Of Royal Robes & Lilies

Sentimentality is Never an Appropriate Hermeneutic

I am a recovering Darwinist. My recovery comes after spending literal decades entrenched in Darwinism—from the time I fell in love with anthropologist Richard Leakey at the tender age of seven to life after completing a B.S. in molecular biology, accumulating an impressive evolution library—Darwin was like a life-long best friend.

Unfortunately, my high regard for Darwin facilitated a rather low regard for biblical authority, instilling what I recently learned to be a sentimentalist view towards God. Such sentimentalism is not unique in Western society; as Dr. Samuel Gregg, research director at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty laments, it seems rather pervasive, in fact. Religious sentimentalism with all its schmaltzy platitudes, feel-good phrases, and innocuous tropes for good living, presents a distorted view of an all-powerful, holy God and infantilizes Christianity itself. 

Case in point: consider the words of Jesus concerning anxiety in Matthew 6. Chiding his listeners for being anxious about everyday needs, in particular—how they will be clothed, the Teacher states, "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." Having read this during a time of personal anxiety, my Darwinist mind thought it was such a "sweet" analogy—the kind of maudlin metaphor that songs are made of and don the front of greeting cards. To no surprise, my sentimentalist view did not permit any long-lasting comfort or hope from this passage—or for that matter, the whole of Scripture—while it was maintained and nourished by my long tenure as a Darwinist.

It was only after much wrestling I intellectually walked away from Darwinism, having found a better explanation for origins of life and biocomplexity in the irreducible complexity arguments proffered by Michael Behe in his seminal book, Darwin's Black Box. Thanks to astronomer Hugh Ross's well-researched and foot-noted books, what followed this concession of an intelligent agent was the recognition that this agent had to be the biblical God. This acknowledgement in turn facilitated a greater respect for the divine inspiration of Scripture.

Having experienced this world-view change, sentimentalism towards Scripture by necessity, waned. Reading Scripture through the lenses of an intelligent design world-view, focused by my training in molecular biology and chemistry, has not only instilled a keen respect for a brilliant Creator, but has provided a powerful hermeneutic for interpretation.

Case in point (again): In a recent reread of the aforementioned passage from Matthew 6, concerning lilies and kings' robes which I formerly regarded as schmaltzy, my new-found respect for Scripture together with a science hermeneutic left me awestruck by the passage.

In considering the splendor of Solomon, as an organic chemistry teacher I could appreciate the intense effort and skill practiced by Phoenician craftsman in extracting purple and blue dyes from Mediterranean snails.1 Since it required thousands of snails to generate enough pigment for a single piece of cloth, the dye was worth its weight in gold.2  King Solomon so valued these indigo pigments that he summoned the services of the ancient chemists who could extract them when he was building the Temple in Jerusalem.3 No doubt, after commissioning those most-skilled in textiles, jewelry-making, and metallurgy, King Solomon in his robes had to be a marvel to behold.

Knowing Solomon's splendor, Jesus tells his weary listeners that the lilies of the field, which neither toil, nor spin (or extract pigments from snails), are clothed more brilliantly than Solomon ever was. Through the lens of a different world-view, this comparison does not elicit schmaltzy sentimentality but rather an appreciation for a powerful Creator who indeed clothed lilies using technologies that make the skilled practices of Phoenician craftsman look like child's play.

As an example, certain lilies enjoy their own colors through a very complex process of anthocyanin (plant pigment) biosynthesis. With a relatively simple starting material of phenylalanine, a carefully regulated biosynthetic pathway taking place under very specific reaction conditions, comprised of several highly-specific enzymes, and molecular intermediates gives rise to glorious pigments responsible for the lovely pink, blue, and chocolate colors we prize.4 The means by which these pigments are deposited in lily petals showcasing their speckled patterns and spots demonstrates even further complexity.

One must wonder if Jesus, as the Creator-incarnate, was in any way cognizant of the nanotechnology both he and his Father engineered in the designing of lilies. Did this knowledge inform him when he compared their splendor to that of Israel's most majestic king? These considerations really put to rest the temptation to view this passage with sentimentality and instead instill a healthy fear of someday coming face-to-face with the One who designed the lilies in the first place.

Notes:
1. Koren, Z. C. (1995). High-Performance Liquid Chromatographic Analysis of an Ancient Tyrian Purple Dyeing Vat from Israel. Israel Journal of Chemistry, 35(2), 117-124.
2. Głowacki, E. D., Voss, G., Leonat, L., Irimia‐Vladu, M., Bauer, S., & Sariciftci, N. S. (2012). Indigo and Tyrian purple–from ancient natural dyes to modern organic semiconductors. Israel Journal of Chemistry, 52(6), 540-551.
3. 2 Chronicles 2:7.
4. Lai, Y. S., Shimoyamada, Y., Nakayama, M., & Yamagishi, M. (2012). Pigment accumulation and transcription of LhMYB12 and anthocyanin biosynthesis genes during flower development in the Asiatic hybrid lily (Lilium spp.). Plant science, 193, 136-147.

Emily has had a lifelong appreciation for science, teaching, and research. She graduated summa cum laude from California State University, Fresno with a BS degree in molecular biology and a minor in cognitive psychology. As an undergraduate, she conducted summer research in immunology, microbiology, behavioral and cognitive psychology, scanning tunneling microscopy and genetics; she also published research in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, and co-authored a chapter on scanning tunneling microscopy. She is currently completing a Master’s degree in Instructional Design and Technology at University of Cincinnati and a Certificate in Apologetics with the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. Emily has had the joy of teaching high school chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, anatomy & physiology, and pre-engineering classes over the last thirteen years. As a former Darwinian evolutionist, Emily enjoys stating the case for intellectual agency, considering the arguments posited by the intelligent design movement as much more credible than those proffered by Darwinists.

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