From genome editing to oral tradition: A glimpse of two new projects  

Human genome editing: moving the conversation from rightness to righteousness 

In recent years, scientists have developed faster, cheaper, and more precise methods to edit genes of living organisms including humans. Gene therapy has gained support as a promising way to treat a wide range of diseases. But some Christians have taken a stand against it, arguing that scientists are trying to “play God.” 

Catalyst Álvaro Pérez, a biotechnologist from Ecuador, has a different view:

“I believe gene editing is the exercise of our God-given human creativity to love our neighbor as ourselves,” he explains. “Humans are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26), so we have the ability to design. Understanding how nature works and modifying it allows us to have an active role in creation and not just be spectators.” 

Nevertheless, the bioethical and theological aspects of this type of research should not be ignored. And Alvaro noticed there is a particular vacuum of research on the topic in the Latin American context. 

Álvaro’s project will promote dialogue about bioethical and Christian perspectives on human gene editing, aiming to move the conversation from “Is gene editing right?” to “How can it be done righteously?” Understanding that Christians are called to live righteously and justly, the project will include discussions about what faith communities can do to ensure equitable access to these new advances in medical treatment. 

Aimed at students and professionals – inside and outside of the IFES national movement in Ecuador –  the project will include an academic forum; a scholarly article; and the production of a video interview with an expert in the field. 

Photo of Álvaro Pérez
Álvaro Pérez

Researching the role of oral communication in the transmission of science, faith and culture 

Photo of Laurent Kayogera
Laurent Kayogera

“Oral tradition still plays a big role in Burundian culture today,” explains Laurent Kayogera, a Catalyst who graduated with a bachelor’s in communications. “We express our feelings through music. Life lessons and advice are passed down to the younger generation through songs, riddles, fables and tales.” 

One reason why oral tradition is so important in Burundi is that only 75 percent of the adult population is literate, and there is still a gender gap in literacy rates. But that’s not the full story, says Laurent: “Even educated people just don’t like to read that much. We do not have many libraries, even in big cities. People still enjoy listening to people sharing stories. They’d rather quote what someone else said rather than something they’ve read themselves.” 

Laurent’s project will investigate the contribution of oral communication in the transmission of science, faith and culture in Burundi. His research will explore the advantages and limitations of how oral communication has been used in order to extract lessons for improved communication in such areas as university teaching, churches and the IFES national movement. 

“University students spend a lot of time listening to lectures but most of them don’t take the time for extra research using books, articles and the internet,” shares Laurent, who works as the training coordinator for UGBB, the IFES national movement in Burundi. “I hope my project will encourage students to adjust their learning style and conduct more independent research.” 

Laurent’s study will involve surveys among students and staff at the University of Burundi and a one-day workshop. He will also interview experts in culture and anthropology and representatives from organizations which seek to promote and preserve the Burundian language and culture. Finally, he will interview church leaders to explore how oral communication was used by missionaries during colonial times to share the gospel with Burundians and how pastors are trained today, particularly in rural areas which have lower literacy levels. The results of the study will be published in a scholarly article. 

For more information about all of our Catalysts’ projects, visit the LCI projects webpages or see a list of all current project titles listed in our July 2023 Latest News blogpost.

Awe and wonder: science, humanity and Jesus 

What theological clues does Psalm 8 provide about the creator, the creation, the dignity of humans, the value of science and the person of Jesus?  

Gustavo Sobarzo explains more in this blogpost, which has been adapted from a talk he gave to young scholars at the Logos and Cosmos Initiative (LCI). A veterinary doctor by training, Gustavo has spent more than 15 years as a professor of veterinary microbiology while also serving with the IFES national movement in Chile, first as a staff worker and later as General Secretary. He now serves as the Tier One Training Coordinator for the LCI in Latin America. He lives in Santiago, Chile. 

I have always loved Psalm 8. It is one of the psalms that I learned by heart from a very young age. It helps me express the feelings of awe and wonder I experience when I think about God and his relationship with us. 

We know that this psalm was written by David but we don’t know much about the circumstances. However, it certainly tells of a king who recognises God’s lordship over his own authority. It gives us some interesting theological clues about the creator, creation and how we can understand them both.  

Awe and wonder at God and his creation 

What strikes you most about God’s creation? Have you ever seen something that simply blew your mind and made you marvel at the immensity of God? 

It has happened to me many times. But there are three memories that stand out: 

Once I was flying from the north of Chile to the capital, Santiago. It was night, and out of the window I could see the mountain range, the altiplano or Andean plateau, illuminated by the lightning of a thunderstorm. I was overwhelmed by my smallness and the beauty of the spectacle. 

Photo of Gustavo Sobarzo
Photo of baby feet

The second time was during the birth of my three daughters. As I held them in my arms, I was moved by the beauty of each little creature coming into the world, knowing that she was first born in the very heart of God.  

The third was when I studied to become a veterinarian and microbiologist. My studies involved unravelling God’s truth written in life itself. I praised God as I learned about genes, protein synthesis, the functions of bacteria and animal cells, and so on. And I continue to be amazed by my discipline as I teach microbiology and work in the lab.  

What are your moments of awe and wonder? When have you seen or understood something that prompted you to praise the Lord for what he has done? 

David gives us voice here, and sings in verse 9, “how majestic is your name in all the earth!” 

The glory of the Lord is spread throughout the earth, throughout the universe, in all that we see and all that we do not see. 

Believers and atheists alike are perplexed as they observe creation. What a blessing it is for those of us who have the gift of faith to be able to give an explanation, or rather a face, to the one who allows us to witness so much wonder. 

Science as a way of knowing God 

For David, in verse 3, what triggers his praise is the observation of the heavens, the moon and the stars. It reminds us how important it is to observe creation! It tells us about God. The author clearly distinguishes the creation from the creator and is not tempted to praise the creation itself.  

One of the central ideas that Catalysts (participants) learn about in their LCI training is that to do science is to know and to better understand the world created by God. God likes us to be involved in scientific research and discoveries. Scientific research is not contradictory to believing in God. 

Over the last century or so, an artificial struggle has been proposed between science and faith, as if the two were incompatible. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Psalm 8 – A psalm of David 

1Lord, our Lord, 
    how majestic is your name in all the earth! 
You have set your glory 
    in the heavens. 
2 Through the praise of children and infants 
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies, 
to silence the foe and the avenger. 
3 When I consider your heavens, 
    the work of your fingers, 
the moon and the stars, 
    which you have set in place, 
4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them, 
    human beings that you care for them? 
5 You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honour.  
6 You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: 
7 all flocks and herds, 
    and the animals of the wild, 
8 the birds in the sky, 
    and the fish in the sea, 
    all that swim the paths of the seas. 
9 Lord, our Lord, 
    how majestic is your name in all the earth! 

There are many of us scientists who are Christians, and for us, being involved in science is a way to honour our creator.  The scientist and the theologian have much in common. While the theologian performs an exegesis of the scriptures, to know God and his work better, many Christian scientists performs an exegesis of creation, for the same purpose.  

Photo of gloved hands holding petri dish

The dignity of humans 

This psalm addresses a central, very relevant question: What are human beings?  In verse 4, David asks the Lord: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” 

When we look at the universe, we are nothing but specks of dust. Have you ever felt this way when you were a child? David’s question is a fair one. And I love the way he answers himself through his dialogue with the Lord. 

Even if human beings are so insignificant in appearance, there is something special about us as God’s creation. God made humans a little lower than an angel. Other versions of the bible say that the Lord has made humans a little lower than a god.  

People are the reflection (image) of God on earth. What does that mean? A physical image? No. It refers to how God has invested men and women with authority over all the rest of creation. To be stewards.  

Unfortunately, the mandate to “rule over” creation has often been misunderstood.  Sin has made us into broken images of God. Instead of stewardship and care we have destroyed creation. In addition, we have dehumanised our fellow humans in every way, forgetting that we are all images of God. 

The world pressures us to depersonalise ourselves. To transform us into numbers, into consumers, into possessable objects. Children in their mothers’ wombs are reduced to mere cells. The elderly are thought of as burdens. The imprisoned are deprived of all hope. 

That is why it is a tragedy that in our Latin American countries, children are turning into criminals, into beings trained to kill and to get whatever they want at any cost. It is a tragedy because they are also the image of God. They are also the ones for whom the Lord paid with blood on the cross. In allowing this, our sin – as a community is very great.  

A prophetic psalm 

Psalm 8 also has a prophetic dimension. In verse 2, David says “Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.” 

This speaks a great truth. Children, the very ones that today our society is displacing and forgetting, were of no value in biblical times. What a child said would be of little or no importance, yet it is from the children that deep praise arises.  

And then the psalm speaks about the Lord’s enemies. This psalm was fulfilled when Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem. Matthew 21:15-16 describes how the chief priests and teachers of the law were indignant when they saw children shouting praises to Jesus in the temple courts. In response, Jesus quoted verse 2, saying: “Have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?’” 

Just as the psalm foretold, it was the children who put the educated to shame.  

Later, the author of Hebrews refers to verses 6-8 of this psalm as well, to highlight the sovereignty and the humanity of Jesus: 

In the second chapter of the book of Hebrews, the author also quotes Psalm 8, saying: “…we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” 

The author of Hebrews uses the passage to affirm Jesus as the quintessential human being. Jesus, then, is the prophetic fulfilment of Psalm 8.  

Questions and projects 

  • Are you in awe of God’s power in creation or in your own life? Do you recognise him as Lord of all? 
  • Do you perceive yourself as “a little lower than an angel”? Are you aware of how valuable you are to God, or do you find it hard to believe this truth? 
  • Do you perceive those around you as images of God? Are you able to see the dignity and value of each person? What would help you do it better? 

Many of the realities discussed above are reflected in the projects that young scholars in the LCI are leading in their university in partnership with their IFES national movements. These Catalysts are bringing together theology and the sciences in projects which aim to aid our understanding of God’s creation, while also promoting the dignity of every human being and helping creation – including our societies – to flourish. Find out more about last year’s LCI projects here and view our projects photo gallery here. Look out for more details coming soon about new projects starting in June.  

Photo credits: Lightning storm photo by Josep Castells on Unsplash; Baby feet photo by Marcel Fagin on Unsplash; Petri dish photo by Adrian Lange on Unsplash

Seeking favour from the gods to find precious stones: watch Isaac’s video 

Projects are at the heart of the Logos and Cosmos Initiative (LCI). We equip young Christian academics to lead projects in their universities that spark curiosity and wonder about theology and the sciences. Many of our Catalysts’ projects tackle pressing issues and challenges in their local and national contexts, such as environmental sustainability, poverty and violence. In Cameroon, geologist and LCI Catalyst Isaac Daama is leading a project about animist mining techniques. 

Science tells us that the distribution and location of mineral deposits is a function of geological processes that took place over millions of years ago. But in mineral-rich Cameroon, occult practices are often part of the artisanal mining process. Artisanal miners, who are usually poor, disadvantaged individuals, use hand-tools to dig for gold, diamond and other precious stones. Many of them believe that daily piety and sacrificing animals to the gods will lead them to success in their mining.  

Isaac is collaborating with GBEEC Cameroon, the IFES national movement, to lead a project that will draw together scientific and Christian perspectives on these controversial beliefs and practices.  

Watch the 4-minute video below to hear Isaac explain more about his project. The video is in French but English subtitles are available. An English transcript can also be found below. 

English-language transcript of Isaac’s video

Welcome to this video! I’m Isaac Daama, Tier 2 Catalyst for the Logos and Cosmos Initiative in Francophone Africa.  

My topic is about beliefs and practices among artisanal miners in northern Cameroon. This topic started from a simple observation during multiple opportunities to go on field trips with mining companies that were looking for gold. I realized that there was a group of artisan miners who base their prospecting on a firm belief in deities, who they believe are the gods of these metals and that sacrifices always have to be made in order to access these metals. Many questions have been raised about their practices because even if these rituals that they do are controversial according to scientists – or even according to the local Christian population – one cannot deny that sometimes their methods are still profitable. Miners who employ this technique find a lot of minerals, on the scale of the gold content in the province, in general. 

And at the university, we have a lot of debates about their methods because we know that today, with the methods of mining geology, we can’t necessarily achieve the results that these miners have. But shouldn’t we question their methods to know whether, perhaps, their method can be a scientific method? But perhaps, let’s say, it is not like modern science, in the sense that it is not formal science, it is not theorized knowledge. And so, we decided to focus on this question. But then it was a matter of collecting data in the field.  

The data consisted of doing interviews with the miners, even when we were not able to do video interviews with them because the miners think that filming would discredit their methods. In addition, they work in an illegal context. Despite these obstacles, we were able to collect a set of data that will now help us to analyse these practices through workshops and public conferences, where many experts will also contribute their views on this. 

But our ultimate goal is to give a Christian perspective on this activity because it is becoming the most popular activity because of the fact that on the agricultural level and everything, these are areas that are very disadvantaged, so today it is this mining activity that is much more popular.  

The miners I have interviewed worship these gods instead of the God who created everything. It’s a bit like the experience of the apostle Paul in Greece. In their idolatry, Paul was able to find the “unknown god”. Maybe we should ask ourselves today: what are these metal gods the miners are talking about? 

So here are so many questions, reflections that we want to carry out within the framework of this project. In the long run, if my project is accepted onto Tier Three of the LCI (next year), I plan to develop my findings into a scientific publication in which experts – theological, anthropological, sociological, and geological, contribute their expertise and help us to better define this practice. Thank you for watching.  

Latest news: projects underway, new Catalysts and in-person meetings 

Year Two of the Logos and Cosmos Initiative began in April and we are excited to now be working with even more young change-makers from across Francophone Africa and Latin America.  

We have welcomed a new cohort of 23 Catalysts into Tier One (our training and development year). Meanwhile, 18 of last year’s Catalysts have had their theology and the sciences projects selected for implementation and are now in Tier Two.

Catalysts’ projects have begun 

Catalysts’ projects are now well underway. Many of their projects tackle pressing issues and challenges in Catalysts’ local and national contexts, such as environmental sustainability, poverty and violence. 

Geologist Isaac Daama is leading a project about animist mining techniques in Cameroon. Occult practices are often part of the artisanal mining process, in which individuals use hand-tools to dig for gold, diamond and other precious stones.  

“I have been conducting field work at mining sites in northern Cameroon, interviewing miners about their beliefs,” Isaac said. “This mining is risky, dangerous work and they sell their finds on the black market.” 

Photo of Catalyst Isaac Daama interviewing miners

“What is interesting is that some of these miners believe that there are ancestors who plead with the gods to open the earth for you so that you can find precious stones. Daily piety and animal sacrifices are part of these practices. This approach is very controversial for modern science (mining geology), and requires a structured discussion and analysis in order to bring a Christian perspective to the understanding of this phenomenon and its issues.” 

Isaac’s findings will inform the next stage of his project. He will collaborate with GBEEC Cameroon, the IFES national movement, to lead a science-culture-faith group for students and researchers on his university campus. Through lectures, workshops and discussions, the group will promote constructive dialogue among Christians and non-Christians about scientific and biblical perspectives on these controversial mining techniques. The aim is to explore how both approaches can lead to an integrated management of mining resources and the environment. 

In Brazil, Deborah Vieira is planning to launch a science and theology mentoring network in which students from ABUB Brazil, the IFES national movement, will be connected with a mentor who is further along in their academic journey, for example Christian graduate students, professors and researchers. Deborah is selecting a series of readings, gathered mostly from her experience at the LCI, which will then be shared among the mentors and students in a series of six training sessions.  

Workshops, in-person gatherings and staff news  

We began the year with online workshops in April in both regions. In Latin America, Dr Jorge Sobarzo, a Christian psychiatrist from Chile, spoke about mental health and faith (watch his talk – in Spanish – here). In Francophone Africa, Dr Augustin Ahoga, former regional secretary, spoke about African religions (which includes approaches to culture, history and science) as the foundation for science and theology dialogue.  

A screengrab of an online workshop in Latin America
Photo of the LCI Latin America staff team meeting in person

We are honoured that Dr Ahoga, who has degrees in economics, theology, anthropology and pedagogy, has joined our Francophone Africa team to lead our mentoring program for Catalysts.  

Looking ahead, we are thankful to be planning some in-person meetings this year. In April, our Latin American staff team (see left) met together in person for the first time in Tijuana, Mexico. Both regions are planning in-person workshops for Catalysts in August and September/October this year.

Pray with us 

  • Thank God for the new Catalysts who have joined us and for the Tier Two Catalysts who are starting their projects  
  • Pray for Catalysts’ projects to have a transformative impact on students, universities, national movements and wider societies – all for God’s glory 
  • Pray for the Francophone Africa staff team and Catalysts as they gather for their first in-person training workshop in August. They will meet for the three days prior to the regional (GBUAF) Pan-African conference, PANAF’22, taking place in Burundi.