Many years ago Dick and I reached am impasse on our research on the waves. We had the image of the wave on the top part of the ectoderm but we couldn’t actually see the bottom half. Our engineer collaborator said the wave must cover all the ectoderm and therefore could not be THE differentiation and organizing signal. I said our engineer was wrong. I had observed enough embryos that I just knew the wave did not go all the way around the embryo. I was absolutely certain I was right.
We had an argument over it. It started at work and it continued after we got home and the kids were in bed. Now normally we never argue. We have these very rational easy going discussions about everything from laundry to dishes. This time we ended up shouting at each other into the wee hours of the morning. Neither one would back down. In the end we concluded that the only thing to do was more research. We did top and bottom pictures simultaneously and it turned out I was right. End of story.
There was one tiny issue. The next morning after our huge argument our neighbour came over for coffee with the wife of the newly wed couple who had just moved in next door. As soon as Dick left and she asked me if I was all right. Was I injured? Had he hit me? We had been yelling so loudly we had awakened her. She was so worried about me! How embarrassing. I had to assure her we were only arguing over data interpretation and we had concluded the way to settle the argument was to do more experimental work. She left, somewhat reassured but still dubious, and we made a decision to be certain the windows were closed if we ever needed to fight over data interpretation like that again. We never did have such an argument because we both learned an important lesson. The embryo is always right and when you have a disagreement you must always go back to the embryo to settle it. (I only occasionally rub it in that I was right.)
The second worst debate we ever had was over the G-d factor in our book. Dick is an avowed atheist although he does occasionally stray off that stance and exhibits more of an agnostic position. Although I am no biblical literalist, I am a religious person and I deeply and absolutely accept the idea of a higher power I call ‘The Master of the Universe’ according to my beliefs. In preparing our book I really wanted to make sure we acknowledged the Master of the Universe.
I wrote the first draft of Chapter 1 and every time Dick did his round and he removed the G-d factor. I would review his work and put the G-d factor back in. This went round and round quite a few times. He argued there is no place for a G-d factor in a purely scientific book. He is right but this is also MY book and we were going to have that G-d factor. One reason I was so intent on having it in there is I am not alone in being both a scientist and being a religious person and I often feel the lack of acknowledgement of the Master of the Universe in science. It’s like one can’t be both religious and scientific which is obviously untrue. I have a lot of company.
My first mentor in embryology was Hans Laale and he was also a deeply religious man. On his desk was a picture of his parents and a rosary bead hung on that. He kept his religious beliefs out of the classroom but he did acknowledge them once. About half way through his course, when I was having deep philosophical discussion, he complained how hard the problem of embryology was and he said he wondered if the problem would ever be solved. Maybe there were just some things that we weren’t meant to know.
I disagree. G-d has created this universe with a set of rules and regulations, constants and laws. They may be hard for us to understand but as we grow and learn as a species I see absolutely no reason we should not be able to figure out exactly how the Master of Universe did it. Nor would figuring it out in any way diminish the glory of His creation. In fact I think greater understanding will only serve to increase our appreciation for Him.
We talked a lot about the problem over the years together. I like to think that at least in part, Dick agreed to co-edit a book where creationists and scientists debated the origin of life because of my influence. There is an interesting story he references there which we first heard from a rabbi. It is about a scientist who has been climbing the mountain of ignorance seeking answers to how the universe works. He arrives on the mountain top to find a lovely flat spot. And there, sitting around a fire discussing the problem, is a group of theologians (Jastrow, 1992). Dick’s book ended up creating more questions than answers but at least they got to questioning.
From this process Dick acquired enough respect for theology that although he maintains his personal firm stance as an atheist, he was nonetheless ready to compromise with me and eventually allow me to keep the G-d factor in the book.
Dick and I added the following paragraph we could both agree on;
“The religious among us who nonetheless embrace the overwhelming evidence for evolution often see the finger of G-d as stirring that primordial goo: yes, life did start out as goo somewhere in the universe, maybe more than once, but it could only have done so because G-d did it. … And if one must invoke G-d, then we can at the very least, expect to figure out exactly how He does it.”
And that is the how and why of the brief appearance of the G-d factor in Embryogenesis Explained.