I recently read James D. Watson’s memoir titled The Double Helix (Mentor, 1968). It is his personal account of how he and Francis Crick (with the help of others) discovered the mystery of DNA structure in the early 1950s, an achievement for which Watson and Crick (along with Maurice Wilkins) later won the Nobel Prize in 1962. The book provides insights into the sometimes petty rivalries and personal competition that led to the momentous discovery. At one point Watson notes that “in contrast to the popular conception supported by newspapers and mothers of scientists, a goodly number of scientists are not only narrow-minded and dull, but also just stupid” (pp. 18-19).
Watson makes plain in the book his disdain for traditional Christianity. His colleague Crick was also an avowed humanist who, later in his career, put forward the theory that life on earth was transmitted here by aliens from another world through a process he called “directed panspermia.” This brings to mind Chesterton’s quip that when men stop believing in the Biblical God, the problem is not that they believe in nothing but that they are prone to believe anything.
At another point in Watson’s memoir he describes one Christmas at Cambridge when Crick gave him a chemistry book as a gift which later proved helpful to him in his research. He observed: “The remnants of Christianity were indeed useful” (p. 70).
That single line got me thinking. Most people who will “celebrate” Christmas this week will not do so from a pure religious motivation. In fact, from a Reformed perspective, we have our own critique of Christmas as a man-made “holy day” which confuses the Biblical command of weekly Lord’s Day worship. When I read Watson’s statement, however, I wondered how many enlightened moderns likewise view Christmas as a useful remnant of a dying (or dead) Western religion. It provides a useful excuse for resting from work, for giving gifts, for singing sentimental songs, for marking the Winter Solstice.
Watson is right to some degree. Authentic Christianity and authentic Christians are indeed a “remnant.” He is wrong, however, if he thinks it an outdated and lifeless relic. In the midst of this season, believers can think of Christ, as we should every moment, every day, and every week. We can remember his existence in glory from all eternity with the Father and the Spirit before his incarnation, his birth, his life, his, death, his resurrection, his ascension, and his second coming. We can remember (contrary to Crick’s theory) that “all things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3).
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
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