Science and Faith: An Interview with a Biochemist

by Kenneth Samples

Through RTB’s Visiting Scholar Program, we often have the pleasure of hosting and working with experts in various fields of study. Earlier this year, RTB welcomed Dr. Russ Carlson, a biochemist who has contributed to important research on complex carbohydrates and taught at the University of Georgia for 26 years. Russ received his PhD in biochemistry from the University of Colorado in 1976, and currently serves as an emeritus professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and of the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia.

I had an opportunity to talk with Russ on my podcast, Straight Thinking (you can listen to the episode here). On behalf of Reflections, RTB editor Maureen Moser sat down with Dr. Carlson to discover how his faith and research intersect and how he approaches apologetics in his own outreach efforts.

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Let’s begin with your scientific discipline. What do you research?

I do research in biochemistry and molecular biology. My research has mainly focused on how microbes interact with host cells, whether they’re pathogens (in my case, the microbes are bacterial pathogens) or symbionts (in which case, the interaction is beneficial to both the microbe and the host).

I work at the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center. The surfaces of all cells—including the bacterial cell and the host cell—are coated with a complex array of different carbohydrate structures. These structures are the first point of contact between a microbe and the host cell. So complex carbohydrates play a role in determining pathogenicity in a pathogen and the ability of a symbiont to carry out its function inside a host cell.

Where do you see evidence for design in this field of research?

I’ve been asked this question a lot and sometimes my mind just goes blank because I can’t think of a point in that process where I don’t see evidence for design. The evidence is in everything.

If biochemists see a specific molecular structure, we want to determine its function. We want to understand the structure-function relationship of the molecule. Any biochemist will assume that there is a function (that is, a purpose or meaning) for a molecule. All scientists operate under those assumptions. For me, this is an assumption that’s really supported by my Christian faith…

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Science and Faith: An Interview with a Biochemist | Reflections