What qualities does it take to be a great scientist? You might think of intellect, great experimental technique, original thinking, and endless hard work. Humility may not be the first thing that springs to mind. Nevertheless, humility is a very helpful virtue in science, and I think it has played an important role part in leading some scientists to discover God for themselves. Continue reading
My day-to-day work as a research scientist involves looking down microscopes at developing organisms, reading papers about the latest discoveries in developmental biology and meeting colleagues and collaborators to discuss new ideas. It is a job that I love!
It is also a job that I find closely aligned with my values and vocation as a Christian. However, this is a more of a general feeling that I have, rather than something that I have thought about directly. Indeed, although I sense that my scientific and faith journeys are somehow intertwined, they rarely overlap directly. Continue reading
When Roger Bretherton worked as a clinical psychologist he would ask the question, “What skill is missing here?” What does this patient need to develop so they can, for example, be kinder to themselves – or to other people? These character strengths and virtues are now his chosen field now that he is a Principal Lecturer in the School of Psychology at the University of Lincoln.
Roger is interested in three main areas. He spends time exploring the methodologies and measurements that help a psychologist understand people at a human level. He is also engaged at a theological level, and trained as an existential psychotherapist. This combination of theology and psychology is a growing trend, especially in the US, where a number of educational institutions will encourage students to pursue studies in both and teach them how to integrate the two (for example, at Fuller Theological Seminary where the regular Faraday speaker Justin Barret is based). Finally, he is interested in the pragmatic – what works, or is useful to people. Continue reading
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’
This series of more extended posts sums up my recent work on beauty in science and theology, and is reproduced (with permission) from the BioLogos blog.
One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek:that I may dwell in the house of the LORDAll the days of my life,to gaze on the beauty of the LORDand to seek him in his temple.
Psalm 27: 4
I belong in the ranks of those who have cultivated the beauty that is the distinctive feature of scientific research. Marie Curie
All of the biologists I know are undeniable lovers of their objects of study… Konrad Lorenz
Beauty in Science
As a biologist, I am fascinated by the fluorescent-on-black images of cells, 3D rotations of protein structures, and cross-sections of colourful tissue samples that grace the covers of scientific journals. I have spent whole weeks staring down a microscope at the beautifully transparent bodies of developing fish embryos, and whenever possible I illustrate my written work with photographs of the natural world. I’m not alone. In the institute where I did my PhD we had a basement full of microscopes and imaging technology, and it was considered important to have beautiful images in your presentations—movies were even better. The journal Nature: Cell Biology always features striking images on its covers, and in an editorial these photographs were described as works of art in their own right. In fact, ‘scientific art’ has become a recognised genre, and displays of science-related images are increasingly popular in research institutes, museums, science festivals and other public spaces. Continue reading
The early scientists described in ‘The Faith of Scientists’, are all remarkable characters, but it was in the company of Blaise Pascal that I felt most at home. He had his eccentricities, and I certainly don’t agree with everything he said, but in the extended extracts of his writing presented in Frankenberry’s book I recognised many of my own thoughts and beliefs.
Pascal was fascinated by the immensity of the universe.
When I consider the brief span of my life, absorbed into the eternity before and after, the small space I occupy and which I see swallowed up in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I know nothing and which know nothing of me, I take fright and am amazed to see myself here rather than there: there is no reason for me to be here rather than there, now rather than then. Who put me here? By whose command and act were this time and place allotted to me? … The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me.
Pascal, Pensées, Fragment 230
Humility in scholarship was also important to him – the recognition that there’s much we don’t know. There is even one part of the Pensees that would be hilarious if it wasn’t so true, where Pascal describes how as our experience and influence increase our friends are less likely to tell us the truth about ourselves, so we end up doing more and more stupid things.
There is much discussion on faith and reason in Pascal’s writing. He discusses the personalities of different people – those who come to believe in God through faith (or perhaps what could be described as more intuitive means) alone, and those for whom reasoned argument is more important. His discussion of the famous wager shows that he gave rational arguments for God a good deal of thought, though he came to the conclusion that ‘reason is to faith as moral effort is to salvation – necessary, but not sufficient without God’s grace’ (Frankenberry)
So Pascal was not at all against rationalism, but saw a place for faith in the grand scheme of things.
Faith certainly tells us what the senses do not, but not the contrary of what they see; it is above, not against them.
I could take that statement further. If faith is in something real, then even if that reality includes something beyond what we can detect with our senses, our faith should at least help to make sense of what we can see and touch.
This Christmas post is taken from ‘Nature’s Witness’ by Daniel Harrell. This series of extracts is from chapter 6: ‘God is great, God is good, but maybe I’ve misunderstood?’, which explores the vastness of the universe, God’s creation of it, and the presence of suffering. I’ve chosen some portions that I thought were appropriate to the season – asking why God created the universe, and why did he care about us?
When I consider the works of your hand, which you display in all you have created, I am at once awed and bewildered. I believe, yet sometimes I need help to believe. I wonder at your creativity, and at the same time I wonder why your creativity looks so different than I would expect. I wonder why the earth evolved instead of simply appearing, and why life has taken such a long road to get to where it is. I would have expected you to act more immediately and efficiently. Yet I know that my expectations are extensions of my own desires. And though you may be the author of my desire, I am the one who distorts it and imposes those distortions on you, I know that I must humble my understanding to your unveiling. Yet to observe your world and your ways creates a collision within my mind, a dissonance that I desperately long to resolve.
You’re infinite, and I’m finite, confined by time and by my sin and thereby limited in perception and understanding. Your eternity dwarfs my capacity to comprehend it. Your holiness outshines my feeble faith. Any claim to know you sounds presumptuous. And yet as a God of love you unveil yourself so that I can know you. Revelation is part of your character. You show us yourself in order to draw us to yourself. Your work and your word extend love and beckon our response of love. Relationship is your essence and you invite us to partake of it. You are love and your love is magnificently splashed across the universe and intricately wired into our souls…
Life itself your gift and yet each life hardly registers as a whisper in the vastness of time. And time itself registers as barely a whisper in the vastness of eternity. I and every other living thing are but insignificant moments in an unsearchable string of moments that are swallowed up within an infinity where no moments exist.
By your power you made the heavens and the earth. You created reality, breaking open existence with divine and furious heat. The dust of the starry heavens became the dust of the earth, the dust from which you made every living thing…
Were you so intent on making creatures in your image and granting them a world to inhabit that you’d spend thirteen billion years of cosmic and planetary life to make it happen? All for the slight blip of relationship you enjoyed with humanity before we fell from your favour? Who are we that you would go to such lengths, not even sparing your own Son, but giving him up, and with him, giving us all things? This is too great. I can’t understand it. We don’t deserve it…
Your handiwork is like a potter’s art. But my mind is like a potter’s wheel; round and round and round I go.