Guest Post: The Wonderful Thing About Nature

gecko-800887_1920pixabay crop

My kids love Winnie the Pooh. They love to parade around our flat and sing, “The wonderful thing about Tiggers is Tiggers are wonderful things. Their tops are made of rubber, their bottoms are made of springs!” It’s a song that Tigger the tiger sings in the Disney film Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day. Tigger is explaining to Pooh Bear the things that make him so wonderful. All of the individual parts that make up Tigger are the things that make him so wonderful. Is this not also true when we look at nature?

Whether as scientists or curious observers, when Christians look at nature we are amazed. We love to marvel at the wonder of God’s creation in both the whole and the individual parts. Those individual parts paint a grand picture of the whole of nature. Sometimes, when we take a closer look at the individual parts, it can cause us to wonder at the whole of nature. Kids are particularly good at this.

One day, my 5-year-old son asked me, “Papa, what happens to food after I eat it?” His curiosity led us on a wonderful journey of just one system in his body. We discussed how his body works, why it needs food, and how it deals with the “waste.”  This discussion evolved into talking about how all the systems of the body are related and work together to make him into one whole human being. We began with the individual parts and ended with the whole. All the while, we marveled at how our whole bodies work.

Child-like curiosity is a wonderful thing. It is the key to wonder. Without curiosity there would be no wonder. Neil Degrasse Tyson recently said, “Kids are born curious about the world. What adults primarily do in the presence of kids is unwittingly thwart the curiosity of children.” Tyson argues that telling kids not to play with eggs, we stifle their curiosity to find out what happens when eggs break. In other words, we stifle kids’ curiosity to explore and, ultimately, wonder.

I once heard a biology professor say “All scientists are really just kids who never grew up. They never lost their sense of curiosity about the world.” Scientists are not the only ones who are curious about the world. Pastors, theologians, and philosophers (just to name a few) are also very curious about the world. Sometimes they ask similar or related questions to scientists. But all these disciplines have at least one thing in common, they all lead to wonder.

Nature is full of wonder. Recently, I visited the Münster zoo in Germany with my family. Typically, it is my kids who enjoy it the most. But there was something different for me on this trip. As we passed the wide variety of plants and animals, there was a wonderous realization; all of life is related. I had what you might call, a Grand Canyon moment. The Grand Canyon offers a unique experience. It sets a person in perspective with the vastness of the universe. For a glorious moment we can feel our own insignificance in front of such vast beauty.

Standing in the Münster zoo, I had a similar flash of wonder. I had a moment of awe through feeling my own insignificance in the vast web of biological life. As we walked along I contemplated the similarities between individual organisms. How penguins are similar to ostriches. How fish are similar to reptiles. And, yes, how monkeys and apes are similar to humans. It wasn’t just the anatomical similarities that were so remarkable, it was the behavioral similarities. Watching monkeys display competitive, jealous, or inquisitive behavior. Watching apes use a stick to dig peanut butter from the bottom of a jar made me feel like I was watching our common ancestors use tools for the first time. It was as if I had taken a time machine back 100,000 years and was watching history happen. Walking through the zoo was like taking a personal tour through individual branches of the whole evolutionary tree. I felt the simultaneous wonder of belonging to nature, while also having the unique calling by God to care for it.

In every area of life, we are reminded that the universe declares the glory of God. Our glorious God has made each individual part of nature to lead us to wonder. That alone makes nature worth exploring. Or to say it another way, the wonderful thing about nature, is nature is a wonderful thing.

Mario A RussoMario Anthony Russo is a pastor, writer, and church planter. He lives with his wife Virginia and two children in the Rhine-Ruhr region of Germany. He holds an Interdisciplinary Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and Psychology (University of South Carolina), a Master of Arts in Religion (RTS), and a Doctor of Ministry (Erskine College & Seminary). During his nearly two decades of researching, writing, and speaking in the field of Science and Religion, Mario has developed a love for the interaction between science and faith, missiology, and pastoring. You can follow him on Twitter @Mario_A_Russo

Guest Post: The military, rogue soldiers and the immune system

Regulatory T cells have prevented damage to a transplanted skin graft caused by other immune cells as can be seen by the skin being intact (red) as well as the vessels (green). The blue colour stains all the cells present in the skin. © Sim Tung, 2016

“Are there any supplements I can take to help my immune system?” “Will going vegan boost my immune system? Or what about organic food?” These are just some of the questions I get asked when I tell people I am a PhD candidate in immunology.

Those who aren’t yet bored of hearing about my PhD normally ask heavy questions that require technical answers. After all, how do you explain your field of work without throwing in the big fancy words? I myself can barely understand jobs in Finance or IT – cue Chandler Bing failing to explain ‘data-reconfiguration-and-statistical-analysis’ to his Friends for 10 years.  Anyway, in these moments it feels pretty awesome to see someone get excited and curious about science instead of Love Island. Continue reading

Book Preview: Is there more to life than genes?

dna-helix-background-image-1-1632628 formateins freeimages

Certainly the body isn’t one part but many. If the foot says, ‘I’m not part of the body because I’m not a hand’, does that mean it’s not part of the body? If the ear says, ‘I’m not part of the body because I’m not an eye’, does that mean it’s not part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, what would happen to the hearing? And if the whole  body were an ear, what would happen to the sense of smell? But as it is, God has placed each one of the parts in the body just like he wanted. If all were one and the same body part, what would happen to the body? But as it is, there are many parts but one body. So the eye can’t say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you’, or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you’. Instead, the parts of the body that people think are the weakest are the most necessary.

(1 Corinthians 12.14  –22, CEB)

In this passage, St Paul is referring to parts of the body that we can see, but equally important are the millions of molecular machines and processes that we cannot see but nevertheless sustain our every Continue reading

Guest post: Translating (and editing) DNA – Wonder and Wonder

By Nicolle Rager, National Science Foundation [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I remember touring an auto manufacturer several years ago in the United States. The whole factory was a wonder to behold. Tiny parts started on an assembly line that eventually became, at the end of the process, a completed car. Hundreds of workers added parts and pieces to an unfinished vehicle slowly over time until, eventually, it would become a complex functioning vehicle. A wheel in the wrong place or Continue reading

Book Preview – Reason and Wonder: Why science and faith need each other

© Ruth Bancewicz

‘from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved’

Charles Darwin

…the origins of all species, including our own, are found in natural processes that can be observed and studied scientifically. In other words, evolution demonstrates that our own existence is woven into the very fabric of the natural world. Seen in this light, the human presence is not a mistake of nature or a random accident, but a direct consequence of the characteristics of the universe. What evolution tells us is that we are part of the grand, dynamic and ever-changing fabric of life that covers our planet. To a person of faith, an understanding of the evolutionary process only deepens our appreciation of the scope and wisdom of the Creator’s work.

For Christians today, the scientific successes of evolutionary theory present Continue reading

Worshipping God with the Lichen: Reflections in a Scottish Rainforest

© Ruth Bancewicz

It can be easier to notice things away from home, when we are relaxed and surrounded by unfamiliar sights in an exotic location. But sometimes the same wonders at there in our own back yard: old familiar scenes that we haven’t taken in because we see them every day. GK Chesterton was a great advocate of intensive observation, and he invited his readers to take a fresh look at things that might be taken for granted. His motivation, he says in his self-deprecating English way, was being too lazy to travel – but mine is wonder. Continue reading

What’s Under the Microscope Can Lead to Worship

B0004157 Organelles within a liver cell
Inside a cell, © University of Edinburgh (cropped)

This year’s Wellcome Image Awards are truly awe-inspiring, and a reminder for me to look for moments of wonder and worship in my everyday routine. The online winners’ gallery includes a stunning map-like image of a mouse’s retina, a close-up of a human lens implant, and a teardrop-shaped bundle of DNA being pulled into a brand new cell. A non-scientist might not understand exactly what is being shown in these pictures, but with their bold colors, shapes, and textures, anyone can appreciate their beauty.

My field of biology has always been a very visual subject, and today that visual element can be expressed in stunning high-resolution color photographs. Wafer-thin sections of tissue can be stained with specialist dyes, showing where cell division might be going out of control in the first stages of cancer. Living cells are labeled with fluorescent tags, highlighting where a certain type of molecule is needed. Even in whole organisms, these natural fluorescent dyes can be used to track the development of a specific organ.

For some scientists, these experiences of awe and wonder point to something beyond science. Read more

R Bancewicz 2015 mugshot small
© Faraday Institute

Ruth Bancewicz is a Senior Research Associate at The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, where she works on the positive interaction between science and faith. After studying Genetics at Aberdeen University, she completed a PhD at Edinburgh University. She spent two years as a part-time postdoctoral researcher at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Biology at Edinburgh University, while also working as the Development Officer for Christians in Science. Ruth arrived at The Faraday Institute in 2006, and is currently a trustee of Christians in Science.