Did you have the chance to explore science and religion when you were younger? A safe place to explore new ideas and questions between subject boundaries? Today we hear (transcript below) from someone who works to create and encourage such a space – introducing Lizzie Coyle and her travelling bag of fossils. 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
The International Year of Soils finished with World Soils Day on the 5th December, so as a soil scientist I jumped at the opportunity to write about something that is more than just mud. Through studying soils, I have learned Continue reading
‘Planet Earth is astonishingly fruitful’, says Robert White, Professor of Geophysics at Cambridge University and Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion. White is often asked why God would allow natural disasters to happen. He has laid out his answer in a new book Who is to Blame? Disasters, Nature and Acts of God. Part of his response is to begin by explaining the science behind the fertility of the Earth, and I share it here with permission of the author.
Without a measure of natural global warming, without earthquakes, without volcanoes, without floods the world would be sterile and humans could not live here. But paradoxically, many of the processes that make it possible for humans to live on earth are the same as those that Continue reading
This month’s guest writer is Tim Middleton, a DPhil student in the Earth Sciences department at Oxford University. Here he writes about the interface between neuroscience, medicine and and spirituality.
“There was a moment or two almost before the fit itself… when suddenly amid the sadness, spiritual darkness, and depression, his brain seemed to catch fire at brief moments, all his doubts and worries seemed composed in a twinkling, culminating in a great calm, full of sense and harmonious joy and hope… a blinding inner light flooded his soul…”
This description of the experience of an epileptic fit is from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel The Idiot. Dostoyevsky himself experienced such seizures and they clearly had a significant influence on his life. For him, it didn’t matter whether it was epilepsy or not, there was a moment of joy that he experienced before a seizure during which he was convinced that God was speaking to him—and he was Continue reading
I often mention the wonders of scientific discovery, but sharing one’s latest finding with a wider audience is difficult. Even the clearest analysis needs a huge amount of translating before anyone outside of the field, let alone a non-scientist, can appreciate it. I recently read The Universe Within, a book that succeeded in getting me genuinely excited about geology, which is a rare feat (apologies to geologists, I just lack the necessary training!) It also got me thinking about human history.
Neil Shubin is a paleontologist who’s fascinated by the deep history of the planet. The main narrative of the book centres on the origin of the universe and our place in it, with a good dose of geology on the way. Each chapter is a story of exploration and discovery, introducing the main—and often colourful—characters involved, and ends by showing what the cosmic or global upheavals described have to do with us. The overall message is that we, our bodies, and everything about them that makes us human, are the products of processes that started when time itself began.
Shubin is a fantastic teacher, and he tells a good story, using intrigue and suspense to carry the reader along. Continue reading
I have heard the naturalist John Muir quoted in the past, but have only recently discovered what a fabulous writer he was. I am reading a selection of Muir’s writings published by Birlinn. He’s an interesting guy, hugely talented in many areas: helping his father to carve a farm out of the Wisconsin wilderness, creating huge clocks out of wood, teaching himself enough of the high-school curriculum to qualify for university, and studying botany and geology (he never completed his degree) before setting off into the wildest parts of North America. It seems that he abandoned traditional Christian faith largely because, sadly, his exposure was to the rather dour Scottish Presbyterian brand of Christianity, and a religious father who opposed science and failed to encourage his quite exceptional talents. Instead he turned to worship of God through nature.
Muir’s delight in the beauty of nature is infectious, and inspired me to observe and enjoy my surroundings more acutely during my (almost) daily walks on a recent trip to the US. The enthusiasm in his book ‘My first Summer in the Sierra’ actually becomes rather wearing – everything just seems too perfect – but I think that simply reflects his excitement at encountering true wilderness for the first time.
This extended quote about a shepherd exemplifies Muir’s detailed observation and appreciation of nature, but also displays his great sense of humour and interest in (and tolerance of) people. It takes a born naturalist to go to such pains in describing a revolting old pair of trousers – and to even find beauty in them!
Following the sheep he carries a heavy six-shooter swung from his belt on one side and his luncheon on the other. The ancient cloth in which the meat, fresh from the frying pan, is tied serves as a filter through which the clear fat and gravy juices drip down on his right hip and leg in clustering stalactites. This oleaginous formation is soon broken up, however, and diffused and rubbed evenly into his scanty apparel, by sitting down, rolling over, crossing his legs while resting on logs, etc., making shirt and trousers water-tight and shiny. His trousers, in particular, have become so adhesive with the mixed fat and resin that pine-needles, thin flakes and fibres of bark, hair, mica scales and minute grains of quartz, hornblende, etc., feathers, seed wings, moth and butterfly wings, legs and antennae of innumerable insects, or even whole insects such as the small beetles, moths and mosquitoes, with flower petals, pollen dust and indeed bits of all plants, animals and minerals of the region adhere to them and are safely embedded, so that though far from being a naturalist he collects fragmentary specimens of everything and becomes richer than he knows. His specimens are kept passably fresh, too, by the purity of the air and the resiny bituminous beds into which they are pressed. Man is a microcosm, as least our shepherd is, or rather his trousers. These precious overalls are never taken off, and nobody knows how old they are, though one may guess by their thickness and concentric structure. Instead of wearing thin they wear thick, and in their stratification have no small geological significance.
Put that in your Christmas sermon!