Star Gazing

© Ben Earwicker, www.garrisonphoto.org
© Ben Earwicker, http://www.garrisonphoto.org

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. Continue reading

Beauty, awe and vulnerability: The sea and Scripture

© 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. Continue reading

Considering Beauty

Lime tree, microscopic view. K Szkurlatowski, 12frames.eu
Lime tree, microscopic view. © K Szkurlatowski, 12frames.eu

I have often written about beauty here, and Francesca Day mentioned it last week, but without defining the word itself. William Edgar is a musician and theologian based at Westminster Theological Seminary, and in his lecture Beauty Reconsidered he gave a history of the concept of beauty and proposed a form of aesthetics that I think will resonate with the ideals of many Christians working in the sciences.

In the 1960s, it was said anyone who pronounced something ‘beautiful’ was trying to exert power over it. That power was rejected, and the concept of beauty went into hibernation – at least in academic circles in Europe and North America.

It’s impossible, however, to suppress our sense of beauty. In the 1990s, philosophers started Continue reading

Reimagining Job

Orion Nebula, NASA, ESA, M. Robberto & Hubble Orion Treasury Project Team
Orion Nebula, NASA, ESA, M. Robberto & Hubble Orion Treasury Project Team

I recently got together with some scientists and theologians to study part of Job. The final few chapters (38-42) of this book are a description of God’s role in creating and sustaining the universe and everything in it: the Sun and stars, Earth and sea, weather and wild animals. Stars move in their courses, weather changes and animals behave in their different ways. We didn’t make any of these things ourselves [1] and we have very little control over them, even with today’s scientific knowledge.

But are we any less awe-struck because we now understand how some of these processes work? If so, how can we identify with the Continue reading

Why I am a Christian

Chris Wittwer, http://www.sxc.hu/
© Chris Wittwer, http://www.sxc.hu/

When describing her own Christian faith, Rosalind Picard, a Professor at the MIT Media Lab, said that ‘I know some people will assume I have lost my marbles…I also know that if they move beyond such superficial characterisations and ask hard questions, the ones about real meaning and purpose, that they will see more of what I see.’ That is how I feel in trying to describe my own faith. I’ve already given some hints about what I believe in previous blogs[1], but I thought it would be good to spell it out a bit more.

How can a scientist be a Christian? W.K. Clifford, a mathematician and philosopher at University College London in the nineteenth century, said that ‘it is wrong always, everywhere, and for everyone, to believe anything on insufficient evidence’. I agree with Clifford, although Continue reading

Big Bang, Big God

big bang big God coverThe development of the Big Bang theory is an example of how faith responses can contribute to the scientific discussion in a positive way. Rodney Holder, an Anglican priest and former cosmologist, has contributed to this conversation for a number of years. He has just published a new book, ‘Big Bang Big God: A Universe designed for life?’ that aims to bring the debate to a wider audience.

Until the 1920’s, the scientific consensus was that the universe is a static entity: it has always been there, and it always will. Einstein’s general theory of relativity linked matter, time and space and Einstein came up with a solution which gave a static, eternal universe. In 1927 the Catholic priest and physicist Georges Lemaitre came up with another solution, in which the universe was expanding.

A couple of years after Lemaitre came up with his new model, Edwin Hubble discovered astronomical evidence for an expanding universe – the famous redshift. Then in 1931 Lemaître came up with a further solution in which the universe expanded from a highly compact initial state which he called the ‘primeval atom’. Some scientists objected to Lemaitre’s proposal. Einstein thought it was ‘abominable’, and the Cambridge Professor of Astronomy Fred Hoyle derisively called it the ‘Big Bang theory’, Continue reading

The Concept of Personhood

Aleksandra P, www.sxc.hu
© Aleksandra P, http://www.sxc.hu

Last week at the Faraday Institute Daniel Weiss, Polonsky-Coexist Lecturer in Jewish Studies at Cambridge University Divinity Faculty, spoke on the concept of the person in Judaism.

The Greek philosophical idea of the disembodied soul has affected the way we view ourselves, even at a scientific level. We still have the very deeply rooted idea that it’s the mind or brain alone that does our thinking, despite evidence showing that the rest of our bodies also affect the way we think. For example, it’s harder to understand sad or angry statements if you can’t frown (because of Botox injections), and children find it easier to learn when they act a story out rather than just read it.

The evidence for embodied thinking hasn’t been given very much attention, because our dualistic model of the person as ‘body plus mind’ is so deeply rooted Continue reading