Wonder and Worship: Beauty in Science

Tamsin Whitfield. Silver contaminents crop
© Tamsin Whitfield

Last week saw the opening of my first ever science-faith gallery exhibition. The space is a white-walled corner of my church, set aside for creative members of the congregation to display their handiwork. The pictures were all provided by members of the church who are scientists and engineers. Our aim is to showcase some of the beauty we see in the course of our work, and communicate how it helps us to worship God. The people involved have all given me permission to share their images and text here. I hope you enjoy this very diverse collection of images from a wide range of scientific disciplines, and can identify with some of the thoughts they have expressed about science and worship.


Tamsin Whitfield

I’m a fourth year student studying a Masters in Materials Science here in Cambridge, though this image was taken on a summer placement at Hong Kong University. The picture (taken on a scanning electron microscope and colour added after) shows what happened when my experiment didn’t go to plan, leaving feathery silver deposits all over the copper oxide (red). I love how many beautiful things there are, even on scales we couldn’t usually see – there is so much that is stunning, unexpected and amazingly designed to explore – it’s the greatest artwork ever made!


Elizabeth Sharpe

I am a Chartered Hydrogeologist, married to Andrew, currently on a career break to concentrate on being a mum to Esther (age 3). This is an outcrop of the Chalk in Cherry Hinton Pits. I find it amazing that as well as its beauty under a microscope and majesty in a cliff face, the Chalk rock formation is functional; filtering, storing and transporting all of the water supplied to Cambridge and the surrounding villages. What an awesome, creative and imaginative God we worship!

Elizabeth Sharpe
© Elizabeth Sharpe, Cherry Hinton Chalk Pits

Joe Ogborn

Joe Ogborn
By Sandbh (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I work as a writer for the Royal Society of Chemistry developing resources for chemistry teachers. The periodic table is a beautiful arrangement of all the known elements on earth. (Elements are the building blocks from which all of matter is created. Your body is mostly made up of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, calcium and phosphorous.) For me, it demonstrates the fact that God has given us the ability to make sense of the world around us. It’s no surprise that a God of order should be the Creator of a universe that can be beautifully ordered and categorised into horizontal rows and vertical columns. So much is contained in such a simple table.


Emily Dry

I did my PhD in supramolecular chemistry – designing molecules that stick themselves together (self-assemble) in a predetermined way. I am now mum to Oliver (6 months) and take my research into state schools with The Brilliant Club. The triangular structure is made up of 12 different molecules and 6 copper cations, which self-assembled first into 3 asymmetric subunits that then self-assembled to form this triangle. The microscope picture shows the crystals of the triangle (dark red clumps) next to the smaller, more defined crystals of the subunits (bright red). I love that you can control something so tiny as atoms and molecules and predict the result, and yet the difficulty of that task even for such a small structure as this fills me with wonder at the complexity of biological superstructures: God designed them, made them and enabled them to replicate, all with no test tubes!


Mercy Danga

Mercy Danga
© Mercy Danga

I am a molecular biologist, and I study diabetes, obesity and metabolic disorders in a lab at the Institute of Metabolic Science, Addenbrookes Hospital. This picture is a cross-section of the gland that secretes adrenaline, which is also involved in diabetes. Cells are made up of incredibly complex structures, and the interconnection of biological molecules is what makes life possible. I worship the God who created these complex structures, and he wants to make people’s lives better by making me understand such disorders and targets for future treatments and prevention measures.


Tim Bushell

I’m an infrastructure adviser with the UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID) currently working in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. This is a ‘vented drift’ in a dry river bed in rural Tanzania, which is like a bridge but designed to let water flood over it during heavy floods. I worship God when people’s lives are made better!

Tim Bushell
© Colleague of Tim Bushell

Matthew

I work in the remote mountains of Nepal, researching bees at high altitude to help people there. These are three different wild bee species, one of which might be a honey producer, and a mountain flower. Taking these bees and flowers – already beautiful – and forming something to bless the poor in Jesus’ name, is for me an act of worship.


Ruth Bancewicz

I work at the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, St Edmund’s College, but this photo was taken when I was a PhD student in genetics at the MRC Human Genetics Unit/Edinburgh University.

Ruth B
© Ruth Bancewicz

This picture is of a zebrafish at less than a day old. The camera is looking down on its head, and the whole thing is completely translucent so you can see every developing organ. Studying these fish helped me to worship God because it opened my eyes to the beauty and wonder of living things.


Phil Balding

Phil Balding
© Phil Balding

I am a Biochemist working on DNA sequencing, using a technology invented here in Cambridge. This picture is of an enzyme that makes DNA (top left), clusters of DNA bound to a glass surface and imaged on an Genome Analyser (top right), and part of the human X Chromosome sequence (bottom). When I think about how everything that makes a human can be boiled down to DNA, it makes me stand in awe of the infinite God who breathed life into this bag of molecules, wants to have a relationship with me, and even came down to earth and dwelt among us.


God’s Universal Orchestra: Tuning in with shrimp, mountains and stars

8464998978_29a69462ed_b
Rainbow Gate by Christos Tsoumplekas. Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Bible says that all creation praises God, but our human-centred view might make us call this into question. How can non-human beings and even inanimate elements of creation praise their maker? How are we to understand Continue reading

Joy to the World: Environmental Ethics from the Birth of Jesus

hilary_marlow
Dr Hilary Marlow

Today I am tucked away in the nice warm office of Dr Hilary Marlow, Biblical Scholar and Course Director at the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, who will be talking to us in this Christmas podcast. Hello Hilary!

Hello Cara.

…you can listen to our conversation here or read the transcipt provided below. Continue reading

Interview: Communicating science and faith in schools

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© Stephanie Bryant

One of the main issues for conservation is communication. How can scientists share their knowledge with the people whose behaviour is affecting the land? This is one of the questions that drew zoologist Stephanie Bryant into Continue reading

Faithful to Science: The Role of Science in Religion

241
© Revati Upadhya, freeimages.com

This absurd cathedral which struts about

on flopping slabs of meat,

flip-flop, flip-flop,

This crazy lug-eared moon,

Big Ben whose driven face

helplessly ding-dongs

its incidental time and place,

This masked intruder

on the African plain,

Peerer through twin key-holes,

Bearer of a vastly hidden space,

is the entirely given vehicle

and the lovely means of grace.

This poem, titled ‘Grace Notes’, was written by the Oxford Physics Professor Andrew Steane. He used it to open his seminar on The Role of Science in Religion at the Faraday Institute earlier this year. Blending references to different branches of science with other types of knowing, it communicates that everything we are and have is a gift, enabling us to give something back. In this way, religion adds nothing to science, but it also adds everything.

Science, said Steane, also adds something to religion. For a start, it highlights the difference between genuine faith and ignorant superstition. A Christian can also celebrate science and do it well, not as an add-on to his or her spiritual activities, but alongside everything else that is part of ‘God’s kingdom’.

Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, James Clark Maxwell, J.J. Thompson, Lord Kelvin, and Arthur Eddington, were all famous for their contributions to physics. They also made known their deeply owned and reflective faith in God, worshipping him with all of their heart, soul and mind. Steane’s own contribution – his seminar, book, poetry and blog – demonstrate this point more than adequately, so I will simply finish with another of his poems.

Red shift

Courtesy of NASA
Courtesy of NASA

Held by an image of our outer space:

Spots, dots, and whirls of white and red,

Time-tunneling in silent grace,

Parsecs where only thought can tread.

 

Blue blazes of the younger fire,

Red smudges of the ancient mist,

Vast mergers of the flowing gyre

Down ages of the world persist.

 

These distant forms of space and truth

Work back upon the thoughts we frame;

Prayer wrestles with a shaping sieve:

Dead words or else a larger name.

 

Come, heart, and ask in mindful voice,

Draws over there that which can love?

Lights there a dance which can rejoice?

Rests there a hold of things above?

241cAndrew Steane’s recent book, Faithful to Science: The Role of Science in Religion, is available from Oxford University Press for £19.99. He blogs at grievingturtle.com, and an explanation of his poem Red Shift can be found here. Poetry reproduced by permission of the author.

Breathe

Adam Ciesielski, freeimages.com
© Adam Ciesielski, freeimages.com

Every time you breathe, a series of air pockets with a combined surface area the size of a tennis court is bathed with oxygen. In your lungs, the boundary between air and blood is so thin that oxygen and carbon dioxide can diffuse freely from one to the other. So every time your heart beats, the blood rushing around your body is refreshed with enough new oxygen to keep you alive.

A while ago I commented on the lack of current science in Christian worship music, but the very next month a song was released that at least hinted that we know enough about the working of our bodies to show us something amazing about God.

You show your majesty

In every star that shines,

And every time we breathe
.

Your glory, God revealed

From distant galaxies

To here beneath our skin.

excerpt from Magnificent (Kingsway, 2011)

Matt Redman, who co-wrote th song with Jonas Myrin, is an astronomy geek Continue reading

Humility

Martin Walls, http://www.freeimages.com
© Martin Walls, http://www.freeimages.com

A few years ago I paid a visit to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History‘s Human Origins exhibition. Our tour guide was Rick Potts, director of the Human Origins Program and curator of anthropology at the Museum. Potts has been involved in activities with BioLogos, and is keen to help Christians understand his research.

The David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins follows the history of humankind, starting with creatures that were just beginning to walk upright, and moving right through to the present day. We were shown the development of tools, different types of food, social activities and symbolism. It was fascinating to explore the artifacts and reconstructions of the digs where they had been found, but I also found the experience very moving. Continue reading