a Note From the Editors
From Editor-in-Chief Emily Herrington:
Most of the people who have participated in this project called “God & Nature magazine” know it has been a labor of love. In five years with the incomparable support of Walt Hearn, Randy Isaac, and so many other writers and contributors, it is beginning to find its voice.
This is the final issue of God & Nature magazine for which I will be serving as an editor. It has been the longest special topic in development by far (about two years). I am proud of the result, especially because my collaborators on this project—incoming Editor-in-Chief Sy Garte and Managing Editor Ciara Reyes—provided excellent guidance and Ciara, especially, helped me develop some amazing content.
Both Sy and Ciara are bright, witty, competent, good-natured people who are fun to work with and have been a joy to get to know over these transitional months. Sy and Ciara are well-matched to their roles as Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor. Sy is an accomplished, now retired, biochemist and biomedical scientist whose late conversion to Christianity makes him a passionate writer and researcher at the intersection of science and theology. Sy’s academic CV and publishing experience complement Ciara’s recent knowledge of the methods and literature in molecular biology (and many other fields), whose creativity in music and arts matches her intelligence and competence as a scientist.
I think Sy and Ciara’s combined portfolio demonstrates the experience necessary to bring God & Nature magazine into a new era of excellence and professionalism. I direct you to exhibit A: this issue, my last at the helm and their first as robust collaborators on the project. It is one I am more proud of than I ever expected to be, because I doubted I would ever have an opportunity to work with such a devoted team curating such moving work from scientists and other scholars in the humanities and social sciences.
Many of the pieces in this issue, interestingly, end in verse. That is not something I could have planned if I tried, but I think it points to the personal nature of the topic for this season: “Race & Inheritance.” Reader, I hope you will bookmark this edition of God & Nature magazine, read it, and discuss the arguments of the articles herein. Authors for this edition of G&N write from a wide array of perspectives but each one represents their argument with singular grace and introspection. I hope you will enjoy reading this issue as much as we enjoyed putting it together.
From Managing Editor Ciara Reyes:
I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the God & Nature editorial staff and the ASA community - the past 7 months since joining have been an amazing experience. It has been a joy to work alongside Editor-in-Chief Emily Ruppel Herrington, seeing her passion for the magazine unfold, from the careful selection of each issue’s cover image, to the thoughtful review and consideration given to each submission. It has been a pleasure working with you Emily!
Earlier this month, Emily and I were fortunate to meet with Sy Garte in DC, where we were able to discuss our vision for God & Nature, and even bond over a game of pool. I first met Sy at the 2017 ASA annual meeting in Golden, Colorado. It was the first day of the conference, he and his wife Aniko had just arrived - they had barely entered the building for conference registration with luggage in tow, when I, eager to begin documenting the ASA conference through photography and social media, approached them for an interview. Sy, graciously agreed. I look forward to working together with Sy on upcoming issues, and I invite our readers to warmly welcome him to the God & Nature editorial team.
I am especially excited about this Winter issue of God & Nature on “Race & Inheritance” as each piece provides a unique contribution to the topic, including a pastor’s perspective on CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing, an exploration of the genetics and theology of race, a reflection on segregation in science, and a thoughtful consideration of how love for neighbor is connected to care for nature, just to name a few.
For this issue, I would like to offer my words through song in a brief unfinished piece called “Be Yourself,” which is a reflection on identity and individuality (please see below).
It is often in moments when we are uprooted from what is familiar, even displaced, that we begin to discover our own identity, who exactly we are, perhaps even who we’ve been all along or who we are in the process of becoming. Whether that displacement is sparked by moving away for college, being the first in your family to pursue higher education as you will read in my interview with Carla Ramos, or another unexpected or challenging life event, being uprooted can be an exciting, yet uncomfortable adventure.
Moments of displacement can be isolating, leaving one searching for a piece of home away from home and struggling to fit in. When I think back on moments when I felt displaced or found myself struggling to make sense of my own seemingly disparate identities (cultural, religious, upbringing etc.) I find some comfort in the realization that I am fully known, fully loved and fully valued for all of who I am by God.
From Incoming Editor-in-Chief Sy Garte:
I feel highly honored to have been asked to step in as Editor-in-Chief of God & Nature (starting with the next issue) as Emily Ruppel Herrington leaves to pursue her other career interests. Emily has been a good friend and colleague for many years and has done a marvelous job with the magazine. I do not underestimate the task of trying to fill her shoes, and I’m grateful that Ciara Reyes – and Emily herself, when needed – will be there for support and guidance. I also hope to continue to be guided by the Lord, who is my major source of inspiration and support.
Before Emily made her decision to step down, I had submitted two articles to God & Nature. One is appearing in this issue, and the other will be published in the spring. I plan to continue the practice of writing a “From the Editors” column for each issue, in which I will more fully articulate my vision and plans for the magazine. For now, I will simply say thank you to Leslie Wickman, Executive Director of ASA, and Vicki Best, Director of Operations and Development, for their confidence and trust in me. I would also like to add my congratulations to Emily for a job beautifully done, and ask the readers of G&N for your prayers.
About this issue:
Inheritance, in the context of human genetics, is most simply the transmission of DNA from one generation to another. Before genetic inheritance was well understood, and the genetic material that enabled inheritance was identified, many explanations, erroneous, yet plausible at the time, were in circulation.
One of the most ancient explanations was that sperm contained a fully formed miniature human, or homunculus, which, upon fertilization would develop inside the mother. Another was the blending hypothesis, which proffered that offspring were a combination of hereditary material from both parents, and that offspring would exhibit overall characteristics that were an average of those inherited from both parents. Spontaneous generation, the belief that living things could arise from inanimate or non-living matter, dominated our understanding of inheritance for other organisms, perpetuating the erroneous belief that flies arose from raw meat, bacteria came from broth, and tadpoles from rainwater.
We now know that genes are discrete units of DNA, and come in different varieties called alleles, which we inherit from our parents. It is the unique combination of alleles, called genotype, that gives rise to each trait we exhibit from a physical (i.e. height) to a molecular level (blood type).
We also know that genes are not static entities; their expression can be dynamically regulated by cues in the environment. Arguably, genes are not all that we inherit. Along with our DNA, each of us has inherited a host of cultural, physical, and spiritual resources and practices. Such "extra-genetic" forms of inheritance can affect where human beings live and migrate, our choice of partners, what we value and how we interact with members of our own and other species.
Unfortunately, while scientists have long since made significant strides in our understanding of genetic inheritance, so much so that we have sequenced entire genomes (an organism’s complete collection of genes) and have developed technology to edit genes, it appears that we have not made as much progress on the extra-genetic front.
How do different patterns of inheritance inform our practice of faith and influence the way we shape our societies? Recalling Jesus's call to care for the poor and infirm among us, what might Christians inheriting social privilege and power owe to chronically oppressed or underserved populations? What can we learn from and how can we best respond to others with a different pattern of inheritance than us?
In this edition of God & Nature magazine, authors explore matters of inheritance through questions on identity, race, kinship, trauma, social and reproductive justice. Please read and share!
Emily Ruppel Herrington is a PhD candidate in communication and a master's student in bioethics at the University of Pittsburgh, with focus areas in rhetoric of science, STS, feminist theory, and oral history.
Prior to her doctoral work, Emily studied poetry at Bellarmine University in Louisville (B.A. '08) and science writing at MIT (M.S. '11). She has spent several years working as a professional writer and editor for academic and popular outlets; among them, God & Nature magazine is a favorite project.
Ciara Reyes is a scientist, singer-songwriter and freelance writer, who joined the God & Nature staff in June 2017 as Managing Editor. She has a Ph.D. in Cellular & Molecular Biology from the University of Michigan, and began training in theology at Vanderbilt Divinity in Fall 2016.
Sy Garte earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry and BS in Chemistry from the City University of New York. He has been a Professor of Public Health and Environmental Health Sciences at New York University, Rutgers University, and the University of Pittsburgh.
In addition to over 200 scientific publications in genetics, molecular epidemiology, cancer research and other areas, Sy is the author of four books, and of articles in Perspectives in Science and Christian Faith(PSCF) and The BioLogos Forum.
Sy recently retired from a senior administrative position at the NIH, and is now President of the Natural Philosophy Institute, where he is working on a John Templeton Foundation grant to study the theory of gene regulatory networks. Dr. Garte is Vice President of the Washington DC Chapter of the ASA, and a member of the John Templeton Foundation Board of Advisors. His blog is www.thebookofworks.com.