Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom

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Pixabay

For me as a biologist, evolutionary and developmental biology – evo devo for short – is one of the most wonderful, illuminating, useful areas of study. In the last few decades we have gone from guessing at how things might have evolved, to having some actual mechanisms of how organs, and even whole organisms, can change. As a Christian, I am interested in this subject first of all because it’s fascinating. Having been freed by Biblical Scholars from feeling that I need to read the Bible as a science book, I can now go and explore God’s world using the tools of science, thanking him for all the incredible things I find. Secondly, this knowledge is incredibly useful. The more we learn about how our bodies develop and grow, the more we can treat disease. Continue reading

The Myth of the Holy Hierarchy

Remembering UK scientist R. J. “Sam” Berry (1934–2018), a real scientist with real faith

“As a Christian at university, I was faced with a hierarchy of possibilities. The really holy people became missionaries, the rather holy people were ordained, and the fairly holy people became teachers; the ‘also rans’ did all the other jobs in the world,” so wrote R. J. Berry in his book Real Science, Real Faith. Having discovered that he either couldn’t or shouldn’t do any of the “holy” jobs, Berry, known to most as Sam, eventually realized “that we have all been given different talents and callings, and that there is not (and should not be) such a thing as a typical or normal Christian.”

Sam Berry was anything but a normal Christian. He attended his local church regularly, went to the monthly prayer meetings whenever he could, and served on the church council. For the last 30 years of his life he was licensed to preach, and for about 20 years he took part in national synod meetings. This would have been a huge commitment on top of a regular job and raising three children, but Sam was a high-capacity person who was not content to conform to the stereotype of “also-ran”—those who run races but never win. He demonstrated to the best of his ability that every single Christian is in full-time ministry.

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© Faraday Institute

Ruth Bancewicz is a Senior Research Associate at The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, where she works on the positive interaction between science and faith. After studying Genetics at Aberdeen University, she completed a PhD at Edinburgh University. She spent two years as a part-time postdoctoral researcher at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Biology at Edinburgh University, while also working as the Development Officer for Christians in Science. Ruth arrived at The Faraday Institute in 2006, and is currently a trustee of Christians in Science.

 

The Stories We Tell: Science, faith, and cultural distinctiveness

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Babylonian cylinder seal. Ben Pirard at nl.wikipedia CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, Wikimedia Commons

Once upon a time, there was a demiurge called Tiamat. Tiamat was the ocean, chaotic and powerful. Tiamat’s husband, freshwater, was troubled by their sons – the gods – who had come together and made great noise, and wanted to kill them. Tiamat disagreed and warned them. But when Tiamat’s husband was then killed by the gods she wanted revenge, so she made eleven monsters to hunt them down. In the end, the young champion Marduk challenged Tiamat to a battle and killed her. Marduk cut Tiamat in two, using one half of her body to create the heavens, and the other the earth.”

When the people of Israel were exiled in Babylon, if any of their youngsters ever got to receive an education they might have been taught the Babylonian creation poem Enuma Elish. The highly abbreviated version I have given here is just a flavour of this extremely – to my ears – somewhat violent epic. I wonder what the parents might have thought about their children being exposed to stories like this? Continue reading

Book Preview: Is There Purpose in Biology? The cost of existence and the God of love

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‘St George and the dragon’, an artistic interpretation of a T lymphocyte killing a cancer cell, Wellcome images, © Odra Noel

Reactions to the question “Is There Purpose in Biology?” are likely to vary greatly. One reaction will be “of course not”: watch your favourite natural history programme and it’s obvious that chance rules. Some animals get lucky and do well, others get eaten young, and there’s no overall rhyme nor reason to it. Others responding to the same question, most likely coming from a religious worldview, will respond “of course”: God has an overall purpose for everything, including biology. Others, perhaps the majority, are more likely to say: “Well it all depends on what you mean by purpose…” Continue reading

Book Preview – Reason and Wonder: Why science and faith need each other

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© Ruth Bancewicz

‘from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved’

Charles Darwin

…the origins of all species, including our own, are found in natural processes that can be observed and studied scientifically. In other words, evolution demonstrates that our own existence is woven into the very fabric of the natural world. Seen in this light, the human presence is not a mistake of nature or a random accident, but a direct consequence of the characteristics of the universe. What evolution tells us is that we are part of the grand, dynamic and ever-changing fabric of life that covers our planet. To a person of faith, an understanding of the evolutionary process only deepens our appreciation of the scope and wisdom of the Creator’s work.

For Christians today, the scientific successes of evolutionary theory present Continue reading

Guest Post: Evolution and Education – Why Faith Schools Should Teach More Biology

teaching-661748_1920Education has come surprisingly late to the science and religion discussion. However, we are now beginning to see articles emerging about the importance of schooling for people’s views about various aspects of science and religion. One of the most interesting of these articles is one that has just appeared in the prestigious journal Public Understanding of Science, authored by Dr Amy Unsworth at The Faraday Institute in Cambridge and Professor David Voas at University College London.

What Unsworth and Voas did was to cut through a lot of what has been written about the effect of faith schooling on people’s understanding of evolution and views about it by actually collecting some rigorous data. They obtained Continue reading

Guest Post: Purposeful Life – goal-oriented organisms and faith in the Creator

B0010971 Salmonella Typhimurium infection of a human epithelial cell
Salmonella infection of a human epithelial cell (cropped), by David Goulding, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. Wellcome Images, creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0

A horde of salmonella bacteria invades a mouse’s guts. The rodent’s immune system is on the alert, but something unusual happens. A minority of the invaders throw themselves onto the mouse’s colon bugs, even though their attack is too risky and they die. Their comrades take advantage of the breach, yet they are not as aggressive themselves.[i]

The berserk salmonella “are prepared to sacrifice themselves for the greater good”, a researcher explains. “You could compare this act to Kamikaze fighter pilots of the Japanese army.” This scenario raises the question, did they do that on purpose? Of course bacteria do not have conscious intentions, but it is at least possible that in another sense there is genuine purpose in this behaviour. This is also an important point from the perspective of Christian faith, which involves belief in a purposeful divine creation. Continue reading