The world is one tiny piece within a vast universe – so vast that I, at least, can scarce comprehend it. The world we inhabit is one planet within a solar system . . . within a galaxy . . . within the universe. Our sun is just one of between 200 billion and 400 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, and earth is just one of at least 100 billion planets. There may also be ten billion white dwarfs, a billion neutron stars and a hundred million black holes. And that is just one galaxy out of possibly two trillion galaxies! …
Most nights I consider it a clear night if I can see Orion and the Big Dipper, and it is a sad reality that most of us are seldom in places that are dark enough at night for us to enjoy the stars in all their splendour. In fact, light pollution is now so bad that more than one third of the human population is no longer able to see the Milky Way. In Chapter One we reflected on NASA’s ‘black marble’ images, realizing that the earth at night is electric with lights criss-crossing across the globe.… Continue reading →
On the outskirts of the city of Rome, you will find networks of tunnels dug nearly 70 feet underground. If you have the courage to descend the stone stairs, you will find something even more surprising: some of the first recognisably Christian burial sites in the world. In these catacombs, Christians of the first several centuries buried their dead. The Roman persecutions meant the Christians needed secretive places for burials; only then could they avoid desecration. But the most surprising thing about these ancient tombs is that Continue reading →
When I was growing up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, during the 1960s, I came to the firm view that God was an infantile illusion, suitable for the elderly, the intellectually feeble and religious fraudsters. I fully admit that this was a rather arrogant view, and one that I now find somewhat embarrassing. If this seemed rather arrogant, it was, more or less, the wisdom of the age back then. Religion was on its way out and a glorious godless dawn was just around the corner. Or so it seemed. Continue reading →
Earlier this year, as a practical theologian, I was given the opportunity of presenting at a meeting hosted by the American Geophysical Union. I laid out the case for a close collaboration between theology and geoscience. After my brief presentation, enough interest was kindled for me to be invited to enlarge on my case, since in the words of one delegate, “We as geophysicists have never felt comfortable that theology can contribute anything to our science.” I enlarged on my case, and as I did so I felt encouraged to feel a previous ice age beginning to melt: the ‘ice age’ of science and faith being in conflict. Continue reading →
What Nature taketh away, Nature giveth. Two days of endless rain once again swell the river…which, when it abates, leaves a stranded tide of thousands of edible hazelnuts.
I have noticed that I have again accorded nature a capital letter. What lies beyond the window pane is not anything as neutral or insipid as the ‘environment’. The more time I spend outside…the more certain I become that the living system around me is self-conscious, architected, immense and, ultimately, a verbally ineffable spiritual reality. One can harmonize with Nature – Pan, Creation, Spirit, Mother Earth, call it what you will – but only on its terms. Little Lewis-Stempel, Big God.
I don’t think nature is a person, but all the same John Lewis-Stempel’s experience resonates with me. In his book ‘The Wild Life’ (Black Swan, 2009) he describes how he spent a year living off the land he and his family bought in west Wales, eating only things he foraged, caught or shot in forty acres of rough farmland. This involved spending most of his days outdoors, and as his senses sharpened he tuned into his surroundings – and also into something spiritual. Continue reading →
I have an intense memory of my first lengthy conversation with an artist (also a professor of fine art at my then home university of Leeds) about our respective experiences of bringing to light new work in art and in science. He spoke of his first experimental attempts to realize an original conception, of the confrontation of his ideas with the felt constraints of material—of paint and photographic print, of the necessary reformulation of the original concept, of the repeat of these frustrated assays not once but many times. I found that I could tell the story of almost any programme of scientific research I had experienced in almost precisely the same terms. Continue reading →
Galloping wild horses, cranes soaring overhead, beavers splashing in rivers and the howl of wolves echoing through the forest: this is a vision that has led to an explosion of interest in the topic of rewilding. George Monbiot arguably brought rewilding into the public sphere through his 2013 book Feral, capitalising on an unspoken yearning in our society to reconnect with nature. An impressionable biology undergraduate at the time, I recall feeling a thrill (yes, I’m a nerd!) as Monbiot set out a radical new vision for conservation. Fast forward to 2019, and rewilding is an integral component of ever-increasing concerns surrounding environmental sustainability; a recent petition calling for the restoration of British nature has, to date, attracted nearly 100,000 signatures.
So, what is rewilding, and how can I respond as a Christian? Is there a richer theological message from rewilding than simply environmental stewardship; a reconciliation between human beings and God’s creation that points us towards the ultimate restoration to come? Continue reading →