Let’s Not Bother to do Science!

Let’s Not Bother to do Science! December 3, 2020

Why not?

Because, apparently, Christians discovered all the answers nearly two thousand years ago!

What’s started me off on this rant now?

Unsurprisingly, it’s Thought for the Day again!

This morning it fell to Tom McLeish to do the God smuggling. Tom is a Physicist and Professor of Natural Philosophy at York university. He chose to speak about the recent announcement that DeepMind, a machine learning artificial intelligence, has worked out how to predict a protein’s shape from its amino acid sequence. This is a truly amazing breakthrough coming after decades of failed attempts by human mathematicians. 

Allow me to explain.

Proteins are the workhorse molecules of life. They do all the cutting and stitching: everything that is built up or broken down is done by enzymes, which are proteins. And they are the structural material that makes the cell organelles, the mitochondria, the ribosomes, the cell membranes. And they are the biggest component of the specialised cells in organs such as muscles, livers and brains. They are what sperms and eggs are mostly made of. We ARE proteins much more than we are any other material. 

How do they perform these multifarious functions?

By their shape.

We’ve known for about fifty years how proteins are made. DNA provides a sequence of codons that is translated into amino acids which assemble into chains called polypeptides. Then comes the complicated bit. The polypeptides twist together and then bunch up into a three dimensional form that is unique to the particular protein and that’s what enables it to do its job. So we’ve understood the early stages of protein synthesis, but not how they do the final bit, which is like making a spanner (wrench) by macrame!

That process, how proteins fold correctly every time (apart from when they go wrong and form mis-shapen prions in various diseases), is what DeepMind has finally worked out. You can show DeepMind an amino acid sequence, and it can predict the shape of the folded protein! Fantastic!

So, what does this have to do with the Christian God?

Nothing, obviously!

But Tom managed to scrape up a link to fourth century Roman Catholic Saint Macrina! 

On her deathbed, she apparently suggested to her brother, Gregory, that they should debate the reality of the mind. She prompted him to realize that our minds are really an illusion of the material brain; that human minds don’t just record impressions of the world, they perceive its hidden structure.

Macrina the Younger (c. 330 – 19 July 379) was a nun in the Early Christian Church and is a prominent saint in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox churches. Her younger brother, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, wrote about her life focusing heavily on her virginity and asceticism.


This is not the first time that theists have attempted to claim precedence. When the Pope accepted the Theory of evolution, his emissaries stated that, back in 415AD, Saint Augustine had worked it out!

His view is summed up neatly in Book V Chapter 23 Paragraph 44: “[God] created all [creatures] together…whose visible forms He produces through the ages, working even until now.” What we should conclude is that St. Augustine was quite ahead of his time and made steps toward the ideas that evolutionary biologists are discovering today, and his interpretation of Genesis already forms a kind of theistic (or God-guided) evolution, though it’s not quite the same as what Darwin thought up a thousand years later.


Tom, I’m glad that you’re not a dualist. Neither am I. The mind is not ‘spirit’, not ‘supernatural’, it’s like DeepMind – software running on hardware.

But why the desperate, beyond elastic, stretch to connect with Catholic legend?

Image by Oberholster Venita from Pixabay

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