[The Leaven – exploring the relationship between science and religion (cont)]
Amongst the phenomenal number of hypotheses proposed by scientists through time, some remain concrete for years or decades, even following the most rigorous scrutiny by thousands of researchers. In science hypotheses that stand the test of time eventually become Laws. Perhaps a good example of this can be found in the work of Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian monk who, in the 1860s, deduced the fundamental patterns of inheritance by breeding varieties of peas.
Mendel was equally committed to religious endeavour and scientific investigation in a quest to unravel the complexity of God’s creation. During the era in which he carried out his work, theologians believed that living processes followed predetermined patterns that must be governed by the laws of nature. They believed that if these laws were established then it maybe possible to understand why life exists and to what purpose it served. Mendel was foremost in discovering that physically characteristic traits belonging to an individual were inherited from their parents. This he achieved by statistically recording the colour and shape of peas.
Mendel reached the conclusion that inheritance followed two principle laws: the law of segregation and the law of independent assortment. The law of segregation observed that specific traits of an organism inherited from either parent could be passed on to offspring at random. The law of independent assortment observed that each trait was inherited autonomously of another. Despite having no knowledge of molecular biology or the nature of genes, Mendel’s observations arrived at conclusions that have withstood scientific scrutiny for centuries. He was unaware of the impact that his findings were to make in scientific research, as they were not fully appreciated until after his death. It was others treading in his footsteps that endorsed his published results.
Advances in science at the molecular level have further reinforced and enhanced Mendel’s experimental work. The biology of molecular evolution now attributes the blueprint of characteristic traits in individuals to deoxyribonucleic acid, more familiarly known as DNA. DNA stores the genetic code which when transcribed leads to the generation of tissues that accumulatively construct a new individual with parental characteristics. Seemingly our own individual genetic plans exist in order for our inherited characteristics to be probed and scrutinised by well-meaning relatives, but in reality genetic diversity exists to strengthen the gene pool.
Most of the findings relating to DNA were discovered fairly recently in the last half of the 20th century. The immense speed of this research has undoubtedly been accelerated by the evolution of the mechanically engineered equivalent of the human brain, the computer. Not only can calculations be accomplished in seconds, information and results can also be distributed amongst the science community at a similar speed. If Mendel had carried out his experiments in this era, the results would have been published online, say in the Nature journal, to be distributed amongst an international readership within weeks of being written and he would have been fully aware of their impact. Scientists still search for the meaning of life but necessarily for religious reasons.