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Corban University

July 29, 2020

Dr. Xiuling Shi Shares how Plant Biology Reveals the Unfathomable Wisdom of God

“Scientific research is one way we get to know the unfathomable wisdom of God,” says Dr. Xiuling Shi, Assistant Professor of Biology at Corban University.

Before coming to Corban, Dr. Shi conducted research for several years, specializing in botany. With each research project, she marveled at the complexity of the plants she was studying.

“The more research I did, the more I appreciated the complex features of the plants,” she says. “Even a tiny bit of research can take years and years—an entire life—and you just get a glimpse of what’s going on.”

For Dr. Shi, this complexity points directly to God as a masterful Creator. But for many years in her life, she didn’t know there was a God who created everything.

Growing up in the countryside in China, Dr. Shi’s love of plants originated as she worked on her parents’ farm, where they primarily grew corn, soybeans, and wheat. When it came time to choose a college, Dr. Shi decided to continue developing her agricultural knowledge and earned her bachelor’s at Huazhong Agricultural University. There, she focused on pomology, or the study of fruit trees.

Her appreciation for plant science continued to grow. With each step along the way—her bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D.—she studied plants on an increasingly intricate level. During her master’s program at the Institute of Botany in Beijing, Dr. Shi shifted her focus from pomology to the study of salt-tolerant plants and the unique ways they thrived in this harsh environment. Later, she studied certain genes that might play a role in leaf development of tomato plants.

“I appreciated the complex nature—how everything fits together,” she says.

But while the nature of plants became clearer, questions about the meaning of her own life became more obscure. “I had been struggling with questions like, ‘Why am I here?’ ‘What’s the purpose of my life?’” No system of thought—no amount of scientific research—had been able to provide a satisfying answer.

It wasn’t until Dr. Shi came to the United States to earn her Ph.D. from Auburn University that she found the answers she had been looking for. “When I first came to the U.S., I lived in an apartment, and I had a Chinese roommate. She was a Christian, and she brought me to church. That same year, I decided to accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior.”

Finally, the pieces fell into place. All the questions she had been struggling with could be entrusted to a God who had a purpose and plan for her life. “When I was found by the Lord, I realized, ‘This is it.’ It answered the questions of where I come from, where I would go.” Dr. Shi felt an immense peace. “We still have struggles,” she says, “but the Lord has promised that He has overcome the world. He has delivered us from our sins. Now I know the purpose of my life.”

Perhaps her newfound faith was a factor in her decision to transition from research to teaching. “In research, all you’re dealing with is plants or animals. You’re not dealing with people—the most important,” she says. “I wanted to reach out to people and have a positive influence on people’s lives.” So she decided to pursue a career in teaching, where she could continue pursuing her love of plant biology while sharing that love with students and helping them see the attributes of God in creation.

In Fall 2019, Dr. Shi was hired at Corban University as Assistant Professor of Biology. Dr. Shi was particularly excited about the thought of working at a Christian university. “I wanted to be in a place where I could teach biology freely,” she says, “not from a secular point of view, but from a Christian view—a biblical view.”

Just as the opportunity to teach at Corban was a blessing to Dr. Shi, her expertise in plant biology was a blessing to Corban and would help round out the newly revised biology major, which had previously focused primarily on animal biology and health science.

When asked why the study of plants is such a crucial component of a biology degree, Dr. Shi says, “God created plants first. I think that indicates how important they are.” She notes that we often underestimate the important role plants play in our everyday lives—from food to consumable items such as cloth and paper. “Plants also maintain our climate,” she adds. But most of all, studying plant life is one way to get to know God better, as the diversity seen in plant life mirrors the vast creativity and wisdom of a Triune God.

Dr. Shi gives the example of different root structures. “Normally, we think of roots as being underground,” she says, “but there are above-ground roots as well.” She describes the strangler fig tree, whose seeds germinate not in soil but on the moist branches of other tropical rainforest trees. There, the strangler fig sends out aerial roots, which eventually grow down to reach the ground. “Eventually, the strangler fig will envelop the host tree and kill it,” she explains.

But the dead host tree also serves an important purpose in the ecosystem. “When the trunk becomes hollow, it becomes a home for many animals.” Meanwhile, the animals feast on the sweet fruit produced by the strangler fig. The intricate interplay between plants and animals in a given ecosystem—and the variety of forms plants can take—provides endless opportunity to discover the creativity of God.

When asked what she hope students gain from her classes, Dr. Shi says, “I hope they come to realize that everything is God’s creation—whatever organisms we are learning about. Everything is all due to God’s work. It’s just wonderful.”

For Dr. Shi, this constant reminder of God’s sovereignty over creation helps her trust in Him daily. Just as God provides plants with the features they need to obtain light, water, and nutrients, He provides strength and assurance to us. “He’s constantly reminding me of His faithfulness,” she says. “He carries me through.”

Learn more about Corban’s biology program.