Book Preview: Error—Scientists Are Human

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© Varglesnarg, Freeimages.com

But [Peter] replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” Luke 22:33–4

The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. Luke 22:61–62

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’ John 21:15

Every scientist understands the meaning of error—though perhaps not that of forgiveness. Continue reading

Guest Post: How can messy and disordered processes produce complexity and life?

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© Suprapolak, freeimages.com

How are babies made in the womb? From a sperm cell and an egg cell, an embryo is formed, which then becomes a fetus, and ultimately a baby. Different cell types for bones, skin, muscles, blood, and brain are just a small part of the complexity of human life. Unimaginable numbers of proteins, nucleic acids, and lipids (fats) of just the right kinds are also precisely located in exactly the right locations. Without knowing any of these scientific details, the psalmist wrote, “Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb” (Psalm 139:14-15, New Living Translation). In a certain sense, God makes each baby; in another sense, the baby makes itself—with help from the mother and father, of course! Continue reading

Guest Post: Making the Molecules of Life

geothermal ChampagnePool-Wai-O-Tapu_rotated_MC Christian Mehlführer wikimedia ccc2.5 crop
© Christian Mehlführer, Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license

At what point did chemistry become biology? In what type of environment did this transformation take place? These are major questions for those seeking to understand the origins of life on Earth. Continue reading

Guest Post: Life as old as the Earth? The earliest evidence for living things

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Cross-section of a fossil stromatolite © James St John, flickr, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

The history of life on Earth is almost as long as the history of Earth itself. The most precise scientific dating methods tell us that our planet formed 4567 million years ago, although there are no rock samples preserved from this ancient and chaotic time. The oldest known Earth materials are about 4300 million years old, and are found in the remote deserts of western Australia. The oldest probable evidence for life on Earth has been dated between 3700 and 3800 million years, in west Greenland, and is so sophisticated that the history of life on earth must extend much further back. These observations suggest that life is a fundamental property of our planet, a feature which makes the Earth very different from its immediate rocky neighbours. Continue reading

How Biofriendly is the Universe?

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Kepler-186f: artist’s concept. Image credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

It’s obvious that our own planet is friendly to life, but what about the rest of the universe? Is the rest of space too cold and dark – or hot – to allow life to develop? Was the development of life on earth a hugely improbably event, or pretty much a forgone conclusion? The Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Christian de Duve spent the last few years of his career investigating this question, and came up with a surprising answer. In this post I’ll share five of the characteristics of life that he studied. Continue reading

Guest Post: Artistic Molecules

rainbow freeimages Pawel JagodzinskiThis week as I was demonstrating “Messy Church Does Science”, I extracted someone’s DNA using salt water, washing-up liquid and methylated spirits.  At the boundary between these substances, a white substance forms that can be drawn out into a thin glistening thread made up of millions of stands of DNA – the twisted double helix.  That form itself is a wonderful example of the artistry that arises from a chaotic mix of chemical elements.  Yet perhaps true artistry is seen in the emergence of life that DNA shapes in all its diversity and beauty across millions of years. Continue reading

Guest Post: God, Bubbles and the Origin of Life

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Bubble by zacktionman. Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

There is something about the sight of a bubble hanging effortlessly in the air that excites a childlike wonder in us, whatever our age. Perhaps it’s their delicate beauty, almost transparent, glimmering with a rainbow of colours? Perhaps it’s the temptation to pop them? For me, the most amazing thing about bubbles is that they make themselves. Continue reading