Magic and Metamorphosis

Small tortoiseshell butterfly (Aglais urticae), © John Bryant
Small tortoiseshell butterfly, © John Bryant

Children love to watch caterpillars turn into butterflies, and scientists are no less fascinated by this process. I have mentioned biologist John Bryant’s contribution to the science and faith discussion on this blog a number of times. In this guest post, he writes about his sense of wonder at the processes he studies.

I have been fascinated by the natural world for as long as I can remember, and that fascination led to a career in biology. As a professional biologist my main focus has been the way DNA works as genes, and especially the processes by which DNA is replicated prior to cell division.

Regular readers of this blog will know of the excitement, awe and wonder I have Continue reading

Reimagining Job

Orion Nebula, NASA, ESA, M. Robberto & Hubble Orion Treasury Project Team
Orion Nebula, NASA, ESA, M. Robberto & Hubble Orion Treasury Project Team

I recently got together with some scientists and theologians to study part of Job. The final few chapters (38-42) of this book are a description of God’s role in creating and sustaining the universe and everything in it: the Sun and stars, Earth and sea, weather and wild animals. Stars move in their courses, weather changes and animals behave in their different ways. We didn’t make any of these things ourselves [1] and we have very little control over them, even with today’s scientific knowledge.

But are we any less awe-struck because we now understand how some of these processes work? If so, how can we identify with the Continue reading

Fossils: A Window onto God’s Creation

Sharlene Jackson, www.freeimages.com
© Sharlene Jackson, http://www.freeimages.com

What can fossils teach us about God? This month’s guest post is from Lizzie Coyle, who recently earned a degree in natural sciences from Cambridge University and is currently working at The Faraday Institute. Lizzie spent much of her time at university studying geology and evolutionary biology, and she is passionate about using her science to help others explore questions of faith.

As a child, I was captivated by fossils. Whilst I spent my fair share of time playing with dolls, building dens and generally getting into mischief, I also spent many happy hours scouring beaches, gardens, car parks – anywhere that might yield these rock-clad treasures. This might seem a slightly strange way for a young child to spend her time, and it earned me a few comments over the years, but my fascination with fossils only grew. Eventually it contributed to my decision to study evolutionary biology at Cambridge.

Some fossils are really pretty, but that wasn’t the only aspect of them that caught my imagination. I was, and still am, enchanted by the idea that Continue reading

The World Cries Out

Photo © Ruth Bancewicz
Photo © Ruth Bancewicz

Let your mind roam through the whole creation; everywhere the created world will cry out to you: ‘God made me.’ Whatever pleases you in a work of art brings to your mind the artist who wrought it; much more, when you survey the universe, does the consideration of it evoke praise for its Maker. You look on the heavens; they are God’s great work. You behold the earth; God made its numbers of seeds, its varieties of plants, its multitudes of animals. Go round the heavens again and back to the earth, leave out nothing; on all sides everything cries out to you of its Author; nay the very forms of created things are as it were the voices with which they praise their creator.

This quote is from Augustine of Hippo, a theologian who lived in the fourth and fifth centuries.  I like it because it comes across as such a heartfelt outburst of praise, and it expands my view of the universe. It sounds so contemporary to me, although my own understanding of what it means to learn about God from nature is a bit different to his. I can also imagine it being very useful for a sermon on Psalm 8!

Science and science education have helped me to appreciate Augustine’s Continue reading

Living Lightly, Living Faithfully

living-lightly-coverThis week’s post is by guest author Colin Bell, who is a Research Associate of the Faraday Institute and works on issues related to environmental sustainability.

One of the most active areas of scientific research over the past twenty years has been the study of our planet’s environment. How is it changing? What has caused it? What can we expect to happen in the future, and what effect would changes in human behaviour have on it? Much of this study is focused on climate change, which has grown from a fairly obscure side-interest to a major field of study – but that’s only one of a number of ways in which we fear we may be damaging the planet we live on.

Our planet and the variety of life on it form an immensely complex system with countless intricacies to discover and marvel at. Studying these things helps us to see planet Earth as something to be respected, wondered at and cared for rather than unthinkingly exploited. Similar sentiments come from most of the world’s religions Continue reading

A Quaker Astronomer Reflects

Spiral galaxy NGC 300, 7 million light years from Earth. NASA
Spiral galaxy NGC 300, 7 million light years from Earth. NASA

As a young child I detected the cosmic microwave background – the radiation left over from the Big Bang. That doesn’t mean I was a child prodigy, it just shows that we had an old fashioned dial TV. About 10% of the static in between channels is caused by the remnants of that first explosion. I am staggered that even a five year old can detect the whisper of the universe’s origins.

The Astronomer Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell shared this fact during her presentation at the Wesley Methodist church as part of their Science Meets Faith lecture series this month. It was a fascinating talk, and she was very honest about her own faith and how her science had affected her beliefs.

In the beginning, said Bell Burnell, all of space, matter and energy was contained in a space smaller than a grain of sand. Then time began with bang, and space unfurled like a new leaf from its bud. As space expanded and the radiation from the big bang cooled, energy converted into mass and particles formed. After millions of years, those particles came together and began to form stars Continue reading

The Theologian and the Telescope

Jasmaine Mathews, www.sxc.hu
© Jasmaine Mathews, http://www.sxc.hu

The main purpose of this blog can be illustrated by a single story: that of the theologian and the telescope. The theologian is a colleague from another department in Cambridge, and the telescope belonged to some friends of his. As we talked over lunch one day he mentioned that he and his family had visited these friends the previous evening. It had been a clear night, so they spent part of the evening looking at the stars. My colleague was an avid amateur astronomer as a teenager, but over the years he had lost his love for science. He had been involved in abstract discussions about science and religion for so long that he had forgotten that the experience of science itself can foster awe, wonder and – for people of faith – worship. His recent experience with the telescope reminded him how beautiful and fascinating the universe is. He rediscovered his love for science.

The joy of science is the freedom to wonder and ask questions – to exercise imagination and curiosity. It is also the joy of discovering new things, the shock of awe at what is found, and an enjoyment of its beauty. The theologian Austin Farrer said that Continue reading