Dr. Michael Atchison is the head of biochemistry in the department of animal biology at the University of Pennsylvania, where he has been a faculty member since 1989.
Is it important for us to share our faith and to identify ourselves as Christians? Does it really make a difference? I sometimes questioned the usefulness of identifying myself as a Christian to the first year veterinary students that I teach at the University of Pennsylvania. Each year during a lecture on the ethics of genetic testing for diseases, I identify myself as a Christian. I don't really say much. All I say is, "I approach the ethical issues from a Judeo-Christian perspective because I am a Christian. In fact, being a Christian is the most important thing in my life." That's it. Nothing more. At most two-to-three students each year will say something to me about it.
Each Fall when I prepare to do this again, I go through a real spiritual battle. Does it really matter? Does it really make much difference? On a parallel topicthe speaking of God's WordI know that the Lord promises:
"My Word that goes out from My mouth, it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." (Isaiah 55:11)
It was a little hard to be certain that this was really a high impact ministry. It was gratifying that some students were appreciative of my statements, but it was unclear how useful were my efforts. I know that with faith as small as a "mustard seed," I should be able to move mountains. But I didn't really see how this was moving mountains. That was, until the Lord gave me a peek at His power to move mountains.
While I was identifying myself as a Christian in Philadelphia, a Biochemist named Michael Behe at Lehigh University was writing a book on evolution. As a Biochemist, Behe found the evidence for Darwinian evolution to be very thin. In fact, when he looked at the cell from a biochemical perspective, he believed there was evidence of intelligent design. Behe sent his completed manuscript to The Free Press publishers for consideration. The editor was not certain that this manuscript was a good risk for publication. There were clearly theological issues at hand, and he was under the impression that these issues would be poorly received by the scientific community. If the tenets of Darwinian evolution were completely accepted by science, who would be interested in buying the book?
The editor shared his concerns with his wife. His wife was a student in my class. She advised her husband to give me a call. So, unaware of all this, I received a phone call from the publisher in New York. We spent approximately 10 minutes on the phone. After hearing a description of the work, I suggested that the editor should seriously consider publishing the manuscript. I told him that the origin of life issue was still up in the air. It sounded like this Behe fellow might have some good ideas, although I could not be certain since I had never seen the manuscript. We hung up and I never thought about it again. At least until two years later.
After some time Behe's book Darwin's Black Box (The Free Press, 1996) was published. It became an instant best-seller and was widely acclaimed in the news media. It is currently in its 15th printing and over 40,000 copies have been sold. I heard about it, but could not remember if this was the same book that I received the call about from the publisher. Could it be? In November 1998, I finally met Michael Behe when he visited Penn for a Faculty Outreach talk. He told me that yes, indeed, it was his book that the publisher called me about. In fact, he said my comments were the deciding factor in convincing the publisher to go ahead with the
book. Interesting, I thought.
Then it struck me. This was all the result of my identifying myself as a Christian in class. By identifying myself as a Christian, I played a small, but crucial part in influencing 40,000 people. The plot unfolds. Behe's book needs to be published. The Lord places the manuscript in the hands of an editor. The editor's wife "just happens" to be in my class. The editor needs advice on issues concerning science and faith. Meanwhile, in class I identify myself as a Christian. The editor's wife tells him, "I know someone you can call." Suddenly, I can see how mustard seeds move mountains.
The Lord works through a process by using his followers. Michael Behe worked very hard on his manuscript. But his efforts would have been wasted if it was not published. To accomplish His will, the Lord uses His saints at strategic points. If we respond to the challenge, the Lord blesses the effort, because it really is His will, after all. If we fail to respond, that opportunity is lost. The Lord will accomplish His will in another way, but that particular opportunity is gone. If we continually fail to respond, the Lord will eventually send His opportunities elsewhere. But if we do respond, we will see those opportunities continually in our daily lives. We will be richly blessed. Sometimes, to play a role in God's plan, it only takes a seemingly insignificant effort like identifying yourself as a Christian.