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Friday, February 10, 2012

Review: "The Mysterious Epigenome" (Thomas E. Woodward and James P. Gillis)

TITLE: The Mysterious Epigenome: What Lies Beyond DNA
AUTHORS: Thomas E. Woodward and James P. Gills
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012, (160 pages).

The more we study the complexities and the miraculous coordination of various information codes within the human cell's DNA, the more the evidence of an Intelligent Being behind such a wonder. At the end of a groundbreaking project called the Human Genome Project launched in 1990, the entire human DNA has been successfully mapped by 2003. Costing billions of dollars, needing thousands of scientists and researchers, this microscopic gene requires 3.1 billion letters to describe its database.  According to the authors, this mapping is just the beginning. New research shows that behind this mapping is a control system called the epigenome. This system like a 'built-in director' controls how and when the mappings are replicated. It knows mysteriously how much, how soon, what to replicate. It has some intelligence in which to shut on or off DNA processes called 'methyl tags.'

In brief, while the function of genetics is to study the codes for RNA and proteins in the DNA, the purpose of epigenetics is to study the control mechanisms of DNA expressions. What is intriguing is that while genetics acknowledge the hereditary nature of genetic link to human behaviour and health, they cannot change the genetic structure. It is the school of epigenetics that presents a real potential for some kind of genetic modifications that can be passed on to future generations. In other words, rather than trying to modify the DNA directly, why not influence the director of DNA mechanisms, namely, the mysterious epigenome?

When I received this book, I was given a choice to review this book from either the Science, the Health, or the Spirituality perspective. Given the nature of this blog being a 'Spiritual Odyssey,' choosing spirituality is a no-brainer. That said, even if I were to review the book from the scientific or health perspective, there is always the spiritual perspective, simply because life cannot be dichotomized into compartments like machines or robotic functions. Even so, intelligence is key to bringing all of these to work as one complete whole.

Francis Collins, the former head of the Human Genome project has called the DNA the 'language of God.' Woodward and Gills calls the mysterious epigenome the 'ruler and shepherd of the DNA.' It is so complex, mind-boggling, and mysterious that more evidence are piling up for the presence of an Intelligent Designer. This is the core conviction of the authors of this book.

If the genetic code is only the tip of the iceberg, the field of epigenome is the rest of the iceberg. This book can be used in many different ways. Used scientifically, we learn more about how the genetic code mappings interact with other DNA codes through the director of the whole process, and the inner workings of the Zygote, the proteins, and the RNA. Healthwise, we read about the implications of epigenome research to the aging processes, to tackling illnesses such as cancer, and general health. The authors helpfully provides 5 key questions with regards to spirituality and the epigenome.

Five Key Questions
Firstly, they ask about the CG factor: Creator-God factor. Here, the authors make a case for the link between general health and religious faith that leads to 'positive attitudes' and benefits for holistic health.  Several testimonies have been included, such as the five Princeton professors, the spiritual transformation in Africa, and Francis Collins.

Secondly, they probe the direction in which such scientific evidence are pointing us toward a Creator. Indeed, the whole question aims to convince readers that the more we study, the more we realize how much we do not know.

Thirdly, the authors embark on a short quest for direct evidence to a Creator. The beauty, the integrations, the irreducible complexities, is like landing on a whole new continent that baffles humanistic understanding time and again.

Fourthly, the authors deal with the age-old topic of Darwinism, that each complexity and beauty makes the Darwin theory less and less plausible.

Fifthly, how does faith in God affect health? Here, the authors makes a clever play on the word 'blind.' Some people have accused Christians for having 'blind faith' in the existence of an invisible God. Here, the authors turn the tables by saying that such accusers are having blind faith themselves in their convictions for a 'natural selection.'

My Thoughts

It is not possible to separate life into spiritual and non-spiritual categories. Everything in life is spiritual. It is like how possible is it to separate our work from our feelings? We are not robots. Every act, every thought, every plan, stems from an intentionality that begins somewhere. Whether we are writing a book, planning a project, or studying for a course, there is a certain intention. The authors ask four basic questions of life that involve the interface of all aspects of life, be it science, health, or spirituality.

  • What is life's purpose?
  • What is the point of the universe?
  • Why is there something rather than nothing?
  • Why is humankind brilliantly equipped to pursue such questions - to analyze the conundrum of creation?
These are questions that can only be addressed when we consider spirituality. Science can explain the 'whats' and to some extent the 'hows.' Spirituality extends the quest to include the 'whys.' I agree a lot with the authors with regards to Intelligent Design. Unfortunately, I feel that the authors could have engaged alternative views more openly, instead of an outright dismissal. What is more helpful is to present an unbiased view and then to offer their interpretations, instead of interpreting for the readers right from the start.  

That said, I highly recommend this book for its ability to weave spiritual insights into scientific research. I like the convictions of the authors. I like the clear storylike explanations of the various concepts and terms. I like the integration of scientific research and the constant asking of what does it mean for us in practice throughout the book. This book is clearly a book arguing for the existence of God. It is another piece of evidence that the atheistic position is less and less tenable. It requires more faith on the part of the atheist to believe that such intelligent design and workings of the genome 'simply happened.' For me, there has to be a God behind such intricacies. If you are not convinced about a Creator God behind such Intelligent Design, at least, this book helps keep a posture of being open about it.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


I am grateful to Kregel Publications for supplying me a free copy of the book, without any obligations for a positive review. The opinions offered above are freely given without expectation of any financial compensation.

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