Perspective: If you don’t believe in resurrection, you don’t believe in butterflies
‘Believing the science’ doesn’t take away from religious faith. In fact, it can support it
“Happy Easter, Reverend Jones! To start, do you think of Easter as a literal flesh-and-blood resurrection? I have problems with that.”
That was the start of a conversation published in The New York Times on Easter weekend in 2019, one that still peeves me several years later.
For now, let’s set aside the appropriateness of thumbing one’s nose at the premise of the religious faith professed by more than 6 in 10 Americans on that religion’s holiest day. Instead, let’s examine what a prominent physician recently had to say about literal flesh-and-blood resurrection in nature.
It involves the butterfly, but stay with me. The story is not the same one we’ve known since childhood — the symbolic metamorphosis of the humble caterpillar into an elegant winged creature. That, in itself, is astounding. But Dr. Milton Packer, a Texas cardiologist, explained in his essay “Two Caterpillars in Love” that what happens to the caterpillar on a granular level is even more miraculous than is commonly known.
Writing for MedPage Today, Packer said that even scientists marvel at the transformation. First, a caterpillar spends its days eating to store energy for what’s about to occur. Then, when the time is right, it is entombed in the chrysalis or cocoon in which it will essentially digest itself.
“During the larval phase, the release of enzymes kills the caterpillar and destroys all its organs, turning it into a mushy soup, with nothing left of its former self. If one opens a larva, there is no sign of the original caterpillar; it is gone — except for a few cells (known poetically as ‘imaginal cells’) that survive,” Packer wrote.
“Then, by some miraculous sequence of events, a new set of instructions takes hold, and the amino acids in the larval soup are rearranged, carefully and meticulously, into an entirely new organism. The imaginal cells emerge, armed with the genetic instructions for the transformation.”
Things get even more interesting after that.
As the imaginal cells take over, what’s left of the caterpillar’s immune system tries to fight off the “invaders.” It is no mere metamorphosis, but “an entirely new organism,” Packer believes.
“The fact that the caterpillar’s immune system attacks the new cells of the butterfly demonstrates that — biologically — the two insect forms are entirely distinct life forms,” he wrote. “So essentially, the caterpillar dies and is resurrected.” (The Smithsonian Channel has a short video that shows the process in amazing detail.)
In his essay, Packer went on to describe how, throughout the course of his career, he has had to comfort grieving families, saying all the right things so as not to destroy their hope of seeing their loved one again, even though his training as a physician led him to believe that death is final.
That’s the belief of many people who point to science when they find it hard accept the claims of Christianity or any other religious faith. Show me the peer-reviewed studies, they say. Show me the science. Lately, “I believe science is real” has become a cultural thumbing of the nose expressed in yard signs, as if people who questioned COVID-19 measures like masking think we are made of fairy dust and not atoms and cells.
There’s nothing with wanting evidence for what one believes. Even the great Christian apologist C.S. Lewis wrote, “I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of the evidence is against it.”
But on this Easter weekend, anyone looking for hope that a physical resurrection is possible need not rely solely on what is read from the gospels at church services. Believe in science too. Believe in butterflies. Faith can go far on two wings and a prayer.