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
In the summer of 1905, an obscure patent clerk, recently turned physicist, radically changed our view of the world with one mathematics equation, E= mc2. With this simple, but ultimately profound, statement Albert Einstein showed that matter and energy were simply different forms of the same thing. The ramifications of this revolutionary concept were enormous, ultimately sowing the seeds for the nuclear age that emerged in the 1930’s and 1940’s. 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
What does astronomy have to do with the living world? Is a vast universe really necessary to life? Any does science say anything at all about purpose? In today’s podcast (transcript below) I discussed these questions with astrophysicist Dr Jennifer Wiseman, who shared some of her personal perspectives. Jennifer is a person of faith who has spent time thinking about the questions about meaning and purpose that her work raises. For her, science does not compel belief in God, but it can vastly enrich the sense of a purposeful and awe-inspiring creation. Continue reading
How can a universe that seems so cold, dark, and sterile become a place where life can flourish? This is one of the questions that the astronomer Dr Jennifer Wiseman asked in her seminar at the Faraday Institute last month. In her talk, part of which I have summarised here in my own words, she explained why the cosmos can be seen as a very fruitful place – and why this idea is compatible with her own sense of purpose for the world.
Jennifer grew up on a farm in Arkansas, where she came to know the stars in a way that those of us who have lived in light-polluted cities all our lives could never appreciate. She went Continue reading
My desk at the Faraday Institute has a view of the garden, where a squirrel buries its nuts in the autumn. Running to and from the trees in the hedge, it digs into the carefully tended college lawn, building up its stock for the winter. Work must stop every now and then when Continue reading