Most scientists get excited when talking about science in general. But they get really animated when talking about their own area of research. I spent my PhD years studying microtubules, which are microscopic filaments inside living cells, and even now I get a little misty-eyed when thinking about them. To some people, microtubules might not be beautiful – in some images they look rather like a writhing hairball or bowl of spaghetti – but Continue reading
This month’s guest post is from writer Emily Ruppel, Associate Director of Communications for the American Scientific Affiliation, and Web Editor at BioLogos. Here, Emily tells about her unusual route into the science-faith arena, which began with a nun.
A few years ago while studying in the science writing master’s program at MIT, I heard about something rather brilliant from a friend at Harvard University. Brilliant things happen at Harvard all the time, of course, but this was ‘brilliant’ in a different way—unexpected, illuminating, and challenging, for the people it happened to. It opened up a course of conversation previously unavailable to its participants. It was controversial, too, in a quiet way.
What happened is this: a graduate student studying astronomy sent an email to her department announcing her imminent departure from the program. Continue reading
This week’s post was first published on the BioLogos forum. I was invited to write something about my experience of science and faith internationally. So far, we have launched the Test of Faith resources in the UK, US, and Brazil, and they are being published in a number of other countries where we have set up collaborations with local groups. I have found that although each country has its own particular issues, there are a number of commonalities between Christians in this area.
Christianity is an international movement. Denominations, mission movements, and well-known writers or speakers can share new ideas quickly, and even more so today with air travel and the internet. For Evangelicals, Young Earth Creationism has travelled around the globe, but the other views that Christians hold have not always been explained. Discussions like the ones that are held at at BioLogos are not available in every language, so people may be uninformed about the different biblical perspectives on Genesis.
Christian researchers often say that scientific discoveries uncover more of God’s creative power. But how do people of different faiths work together in science? How can they reach reliable conclusions? In the USA, scientific research and teaching are carried out in both secular Universities and Christian Colleges. Deborah B. Haarsma has lived and worked in each of these environments, and is currently Professor in Physics & Astronomy at Calvin College, Michigan. Alongside her research in astrophysics, Deb now spends some of her time helping students and others to relate their faith to their studies in science. This week she was appointed as the new Director of BioLogos, ‘a community of evangelical Christians committed to exploring and celebrating the compatibility of evolutionary creation and biblical faith’. In this interview excerpt she explains how science and Christian faith are compatible. Continue reading
This summer I gave a series of talks at several youth festivals on the subject of ‘Why a Christian should be a scientist’. As someone who spends every day interacting with Christians working in science, I have no shortage of material to present on the topic, and it’s exciting to see the reaction of these young people when they are encouraged that science is a great career for a Christian.
The primary reason why a Christian should consider science as a career is because it offers unique opportunities to worship God. Exploring God’s creation, uncovering its secrets and marvelling at the vastness and intricacy of the universe is never a waste of time, and from the Psalms onwards, scientific information has informed the writers of worship songs. If worship is the chief end of man, then the further we explore using the tools of science the better.
The Test of FAITH documentary and study materials were developed at The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion to meet a demand from church leaders, student ministries and scientists for resources to help people understand and explore the relationship between science and faith. They profile a number of senior scientists who are also Christians. The names will be familiar – they include Francis Collins, Ard Louis, Deborah Haarsma, Rosalind Picard, John Polkinghorne, Jennifer Wiseman, Bill Newsome, Denis Alexander, Simon Conway Morris, John Houghton, and Alister McGrath.
Among the topics covered by these study materials are astronomy, the big bang, the creation of life on earth, the environment, bioethics and the brain. They were developed with an ethos that, where controversial issues are concerned, people should have the opportunity to consider different sides of the debate, explore the Bible, and make up their own minds.
At the deepest level the debate between science and religion is really a debate about how do I obtain reliable knowledge about the world? How do I know that something is true, or how do I know that something is false, or how do I know that something is reliable, something is unreliable, and that’s a terribly important question.
Dr Ard Louis, Oxford University, in Test of FAITH
Test of FAITH demonstrates that being a Christian and a scientist need not result in endless personal conflict. Of course there are difficult issues at times, but worshipping God through science, living a Christian life in the lab, and playing a part in developing new technologies are all satisfying ways of serving God.
I think it’s exciting as Christians to go exploring, because we’re never going to find anything that’s outside of God’s realm. Everything is part of this majestic creation, and the more you discover the more amazed you get by thinking about God, and so I think exploration is a divinely Christian activity and people should be excited about it.
Dr Jennifer Wiseman, Astronomer & Author, in Test of FAITH
Dr Alasdair Coles is a neurologist at Cambridge University. He was drawn to neurology as a teenager when he saw the potential to help patients understand their disease by simply talking to them and making a series of clinical deductions. He is now involved in developing drugs to treat multiple sclerosis. Interestingly, Coles has recently been ordained in the Church of England, and has gained unique insights from being part of both of these worlds.
For me theology and science, and neuroscience are going to achieve little unless they start talking to each other. There are fresh insights that theology has for science, and vice versa. And the great theological truths that humans are unique, that we are in some way god-like, that we are the only beasts that are moral, these are things that scientists have to somehow conjure with and study.
Revd Dr Alasdair Coles, Cambridge University, in Test of FAITH
Rosalind Picard is Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at MIT, and has pioneered the field of emotive computing – developing computers that interpret and respond to human emotion. She has used her expertise to develop technology that helps autistic people to interact socially. Her explanations of how she, as an analytical scientific person, approaches faith are extremely helpful for those who are trying to figure out how science and faith relate.
As I’ve learned more, my scientific method has informed my faith because I’m very analytical, and I question things constantly. You have to be careful as a scientist, however, that you don’t fall into the trap that a lot of atheists fall into. They just assume that God must be provable or disprovable by science. In fact some of them assume that the only things that are true are things science shows. Ironically what they are doing is claiming (dogmatically) that they have the only way to truth: science. But science, within itself, cannot prove the correctness of its own methods. It cannot prove its claim to be the only way to know truth. Science cannot prove most events of history but does that mean they did not happen? To believe that God is explainable by science is to completely mischaracterise God.
Dr Rosalind Picard, MIT, in Test of Faith: Spiritual Journeys with Scientists
Test of FAITH will be presented at a series of events across the US this Fall. A film showing will be followed by a panel discussion and Q&A. Locations include Cambridge, MA; Wheaton, IL; Fairfax, VA; St Paul, MN; and Point Loma, CA. Details can be found here. Our aim is to equip people to start the conversation, and help them to grow in their relationship with God.
There are ways of finding truth. You can read the book of the Bible, you can read the book of nature and you can find truth in both ways. You need to be careful of course about what kind of question you’re asking, and which tools are appropriate for that question, but to be able to be a fully formed human being, it seems to me, to put either of those kinds of investigations off to the side and say, ‘That’s inappropriate,’ or, ‘That’s dangerous,’ is to be impoverished, to miss out on the experience of what one can do on this brief glimpse of time while we’re living here on this amazing planet, having the chance to search in all kinds of directions for the truth.
Dr Francis Collins, Former Director of the Human Genome Project. In Test of FAITH
Following on from last week’s post, I’m looking for material for new worship songs using scientific discoveries, in the hope that someone might take the bait…
What about the amazing discoveries made through the Hubble Telescope? The pictures from this incredible piece of technology in the sky grace our coffee tables, computer monitors and television screens every day. Hubble has filled in many of the gaps in our knowledge about how planets form. Before high-resolution images were available astronomers could only guess some of the details, but now a clearer picture has emerged – quite literally!
Planets form in vast clouds of dust and gas called nebulae. A new planetary system forms when part of the cloud clumps together and begins to collapse under the force of gravity. The compression at the centre of the cloud is so great and causes so much heat to be generated that a new star is formed. The remainder of the dense cloud rotates around the star and begins to flatten into a disc. Planets begin to coalesce within this circulating dust ring. The new planets grow larger and larger, gathering up the remaining dust until a new group of planets is formed orbiting around its own star.
It’s incredible that we can know about star formation in such detail, given that it happens so far away, and over such a long period of time. The discoveries from space telescopes such as Hubble provide plenty of fuel for the imagination, and increase our picture of how big our creator God is. Our universe was created through the same Jesus who appeared to a small nation on the tiny planet that we call home. It’s hard to keep those two things in your head at the same time…
And I can’t write on Hubble without mentioning that Dr Jennifer Wiseman, the chief scientific officer of Hubble Telescope, is a Christian and has written her own thoughts down in a paper for BioLogos about science as an instrument of worship. She also appeared on BBC’s Women’s Hour, speaking about a talk she was about to give at the Faraday Institute on life on other planets.