Archive for the ‘Scientists of faith’ Category
To continue my series of scientist’s life stories (part 1 here, part 2 here), this week’s post is from Sir Ghillean T Prance, a botanist and ecologist whose career has taken him to the forests of Brazil, the New York Botanical Garden and Kew Gardens. He is currently the Scientific Director of the Eden Project and a trustee of the Christian conservation group A Rocha. Prance became a Christian at university and was accepted for ordination in the Anglican Church, but decided that science was the best place to use his talents. Here, he describes how his research and his faith have complemented each other throughout his career.
I first went to the Amazon region in 1963 to study plants and to collect material for basic taxonomic work. During the first ten years of my exploration in Amazonia I was privileged to travel widely and had a wonderful opportunity to carry out research in the region, with little concern for environmental issues. Read the rest of this entry »
This week’s post is from Sir John Houghton, former Director General of the British MET Office, and former co-chair of the scientific assessment working group of the IPCC. This post was adapted from a chapter from the book Real Science, Real Faith (Monarch, 1991)*
When people discover that I am involved with weather forecasting and also that I am a Christian, I am often asked if I believe that there is any point in praying about the weather—praying for rain, for instance, when it is badly needed. I reply that I believe it is entirely sensible and meaningful to pray about the weather as, indeed, it is to pray about other things. But I also say that my belief in the meaningfulness of prayer in no way alters my determination as a scientist to develop the very best means of weather forecasting, nor does it cause me to doubt that the behaviour of weather systems follows deterministic scientific laws.
This month’s guest post is from Rhoda Hawkins, a theoretical physicist from the University of Sheffield. Rhoda recently spoke on ‘Should we mind, and does it matter?’ at the Christians in Science student conference. Here, she asks how much Christians should be involved in discussing questions of science and faith.
Why should we engage our minds in science and religion issues? Why should we engage with the big questions of mind and matter? Firstly Christians who are scientists are whole, integrated people – body, mind and spirit – so to be true to ourselves and to God we should hold together the different aspects of who we are. Read the rest of this entry »
Sir Colin Humphreys is Professor of Materials Science at Cambridge University, and his most heavily quoted paper – one in the prestigious scientific journal Nature – is on the dating of the crucifixion of Jesus. How did this come about? Humphreys is a Christian, so as he said in the book Real Science, Real Faith, he has ‘made it a particular personal interest…to try to pin down more accurately the dates of some important biblical events.’
I have written before on Humphreys’ work on the dating of the birth of Jesus, but as Easter is coming soon, it seemed a good time to talk about his death. Jesus’ crucifixion is dated around 30-33AD, but Humphreys and his astrophysicist colleague W.G. Waddington came up with the more exact date. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
Wonder can be one of the biggest drivers for a scientist, whatever their beliefs might happen to be. I have recently been reading the work of John Polkinghorne. He writes that, for him, wonder points to something beyond science.
Revd Dr John Polkinghorne, KBE was a particle physicist, and Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge University. He had always been active in his Christian faith but when he reached his mid-forties he decided that he’d “done [his] bit for physics”, resigned from his university position, and began a second career in the Church. After a number of years as a parish priest he returned to the academic world and made a significant contribution to the field of science and religion, something he has continued to do long after his retirement.
How does a scientist define themselves when their work isn’t their primary identity? This month’s guest post is from Emily Sturgess, a biologist who has found a niche in Oxford.
It took me a while to realise that when you introduce yourself to someone you don’t have to define yourself with a single label. As if the supplies in the stationery cupboard were rationed, I felt for a long time that I was allowed only one label to stick on myself to describe what I do. I am the Development Officer for Christians in Science, so I spend a lot of time with people who describe themselves as ‘scientists’. That makes a lot of sense: they actively participate in scientific research, are employed by science departments in universities, and think ‘scientifically’. It is their profession, and the label is wholly applicable.
All the same, I have always been slightly uneasy about declaring myself Read the rest of this entry »
There’s a kind of statistics that has been developed specifically for cases when you can see the effects of something but you don’t understand the cause. You know enough to make some assumptions, and then design some experiments to test them. In the light of those results you do some better experiments, and so on. Gradually you learn how likely it is that your starting assumptions were true.
A number of people have applied this Bayesian reasoning to the existence of God. You can’t measure him, but you can test your starting hypothesis in different ways and refine your thinking each time you find some new evidence. For example if you take the cosmological argument, add consciousness, then morality, throw in miracles and top it off with religious experience, you can begin to develop an argument for the existence of a god.
One thing I always try to do on this blog is explain what it’s actually like to do science: the fun parts, the challenges, and the mundane – in other words, the human side of science, and particularly biological science. To back up my ramblings with some perspective from someone who’s spent longer in the lab than I did, I recently interviewed Harvey McMahon. He runs a very successful lab at the prestigious MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge. McMahon studies the brain, and has spent time looking at the mechanisms behind the incredibly fast communication between brain cells, or neurones. He has also spoken at the Faraday Institute recently (see previous posts).
We get to hear about the discoveries of scientists in the news, but we don’t often get to find out how those discoveries are made. Like all professions, the every day is very unglamorous. In science there is more than enough interest and excitement to keep people coming back to work day after day, putting in the hours in the evenings and at weekends.
I was interested to find out McMahon’s views on science: what makes good research, what makes a good lab tick, and how is it possible to learn anything new in biology? Read the rest of this entry »
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. Read the rest of this entry »