How Did Life Begin? – Fazale Rana’s Story

Oct 14, 2022

Side B Stories
Side B Stories
How Did Life Begin? - Fazale Rana's Story
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Former skeptic Dr. Fazale Rana, a biochemist, began to question whether evolution could explain the origin of life. He began to reconsider the need for God.

Reasons to Believe: www.reasons.org
Resources by Fazale Rana
  • Humans 2.0 – Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Perspectives on Transhumanism
  • The Cell’s Design – How Chemistry Reveals the Creator’s Artistry
  • Fit for a Purpose – Does the Anthropic Principle Include Biochemistry?
  • Who was Adam?  A Creation Model Approach to the Origin of Humanity
  • Origins of Life

Episode Transcript

Hello, and thanks for joining in. I’m Jana Harmon, and you’re listening to Side B Stories, where we see how skeptics slip the record of their lives. Each podcast, we listen to someone who has once been a skeptic, but who became Christian against all odds. 

We all have assumptions about reality, about the way things are in the world. Most of the time, we’re pretty settled in our beliefs. We don’t question them, especially if they seem to make sense to us. They seem true to us and to those around us. But what happens when those beliefs are challenged, when we are presented with new information? We’re generally confronted with a couple of options. We can shut down any opposing viewpoint without consideration and listen to those only within our own camp and become more convinced in our own beliefs. Or we can become open to other ideas, take a closer look at the confounding issue at hand, and look for the best explanation, the one that makes the most sense of what we’re seeing or experiencing. 

But sometimes taking a closer look can be difficult. It can come with costs. We may need to reorient our own views in a way that seems a bit uncomfortable, that takes us in a direction we never anticipated. We all want to be intellectually honest, or at least think that we are. But that road can be both challenging and demanding, especially if we find that the truth leads us to situations or intellectual positions we thought we would never seriously consider, much less believe. 

As a brilliant scientist, biochemist, and author, Dr. Fuz Rana valued objective truth. His intellectual curiosity, intellectual honesty, and openness led him beyond his naturalistic presumptions to go where the evidence led him from skepticism to belief in a Creator God as the best explanation for what we see in biology, in all of reality. I hope you’ll come and join in to listen to his fascinating story, as well as his perspectives on whether and how science and belief can and do relate to each other.  It should be interesting. 

Welcome to Side B Stories, Fuz. It’s so great to have you with me today. 

Jana thank you for having me.

Wonderful. Before we get started into your story, I’d really love for the listeners to know a little bit about you. You’re quite an accomplished, credentialed scientist. So talk to us a little bit about who you are, in terms of the things that you’ve studied and where you are now in your professional life. 

Yeah, well, I have a PhD in biochemistry, earned the PhD from Ohio University, and then afterwards did a postdoc at the University of Virginia and then another one at the University of Georgia. And so my area of specialization, if anybody cares, is cell membrane biochemistry and biophysics. And after my second postdoc, I took a position in research and development for a Fortune 500 company and worked there for nearly a decade before joining Reasons to Believe 23 years ago. And I’m, just in the last few weeks, assuming the role of president and CEO of Reasons to Believe, And, you know, this is an exciting organization, where we really look at opening up the gospel for people by revealing God in science.

So science played an important role in my conversion to Christianity, and so I’m utterly convinced that, through science, people can see the reality of God’s existence and be set on a journey to come to know Him. So it’s a fascinating place to work. I’ve been privileged to be here for 23 years.

It sounds very fascinating, and I really would want to venture into some of that relationship between science and faith as we move through your story. Let’s start at the beginning of your story, though, Fuz. Let’s start at the beginning of your story. Tell me where you were born. What area of the country. Were you from the United States? Where you grew up, what that was like in terms of your home, and was it a religious home at all? Walk us through that. 

Sure, sure. Well, my father was from India, and he lived in India prior to the partition taking place, where India won its independence from Great Britain. And when that happened, the states of East and West Pakistan were created, and my father’s family were Muslims, and so they were forced to immigrate into the state of Pakistan as a result of that. My father was a nuclear physicist, and so he came to the United States through Canada, where he did a PhD in nuclear physics, and he worked for a number of years in research and development. This was in the 1950s, and of course, being a nuclear physicist in those days was the ticket to have in the sciences, and he eventually left his work at General Dynamics and took up a university position at North Dakota State University. And that’s where he met my mother, who came from a Catholic background. Her family are Germans, and so they agreed to disagree.

My father was devout as a Muslim, and usually if a non-Muslim marries a Muslim, the expectation is that a conversion will take place, where that person will convert to Islam. But my father was very devout, but also very progressive and modern in his views of Islam. And so he never expected or asked my mom to convert to Islam, but she was really a nonpracticing Catholic.

So, as my brother and I were growing up in our household, we were exposed primarily to Islam. But my mom’s parents were devout Catholics, and so when they would come to visit or we would go visit them, part of that experience was always going to Catholic Church, so I had a little bit of exposure to Catholicism growing up as well.

I was born in Ames, Iowa, in the Midwest, and then ended up growing up, for the most part, in West Virginia. We moved there when I was four. My father took a position at West Virginia Institute of Technology as the chairman of the physics department, and so I consider myself really to be from West Virginia. If you ask me where I’m from, that’s where I’d say, from West Virginia. So that was a bit about where I’m from and kind of a little bit about my family background.

That would be interesting, growing up with two very different religious perspectives, one from your mother’s side, one from your father’s side, and it sounds like there was more active participation, perhaps in the more Islamic part of your religious upbringing. Was that confusing for you at all, in terms of doing something Catholic with one side of the family and Muslim on another side? 

Not really. It just was the way it was. That was the way it was from the very beginning. And there was a lot of discussion from my father about Islam relative to Christianity, where he had a rather negative view of the Christian faith for the most part. He would not go to Catholic Church, as you might imagine, with my mother and her family. But my father was open minded in many respects, though. I mean, he was, again, very devout, but he wasn’t dogmatic. He always kind of left it up to my brother and I to really make our own decisions when it came to things involving religion. For him, the most important things were our academics, and so he was very much interested in our academic pursuits. That was really… If there was anything that was non-negotiable in our household, it was not excelling in academics.

My father very much lived out his faith. I remember him getting up every morning, and he would go through a ritual cleansing and then pray to Mecca facing the east, laying out a prayer carpet. He would carry a prayer book with him in his breast pocket everywhere he went. So he really was very devout as a Muslim. And again, he never really imposed Islam on my brother and I. But you catch things by osmosis many times. And I can remember, in West Virginia at that time, there weren’t mosques anywhere. And so, from time to time, we would actually go to prayer meetings that were hosted at a friend of his home who would invite Muslims in the community to come. And so I would go through prayer with my father and kind of learned a little bit about, quite a bit, actually, about Islamic theology, again, just through casual conversations with my father.

But when I was a teenager, I became very interested in Islam, and I think part of it was I just wanted to connect a little bit with my father. Part of it was really trying to come to grips with my heritage. So my father taught me how to pray, and I began to read from the Quran. I recited the Shahada, which was the declaration that Allah was the one true God and Muhammad was his one true prophet, and spent probably a good course of a year, year and a half of actually exploring Islam. I can remember telling my friends that I actually identified as a Muslim, which was not necessarily an easy thing growing up in West Virginia, which was in the heart of the Bible Belt. So I can remember a few instances where I was actually treated poorly as a result of that.

In the 1970s when the Iranian hostage crisis took place, my friends actually… A couple of them actually beat me up a little bit. Not really badly, but kind of pushed me around a little bit because of that. And I can remember one time somebody in the locker room… there were all kinds of locker room antics that went on back in those days. Things weren’t very well supervised. I could tell you some stories that are not necessarily appropriate, some of the things we did, but I remember one instance somebody washing my mouth out with soap because I had Allah on my mouth and that type of thing. So I went through that experience because I identified as a Muslim. But yeah.

Would you say… during that time obviously you were identifying as a Muslim. You were reading the Quran. You were going through some ritual prayer. Would you say that… It sounds as if you held some kind of a belief in some kind of a higher power, Allah, at that time, I would imagine. 

Yeah. I don’t ever recall, growing up, really doubting God’s existence, at least as a young man. But after a period of time, I just kind of became disillusioned with Islam. Part of it was, for me, reading the Quran, at least at that point, seemed very… it was just very esoteric. It didn’t make a lot of sense, didn’t have a lot of meaning for me. The prayer became burdensome. It was something that—in Islam you pray as an obligation, not as a way to commune with God. It’s an obligation. In fact, in Islam, God is unknowable. We can’t know God in the way that a Christian would say that they know and experience God.

And I remember an instance where, I was probably a junior, the world history teacher that I had knew that my father was a Muslim and asked if he would be willing to come to class and just talk about Islam. And my father refused to do that. He felt like that was just putting a target on my back. And so that really had an impact on me, because it’s like, “Okay, you live a life, and you are sincerely devout, but you’re not willing to actually express your belief. And so if that’s the case, is this really true?” And that had an impact on me. And this was about the time when I was getting ready to graduate from high school, and so there were other things that were interesting to me, too, that were competing. Girls, rock music, sports. It was a bunch of things. And so it was probably a combination of things that really just led me to really give up on Islam.

Okay. Now, you said that you were in West Virginia, which you characterized as in the Bible Belt. So you were surrounded in some sense by Christians, or at least cultural Christianity. What was your experience with Christians at that time?

Yeah. Well, both my mother and my father had a fairly negative view of Christianity. And of course, growing up in West Virginia, you saw what was really a more fundamentalist expression of Christianity. There were people that handled snakes. That was something that was part of Christianity, at least for some people in West Virginia. And you had people like faith healers and things like that. And so my parents really saw Christianity as being something that uneducated, unsophisticated people held to, and that kind of had an impression upon me, but yet I really, in some respects, envied my friends who were Christians because they were part of this community. You could tell at school that they had these friendships with other classmates, and that friendship was born out of the fact that they went to church together, they were part of the same youth group together, that they had these experiences together that really knit them. And so I felt a little envious and felt a little bit like an outsider.

I just don’t have that real sense of community. But I can remember, in college, having friends that were Christians, and they would share their faith with me, and I would just think, “I just don’t know how you can believe these types of things.” At that time, I was taking courses in science and chemistry and biology, and through the courses particularly that I had in biology, that really in many respects, fostered a position of agnosticism. I wasn’t really sure that God existed, because the grand claim in biology is that everything can be explained through evolutionary mechanisms. And if biology can be fully accounted through by mechanism, then what role is there for a creator to play? A creator becomes superfluous. And many of the professors I had, particularly biology professors, were really… Again, teaching biology in the Bible Belt, a lot of their students would challenge them on the issue of creation and evolution, and I think they had just had it with that. And so they had a very negative perspective on Christianity as well.

So I felt very comfortable calling myself an agnostic. I don’t know that I ever would have said I was an atheist per se, but I was really uncertain about God’s existence.

So you, I guess, became comfortable in that scientific way of thinking, that you associated yourself with those who were intellectually astute, that evolution could explain the reality of what we’re seeing, at least in the biological world in terms of mechanism. 

Did you, by chance—when you embraced this kind of godless reality, did you consider that naturalistic worldview? Or at least I know you were agnostic. But did you follow that worldview through beyond say biological implications, say with regard to your life. Or even question it in terms of the origin of life? Not just the mechanism of biology.

Yes, I think I probably limited it primarily to the way I thought about things scientifically. Science is such an alluring drug, and it’s so much fun to investigate problems and to learn about nature and investigate problems in nature that in and of itself, it becomes an obsession. And so that’s—as an undergraduate student, I began dreaming about going to graduate school and earning a PhD in biochemistry and really pursuing a career. So all I thought about was, “How do I learn as much as I can about the sciences?” My parents—even though my mom was a nonpracticing Catholic, she was a very moral person. My father was a very moral person. So I had a very strong moral upbringing.

So I wouldn’t say that I held to a kind of a Christian worldview in terms of my morality and ethics exclusively, but I would have considered myself to be a fairly moral person, understood that there was right and wrong, but I just never thought about things more deeply from a religious perspective than that.

So as you were moving along in your academics and pursuing science, and it sounds like you were very engrossed in that world, did it just confirm more and more kind of an anti-God sentiment in terms of your understanding of the world and reality? 

Yeah, I think so. By the time I went to graduate school, I had no interest in the God question whatsoever. To me, it was, “Science is the answer to our problems as human beings,” and that as a scientist, I could participate in, not only uncovering the secrets of nature, but doing things that would dramatically impact people’s lives.

It sounds like that actually gave you a lot of meaning and purpose and ambition, in a sense. As you were moving along and setting really at high, very elite levels of academia and pursuing these questions, was there anything that caused you to sit back and think, “This is hard to explain from a purely naturalistic perspective?” 

Yeah, it was really in graduate school, in the first year of graduate school, where that question kind of surfaced. And as I was learning about biochemical systems, it was just so much fun to be a graduate student, because I was surrounded by professors. I was in a smaller chemistry department, so I had access to almost all the faculty. And so it was just a lot of fun to talk with the different faculty to get their perspective on things, to learn about their research, to engage other graduate students, to take advanced coursework. I started reading the scientific literature, began to do my own research.

And in that environment, it was again just absolutely thrilling. But what was remarkable is how all of us just marveled at the nature of biochemical systems. It was not unusual for all of us to say, “Look at how amazing this is!” “Look at how cool this is!” “I can’t believe it works this way.” There’s just an elegance and an ingenuity to biochemical systems. And I began to wonder, “Gosh, how on earth do we account for the origin of these systems?” And I knew from an undergraduate that was the origin of life question. And so now I’m a graduate student. It’s like, “Okay, I’ve got the wherewithal to really dig into this.” I’m going to, on my own time, study the origin of life problem. It wasn’t really required in the coursework.

And through that investigation, I very quickly came to the recognition that these processes that people are speculating could generate biochemical systems seem woefully inadequate to me. It just doesn’t seem like chemistry and physics could produce these kinds of systems, because I had enough experience as a chemist to know how hard it is to get chemicals to do what you want them to do under carefully controlled conditions in a laboratory setting. To think that somehow molecules that are far more complex than anything that a chemist could ever dream of producing in the lab could just simply emerge through chemical evolution just seemed to me to be far fetched.

And so it was at that point that I reached the conclusion there has to be a mind behind everything, that at least when it comes to the origin of life and the origin of biochemical systems, there had to be a higher intelligence that brought those systems into existence. Now, once those systems are in existence, I reasoned at that point that evolutionary processes could have explained the history of life. But to me, at least with respect to the origin of life, there had to be some kind of creator that was responsible.

At that point, did you, in terms of who or what that creator or that mind was, did you do any further investigation in terms of trying to identify more who or what that transcendent source was? Or did you just kind of accept that and then move forward? 

Well, for me, at least, when I realized that there was a creator, then the question became, “Who is that creator? And how do I relate to that creator?” And I became very interested in that question. I didn’t really have the tools to properly engage that question. I had no training, theologically or philosophically, of any sorts. And so I began just on my own to reason through, who could this creator be? And so I began going down a path of universalism where I thought, “Well, maybe this creator revealed himself to the different people of the world in different ways and that the different religious systems of the world really represent this creator reaching out to people.” And when you look at the moral teachings of the world’s religions, there’s quite a bit of common ground.

I was, again, theologically and philosophically naive, because the different religions of the world teach very different things about the nature of reality and the nature of God and the nature of the Person of Christ, but at that point in time, I just didn’t have the sophistication to appreciate that. But also, I think part of my exposure to Islam played a role as well, because in Islam, Muhammad is considered the seal of the prophets.  Muslims view Adam and Noah and Abraham and David and Moses and Jesus as being prophets to particular people at particular times. And so there’s a type of universality to Islam. There’s a type of religious pluralism embedded in Islamic theology.

And so I’m sure that some of that was influencing the way I thought about things. I also saw really Islam, and I was exposed to Catholicism, and so here are two expressions of religions that I saw growing up, and so who has to necessarily choose one or the other? Why couldn’t they all be true? So I was going down that particular path.

And what really changed my way of thinking was my wife-to-be’s conversion, my fiance’s conversion to Christianity. She grew up in a Christian home, and she dedicated her life to Christ as a teenager and then kind of drifted away from her faith. And then her mom had a friend who was going to a small Pentecostal church in downtown Charleston, West Virginia, and invited Amy’s mother to go to church. And she really liked that experience. And so they both invited Amy to go to church on Easter, and Amy went and rededicated her life to Christ, and so she began to share her faith with me.

And what did you think of that? I guess at that point you were somewhat open to the possibility of God, or a personal God, perhaps a Christian God. 

Yeah. I remember when Amy told me that she had become a Christian or rededicated her life to Christ. I remember saying, “Hey, this is wonderful if that’s what you want to do. I just don’t think I can be a Christian because I’m a scientist.” And I don’t know where I got that mindset from, other than probably just the experiences I had growing up and the way I saw Christianity expressed. But I felt like I was being very generous because I saw the example of my parents. And so I thought, “Look, if this is something you want to do, I’m fully supportive. It’s just not for me.” And she had a bit of a crisis. She was again at this small church and was really just growing enormously as a Christian. It was at a Bible study where the topic of being unequally yoked with a nonbeliever came up. And we later learned that her pastor, Johnny Withrow, deliberately was teaching on that lesson, but he was actually directing the lesson towards somebody else, not towards Amy. But she’s the one that actually took that message to heart. And so she was like, “What do I do?”

And so I became the prayer project for this church, and we were going to be married in a couple of months, and we had the date for our wedding set, and she was like, “What do I do?” And so the whole church was praying for us. And I remember Amy telling me, “Well, Johnny wants to meet with you because we want to talk about the wedding plans. And I can remember saying something really idiotic. Like, “Whatever you guys decide to do for the wedding, I’m fine with. Just tell me when to show up.”

Right, right. 

So, you know, being married now for 35 years, I know just how moronic that was. But anyway—my poor wife, what she’s gone through.

So she insisted. And I thought, “Well, I’ll go ahead, and I’ll meet with Johnny.” And I was just bracing myself for the sales pitch. I knew what was coming. And so, to Johnny’s credit, what he did is he basically challenged me in saying, “Have you ever read the Bible?” And apart from reading Genesis 1, I’d never read the Bible. And he said, “Well, how do you know it’s not true?” And I thought, “You know, you really have a point here.” And he really appealed to my pride as a scientist, saying, “Look, if you’re a scientist, you should be open to investigating truth claims no matter where they come from.”

And so I thought, “Well, my wife to be is a Christian. Johnny’s making a good point.” So I got a copy of the Bible, and I would sit in the chemistry lab after I finished my work for the day when everybody else had gone home, and I didn’t want anybody to see me reading the Bible. And I’d sit at the lab bench, and I’d start reading through the Bible. And I can remember complaining to Amy. “I just don’t really know where to start. I’m having some trouble here.” And she said, “Well, start with the gospel of John.” And I ended up not understanding exactly what she meant, so I started with the gospel of Matthew.

And what was intriguing to me is like, “Oh, this is where the Christmas story comes from.” Growing up in a non-Christian home and being exposed to the Christmas story, it’s like, “Oh, this is intriguing. So now I understand where the story comes from.” And then I remember reading the Sermon on the Mount, and that was an incredibly powerful passage of scripture for me at that time, and it still is, because here I’m introduced to the person of Christ and His teachings, and I realize that this is the way that I want to live, that what Christ is teaching here is true. I found the person of Christ very winsome, and at the same time, I was being condemned by what Christ was teaching. And I had this desire to please Jesus that was really odd to me.

And along the way, one of Johnny’s friends gave me a little booklet on how to become a Christian. And so I realized that there’s no way I could live up to the standards of Christ. But I wanted to. And I wouldn’t have had the words for it at that time, but I was really confronted with my sin. So there’s this little booklet on how do you become a Christian that kind of took me through the gospel. And going through that book, I prayed to receive Christ, but through the process of… really that evening, I remember reading again the Sermon on the Mount. I had this… I would call it a religious experience, where it felt like there was a person in the room with me while I was really contemplating what the Sermon on the Mount meant. And I had this overwhelming sense that this was true. And I’ve never had an experience like that before. I never had an experience like that afterwards. And so I would just say that it was an encounter that I had with the resurrected Christ. That that was part of that process of really drawing me towards Jesus.

But the stage was set with seeing God revealed in science and then really, I’m sure, the prayers of people that were praying on my behalf. I found out later that my wife, if I didn’t convert, was going to call off the wedding. She was really that convinced, but she never said that to me. It was just this was her personal conviction, and so God faithfully honored her prayers.

That’s amazing! Yeah. There are a few things that stand out there to me that beg a few questions, especially knowing your intellect, your dedication as a scientist, your former reading of the Quran as a form of holy text, and then looking at the Bible. I’m sure there are a lot of differences there. But the first thing I wanted to ask, in a sense, is, when you opened the Bible for the first time—of course you’d have had some kind of esoteric reference there with the Quran—the Bible or the biblical narrative in Matthew, I’m sure, felt quite different as a story. But also embedded in those stories are supernatural presumptions and actions and activities. And I know at this point it sounds like you were open to perhaps the person of God, whoever that was. So, when you read the Scripture for the first time, did you push back on what seemed to be the miraculous? Or did that seem like, “All the pieces are fitting into place. It makes sense to me. If a supernatural being exists, the miraculous can happen.” 

Yeah. I don’t think I was ever troubled with the presentation of the miraculous. In some respects, I expected that to be the case, that if indeed there really is a Creator, that there was room for miracles.

And one of the things that really struck me immediately, reading the Bible, as you alluded to, Jana, compared to the Quran, is that it was written as if… Here’s a narrative. It was written as if this was history, as if this really happened, that you could follow. There was a logic. There was an ordering to what was being presented that made sense, that I could track with, that I could understand. And even the culmination of Christ’s teaching at the Sermon on the Mount is part of the narrative. The teaching is incorporated into the narrative. And so I felt like I was part of a story. And I understood what was going on. I understood what was being communicated, which was not the case when I was reading from the Quran.

And another thought that occurred to me is that you opened the Bible as a curious investigator, as an honest scientist would do, right? You’re willing to open and look at the evidence and see where the evidence leads. And it led you to the truth in the person of Christ, which I agree, He can be an amazingly compelling character, especially when you’re not expecting what you find in scripture. I can also hear a skeptic whispering in my ear, saying, “Well, how much investigation did he really do? He opened the Bible. He had an experience of Christ. He was overwhelmed by the teaching and the person of Christ, which sometimes is enough.” If that’s a real experience, it’s not, I think, in a sense, that you’re just not looking for truth, which it is, but also the reality. And Jesus showing up in a very palpable way, I’m sure, was incredibly convincing for you, evidentiary almost in a sense, that His presence was enough to convince you, in a sense, all of those things put together. So I wonder how you would answer the skeptic to say, “Well, you didn’t investigate for very long.” 

I guess I would say yes and no to that question in terms of how long did I investigate. To respond to the skeptic. Gosh, I think it was in the summer of 1999, Michael Shermer, who heads up The Skeptics Society, located in Pasadena, California, wrote a book on… How We Believe, I think is the title of the book. And he and a sociologist by the name of Frank Sulloway interviewed people and asked them why they believe. And the two reasons were, number one, seeing design in nature, and number two reason was experiencing God.

And so I would say that my conversion essentially involved both of those facets. I wasn’t looking for God. I wasn’t looking for a crutch. I discovered God in the design of biochemical systems. And so the question was really who is God? And to me, the encounter I had with Christ really drove home who God is. And so Jesus is indeed God incarnate. So it was that experience.

But I think experiencing God is as much evidential as actually seeing the elegant structure of a biochemical system or a biomolecule. And the thing is that, as a scientist, you have a theory. You have data that seems to support the theory. Your work isn’t done. You continue to devise experiments and observations to interrogate that theory, to determine whether that theory continues to withstand ongoing scrutiny.

And so, for the 35 years I’ve been a Christian, I’ve continued to challenge my conversion, if you will. I continue to study biochemistry and see even more and more evidence for design. In fact, I’ve worked hard to develop design arguments based on the latest advances in biochemistry, as a way to formalize that intuition of design that I had. I continue to study the origin of life question and seeing more and more intractable problems emerge over the 35 years that I’ve been investigating.

I have, since then, learned about the historical argument for the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the arguments that are made for the reliability of the Old and the New Testaments, learned about archaeological evidence that supports both the Old and the New Testaments, and even have studied things like the argument from religious experience for God’s existence. Richard Swinburne is somebody, a philosopher at, I think, Oxford that developed this argument. So you can even take religious experience, and actually, by looking at the shared experience that Christians have had for 2000 years, construct an argument for God’s existence. And so I’ve continued to challenge my conversion in a sense, and I’m more convinced now than ever.

And so the investigation continued, and still continues to this very day, where I am not afraid to look at challenges from skeptics that would challenge God’s existence or challenge the God of the Bible as being the explanation for who the Creator is.

I think that’s a really excellent answer. I think it’s an honest answer. Again, as someone who takes objective truth seriously, who is constantly testing hypotheses and coming to conclusions based upon what you observe and see. I am also encouraged in a sense that you look not only at the biological mechanisms, your field of expertise, but you’re willing to look at reality in a grand way, in a sense, and look at the whole picture with regard to reality. It sounds as if, the more that you have studied, the more that you can see how science and belief in God really coalesce. That they’re not enemies you kind of had the presumption early in your life that you can’t study science or be a scientist and have faith in God or believe in God. How would you answer that skeptic? 

Yeah. Well, one of the things that is interesting about Christianity is that God invites us to test, to test our faith. And there’s this idea that somehow faith is just blind belief in what you hope to be true. But from a biblical perspective, faith is really about looking at evidence and then acting on the evidence that’s in front of you. And so, when you look at the stories in Scripture, people are experiencing God, and then are being asked, as a result of that experience, to then put faith in God. And ultimately that’s what Jesus is asking us with respect to faith. It’s that here’s everything about Me, right? And now do you trust in Me as the way for your salvation?

So faith is not something that we blindly hope is true, but it really is something that has an evidential component to it. But yet at some point we have to exercise the act of trust, in light of what the evidence is telling us. And in some respects, that’s true about science, is that we’re using evidence to evaluate theoretical ideas, but we also are making certain assumptions about the nature of reality as we gather that evidence and then draw conclusions from it. But then, once you have a theory in place, you are then acting on faith to determine if that theory is indeed valid. So you make predictions about what you think will be discovered in the future, and then you operate accordingly. So there’s a faith element in the same way in science as you do see, I think, in the Christian faith.

But the Scripture also tells us, too, that God is revealed to us through the record of nature. And not only can we see evidence for God’s fingerprints according to Scripture, but even ascertain God’s character. And so you would expect, then, if science is really about investigating the world of nature, that science should actually uncover pointers to God, should reveal to us about the reality of God.

When you look at the creation accounts in Scripture, many of them are presented as a divine natural history. And so there are elements of that that are also testable as well. And so this idea of testing is really very much part of the Christian faith, and scripture kind of invites you. It presents things in ways that invite predictions and invite testing.

I think that’s a really helpful way for us to think about things. As Christians, I think there is sometimes a presumption that you ‘just believe’ and that you don’t need to continue to affirm the person of God through scientific investigation or testing – whether it’s looking at the biblical text or looking at the archaeological record or all these many things that you do to look at Scripture and hold things up and test them and hold on to the things that are good, But also what I love about it is that you’re not afraid to question. So that you’re continually led more closely to truth, whatever that is. And it seems to me that, after 35 years, you hold a pretty solid belief, that what you believe in terms of God and Christianity is true. That’s so encouraging. I’m sure Amy was incredibly excited when you came to faith in Christ and the wedding could proceed, and that you actually have a household of unity in terms of your religious belief and your faith and what you pass on to your children. 

Yeah. My wife always says the way our stories intersected is really a testament to God’s faithfulness. And I would agree with that, yeah. I mean, in retrospect, there are just so many pointers to and signposts that I see where God was at work, in retrospect. Even having a friend in college who was a Christian, father was a Methodist minister, and he and I having conversations about, “How do we make sense of Genesis 1 in light of modern science?” And he and I having those kind of conversations and asking questions. ‘Was Jesus haploid or diploid?’ And things like that. But those are all conversations that were putting stepping stones in front of me along the way.

It’s really wonderful how you can look back and actually see God’s hand in your life even when you really didn’t know what it was at the time, but you can recognize it in hindsight. That’s really amazing. Before we go on to the advice that I’m going to ask of you for skeptics and Christians, is there anything else to add to your story that you think that we’ve missed or anything you’d like to include? 

No. Other than, I guess to me, as a scientist, there is nothing more gratifying than learning how something works in nature and just seeing again God’s fingerprints in that process. I see myself as a scientist, as much as a worship leader, as anything else, where I get to see God revealed in nature in ways that I think a layperson wouldn’t necessarily see.  But then trying to communicate that to laypeople is a lot of fun. And it’s exciting when laypeople get a glimpse of just the majesty of the Creator through what He’s made. It’s very exciting. And so I just see myself as much as a worship leader as anything else, as a scientist and a person of faith.

That’s beautiful. Yeah. The heavens do declare the glory of His handiwork. It is kind of interesting to me how even the most atheist among us, like Richard Dawkins or even Lawrence Krauss, who will declare the magic or the wonder of the cosmos or the things that they’re observing. They just have no place to put it. But as a Christian, you can look at the wonder and the complexity and the beauty and the elegance, I think is the word that you used, of what you see in the cell and just go, “Well, there’s a reason for that.” There was a mind, and it all makes sense. The pieces come together because it is a comprehensive and true worldview. That’s really wonderful, I’m sure. 

Before we get to the advice, I do want our listeners to know a little bit of the writing that you’ve done. Could you just mention very briefly about some of the books that you’ve written, so they have a sense of your scope of expertise? 

Yeah, well, I’ve written four books dealing with the origin of life question and the design of biochemical systems. So one book is cleverly titled Origins of Life. One is The Cell’s Design, where I look at the nature of biochemical systems and present kind of a revitalized watchmaker argument for God’s existence. I’ve got a book called Creating Life in the Lab, which was a lot of fun to work on. And it’s about the work in synthetic biology, where scientists are literally trying to create cells in the lab and kind of presenting an argument that I’d call an empirical argument for God’s existence, basically showing how intelligent agency is critical in order to convert molecules into cell-like entities. And if that’s the case, then by analogy, that should be true when it comes to the origin of life. And just have a book released about a year ago now called Fit for a Purpose, which is presenting another type of design argument from biochemistry.

And I’m also very much interested in the question of human origins. To me, I think, in the science/faith conversation there’s no area that has more implications than really how we understand our origins as human beings. And so I’ve got a book called Who Was Adam? that I wrote looking at the scientific evidence dealing with human origins and how to integrate that with the biblical account of human origins, where we show that there’s really a strong scientific case that can be made that human beings bear God’s image, as scripture describes. And then also interested in kind of the future of science and technology, so I wrote a book called Humans 2.0 that deals with the idea of using technology to modify our biological makeup and to try to create post-human species, where many people view human beings now as being in control of evolution. And so I look at the advances that are happening in transhumanism and really discuss what does it mean from a Christian worldview perspective for transhumanism to be gaining momentum, and how does the gospel intersect with transhumanist thinking?

And I’m currently working on a book called Should We Play God?, which would be kind of a sequel to Humans 2.0, as well as a sequel to Creating Life in the Lab, and it’s looking at advances in synthetic biology and our ability to create artificial organisms in a laboratory. And how should we think about that from a Christian perspective, where I’m developing a theology for synthetic biology and biotechnology using the kind of the grand narrative of Christianity, creation, fall, redemption, and consummation, as being the framework. And how do these different areas of Christian theology speak to our efforts to create artificial life forms? And how can we produce a robust theology that gives us a framework to think about these kind of advances? And really addressing the question, should we play God?

That’s a great question. Yeah. And wow! Thank you for that little summary. It sounds jam packed with fascinating work. I hope our listeners will take advantage and start to read some of your resources, if they haven’t already.

As we’re wrapping up, Fuz, and thinking about those who are perhaps skeptics, maybe they’re open, perhaps they’re agnostic but open to the possibility of God or a mind or something that’s bigger than themselves, bigger than mechanical systems. How would you advise someone like that to consider in a serious way the possibility of God? 

Yeah. I guess I would ask the question: How open minded are you to the reality of God’s existence? Because, from astronomy, we’ve got this recognition that the universe has a beginning, that there’s design in the universe. This is the fine tuning of the fundamental constants. We see design in biology. The origin of life is a scientific mystery. We don’t really know how life originates. And so nobody disputes there’s design in the universe, there’s design in biology. Nobody disputes that, when it comes to the question of origins, there seems to be something that is beyond our capacity to explain the universe or explain life.

And in my experience, many skeptics will look to any kind of potential natural process explanation and would prefer that compared to, I think, the obvious possibility that there is a God that’s behind everything. And so really, my question is, how open minded are you to what the evidence is really saying? Are you truly open minded or would you prefer a natural process explanation? And if that’s the case, why is that the case? Why do you prefer that explanation?

So those would really be the questions I would have. But I think if one is really open minded, again, the evidence really points strongly in the direction of Christian theism. And yet there are still outstanding problems: The problem of evil. What’s now being called the hiddenness of God problem. And these are challenges and problems that Christians and nonbelievers alike wrestle with, right? And I wouldn’t minimize the severity or the significance of those problems, but there’s ultimately answers. There’s intellectual answers to those problems. But ultimately the most satisfying answer to these challenges is actually the person of Christ. It’s only through the person of Christ can you make any kind of sense or have any kind of meaning in suffering. It’s only in the person of Christ that you find hope in the midst of suffering. And it’s in the person of Christ that you realize that God isn’t hidden from us. Though we might think that to be the case, God isn’t hidden from us but is fully revealed to us.

And so to me, even the most significant challenges to Christian theism, or at least what many people think are significant challenges, really are in a sense, taking us to the very heart of the gospel itself. And the only satisfying explanation to those two challenges is the person of Christ, ultimately. So even when superficially the evidence seems to go against Christianity, when you think more deeply about it, it really brings to life the gospel itself.

Yes. You’ll often hear people say, “Well, there’s no evidence for God.” I guess that particular statement, I would imagine, would answer your first question: How open are you really? And then, I guess, trying to peel back the onions. Why are you so closed off? But that’s another issue, probably for another day, because that can be very difficult. But that is very wise. I love the way that you pulled all of that together. 

And for the Christian who wants to engage with someone who is very skeptical but perhaps open, how would you best encourage Christians to share the gospel or provide evidence, or how would you suggest that they go about that? 

I think the first thing that we have to do is recognize that, regardless of a person’s worldview and whether their worldview is something that we would share, we have to recognize that they are image bearers and that they have infinite worth and value, that they are sacred, and that our greatest obligation towards those people is to love them. And anything we do as we engage nonbelievers has to be ultimately shaped by our genuine love for them. If we can’t say that we genuinely love that person, we probably shouldn’t try to present the gospel to them. But when people know that you genuinely love them and that you accept them regardless of their perspective, that goes a long way, I think, towards really building genuine bridges with other people. And then to have honest conversations with them about their doubts. Not to judge them. Not to necessarily pepper them with evidence. But really answer and engage their questions and engage them sincerely. And be aware of what kind of resources are available that you can point people to who do have questions if you yourself aren’t versed in those questions.

But ultimately I don’t think you can ever argue somebody into the kingdom of God. But I think you can love people, and through that love, they’ll experience the love of Christ. And that will, I think, open them up to evidences and soften their heart towards evidences, if that’s what they need.

Yeah. I don’t think we can hear that enough. I mean, if the person of Christ is the personification of love, and we are His representatives, it is something that we should be able to do well, right? They’ll know that we’re Christians by our love. And I do appreciate you reminding us of that because I think sometimes, especially, we get carried away with all of the intellect and the rationality and the evidences of it. But sometimes we miss the most important thing, and that is seeing others as image bearers, as you say, and made in the image of God’s love by God’s love. And we want to love in the way that He’s called us to. So thank you for that reminder. 

Fuz, This has been an amazing time together. I just feel like I’ve learned so much, and I’m very inspired by your story. I do appreciate you coming on today, as just a representative of someone who is not only brilliant, but obviously you have a heart for the Lord and for others. So thank you for showing that to us today and sharing your story. 

I’m glad to do it. Thank you so much for having me. It’s a privilege to be with you.

Wonderful. Thanks for tuning into Side B Stories to hear Dr. Fuz Rana’s story. You can hear more about his speaking and all of the wonderful books he mentioned, as well as the ministry, Reasons to Believe, in the episode notes. For questions and feedback about this podcast, you can always contact me through our Side B Stories website at sidebstories.com. If you enjoyed it, I hope you’ll follow, rate, review, and share our podcast with your friends and social network. In the meantime, I’ll be looking forward to seeing you next time, where we’ll see how another skeptic flips the record of their life. 

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