Science and Belief

Some Very Extraordinary Animals: The Burgess Shale Fossils

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Hallucigenia © Apokryltaros, Creative Commons 3.0 license

Hallucigenia © Apokryltaros, Creative Commons 3.0 license

I want to share with you some of what must be the most odd-looking animals of all time. Of course they only look strange because most of us have never encountered them before. They lived in the sea more than 500 million years ago, were preserved in the mud that engulfed them at their death, and ended up as part of the Rocky Mountain Range, northern Greenland, and south-east China.

The creatures in question are named after the place where they were first found, the Burgess Shale, which lies between Mount Field and Wapta Mountain in Yoho National Park, Canada. They are thought to have lived in fairly deep water a short distance from the ancient continent of Laurentia. [1] At that time there was very little life on the land, but the oceans were Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ruth Bancewicz

December 18, 2014 at 10:00 am

Star Gazing

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What kind of star did the Magi think they were following? Coming from east of the Holy Land, they may well have been from Babylon or Persia, both of which had a rich tradition of astronomy. They would probably have had a very sophisticated understanding of the movements of the heavenly bodies. On the other hand, they (understandably) knew nothing about plasma and the nuclear fusion that powers every star in the sky.

The idea of tracking a great flaming ball of gas and energy might sound less romantic than the wise men’s tale, but it does stir the imagination. To my mind, the formation of a vast and ancient universe is a magnificent prelude to the visit of God himself in human form.

2014 has seen an unprecedented level of space exploration. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ruth Bancewicz

December 12, 2014 at 10:00 am

Conservation with a purpose

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Dragonfly

© Steph Bryant

Could a Biblical understanding of our relationship with nature be the key to effective and purposeful conservation? As part of this current series of guest posts, Steph Bryant, coordinator of the God and the Big Bang project, writes about the relationship between human beings and the planet. She considers the damage we have done, and whether there is any place for hope as we explore ways to remedy the situation and better care for the world around us.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been enthralled by animals. This fascination has steadily grown into a love for scientific knowledge, which helps me to understand the natural world. It was of very little surprise to anyone who knew me that I found myself studying Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge, specialising in zoology and focussing my final year studies on ecology and conservation science. For me, an appreciation of the natural world leads naturally Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ruth Bancewicz

December 4, 2014 at 10:00 am

A Cross-Shaped Universe: Reflections of a Christian Physicist

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© Mark Neuburger, freeimages.com

© Mark Neuburger, freeimages.com

If faith informs how we do science (see last week’s post), how does science inform faith? Wilson Poon is Professor of condensed matter physics at the University of Edinburgh, and has thought deeply about this question. His scientific work is on the organised behaviour of different physical and biological systems, especially colloidal particles and motile bacteria. In this week’s guest post, Wilson explores what it means for him to look for God’s presence in the laboratory.

Psalm 19 says that ‘the heavens declare the glory of God.’ Nevertheless, scientists make daily progress in understanding the heavens above and the earth below without recourse to God. Thus, Psalm 19 is perhaps too easy a starting point for a laboratory spirituality today. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ruth Bancewicz

November 27, 2014 at 10:44 am

Earthworms and Orchids: Why the founders of modern science cultivated virtue

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© Alfred Borchard, www.freeimages.com

© Alfred Borchard, http://www.freeimages.com

I met a man at a conference this year who said he has spent his whole life studying. I have no idea how he funds his insatiable appetite for new knowledge, but it seems he has spent his days going from one topic to the other, modelling himself as a renaissance man. He told me stories of people in 1970’s Germany who spent ten to fifteen years on a single undergraduate degree, often taking just one class at a time. For him, learning was of such value that it was worth approach it steadily and patiently, as a means in itself. I find this attitude a bit extreme, but it’s an interesting way of looking at life!

I recognised this perspective when I heard Richard Bellon, Assistant Professor with a joint appointment in the Department of History and the Lyman Briggs College at Michigan State University, speak recently on values in the scientific community. Bellon has been studying Victorian scientists, or – as he says on his website – ‘obsessing about men with muttonchops who obsessed over the sex lives of plants’. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ruth Bancewicz

November 20, 2014 at 10:00 am

Beauty, awe and vulnerability: The sea and Scripture

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© Karin Lindstrom, freeimages.com

© Karin Lindstrom, freeimages.com

My father loves sailing and anything to do with the sea, so I grew up hearing him joke from time to time, ‘I’m a bit worried about going to heaven, because the Bible says there will be no sea!’ I think the part he was referring to was Revelation 21, ‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had ceased to exist, and the sea existed no more.’ Of course my dad knows that the writer of Revelation was using metaphor to describe the future, but his quips have left me thinking about what the sea meant for people at that time.

Meric Srokosz, the Associate Director of the Faraday Institute, shares my father’s interest in what the Bible has to say about the sea. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ruth Bancewicz

November 13, 2014 at 10:00 am

Peering into the Brain

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© Cecilia Picco, www.freeimages.com

© Cecilia Picco, http://www.freeimages.com

If Christians are called to “love the Lord your God with your whole mind, your whole being, and all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5), then what happens when neurological disease strikes? Dr Clare Redfern is running a project with neurologist Revd Dr Alasdair Coles, based at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and the Faraday Institute. They are investigating whether degenerative diseases within the brain, in particular Parkinson’s Disease, affect people’s religious faith and spirituality. In this month’s guest post, Clare describes some of her work.

Parkinson’s Disease is well known as a disorder that produces physical features such as tremor, slowed movements and speech. The degeneration of neuronal networks in the brain also frequently produces emotional and cognitive effects. We are looking at how people with Parkinson’s Disease think and feel about faith and religious belief. If they are believers, might they lose interest in prayer or worship? Does God seem more distant, or possibly closer?

In reviewing the work of others in this field, I have been Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ruth Bancewicz

November 6, 2014 at 10:00 am

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