Summer Special – Stem Cells: Great potential for healing, and important ethical challenges

cells-1872666_1920 Arek Socha pixabay copy
Arek Socha, Pixabay

Do you have a chronic health problem such as asthma, diabetes or arthritis? In the US, 125 million people (around 38% of the population) suffer from these types of diseases, and treating them takes up 78% of the healthcare budget. The figures are probably similar for other developed countries.

At the Faraday Institute summer course last month, the Oxford-based biologist Paul Fairchild explained that a significant proportion of chronic diseases could be treated by replacing just one of the patient’s cell types or tissues. The use of ‘stem cells’ is a rapidly growing area of research and medicine, but it also throws up some very significant ethical issues. Continue reading

Moon Landing: Big perspective, big questions

full (1024x1024) copy
NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona. Source: https://www.asteroidmission.org/?attachment_id=3228#main

Were you woken up in the middle of the night on 20th July 1969 to watch the very first moon landing? If, like me, you weren’t even born then, you will have to capture the moment by listening to others’ stories. Some families simply went outside to stare at the moon and think about the incredible fact that there might be a person walking around on it at that very moment. Continue reading

Storm Scenarios: Keep Calm and Battle On

waves sea turmoil-1182510-1280x960 Freeimages John Boyer copy
© John Boyer, Freeimages

One day Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side of the lake.’ So they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Master, Master, we’re going to drown!’ He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. ‘Where is your faith?’ he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, ‘Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.’

Luke 8:22-25

Perhaps the storm stopped suddenly of its own accord, but the disciples were not fooled. They had seen a number of these ‘coincidences’ in Jesus ministry, and they weren’t about to ignore this one. Jesus had calmed the waves with only his words. Wasn’t this an act of God? Who else could be in complete control of creation?

I’m not sure whether the disciples were more frightened before or after the storm, but it must have been a key moment in their relationship with Jesus. These twelve men had been travelling with him for some time now. They had been living and eating with him, learning, being sent out on mission, been told off for being stupid or competitive, and supported through all their struggles. So what did they learn through this incident, apart from the fact that their teacher might well be the promised Messiah, or possibly even the Son of God? Continue reading

Thoughts on Awe at Pentecost: Science and faith have more in common than you think

star-gazing-1149228_1920 crop
Pixabay

The more capable a person is of feeling awe, the more likely they are to understand the true nature of science. When Helen De Cruz, senior lecturer in Philosopher at Oxford Brookes University, spoke at the Faraday Institute last month, she explained the research that has shown awe moves us to see beyond ourselves, and give us a sense of smallness and humility. We often feel overawed when we are trying to take in something our minds cannot fully grasp. Awe-inspiring experiences, such as seeing a beautiful nature documentary, help us to become more aware of the gaps in our knowledge and want to learn more. It can be hard to accept new scientific theories when you have lived with the same paradigm for years. Emotions such as awe, wonder or curiosity can help shift our attitudes and make us look at the world in different ways. Awe is good for science.

De Cruz also said that the more a person is capable of feeling awe, the more likely they are to feel a sense of oneness and spirituality, to believe in a creator God, or have spiritual experiences. Awe makes us less reliant on stereotypes and mental clichés. We are less likely to take things for granted, accept easy answers, or be open to ambiguity and new ideas. Awe is good for religion. Continue reading

Sustainability Pledge: Why the environment is my problem

butterflies-monarch-hibernating-9974020146_a16dc52c34_z-flickr-felixs-endless-journey-cc-by-nc-nd-2.0-copy-2.jpg
© Felix’s Endless Journey, Flickr, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

When Dellarobia Turnbow, an Appalachian farm worker, encountered millions of butterflies in the woods behind her house, she first thought the trees were on fire but not burning up—and that this was a sign for her to stop making a bad decision. She had been wrestling with an unhappy marriage, life on an unproductive farm, and bringing up two kids on an almost non-existent income. Her overwrought mind couldn’t quite take in what was in front of her eyes. When she persuaded her busy family to take a walk up the mountain, the reality of what they were all seeing eventually sank in. Continue reading

Book Preview: John Ortberg – Boiling Kettles and Remodeled Apes

tea-place-1154699-1278x855 Juan Vasquez freeimages crop

Does science disprove our faith?We might start thinking about this by considering the question of whether science is the only reliable way to acquire knowledge. Science has great prestige in our day, so this is a really important question. Are there any other kinds of knowledge besides scientific knowledge? The short answer is yes, and if we don’t recognize that, it limits the knowledge we have to live by. Because science has made such amazing progress in certain fields like medicine and technology, some people claim that the scientific method, or empirical verification, is the only way to reliable knowledge. That would mean there is no such thing as moral, spiritual or personal knowledge. This view that the scientific method is the only reliable way to knowledge is sometimes called scientism. Continue reading

Genetics, God and the Future of Humanity

dna-3888228_1920 pixabay crop
Pixabay

Scientists have had a remarkable technique available to them in the last few years. A new editing system called CRISPR-Cas (biologists like acronyms as much as anyone) has made it possible to accurately change the genetic code – like guiding a pair of scissors to exactly the right spot in a text.

This technology has been used to heal genetic disease in children, such as Daniel who suffered from Wiskott-Aldrich Syndrome. Cells were taken from his bone marrow and cultured in the lab, the faulty genes were replaced, and the ‘healed’ cells were put back into his body. Daniel has not suffered from the severe asthma and inability to fight infections that afflicted his older brother, and he is now alive and well aged 18. Continue reading