To risk sounding like a smart aleck seven-year-old, technically speaking you can only prove things mathematically. If you need to know that one plus one equals two, don’t go to a chemistry lab. The natural sciences deal with objects and forces that can be observed and measured. Scientists look at the evidence from their experiments and try to come up with a way of thinking about the material world that makes sense.
For example, if I travel around my local area and see nothing but brown cows, then I could try out the statement that “all cows are brown”. I couldn’t prove that all cows are brown. I could never rule out the existence of a different-coloured cow somewhere in the world. Scientific knowledge is always provisional. 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 →
My wife and I stood underneath the Eiffel Tower wondering what to do next. Our kids had just completed their third ride on the carousel and we were wondering if we should call it a day. We had already walked through the streets of Paris, seen a garden, and eaten lunch at a wonderful Parisian café. Should we squeeze in one more activity? “How about we stop by the Notre Dame Cathedral on our way back to the Airbnb?” I asked my wife. After a short discussion and realizing that the kids were getting pretty worn out (and, admittedly, wanting to avoid a potential public spectacle) we decided to save Notre Dame Cathedral for the next day. Two hours later, my wife and I watched the news in shock. We sat in silence as Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was engulfed in flames. Continue reading →
Everyone needs help when thinking through complicated questions. I arrived at Oxford University to study chemistry in October 1971. My wrestling with the complexities of quantum theory in my first term at Oxford was supplemented by a perhaps greater struggle. How could I reconcile my discovery of the intellectual vibrancy of the Christian faith with my love for the natural sciences? Would I have to compartmentalize my mind, holding them apart as strangers and possibly even enemies? I knew I could not tolerate such a dichotomization of my life of the mind. But what if it were the only option? What would I do then? Continue reading →
What is it like to be a person of faith and a scientist? In a video interview the theologian and former biophysicist Alister McGrath commented that we need Christian scientists who are “prepared to enter into the public arena in debate, in comment, and in the writing of books showing how faith enriches their science.”
This blog has been one such attempt to show the positive effect of science on faith, and judging by the comments over the years, it has encouraged a number of people in that direction. On the 15th of this month, Monarch will publish my book God in the Lab: How Science Enhances Faith, which Continue reading →
For most Christians working in science, their work helps them to worship. The theologian Alister McGrath has written a number of books about the relationship between science and Christianity, but he also stresses that our response to what we see in science should not simply be intellectual. A Christian view of nature should recognise the intuitive sense of awe and wonder that we have when we look at the natural world, and our increased awe as our scientific understanding grows. Our response to those feelings is rational, emotional and active: worship as well as theology.
How does a scientist worship? In her writing on wonder, the philosopher and cognitive scientist Margaret Boden captures the experience of a Christian scientist when she says that ‘awe is a high degree of wonder, in which fear and respect are prominent. Andworship is a deliberate expression of awe’.Continue reading →
Awe is an important part of the experience of science – one could almost say it’s a universal. When a scientist feels awe it is usually in response to something complex, precise, ordered, powerful or beautiful. There is an element of unexpectedness and delight, maybe even respect, fear or reverence. Awe always involves the need for some sort of mental adjustment or accommodation: we need to make room in our internal map of the world for this new and amazing experience. The physicist Werner Heisenberg vividly described this process of taking on board a startling new concept when he wrote of his discovery of atomic energy levels:
In the first moment I was deeply frightened. I had the feeling that, through the surface of atomic phenomena, I was looking at a deeply lying bottom of remarkable internal beauty. I felt almost giddy at the thought that I had now to probe this wealth of mathematical structures that nature down there had spread before me. Continue reading →