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

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© 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 a genuine opportunity to come to grips with the reality of the natural world that gave rise to us. That science, no question about it, presents genuine challenges to religion, but it also provides religion with an extraordinary opportunity to inform and enlighten the scientific vision of our existence…

Dobzhansky understood science as a way to refine and expand our understanding of the Creator’s power and majesty. This, I would suggest, is a model for the proper relationship between science and faith. A similar understanding was expressed more recently by Guy Consolmagno, an astronomer and Jesuit brother, appointed head of the Vatican Observatory. Interviewed by Astrobiology magazine, Consolmagno stated:

The trouble is that some people think they can use science to prove God. And that puts science ahead of God; that makes science more powerful than God. That’s bad theology. In fact, some philosophers have said that’s what led to atheism in the eighteenth century – the fallacy of the God of the gaps. You say, ‘I have no idea how this could have happened. It must have been God’s design’. And then fifty years later, somebody explains how it did happen, and you say, ‘I don’t need God anymore’. If your faith is based on science, that’s a very shaky kind of faith. My belief in God is not because of something I’ve seen in science. But I can turn it the other way around and say, ‘I believe in science because of my faith in God’. (Consolmagno, 2005)

The historical roots of modern science lie not in a rejection of faith, but rather in the conviction that exploration of the natural world is an act of praise and worship. As Aquinas and other Christian philosophers have emphasized, faith and reason are both gifts from God, and as such they should be complementary. In many ways, I would argue that science itself, regardless of the religious beliefs of its practitioners, is based on two great elements of faith. The first is that a genuine universe exists and can be understood by rational scientific inquiry. The second is that knowledge of that universe, gained through science, is to be preferred to ignorance. Albert Einstein, although not a theist, echoed these sentiments when he wrote:

While it is true that scientific results are entirely independent from religious or moral considerations, those individuals to whom we owe the great creative achievements of science were all of them imbued with the truly religious conviction that this universe of ours is something perfect and susceptible to the rational striving for knowledge. (Einstein, 1954, p. 52)

Ultimately, the religion and science debate continues because of a deep antagonism between extremists on both sides of the issue. The solution is not to split the difference, but to come to a genuine understanding and appreciation of the true depth of scientific and religious thought on the issues at hand. In the specific case of evolution, the sophistication of Christian thinking on natural processes and the divine will is routinely underestimated by those who would use science as a weapon against faith. Conversely, the Christian community often fails to appreciate the self-critical nature of science and the clear recognition of most scientists as to the limitations of scientific inquiry. In the final analysis, both sides may come to realize, as Charles Darwin did, that there is indeed beauty, wonder and even grandeur in the evolutionary view of life.

 

Reason and Wonder.inddThis post was a series of extracts from Ken Miller, ‘Evolution, faith and science’, pages 86-93 of Reason and Wonder: Why science and faith need each other (Templeton Press, 2017) with permission of the publisher.

Worshipping God with the Lichen: Reflections in a Scottish Rainforest

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© 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

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Inside a cell, © University of Edinburgh (cropped) creativecommons.org

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

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© 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.

Guest Post: The Magnitude of the Minutiae

God’s splendour is a tale that is told by the stars. Space itself speaks his story every day through the marvels of the heavens. His truth is on tour showing his skill in creation’s craftmanship. Each day gushes out its message to the next. Without a sound, without a word, without a voice being heard, yet all the world can see its story.

Psalm 19: 1-4[1]

I am repeatedly amazed how powerfully Continue reading

Teaching the Wonder: Why Christians should study evolutionary biology

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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

Guest Post – Magnificent milk: A biologist reflects on one of the unique experiences of motherhood

pexels-photo-235243.jpegAs a new mother, I am awestruck at the ability of my body to produce milk that can nourish my once tiny, now rapidly growing baby. For the first six months of life, this incredible substance was all the food and drink he needed. My body can change the milk’s composition depending on factors such as Continue reading

A Bucket of Frogs: Curiosity, Wonder, and the Theology of Science

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Tadpole by Evan Murphy. Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

When I was three, I knocked a bucket of tadpoles all over on the patio. I remember the incident very clearly, so it must have been a relatively stressful one. It all happened Continue reading