Scientific discoveries are gifts from God, to inspire and encourage us.
Despite my Christian faith, I’ve often found myself questioning what God’s plan is for me during the difficult times of my life. Although I’m comforted when I read about His wonders in the Bible, I have to admit I haven’t always been able to apply that knowledge to my own life. That’s why, during a particularly tough season in the past couple of years, I was especially moved by a few recent scientific discoveries that showed me that God’s purposes, in everything from our bodies to our world and beyond, aren’t always immediately visible from a human perspective—reminding me that the same can be said for the circumstances of our personal lives as well.
Take, for instance, the fact that the appendix has been considered an unnecessary organ. Experts theorized that while the appendix may have once served a purpose, it seems that it no longer does.
Until now. In April 2017, new research from Midwestern University suggested that the appendix is not the “vestigial organ with little known purpose” it was once thought to be. Rather, researchers say it may have the “important purpose” of serving “as a reservoir for beneficial gut bacteria.”
Considering that “good” bacteria in our gastrointestinal systems have been shown to positively affect virtually every part of our bodies, including our immune systems, brain function, weight, and energy and nutrition, it’s clear that the appendix could be playing a surprisingly significant role in our health.
This finding proves that just because we can’t figure out a reason for something, it doesn’t mean there isn’t one! God makes no mistakes.
Black Holes: Consumers and Creators
I felt similarly moved by the latest findings about black holes in space.
I was passionate about astronomy growing up, and to this day I still have a particular fascination with black holes. Having been taught that they were areas of intense gravity into which nearby matter is absorbed with no chance of escape, black holes always intrigued me—was there any purpose to these dangerous, mysterious regions? Or were they at most a cosmic cleansing system of sorts?
Well, reported evidence from March 2017 shows that black holes are much more than that. Black holes have not only been observed to consume and destroy matter such as stars, but to create new stars as well.
According to the European Southern Observatory (ESO), black holes “expel gases in powerful winds” containing “colossal flows of material” in which “newborn stars” were recently spotted.
A March 2017 Voice of America report described the essence of this star-creating process. It stated that as a black hole attracts and consumes matter, some matter remains immediately outside the swirling opening of the black hole. When cosmic winds then blow out of the black hole, it is this matter combining with hot gases from the consumption process which forms the new stars. The winds are so powerful that they can propel these new stars to great distances, even outside a galaxy.
The full ESO report, which was published in the journal Nature on April 13, 2017, stated that this breakthrough could also explain how some galaxies get their unique shapes.
Before this discovery, observing how these powerful winds blow had been a noteworthy finding in and of itself. In 2015, NASA had reported that these winds “blow outward in all directions,” and were “a phenomenon that had been suspected, but difficult to prove until now.” At that time, however, the winds were thought to have inhibiting effects on the growth of new stars within galaxies since they resulted in decreasing a galaxy’s mass and gas supply, both of which are necessary factors in star formation.
The ESO’s news a couple of years later, then, has provided a new perspective on these winds and how they actually contribute to black holes’ creation of stars using nearby matter.
It also shows us firsthand why God tells us repeatedly in Scripture not to be afraid—because new creations can be birthed in even the darkest of places!
Trees Can “Talk”
There have been recent surprising discoveries right here on our own planet, too. A tree is a perfect example.
As a child, I used to talk to the tree outside my bedroom window. Being young and naïve, I assumed it could process communication since it was a living thing just like me. It never struck me as odd to do this—until people started saying it was.
As it turns out, trees really can communicate, albeit not with words like we do. While browsing a bookstore recently, I was pleased to come across the September 2016 book The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World. In it, author and forester Peter Wohlleben writes that trees communicate in a number of ways and situations. One method involves the emission of a “warning gas” when a tree is experiencing pain or a hazard, like when a giraffe is feeding on its leaves. During this process, the tree also emits toxins to create a bitter taste and drive away its predator. Nearby trees then begin producing the same gases and toxins in response to the warning scent. As a result, grazing animals have been witnessed to stop eating, move on and then walk past the surrounding trees without even stopping to taste them due to their unpleasant odors. The injured tree has effectively warded off its predator and communicated its distress to its neighbors—and they were able to understand and respond to the message!
In this book as well as in a September 2016 interview with The Guardian, Wohlleben said that trees also release chemicals and electrical impulses via their underground fungal root systems to communicate across longer distances, since scents can only travel so far; he cleverly refers to this network as the “wood wide web.”
In the June 2016 TED Talk How Trees Talk to Each Other, forest ecology professor Suzanne Simard also discussed this “massive belowground communications network” within a forest. Through experiments she conducted measuring the transfer of nutrients such as carbon between trees, she discovered trees engaged “in a lively two-way conversation.” Simard states that she knew this finding would “change the way we look at how trees interact in forests.”
Even more interestingly, both Simard and Wohlleben state that tree interactions vary, similar to how human ones do. For instance, Wohlleben states that trees will often help fortify weak trees and nurture specific “most beloved child” saplings. Wohlleben explains in The Guardian that this is possible because “trees may recognize with their roots who are their friends, who are their families, where their kids are.”
In her TED Talk, Suzanne Simard described these special bonds between trees. “We found that mother trees will send their excess carbon…to the understory seedlings, and we’ve associated this with increased seedling survival by four times.”
Simard also confirmed that trees go out of their way to help their own “children.” In an experiment conducted on Douglas firs in which “mother trees” were grown using “kin and stranger’s seedlings,” she determined that the mother trees did recognize their own seedlings as demonstrated by sharing more nutrients such as carbon with them as well as sending them defense signals, all of which “increased the resistance of those seedlings to future stresses.” In fact, “they even reduce their own root competition to make elbow room for their kids,” Simard said. Even more surprisingly, Simard stated that “when mother trees are injured or dying, they also send messages of wisdom on to the next generation of seedlings.”
Since trees use not only their root cells but also fungal cells, they are able to transmit a great deal of information and resources. “It turns out they were conversing not only in the language of carbon but also nitrogen and phosphorous and water and defense signals and allele chemicals and hormones—information,” Simard said.
Ultimately, not only do trees interact, but they decide how and when to do so. As Wohlleben told The Guardian, “We think about plants being robotic, following a genetic code. Plants and trees always have a choice about what to do.”
My tree-loving inner child felt vindicated after learning that trees do interact! Beyond that, though, I was awed by the unseen richness of life around us. Reading about the hidden communication of trees brought to mind what Romans 1:20 says about God’s “invisible attributes” being evident “ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (ESV). It really should be no surprise, then, that there’s much more to His creation than meets the eye.
The same can be said for our own existence. If God has given trees such rich inner lives, we can be sure that much more is going on behind the scenes in our own lives, even when we can’t perceive it.
Science: The Perfect Gift
There are countless Bible verses that speak about God’s wisdom. Isaiah 55: 8-9 is a favorite of mine: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (ESV).
Despite what we know from His Word, however, I feel God continues to gift us with scientific discoveries like these so we can see His higher ways in action for ourselves. He wants us to see that everything has a purpose and a function, no matter how impossible, confusing or scary surrounding circumstances may seem. He knows that as humans we have weak moments, so concrete reminders of His wisdom can refresh us in our faith and uplift us during trials. I know this has been the case with me, and I’m deeply grateful for it.
I also think he hides these treasures so that we can share in His joy over His creation each time we unearth a rare find, similar to receiving a gift-wrapped present: part of the fun lies in opening a gift and finding the surprise yourself.
In fact, I suspect that if we could somehow have all of this knowledge already, many of us wouldn’t appreciate His wisdom and all He has done in quite the same way. When you work for something, it means that much more, and you’re less likely to take it for granted.
Ultimately, as we learn more about God through science, we’re better able to celebrate all He has done in and around us and to trust in His higher purposes, no matter what we’re facing.