Swiftly flow the days
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers
Blossoming even as we gaze
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears”
—“Sunrise, Sunset”, Fiddler on the Roof.
A well-deserved Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology was awarded today (October 3rd, 2017) to Jeffrey Hall, Michael Roshbash and Michael Young for their research on how our biological clock works—how we know to go to sleep and to rise with a new day.
Their research was conducted on fruit flies—easily accessible, but with enough common to all animal life that generalizations could be made. (I recall my undergraduate days at Caltech in the genetics lab, retrieving etherized fruit-flies to determine their dominant and recessive characteristics.) They found that there was a gene present that encoded a protein, a protein that accumulates during sleep and degrades during the day, thus acting as a clock to establish the “circadian rhythm” for all animal life on this planet.
Rather than giving a detailed account of their research (see the press release announcing the award) I would like to use this as a springboard to comment on God’s Providence and evolution. One of the anthropic coincidences, the unlikely events that enable carbon based life to exist, is the rotation of the earth, the alternation of night and day that enables climate, a life supporting temperature to be present. And to accommodate to that, there is a cycle for life.
Could life exist and not follow that cycle? There’s a wonderful science fiction trilogy by Nancy Kress, Beggars in Spain, about genetically modified humans who don’t need to sleep and become supermen. But is that possible? Isn’t sleep, “that knits up the raveled sleave of care”, a gift from God? I’ve wondered, do angels sleep, will we sleep in heaven, or will the fact of time be swept away by eternity, so that sleep and circadian rhythms become irrelevant?
Well, I hope I will find the answer to that question in heaven.