Thank you to all our readers and guest writers in 2018. We’re looking forward to the new topics we’ll get to explore in 2019. This year’s Christmas photos are a perspective from the fields of Cambridgeshire (and Germany), from a local breeder of seeds for agriculture. Enjoy!
Do you go to an art exhibition to be soothed and delighted, or challenged and disturbed? Science uses highly creative approaches to investigate the natural world, but art can perhaps offer a deeper, more personal engagement. Continue reading
I have often written about beauty here, and Francesca Day mentioned it last week, but without defining the word itself. William Edgar is a musician and theologian based at Westminster Theological Seminary, and in his lecture Beauty Reconsidered he gave a history of the concept of beauty and proposed a form of aesthetics that I think will resonate with the ideals of many Christians working in the sciences.
In the 1960s, it was said anyone who pronounced something ‘beautiful’ was trying to exert power over it. That power was rejected, and the concept of beauty went into hibernation – at least in academic circles in Europe and North America.
It’s impossible, however, to suppress our sense of beauty. In the 1990s, philosophers started Continue reading
I think that the beauty seen in science falls into four broad categories. First, a scientist may find beauty in their experimental system, whether it is a model organism, a certain diagnostic printout, or an aesthetically pleasing series of molecules.
Secondly, there is the cleverly devised experiment carried out with skill and patience that results in good clear data: the molecular biologist’s sharp DNA bands on a gel, the organic chemist’s high yield, or the physicist’s precise measurements.
Third, the data and the theory that gathers them into a coherent whole may have an intrinsic beauty that is both striking and satisfying. Physicists have appreciated beauty in symmetry, in order, and in complex systems that are reducible to a series of ‘elegant’ mathematical equations. Biological systems are more complex and difficult to describe mathematically, so the beauty observed in the life sciences is more often to do with colour, pattern, shape, movement, or detail. At times, complex biological systems are understood at a level that does reveal their mathematical simplicity. When order emerges out of apparent chaos biologists begin to use words like ‘striking’, ‘beautiful’, and ‘astonishing’. If a theory is developed that can be used to predict further experiments and explain other data, that is also beautiful in its own way. We appreciate the order, unity and simplicity that it brings to our understanding of the world. Continue reading