Home / Testimonies / Philip S. Low

I believe in true religion and true science, and I am grateful that the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints allows me to be intellectually honest in my profession of both. More specifically, I am thankful that our religion professes no doctrine that requires me to ignore scientific facts that I know to be true, and that my understanding of science requires me to accept no observations that would controvert my religious beliefs. In fact, when I scrutinize the fundamental tenets of both sources of truth, I continue to see areas that testify of each other.

I am sitting at my desk at my home in Lafayette, Indiana, a rather ordinary college town in a rather ordinary part of the western hemisphere of a beautiful blue planet we call earth. This earth is located ~93 million miles from a rather ordinary star that we have named the sun, and this ordinary star is located ~2/3 of the way toward the outer edge of an ordinary galaxy comprised of roughly 100 billion stars that we call the Milky Way. And as I understand astronomy, our Milky Way galaxy is thought to be just one of ~100 billion galaxies that comprise our universe, which according to some astrophysicists is just one of many universes. The Lord has said, “And worlds without number have I created” (Moses 1:33), …“And were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning of thy creations” (Moses 7:30). In these important basic descriptions of our universe, there is surprising congruence between science and religion, and in fact, they testify of each other. And this agreement is especially comforting, given the meager understanding of our universe that existed at the time that this modern scripture was revealed to Joseph Smith.

How was this universe created? Religious scripture does not pretend to be a scientific document and consequently does not comment on physical mechanisms. Science, in contrast, does not inform us who formed the universe, but it does describe its sudden beginning from a “singularity” of infinite density and temperature with a “big bang” ~13.6 billion years ago. At that point, the universe began to expand and cool rapidly, generating the elements and ultimately the celestial bodies that comprise our universe today. Not only does this sudden beginning testify of the involvement of a supreme being, but the rate of expansion of the universe also adds remarkably to this affirmation. Thus, as stated by the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, and as quoted by Francis Collins in his book The Language of God, “If the rate of expansion one second after the Big Bang had been smaller by even one part in 100 thousand million million, the universe would have recollapsed before it reached its present size.” “On the other hand, if the rate of expansion had been greater by even one part in a million, stars and planets could not have been able to form.” Since the resulting probability that our universe does exist is actually the product of the above two probabilities, “the existence of the universe as we know it rests upon a knife edge of improbability.” Thus, I feel very comfortable in professing a belief that God created this universe. I am also satisfied that a God who would pay as much attention to detail during creation of the universe as the above calculations require, would not allow formation of man to occur by accident, nor would he permit the subsequent happenings in his universe, including events in our personal lives, to escape his attention.

One need not be a scientist to appreciate the miracle of the birth, growth, and death of all life forms, and the remarkable ability of man to think, plan, create, love, serve, and follow spiritual promptings. However, as a biochemist, I see even greater evidence for divine involvement in our creation in the workings of a living cell. Thus, I find it scientifically difficult to imagine how unguided lightning, heat, and light in a primordial atmosphere could have generated the necessary concentrations of the required amino acids, nucleotide bases, and sugars, etc. from free ammonia, carbon dioxide, oxygen and other gases, to form life, and that these basic building blocks could have in turn reacted spontaneously in the unique proportions and sequences required to form the hundreds of complex proteins, enzymes, and nucleic acids that would have eventually assembled into the highly organized supramolecular complexes required for even the simplest of life forms—and all this in the face of entropic forces that would have relentlessly acted to force disintegration of the same materials. However, once an intact self-replicating cell equipped with the proper molecules, supramolecular complexes, and organelles was assembled and placed in a proper environment, I have no problem envisioning a divinely guided evolutionary process by which this living cell could have led to all life forms found now and formerly on this earth. Indeed, I consider the process of evolution to be an ingenious strategy for creating the diversity, complexity, and balance in life that fits so well into the multitude of niches and environments on this beautiful planet.

I also find death easier to comprehend when viewed with the aid of religion than I do from a purely scientific perspective. At the instant of death, a person’s biochemistry can be as functional as it was before death. Biomolecules, organelles, cells, tissues, and even organs are generally as biochemically capable of sustaining life seconds after a person’s passing as they were immediately prior to his/her passing and can often be used by a living recipient in need of a functional component. However, something departs an organism at the instant of death that leaves it lifeless, even when death is caused by “old age.” Were death totally biochemical, I would have expected a gradual aging process to lead to a gradual dimming of consciousness, rather than an instantaneous loss of vitality as we know it to be. However, like the removal of a hand from a glove, true religion tells us that departure of the spirit from the body lies at the root of its sudden lifelessness.

While I could continue to describe many observations that allow me to believe firmly in the gospel of Jesus Christ while remaining honest as a scientist, I would prefer to comment briefly on why I believe we will never find a verifiable proof of religious beliefs. We learn in the scriptures that faith is a major power that can motivate people to do good (see Hebrews 11). Faith can heal the sick, it can move mountains, it can encourage great achievement, and it constitutes a major component of priesthood power. Indeed, our Savior has repeatedly commanded us to exercise faith and, therefore, we must assume that to emulate Him, we must develop this divine attribute. Because faith cannot arise where proof is present, it seems obvious that we will never find verifiable evidence of the divinity of Jesus Christ or of His resurrection. We will also never discover a stone with the inscription, “Welcome to the City of Zarahemla,” nor will life after death ever be scientifically verifiable. In brief, God will never rob us of the opportunity to develop faith, but instead will provide us with trials and uncertainties that, if acted upon with minimal faith, will lead to growth of our faith. Thus, I believe that any quest for a scientific proof of religion will be futile. Instead, God may provide us with sufficient evidence to enable us to believe, if we desire to do so, but will never provide the scientific proof that would eliminate our need to develop faith.

Finally, I wish to state my firm conviction that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true and that it is designed to bring us happiness both in this earth life and in the life to come. The principles that Christ and his apostles taught, including that we should love and serve our fellowmen, avoid judging others, be honest in our dealings, forgive those who transgress against us, do unto others as we would have others do unto us, be faithful and kind to our spouse and family, and provide for the poor and less fortunate, etc. constitute the soundest principles for happiness on this earth, even in the absence of any hope for a life to come. However, it is also my firm testimony that our lives are eternal and that this wondrous blue planet, ~2/3 of the way toward the outer edge of the Milky Way galaxy, was created so that we might prepare ourselves to enjoy an eternity with our Father in Heaven.

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Dr. Philip S. Low (www.chem.purdue.edu/low/) received his Ph.D. from the University of California at San Diego in 1975 and joined the faculty at Purdue University, where he is currently the Ralph C. Corley Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, in 1976.

Dr. Low has published nearly three hundred refereed articles on various topics, including 1) the structure and function of the human erythrocyte membrane, 2) signal transduction across plant plasma membranes, and 3) design and development of receptor-targeted imaging and therapeutic agents for cancer and inflammatory diseases.

Dr. Low currently serves on four editorial boards and several external advisory boards for major institutions. He has received both of Purdue University’s awards for outstanding research, an NIH Merit Award, and several national and international research awards. He has organized multiple international/national conferences and chaired two Gordon Conferences. He was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1998.

Dr. Low’s research into receptor-targeted therapeutic and imaging agents has led to more than thirty US patents/patents pending, and development of these patents has yielded five targeted drugs that are currently undergoing human clinical trials for kidney, ovarian, breast, lung, brain, and endometrial cancers. He has founded a company called Endocyte Inc. based on this latter technology.

Posted August 2010