Science and Belief

Archive for the ‘beauty’ Category

What does Christ have to do with Chemistry?

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Cyclostreptin, of the molecules David has made

Cyclostreptin, of the molecules David has made

David Vosburg is associate professor of Chemistry at Harvey Mudd College, Claremont, California. Here he writes about how his faith enhances, and is enhanced by his science.

A friend once asked me, “What does Christ have to do with chemistry?” He was challenging me to see how my faith might inform my plans to pursue a PhD in chemistry, and also how my understanding of chemistry might enrich my faith. I did not have a ready answer for him, so the question lingered in my thoughts for several years.

My answer developed over the following years, through Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ruth Bancewicz

February 27, 2014 at 10:00 am

The World Cries Out

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Photo © Ruth Bancewicz

Photo © Ruth Bancewicz

Let your mind roam through the whole creation; everywhere the created world will cry out to you: ‘God made me.’ Whatever pleases you in a work of art brings to your mind the artist who wrought it; much more, when you survey the universe, does the consideration of it evoke praise for its Maker. You look on the heavens; they are God’s great work. You behold the earth; God made its numbers of seeds, its varieties of plants, its multitudes of animals. Go round the heavens again and back to the earth, leave out nothing; on all sides everything cries out to you of its Author; nay the very forms of created things are as it were the voices with which they praise their creator.

This quote is from Augustine of Hippo, a theologian who lived in the fourth and fifth centuries.  I like it because it comes across as such a heartfelt outburst of praise, and it expands my view of the universe. It sounds so contemporary to me, although my own understanding of what it means to learn about God from nature is a bit different to his. I can also imagine it being very useful for a sermon on Psalm 8!

Science and science education have helped me to appreciate Augustine’s Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ruth Bancewicz

February 13, 2014 at 10:00 am

Progress?

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Lichen, Barbara Page, 2007, wikipedia.org

Lichen, Barbara Page, 2007, wikipedia.org

The process of evolution has produced a world of great beauty, diversity and complexity. Ants form structured societies, trees reach for the skies, and whole ecosystems thrive in inhospitable-sounding places like underwater caves, deserts or deep-sea trenches. Where the air is clean, rocks and anything else that doesn’t move is covered with a crust of lichen – a partnership between fungus and algae (or bacteria) that survives even the harshest of weather. The constant adaptation of living things to their environment through the accumulation of tried and tested genetic changes produces the most incredible solutions to living in different environments.

Oddly (to me), the concept of progress in evolution is debated among biologists. Change happens, but is it directional in any way? Denis Alexander spoke on this subject at the Faith and Thought conference in October last year. I was fascinated to hear about the changes in ideology among scientists over time, and I wonder how their views will develop in future years? Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ruth Bancewicz

January 23, 2014 at 11:45 am

Looking East at Sunset

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Wotjow, commons.wikimedia.org

Wotjow, commons.wikimedia.org

I have written about science being creative, and here’s a great story along those lines: the poet and priest Gerard Manley Hopkins published in the scientific journal Nature*. Hopkins’ contribution to science took the form of two letters, A Curious Halo and Shadow-Beams in the East at Sunset, that were published in November 1882 and November 1883, based on observations he had made of the setting sun.

Hopkins did something most people don’t think of, and turned his back to the setting sun. What he saw was a series of rays that looked as if they were coming from the horizon at a point opposite the sun. This light-effect had already been observed by meteorologists, and is simply the shadows of clouds in front of the sun, cast from one horizon to the other. Perspective makes these shadows appear to be converging in the east, but they are in fact parallel. The technical name for them is ‘anticrepuscular rays’. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ruth Bancewicz

November 28, 2013 at 10:00 am

Life in a Bountiful Universe

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Omega Centauri star cluster cropped

Omega centauri star cluster, Hubblesite.org

The astronomer Dr Jennifer Wiseman visited Cambridge recently to speak about her work on ‘exoplanet’ discovery. Exoplanets are planets in solar systems other than our own, and until 1989 they were the stuff of science fiction. Now we know there definitely are other planets in the universe, some of which may be like Earth. The discovery of life on other planets – perhaps single celled organisms – in the next few decades is a real possibility.

Our universe is active and fruitful. We live in an abundant universe, and can celebrate that with new knowledge. The changes made to the Hubble telescope in 2009 have brought us beautiful new pictures that show the universe in greater depth than ever before. This one of the Omega Centauri star cluster shows a startling variety of stars.

The universe is beautiful, and the range of telescopes that astronomers use are like a symphony orchestra, with many different instruments contributing to our knowledge of the universe. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ruth Bancewicz

May 9, 2013 at 10:00 am

Beautiful Helix

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DNA, Tomislav Alajbeg

DNA, Tomislav Alajbeg

The young researcher Matt Meselson must have been very excited when he pulled a photograph showing a series of grey stripes out of his wallet and passed it round at breakfast on New Year’s day 1958. Most of us might have a limited understanding of what he was celebrating, but his work has since been hailed as ‘the most beautiful experiment in biology’.

Last week marked the 60th anniversary of the publication of Watson and Crick’s famous Nature paper describing the structure of DNA. The now iconic helix was a bold idea based on data from the biophysicist Rosalind Franklin, and kick-started a revolution in biology. From the 1960s onwards, molecular biologists, including Matt Meselson, have been unravelling the secrets of the genome.

As a student in genetics I was taught the key experiments that helped scientists to accept that DNA was the molecule of inheritance, understand its information-carrying properties, and figure out how that information is passed on. I’m glad we didn’t have to reproduce this work in the laboratory because it was highly technical, rather tedious, and often involved the use of radioactive chemicals. With my impressive track record of spilling liquids, I’m not sure I would have survived! The resulting data, however, are beautifully simple and satisfyingly visual.

Perhaps the fuzzy grey bands that Meselson pushed under his friends’ noses that day would not look beautiful or simple to most people. To a biologist, however, the clear and visible demonstration of the ‘semiconservative’ replication of DNA by Meselson and his co-worker Frank Stahl is beauty itself. Something that looked rather boring – a series of grey stripes representing DNA with different chemical labels – has changed the way we see ourselves in a fundamental way. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ruth Bancewicz

May 2, 2013 at 10:00 am

Song of a Scientist

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The well-known geneticist Francis Collins is in the habit of breaking into song on special occasions. The only other person I have known to sing during a science-faith presentation is environmental scientist Calvin (Cal) DeWitt. At the 2007 conference of Christians in Science and the ASA in Edinburgh, DeWitt concluded his talk by leading us all in song. You can hear it here (fast forward to the last 2 minutes, unless you want to hear the whole talk which is very good). It was a moving moment, and a significant one. Here was a scientist wearing his heart on his sleeve and expressing himself through art as well as scientific jargon.

I wasn’t at all surprised – though I was pleased – when DeWitt published a new book this year entitled ‘Song of a Scientist’. This ‘song’ is a weaving together of different stories: autobiographical, ecological, and ethical. The autobiographical story is of DeWitt’s life in science: some initial work in zoology, a switch to environmental science, and his part in making the Town of Dunn a sustainable development. Woven through this account are stories of animals, plants and whole ecosystems that sing their own song. The ethical part is what DeWitt does best; his knowledge of the natural world and its destruction is encyclopaedic, but he has also been involved in putting into action practical methods to care for the earth that are both sustainable and acceptable to its human inhabitants. This isn’t a hair-shirt way of living: it’s a living of life to the full in the most joyful way possible. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ruth Bancewicz

November 15, 2012 at 10:00 am

Sea life

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Photo by Benjamin Cowburn, 2011

Over the summer I interviewed a number of scientists from different countries. The first of these interviews is with Bob Sluka, a marine conservation consultant and associate of the Faraday Institute from the US, now based in the UK and Kenya.

It’s amazing when you think that for most of human history, the only opportunity for people to see the majority of marine life was by pulling it up at the end of a line. Since the 1950s, when Jacques Cousteau and Emile Gagnan invented modern SCUBA, we have had an unprecedented opportunity to recognise the beauty in the ocean. I love scuba diving and I also enjoy science, so when I found out that I could get a degree in marine biology I thought, ‘this is fantastic!’ and became a coral reef fish ecologist.

During my PhD I studied grouper, which are fascinating fish. There are more than a hundred and sixty species globally, and a large percentage of them gather in a ‘spawning aggregation’, where they return to the same spot every year to breed en masse. A friend of mine did a tagging study, and one fish travelled over two hundred kilometres to spawn. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ruth Bancewicz

October 18, 2012 at 10:00 am

Beauty, Science & Theology, Part 3: Beauty & the Character of God

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This series of more extended posts sums up my recent work on beauty in science and theology, and is reproduced (with permission) from the BioLogos blog.

Lungs, from fact sheet © Euro Stem Cell.

What beauty tells us about God[1]

Studying God is a balancing act. At times the theologian has to hold their breath, as it were, and suspend their sense of the sacred in order to understand deep truths, but they should also spend time on their knees – perhaps both mentally and literally – revelling in the presence of God as they study his attributes.[2] I feel the same about natural theology. It’s fascinating to look at examples of fine-tuning in the universe: here, perhaps, is evidence for the existence of God. Logical analysis of physical constants requires a good deal of spiritual breath-holding, but it’s possible – at least for a time – to remain focused on the physics. It’s when I look at what creation[3] reveals of God’s character that I begin to find it difficult to sit still and calmly rational in the library. Read the rest of this entry »

Beauty, Science and Theology. Part 2: Understanding Beauty in Science

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This series of more extended posts sums up my recent work on beauty in science and theology, and is reproduced (with permission) from the BioLogos blog.

Beautiful Brain © Dr Lizzie Burns 2009

Understanding Beauty in Science

It is of course possible to appreciate the beauty of creation[1] intuitively, simply delighting in a scene full of colour, pattern and variety. We instinctively enjoy wide-open vistas, long stretches of clear water and high lookout points.[2] We also seem to value symmetry and order. But there is great pleasure to be had in training the senses to a higher degree of observation, and this is something that poets practice as well as scientists. W.H. Davies’ poem ‘Leisure’ encourages the cultivation of a deliberate habit of unhurried observation. I also love Elizabeth Barrett-Browning’s slightly caustic observation:

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Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries… Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ruth Bancewicz

August 2, 2012 at 10:00 am

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