James Kent on Science & Spirituality
  James Kent     Biography    
Recorded: 31 May 2003

I guess religion was always difficult for me because I guess I know that I’m a very small part of a much larger world. And I think a lot of people—I don’t think a lot of people realize this. And I think that you need to realize it. And I think that the way that a lot of people realize this is that they think, well, what this big a thing? There’s a God, you know, this big thing. And I think that maybe a good way of representing it. You know you try to pin down what God is for different people and it gets all abstract. And I don’t know. And it’s curious when you get into—when people get more concrete about God, it’s seems like God’s opinion is always the same as the person who’s talking, there’s no check on that.

With me and my children I try to teach them that it’s the vast places. It’s not knowable. completely. That doesn’t mean you should not try to know it, but fundamentally the universe is vast. I’m quite convinced that evolution explains that we can see how evolution got from here to there, from very simple cells and over the last three billion years, the big bang, I don’t know. There are some of the cosmologists even think there was a beginning to time. And it’s sort of a trick question for the human because you know you say what was in the beginning? Well, there was something. Well, what was before that? You can always ask what was before that. And as a child I guess I did this, so who made us? They said God did. Okay! Who made God? I could always the question. But I don’t know. I like feeling interconnected with things. I think we are whether we feel that way or not we are. And so my favorite spiritualities are more the ones—I read the Tao di Ching when I was pretty young. And I always felt it was very beautiful. Anyway, I don’t know. It’s a very vague question, but I maybe I gave you a vague answer.

Jim Kent is a research scientist at the University of California, Santa Cruz's Center for Biomolecular Science and Engineering. After a stint working in the computer animation industry, he entered the Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology Ph.D. program at Santa Cruz. While completing his degree, he became increasingly interested in bioinformatics. Concurrently, the human genome was being sequenced, accumulating in the databases and was scheduled to be released in one month’s time—however, still no technology was in place to assemble its many sequences. In one month, Jim Kent created a computer program called the GigAssembler and computationally compiled for the first time, the entire human genome so that it could be released to the public at its intended deadline.

Jim Kent focuses on understanding the way in which genes are turned on and off to create varying outcomes.