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

Book preview: Making Sense of Reality – A scientist’s journey into theology

oxford-1215468 createsima frewimages

Everyone needs help when thinking through complicated questions. I arrived at Oxford University to study chemistry in October 1971. My wrestling with the complexities of quantum theory in my first term at Oxford was supplemented by a perhaps greater struggle. How could I reconcile my discovery of the intellectual vibrancy of the Christian faith with my love for the natural sciences? Would I have to compartmentalize my mind, holding them apart as strangers and possibly even enemies? I knew I could not tolerate such a dichotomization of my life of the mind. But what if it were the only option? What would I do then? Continue reading

Water and Life: The Unique Properties of H2O

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A New Voyage by Brooks Bailey – Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Water is a strange thing. The unique structure of its molecules allow it take on three different forms: a liquid that is easily absorbed into porous substances (i.e. it’s wet!), ice that floats, and a gas. In the book Water and Life: The Unique Properties of H2O, the biophysicist Felix Franks has contributed a chapter explaining some of these properties, and how they may have played a part in the origin of life.

The chemistry of life has adapted to water and become very dependent on it, so that even ‘heavy water’[i] is toxic in Continue reading

What does Christ have to do with Chemistry?

Cyclostreptin, of the molecules David has made
Cyclostreptin, one of the molecules David has made. © David Vosburg

David Vosburg is associate professor of Chemistry at Harvey Mudd College, Claremont, California. Here he writes about how his faith enhances, and is enhanced by his science.

A friend once asked me, “What does Christ have to do with chemistry?” He was challenging me to see how my faith might inform my plans to pursue a PhD in chemistry, and also how my understanding of chemistry might enrich my faith. I did not have a ready answer for him, so the question lingered in my thoughts for several years.

My answer developed over the following years, through Continue reading

New Approaches to the Origin of Life

Mike Melrose, flickrcc.bluemountains.net
Mike Melrose, flickrcc.bluemountains.net

Studying the origin of life is an intractable problem, a little like navigating the misty trackless waste that is central Dartmoor. For an event that happened so long ago, we are unlikely to find a ‘smoking gun’. If life originated on another planet and then somehow seeded life on Earth – a possibility that is being taken seriously at the moment – we have even less hope of finding a solution.

This was Christopher Southgate’s impression of the field of origins research until a few years ago. Chris is a theologian and former biochemist based at Exeter University, and in his Faraday seminar on New Approaches to the Origin of life: Scientific and Theological last week, he explained why he is now a little a more hopeful. He also described a very unique research programme that combines both science and theology.

Life is generally easier to describe than define. Any description that tries to be all-inclusive will inevitably leave something out. Southgate’s own definition includes three properties: Continue reading

The Vocation of Robert Boyle

© H Berends, http://www.sxc.hu

Robert Boyle was a great experimental scientist, still famous for his ‘law’ about the behaviour of gases, and yet he wrote as much about theology as he did about science. Boyle was fifteen years older than Isaac Newton, and he developed many of the laboratory techniques we still use today, including scrupulous note-taking and writing methods sections in scientific publications so that others can repeat the work. He contributed much to modern chemistry, but he was also a pioneer of science-religion dialogue.

Edward Davis spoke about Boyle, his religious life, attitudes and vocation at last week’s Faraday Institute summer course. The video and mp3 of his lecture and the other lectures at the course will be appearing on the Faraday website over the next few weeks. Two newcomers to Faraday who are also well worth listening to are Noreen Herzfeld on ‘Are Humans Computers?’ and Russell Cowburn on ‘Nanotechnology, Ethics and Religion’.

Davis’ lecture on Boyle was a fascinating insight into the life of a very unique man. Boyle was the seventh son of one of the wealthiest men in the British Isles. His siblings (he had 13) were married off to powerful allies, and Boyle narrowly escaped the same fate. Along with two of his sisters, he discovered a deeper form of Christianity than the one he had been taught as a child. So while his other brothers and sisters were living the courtly life, he developed a strong sense of vocation – at first for writing, and then for science. He believed that even those wealthy enough to support themselves must work, saying that Continue reading

Science, Faith and Creativity

Flavio Takemoto, http://www.sxc.hu
© Flavio Takemoto, http://www.sxc.hu

Scientists are creative people. When I began to work on this project I spoke to a number of Christians working in science about what they thought were the most positive parts of the science-faith dialogue. I had not considered creativity as an important factor in the discussion until I visited the University of Madison-Wisconsin and was introduced to some chemists.

Chemistry doesn’t throw up any burning issues for science and faith as other subjects do: no great ethical debates, no creation-evolution battles, no arguments about the ‘fine-tuning’ of the universe. I find that scientists who have been drawn into these battles often have ideas about things they would rather talk about. Most speak about beauty, awe and wonder, and that is why I have written so much about these topics. When I spoke to a couple of people in the Chemistry department at Madison, however, they both mentioned that they enjoyed the creative process of trying to make sense of things, or solve a problem.

It might be a surprise for some to read that scientists exercise creativity in their work, but when you think about it – why not? Continue reading