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 →
When I was a Physics student, I used to tear down the posters of the University Christian Union (CU). It was an unexpected moment for me therefore when I found faith and became a Christian, while I was working on a PhD in magnetic domain theory. In the early hours of the morning of the seventh of May 1971, alone in my room, God showed me how much I needed him.
I sometimes feel my experience has parallels to that of Saul meeting Jesus in Acts 9. There were no lights or voices, just a sudden feeling of an urgent need for meaning to my life Continue reading →
I am writing this sitting in a tent in Antarctica, surrounded by whiteness and wilderness. I have come here to undertake geological research as part of the joint US-UK International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, which seeks to determine how the mighty Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica will contribute to the rate and timing of sea level rise across the globe in the coming decades. This is urgent work – the rate of ice discharge from the glacier has more than doubled over the past 2 decades, and looks set to increase further. Under the right conditions, the glacier also has the potential to enter a runaway retreat phase which could result in catastrophic ice loss because its catchment reaches hundreds of kilometres inland.
I recently learned that the DNA testing company Orig3n offers what they describe as a ‘fun DNA test’ claiming to be able to provide information on an individual’s strength, intelligence and speed. I love superhero movies, perhaps partly because they tap into my own wish to be able to achieve everything extremely well at lightening speed. Alas, even without a DNA test I already know from hard experience I cannot be super-anything. Even with gene modification, the chances of making me stronger, faster and more intelligent may be pretty slim. Continue reading →
As I write, Noah’s ark has arrived for a three month stay in Ipswich docks. A half size replica of the vessel described in the Bible, this floating art exhibition will no doubt stir up some discussion and result in some emails in my inbox over the next few months!
Christians often hold different views on certain issues. Some will hold their opinions on particular issues very passionately, and you may do too. So how can we tackle these issues well? How should we express what we think, or work alongside others who hold very different opinions on topics that matter to us? Continue reading →
Paddling his canoe into the North Sea in 2002, John Darwin was undeniably alive. Six years later, as he sat in the back of a prison van, the same applied. It is his status in between these two events that is the more unusual (and less obvious) one. During that intervening period, as his struggling family would tearfully recount, he was really not in a good way at all – he was dead.
Although the wreckage of his canoe washed up the day after his death, Darwin’s body was never recovered. His adult sons were heartbroken at the loss of their father, but took a modicum of comfort from knowing that their mother, Anne, had not quite lost everything. She received thousands of pounds of life insurance pay-outs, and the policy paid off her mortgage too. Even the darkest of clouds, it would seem, could still have a silvery lining. Continue reading →
“There is an entity that cannot be defeated”, pronounced the former Go world champion, Lee Sedol, in his recent announcement of retirement from the sport, a board game that is popular in South Korea and China. The entity he refers to is AlphaGo, an artificial intelligence (AI) that in 2016 defeated, for the first time ever, a top-ranked Go player, winning 4 games to 1.
For AI, this was a momentous achievement due to the complexity of Go compared to other board games such as Chess, where computers have been able to defeat grandmasters since 1997. Go had evaded researchers due to two problems: the number of possible moves a player can make (an average of 250 moves compared to Chess’s 35) and in evaluating the strength of a board position in a computer program. Continue reading →