INTERVIEW | DR. GENE HWANG
A Mathematician Explains His Faith
Dr. Gene Hwang, born in 1950 in Tainan, Taiwan, is a retired professor of mathematics at the National Chung Cheng University in Taiwan. He is also professor emeritus at Cornell University, U.S.A., where he taught and did research in statistics and probability. For years he was one of the most published authorities on statistics, a field in which he is still involved. As a young man, he believed that life began by evolutionary processes. But he later changed his view. Awake! asked him about his work and religious beliefs.
What teachings were you exposed to as a youth?
My school taught the theory of evolution, but no one explained how life itself began. When my parents became Taoists, I used to listen to their religious instructors and ask them a lot of questions. But I received few answers that satisfied me.
Why did you become a mathematician?
When I was in elementary school, I became fascinated with mathematics. This fascination continued when I went to university, where I especially enjoyed courses in mathematics and probability. To me, a concise mathematical proof can be both beautiful and elegant.
How did you become interested in the Bible?
In 1978 my wife, Jinghuei, began studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses, and occasionally I shared in the discussions. By then, we were living in the United States. Jinghuei had just received her doctorate in physics, and I was studying statistics at Purdue University in Indiana.
What did you think of the Bible?
I was impressed by its account of how the earth was prepared for human life. The six creative periods described in Genesis, albeit in simple language, seemed to fit the facts—unlike ancient mythologies. * Still, for many years I did not commit to belief in a Creator.
Why was that an issue for you?
Believing in a Creator meant rejecting my childhood religion
My feelings were involved. Believing in a Creator meant rejecting my childhood religion, because traditional Taoism does not teach that there is a personal God, or Creator.
Later, though, your viewpoint changed. Why was that?
The more I thought about the origin of life, the more I became convinced that the first living thing must have been very complex. For example, it had to be able to reproduce, which requires genetic information and a mechanism for accurately replicating that information. Also, even the simplest living cell needs molecular machines for building all the parts of a new cell, as well as the means to harness and direct energy. How could such complex mechanisms assemble randomly from nonliving matter? As a mathematician, I could not accept that assumption. It asks far too much of random processes.
What was it that moved you to examine more closely the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
I had studied with the Witnesses on and off. Then, in 1995, while visiting Taiwan, I fell sick and needed help. From the United States, my wife contacted Jehovah’s Witnesses in Taiwan. They found me exhausted outside a hospital where there were no available beds. One of the Witnesses took me to a hotel to rest. He kept checking on me and then took me to a clinic for treatment.
That genuine concern deeply touched me, and I reflected on how often Jehovah’s Witnesses had shown kindness to my family on other occasions. The Witnesses’ faith made them different. So I resumed my study of the Bible with them. The following year I was baptized.
Does your faith conflict with your secular studies?
Not at all! In recent years I have provided mathematical support for scientists who study gene function. The study of genetics provides insight into the mechanisms of life—an insight that fills me with awe for the Creator’s wisdom.
Give an example of that wisdom.
Consider reproduction. Some organisms, such as amoebas, don’t have male and female counterparts. These single-cell microbes simply make a copy of their genetic information and divide—a process called asexual reproduction. Most animals and plants, however, reproduce sexually, combining genetic information from male and female parents. Why is sexual reproduction remarkable?
Why would a system of reproduction in which one organism simply divides into two—and has done this very well for who knows how long—develop into a system in which two things combine to form one? The mechanisms required to take half the genetic information from the male and half from the female and combine them are immensely complex, presenting a huge problem to evolutionary biologists. In my view, gender-based reproduction points unequivocally to the mind of God.
^ par. 11 For more information on the creative periods, see the brochure Was Life Created? published by Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is available online at www.jw.org.