it.
Great are the works of the Lord;
they are pondered by all who delight in them.
Psalm 111:2 (NIV)
Some influential Christians in the field
- Gregor Johann Mendel (1822-1884): A botanist who made stride in genetics; ‘the Father of Genetics’.
- Asa Gray (1810-1988): A botanist and passionate Christian who worked with Darwin as his closest collaborator and “best advocate”. He argued, “God himself is the very last, irreducible causal factor and, hence, the source of all evolutionary change”.
- Francis Collins: A physician and geneticist, who led the Human Genome Project.
- Linda Griffith: MIT Biological Engineering.
- Susan Hockfield: Neuroscience
- Cherryl Hunt: Theology and bioethics
- Keith Fox: Bioethical issues
- Trevor Stammers: Gene editing
Taking it further
- Big Biology podcast
- Language of God - BioLogos
 I remember one module at uni where we were looking at pregnancy and embryonic development. It’s crazy just how life forms! When my course mates would play it cool, I had to try calm myself at just how exciting it was to see Psalm 139:13-15 described (almost poetically) in my lecture.
The Psalm says, “for you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb…My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth” (v13,15).
When a disease or parasite infects you, your body actively tries to defend and fight it. All the T and B cells (white blood cells) come to the rescue to get rid of this living being in your body. But, and this is what is just incredible, when it’s a human being life-form growing inside you, all defence mechanisms flip and are tasked with defending this tiny growing human being. With this living being, it instead feeds it, nurtures it, protects it. There is truly something special about new life coming into the world. When studying biology, we are invited into study the life that we live and partake in!
Enjoyed this article? You might like these other resources on a similar topic:
Can an evolutionary biologist believe in purpose?