Book Preview: Science and Humanity – reconfiguring the public understanding of science

lab-512503 copy pixabay
Pixabay

It is time to shake off a widely believed but mistaken idea of what science is and how it interacts with human life in the round.

For a long time now it has been the habit of science writers to present their discipline as if it was the be-all and end-all of knowledge, and everything else follows in its wake. Particle physicists have written about their forthcoming ‘theory of everything’ as if it amounted to the final word on the nature of reality, the very ‘mind of God’…The same fundamental error is promoted by neuroscientists who, waxing lyrical over wonderful magnetic images of the living human brain, have declared or implied that all the functioning of the brain is about to be laid open, with no input from the arts and humanities required.  Continue reading

Guest Post, Part 2: The Arch, the Stone and the Structure of Science

Virtualization of Knowledge
Virtualization of knowledge 0005 by agsandrew. (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Science is not about discovering a low-level “theory of everything” that captures everything that can be said about what happens in the physical world. The structure of the natural world is not like that. To illustrate this, I began with a simple parable, which has an obvious application to the structure of scientific explanation. Continue reading

The Eager Gene, and the Symphony

© Daniela Corno, freeimages.com
© Daniela Corno, freeimages.com

I recently heard a new metaphor for the gene. Although this phrase was coined by a physicist*, I think it’s an interesting one. The concept of ‘The Eager Gene’ comes from Andrew Steane, Professor of Physics at Oxford University, in his book Faithful to Science (see previous blog).

Steane writes that “Genes are, of course, inanimate molecules, having no eagerness or moral capacity, but Continue reading

Faithful to Science: The Role of Science in Religion

241
© Revati Upadhya, freeimages.com

This absurd cathedral which struts about

on flopping slabs of meat,

flip-flop, flip-flop,

This crazy lug-eared moon,

Big Ben whose driven face

helplessly ding-dongs

its incidental time and place,

This masked intruder

on the African plain,

Peerer through twin key-holes,

Bearer of a vastly hidden space,

is the entirely given vehicle

and the lovely means of grace.

This poem, titled ‘Grace Notes’, was written by the Oxford Physics Professor Andrew Steane. He used it to open his seminar on The Role of Science in Religion at the Faraday Institute earlier this year. Blending references to different branches of science with other types of knowing, it communicates that everything we are and have is a gift, enabling us to give something back. In this way, religion adds nothing to science, but it also adds everything.

Science, said Steane, also adds something to religion. For a start, it highlights the difference between genuine faith and ignorant superstition. A Christian can also celebrate science and do it well, not as an add-on to his or her spiritual activities, but alongside everything else that is part of ‘God’s kingdom’.

Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, James Clark Maxwell, J.J. Thompson, Lord Kelvin, and Arthur Eddington, were all famous for their contributions to physics. They also made known their deeply owned and reflective faith in God, worshipping him with all of their heart, soul and mind. Steane’s own contribution – his seminar, book, poetry and blog – demonstrate this point more than adequately, so I will simply finish with another of his poems.

Red shift

Courtesy of NASA
Courtesy of NASA

Held by an image of our outer space:

Spots, dots, and whirls of white and red,

Time-tunneling in silent grace,

Parsecs where only thought can tread.

 

Blue blazes of the younger fire,

Red smudges of the ancient mist,

Vast mergers of the flowing gyre

Down ages of the world persist.

 

These distant forms of space and truth

Work back upon the thoughts we frame;

Prayer wrestles with a shaping sieve:

Dead words or else a larger name.

 

Come, heart, and ask in mindful voice,

Draws over there that which can love?

Lights there a dance which can rejoice?

Rests there a hold of things above?

241cAndrew Steane’s recent book, Faithful to Science: The Role of Science in Religion, is available from Oxford University Press for £19.99. He blogs at grievingturtle.com, and an explanation of his poem Red Shift can be found here. Poetry reproduced by permission of the author.