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
‘from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved’
…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
Education 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
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
“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”
“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” 
The crazy world depicted by Lewis Carroll in “Through the Looking-Glass” is such a fast-changing and dynamic place that you need to run and run just so you can stay put. The living world operates in a similar way, with a perhaps surprising outcome. Continue reading
If you were asked to define the entire human species with one word, what would it be? Think about it. Tricky, isn’t it? When Linnaeus formalised the scientific method of naming species in the 18th-century, he settled on ‘wise’ as our defining characteristic. He called us Homo sapiens, literally meaning ‘wise man’. Was he right to do so? Is that what God created us to be? Continue reading
Life may be ubiquitous in the universe, forms and structures may crop up independently in very similar forms, but at the moment it seems as if human life is unique on our planet. The Cambridge Palaeobiologist Professor Simon Conway Morris made a name for himself by studying the Burgess shale, which is one of the earliest records of soft-bodied animal forms. From this work, he developed an interest in convergent evolution – the idea that independent evolutionary processes hit on the similar solutions again and again. Now that convergence has blossomed into a field of its own, Simon has turned his attention to human and animal intelligence. At this year’s Faraday Institute summer course he described some of his findings so far, which I will summarise here in my own words. Continue reading