There is a basic trajectory for a science PhD student, and it goes something like this. Enthusiasm and delight mingled with a frisson of fear, a gradual onset of hard reality and stress, perhaps a dash of boredom and possibly even some despair and disillusionment. This is followed by a long period of determination and hard work, which ends in joy and relief. This is the crucible in which Continue reading
In 2009, Sue Symons finished 7,000 hours of work on a series of illuminated and embroidered texts which celebrate the theme of creation. I was fortunate enough to catch sight of the original work at the Christian Resources Exhibition in May this year, and in the end I had to buy the book. I was supposed to be working on the Faraday Institute stand at the time, but the level of detail in the pictures made me want to pore over them. Continue reading
Before I report back on Mark Harris’s second Faraday course lecture, which was on the Bible and human origins*, I want to think about the science behind this subject. At the same course, the biological anthropologist Cara Wall-Scheffler spoke on Anthropology and the Origins of Religion. I’ll reflect on Continue reading
I’m always keeping my eye out for ways to bring science into a church context, and I recently found a new one in Switzerland. Two buildings in the centre of Zurich, the Grossmünster (great minster) and Fraumünster (women’s minster) are decorated with the most incredible stained glass, designed by the artists Marc Chagall, Augusto Giacometti and Sigmar Polke. I had already seen examples of scientific themes in stained glass, such as the windows by David Hunt in St Crispin’s, Braunstone, but some of Polke’s windows took this idea to a new level. Continue reading
Do you go to an art exhibition to be soothed and delighted, or challenged and disturbed? Science uses highly creative approaches to investigate the natural world, but art can perhaps offer a deeper, more personal engagement. Continue reading
What is intelligence? The ability to process information or respond to signals? The use of language, music or mathematics? One measure of whether something is intelligent is if it can use past experience to direct future behaviour in a helpful direction. This is something I often attempt, with varying levels of success! In recent years, a number of researchers have been asking whether evolutionary processes can also do this. Continue reading
Talks on climate change and sustainability don’t often start with a discussion of generosity, but that is what we see on Earth. The natural resources available at the beginning of human history were not unlimited, but they were vast.
God’s awesome creativity resulted in a world in which living things essentially make themselves, using the materials available to them. For example, plants, algae, and some bacteria use air, water, sunlight and minerals to make their food. The rest of us eat these ‘primary producers’, or the organisms that ate them, so the whole of the living world essentially thrives on a few basic raw materials.
In the economy of ecosystems, nothing is wasted. Minerals and other nutrients are recycled from decaying organic matter. Water is recycled and purified by the processes of evaporation and rainfall. Everything is used for something, and through the dynamic processes of life, the overall trend on Earth has been towards increasing diversity and complexity.
In the story of the prodigal son, a generous father gives half of his property to his son, allowing him to learn by his mistakes. This parable is played out, in part, in our relationship with the environment. Genesis 1 describes how we are called to be responsible for the whole of creation, but we have used the world’s resources in ways which – while inventive – were not always wise. Many of our enterprises have been disastrously short sighted, wasteful and destructive. The end of the story is that God forgives our mistakes and loves us no less because of them, but there are still practical consequences to be dealt with.
The United Nations Conference on Climate Change this week is an attempt to address the damage that is still being done, and will hopefully result in effective and fair solutions. Measures need to be taken to protect vulnerable people and ecosystems, and to ration or recover resources that are now scarce. Extravagant standards of living must be brought down to a sustainable level. Poorer countries deserve the opportunity to develop in sustainable ways.
So is this the end of God’s generosity? I don’t think so. Sustainable living is not just about cutting down, but is about the improvement in everyone’s quality of life that will come from using natural resources well. We really can aim for a full, just and responsible enjoyment of the amazing gifts that our generous God has provided for us.
Reposted here with permission of The London Institute for Contemporary Culture.