For me as a biologist, evolutionary and developmental biology – evo devo for short – is one of the most wonderful, illuminating, useful areas of study. In the last few decades we have gone from guessing at how things might have evolved, to having some actual mechanisms of how organs, and even whole organisms, can change. As a Christian, I am interested in this subject first of all because it’s fascinating. Having been freed by Biblical Scholars from feeling that I need to read the Bible as a science book, I can now go and explore God’s world using the tools of science, thanking him for all the incredible things I find. Secondly, this knowledge is incredibly useful. The more we learn about how our bodies develop and grow, the more we can treat disease. Continue reading
Next time you take a walk through a forest, sit down on the fallen leaves, rustle a hole in the top layer, breathe deeply, and take in the aroma of fresh earth. Sterilised soil smells somehow wrong to our noses – it lacks the homey feel of childhood dens and freshly ploughed fields. But on productive land, like an ancient forest or well-tended farm, it smells right. Our noses know what to look for – the rich earthy scent of microbial decomposition. Continue reading
I love the sky, how it’s always moving and changing. Everyone has access to a little bit of sky, and no matter how messy and chaotic our lives can get on the ground the clouds blow past regardless Continue reading
Visitors to London Zoo last autumn stood enthralled, watching the family dynamics of the critically endangered Sumatran tiger playing out before them. The two newborn cubs, instinctively mischievous, repeatedly pounced and climbed up their 280-pound father, claws unsheathed. Crowds admired this tiger, built for predatory power, turning his obvious annoyance into gentle reprimands. The scene is reminiscent of Aslan the lion, whom C. S. Lewis used to capture some of the attributes of God—tender but also powerful and “not a tame lion.”
Today, these majestic cats are the focus of World Wildlife Day, along with the other big cats that are under threat on our watch—no, because of our watch. Habitat loss, conflict with people, and poaching are just some of the reasons for their drastic declines. There has been a 95 percent drop in tiger numbers over the last hundred years and a 40 percent drop in African lions over just 20 years.
Children are delighted by living things that most adults think are icky or mundane. Last spring my daughter Lucy, now age 6, found a large earthworm and named it Cinderella. She played with it for hours. Not a week later my son Josiah, 4, caught a big brown toad in our backyard and squealed repeatedly, “He’s adorable!” (Not everyone would pick that adjective, but I agreed.) They fixate on the fish tank at the dentist’s office or our family’s ant farm, taking in every detail and pestering me with a steady stream of questions.
Some of the questions they ask are profound. We were almost to school the other day when Lucy asked, “Is there any number bigger than infinity?” and then, “Is God bigger than infinity?” I paused, breathless with parental joy, before I responded. Continue reading
No animal or plant group can quite match the insects for their diversity, profusion (in numbers of species as well as numbers of individuals), adaptability, mobility – or in a word, their ‘evolvability’. Albert Schweitzer, the great organist, theologian and humanitarian, said about the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, the apotheosis of the Baroque style, if not music as a whole: “…Bach is… a terminal point. Nothing comes from him; everything merely leads up to him”. Something similar could also be said of insects. Whether swarming, creeping, burrowing, swimming; armoured, slimy, spiky, fury; green, brown, transparent or iridescent; insects fill and adorn our planet like Continue reading
This year’s Wellcome Image Awards are truly awe-inspiring, and a reminder for me to look for moments of wonder and worship in my everyday routine. The online winners’ gallery includes a stunning map-like image of a mouse’s retina, a close-up of a human lens implant, and a teardrop-shaped bundle of DNA being pulled into a brand new cell. A non-scientist might not understand exactly what is being shown in these pictures, but with their bold colors, shapes, and textures, anyone can appreciate their beauty.
My field of biology has always been a very visual subject, and today that visual element can be expressed in stunning high-resolution color photographs. Wafer-thin sections of tissue can be stained with specialist dyes, showing where cell division might be going out of control in the first stages of cancer. Living cells are labeled with fluorescent tags, highlighting where a certain type of molecule is needed. Even in whole organisms, these natural fluorescent dyes can be used to track the development of a specific organ.
For some scientists, these experiences of awe and wonder point to something beyond science. Read more