The Human Side of Science

How can a scientist who is also a person of faith communicate their experiences of working in a lab? In this video five scientists express how science has helped their faith to grow.

In a further series of videos, I explain my motivations behind writing God in the lab (Monarch, Jan 2015), and describe my favourite parts Continue reading

God in the Lab: New book by Ruth Bancewicz

God in the Lab final cover copy 2What is it like to be a person of faith and a scientist? In a video interview[1] the theologian and former biophysicist Alister McGrath commented that we need Christian scientists who are “prepared to enter into the public arena in debate, in comment, and in the writing of books showing how faith enriches their science.”

This blog has been one such attempt to show the positive effect of science on faith, and judging by the comments over the years, it has encouraged a number of people in that direction. On the 15th of this month, Monarch will publish my book God in the Lab: How Science Enhances Faith, which Continue reading

Star Gazing

© Ben Earwicker, www.garrisonphoto.org
© Ben Earwicker, http://www.garrisonphoto.org

What kind of star did the Magi think they were following? Coming from east of the Holy Land, they may well have been from Babylon or Persia, both of which had a rich tradition of astronomy. They would probably have had a very sophisticated understanding of the movements of the heavenly bodies. On the other hand, they (understandably) knew nothing about plasma and the nuclear fusion that powers every star in the sky.

The idea of tracking a great flaming ball of gas and energy might sound less romantic than the wise men’s tale, but it does stir the imagination. To my mind, the formation of a vast and ancient universe is a magnificent prelude to the visit of God himself in human form.

2014 has seen an unprecedented level of space exploration. Continue reading

Religion among UK Biologists

Mandie LeScum, freeimages.com
© Mandie LeScum, freeimages.com

42% of biologists in the UK are female, with an average age of 37, and 47% are not from the UK. Not many labs keep a stock of funky pink lab coats, but the cartoon here is a reminder that the iconic picture of a Caucasian male (preferably with a mop of white fuzzy hair) is no longer representative of the average lab worker.

When sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund and her collaborators surveyed the population of British biologists, they found that gender, age, rank and institution seem to have no effect on whether a person is likely to feel a sense of religious belonging.* Some of the preliminary findings of this survey were presented at the Faraday Institute’s Uses and Abuses of Biology workshop in September, and it’s worth reading the full paper co-authored with Christopher Scheilte.

Ecklund’s earlier study on religion among scientists in the US showed that there are a significant number of scientists who describe themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious’ (see earlier blogs). In the UK this group does not seem to exist. Perhaps, suggested Ecklund, the Church of England is so widely accepted as a cultural institution that people do not feel the need to distance themselves from religion.**

I was sad to find, however, that fewer UK-based biologists  Continue reading

Mountaintops

Dolomites cropped 2
The Dolomites, © Ruth Bancewicz

Climbing mountains brings perspective. Looking down from the top of a high peak, you can see the whole of the surrounding area laid out like a map. You can plan where you want to go next, or maybe even your whole route for the next few days. The feeling of achievement that comes from climbing a mountain is wonderful. Chairlifts and funicular railways are great – especially if you can’t manage a climb – but standing on the summit is many times more exhilarating if you’ve plodded very step of the way up from the bottom.

John Muir was unusual as a scientist because his fieldwork actually involved climbing mountains. A career in most branches of science involves working indoors, sometimes in windowless rooms. As a PhD student in Edinburgh I spent many days examining Zebrafish embryos in the basement, but I could see the Pentland hills from my lab bench – until Cancer Research UK built a research centre that blocked out the view (and I am clearly still nursing a grudge against them for it!) Actually climbing the mountains on my doorstep was a refreshing reminder that the world was going to carry on revolving whether my experiments worked or not. Over the last year I have noticed that mountains are a popular source of metaphors for describing the scientific journey. Being interested in mountains myself, I began to collect these passages and thought they would make an interesting blog post and source of quotes for others. Continue reading

Transcendent Science

microscope
Image courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu

There is great beauty in science, whether in the experiments themselves, the data produced, or the presentation of that data. There is also great wonder, and that is what drives science forward. How does a seed grow into a plant? What is a star made of? Can we describe the movement of a cell using mathematical equations? At times wonder gives way to open-mouthed awe as we see something vast, incredibly complex or highly ordered.

Awe is enjoyed and cultivated by all scientists, despite their different personalities, and popular science writing is invariably full of awe and wonder – whatever the beliefs of the author. Continue reading

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