Wondering

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Bacteria. © Dez Pain, http://www.rgbstock.com/

What motivates a scientist to wrestle with difficult questions? Rhoda Hawkins is a lecturer in Physics at Sheffield University. She uses theoretical physics to tackle biological problems, and her main area of research is cell movement. I recently interviewed Rhoda about the role of wonder in both her research and her faith.

I find cell movement incredible. You’ve got a blob of squidgy material crawling across a surface or squeezing through a gap, and if it’s a white blood cell it might be doing something more complicated like chasing a bacterium. How is a relatively simple cell capable of doing such things? In my research group we try to model the cell and think about its physical properties. I collaborate with experimentalists – mainly biologists and other physicists, who test our predictions. I like hanging out in the lab every now and then to watch what the biologists are doing. If the experiment shows something different to what we predicted, then that might mean the model is wrong so we change the theory, and that informs new experiments. Maybe one day some of my work might be useful in medical applications: perhaps a better understanding of the immune system or the movement of metastatic cells in cancer. Continue reading

Science and the investigation of the New Testament documents

Hebrew Bible. Asaphesh, freeimages.com
Hebrew Bible. © Asaphesh, freeimages.com

And now for something a bit different… The reliability of the Bible is an important question, and the many scientists who are Christians have weighed the evidence for this at some point in their lives. A couple of weeks ago, the Biblical scholar Dirk Jongkind gave a seminar at the Faraday Institute on ‘Science and the investigation of the New Testament documents’. Jongkind’s research is on some of the oldest manuscripts of the New Testament, and in his seminar he explained why he thinks the overall message of the Bible is preserved, despite variations between manuscripts. What follows is a summary of some of what he said, but I recommend watching the video for fuller information.

Scripture is basic to the activity of theology, so good access to the original wording is essential. Unfortunately the first copies of the New Testament have been lost. What’s more, what manuscripts we do have show evidence of corruption during transmission. The job of textual critics such as Jongkind is to investigate what might be the oldest recoverable wording.

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Why Awe?

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Antarctic Icebreaker leaving McMurdo Station, 2006. © SailorJohn, free images.com

Antarctica reminds me more than anything of the hidden artwork in medieval cathedrals created by sculptors and painters to the greater glory of God. One is unaccustomedly hypersensitive here to the act of Creation. Elsewhere on earth, man is the most successful mammal: in Antarctica, wonderfully, he has only a precarious toehold.

Sir Peter Maxwell Davis, Composer

Where does our sense of awe at the beauty and immensity of nature come from? We climb mountains to enjoy vast panoramas, go outdoors on a chilly night to gaze at the stars, or spend hours glued to a TV screen watching a nature documentary, delighting in the complexity of the world around us. Are these emotions simply the result of cultural conditioning or are they a sign of something deeper? Continue reading

Antony Hewish: A Life in Science and Religion

The Crab Nebula, with a pulsar at its core. NASA
The Crab Nebula, with a pulsar at its core. NASA

Last month, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Antony Hewish spoke at the Faraday Institute on ‘My Life in Science and Religion – A Personal Story’. Professor Hewish described himself as more of a practical experimentalist than a philosopher or mathematician, and his life story certainly reflects that – though I think he understates his own intellect in a very Cambridge way. He clearly enjoyed his work in radio astronomy very much, and his insights into the compatibility of science and faith are very interesting.

Antony Hewish was the youngest of three boys, and thanks to their parents’ open-mindedness, they created a workshop in the family home – over the bank that their father managed. Hewish’s early experiments with electricity fused the lights of not only the whole house but those of the bank below! Continue reading