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 →
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 →
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 →
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. Our response to those feelings is rational, emotional and active: worship as well as theology.
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. Andworship is a deliberate expression of awe’.Continue reading →
Michael Faraday would no doubt be acutely embarrassed if he had lived to see an Institute named after him. He was one of the greatest experimental scientists of all time but he also gave himself to public education, shunned wealth and fame, and belonged to a small Christian denomination called the ‘Sandemanians’. This week at the Faraday Institute we hosted the chemist and former director of the Royal Institution, Sir John Meurig Thomas, who spoke about the Genius of Michael Faraday.
Michael Faraday (1791-1867) was the son of a blacksmith. He received a very basic education as a child, and was apprenticed to a bookbinder at the age of 14. Faraday was extremely bright, and finding himself surrounded by books, decided to educate himself – inspired by Isaac Watts’ ‘Improvement of the Mind’. A customer noticed his intelligence and gave him tickets to a series of lectures by the great chemist Humphrey Davy.
In the early nineteenth century the chemical revolution was in full swing. Successful experimentalists like Davy were celebrated figures, and drew huge audiences. Faraday was gripped. He wrote up his notes from the lectures – three hundred pages including illustrations – and sent a bound copy to Davy, asking for a job. Davy was so impressed by Faraday’s work that he employed him as a secretary, and found him a job at the Royal Institution the following year. Continue reading →
The well-known geneticist Francis Collins is in the habit of breaking into song on special occasions. The only other person I have known to sing during a science-faith presentation is environmental scientist Calvin (Cal) DeWitt. At the 2007 conference of Christians in Science and the ASA in Edinburgh, DeWitt concluded his talk by leading us all in song. You can hear it here (fast forward to the last 2 minutes, unless you want to hear the whole talk which is very good). It was a moving moment, and a significant one. Here was a scientist wearing his heart on his sleeve and expressing himself through art as well as scientific jargon.
I wasn’t at all surprised – though I was pleased – when DeWitt published a new book this year entitled ‘Song of a Scientist’. This ‘song’ is a weaving together of different stories: autobiographical, ecological, and ethical. The autobiographical story is of DeWitt’s life in science: some initial work in zoology, a switch to environmental science, and his part in making the Town of Dunn a sustainable development. Woven through this account are stories of animals, plants and whole ecosystems that sing their own song. The ethical part is what DeWitt does best; his knowledge of the natural world and its destruction is encyclopaedic, but he has also been involved in putting into action practical methods to care for the earth that are both sustainable and acceptable to its human inhabitants. This isn’t a hair-shirt way of living: it’s a living of life to the full in the most joyful way possible. Continue reading →
This is the second part of my interview with marine conservationist Bob Sluka. Here he explains how he gradually came to realise the importance of his work from a faith perspective, and is now combining the two in a unique way. (Part 1 here)
I’ve been on a journey. I come from a fairly conservative American evangelical background, with all the good stuff and also some of the baggage. I think my experience is probably similar to that of many Americans, where at first science seemed to have no relevance to my faith. At university I joined the InterVarsity Christian student group and was involved in different activities on campus – but that was the only implementation of my faith at the time. Continue reading →