Ask AJ Roberts (April 13-17, 2020)

Greetings, @Interested_In_Ask_RZIM fam!

This week we have the immense (and timely) privilege of interacting with Anjeanette “AJ” Roberts, a molecular biologist and a research scholar at Reasons to Believe.

A.J.'s official biography:
Molecular biologist Anjeanette “AJ” Roberts writes and speaks about the harmony between science and the Christian faith. As a research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), AJ is committed to seeking truth in science and Scripture and to sharing the great news of grace, hope, forgiveness, new life, and truth found in Jesus Christ.

Coming from a mixed background of nominal Christianity and non-Christian influences, AJ became a Christ follower at age 12, when she attended a concert at a local church and learned that Jesus had really risen from the dead. It became clear to AJ that she desperately needed Christ as Savior and deeply desired him as Lord. Thus, she surrendered her life to Jesus.

Following an extensive career in research science and teaching, AJ joined RTB as a visiting scholar in 2015 and, in 2016, became a permanent member of the RTB scholar team. Today, AJ puts her passion for truth to work engaging in science-faith topics such as evolution and design, harmonizing science and Christianity, and a theological perspective on viruses.

AJ completed her BS in chemistry (graduating with honors) at the College of Engineering and Natural Sciences at the University of Tulsa in 1988 and her PhD in molecular and cell biology at the University of Pennsylvania in 1996. From 1997 to 2001, she conducted postdoctoral research in viral pathogenesis and “proof-of-concept” vaccine studies in Dr. John Rose’s lab at Yale University. She then spent two years in Samara, Russia, in Christian mission work and public health lecturing.

In 2003, AJ joined Dr. Kanata Subbarao’s lab at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). There she co-led a SARS research team until 2006. From 2006 to 2013, she served as an assistant professor of graduate education for the University of Virginia’s microbiology faculty and directed the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program in Microbiology, Immunology, and Infectious Diseases. From 2013 to 2015, she was a visiting fellow with the Rivendell Institute at Yale.

AJ has coauthored over 40 articles published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. She has also presented at numerous national and international scientific conferences and lectured at various institutions around the world. In 2005, she received the NIH Merit Award for her contribution to research in infectious diseases.

AJ has also participated in numerous Christian missions and apologetics work, such as Teen Missions (Haiti in 1983 and Poland in 1984), the Wesley Foundation (Tulsa) and Cru (UPenn) campus ministries, Operation Mobilization and International School Project outreach, and teaching trips to Europe. She has also facilitated Alpha Courses and led small-group Bible studies in local churches and among scientific colleagues. In 2015, AJ completed her studies for an MA in Christian apologetics at Biola University and still resides in Southern California.

As always, do reply below to ask AJ your question. :arrow_down:

Best wishes for your health, where ever you are! :mask:

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Hello, and thank you in advance for responding to my question. I had heard or read some where about a pattern or sign in our DNA code that showed a correlation between man and God our creator. This may be vague but it is all I can recall with any degree of certainty? Maybe I am not remembering right?
Can I be directed to a possible answer to this?
Please be safe out there and thanks again
Mike

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AJ,
Thank you for this opportunity to ask you questions. I listen to the RTB podcast each week and follow the work of @Fazale_Rana and @Hugh_Ross through Twitter and your website.
I am still trying to understand human evolution. Would you please share your opinion with me? How much of the work of Charles Darwin do you consider accurate?
I read Harari’s book, Sapiens recently? Have you read it? Is this account of human evolution accurate?
I greatly appreciate your time in answering my question.

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Hello AJ and I really appreciate you taking the time to answer our questions :smiley:. My question is, what do you believe are the best 2-3 evidences from your area of expertise that point to a Creator, and why?

Thank you

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Hi AJ, thank you so much for being a part of this. I know your background is in biology and chemistry but I was hoping if you can comment on AI (artificial intelligence) and how it might be considered the next “god” in the atheist world. All knowing as it can collect data from all around, predict your thoughts desires, learns new information by itself with time and all. Clearly people are going to claim that they sure are the gods after “perfecting” it.

Thanks!

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Hi, Mike.

I’m intrigued by your question, but I’m at a loss how to reply. I am not aware of anything that fits your description. DNA in and of itself is a very complex, information rich molecule. One of Fuz’s blogs does a thorough job of looking at how the information in DNA points to a mind, the Mind of a Creator. Maybe you are thinking along these lines? If not, maybe Fuz’s article will open up other items of interest for you. Does Information Come from a Mind?

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Hi, Brian.

Wow, big topic. I am in the process of finishing a book with Fuz, Sue_Dykes, and Mark Perez called “Thinking About Evolution: 25 Questions Christians Want Answered”. Unfortunately it’s not coming out until October and it’s going to be pretty big (over 80,000 words I think!)

We cover a lot of the variations of evolution getting away from simply Darwinian and neo-Darwinian models and look at the extended evolutionary synthesis and a little at constructive natural engineering and neutral theory, and it has 4 chapters I think that touch on human, chimp, neanderthal topics.

We look at the role of worldviews and metaphysical positions in interpreting the data too. This is important to consider in trying to understand why some people remain committed to naturalistic explanations that rule out the possibility of God in creation.

Darwin’s theory of natural selection acting on variation accounts for some observations in evolution, but mostly at adaptive levels and microbial evolution. It’s really inadequate for accounting for other major changes such as major discontinuous “transitions” and generating true novelty.

I don’t think the evidence is compelling for human evolution or for evolution of the major phyla. Fuz and Hugh have written a very thorough book on the topic of human origins: Who Was Adam? And recently Fuz gave a very good presentation on RTB’s progressive creationist (scientific and biblical) model of human origins. You can watch that here if you like:

Hope this helps a bit.

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Hi, Daniel.

Wow. I definitely haven’t thought much about AI topics. I really come from a microbiology and virology background. But I just finished watching Picard the newest CBS Star Trek series and it was quintessential storytelling with AI/transhumanism at the heart of it!

I think there are some great topics to lead to the gospel when talking about the desires that motivate transhumanism. In many ways transhumanism is a pursuit to extend human life indefinitely. In Jesus we receive eternal life and we are transformed and given incorruptible bodies. Ultimate transhumanism!

My colleagues Fuz Rana and Ken Samples have a book on transhumanism. It covers many great topics and theological touch points there: Humans 2.0

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Hi, All!

Glad to be here this week. I’ve been engaging the coronavirus situation for the past few weeks. I have a background that’s relevant as I studied SARS-CoV at the NIH following the first outbreak in 2003. The COVID pandemic is opening lots of opportunities to talk about how I see God at work even in times of adversity. It ties in well with talks I give on seeing God’s Purposes Revealed in Science and Suffering and Why Would a Good God Create Viruses?

If I don’t know the answers to your questions, I’ll try to point you to places where I think you’ll find some good answers.

I’ll post some of my stuff on COVID here too, so you can check that out if you like. I also try to post these things to my FB page and Twitter pages and I try to answer questions that pop up out there too. So if you don’t get your answers here this week, we can always connect out there in the days to come.

Here are two of my favorite and recent interviews on COVID: Truth Revolution interview and RTBLive Q&A

May God richly bless each of you with the power and promise of the resurrection and may you know the presence of Jesus the Risen Lord with you as we live out the days ahead!

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@Anjeanette_AJ_Robert Thank you for taking the time to do this. I would like to get your perspective on what viruses can teach us about Creation. In particular, what useful purpose(s) do they serve in God’s overall design? I believe that everything in Creation serves a useful purpose; we just do not necessarily know what it is. Have you found any instances where the viruses that you have studied have promoted the “good” of Creation?

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Hi, Brendan.

You bet! Life on earth isn’t possible without viruses! The most amazing thing about viruses is that they outnumber all other living things on planet earth! Estimates are 1 x 10^31. That’s 10,000,000 times more viruses than stars in the universe (1 x 10^24)!

The vast majority are not associated with any kind of disease. In fact they keep the bacteria on earth in check and open ecological space for the rest of life to thrive! That includes us. Bacteria are masters of reproduction and adaptation. Without viruses, Earth would be one giant ball of bacteria floating through space.

I have quite a bit more to say about the goodnesses of viruses. You can check out the God’s Purposes video and the Truth Revolution interview (mentioned in my other post) for more commentary. Or here’s a blog I wrote a few years ago. Or check out my answer to @Brian_Upsher below.

They also serve as great tools for discovery and applications in gene editing, medicine, and creation care.

I have a couple of chapters in a book that might be of interest to you and @brianlalor. One chapter is “Why Would a Good God Create Viruses?” and the other is “Unequivocating Evolution” which talks about the different ways evolution is used and the different mechanisms involved in those uses of the word. The book is called Building Bridges and it has some great chapters by biochemist Fuz Rana and astrophysicist Jeff Zweerink (my RTB colleagues) too.

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Hi Brian.

One thing that points clearly to the goodness of the Creator is the fine-tuning for human flourishing revealed at the foundational level of life on Earth. And no, I’m not talking about the fine-tuning of the origin of the universe and physical laws. No, I’m not talking about the Goldilocks effect and Earth’s privileged place in the cosmos, galaxy, and solar system nor the importance of gas giants for having our back, so to speak. I’m talking about what I mentioned to @blbossard.

Viruses and bacteria.

Viruses absolutely cannot reproduce on their on. They need a living cell to make more viruses. Bacteria are legion, living, single cell organisms that are masters of adaptation and reproduction. Bacteria are also primary producers. Through photosynthesis and chemosynthesis (some) bacteria synthesize organic building blocks from inorganic chemicals. These bacterially-synthesized organic molecules support all other life forms on Earth. Without bacteria, other life is not possible.

But because bacteria are such masterful reproducers and adapters they should outcompete every other life form and fill every available environmental space to the exclusion of other life forms. But they don’t. Viruses keep bacteria in check! And viruses can’t run amok because they can’t sustain their own replication. They need a living cell!

At the most foundational levels of life we have a system of checks and balances (viruses and bacteria) that open ecological space and provide fundamental organic material for life to flourish!

Add to this that we don’t really know where viruses originate. They can’t have originated in a Darwinian fashion since they are not self-replicating. Perhaps they devolved from once living cells in a “just-so” fashion as to maintain the necessary components to replicate once in a living cell, but that’s not an obvious origin. It’s more like a shrug of the shoulders and an “I don’t know, maybe,” kind of answer.

Or maybe, these microbes of immense diversity and overwhelming (staggering) numbers (1 x 10^31) were part of a creation made for human flourishing so we could discover signs of God’s goodness. We can see how God provides viruses for fine-tuning life and as resources for discovery. These tiny nanomachines teach us so many critical elements of cell and molecular biology. By harnessing them and the lessons they teach us, we discover tools for creation care and advancing crop, animal and, human health.

What great signs of a loving God and lavish creation!

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AJ no question, just a thank you for the video links. Very informative.
Stay blessed
Bill

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Hello I found the answer memory was wrong it was a video I saw a long time ago. Here is the link.
Thank you for responding to my question.

[(https://youtu.be/QSR8z_0uW5E)]

Mike

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Thanks for following up, Mike.

Yeah, laminin. Well, maybe not as good a thing to point to as this pastor seems to think. Although, I’m happy he found it encouraging. When I see and hear sermons and talks like this I am reminded that we need to have captivating stories. And the thick gospel of Jesus is the most captivating story. God has been pursuing us in love from the very beginning, and everywhere we look in creation we see God’s goodness and heart for us. The Creator who made everything and formed me in my mother’s womb is the Lord of all creation and the Savior of the world. Who we are in him gives our lives meaning and purpose and great worth!

Where else can one find new life, hope, a clean start, fellowship, and an intimate companion for all of life’s challenges!?

As to laminin, I’m going to point you to a blog by Fuz Rana, with this quote pulled from that article: “The cross shape of laminin is an idealized illustration of the molecule. Portraying complex biomolecules in simplified ways is a common practice among biochemists. Depicting laminin in this extended form helps scientists visualize and catalog the binding sites along its four arms. This configuration should not be interpreted to represent its actual shape in biological systems.” In fact it probably more often looks like a swastika and not a cross in it’s biological setting. (yikes!)

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God bless you for this great answer to my question. The likelyhood of ever seeing Laminin in real time for most it does make a powerful point for many. Please no offence meant, but understanding all the scientific explanation is beyond me though it intrigues me.
However to me seeing the complexity of who we are and how we function, is all I need which brings me to another point.

This is a truth for many who see what they see because of what they believe is truth.

Example; God made man in His image.
Man makes things in his image so we see houses that look like faces. Cars smiling at us and the like which is trying to make sense out of things.

Thank you for clarification, it truly helped me greatly. while seeing is believing is the way of the world, the Word taught us believing is seeing.more clearly.

God bless you for your work.
Mike

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Amazing! That is incredibly interesting AJ. I have heard of the cosmological fine tuning arguments before but don’t have much knowledge at all how to argue for a designer from the biological level. Thank you for answering my question and I will be sure to look up the resources that you have pointed to throughout the discussions.

Really appreciate you taking the time :slightly_smiling_face:. God bless.

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Hi AJ, am deeply appreciative of your work for Christ and how He has equipped you for ministry - amazing! So glad to have you here.
Blessings & peace!
Rosa

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