Excerpt: "The Language of God"

I practiced a thought and behavior pattern referred to as "willful blindness" by the noted scholar and writer C. S. Lewis. After graduation, I went on to a Ph.D. program in physical chemistry at Yale, pursuing the mathematical elegance that had first drawn me to this branch of science. My intellectual life was immersed in quantum mechanics and second-order differential equations, and my heroes were the giants of physics -- Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, and Paul Dirac. I gradually became convinced that everything in the universe could be explained on the basis of equations and physical principles.

Reading the biography of Albert Einstein, and discovering that despite his strong Zionist position after World War II, he did not believe in Yahweh, the God of the Jewish people, only reinforced my conclusion that no thinking scientist could seriously entertain the possibility of God without committing some sort of intellectual suicide.

And so I gradually shifted from agnosticism to atheism. I felt quite comfortable challenging the spiritual beliefs of anyone who mentioned them in my presence, and discounted such perspectives as sentimentality and outmoded superstition.

Two years into this Ph.D. program my narrowly structured life plan began to come apart. Despite the daily pleasures of pursuing my dissertation research on theoretical quantum mechanics, I began to doubt whether this would be a lifesustaining pathway for me. It seemed that most of the major advances in quantum theory had occurred fifty years earlier, and most of my career was likely to be spent in applying successive simplifications and approximations to render certain elegant but unsolvable equations just a tiny bit more tractable.

More practically, it seemed that my path would lead inexorably to a professor's life of delivering an interminable series of lectures on thermodynamics and statistical mechanics, presented to class after class of undergraduates who were either bored or terrified by those subjects.

At about that same time, in an effort to broaden my horizons, I signed up for a course in biochemistry, finally investigating the life sciences that I had so carefully avoided in the past. The course was nothing short of astounding. The principles of DNA, RNA, and protein, never previously apparent to me, were laid out in all of their satisfying digital glory. The ability to apply rigorous intellectual principles to understanding biology, something I had assumed impossible, was bursting forth with the revelation of the genetic code. With the advent of new methods for splicing different DNA fragments together at will (recombinant DNA), the possibility of applying all of this knowledge for human benefit seemed quite real. I was astounded. Biology has mathematical elegance after all. Life makes sense.

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