I am a molecular biologist. I’m fascinated with genes, how they work, how they change, and how they direct the development of a single-cell embryo into an adult organism. In this arena, conflicts between science and religion generally revolve around evolution. An attitude I commonly hear goes something like this, “I can accept the evolution of things like bacteria, birds, or turtles. But I know for a fact that I did not descend from monkeys!” In fact, we do share something like 97% of our genes with chimpanzees. Not only that, but at the genetic level we are also remarkably similar to mice, fruit flies, and brewer’s yeast. Information we learn about genetic function by studying these organisms is often directly relevant to humans and provides great benefits in our understanding of human health and disease.
In light of the irrefutable evidence of our genetic and biochemical similarity to all other life on earth, my personal conviction is that it’s not our genes that make us different. It’s our spirits, which are in some way that I cannot comprehend the literal offspring of heavenly parents. Every aspect of our chemistry, biochemistry, and molecular biology is firmly grounded in the common chemistry of life on this planet, but our spirits, which existed before we were born into this life and which leave our bodies when we die, are divine and are what make us human.
Having said that, I must admit that I have little patience with those who would paint science and religion as opposing forces. This may come from being raised in a Latter-day Saint home and having always taken for granted that absolute truths exist and that truth is truth, no matter how it was discovered. The idea that scientific truths and religious truths could conflict with one another defies reason—something that is true cannot contradict something else that is also true. Any apparent contradictions, then, are simply evidence that our present understanding is incomplete.
While all truth is, by definition, true, no matter how it was discovered, it is important to note that there are some vastly different methods of discovering truth. The scientific method is one of these. It is a physical method that produces physical truths. Spiritual inquiry, on the other hand, produces spiritual truths. It requires prayer, study, and pondering. These methods are drastically different from the experimental methods employed by scientists, but they lead to knowledge of a spiritual nature that is no less real, strong, or valid than knowledge obtained through scientific observation.
I rejoice in a religion that accepts, and indeed encompasses, all truth. I relish the process of scientific inquiry and the way it leads to fascinating discoveries and improvements in the human condition. I look forward to that day mentioned in Doctrine and Covenants 101:32-34: “…in that day when the Lord shall come, he shall reveal all things—things which have passed, and hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose and the end thereof—things most precious, things that are above, and things that are beneath, things that are in the earth, and upon the earth, and in heaven.” While acknowledging that the scientific method has flaws, not least of which is that it is implemented by flawed humans, I expect to find that most of what has been discovered using the scientific method is, in fact, truth.
I also expect confirmation that those things I have discovered by the method of spiritual inquiry are truth, although the spiritual feelings in my heart are so deep and so strong that a physical confirmation could scarcely make them stronger. I testify that we are, each one of us, spiritual children of a Heavenly Father who loves us individually and is aware of the minute details of our lives. I testify that Jesus Christ suffered for us, died, and was resurrected so that we can rise above our sins and live again. I testify that learning to love and serve others as Christ did is the highest goal of our existence on this earth. These things bring me joy and ground me in a way that temporal achievements or pleasures never could, and I am filled with gratitude for this knowledge with which I’ve been blessed.
Laura Clarke Bridgewater earned a B.S. in microbiology from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah and a Ph.D. in genetics from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.; and performed postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Texas, Houston, and the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. She has been at Brigham Young University since 1999, where she is a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Biology. Her research laboratory is focused on molecular processes involved in the degradation of cartilage during osteoarthritis and on nuclear variants of BMP family proteins. She is married to Tim Bridgewater and they are the parents of four children.