One particular conversation has happened numerous times. When I’m asked about what I do, I reply, “I’m involved with religion and science,” and I often hear a still-unexpected response, “Religion and science? That’s not for me—I’m not smart.”
It’s hard to know what to say next. I do tend to think that this dialogue requires our best thinking. But I’m also troubled by an implied resistance. Is faith and science for elitist, “heady” congregations only? Continue reading →
42% of biologists in the UK are female, with an average age of 37, and 47% are not from the UK. Not many labs keep a stock of funky pink lab coats, but the cartoon here is a reminder that the iconic picture of a Caucasian male (preferably with a mop of white fuzzy hair) is no longer representative of the average lab worker.
On the other hand, when sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund and her collaborators surveyed the population of British biologists, they found that gender, age, rank and institution seem to have no effect on whether a person is likely to feel a sense of religious belonging.* Some of the preliminary findings of this survey were presented at the Faraday Institute’s Uses and Abuses of Biology workshop in September, and it’s worth reading the full paper, co-authored with Christopher Scheilte.
Ecklund’s earlier study on religion among scientists in the US showed that there are a significant number of scientists who describe themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious’ (see earlier blogs). In the UK this group does not seem to exist. Perhaps, suggested Ecklund, the Church of England is so widely accepted as a cultural institution that people do not feel the need to distance themselves from religion.**
A few weeks ago I heard writer Andy Crouch speak at the Everything Conference. His three talks on creating culture are well worth a listen. Andy’s premise is that Christians spend far too long either critiquing culture or simply going along with what is produced by others. We should be cultivating the good that is present in wider culture and creating our own cultures – not in a ‘head-in-the-sand Christian subculture way, but in a way that speaks to the whole of society. I was particularly struck by his talk on creating culture together. Some of the best projects start with two or three people around the kitchen table and expand as they bring others on board. It’s not about the genius alone in their study (though I’m sure lone geniuses – genii? – have their place).
New cultures can take time to develop. Andy quoted Patrick Shaw: ‘We greatly overestimate what we can do in one year, and underestimate what we can do in ten years’. A prime example is the growth of Christianity. On a global scale the resurrection of Jesus Christ had a minimal impact to begin with, but as churches were established and the effects on people’s lives became apparent, Christianity spread so rapidly that within a few hundred years entire nations called themselves Christian.
Of course science both operates within and impacts culture, and all of the above is extremely relevant to scientists, as Andy Crouch knows because he is married to one! Catherine Crouch is a physicist based at Swarthmore College who works on microphotoluminescence and is currently engaged on a sabbatical project studying curvature in cell membranes.
Catherine has written a ‘meditation on light’ that draws on her own work in physics as well as her Christian faith. It communicates beautifully the process of discovery leading to worship. Science clearly contributes to the creation of culture: new discoveries lead to deeper knowledge about the way the world works and helps us to develop new technologies. But, as Catherine so clearly describes, science also shapes other aspects of culture in subtle yet far-reaching ways: a deeper understanding of the world around us impacts the way we see the world and what we believe in.