Pilgrimage: Exploring Science and Theology outdoors

© Vineet Agarwal
© Vineet Agarwal

David Atikinson_largeI recently met someone who runs pilgrimage walks with a science and theology theme. At the Scientists in Congregations conference in St Andrews, I spoke to Revd Professor David Atkinson, a retired plant scientist who is now Continue reading

Interview: Purpose and Pleasure – Exploring Addiction Science

FreeImages.com/Dean Smith
FreeImages.com/Dean Smith

What is the interface between ideas of purpose of science, and in faith – or life in general? This was one of the main topics of conversation during my interview with Alan Gijsbers. I wanted to find out whether medical professionals have a similar sense of wonder or spirituality to some laboratory scientists. Although the challenges are very different in medicine, I found that Alan shared the same combination of curiosity, questioning, and connection with deeper issues that is so important for many other researchers. Continue reading

A Cross-Shaped Universe: Reflections of a Christian Physicist

© Mark Neuburger, freeimages.com
© Mark Neuburger, freeimages.com

If faith informs how we do science (see last week’s post), how does science inform faith? Wilson Poon is Professor of condensed matter physics at the University of Edinburgh, and has thought deeply about this question. His scientific work is on the organised behaviour of different physical and biological systems, especially colloidal particles and motile bacteria. In this week’s guest post, Wilson explores what it means for him to look for God’s presence in the laboratory.

Psalm 19 says that ‘the heavens declare the glory of God.’ Nevertheless, scientists make daily progress in understanding the heavens above and the earth below without recourse to God. Thus, Psalm 19 is perhaps too easy a starting point for a laboratory spirituality today. Continue reading

Peering into the Brain

© Cecilia Picco, www.freeimages.com
© Cecilia Picco, http://www.freeimages.com

If Christians are called to “love the Lord your God with your whole mind, your whole being, and all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5), then what happens when neurological disease strikes? Dr Clare Redfern is running a project with neurologist Revd Dr Alasdair Coles, based at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and the Faraday Institute. They are investigating whether degenerative diseases within the brain, in particular Parkinson’s Disease, affect people’s religious faith and spirituality. In this month’s guest post, Clare describes some of her work.

Parkinson’s Disease is well known as a disorder that produces physical features such as tremor, slowed movements and speech. The degeneration of neuronal networks in the brain also frequently produces emotional and cognitive effects. We are looking at how people with Parkinson’s Disease think and feel about faith and religious belief. If they are believers, might they lose interest in prayer or worship? Does God seem more distant, or possibly closer?

In reviewing the work of others in this field, I have been Continue reading

Brain Activity and Awareness of God

env1ro, http://www.sxc.hu/
© env1ro, http://www.sxc.hu/

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

Awe in Science, Part 3: Spirituality in Science

stained_glass_06_07
Window at St Crispin’s Church, Braunstone. © St Crispin’s

At the beginning of this piece I mentioned my growing realisation of the size of the scientist’s task. The seeming inexhaustibility of the created order can be overwhelming, but many see this as something positive. There is so much more to explore. As the Jesuit philosopher Enrico Cantore has said, the mystery of the universe lies not in ignorance, but in dazzling intelligibility. Where do these thoughts of transcendence, reality and mystery lead? For Einstein, they were a religion. A Mind other than our own was somehow responsible for this world that we can make sense of using the language of mathematics. For others, the reality we see in the world leads to ideals that transcend differences of language, culture and religion. Continue reading

Awe in Science, Part 2

stained_glass_04_07
Window at St Crispin’s Church, Braunstone. © St Crispin’s

Awe is an important part of the experience of science – one could almost say it’s a universal. When a scientist feels awe it is usually in response to something complex, precise, ordered, powerful or beautiful. There is an element of unexpectedness and delight, maybe even respect, fear or reverence. Awe always involves the need for some sort of mental adjustment or accommodation: we need to make room in our internal map of the world for this new and amazing experience. The physicist Werner Heisenberg vividly described this process of taking on board a startling new concept when he wrote of his discovery of atomic energy levels:

In the first moment I was deeply frightened. I had the feeling that, through the surface of atomic phenomena, I was looking at a deeply lying bottom of remarkable internal beauty. I felt almost giddy at the thought that I had now to probe this wealth of mathematical structures that nature down there had spread before me. Continue reading