What do people in the UK think about biology in the light of faith? I have already mentioned a survey of UK biologist’s beliefs, but last month the results of another survey were released. Dr Amy Unsworth of the Faraday Institute has been studying the general population, and the results are even more surprising.1
A nationally-representative YouGov survey of 2116 people in Britain reveals that the vast majority of people either accept or don’t feel strongly either way about a number of key findings of modern science: that plants and animals have evolved from earlier life forms (97%), that humans have evolved from non-human life forms (93.2%), or that the earth is billions of years old (96%). 24.5% of people said that they had become more accepting of evolution over the years.
Amongst regular worshippers (those who attend religious services once Read the rest of this entry »
Last week I mentioned that a large proportion of biologists believe in God, so it’s time to hear from one of those people. Philippa Darbre is an Associate Professor in Oncology at the University of Reading. She began her career with a degree in biochemistry from Birmingham and then a PhD from Cambridge. After 5 years at the Molecular Medicine Institute, Oxford, and 9 at Cancer Research UK, she joined the University of Reading in 1991. Philippa begins her own story of of relating science to faith with a verse from Psalm 8.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them?
At its essence, science is about observing the world around us, and exploring how it works, or, in my case in cancer research, trying to understand how things can go wrong. The beauty of the night sky is Read the rest of this entry »
42% of biologists in the UK are female, with an average age of 37, and 47% are not from the UK. Not many labs keep a stock of funky pink lab coats, but the cartoon here is a reminder that the iconic picture of a Caucasian male (preferably with a mop of white fuzzy hair) is no longer representative of the average lab worker.
On the other hand, when sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund and her collaborators surveyed the population of British biologists, they found that gender, age, rank and institution seem to have no effect on whether a person is likely to feel a sense of religious belonging.* Some of the preliminary findings of this survey were presented at the Faraday Institute’s Uses and Abuses of Biology workshop in September, and it’s worth reading the full paper, co-authored with Christopher Scheilte.
Ecklund’s earlier study on religion among scientists in the US showed that there are a significant number of scientists who describe themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious’ (see earlier blogs). In the UK this group does not seem to exist. Perhaps, suggested Ecklund, the Church of England is so widely accepted as a cultural institution that people do not feel the need to distance themselves from religion.**
I was sad to find, however, that fewer UK-based biologists Read the rest of this entry »
Every time you breathe, a series of air pockets with a combined surface area the size of a tennis court is bathed with oxygen. In your lungs, the boundary between air and blood is so thin that oxygen and carbon dioxide can diffuse freely from one to the other. So every time your heart beats, the blood rushing around your body is refreshed with enough new oxygen to keep you alive.
A while ago I commented on the lack of current science in Christian worship music, but the very next month a song was released that at least hinted that we know enough about the working of our bodies to show us something amazing about God.
You show your majesty
In every star that shines,
And every time we breathe .
Your glory, God revealed
From distant galaxies
To here beneath our skin.
excerpt from Magnificent (Kingsway, 2011)
Matt Redman, who co-wrote th song with Jonas Myrin, is an astronomy geek Read the rest of this entry »
The film ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ and its recent sequel are reminders of how exciting it is when powerful things are used for good ends. Hiccup and his friends discovered how great dragons are at taking you flying, being your loyal friend, and protecting you from enormous monsters. A couple of weeks ago, Mike Clifford was using engineering to develop low-tech solutions to difficult problems. And at a workshop held by BioLogos this summer, psychologist Justin Barrett explained how the Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR) is useful for engaging more deeply with Christian ways of thinking. (The link with the film was his original touch, not mine!)
CSR is a growing field of research into the way we think, particularly the processes of our minds that could be classed as religious. One of the recurring themes in this area is the naturalness of religion. Some scholars look at the evidence that faith communities Read the rest of this entry »
In the last few weeks, the world has watched as a new burst of seismic activity in Iceland led to a dramatic eruption near the volcano Bardarbunga. Bob White, Professor of Geophysics at Cambridge University, heads up a research team who have been recording earthquakes caused by the massive underground flow of magma. Unusually for a full-time Professor, Bob is also the Director of the Faraday Institute. In this guest post, he describes the wonder of this spectacle and how it relates to his own faith.
We arrived at the eruption site around midnight on 1st September. My team and I were part of just a handful of people allowed into the 10,000 square kilometre exclusion zone – a black volcanic desert 2,000 feet high. The darkness of the night was uninterrupted by any human lights, and we knew there was no-one else Read the rest of this entry »
Some scientists are driven by answering questions about how the world works, and others are more interested in applying that knowledge to new problems. Before I interviewed Mike Clifford, I knew him as an engineer who works on appropriate technology at the University of Nottingham. What I found was that he is actually committed to both very technical mathematically-based research, and developing simple solutions to pressing problems. Our meeting was at a Christians in Science conference, and Mike is another example of someone whose faith and work are not so much complementary as indistinguishable.
I chose to study engineering at university because I wanted to do something practical. I was told that I would enjoy a combination of physics and maths, but I found myself enjoying beautiful equations more than anything else, so I rebelled and went on to do a PhD in maths. After several years doing computational modelling and braid and knot theory, I got a job modelling traffic pollution in an architecture department. That was followed by a project on chaotic mixing, and another on composite materials.
I could have easily stayed on the pure side of maths, but I rediscovered my desire Read the rest of this entry »