What is a rarer find than an albino deer munching a mouthful of four-leaf clovers that grew in a spot where lightning struck twice? A Millenial Christian scientist. I don’t mean a Millenial Christian Scientist – a young adult who emphasizes a connection between spiritual activity and physical healing – but a young adult who believes the orderly outlay of the universe is God’s creation. I do not believe this only because I take the Bible, which covers the creation of the world in Genesis 1, literally, but because I see the natural world as so organized and intricate that its origins and processes could not have come about by chance.
Perhaps I exaggerated about the odds of a finding a person of my generation who believes in both a Christ and Creator. But when I was an undergraduate in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology program at a secular university, the scientific community that surrounded me dismissed all notions of Intelligent Design – the theory that a deliberate cause is behind certain aspects of nature – and especially Creationism – essentially, Intelligent Design that gives credit to an intelligent Creator – in favor of unguided evolution driven by mutation and circumstance.
But I could not swallow that. I did as Jesus commanded: “Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Luke 12:27, KJV). Jesus was inviting His disciples to practice the first step of the Scientific Method: to observe the natural world around them. Jesus wants us to look at the world around us – a wonderful reminder that God is powerful enough to keep the entire universe moving, yet loving enough to care about the petals of every flower.
And so ends the preamble to a series I am starting called “Consider the lilies…and other things.” The first “other thing” will be…butterflies. Today is National Learn about Butterflies Day (Seriously. I found out on Facebook.), so it’s appropriate for me to post this today. Butterflies are amazing for many reasons: they “taste” with their feet, some species can fly at 37 miles per hour, and the monarch butterfly can successfully migrate over a distance of 2,000 miles without the aid of Google Maps (San Diego Zoo Global, 2016). But what I find most fascinating about butterflies is the complex metamorphosis from caterpillar to adult butterfly.
When I was younger, I would capture swallowtail caterpillars I found munching on dill plants in my parents’ garden, place them in a large plastic container lovingly furnished with sticks, grass, dill, and air holes in the container’s lid, and wait for the day the creeping caterpillar would be replaced with a conical chrysalis. I could only imagine what was taking place inside as the ugly duckling was turning into a swan. Thanks to modern technology, we can have a better understanding of what takes place during this transition. Recently, the method called micro-CT was used to take cross-section images of a chrysalis at different stages of metamorphosis (Young, 2013). These images were put together to form virtual models showing how the organs and structures of a butterfly develop (Young, 2013).
While the processes of this event can be explained, much like the formation of a baby within its mother’s womb, both still carry an aura of mystery. For me, both are evidence of God: elements and molecules come together to make organs and membranes exactly as He designed them to, yet no one’s hands but His can touch and mold the new life. The author of Psalm 139:13-14 praises God for this: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
The transition of a crawling caterpillar into an airborne butterfly is also an illustration of the rebirth a person experiences when he is saved through Christ. Jesus told Nicodemus (a Pharisee who was interested in Jesus’ teachings) that a man must be born again to see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus was puzzled by these words which probably gave him a very weird mental image. Jesus explained He was not talking about physical birth, but spiritual birth: “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:6-8). Spiritual transformation cannot be gained through physical, earthly means. It can only be gained through the grace given to us through Jesus’ death and resurrection. And once we are transformed, we are not just caterpillars wearing a new set of clothes; we are fluttering, soaring, unbounded butterflies no longer confined to the lowly world. As Paul wrote to the people of Corinth, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Even though this front pew kid is all grown up, I still am amazed by the transformation of caterpillars into butterflies, of despairing hearts into joyous ones. Such creations as the butterfly are wonderful reminders of the new lives God wants us to enjoy to the full. Of course, He does not want us to forget who designed the caterpillars and butterflies in the first place, so this Christian scientist will be okay with leaving a few mysteries unexplained.
Photo credit: Author.
San Diego Zoo Global. (2016). Arthropods | Butterfly. Retrieved from http://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/butterfly.
Young, E. (2013, May 14). Not Exactly Rocket Science: 3-D Scans Reveal Caterpillars Turning Into Butterflies. Retrieved from http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/05/14/3-d-scans-caterpillars-transforming-butterflies-metamorphosis/.
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