From Atheism to Agnosticism
June 6, 2004
I’ve been mulling over the idea of writing up a synopsis of the turning event in my life that occurred approximately 18 to 19 years ago. Many of the fine details are fuzzy at this point but the essence of that night is forever emblazoned in my memory because that singular night I changed from being an ardent atheist into an agnostic which for me was a big step. I had been raised in a strict orthodox Catholic family but in the emancipation years of the ‘60’s and while being exposed to very secular higher education in the field of science at the graduate level I gradually turned into a full-fledged atheist.
After completing my graduate work I taught science classes in the junior college district of my hometown. At that time junior colleges were preparatory for senior college and high standards of academics were offered to our students just as if they were a freshman or sophomore at Yale or Harvard. The teaching of evolution was expected in the science classes and at that time it was referred to as atheistic evolution. No time or space was given to “creationism” in class because doing so always lead to emotionally charged arguments that were very disruptive. I think at that time the prevalent interpretation of evolutionary theory included how life began and how life developed over time which was erroneous but not recognized as such. In other words we should have been teaching biological evolution from the point after the existence of life and not trying to explain how life came about.
Be that as it may, and being the atheist that I was, to me life began as a chance event and that was the way that I taught it in class…by the book. One night after I had been teaching for about 15 years or so, I was in my study preparing my lectures for the next day. The subject I was concentrating on was the structure of proteins (as we knew of it in those days). I was toying around with the idea of explaining in class how 20 to 22 amino acids (subunits of the proteins) would be arranged by chance to ultimately form the 20,000 or so proteins in the human species (that number now is known to be much larger….maybe over 125,000 or more if they ever are able to quantitate them because the number changes over time because of mutations, etc.). Anyway, I started doing some calculations of how many possible proteins could be formed by chance from the various combinations of the amino acids and the amino acids chains making up the proteins would have variable numbers depending upon the size of the protein. The number of possible proteins being formed was truly astronomical. I was thunder-struck with the fact that the number of possible proteins was astronomical (like the stars in the heavens) and yet only a relatively small number, miniscule really, ended up in the human species by chance….the right number, the right kind with intricately associated functions that allowed the species to exist (And so it is with other living species but I was concentrating on the human species). I sat there in my chair totally bewildered…how come I never thought about that before? Who knows but there I sat totally blown out of my mind.
Although I knew proteins are coded by the DNA of the cells and therefore the determination of the number and type of proteins is controlled by the DNA….mentally I went back to the primodial soup that I was so used to teaching and early on proteins were supposedly formed before the DNA (in its chromosomal form as we know it today) and my thinking went like this … if there was an astronomical number of proteins possible what was the limiting factors that ultimately brought about the specific number and type of proteins that are known to be associated with the human species (which would include the limiting factors for determination of the species specific DNA material). It just could not be by chance…no way.
That night I was a changed person in terms of my beliefs that everything had come about by chance and change (my brand of atheistic evolution). I could no longer be an atheist but I could easily be an agnostic which was what I became at that time. But no longer did I teach evolution as before. From that time on I taught it completely from an agnostic point of reference. Even my students remarked on the changes I had made in my teaching of the subject.
I’ve said all of this to say that the memorable night described above for you was just the beginning of several years of “enlightenment” that gradually evolved in me so that I ultimately came to believe in a creating God after I was blessed with His grace of faith and His gift of His Son and His Spirit.
*This letter was e-mailed by Dr. Delores “Dody” Meyers near the time of her retirement from the nursing staff at the University of Virginia Medical Center. It is her personal story. Dody later left her career as a college professor to take up the nursing profession, and it was in that capacity that Dave Brand’s wife came to know this outstanding lady. The Brand’s black Labrador retriever “Middy” was a gift from Dody.