A word about laminins (repost)

(On Sunday we watched the video “How Great is Our God” at church; I was unexpectedly given the opportunity to share some some previous thoughts on why we should be more discerning about the claims made in that video concerning laminin, a particular molecule. I wrote it 2 years ago on another blog – so here it is again, condensed into one article.)

Laminin, a quiet and generally unreported molecule, is astonishingly popular in evangelical Christian circles. A casual search on google carries a plethora of links relating to laminin. In America you can buy shirts boldly proclaiming laminin. It’s the topic of numerous chain emails and social media spreads. Even in Auckland, New Zealand, I have once heard this humble glycoprotein being proudly expounded from the pulpit.

The renown of this particular molecule has partly been fueled by this particular presentation by evangelist Louie Giglio (watch the presentation below):

Many Christians have since then leapt onto this observation as the fulfilment of Colossians 1:17. Some go so far as to proclaim this cell-adhesion molecule as an ad hoc gospel. However, I have some genuine concerns for the way this particular section of Colossians has become exegeted in the majority of the laminin-loving blogosphere, and the ramifications of this for thinking, believing Christians.

Here’s a number of reasons (both scientific and spiritual) why more discernment would be helpful regarding laminin.

1. A molecule’s illustrated shape varies from its real-life shape.

I’m a medical writer by trade, so when Louie Giglio flashed the cross-shaped diagram of laminin on-screen I recognised it as a scientific illustration. Those who study chemistry and molecular biology will understand that diagrams like this don’t actually represent accurate protein shapes, but are drawn out to help the scientist or student see the main components of a biological structure.

You then also have to take into account that proteins move and change their conformation frequently. Giglio’s electron microscope photograph of the laminin in real life is at best, a chance capture of laminin’s genuine shape at and worst, a misrepresentation of the truth – consider the following thoughts by author of the “Exploring Creation…” textbooks, Dr Jay E. Wile:

Indeed, the electron microscope picture that Louie Giglio gives in his sermon represents just one possible shape for laminin. Consider this image, which contains two different electron microscope images of laminin:

Two TEMS of laminin

It looks to me like the bottom one is the one that Louie Giglio used, rotated 90 degrees. This makes me wonder if he intentionally edited out the other image. In any event, the top one shows what any molecular biology graduate student would know: proteins change conformation in order to do their job. The shape at any given time is most likely transitory.

The impression that Giglio gives that all these molecules in our body just sit around being cross-shaped is actually far from reality. In fact, I’m more encouraged that God created laminins to be far more complex than a stylised diagram: to me, it serves to magnify his greatness. Why would I worship a God that would design cell-adhesion molecules to be so inflexible as to hold a singular shape? Is it not more amazing that laminin molecules were designed with the ability to change their shape to do their job?

2. We don’t need laminins to be cross-shaped to affirm the truth of Colossians 1.

The biggest concern for me is when Christian T-shirts, blogs and facebook threads conclude that Colossians 1:17 directly refers to the laminin molecule. This divorces the verse from the rest of the section’s context (Col. 1:15-20), where one can read a moving description by the Apostle Paul of the lordship of Christ in relation to both creation and redemption. What we can draw from verse 17 is that Christ does continually sustain his creation, preventing it from falling into chaos and disintegration (Heb. 1:3). What we can’t conclude from this verse is that Christ is primarily using vaguely-cross-shaped molecules to hold all things together. Indeed in Hebrews 1:3, we see that Christ does this instead by “the word of his power” – not just Giglio’s stylised version of laminin molecules.

If God really wanted us to affirm the truth in Colossians 1 by stating that laminins were his signature, He would have made this clear in scripture. In the meantime, Colossians 1:17 is not just about laminins. I’d encourage everyone to read the passage in its entirety, particularly through to verses 21-23 which ties up the passage beautifully with the offer of Christ’s reconciliation through “the hope of the gospel”.

3. There are better examples of observable molecules that point to our Creator.

If Christian evangelists like Giglio really wanted more substantial candidates for purposeful design and creation, the laminin molecule is a poor choice. While the bulk of Wikipedia editors and neo-Darwinists will beg to differ, some better examples of observable molecules in the body that have been mooted to show evidence of design include:

  • the blood clotting cascade – Dr Michael Behe coined the term “irreducible complexity” to describe biochemical systems that comprise of many interactive and well-matched parts that are unlikely to have evolved naturally, as “the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning”.
  • DNA – the linked article gives an informed overview of the intricate nature of DNA. Even since my undergraduate studies there have already been new things discovered about DNA that show that it is far more complex and purposeful than just “a genetic zipper”. The ENCODE project published its findings in Nature, basically stating that DNA is immensely more complex than previously thought (you can read the abstract here: it’s quite technical)
  • the white blood cell – check out this video by Harvard University’s Bio Visions team. It illustrates complex cellular functions such as kinesins motoring along microtubules, mitochondria doing its work as the cell’s “energy pack”, and so on – much like a finely-tuned automobile.

The problem is that it takes a lot of work to try and help someone understand the intricacies of something like DNA, which even today scientists do not fully grasp. On the other hand, any layperson can easily be told that an object is a particular shape.  Perhaps the reason why laminin is so popular is not because it inherently shows more evidence of purposeful design, but because Giglio has told everyone it is cross-shaped. In this case it has become less about science and more about subjectivity.

4. A preoccupation with laminins overshadows the Bible and the Gospel.

Some people who discover this message will literally say that they have fallen in love with laminin. When this is at the expense of loving Jesus I have to say I become less enthused by the ramifications of Giglio’s message. In fact, when you think about it carefully, Giglio’s self-described “left hook” actually didn’t lead to us learning anything new about God. Sure, it made us feel that God is a big and vast creator of everything (particularly earlier in the show when he makes the comparison between the sizes of planets). But you don’t need a cross-shaped laminin to tell you that: you could have just read the Bible and got it straight from the Creator’s mouth (2 Chronicles 2:5-6, Isaiah 44:24, Revelation 4:11).

This draws the bigger question: for proponents of the laminin-gospel, is the Bible not enough to convince them of God’s greatness? Dr Georgia Purdom from AnswersinGenesis.org notes the following (emphasis mine):

The main problem with this type of argument is that it appears that something outside of Scripture (in this case, laminin) is vital to know the truthfulness of a biblical truth. Laminin is used to prove a biblical truth. However, we should never use our fallible, finite understanding of the world to judge the infallible Word of God. What we observe in the world can certainly be used to confirm God’s Word (and it does), but our finite observations are not in a position to evaluate the infinite things of God. Only if we start with the Bible as our ultimate standard can we have a worldview that is rational and makes sense of the evidence…

… certainly God can use signs to reveal things, and that is evident from Scripture. In Luke 2:12 an angel tells the shepherds, “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” However, Jesus also admonishes those that improperly seek signs (Matthew 16:4). In today’s “fast food” society, many people prefer the “drive-thru” when it comes to knowing God’s truths. A sign is much quicker than studying and reasoning from the Scriptures, taking the time to pray, and discussing God’s Word with other believers.

When folks are resorting to editing the Wikipedia article to defend their laminin-driven  pareidolia, then perhaps we as Christians may have an unhealthy fixation on signs and symbols. It’s as much an indictment on our generation’s short attention spans and inability to apply discernment that we baulk at doing solid research into the Scriptures, yet readily put our weight behind spurious images of Jesus “seen” in objects from Marmite to cat’s fur.  Unfortunately, there are other Christian speakers out there who will teach in the same way – with an intense focus on obscure conspiracy theories fuelled by questionable Scripture interpretations.

Yet here’s the most important point: all this fixation on laminins is time-consuming and is at the expense of the gospel “of first importance” (1 Cor 15:1-4). I know some will argue that talking about laminin is a good way to then start a conversation about the gospel – but once I’m called out for using a poor and untrue argument, why would they want to listen to anything else I tell them? If I witnessed to a science graduate and tried to pull the laminin wool over their eyes, I would be laughed off and lose the opportunity to present anything further. Therefore our integrity and witness is lost, along with the chance to evangelise to those who need to hear it.

In closing: the way we would want to delve carefully into something like laminin is the same thing we ought to do regarding other topics in future. Without trusting and depending first and foremost on God’s Word to carefully inform our thinking, any one of us can get caught up in any number of “Christian” fads and misinformed truths. The Bereans in Acts got it right when they “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” (Acts 17:11) My desire is that we would strive to do the same in all areas of our life.

– William Chong

2 replies on “A word about laminins (repost)”

  1. Brother William,
    Your comments on laminin are an excellent corrective step back from the “Wow, wow, wow!” into which many Christians uncritically rush. As your comments point out, there are much stronger evidences for God (like the ubiquitous Fibonacci sequences).
    My comments on my blog, Saints on the Loose!, for 4 Nov 2011 about the laminin molecule give a link to your laminin post.
    I would also love to invite to place a guest posting on my blog if you wish. The blog has readers in 98 countries.
    Joel F. Mann

  2. Hello William, although scourged by those who are easily moved to over-spiritualize the sound bubbles make when rising in a water cooler (not joking, has happened), I too wrote on this glorification of the Laminin molecule, previous of viewing your post. I added a link back to the blog thread, in support of your accurate discernment. http://is.gd/6DvSmx

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