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

Churches Celebrating Science

St John’s Church, Waterbeach, © Trevor Thorn

We have held a science-themed session for the children in my church a couple of times, but what about something for everyone? A church leader in Cambridgeshire recently contacted me because he was about to run a science and faith weekend in his parish, and I thought it was such a great idea that I wanted to spread the word.

Trevor Thorn, a fundraising professional and lay minister for two country churches, has always had a passion for both science and creativity. When he suggested a science-themed weekend at All Saints’ Landbeach and St John’s Waterbeach, he received such an overwhelmingly positive response that he decided to give it a go. The person in charge of the childrens’ work happened to be a mathematician who shared his interest in science, and another member of the congregation was also a lab technician. Together they planned a series of activities that would show how science Continue reading

The New Psalmists

croatian monastery 2 cropped
Croatian cloister © Ruth Bancewicz

For Christians, science can enhance our worship, both individual and collective. CS Lewis wrote that worship completes our enjoyment of something,[i] and enjoyment of creation has always played a part in fostering worship. Monasteries and retreat houses often include open spaces or gardens where people can draw near to God through being surrounded by nature, and church buildings and cathedrals often contain natural motifs. The Psalms are very early examples of worship songs that express joy at the glory of creation. In other parts of the Bible the immensity and grandeur of creation is also used to invoke a feeling of awe and worship. Perhaps the most powerful expression of this is found in the book of Job. In the last few chapters, God describes the great sweep of his works in nature. We now understand some parts of the processes described – the formation of Earth, weather and animal behaviour, for example – but the whole is just as awesome as it was thousands of years ago. ‘And these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?’ (Job 26:14) Continue reading

Life in a Bountiful Universe

Omega Centauri star cluster cropped
Omega centauri star cluster, Hubblesite.org, NASA

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. Continue reading

Soli Deo Gloria

Michael & Christa Richert, http://www.sxc.hu/
© Michael & Christa Richert, http://www.sxc.hu/

For most Christians working in science, their work helps them to worship. The theologian Alister McGrath has written a number of books about the relationship between science and Christianity, but he also stresses that our response to what we see in science should not simply be intellectual. A Christian view of nature should recognise the intuitive sense of awe and wonder that we have when we look at the natural world, and our increased awe as our scientific understanding grows.[1] Our response to those feelings is rational, emotional and active: worship as well as theology.[2] How does a scientist worship? In her writing on wonder, the philosopher and cognitive scientist Margaret Boden captures the experience of a Christian scientist when she says that ‘awe is a high degree of wonder, in which fear and respect are prominent. And worship is a deliberate expression of awe’.[3] Continue reading