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TEEN TALK

NOTES ON A BIOLOGY CLASS

From the April 2007 issue of The Christian Science Journal


In class one day, the teacher points to you and warns that because of your fair skin, you should stay out of the sun. (Too much could be harmful.) Or she says that because your relative had a certain disease, you may have inherited the same gene.

While this information is meant to be helpful, it's based on the human theory that we're basically made of matter.

However, 15, and 16, believe that reality runs more than skin deep. Barrett and Johannes have done some serious thinking about about basic life question such as, Who am I? What am I made of? They shared some of their thoughts with Journal staff editor Suzanne Smedley.

Barrett, you mentioned that you had a biology class last year that presented some challenges for you. Tell us about it.

Barrett: The class was going fine until we got into the portion where we were starting to take apart DNA and discussing the mutations it goes through to create all these diseases. One day I was sitting there listening quietly, and the discussion became more in-depth and pointed as to the symptoms of the diseases, and about people in the community who had certain diseases. I decided that this was really not a place I needed to go. Education about facts is definitely positive, but instilling fear and creating a state where you become hyperaware of disease is not positive. Fear actually is the basis of disease. Johannes: Doctors and medical students and professors have said that the thoughts of people, like fear, influence their health.

More than a century ago, Mrs. Eddy wrote in Science and Health, "Fear, which is an element of all disease, must be cast out to readjust the balance for God" (p. 392). Barrett, you must have realized that you had to deal with the fear and the preoccupation with disease that these class discussions were nurturing. How did you do that?

Barrett: Whenever these things come up I refer back to a little acronym I learned in Sunday School a long time ago: F-E-A-R means False Evidence Appearing Real. I immediately say to myself, "Well, if disease is false evidence, what's the true evidence? What do I know that can combat fear?" And it can be as simple as knowing that I am the reflection of God and that the entire universe is a reflection of God. Therefore how can one part of a reflection hurt another part of the same reflection? It's just impossible.

What you are is an unchanging reflection of God. That's what your core is.

—Barrett

I recognized that I didn't have to get a bad grade because of what I think.

—Johannes

The hardest part was that I didn't feel that I could necessarily speak up in class and say what I thought. Our group, being so small and tightly knit—it's sometimes very hard to say something you know might alienate people. And so I needed to address this issue of DNA quietly to myself first. I said to myself, "OK, so the smallest building block of the body is the cell.

And what makes up a cell? A cell is made up of all these separate sections inside the cell. So what makes that up? Atoms. And what makes up the atoms? Well, the proton, the electron, the neutron. And what makes up those? I don't know the specific names, but something smaller has to make up the smallest possible thing. And so I kept going, getting smaller and smaller, until I finally got down to the smallest, most indivisible particle I could imagine.

And then there was the question. What's that made of? And if you can't divide anything any longer it still has to be made of something. But if it can't get any smaller then it must be made of nothing. And so I said, "All right, we've come to the conclusion that the smallest possible thing is absolutely nothing."

So I switched topics and said to myself, "OK, if I take a million and multiply it by five, and then multiply it by another million then multiply it by six, and keep multiplying on into infinity, and then multiply by zero, what do I come out with?" I realized I'd come out with zero.

And so it doesn't matter how many big numbers on one end you multiply. As long as in the end there's a zero you're multiplying by in that equation the whole thing is going to equal out to zero. And so I said, If I take that back to what I was originally talking about, the smallest building block of matter is nothing. Then the next thing also has to be nothing. And then the next thing. And it keeps going until you reach the point where all of sudden you're back to the body, and it follows that body is not made of anything. It has no basis in matter, because matter is made up of basically nothing.

What you are is spiritual, an unchanging reflection of God. That's what your core is.

Johannes, tell me about your experience in biology class.

Johannes: I was in sixth grade, and it was the first time I had studied the human body. First, we learned things like what animals eat, but then we got to the human body and muscles and the skeleton of the human body. We were told that people can be injured and weak. After that first lesson I went home an thought about this. In Sunday School we learn that every person lives and moves in divine Love—God. So we're not weak, we're strong. I learn that God is perfect, and everyone is the reflection of God. So everyone is perfect. And in a perfect picture, there is no mistake like a broken leg, or whatever. That was the way I saw it then, and still do today. I thought that I could talk with my teacher about this, because I know she's also a child of God. And I recognized that I didn't have to have any fear that I would get a bad grade because of what I think.

I went to talk to my biology teacher at the end of the next lesson. First, I told her that I go to Sunday School. And there I learn another way to view the human body. I wanted her to know this so that she could maybe understand me. She said that she could understand me, and this was no problem. And I was happy. This showed me that we don't have to worry about saying what we think. That was very important for me. I have a class in cell biology this year, and I don't think that it's wrong that I learn about this subject. But I don't have to accept everything I hear in class as being true about who I am.

Barrett, after you reasoned in class that matter has no substance, what happened?

Barrett: It had an immediate effect. All of a sudden I was able to listen to the discussion about DNA without feeling put upon, or defensive, or that I had to shut it all out. I was able to listen and be polite and participate. That was immensely freeing because it allowed me to be there be with a group of people I enjoyed, but not feel like I had to agree or concur with them.

You must get into some interesting discussions with friends ...

Barrett: This year a classmate came in with some bracelets that support cancer research, which had been given out at a class I had missed. She said, "The teacher wanted you to have this." And she handed me one. I said, "Thank you very much." But I didn't take it. It led to a very interesting discussion. I sometimes have to explain to my friends that it's not that I don't support wellness, but I want to support it—and them—in a different way.

Johannes: Once I had a very similar situation as Barrett when we celebrated World AIDS Day in Germany. You can pay a euro for a balloon to support AIDS research, and then they let all the balloons fly. Every year the people who do this feel that they're doing something right, because they want to help others. And that's OK. I didn't buy a balloon, but I want to help people, too.

Barrett: I think a single prayer is just as potent as helping in these other ways. I've been thinking about this lately ... about what five minutes of my time every morning praying can do for myself and for the world.

♦

Barrett Sparkman is home schooled in Connecticut. His biology class, taught by a local university instructor, was designed for a group of seven home schoolers.

Johannes Nickels attends a public high school in his hometown in northern Germany. He was happy that he had the opportunity to practice English—his second language—for this interview.

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