The Human Side of Science

How can a scientist who is also a person of faith communicate their experiences of working in a lab? In this video five scientists express how science has helped their faith to grow.

In a further series of videos, I explain my motivations behind writing God in the lab (Monarch, Jan 2015), and describe my favourite parts Continue reading

God in the Lab: New book by Ruth Bancewicz

God in the Lab final cover copy 2What is it like to be a person of faith and a scientist? In a video interview[1] the theologian and former biophysicist Alister McGrath commented that we need Christian scientists who are “prepared to enter into the public arena in debate, in comment, and in the writing of books showing how faith enriches their science.”

This blog has been one such attempt to show the positive effect of science on faith, and judging by the comments over the years, it has encouraged a number of people in that direction. On the 15th of this month, Monarch will publish my book God in the Lab: How Science Enhances Faith, which Continue reading

Some Very Extraordinary Animals: The Burgess Shale Fossils

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 Continue reading

The Art of Molecular Biology

Picture of containers of DNA 'markers'
© Algiamil, http://www.sxc.hu

In Science, Faith and Creativity I explained how science can be creative, and that a Christian working in the sciences might see that as part of their relationship with God. Apart from a brief description in The Creativity of Chemistry, I haven’t yet given an example of what creative science looks like, so I will attempt to remedy that here. (This is a longer post than usual because I have included a basic explanation of molecular biology for the non biologist.)

I personally came to appreciate the creativity of science while studying genetics. Creative people generate ideas and make new things, and I discovered that lab-based research involves both of those activities. My favourite part of the genetics course at Aberdeen University was molecular biology: the study of DNA and proteins. I enjoyed the challenges of problem solving, lateral thinking and visual model making that were involved in exploring the micro-world of cells and molecules. I also appreciated that fact that we were learning about solutions to real-life issues. Continue reading

Redeeming Creativity

Darko Skender, www.sxc.hu
© Darko Skender, http://www.sxc.hu

So far my writing about creativity has been very optimistic. But not everything we do is good. There are two ways of looking at human creativity: ‘sacramental’ and ‘dialectical’. In sacramental creativity we are seen as co-creators, because what we do continues God’s act of creation in the world. A dialectical view of creativity concentrates on the fact that human beings are not perfect: we do wrong, and as such are not capable of co-creating with God. What we make is always corrupted in some way. Only through re-creation can we create well, with God’s help.[1] I find the dialectical view more helpful, because it highlights both the responsibility and the vulnerability of being human.

Thomas Merton was concerned about the corruption of creativity in art. Though writing in the 1960’s, much of what he says is no doubt applicable to contemporary art in the 2010’s. The first part of his essay ‘Theology of Creativity’, describes how a modern artist can sometimes be elevated to a priestly role Continue reading

The Creativity of God

Carpentry 1164432_72116930
© Luis Brito, http://www.sxc.hu

My theologically trained colleagues tell me that the Hebrew Scriptures are very concrete in their use of language. It’s not surprising, then, that a rather abstract concept like creativity never appears in the Bible. The creativity of God, however, is a strong theme running behind the whole text. There are images of God creating like an artist or craftsman, and one of the most famous is a beautifully poetic passage in the book of Proverbs. Wisdom is such an important part of God’s character that it is personified in Proverbs, and in Proverbs 8 wisdom is said to have been like a master craftsman (or workman) at God’s side as he created the universe.

Jesus is the Son of God and reflects God’s character perfectly, so we should expect to see creativity in his life. He was a carpenter’s son, and in those days a boy learned his father’s trade so there’s no reason to doubt that he learned to make things out of wood. Jesus began his ministry as a travelling teacher when he was around thirty, so he must have been a fairly proficient craftsman by then. We don’t read in the Bible, ‘Jesus fixed the table, and then they all sat down to the Passover meal’, but it may have happened! Continue reading

Creative lives

Mandie LeScum, www.sxc.hu
© Mandie LeScum, http://www.sxc.hu

Do scientists and ‘creatives’ have more in common than they think? I recently interviewed Dr Ruth Hogg, a vision scientist at Queen’s University, Belfast (part 1 here). During our conversation I compared the scientific lifestyle with more overtly creative artistic professions, and Ruth said there was ‘probably a closer relationship [between the two] than the general public would realise’. The freedoms and constraints, and the hectic schedule with intense periods of creativity, development and travelling sound very similar to the lifestyle of many artists.

Once you’re leading a lab, a significant part of your time is spent trying to think up new ideas for grant proposals. You’ve got to know where the field is going and how you can contribute to it. You have to be quite innovative to find ways to fund your research interests in the context of available funding streams, and that can be a good thing because it makes you broaden your horizons and think a bit more widely. Teaching students and trying to get the best out of them requires a kind of creativity as well. It’s also quite a chaotic life: it’s not a nine to five job and involves a massive amount of variety. It’s a very challenging job but there’s a level of freedom over your time and the content of your work, even for PhD students, that isn’t available in a lot of careers. For Ruth, that is one of the real advantages of science. Continue reading