The Founders on God

One way biologists determine the function of a gene is by inhibiting its expression, or “knocking” it out, and observing what happens or doesn’t happen as a result. By this reasoning, some have suggested that large regions of non-coding DNA are useless because when these sequences are deleted in mice, nothing apparently happens.

For the past few decades, we’ve conducted a little knock-out experiment of our own on this campus. According to the Founding Grant of November 11, 1885, it is the duty of the Board of Trustees: “To prohibit sectarian instruction, but to have taught in the University the immortality of the soul, the existence of an all-wise and benevolent Creator, and that obedience to His laws is the highest duty of man.”

But our collective experience is replete with examples of professors, from IHUM to HUMBIO, undermining the religious faith of their students. Sometimes this is done explicitly, with declarations of the triumph of materialism over teleology. Sometimes this is done implicitly, with boring insinuations that ironclad moral laws will be forever illusory. In a singular act of hypocrisy, secular crusaders pontificate that the only universal truth is that there is none and dogmatize that toleration ends with those deemed intolerant.

Not really what Leland and Jane Stanford were going for.

This is not to say that the Stanfords sought to institute Christianity as the campus religion. Their words remind us less of the New Testament and more of the Declaration of Independence, which refers to “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” The wording of the Founding Grant harkens back to Benjamin Franklin’s declaration just before his death that “the Soul of Man is immortal” and to John Adams’ description of “the eternal, self existent, independent, benevolent, all-powerful and all-merciful Creator, Preserver and Father of the Universe.”

The persistence of “God events” on campus—Tim Keller, Christopher Hitchens, Francis Collins, Richard Dawkins—testifies that the student body, at least, remains vibrantly interested in the ultimate question. But why has it been relegated to the domain of the extracurricular?

As our experiment of “knocking-out” the divine continues unimpeded, we must carefully consider the long-term ramifications. It should be noted that the non-coding DNA in mice is only thought to be useless because the mice appear healthy when it’s removed. Researchers caution that the consequences of the modification may only become apparent after a couple generations out in the wild.

What, then, may become of us?

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