Teaching the Wonder: Why Christians should study evolutionary biology

Lecture_Shots_2008 for 2009 prospectus
Lecture theatre, City site By Nottingham Trent University. Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

For many Christian students going to university, studying evolutionary biology is a real eye-opener. Not only do they get to see evidence for something they may have been encouraged to reject in the past, but they can also come to appreciate the beauty and complexity of evolutionary process itself. April Maskiewicz Cordero is a biology professor at a Christian University in the US, and she travels this journey with a large proportion of her students every year. As a teacher of teachers, she has thought Continue reading

Levitating Frogs and Video Games: Creative questions in science and faith

61eryzzt4pl-zoomCan faith actually feed into and help science? This was one of the questions that David Hutchings and Tom McLeish asked as they wrote their book, Let There Be Science, which was published by Lion last month. David is a physics teacher based in York, and he teamed up with Professor McLeish (author of Faith and Wisdom in Science) to explain what science is, what it’s for, and what does Christianity have to do with that. In today’s podcast (abbreviated transcript below) I asked David about the creative side of science. Continue reading

Dinosaurs in your garden: An interview with Lizzie Coyle

Archaeopteryx_fossil
Archaeopteryx fossil By James L. Amos (National Geographic Society) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
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

Interview: Communicating science and faith in schools

DSC_0708 (2)
© Stephanie Bryant

One of the main issues for conservation is communication. How can scientists share their knowledge with the people whose behaviour is affecting the land? This is one of the questions that drew zoologist Stephanie Bryant into Continue reading

A Different Kind of Teaching

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

Last week I met Francis Edward Su, a Mathematician who is on sabbatical in Cambridge. I have written recently about the challenges of teaching science (in Questioning, and Ignorance). Su has a PhD from Harvard, is the Benediktsson-Karwa Professor of Mathematics at Harvey Mudd College, and is the President-Elect of the Mathematical Association of America, so he could be tempted to take himself too seriously to teach well. Teaching takes time, and students ask too many questions, but Su has given himself to his students in a way that recently won him an award.

According to Francis, giving an acceptance speech for a teaching award is a bit intimidating – people expect you to do something extraordinary (or at least keep them awake). Rather than reel off a list of teaching tips he decided to focus on just one, explaining what motivates him to teach well. His talk had such an impact on his colleagues that it’s Continue reading

Ignorance

Piotr Lewandowski, www.sxc.hu
© Piotr Lewandowski, http://www.sxc.hu

To follow on from my post about asking questions, I’ve been thinking about how much we don’t know. Stuart Firestein, a neuroscientist from Columbia University, has written a book called Ignorance: How it drives science.[1] In Ignorance, Firestein describes how he loved lab science, but found teaching undergraduates a bit of a struggle. The problem was that he spent the whole time teaching what was known, filling the students’ brains with knowledge. He had forgotten that as well as following the textbook, he could highlight the gaps in knowledge or the rival theories, showing where the opportunities are for young researchers to push back the boundaries themselves. Those are the really interesting parts. Continue reading

Questioning

Bensik Imeri, www.sxc.hu
© Bensik Imeri, http://www.sxc.hu

When I was a PhD student in Edinburgh I went to a church that was located conveniently next to a number of good pubs. A bunch of us used to pile into one of these establishments after the Sunday evening service. The ensuing conversation ranged from ‘Who are you?’ (it was a big church), to discussions of the sermon we had just heard and other more philosophical issues. One evening I sat next to a photography student, and when I introduced myself as a PhD student in genetics she said something along the lines of, ‘All those facts and figures are not for me, I’m an arts student.’  Rather than just moving on, which would have been infinitely easier, I tried to explain why I thought science was interesting. I think I won, but you can judge for yourself.

We started out by talking about textbooks. No matter how well written one of these tomes might be or how lavish its illustrations, it’s unlikely to make it onto anyone’s bedside table unless it’s exam time. I pointed out that textbooks have their place – a student has to get up to speed in their chosen field – but by the very nature of science they’re out of date before they’re printed. Continue reading